In order to take an important step towards limiting global warming to less than 2 °C compared to pre-industrial times, countries are expected to achieve a new international agreement on the climate at the UN climate conference in Paris at the end of the year.

According to climate science, this target can only be obtained if global net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions approach zero by the second half of the century.

Against this background, the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP), coordinated by the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) set by the United Nations Secretary General, emerged in 2013. The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP) is a collaborative global initiative led by IDDRI and SDSN that aims to demonstrate how individual countries can transition to a low-carbon economy preferably consistent with the internationally agreed target of limiting the increase in global temperature to less than 2°C. Achieving this target will require a profound transformation of energy systems by mid-century, a “deep decarbonization”. The project comprises 16 research teams composed of leading institutions from the world’s largest GHG emitting countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, United Kingdom, and United States. Each team is exploring what is required to achieve this transformation in their own country’s economy while taking into account socio-economic conditions, development aspirations, infrastructure stocks, natural resource endowments, and other relevant factors.

The now published DDPP country study for Germany explores what is required to achieve deep decarbonization in Germany. It has been conducted by the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, with the support of Stiftung Mercator Foundation. The study discusses how the German government’s target of reducing domestic GHG emissions by 80 to 95% by 2050 (versus 1990) can be reached.

Potential pathways to deep decarbonization in Germany have been comparatively analyzed by means of a discussion of GHG mitigation scenarios currently available for Germany. The analysis shows that there are three “key strategies” which strongly contribute to GHG emission reduction in almost every scenario:

  • Strong energy efficiency improvements, i.e. reduced energy input but steady output in all end-use sectors (residential, services, industry and transport sector)
  • Increased use of domestic renewable energy sources (especially higher electricity production from wind and solar power plants)
  • Extensive electrification of processes (e.g. electricity-based heat supply, electric vehicles) and use of renewable electricity-based synthetic gases/fuels (power to gas/fuels) in the medium to long term

In the last two decades, Germany has proven quite successful in the dissemination of renewable energy sources. This momentum needs to be maintained and further progress achieved. In contrast, energy efficiency improvements have so far fallen short of their potentials. In order to be able to provide adequate framework conditions for energy efficiency improvements, this strategy needs to be focused on by policymakers within the coming years. A widespread electrification of processes requires structural changes which can only be achieved after the necessary preconditions (e.g. high share of electricity from renewable energy sources) have been created.

Realizing deep decarbonization, however, requires a successful implementation of additional strategies. In order to achieve a GHG reduction of 90% or more by 2050, especially the following strategies can be employed:

  • Final energy demand reductions through behavioral changes (modal shift in transport, changes in eating and heating habits etc.)
  • Net imports of electricity from renewable sources or import of bioenergy
  • Use of carbon capture and storage technology (CCS) to reduce industry sector GHG emissions
  • Reduction in non-CO2 emissions, especially in agriculture and industry

A successful implementation of GHG mitigation strategies is linked to significant challenges which need to be overcome jointly by politics and society. As Prof. Dr. Manfred Fischedick, Vice-President of the Wuppertal Institute, puts it: ‘Deep decarbonization is not possible without adequate political, institutional, cultural and social framework conditions’. It appears to be particularly important to keep investment conditions stable, to increase the possibility for public participation and to ensure public acceptance for the required infrastructure projects.

The study shows that achieving decarbonization cannot be achieved in a one-time effort but requires consistent political and societal action over several decades. Prof. Fischedick underlines that ‘continuous commitment appears to be feasible only if we stop focussing on potential short-term disadvantages of the transition to a low-carbon energy system. We need to emphasize the fact that the implementation of decarbonization measures is not only beneficial for achieving domestic GHG reduction targets but also leads to significant additional advantages for society in other areas. Not only can such measures stimulate decarbonization efforts in other countries, but positive effects also occur locally, e.g. in the form of better air quality, increased innovation dynamics and export opportunities for companies. This should ultimately provide enough momentum for ambitious and courageous political action in Germany and worldwide’.


Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, Energy

Sustainable development requires an integrated approach to policy and science because many of the issues it raises cannot be addressed within a single department or using the tools of individual scientific disciplines. This is where the Wuppertal Institute’s research program begins – by taking an interdisciplinary approach and working towards systems understanding. Designing transitions to a sustainable development is the Wuppertal Institute’s stated mission.

The Wuppertal Institute has the legal status of a non-profit limited company (gemeinnützige Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, according to German law) and receives basic funding from the Land North Rhine-Westphalia. It is in the responsibility of the Ministry for Innovation, Science and Research of the Land North Rhine-Westphalia. Third-party funding supports most of the Institute’s budget and projects.



The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) is a non-profit policy research institute based in Paris. Its objective is to determine and share the keys for analyzing and understanding strategic issues linked to sustainable development from a global perspective. IDDRI helps stakeholders in deliberating on global governance of the major issues of common interest: action to attenuate climate change, to protect biodiversity, to enhance food security and to manage urbanization, and also takes part in efforts to reframe development pathways.


The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) mobilizes scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society, and the private sector in support of sustainable development problem solving at local, national, and global scales. SDSN aims to accelerate joint learning and help to overcome the compartmentalization of technical and policy work by promoting integrated approaches to the interconnected economic, social, and environmental challenges confronting the world.