Over the past decade, climate philanthropy has focused on seizing the best near-term opportunities to keep the rise in global temperatures to well below 2° C.

Recent progress is heartening, as philanthropy has played an important part in helping to reduce clean technology costs, lock in greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and protect key carbon sinks. We have made significant strides in transforming the power sector and the transportation sector, which are essential components of success. But there is a great deal more to do. Meeting our global climate goals will require net greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2020, and will require a steady and steep decline through 2050, net-zero emissions sometime around mid-century (which will require carbon-dioxide removal), and negative emissions after that.

GHG Emissions Projections through 2050 (Approximate pathways for various reduction scenarios)

Current emissions pathways, assuming implementation of the first set of Paris Agreement pledges (in light blue) and the Montreal Protocol Amendment (in yellow), indicate an emissions gap of ~20 to 30 Gt CO2e/yr for a 2° C goal. For a well-below 2° C or 1.5° C goal, the gap is even larger.

 

No one knows what the world will look like in 2050, but we know profound changes lie ahead. The rapid decarbonization needed through 2050 will require transformational changes throughout the global economy. What might looking through a 2050 lens tell us about priorities for climate philanthropy globally? What seeds need to be planted now for future success? With these questions in mind, ClimateWorks initiated a project to explore what the existing evidence tells us about how current philanthropic strategies and priorities might need to be adjusted or expanded if philanthropy is to do its part to sustain the long, crucial drive to decarbonization by mid-century.

It is difficult to predict what effect socioeconomic and geopolitical shifts will have on the landscape for climate action in the coming decades, but current trends suggest a variety of possibilities. ClimateWorks is exploring the disruptive effects a range of alternative futures would have on the framework within which climate advocacy and policymaking occur.

Our 2050 project is designed to be the beginning of a conversation with our colleagues and other experts in the field. We welcome your ideas as we continue to bring together diverse expertise to explore the effect that these shifts and trends might have on our priorities for climate action and for climate philanthropy.

2050: Preliminary Key Findings

Pursue global tipping points: Models predict the highest-emitting regions now may well remain the highest emitters in 2050. However, achieving a well-below 2° C future requires decarbonization worldwide. Given finite resources, philanthropy must selectively work in those geographies and prioritize those strategies that generate spillover effects or global tipping point opportunities. For many strategies, we need to determine the best ways to create global markets that can spread climate-friendly technologies and business models around the world.

Go all out for clean electricity: We must simultaneously decarbonize most power generation and convert energy end uses to electricity wherever possible. Some sectors such as energy-intensive industry will remain hard to electrify and will require other low-carbon alternatives.

Scale carbon-dioxide removal: It won’t be enough to reduce emissions and preserve today’s carbon sinks (although these remain vitally important goals); we will need carbon-dioxide removal on a large scale starting shortly after 2050.

Focus on forests, lands and food: Success requires that we do a much better job of protecting, managing, and restoring lands – both forested and agricultural – while at the same time addressing demand-side drivers such as food waste and global growth in beef consumption.

Explore strategies to tackle basic drivers: We need to further explore opportunities to influence powerful climate drivers outside of energy and land use, such as population increase and consumer behavior. This also means better connecting climate strategies with the other benefits they provide and with emerging trends such as automation and increasing income inequality.

General questions to spark conversation

  • How can philanthropy best address the barriers to scale for carbon-dioxide removal solutions?
  • Which engagements across agricultural and food systems make the most sense in a climate mitigation portfolio, both for mitigation potential and value in helping countries achieve and ratchet up Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
  • How should climate philanthropy evaluate areas that are outside of energy and land use and determine if and how to engage? How can we better connect climate mitigation outcomes with the other benefits they provide?

These preliminary findings are a starting point for further exploration together. There are certainly more questions than answers at this point, reflecting the thorny nature of the challenge. This effort is meant to surface key questions about what an expanded planning horizon implies for climate philanthropy. We recognize the urgency to act boldly and collaboratively today to make 2050 pathways a reality.