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Energy investment needs for fulfilling the Paris Agreement and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

An Author Correction to this article was published on 02 July 2018

This article has been updated


Low-carbon investments are necessary for driving the energy system transformation that is called for by both the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals. Improving understanding of the scale and nature of these investments under diverging technology and policy futures is therefore of great importance to decision makers. Here, using six global modelling frameworks, we show that the pronounced reallocation of the investment portfolio required to transform the energy system will not be initiated by the current suite of countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions. Charting a course toward ‘well below 2 °C’ instead sees low-carbon investments overtaking fossil investments globally by around 2025 or before and growing thereafter. Pursuing the 1.5 °C target demands a marked upscaling in low-carbon capital beyond that of a 2 °C-consistent future. Actions consistent with an energy transformation would increase the costs of achieving the goals of energy access and food security, but reduce the costs of achieving air-quality goals.

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Fig. 1: Global energy investments by category in 2015.
Fig. 2: Projected global-average annual energy investments by category from 2016 to 2050 according to different models.
Fig. 3: Projected global-average annual investments in fossil fuel supply and changes by category from 2016 to 2030.
Fig. 4: Projected global average annual low-carbon energy investments and cumulative carbon emissions.
Fig. 5: Projected global-average annual low-carbon energy supply-side investments as a share of total supply-side investments.
Fig. 6: Projected investment needs, to 2030, for achieving or making progress on a subset of SDG targets relevant for energy systems planning.

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Change history

  • 02 July 2018

    In the version of ‘Supplementary Data 1’ originally published with this Article, the units for the ‘Capacity|Electricity|*’ variables in the ‘Non_Investment_Annual’ tab were incorrectly given as EJ/yr; they should have read GW. This has now been corrected. Also, some of the variables listed in the ‘Non_Investment_Variable_Defs’ were not required and have therefore been removed.


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We acknowledge funding by the World Bank and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 642147 (‘CD-LINKS’ project). S.F. is supported by the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund (2-1702) of the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency Japan and JSPS KAKENHI grant number JP16K18177. P. Kolp of IIASA is also recognized for his assistance with Web database development and support. The views expressed by J.D. and A.S. are purely theirs and may not in any circumstances be regarded as stating an official position of the European Commission.

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Authors and Affiliations



D.L.M., K.R., J.R., M.F. and C.N. posed the initial research questions to frame the study and then selected the scenarios to analyse. V.K., M.G., O.F., D.H., S.F., M.H., D.v.V., H.-S.d.B., C.B., E.K., J.E., L.D., V.B., J.D., A.S. and G.I. ran the integrated assessment models for obtaining the energy investments. V.K., Si.P., Sh.P., M.P.-C., N.R., P.R., W.S. and S.F. carried out the investment analyses for the other SDGs. W.Z. and D.L.M. compiled and analysed results from all models and analyses. D.L.M. and W.Z. led the writing of the manuscript, with all other authors contributing.

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Correspondence to David L. McCollum.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–2, Supplementary Figures 1–9, Supplementary Notes 1–7, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References

Supplementary Data 1

Data underlying paper

Supplementary Data 2

Scenario modelling protocol

Supplementary Data 3

Policy details of scenarios

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McCollum, D.L., Zhou, W., Bertram, C. et al. Energy investment needs for fulfilling the Paris Agreement and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Nat Energy 3, 589–599 (2018).

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