Non-tech climate solutions: more benefits at lower costs

We frequently get into debates about merits and pitfalls of technological vs. non-technological (or less technological) solutions. So much attention is paid, understandably, to the tech-intensive energy system transition from fossil fuels to renewables. But how will these expensive tech-heavy efforts stack up against agriculture, land use and human rights solutions that are more about human behavior and cultural norms?

I looked to Project Drawdown for some answers. Their analysis and summaries of 100 most-promising climate change solutions is a fantastic reference for specific concrete ways to tackle climate change. Drawdown provides summaries of the potential emissions reductions, costs, and lifetime savings for solutions in each sector (e.g. energy, food, etc.).

I took an additional step, and stacked the sectors next to one another, for easier at-a-glance comparisons. (This is using Drawdown’s most conservative (“Plausible”) scenarios; their other two scenarios have even great CO2e reductions.)

Plotting each of these data columns as a pie chart makes the benefit vs. cost disparities even more obvious:

While Energy represents substantial potential emissions reductions and savings, it's not cheap to acheive. But Energy transformation is a bargain relative to Transportation and Buildings & Cities.

Finally, I grouped Energy, Materials, Buildings & Cities, and Transport as “tech”; and Food, Land Use, and Women & Girls as comparatively “non-tech.”  For argument's sake, how do these two meta-sectors compare?

So the non-tech solutions can contribute a massive emissions benefit (56% of the total potential across all solutions) at a tiny fraction of the cost. 

Granted, there are many layers of modeling and assumptions behind the Drawdown numbers. We'll all learn more as they release details about their analysis in coming months.

But at this high level, it begs some very fundamental questions. ClimateX community, what do you think?

Why does the energy system transition get an overwhelming share of global climate action attention, given its relatively high cost relative to emissions benefits?

Why is relatively little momentum building on the relatively low cost/high impact low-tech solutions?


Curt Newton's picture

Locally-driven changes to

Locally-driven changes to land use practices can be highly effective, but also threatening to big industrial and government interests, with sometimes deadly results on local communit

ies. In this morning's Climate Nexus newsletter:

Local and indigenous-led conservation efforts can be more effective than government programs in protecting the Amazon rainforest, according to a new study from British and Peruvian researchers. Over 40 percent of Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions come from land use change and forestry as industries make increased pushes into the rainforest, often with deadly results--six Peruvian farmers were shot earlier this month by a gang looking to seize their land for palm oil production. In neighboring Brazil, the government began an investigation this week into the potential murder of 10 members of an “uncontacted” tribe in the Amazon by gold miners, as budget cuts have caused reductions to the indigenous affairs agency and increased invasions into indigenous Amazon land by miners and loggers. (Land conservation study: Reuters. Palm oil murders: The Guardian. Murder of tribal members: ReutersNBC, Washington Post $. Background: The Guardian's ongoing tracking of murders of environmental defenders this year)

Of course, powerful interests trampling local and indigenous rights is nothing new, and certainly not limited to these South American countries....

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Rick Shankman's picture

Curt, again, I'm not

"I looked to Project Drawdown for some answers. Their analysis and summaries of 100 most-promising climate change solutions is a fantastic reference for specific concrete ways to tackle climate change."

Curt, again, I'm not suggesting that David has any special pull or influence here, but maybe he could ask his family to rethink their mining investments too?

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