Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Pathways to zero emissions

To keep global warming below 2 °C, countries need long-term strategies for low-emission development. Without these, immediate emissions reductions may lock-in high-emitting infrastructure, hamper collaboration and make climate goals unachievable.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Illustration of the long-term low-emission development strategies consistent with limiting warming to 2 °C and short-term INDCs.
Figure 2: The three pillars of decarbonization.


  1. Total GHG Emissions Excluding Land-Use Change and Forestry — 2012 (World Resources Institute, 2016);

  2. IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  3. Elzinga, D. et al. (International Energy Agency, 2014).

  4. Pathways to Deep Decarbonization (Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, 2015);

  5. Adoption of the Paris Agreement FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add.1 (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2015).

  6. Bataille, C. et al. Clim. Policy 16, S7–S26 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Pye, S. & Bataille, C. Clim. Policy 16, S27–S46 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Emissions Gap Report (United Nations Environment Programme, 2015).

  9. Effect of Current Pledges and Policies on Global Temperature (Climate Action Tracker, 2015).

  10. Williams, J. H. et al. Science 335, 53–59 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Williams, J. et al. Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, 2014).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Morrison, G. M. et al. Clim. Change 131, 545–557 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. California State Agencies' Pathways Project (Energy and Environmental Economics, 2015).

  14. Mathy, S., Criqui, P., Knoop, K., Fischedick, M. & Samadi, S. Clim. Policy 16, S47–S62 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. US–China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change (Office of the Press Secretary, 2015).

  16. Informal Working Lunch on Climate Change: Conclusions of the Chairs (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2015).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Guido Schmidt-Traub.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sachs, J., Schmidt-Traub, G. & Williams, J. Pathways to zero emissions. Nature Geosci 9, 799–801 (2016).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing