GTFS: Global Trends and Future Scenarios Index

Pathways to 2050: Alternative Scenarios for Decarbonizing the US Economy


Climate change is among the most profound challenges of all time, confronting individuals, businesses, and governments across the globe. Meeting this challenge requires a sweeping, sustained effort over the coming decades. To successfully orient the global economy toward the goal of climate protection will require strong leadership from two indispensable forces: the United States, the world’s leading economy, and the private sector—foremost for its power to innovate.

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is working to help illuminate and confront this looming long-term challenge through Climate Innovation 2050. This multi-year initiative brings together leading companies across key sectors to develop viable pathways for decarbonizing the U.S. economy. As an initial step, C2ES led a group of companies in a collaborative exercise examining potential scenarios for achieving mid-century decarbonization goals. This scenario exercise aimed to build a common understanding—benefitting both these firms and broader societal efforts—of the potential for alternative pathways to deep decarbonization in the United States and to highlight important commonalities and differences among such paths. This report presents the resulting scenarios and the insights drawn from them.

This current scenario exercise—undertaken in partnership with the RAND Corporation and the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland—can help advance collective understanding in a number of ways. Unlike most previous scenario exercises, it is directly informed by the insights and perspectives of more than 20 leading companies in sectors critical to decarbonizing the U.S. economy, including electric power, transportation, oil and gas, manufacturing, and high-tech. By deepening understanding of the relevant challenges and opportunities, this exercise helps to inform the longterm decision-making of participating companies and, hopefully, the business community at large.

For Climate Innovation 2050, the insights drawn from this exercise provide a critical foundation for the next stage of the initiative—working with companies to outline a comprehensive strategy for putting the United States on the path to climate neutrality.