The report lays out technology and policy path to Deep Decarbonization.

Ahead of Paris Summit, it shows the feasibility and affordability of cutting U.S. emissions by 80% by 2050.


As the Paris climate summit approaches, a new study shows in detail how the United States can reduce greenhouse gases in line with the international goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less. The two-volume report, from the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (DDPP), shows that the reductions are technologically feasible and economically affordable.

Volume One,Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States, describes the technology requirements and costs of different options for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050. The analysis was conducted by the San Francisco-based consulting firm Energy and Environmental Economics, Inc. (E3), in collaboration with researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

This volume, an update of a study released last year, lays out in detail the changes in the U.S. energy system needed year by year to meet the emissions reduction target, looking at every piece of energy infrastructure – from power plants and pipelines to cars and water heaters – in every sector and every region of the U.S.

This fine-grained detail supports a finding that may surprise some: that it is possible to systematically revamp the U.S. energy system in a way that reduces per capita carbon dioxide emissions from 17 tons per person currently to 1.7 tons in 2050, while still providing all the energy services people expect, from driving to air conditioning. This can be done using only existing technology, assuming continued incremental improvements but no fundamental breakthroughs, and without premature retirement of current infrastructure, at a net cost equivalent to about 1% of GDP in 2050.

The report finds multiple technology pathways capable of reaching the target, presenting choices that can be made based on innovation, competition, and public preference. Passenger cars, for example, could transition to battery electric vehicles or fuel cell vehicles. Low carbon electricity could be provided by renewable energy, nuclear power, or carbon capture and storage. The reliability of the power grid with high levels of intermittent wind and solar energy was carefully studied using a sophisticated model of the operation of the electricity system in every hour in every region.

“This is by far the most rigorous and detailed study of what it will take to achieve a transition to clean energy in the United States,” said Dr. Dan Lashof, Chief Operating Officer of NextGen Climate America, one of the sponsors of the research. “It demonstrates that a climate-friendly transformation of our energy system is not only achievable, it would increase our prosperity, protect our environment, and strengthen our national security.”

The second volume,Policy Implications of Deep Decarbonization in the United States, provides a roadmap for what policy makers at the national, state, and local levels need to do to enable a low carbon transition. It describes how businesses and whole regions could benefit in an energy economy where the dominant mode shifts from purchasing fossil fuel, with historically volatile prices, to investment in efficient, low carbon hardware, with very predictable costs.

“I think our work throws down a gauntlet to those who claim that decarbonization of the U.S. energy system is impractical and out of reach, ” says report lead author Dr. Jim Williams, chief scientist at E3 and director of the DDPP. “The more deeply you look at the energy system, the more optimistic you feel. Arguments that the U.S. can’t achieve this technologically or economically don’t hold water – they are political arguments dressed in technical clothing.”

“It’s not that there are no challenges, but as our policy report describes, the challenges are often not what people think they are,” Williams said. “The public has been conditioned to think of climate policy in terms of costs, burdens, loss of services. But if we get it right, we will create a high-tech energy system that is much more in synch with a 21st century economy, and there will be many more economic winners than losers.”

The U.S. study is part of a series by the DDPP, an international collaboration of research teams from the world’s 16 highest-emitting countries. This year it has issued country-specific strategies for deep decarbonization in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The DDPP is led by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), a United Nations-sponsored initiative whose secretariat is at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), a nonprofit policy research institute based at Sciences Po in Paris.

“The DDPP has taken an essential step in low-carbon energy policy, and the work of the U.S. team points the way forward for the Paris summit,” said Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute. “Happily, the U.S. government has also endorsed the idea of preparing deep decarbonization pathways as a critical tool for achieving the transformation to low-carbon energy systems worldwide.”

In September, a joint statement on climate change cooperation by President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China stressed “the importance of formulating and making available mid-century strategies for the transition to low-carbon economies.”


Press contacts:

James Bairey, Clean Energy Media

phone: (831) 521-0084

Kevin Krajick, Earth Institute, Columbia University
phone: (212) 854-9729 fax: (212) 854-6309

Kyu-Young Lee, Earth Institute, Columbia University
phone: (212) 851-0798 fax: (212) 854-6309