Project Drawdown: how to reverse global warming by 2050

Cover of the Drawdown Review 2020

With summer vacation allowing many of us to meander through fields of stimulating new ideas, this is the perfect moment to discover the Drawdown Review 2020, an incredibly rich and well-edited analysis of climate solutions by one of the world’s leading resources, Project Drawdown. You may also want to watch the video or join the conversation on Tuesday 21st July around a radically re-envisioned future and the role everyone can play in redesigning it.

This year’s Drawdown Review represents a robust antidote to the type of climate angst nurtured by the endless accounts of policy failures, such as the recent news that China is planning to expand its coal power production capacity by 21% in 2020, and that methane emissions are steadily rising, with their global warming effect 80 times higher than carbon dioxide.

While acknowledging the depth of the challenges these trends pose, the California-based non-profit offers a refreshing change - a comprehensive assessment of solutions already at hand to reverse global warming and create concrete scenarios for a better future. As the authors state:

“These solutions are tools of possibility in the face of a seemingly impossible challenge…. Widespread awareness and understanding of climate solutions is vital to kindle agency and effect change worldwide, across individual, community, organizational, regional, national, and global scales. People and institutions of all kinds, in all places, have roles to play in this great transformation, and the solutions in these pages are a synthesis of collective wisdom and collective action unfolding around the globe.”

Based on the work of its research teams, The Review evaluates specific solutions and ranks their likely impacts in terms of emissions, costs and savings for society, as well as potential for implementation at scale.

What is “drawdown”? This is the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline.

Drawdown is a critical turning point for life on Earth, and we must strive to reach it quickly, safely, and equitably.

When that point is reached, by reducing carbon sources, supporting nature-based carbon sinks, and improving social equity with univeral access to health and education, global warming trends could be halted and even begin to decline by mid-century, bringing humanity back into balance with the planet’s living systems.

Key insights. In their Review, the authors convey 10 essential messages:

  • We can reach Drawdown by 2050 if we scale up climate solutions already in hand.

  • Climate solutions are interconnected as a system, and we need all of them. There are no silver bullets.

Earthworm Cast Carbon Storage (ECCS) – VermEcology
The Drawdown Review 2020, p.13

  • Beyond addressing greenhouse gases, climate solutions can have “co-benefits” that contribute to a better, more equitable world. These include better health, protection of ecosystems and biodiversity, more jobs and social equity. “How” solutions are implemented matters greatly.

  • The financial case for climate solutions is crystal clear, as savings significantly outweigh costs. Net operational savings exceed net implementation costs 4 to 5 times over, and the case becomes even stronger if one considers the monetary value of social and health co-benefits, and avoided damage.

  • The majority of climate solutions reduce or replace the use of fossil fuels. They can deliver two-thirds of the emissions reductions needed.

  • We cannot reach Drawdown without simultaneously reducing emissions toward zero and supporting the revitalization of nature’s own carbon sinks.

  • Some of the most powerful climate solutions receive comparably little attention. Among the top solutions are food waste reduction and plant-rich diets, preventing leaks and ensuring proper disposal of refrigerant gases, restoration of forests, as well as access to voluntary reproductive health and inclusive education.

  • ‘Accelerators’ are critical to move solutions forward at the scale, speed, and scope required. Solutions do not scale themselves. We need to remove barriers to expansion.

  • There are opportunities large and small for all individuals and institutions to participate in advancing climate solutions. 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 get off of the perilous path we are on, and onto one that leads to a sustainable future. States the review:

“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.”

Scenarios. The Review formulates a Scenario 1, roughly in line with a peak of a 2°C average increase in global temperatures before 2060, and a Scenario 2, in which warming would peak at 1.5°C around 2050, and even decline slightly thereafter. Both comply with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Key Insights from the Drawdown Review – For Our Grandchildren
The Drawdown Review 2020, p.75

Whether either of these scenarios, or others, become reality is highly dependant on collective will and mobilization. “Accelerators” can create the conditions to move forward, by shaping culture, empowering people, setting goals at all levels of society, supporting behaviour, policy and capital shifts within corporations, organizations and individuals. As the report states:

“We are living in a time of dramatic transformation. The basic physics, chemistry, and biology of this planet make that non-negotiable; stasis is not an option. Society has a choice to make about what shape that transformation will take. Will we employ collective courage and determination and the legion of existing solutions to move the world away from widespread climate catastrophe? Will we pursue climate action in ways that heal systemic injustices and foster resilience, wellbeing, and equality? Who will we choose to be in this pivotal moment of human history?”

The bottom line. the Drawdown Review is a formidable resource to put in the hands of all of those aspiring to tackle the climate emergency and those doubting anything can be done about it. It does not map out how to implement change at an operational level but provides the inspirational idea that change is feasible with existing solutions, which are cost-effective and yield far-ranging benefits.

Last week, scientists, activists and public figures issued yet another call to global leaders to act on the climate emergency in the same way they responded to the Covid-19 pandemic: with exceptional measures.

What Drawdown demonstrates is that our efforts now will greatly reduce the cost of the worst consequences of climate change, later and for future generations.

Aggressive action to address climate change could save the world ...
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