Mitigation scenarios that achieve the ambitious targets included in the Paris Agreement typically rely on greenhouse gas emission reductions combined with net carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere, mostly accomplished through large-scale application of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, and afforestation. However, CDR strategies face several difficulties such as reliance on underground CO2 storage and competition for land with food production and biodiversity protection. The question arises whether alternative deep mitigation pathways exist. Here, using an integrated assessment model, we explore the impact of alternative pathways that include lifestyle change, additional reduction of non-CO2 greenhouse gases and more rapid electrification of energy demand based on renewable energy. Although these alternatives also face specific difficulties, they are found to significantly reduce the need for CDR, but not fully eliminate it. The alternatives offer a means to diversify transition pathways to meet the Paris Agreement targets, while simultaneously benefiting other sustainability goals.

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Author information


  1. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague, the Netherlands

    • Detlef P. van Vuuren
    • , Elke Stehfest
    • , David E. H. J. Gernaat
    • , Maarten van den Berg
    • , Harmen Sytze de Boer
    • , Vassilis Daioglou
    • , Jonathan C. Doelman
    • , Oreane Y. Edelenbosch
    • , Mathijs Harmsen
    • , Andries F. Hof
    •  & Mariësse A. E. van Sluisveld
  2. Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

    • Detlef P. van Vuuren
    • , David E. H. J. Gernaat
    • , David L. Bijl
    • , Harmen Sytze de Boer
    • , Vassilis Daioglou
    • , Oreane Y. Edelenbosch
    • , Mathijs Harmsen
    • , Andries F. Hof
    •  & Mariësse A. E. van Sluisveld


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D.P.v.V. supervised the work and developed the original idea. All authors were involved in the design of the experiments, the model analysis and contributed to the writing of the article.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Detlef P. van Vuuren.

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