Climate math: What a 1.5-degree pathway would take

Climate math: What a 1.5-degree pathway would take

Kimberly Henderson, Dickon Pinner, Matt Rogers, Bram Smeets, Christer Tryggestad and Daniela Vargas – McKinsey & Company

Decarbonizing global business at scale is achievable, but the math is daunting.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is rightly focused on protecting lives and livelihoods. Can we simultaneously strive to avoid the next crisis? The answer is yes—if we make greater environmental resilience core to our planning for the recovery ahead, by focusing on the economic and employment opportunities associated with investing in both climate-resilient infrastructure and the transition to a lower-carbon future.

Adapting to climate change is critical because, as a recent McKinsey Global Institute report shows, with further warming unavoidable over the next decade, the risk of physical hazards and nonlinear, socioeconomic jolts is rising. Mitigating climate change through decarbonisation represents the other half of the challenge. Scientists estimate that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would reduce the odds of initiating the most dangerous and irreversible effects of climate change.

While a number of analytic perspectives explain how greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions would need to evolve to achieve a 1.5-degree pathway, few paint a clear and comprehensive picture of the actions global business could take to get there. And little wonder: the range of variables and their complex interaction make any modelling difficult. As part of an ongoing research effort, we sought to cut through the complexity by examining, analytically, the degree of change that would be required in each sector of the global economy to reach a 1.5-degree pathway. What technically feasible carbon-mitigation opportunities—in what combinations and to what degree—could potentially get us there?

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