Reducing emissions to lessen the long-term impacts of a warming climate has been a shared objective of the international community for decades. To date, progress toward this goal has not kept pace with pathways necessary to deliver a stabilized climate by the end of the century. The result is that the emissions pathways necessary to achieve this target relative to current activity are necessarily steeper and the energy and land-use system changes required are more abrupt. The current scientific consensus indicates that to stabilize the climate and prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change, we must reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net-zero by or soon after 2050.

Research has shown that there are numerous pathways to net-zero emissions, ranging from significant cuts in fossil fuel consumption and major behavior changes with little reliance on “negative emissions” (removing CO2 from the atmosphere) to smaller structural changes with a heavy reliance on new technologies to reduce carbon from point sources and the atmosphere. 

Getting to net-zero emissions by 2050 requires a combination of technology and policy, and the pathway can take many forms. These pathways are intended to serve not as prescriptions for action but as exercises for considering how different decisions under constraints can lead to different outcomes. This brief provides several building blocks that governments are using or are considering to construct these pathways, but the scale of current policies is insufficient to drive decarbonization. Future briefs in this series will explore individual economic sectors more thoroughly, delving into the technology and policy options available to governments looking to decarbonize.

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