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40×35: A Zero-Carbon Energy Target for the World’s Largest Economies

By Climate Guest Contributor  

"40×35: A Zero-Carbon Energy Target for the World’s Largest Economies"


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By Andrew Light, Mari Hernandez, and Adam James, via the Center for American Progress. Endnotes and citations are available in the PDF version of this issue brief.

In the past several years, small groups of some of the world’s largest carbon polluters have joined forces to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as part of their overall efforts to slow the pace of dangerous global warming. These efforts include the G20 leaders’ 2009 pledge to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies; the launch of a number of efforts on clean energy cooperation through the global Clean Energy Ministerial starting in 2010; and the creation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants a year ago, which started with six nations and has now grown to 27 countries plus the European Union.

Following on these efforts, we propose that the 17 parties in the Major Economies Forum, the U.S.-led coalition of the world’s largest carbon emitters, set a target of generating 40 percent of their electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2035 — what we call the “40×35” target.

Our analysis shows that meeting this target is not only highly feasible but, if met, would also reduce these countries’ cumulative CO2 emissions by approximately 6.4 gigatons — 6,398 million metric tons — by 2035. While there are other kinds of renewable energy targets that would result in greater emissions reductions — for example, targets that exclude hydroelectricity or nuclear power — we argue that the 40 percent all-inclusive zero-carbon target is more politically feasible and also sufficiently ambitious to be worth pursuing. Achieving this target would be a significant contribution to meeting the global goal of the international climate negotiations of stabilizing temperature increases caused by climate change at 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels by the end of this century.

As we will show, projections for a zero-carbon electricity mix for many of the parties of the Major Economies Forum by 2035 are already quite high — some nations are already headed beyond the 40 percent target on a business-as-usual pathway. So far, however, none of these countries has made a documented commitment for achieving any energy goals beyond 2030.

The existence of a set target among the Major Economies Forum parties would help protect projected emissions reductions from backsliding due to changes in fuel costs, currently unforeseen policy changes in these countries as governments change, and other unanticipated consequences. A common target by these developed and developing countries could galvanize the range of national-level policies already in place, and increase the ambition of all parties to hit the target. More importantly, these countries could make a common commitment along with an agreement to share best practices to expand the renewable electricity sector, cooperate on technology development and deployment, and strengthen existing bilateral agreements between parties that support these ends.

We will also demonstrate that pairing such a zero-carbon electricity target with an energy efficiency goal would be incredibly beneficial. First, incorporating energy efficiency from the beginning in countries that are likely to see a surge in electricity demand over the coming years will create more sustainable smart energy systems in those countries. Second, reducing total energy demand means that each investment in new, zero-carbon generation counts for more in terms of total emissions reductions. Demand reduction will enable many countries to more easily hit this zero-carbon target.

In this issue brief we present the rationale for pursuing emissions reductions through the Major Economies Forum, our analysis on a range of target scenarios as applied to the forum parties, and our recommendation for action.

An Action Agenda For The Major Economies Forum

While the Major Economies Forum’s roots go back to the Bush administration’s “Major Economies Meetings,” the Obama administration launched the forum in 2009 as a place for cooperation among the world’s 17 largest greenhouse gas polluters: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Unlike the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, the Major Economies Forum is not formally constructed as a treaty-making body but is nonetheless a leadership-level convening process that can pursue opportunities for mutual cooperation among its members. While the larger U.N. climate process includes 194 parties, the 17 members of the Major Economies Forum represent approximately 80 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions. At its inception, the hope was that the Major Economies Forum could provide an opportunity for frank dialogue between member countries about achieving emissions reductions.

While many of its meetings have served more as a place for advanced debate in a smaller forum for each year’s U.N. climate negotiations, the Major Economies Forum has made some progress on its own. During its July 2009 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, President Barack Obama famously embraced the goal taken up by the G8 that developed countries should aim to reduce their carbon emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 as a fair share of their global mitigation obligations.

Early on, various groups of countries in the forum also developed “Technology Action Plans,” which detailed proposals to accelerate progress in specific sectors of clean energy technology. Development of these plans in turn led to the creation of the Clean Energy Ministerial meetings — the fourth of which will take place in New Delhi in April — bringing together the energy ministers from Major Economies Forum parties for collaboration in a number of key sectors, including advanced vehicles, wind, solar, and carbon capture and storage.

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern announced in January that the Obama administration is ready for a more direct “action agenda” for the Major Economies Forum. The timing is ripe for movement in this body, given where we are in the larger international climate negotiations.

In 2011 the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change began a process to create a new global climate agreement under the auspices of the “Durban Platform” — a new negotiating track specifically designed to create a new binding global climate treaty to cover mitigation and adaptation that would be applicable to all parties — to be finalized in 2015 but not to take effect until 2020 at the earliest. The good news is that this new agreement will presumably include some level of greenhouse gas cuts for the biggest developed and developing countries—unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which only required reductions from the developed countries that ratified the treaty.

The bad news is that since this new treaty won’t go into effect until 2020, it will not address what is now recognized as the critical “ambition gap” — the gap between the level that most countries in the world have already committed to cut their emissions to by 2020 and the cuts needed to stay on a pathway in which we could still feasibly stabilize human-caused global temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Overcoming this gap may require doubling current unilateral global commitments from all countries that have publicly pledged what they are willing to do to lower their emissions by 2020. While the Durban Platform also includes a workstream addressing the ambition gap, the submissions to date have not been very helpful, and we have low expectations that it will actually achieve any meaningful outcome in time to address this gap, given the fractious politics of the U.N. process.

While the U.N. climate talks are effectively locked up in a process of creating a new post-2020 treaty, the need for additional international cooperation outside of these negotiations is essential. Even if the parties in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to a bold, highly ambitious, and legally stringent global treaty for emissions reductions by 2015, this new treaty may arrive only in time to govern a world condemned to temperature increases at 4 degrees Celsius or more by 2100 — and the disastrous consequences which would result — unless more ambitious measures are undertaken to reduce emissions through this decade.

The advantages of the Major Economies Forum, particularly in the context of climate action, are relatively straightforward. This smaller, high-level working group is more nimble and unhindered by the bureaucratic processes that can sometimes derail the larger U.N. climate talks. Additionally, since the forum’s member countries collectively represent 80 percent of global carbon emissions, decisions made in the forum can be incredibly transformative in a relatively short period of time. Just as importantly, using the Major Economies Forum for achieving targets such as the ones we describe below does not threaten the integrity or authority of the U.N. process. While a comprehensive global agreement on emissions cuts, adaptation, finance, and technology sharing is essential, more discrete targets among the major climate polluters that do not place a limit on future ambition can be essential for progress while a new global agreement is in process.

Action by the Major Economies Forum also answers one of the common new responses among those previously opposed to climate action. During the last election season, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney remarked that unilateral action by the United States to reduce its carbon emissions was futile. “The reality is that the problem is called global warming,” he said, “not America warming.” More recently, in response to President Obama’s prominent exhortation for action on climate change in his second Inaugural Address, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) remarked that, given the global nature of the problem, “We ought to be working on an international treaty as opposed to individual legislation for the United States.” While we strongly disagree that there is no point to action at home on reducing our carbon emissions, both Gov. Romney and Sen. Grassley are correct in saying that coordinated international action is needed — or else the gains from our domestic efforts in terms of creating new jobs or promoting energy independence will be swamped by the impacts of destructive climate change.

Scenarios For Renewable Energy Targets In The Major Economies Forum

The Major Economies Forum offers a unique opportunity to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions through adopting a common zero-carbon target among participating countries. In this analysis, we examine the outcome and feasibility of either a 35 percent or 40 percent zero-carbon electricity standard by 2035 for all of the forum’s parties under four different scenarios. These include options for including hydroelectricity, nuclear power, and renewables under the target, or only subsets of the three. This covers the spectrum of zero-carbon generation — from renewable sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower, to no-carbon sources such as nuclear energy.

We analyzed four scenarios to determine both the resulting ambition gaps for each party in the Major Economies Forum to meet a desired target and the total carbon dioxide emissions reductions if all parties embraced and achieved the target:

  • Scenario 1: 35 percent renewable electricity target by 2035, excluding both hydroelectricity and nuclear power.
  • Scenario 2: 35 percent renewable electricity target by 2035, including hydroelectricity but not nuclear power.
  • Scenario 3: 35 percent zero-carbon target by 2035, including both hydroelectricity and nuclear power.
  • Scenario 4: 40 percent zero-carbon target by 2035, including both hydroelectricity and nuclear power.

Tables 5–8 in the appendix show the projected 2035 business-as-usual zero-carbon electricity generation for each of the forum’s parties, which we were able to analyze with currently available data; the additional zero-carbon generation — in terawatt hours and as a percentage of total supply — needed to meet each target; and the emissions reductions resulting from the target under each scenario. It is important to note that while South Africa and Indonesia often appear to be the furthest away from the target in each of these scenarios, that is in part a result of the limitations of our data. These countries were the only two where we were unable to directly use data from the International Energy Agency’s most recent World Energy Outlook report or to infer the outcome for a party based on a larger dataset included in that report. (Our methodology for generating figures for these two parties is explained in the appendix.)

The outcomes of each scenario are further discussed below.

Scenario 1

Because of limitations on data accessibility and availability — explained in the appendix — we reduced the 17 parties of the Major Economies Forum to 11 for the purposes of our analysis over all four scenarios. The 35 percent renewable electricity target by 2035, excluding both hydroelectricity and nuclear power, is the only scenario in which all 11 parties must go beyond their business-as-usual projections to meet the target. As a result, Scenario 1 yields the highest cumulative CO2 emissions reductions, including business-as-usual reductions and reductions achieved because of the target, of the four scenarios, at approximately 8.1 gigatons — 8,087 million metric tons — by 2035. The CO2 emissions reductions that result solely from the target and not including business-as-usual reductions would be about 6 gigatons — 5,951 million metric tons — which would represent 30 percent of projected global CO2 emissions in 2035.

Scenario 2

The 35 percent renewable electricity target by 2035, including hydroelectricity but not nuclear power, both reduces the ambition gap for each of the Major Economies Forum parties and would allow three parties to meet the target based on their projected business-as-usual generation mix: Brazil, the European Union, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, Americas — excluding the United States, which means Canada and Mexico — though given Canada’s expansive hydroelectricity resources, it is more likely to hit the target than Mexico. With 8 of the 11 parties increasing their zero-carbon generation by 2035, the total cumulative CO2 emissions reductions would equal approximately 6.6 gigatons — 6,555 million metric tons. The CO2 emissions reductions resulting solely from the target would be 3.5 gigatons — 3,474 million metric tons — or 17 percent of projected global CO2 emissions in 2035.

Scenario 3

The 35 percent zero-carbon target by 2035, including both hydroelectricity and nuclear power, is the most easily attainable target since it would require the lowest amount of additional zero-carbon generation overall out of the four scenarios. In this scenario, six Major Economies Forum parties — OECD Asia Oceania, Brazil, the European Union, Japan, OECD Americas (Canada and Mexico), and the United States — are able to meet or exceed the target. China and Russia would have to increase their zero-carbon generation target by less than 10 percent. Just three parties — India, Indonesia, and South Africa — would have to increase their zero-carbon generation more than 15 percent over projected business as usual. The total cumulative CO2 emissions reductions resulting from Scenario 3 would be 5.5 gigatons — 5,487 million metric tons. The CO2 emissions reductions from just the target would be approximately 1.5 gigatons — 1,463 million metric tons — representing 7 percent of projected global CO2 emissions in 2035.

Scenario 4

Scenario 4 increases the target to 40 percent zero-carbon electricity, including both hydroelectricity and nuclear power, by 2035 — the 40×35 target. Under this scenario, four Major Economies Forum parties — OECD Asia Oceania, Brazil, the European Union, and OECD Americas (Canada and Mexico) — will meet or exceed the 40×35 target. The other seven countries — China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Africa, and the United States — will need to increase their zero-carbon electricity generation to meet the target. Under Scenario 4, total cumulative CO2 emissions reductions would equal about 6.4 gigatons — 6,398 million metric tons — by 2035. The CO2 emissions reductions resulting from the 40×35 target would be 2.4 gigatons — 2,374 million metric tons — which would represent about 12 percent of projected global CO2 emissions in 2035.

Comparing The Scenarios

To ascertain the most politically viable and highest-impact scenario, we performed a comparative analysis of the varying ambition needed by different countries to hit different fuel-mix targets by 2035. Figure 5 shows the necessary percent increase in zero-carbon electricity generation by target and country, and the total cumulative emissions reductions resulting from each scenario.

This chart illustrates the varying ambition gaps by each of the forum’s parties, as we have broken them out, under each scenario. As the chart shows, Scenario 1 would require each party to increase its nonhydroelectricity non-nuclear zero-carbon electricity generation. Compare this with Scenario 2 and Scenario 3, wherein adding first hydroelectricity and then nuclear power as well to the target would decrease the amount of zero-carbon generation needed to meet each target. In other words, it is easier for all countries to hit targets that include nuclear power and hydroelectricity, as opposed to just renewables. Finally, in Scenario 4, where the overall target goes up to 40 percent, the ambition gaps for the five parties included in Scenario 3 increase, and two other parties must add zero-carbon generation to meet the new target.

To help interpret these data, Figure 6 shows the feasibility of a given country’s ability to hit the range of targets using color coding:

  • The green color represents a country that needs a 0 percent to 15 percent increase in zero-carbon electricity generation over business-as-usual projections.
  • The yellow color represents a country that needs a 16 percent to 25 percent increase over business-as-usual projections.
  • The red color represents a country that needs a 26 percent to 35 percent increase over business-as-usual projections.

A glance at the four columns reveals that Scenario 3 and Scenario 4 are the easiest to hit under current business-as-usual projections. Additionally, there is little difference between the countries that would have difficulty hitting the Scenario 3 target and the Scenario 4 target, though the percent increase needed in each case to achieve this goal is important for reasons we will discuss below.

40 Percent Zero-Carbon Electricity Generation By 2035

We recommend that the parties of the Major Economies Forum adopt a target of 40 percent zero-carbon electricity generation by 2035, which includes both hydroelectricity and nuclear power. The 40×35 target would reduce global CO2 emissions an additional 12 percent over projected 2035 levels, bringing cumulative CO2 emissions down by 6.4 gigatons by 2035.

Our analysis shows that all developed countries in the Major Economies Forum should be able to hit the 35 percent zero-carbon target, including both hydroelectricity and nuclear power, by 2035 — as indicated by Scenario 3. The downside to Scenario 3 is that it might appear to put too much of the burden on developing countries to achieve the target because of their lower starting point. If the target is raised to 40 percent, however, then the total reductions go up, and the playing field levels since the United States and Japan still have to increase their ambition — they are at 36.7 percent and 38.7 percent, respectively — along with China, India, Indonesia, Russia, and South Africa — and potentially Mexico, depending on how they disaggregate from Canada in a more specified analysis. All of these factors would make the 40×35 target more politically viable as a form of international cooperation, even if it raises the bar of agreeing to the target within each country. It might be possible, though, to allow more time for some parties to hit the target or adopt slightly variable targets based on current business-as-usual projections or other criteria.

Additionally, it is likely the case that the United Kingdom and Italy would also have to increase their ambition once they are disaggregated from the European Union, given their limited nuclear resources compared to France. More importantly, increasing the target from 35 percent to 40 percent zero-carbon electricity generation adds nearly one gigaton of CO2 emissions reductions to the cumulative total by 2035.

In addition to Scenario 4 being more attractive when compared to the other three scenarios due to greater ambition sharing and overall carbon reductions, the 40×35 target would help lock in any business-as-usual emissions reductions that are not currently backed by national targets or goals. The final emissions reductions modeled in our study, which help justify adoption of the target, include both business-as-usual emissions reductions from 2010 forward and the added reductions from an increase in ambition for those parties that are not expected to meet the stipulated target in each scenario. Because business-as-usual projections for future deployment of renewables and nuclear power for each of the Major Economies Forum’s parties do not represent current policy commitments — since no party has yet to adopt this target — a target and commitment in the forum would help ensure that currently projected emissions reductions are realized and would also hedge against backsliding in the case of declining fossil-fuel prices, priority changes at the national level following elections, and other unanticipated factors.

Additionally, the wide range of policies already in place at the national level is both encouraging and problematic. The good news is that 14 Major Economies Forum countries — 15, if you count state renewable portfolio standards in the United States — already have some form of renewable energy or electricity targets in place. These targets may vary in scope and ambition by country, but our assessment is that they would be crucial stepping stones to reaching a more ambitious 40×35 target. The added value of a 40×35 target in the Major Economies Forum is that it would aggregate and galvanize this patchwork of country-level and subnational policies, much in the same way that a national clean energy standard in the United States would tie together existing state renewable portfolio standards and would encourage states without a standard to increase their ambition and cooperate on best practices with states that are further along.

This potential to create an overarching target among the major economies would likely have significant economic implications. Best practices and potential cooperation on the development and deployment of clean energy technologies could spur new bilateral and multilateral agreements and, in places such as the European Union and Australia that have launched carbon markets — which set a tradable limit on greenhouse gas emissions in different sectors — may encourage the creation of a more resilient electric grid that allows for the more efficient delivery of renewable electricity from sources to end-users or advance the effectiveness of carbon-trading mechanisms.

Although we did not analyze an efficiency target in this study, we recognize that the inclusion of an efficiency target in the 40×35 scenario could significantly increase by several orders of magnitude the emissions reductions achieved by such a program for decreasing power demand. Recent modeling by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows a large potential increase in cumulative emissions reductions in the United States if an efficiency target is added to a 25 percent by 2025 renewable electricity standard. Because most of the increase in electricity demand out to 2035 is from developing countries — 60 percent from China, India, and the Middle East — increasing energy efficiency in the building sector, which accounts for one-third of global energy consumption, could drastically reduce demand by incorporating energy savings to new construction projects and could therefore reduce the need to build new fossil-fuel generation. As such, the parties of the Major Economies Forum should strongly consider pairing a zero-carbon generation target with an energy efficiency target if they take up a proposal of this type.

Alternatively, individual countries should consider adopting a complementary energy efficiency target as a means to maximize the role that zero-carbon generation will play in meeting the Major Economies Forum target. To illustrate this, consider that one gigawatt of new zero-carbon generation counts for less when demand is higher, and more — in terms of total percentage — when demand is lower. Particularly in the developing countries that will be building new generation to meet demand, this kind of target would increase the bang for the buck on each investment in zero-carbon resources.

Next Steps For The United States

If the Major Economies Forum parties adopt the 40×35 target, then the United States will have to increase its zero-carbon electricity generation by 3 percent, or about 182 billion kilowatt hours, over business-as-usual projections. Although a 40×35 federal clean energy standard in the United States would ensure that the new Major Economies Forum target would be met, the political feasibility of this in the near term is very low. The adoption of a clean energy standard that designates a target for renewable energy development on public lands could also increase clean energy generation in the United States. In lieu of an overarching national policy, the United States could continue to pursue greater renewable energy development through various departmental policies and programs. The U.S. Army, for example, plans to deploy one gigawatt of renewable energy by 2025.

At the state level, policymakers could adopt or strengthen renewable energy standards in order to increase zero-carbon electricity generation and reach the 40×35 target. Renewable energy standards are regulatory mandates that set specific targets requiring utilities to generate a certain percentage of electricity from clean energy sources. Currently, 29 states plus the District of Columbia have these standards. State policymakers should focus on strengthening current renewable energy standards and adopting new targets in states without a clean energy policy.


While the U.N. climate process works through the difficult task of creating a new comprehensive climate treaty by 2015 — and then works five more years to ratify it by 2020 — the people of the world are growing more and more impatient. Yet there is little that can be done, if anything, to speed this process along. Development of any new treaty is a long and cumbersome process fraught with derailments — especially when close to 200 parties are involved.

In the meantime, we need more action. We need to take on the ambition gap between what the parties who have been willing to articulate their 2020 targets have said they will do and what is needed to make it possible to achieve some modicum of climate safety in the future.

Our duties here are clear. As President Obama put it in his most recent State of the Union address, “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.” More aggressive steps forward on an action agenda for the Major Economies Forum is movement in the right direction. It is certainly not the only thing we need to do, nor is it sufficient to close the ambition gap we currently face, but it is achievable and, at this point, necessary.


Methodology: Although all 17 parties of the Major Economies Forum are represented in some form in our analysis, our model includes country- or region-specific data for just 11 parties — eight countries (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Africa, and the United States), the European Union, and two regional groups (OECD Asia Oceania and OECD Americas) — due to the organization of currently available datasets from the International Energy Agency, or IEA. The European Union, OECD Asia Oceania, and OECD Americas capture data for the eight countries — Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, South Korea, and the United Kingdom — that are not broken out individually in our model. Further individual assessments will be needed in some cases, though, especially for individual European Union member countries that take part in the Major Economies Forum and are included here in a much larger set of parties such as the United Kingdom and Italy. Additionally, due to the lack of country-level data for certain forum and nonforum countries available from the International Energy Agency, we used 2030 projections for Indonesia and South Africa, and we were unable to exclude three nonforum countries: Chile (included in OECD Americas), Israel, and New Zealand (both included in OECD Asia Oceania).

To develop this proposal, the Center for American Progress calculated the emissions reductions using the following steps:

  1. Calculate emissions per terawatt hour, or TWh, by taking projected 2035 emissions from power generation and dividing by projected 2035 fossil-fuel electricity generation.
  2. Calculate additional zero-carbon generation needed to reach target and multiply that additional generation for each country or region by the emissions factor calculated in the first step.
  3. Calculate business-as-usual emissions reductions by subtracting 2010 zero-carbon generation from 2035 zero carbon generation and then multiplying that by each emissions factor.
  4. Add business-as-usual emissions reductions to reductions from target to get total cumulative emissions reductions in 2035.

Other than data for Indonesia and South Africa, all country and regional electricity generation and CO2 emissions data are from the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2012 report. The 2035 numbers are included under IEA’s tables in the annexes under each country’s—or region’s—table under “Current Policies Scenario,” so they reflect business-as-usual projections and account for growth in electricity demand. Note that the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2012 report does not provide country-level electricity or emissions data for every Major Economies Forum country, so the following countries’ data are captured under the regions specified: Australia (Asia Oceania), France (European Union), Germany (European Union), Italy (European Union), Mexico (OECD Americas), South Korea (Asia Oceania), and the United Kingdom (European Union). Additionally, we used 2030 projections for Indonesia and South Africa due to the lack of country-specific data for these countries out to 2035, and we were unable to exclude three nonforum countries’ data from regional International Energy Agency datasets that we used in our model: Chile, Israel, and New Zealand. In this analysis, Asia Oceania excludes Japan, and OECD Americas excludes the United States.

Indonesia’s generation and emissions data are projected for 2030 and found in “The 3rd ASEAN Energy Outlook” report released by The Institute of Energy Economics—Japan, The ASEAN Centre for Energy, and The National ESSPA Project Teams in February 2011. Indonesia’s emissions total for 2030 — 406 million metric tons, or MMT — was provided for total energy consumption rather than just electricity generation. To get the 2030 emissions total for just power generation, we calculated power generation input as a percentage of total energy consumption from fossil fuels — 166.7 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE)/489.2 MTOE = 34 percent. We then multiplied 34 percent by total emissions from energy consumption — 406 MMT * 0.34 = 138.04 MMT — to get an estimate of 2030 total emissions from Indonesia’s power-generation sector.

South Africa’s generation and emissions data are projected for 2030 and found in the “Integrated Resource Plan for Electricity 2010­–2030” report published by South Africa’s Department of Energy in May 2011. Total projected electricity generation and emissions for 2030 were included in the report, but in order to get the projected total power generation from zero-carbon generation sources in 2030, we used a percentage breakdown in the report (found on page 27) that lists projected 2030 hydroelectricity — 4 percent — and nuclear power — 3 percent — generation under the business-as-usual base case.

2010 generation data for Indonesia and South Africa come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Statistics.

Assumptions: Each scenario calculates emissions reductions based on the displacement of fossil-fuel sources only and does not account for the displacement of nuclear power, hydroelectricity, or nonhydroelectricity renewable energy sources. Additionally, the emissions factor for each Major Economies Forum party is based on the average emissions per terawatt hour from all fossil-fuel sources, including coal, oil, and natural gas sources.

(See data tables for Scenarios 1-4 in the PDF.)

— Andrew Light is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Mari Hernandez is a Research Associate at the Center. Adam James is a Research Assistant at the Center. This piece was cross-posted with permission.

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38 Responses to 40×35: A Zero-Carbon Energy Target for the World’s Largest Economies

  1. Paul says:

    Targets are no where near ambitious enough to do anything to stymie global warming.

    for current positive feed backs to be stopped dead before becoming self sustaining we need to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere about ten years ago.

    • Jack Burton says:

      Yes Paul. There seems to be a general willingness to discount the feed backs that already are well underway. When we discount feed backs like in the Arctic and the melting permafrost across the northern hemisphere, then we can do projections that make it seem possible to get control of emission by 2035. But by 2035, taking into account how much CO2 already is in the atmosphere and the feed backs it has already put in motion, then none of this seems like it will actually mitigate the global warming problem.
      We hear how ell some have done at reducing CO2 emissions and how much more than can and will do. Great. But if this is all so good, why then did 2012 result in a huge spike in CO2 emissions. Too many people focus on one small piece of the climate puzzle, they do not look at the whole. BUT, the whole can be measured, it can be measured in the CO2 emission spike of 2012. It can be measured in run away melting of the arctic sea ice. It can be measured by the release levels of methane and CO2 from specific areas of permafrost. It can be measured in once again rising air temperatures and a huge accumulation of heat in the oceans.
      Sure, we can reduce some Co2 emissions, and some are doing it, but the whole picture? Just do the measurements and see that CO2 is spiking at a time when it must go straight down and fast! Already we have put CO2 levels at a range that guarantees run away global warming.
      I think the physics are clear right now, we are on the cusp of a run away scenario. Anything that looks at the whole, must include known feed backs and potential feed backs. The work positive feed back loop will be engraved on societies grave stone! Bank on it!

      • Superman1 says:

        Excellent assessment, but the Amen Corner here won’t admit it. The possible solutions are not salable, and the salable solutions are insufficient. The only hope is almost near ending of fossil fuel use now, rapid carbon recovery by parallel means, and a thermal over-damping by geo-engineering to quench most of the positive feedback mechanisms. Relative to what is required, the projected reductions are not even in the ballpark.

      • Sasparilla says:

        Well said Jack, I’d been thinking we had until into the next decade for the effects on the population to make actual action possible and overcome the political forces of status quo – but I don’t think we have that time anymore.

        After watching what’s been happening over this last decade (especially the arctic ice cap these last couple of years and permafrost) I agree with your assessment – with what we have in the pipeline we’re probably already committed to a runaway greenhouse emission scenario on emissions reductions alone.

        I believe the CO2 emissions from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013 was 3.2x ppm, which is significantly above last year’s 2.6x ppm increase. The likelihood of appropriate political action (being led by the U.S. as the bad actor) seems implausible (last chance with lots of dangerous Geo-Engineering is probably the initial Melt Out of the Arctic in a couple of years we’ll need to make that our big push). That said, I’ll go down fighting and be doing my darndest to change what I can till the end.

  2. 6Gt CO 2 reduction needed by 2020 not 2035 for 2C.

    “To have a good chance of staying below two degrees C of warming, global emissions should be between 41 and 47 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020, said Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Switzerland’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.”

    2012 emissions 52Gt and climbing

    • Paul says:

      Those estimates were conservative and didn’t factor in positive feedback mechanisms nor the current knowledge on the perilous state of the arctic.

      we are well past the point where equilibrium in the climate would stop at 2C as many of the feed back mechanisms are now reaching the point where they are self sustaining even if we put no C02 in the atmosphere from now.

      Given that we are adding ever more CO2 to the atmosphere it’s pretty clear the game is over.

      • It’s not game over – feedbacks are driven by rising CO2 levels. Every tonne of CO2 kept out of the atmos means less warming period. Hope you’re not one of those who is claiming there’s nothing we can do.

        • Paul says:

          The feedbacks are self sustaining no more CO2 needed. The Artic is gone in the next few years regardless of what we do this is inevitable.

          The lack of summer ice changes the regions surface albedo meaning vast quantities of heat is absorbed instead of reflected out of the atmosphere this is a feedback loop that will continue regardless of more CO2 now as the arctic is practically gone already.

          The extra heat absorbed by the region will lead to permafrost thawing and methane clatherate breakdown there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop this now.

          if you think otherwise you are in denial. Global warming as a problem has been known about in the scientific literature since the 19th century they can and did tell you what would happen to the world if you added CO2.

          It’s far to late to do anything about it now.Modeling with out feedback loops state we have 40 years of heating assuming no CO2 further is added to the atmosphere before the climate reaches equilibrium.

          Permafrost is already melting at current temperatures which will lead to further increases in temperature.

          There seems to be this general thought pattern that the feedbacks have only just started.

          They haven’t they’ve been on going for a while now what has happened recently is we have hit a tipping point where they sustain on their own.

          • wili says:

            Yup, but even after you have started the avalanche, it’s a good its a good idea not to keep throwing boulders off the top of the slope. And its better to stop that foolish practice NOW than to let it wait for another couple of decades.

        • Superman1 says:

          There’s plent we can ‘do’; just don’t have high expectations they will have a positive outcome, unless some extremely harsh measures are instituted, as I describe above.

        • Sasparilla says:

          Hey Stephen, I think the game over call depends (relying on pure emissions reductions its probably been game over for a while now), it should be noted feedback’s are powered by rising temperatures not CO2.

          Currently we have about 30-40 years of additional warming in the pipeline because the oceans act as a big drag on atmospheric temperature rises – if we stopped all human CO2 emissions tomorrow the temps would keep increasing for 3 or 4 more decades. The ice cap will have initial melt out in a couple of years and that will be it for the ice cube at the top of the world with more and more permafrost melting out every year as temperatures rise.

          I don’t think its game over yet with lots of very dangerous geo-engineering (besides the CO2 experiment we’re running). All that said we have to do what we can for however long we can, fight on.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    A risible forty percent reduction by 2035, twenty-bloody-two years away! Really, do these people take us for idiots? Moreover, just to add low farce to tragedy, these sorts of ‘pie-in-the-sky’, put it off for the kids to worry about, targets, never get met, in the West at least.

    • Superman1 says:

      “Really, do these people take us for idiots?” Would they be wrong if they did?

    • Superman1 says:

      “Really, do these people take us for…….?” Would they be wrong if they did?

    • Superman1 says:

      Mulga, That’s gloom and doom, according to the Carnival Barkers here. The DOW is at record heights, the jobs report for February was very good, housing is bouncing back, and solar and wind installations are growing. Let the good times roll!

  4. fj says:

    Right now there are about one-half billion cyclists in China.

    This is major zero carbon transportation.

    And blows away all those nattering myths of what can’t be done.

    • Jack Burton says:

      Yes, but most of them aspire to owning a car. Lack of income is all that holds them back. There is a reason China is the number ONE emitter of CO2 and is spiking it’s release to swamp every effort made in the west to reduce CO2. All the good work Germany has done is vaporized by Chinese fossil fuel growth in a near instant. Be serious, China is Number 1 and growing as the emitter of CO2.

      • Jack, the main reason China is number one is us. We’ve outsourced our emissions to the world’s factory. A significant amount of China’s emissions are for products we buy.

        The majority of CO2 in the atmos today is the product of the USA.

      • fj says:

        So what if they aspire to have cars. Show them much better lives without them and perhaps they’ll remember how naive they’d been at one time.

        China is a huge number of people making equally huge costly mistakes and terribly out of control; it’s brought one-quarter billion out of poverty using heavy machine methods when they could have done much better and may or probably eventually succeed.

        In any case it’s not clear what you’re trying to say except more nattering naysaying.

        One-half billion people using net zero transportation shows that when something exists it shows that something is not impossible, especially since it happened so easily, and especially since it can easily be channeled as a work in progress to a much better world.

        • Paul says:

          I think he is pointing out that industrial and energy creation of CO2 outstrips the amount of CO2 created in transportation by such a vast amount talking about not driving cars to and from work is ridiculous.

          If you really want to move to making CO2 output as low as possible you would be a heavy supporter of nuclear power.

          Are you?

          • fj says:

            Typical sham practice of changing the subject.

            Half a billion cyclists is half of the billion cars being used on this planet right now.

            And, look where this has gotten us.

          • Paul says:

            The only way we are going to massively curtain CO2 output in any reasonable time frame is by widespread adoption of Nuclear Fission power plants.

            If you are advocating we do that you are advocating we do nothing.

            Solar and renewables are incapable of powering base load generation as we needed.

            more than 70% of all our CO2 comes frome industry and energy generation.

            Cut the hell out of that segment whilst working on ways to make transportation CO2 free in the longer term.

            that might make a token difference. everything else being proposed isn’t even a drop in the bucket. it’s a joke

          • fj says:

            case closed

  5. Any policy regime is better than none. However, they need to put them in place now and not wait until 2020. Waiting until 2020 will be far too late. Better to shoot for an emergency climate regime this year and then scale it up as needed. Most likely, it will need to be rapidly scaled. As many posters note above — feedbacks are starting now.

  6. Paul Klinkman says:

    Both nuclear power and corn biofuels are energy Ponzi schemes. They waste about as much carbon over their life cycles as just burning the equivalent amount of fossil fuels would spend, for the same amount of power. In nuclear power’s case, you can make a small net energy profit depending on how many more Fukushimas and Three Mile Islands you want, and whether you’ll ever spend energy cleaning them up after the disasters.

    We’ll give this report an “A” rating from the nuclear power industry.

    • Paul says:

      I’d love to know how you came to the conclusion that nuclear requires more CO2 to gain the same energy as burning coal given the absolutely enormous differential in energy per tonne of coal vs tonne of uranium ore.

      Not to mention the disparity in in that to move the equivalent energy tonnage in coal requires commensurately much more fuel as well.

      Why are so many environmentalists absolutely ignorant of these saliant facts. Not to mention nuclear is responsible for a whole hell of a lot less deaths compared to the FF industry and overall has a safer track record.

      • Paul Klinkman says:

        “Not to mention nuclear is responsible for a whole hell of a lot less deaths compared to the FF industry and overall has a safer track record.”

        … Safer … Track … Record … Let’s just write your claim down again for posterity. I have a town capable of holding 14,000 residents, Chernobyl, that I’d like to sell you. I have some Japanese towns too.

    • Paul says:

      as i can’t edit a post that is already been put up here is a website with good information that explains just how much more efficient nuclear is compared to coal


      tl;dr version

      Nuclear is over 100,000 times the energy density of coal.

      Meaning you mine much less earth requiring vastly less fuel or power spent working the tools to mine the ore.

      Meaning huge quantities of CO2 that never enters the atmosphere.

      Similar energy density issues exist with all forms of fossil fuel.

  7. SecularAnimist says:

    This proposal falls far short of what is easily obtainable, as demonstrated by multiple, serious, detailed, specific (and in some cases peer-reviewed) proposals for generating ALL the world’s electricity from renewable energy within a much shorter time frame (closer to 10 years than 22 years).

    The acknowledgement by the authors that they offer this target because it is “politically feasible” tells the whole story:

    The only real obstacle to rapidly eliminating ALL fossil fuel use is the entrenched power and wealth of the fossil fuel corporations.

    • Superman1 says:

      The Carnival Barkers are back, with no interim emissions numbers to spoil their pitch. ‘Step right up, Ladies and Gentlemen. Watch with your very eyes how Dr. Secular will separate you from the contents of your wallet with the magic of 100% pure Solar Conversion Python Oil’.

      • SecularAnimist says:

        Content-free drivel and schoolboy insults are pretty much all you bring to the discussion.

        And hypocritical, defeatist whining, of course.

      • Sasparilla says:

        Superman1 that’s way out of line.

        SecularAnimist’s post (#7) about this article had nothing to do with you and he’s entitled to his own opinion (free of unprovoked sarcastic abusive posts from others) just as you are.

  8. SecularAnimist says:

    If WHINING could be used to generate electricity, then Superman1 could solve the problem single-handedly.

  9. Andy Hultgren says:

    Two comments:

    1) Figure 4 (which describes the reports overall recommended scenario, Scenario 4, the “40×35″ target) shows that Scenario 4 only requires extremely minor deviations from business-as-usual for the U.S. Does that realistically accomplish anything? It certainly does not require any international leadership from the U.S. How will that meager commitment galvanize coordinated international action on climate change?

    2) Can purely insulting comments, such as Superman1′s reply to comment #7, be deleted from the comments page? Whether or not I agree with Superman1, I don’t come to CP to read about people insulting one another.

  10. Paul says:

    one last point, Fukashima would have not have been any where near as bad had they not been forced to store their nuclear waste at the power plant site.

    Thanks to Nimbyism nuclear waste is being stored at reactor plants instead of at a waste disposal site which can be hardened to contain the waste and made to ensure that it doesn’t reenter the environment.