Rates of decarbonisation

Industrial buildings

Work Package C: Rates of decarbonisation

The range of feasible emissions pathways for meeting long term temperature goals.

Lead researcher:
Ajay Gambhir
Grantham Institute


Reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to avoid dangerous levels of climate change will require the deployment of low-carbon technologies and measures across all world regions, and across all economic sectors within these regions. This area of the AVOID 2 research programme will use a range of models representing the supply and use of energy throughout the economy, as well as industrial and agricultural processes which emit GHGs, to understand which combinations of low-carbon technologies are most cost-effective in meeting current and future economic demand whilst keeping within specified GHG limits. The model outputs will be stress-tested in order to determine the real-world feasibility of achieving rapid GHG emissions reduction rates throughout the 21st century, by considering historical energy technology transformations, infrastructure requirements and behavioural barriers to the adoption of new technologies. The results of this research area will provide new insights into the overall achievability of different emissions reduction targets.

What do we already know?

We already know that meeting the most challenging long-term temperature goals (such as a 2°C or lower limit to global warming) at least cost will require a peak in global emissions to be reached in the next decade or so, and then rapid annual reductions in GHG emissions throughout the century, to very low and perhaps even negative levels (for example through the use of technologies and practices such as growing biomass and then burning it with carbon capture and storage, which can theoretically remove CO2 from the atmosphere). These rapid rates of emissions reductions are most likely to be achieved through: significant improvements in energy efficiency across all sectors (buildings, industry, transport, agriculture); a radical decarbonisation of electricity generation by replacing conventional fossil fuel-based power with renewables such as wind and solar, nuclear and fossil fuels combined with carbon capture and storage; and the increased use of low-carbon electricity for heating in industrial processes and buildings, as well as in the transport sector. We know that the absence of any of these critical low-carbon technologies and processes could make achieving the long term goal much harder and / or more costly.

What will this research achieve?

This research will add new insights into the feasibility of the transition to a low-carbon global economy, by investigating in detail the regional technology deployment patterns that would allow GHG emissions to be significantly reduced. Specifically, the research will consider the implications of reduced rates of deployment – or delays in the introduction of – key low-carbon technologies, the implications of achieving only limited levels of electrification of energy usage in buildings, industry and transport, and the impact of a slower uptake of energy efficiency technologies than often results from such modelling exercises.

What is the policy relevance?

These insights will allow a detailed consideration of the appropriate degree of public support for research, development and deployment of low-carbon technologies, the necessary actions to support the development of infrastructures (e.g. transport networks and electrical grids) to connect and enable these technologies, as well as the impact of different policies and regulations on driving behaviour changes towards a more efficient use of energy across the economy. The multi-region modelling will also provide insights into the relative effort and costs for each region in contributing to global GHG emissions reduction targets, which will help inform international policy discussions on sharing the burden of reducing global GHG emissions in any forthcoming international agreement on climate change.

Research area description and outputs

C1. Review of existing emissions pathways and evaluation of decarbonisation rates
There is evidence that that the maximum rates of emission reduction in the latest emissions pathways is somewhat higher than in earlier work. This project will provide a literature review of the credibility of the existing decarbonisation rates built in to existing climate scenarios.
View report
C2. New emissions scenarios for long-term temperature goals
An initial report on a new set of emissions scenarios designed within AVOID to investigate a series of long-term temperature goals. The report will cover (regional and global) costs, technology deployment patterns, details of maximum rates of decarbonisation.
View reports C2a and C2b
C3. Review of the feasibility of key technologies to meet a low-carbon energy future
Production of a report focusing on the key technologies needed to achieve a transition to a low carbon energy system, with new information on feasibility and credible deployment rates of the most important technologies.
Dec 2015
C4. Behavioural barriers to transitioning to low-carbon energy
A report focusing on the behavioural barriers to the transition to low carbon energy. This will include new emissions pathways that account for these barriers.
View report
C5. Low-carbon technology deployment in emerging economies
A report focusing on how low carbon technology might be deployed in emerging economies.
Nov 2015
C6. The impact of shale gas on emissions pathways, mitigation costs and temperature responses
A report detailing the impacts of different shale gas exploitation scenarios on CO2 pathways, mitigation costs and resulting temperature increase.
Dec 2015

Peer reviewed publications

Any peer reviewed publications associated with this research area will appear here.