06-23 -- Supply AND Demand? Scenarios for decarbonizing

Decarbonization is the fundamental challenge of our time. For more than two centuries, fossil fuels have fired the global economy. With that unprecedented power came unprecedented global impacts, and climate scientists estimate that we have 7 years to cut global carbon emissions in half if we hope to see less than catastrophic global warming. People have proposed endless solutions to reach that goal - from electric cars to replanting the Amazon to shutting down oil extraction. There is really only one consensus - this is going to take all hands on deck, not just one approach. With this in mind, Chris Kennedy and colleagues decided to investigate the economic optimization of such an all-in approach. They point out, asynchronous decarbonization of supply and demand could result in far less than optimal outcomes for individuals and the economy - in other words, it takes infrastructure to bring gasoline from the well to the gas pump. It also takes infrastructure to get electricity from the plant (or panel) to the plug. So as the vehicle fleet electrifies, how will supply-side infrastructure respond, and what are the implications for the economy and the environment? 

Kennedy et al. use scenario analysis to identify the key drivers of environmental and economic performance in decarbonization pathways. They found a few key things: 

Decarbonization requires an all-in approach. And an all-in approach requires us to think seriously about both the economic and environmental implications of infrastructure investments today and tomorrow. More to the point, it requires us to plan these investments in conjunction with broader demand-side action. Kennedy et al. trace the conclusions from this line of thinking, arguing that infrastructure investment must be a key consideration in broader policy planning for a sustainable future. There's a lot more to learn from this interesting paper, including broader implications of depreciation-based mitigation and adaptation planning. Highly recommend everyone take a look at it. 

Kennedy, C. A., Sers, M., & Westphal, M. I. (n.d.). Avoiding investment in fossil fuel assets. Journal of Industrial Ecology, n/a(n/a). https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.13401