Where to start when, as an organisation, an investor, an entrepreneur, an employee or a consumer you want to participate in the global effort to mitigate climate change? Are there solutions out there? Where can we find resources and insights to innovate and work on meaningful projects to reverse global warming?
Project Drawdown® can be a place to start. Since 2014, this nonprofit organization has worked with academics to identify the 80 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.
Project Drawdown: 80 substantive and viable solutions to reverse global warming
Project Drawdown was founded by environmentalist Paul Hawken to measure and model solutions to stop global warming, and to communicate those findings to the world.
The ambition of the organization, a collaborative effort of scholars, scientists and entrepreneurs, is to reach “drawdown”. Drawdown is the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. This is the point when we begin the process of stopping further climate change and averting potentially catastrophic warming.
Two levers to reach drawdown: reducing emissions and supporting nature’s carbon sinks
Project Drawdown focuses on technological, ecological and behavioral solutions that can reduce emissions or support nature’s carbon sinks.
Solutions are mapped along these 2 levers, 6 sectors and 3 sink categories. For each solution, they have estimated the resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and its financial cost over a 30 year-period from 2020 to 2050.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the 6 sectors with the highest anthropogenic emissions are: electricity and heat production (25%), food agriculture and land use (24%), industry (21%), transportation (14%), buildings (6,4%) and other energy related emissions (9,6%) .
57% of those emissions remain in the atmosphere. The rest is absorbed by 2 natural sinks, land and ocean, respectively absorbing 26% and 17% of emitted greenhouse gas . Engineered sinks (human engineered carbon capture and sequestration systems), although still at a preliminary development stage are covered too by Project Drawdown.
A selection of 5 solutions to start-off
On March 2020, Project Drawdown issued their updated review . It represents the organization’s first major update to their assessment of solutions to move the world toward drawdown, since 2017.
Drilling through the 80 solutions can be overwhelming. To advance your exploratory journey into climate change action, you may start with this selection of 5, chosen here because they are applicable to a wide range of sectors and show significant impact in reversing global warming.
Projected reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are indicated for each solution in parenthesis over a 30 year-period between 2020 and 2050. As shown below, these levers are significant (as a comparison, 50 billion tons CO2e are released worldwide each year by human activities ).
- Reduce food waste (87 billion tons CO2e): Roughly a third of the world’s food is never eaten, which means land and resources used and greenhouse gases emitted in producing it were unnecessary. Interventions can reduce loss and waste, as food moves from farm to fork, thereby reducing overall demand.
- Plant rich diet (65 billion tons CO2e): Consumption of meat and dairy, as well as overall calories, often exceeds nutritional recommendations. A plant rich diet is associated with less deforestation, burping cattle and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Refrigerant management (58 billion tons CO2e): Fluorinated gases have a potent greenhouse effect and are widely used as refrigerants. Managing leaks and disposal of these chemicals can avoid emissions in buildings and landfills.
- Shift to alternative transport (19 billion tons CO2e): public transit, bikes, bicycle infrastructure, walkable cities, high speed rail. Alternative modes of mobility reduce demand for fossil-fueled transportation or replace it altogether. With public and “pooled” transit, we can make the most of available seats. Compact cities, intentional infrastructure, and advanced communication technologies make it possible to walk, cycle, or simply stay home.
- Insulation (17 billion tons CO2e): Insulation impedes unwanted airflow in or out of buildings. In new constructions or retrofits, it makes heating and cooling more energy efficient, with lower emissions.
Many impactful levers are developed in the electricity and heat production sector where the challenges are high: moving away from fossil fuel electricity to renewable and low carbon alternatives, gaining efficiency in production, and improving the electricity grid. More inspiration can be found in the detailed list of Project Drawdown.
Food for thought
To complete Project Drawdown list, there should be a mention of a structural trend picking up with the Covid-19 sanitary and economic crisis.
Sobriety in consumption although not mentioned in the list of solutions of Project Drawdown® is a major lever to reverse climate change. The carbon footprint per capita (i.e., the total emission caused by the consumption of an average individual) varies by up to a factor of 20 between a rich and a developing country. Moving away from over-consumption of non-essential goods and services would limit energy consumption and anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Due to the Covid-19 sanitary crisis, purchase of “non essential” goods and services have dropped significantly (flight travels, fashion,…). These new habits may be here to stay, all the more that they are accelerated by the economic slow-down.
It is good to have this in mind when thinking through our priorities in consumption, investment strategy, and company positioning. This will be key to adapt to the post-covid-19 future while participating in the global effort to achieve drawdown.
 Fifth assessment report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2014, summary for Policymakers and technical summary https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/03/WGIIIAR5_SPM_TS_Volume-3.pdf. AFOLU means Agriculture Forestry and Other Land Use
 Source: Project Drawdown® based on Global Carbon Project analysis adjusted to include all greenhouse gases at 100-year global warming potential
 Full review is available online on Project Drawdown® website https://www.drawdown.org/
 Climate Data Explorer. 2017. Country Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. http://cait.wri.org