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New RMI Report Describes Scenarios for Rapid Transitions in Energy, Agriculture, and Land Use to Limit Global Temperature Rise to Well Below 2C°

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) today released Positive Disruption: Limiting Global Temperature Rise to Well Below 2 C°, an analysis describing scenarios for rapid transitions in energy, agriculture, and land use that could limit global average temperature increase to 1.5–2 C° above preindustrial levels.


August 16, 2017, Boulder, Colorado – Capping global temperature rise to these levels aligns with the goals of the Paris Agreement to prevent potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. Yet, many experts doubt that this goal is achievable. RMI’s analysis reveals how positive feedbacks in clean-energy technologies can drive down costs as global manufacturing scale increases, creating virtuous cycles similar to the ones that have driven Moore’s Law in the high-tech sector.

In the energy sector, rapid advances in key technologies, including solar and wind power, battery storage, LED lighting, and electric vehicles, put energy systems today at the cusp of rapid, self-reinforcing change, the report concludes. The electrification revolution, driven by synergistic changes in electricity and transportation systems, is gaining momentum globally and has the power to produce changes on the scale of the Industrial Revolution. Emerging economies such as China and India are embracing and speeding this transition, while U.S. policy at the national level is now trying to resist this transition to protect legacy industries.

“In periods of fundamental change, transitions always occur faster than either the incumbents or industry experts think is possible,” James Newcomb, an RMI managing director, said. “The cost reductions we now anticipate in batteries and solar photovoltaic technologies alone are enough to drive system-wide changes in electricity and transportation. These changes are triggering shifts across the entire economy at a global scale.”

The energy sector is changing faster than ever before because the emerging system is not centralized, large, and slow-moving; it is decentralized and distributed, with small capital assets, shorter deployment and payback periods, and competitors with fast-scaling new business models. The energy transition pathways in RMI’s analysis follow historical patterns of technology diffusion curves, with sustained periods of exponential growth. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions from energy use could fall 75% by 2050 without slowed economic growth while solar power generating capacity could increase to over 15 terawatts globally.

Even a rapid and far-reaching transition in the global energy system is insufficient to meet the goal of limiting temperature increases to well below 2 Co, however. Nations must also address the greenhouse gas emissions and sequestration opportunities associated with agriculture, forestry, and other land use (AFOLU). Such practices include increasing forest cover and avoiding conversion of forests to other land uses, integrating trees into farming, farming without disturbing the soil through tillage, adopting permaculture practices, managing wetlands, and using rotational grazing techniques that amplify soil carbon sequestration. Significant contributions from these sectors by midcentury will be critical to stabilizing and reducing greenhouse gas concentrations.

“The message of Positive Disruption is clear: the global community has all the tools to achieve the rapid transitions in energy and other sectors necessary to limit climate change,” Jules Kortenhorst, RMI’s chief executive, said. “However, the rapid energy transition described in this analysis relies on massively accelerating the deployment of business-led, market-driven solutions that can deliver huge benefits to economies and societies globally.”

The study follows RMI’s detailed and rigorous national-level analyses—Reinventing Fire (U.S.) and Reinventing Fire: China—and draws on RMI’s ongoing work in India.

“India’s commitment to a rapid transition to a new paradigm for personal transportation, based on shared, connected, and fully electric mobility, is an example of the kind of change that has the power to dramatically accelerate the rate of adoption of clean energy technologies and drive down costs globally,” Newcomb said. “ India’s proposed mobility strategy, which RMI helped to formulate together with India’s premier national policy think tank, The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), and other organizations, could call for the construction of dozens of battery gigafactories in the next decade alone,” he added.

Todd Zeranski
Marketing Manager, Rocky Mountain Institute Tel: +1 917-670-6568
Email: tzeranski@rmi.org

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About Rocky Mountain Institute

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)—an independent nonprofit founded in 1982—transforms global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future. It engages businesses, communities, institutions, and entrepreneurs to accelerate the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. RMI has offices in Basalt and Boulder, Colorado; New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Beijing.

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