This “Sankey” diagram shows how each source of energy (e.g., solar, wind, natural gas; shown on the left) is converted to usable forms (e.g., electricity, liquid fuels; shown in the middle) and finally consumed by end uses (e.g., buildings, industry, transportation; shown on the right) for the lowest-cost decarbonization scenario. Credit: Williams et al., 2020, Figure 3, lower panel
Source: AGU Advances

Staying within a 1.5°C global warming limit will require transformation of our economy to net-zero emissions by 2050, which seems like an enormously ambitious goal. And yet, with new in-depth modeling analysis, Williams et al. [2021] illuminate several technologically and economically feasible pathways to this required deep decarbonization. All pathways require enhanced energy efficiency, decarbonized electricity, electrification, and carbon capture. Interestingly, a modest role for natural gas in 2050 to ensure continuous reliability of electricity supplies is part of the least-cost pathway that still meets the emissions goals. Demonstrating the feasibility of these urgently needed transitions could not come at a more important time, as discussions on appropriate policy instruments to speed the journey to climate stabilization will be front and center as the U.S. rejoins the Paris Climate Accords. Bataille [2021] offers further context for these proposed solutions in a companion Viewpoint.

Citation: Williams, J., Jones, R., Haley, B., Kwok, G., Hargreaves, J., Farbes, J. & Torn, M. [2021]. Carbon-Neutral Pathways for the United States. AGU Advances, 2, e2020AV000284.

—Eric A. Davidson, Editor, AGU Advances

Text © 2021. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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