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Achieving net-zero emissions through the reframing of UK national targets in the post-Paris Agreement era

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 15 May 2017


The Paris Agreement provides an international framework aimed at limiting average global temperature rise to well below 2 C, implemented through actions determined at the national level. As the Agreement necessitates a ‘net-zero’ emissions energy system by 2100, decarbonization analyses in support of national climate policy should consider the post-2050 period. Focusing solely on mitigation objectives for 2030 or 2050 could lead to blindsiding of the challenge, inadequate ambition in the near term, and poor investment choices in energy infrastructure. Here we show, using the UK as an example, that even an ambitious climate policy is likely to fall short of the challenge of net-zero, and that analysis of the post-2050 period is therefore critical. We find that the analysis of detailed, longer-term national pathways that achieve net-zero is important for future reassessment of ambition under nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

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Figure 1: Net CO2 emissions from the energy system under the 2 C (66% probability) carbon budget range based on Equity and Inertia allocations.
Figure 2: Cumulative CO2 emissions captured and stored between 2025–2100 as a percentage of the overall carbon budget.
Figure 3: Selected decarbonization transition indicators.

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This study was carried out under a programme of work supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under the Whole Systems Energy Modelling Consortium (WholeSEM, Grant EP/K039326/1). We would like to acknowledge the efforts of the energy system modelling team at the UCL Energy Institute for the development of UKTM. We also thank N. Strachan for his valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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S.P. and B.F. set up and undertook the energy modelling. All authors contributed to designing the research, analysing the results and writing the paper.

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Correspondence to Steve Pye.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Note 1–3; Supplementary Figures 1–8; Supplementary References. (PDF 507 kb)

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Pye, S., Li, F., Price, J. et al. Achieving net-zero emissions through the reframing of UK national targets in the post-Paris Agreement era. Nat Energy 2, 17024 (2017).

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