August 8th, 2020 by Steve Hanley
Project Drawdown is a non-profit organization that relies on the collaborative efforts of many scientists, economists, and technology specialists from around the world to craft intelligent ways of meeting the challenge of a warming planet. Three years ago, the group published its first book, entitled Drawdown, which presented 100 strategies for meeting the goals agreed to by the vast majority of the world’s nations in Paris in 2015.
Three years later, it has updated that original with a new report entitled Drawdown Review, which dares to suggest humanity can manage the climate crisis effectively using only the tools available today. Of course, that assumes we have the will to address the problem as responsible adults.
Drawdown Review is too complex and detailed to compress it into a short article. It is packed with graphs, charts, and footnotes, and we urge you to read it for yourself. Its ten most salient findings are reproduced below, prefaced by these words from the foreword:
“At present, global efforts come nowhere near the scale, speed, or scope required [to address the most recent IPCC report]. Yet many of the means to achieve the necessary transformation already exist. Almost daily, there is promising evolution and acceleration of climate solutions, alongside growing efforts to sunset fossil fuel infrastructure and prevent expansion of these antiquated and dangerous energy sources.”
We can reach Drawdown by mid-century if we scale the climate solutions already in hand.
Drawdown is a bold goal but an absolutely necessary one, given that global emissions are still rising each year — not declining as they need to. Our new analysis shows the world can reach Drawdown by mid-century, if we make the best use of all existing climate solutions. Certainly, more solutions are needed and emerging, but there is no reason — or time — to wait on innovation. Now is better than new, and society is well equipped to begin that transformation today. If we pursue climate solutions with purpose and determination, our analysis shows we could reach Drawdown as early as the mid-2040s — or not until the 2060s, depending on our
level of ambition.
Our first body of work in 2017 put a spotlight on a vast array of climate solutions, each with its own compelling story and possibility. As the saying goes, it can sometimes be a challenge to “see the forest for the trees,” and that’s certainly true with climate solutions.
Climate solutions are interconnected as a system, and we need all of them.
The notion of “silver bullets” has persistent appeal — “what’s the one big thing we can do?” — but they simply don’t exist for complex problems such as the climate crisis. A whole system of solutions is required. Many climate solutions combine and cooperate, leveraging or enabling others for the greatest impact. For example, efficient buildings make distributed, renewable electricity generation more viable. The food system requires interventions on both supply and demand sides — e.g., better farming practices and reduced meat consumption. For greatest benefit, electric vehicles need 100% clean power on which to run. We need many, interconnected solutions for a multi-faceted, systemic challenge.
Throughout this Review, we aim to illuminate what you might call the “groves” and “forests” beyond the individual trees, which are sometimes hiding in plain view. Here, we surface ten key insights to make essential messages of our work clear, direct, and easy for others to communicate. Project Drawdown is a living effort and a learning organization. These insights will continue to deepen, refine, and expand as the work itself does.
Beyond addressing greenhouse gases, climate solutions can have “co-benefits” that contribute to a better, more equitable world.
Climate solutions are rarely just climate solutions. For example, those that curb air pollution are also health solutions. Others that protect and restore ecosystems are also biodiversity solutions. Many can create jobs, foster resilience to climate impacts such as storms and droughts, and bring other environmental benefits such as safeguarding water resources.
Climate solutions can advance social and economic equity if utilized wisely and well — with attention to who decides, who benefits, and how any drawbacks are mitigated. The how really matters, as the same practice or technology can have very different outcomes depending on implementation. It takes intention and care to move solutions forward in ways that heal rather than deepen systemic injustices.
The financial case for climate solutions is crystal clear, as savings significantly outweigh costs.
Unfounded arguments about the economic inviability of climate action persist but are patently false. Project Drawdown analyzes the financial implications of solutions: How much money will a given solution cost, or save, when compared with the status quo technology or practice it replaces? That financial analysis looks at the initial implementation of a solution, as well as the use or operation of that solution over time. Overall, net operational savings exceed net implementation costs four to five times over: an initial cost of $22.5 – 28.4 trillion versus $95.1 – 145.5 trillion saved.
If we consider the monetary value of co-benefits (e.g., healthcare savings from reduced air pollution) and avoided climate damages (e.g., agricultural losses), the financial case becomes even stronger. So long as we ensure a just transition for those in sunsetting or transitioning industries, such as coal, it’s clear that there is no economic rationale for stalling on climate solutions — and every reason to forge boldly ahead.
The majority of climate solutions reduce or replace the use of fossil fuels. We must accelerate these solutions, while actively stopping the use of coal, oil, and gas.
The use of fossil fuels for electricity, transport, and heat currently drives roughly two-thirds of heat-trapping emissions worldwide. Of the 76 solutions included in this Review, roughly 30% reduce the use of fossil fuels by enhancing efficiency and almost 30% replace them entirely with alternatives. Together, they can deliver almost two-thirds of the emissions reductions needed to reach Drawdown.
Alongside accelerating these vital solutions, such as solar and wind power, retrofitting buildings, and public transit, we must actively stop fossil fuel production and expansion — including ending billions of dollars in subsidies and financing and, ideally, directing those funds to climate solutions instead. Reaching Drawdown depends on concurrent “stop” and “start” paths of action. A similar stop-start dynamic exists within food, agriculture, and land use: ending harmful practices (e.g., deforestation) and advancing helpful ones (e.g., methods of regenerative agriculture).
We cannot reach Drawdown without simultaneously reducing emissions toward zero and supporting nature’s carbon sinks.
Imagine the atmosphere as a bathtub overflowing, as the water continues to run. The primary intervention is clear: Turn off the tap of greenhouse gases by bringing emissions to zero. In addition to curbing the source of the problem, we can also open the drain somewhat. That’s where nature plays a vital role: absorbing and storing carbon through biological and chemical processes, effectively draining some of the excess out of the atmosphere.
Human activities can support natural carbon sinks, and many ecosystem or agriculture related climate solutions have the double benefit of reducing emissions and absorbing carbon simultaneously. It takes stemming all sources and supporting all sinks to reach Drawdown.
Some of the most powerful climate solutions receive comparably little attention, reminding us to widen our lens.
Many climate solutions focus on reducing and eliminating fossil fuel emissions, but others are needed too. Among the top solutions assessed by Project Drawdown, we find some “eye-openers” that are on par with solutions that often get the spotlight, such as onshore wind turbines and utility-scale solar photovoltaics.
- Food waste reduction and plant-rich diets, which together curb demand, deforestation, and associated emissions
- Preventing leaks and improving disposal of chemical refrigerants, which are potent greenhouse gases, the use of which is projected to grow significantly
- Restoration of temperate and tropical forests, which are powerful, vast carbon sinks
- Access to high quality, voluntary reproductive healthcare and high quality, inclusive education, the many ripple effects of which include climate benefits.
These results are a reminder to look beyond the obvious, to a broader suite of solutions, and beyond technology, to natural and social systems.
Accelerators are critical to move solutions forward at the scale, speed, and scope required.
It goes without saying: Solutions do not scale themselves. We need means of removing barriers and accelerating their implementation and expansion. Key “accelerators” can create the conditions for solutions to move forward with greater speed and wider scope. Some, such as changing policy and shifting capital, are closer in and have more direct impacts. Others, such as shaping culture and building political power, are further out and more indirect in their effect. Accelerators are heavily dependent on social and political contexts and work at different scales, from individuals to larger groups to entire nations. As with solutions, they intersect and interact; none are singularly effective, and we need them all.
Footholds of agency exist at every level, for all individuals and institutions to participate in advancing climate solutions.
The climate crisis requires systemic, structural change across our global society and economy. The reality of intervening in a complex system is that no one can do it all, and we all have an opening to show up as problem solvers and change agents and contribute in significant ways — even when we feel small. The range of climate solutions illuminates diverse intervention points across individual, community, organizational, regional, national, and global scales. The necessary accelerators expand that array of action opportunities even more. It will take a whole ecosystem of activities and actors to create the transformation that’s required.
Immense commitment, collaboration, and ingenuity will be necessary to depart the perilous path we are on and realize the path that’s possible. But the mission is clear: Make possibility reality.
In September 2019, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg testified before the U.S. Congress. “You must unite behind the science,” she urged. “You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option.” In four short sentences, she articulated exactly the task and challenge at hand.
Project Drawdown’s mission is to help the world reach Drawdown as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. That could also be humanity’s mission in this pivotal moment for life on Earth. The current path we are on is beyond dangerous, and it’s easy to be paralyzed by that perilousness. Yet possibility remains to change it. Together, we can build a bridge from where we are today to the world we want for ourselves, for all of life, and, most importantly, for generations yet to come.
At CleanTechnica, on of our mottos is climate justice = social justice = racial justice. The Drawdown Review makes the same points and backs them up with fully documented research that supports their recommendations. The message is clear. We don’t have time to wait for “silver bullets” that will let us “science our way out” of the impending climate catastrophe. We have all the tools we need at our disposal right here, right now, but a tool is only useful if we put it to use. A hammer left hanging in the tool shed can never drive a nail.
One of the most powerful arguments in the Drawdown Review is the cost of using the tools available to us will be more than offset by the financial benefits that flow to society as a whole. So what are we waiting for? The delays in getting started have driven up the costs dramatically. What would have cost ten cents several decades ago when Dr. James Hansen first testified to Congress about the problem of global warming costs ten dollars today. The longer we wait, the higher the costs will rise. Why delay reaping the economic benefits available by kicking the can down the road some more?
Much of the delay comes from corporations, which are invested more in preserving current profits than worrying about the future. And that shortsightedness can be largely attributed to a distortion in the economic system that allows those same corporations to continue pouring pollutants into the atmosphere free of charge. The profits they make today also distort the political system by funding wide-ranging lobby efforts designed to preserve the status quo. Until such time as the negative impacts of current energy policies — known to economists as untaxed externalities — are factored in, the effort to address the challenges of a changing climate will be hobbled.
An interesting side note to this discussion is the complete lack of press coverage for the Drawdown Review. A Google search turned up no articles at any major news sites. Where the latest report is uplifting, the lack of press coverage is depressing. So it is up to us, the CleanTechnica army, to read the report and share it with those within our circle of influence. Share it on social media and talk about it with your friend and colleagues.
Time is short and the need is great. Tackling climate change will pay for itself many times over. Who wouldn’t want to know such wonderful news?
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