UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


Growth-positive zero-emission pathways to 2050

Non-technical summary: Growth-positive zero-emission pathways to 2050

8 April 2021


  • Title: Growth-positive zero-emission pathways to 2050
  • Publication/funder: Sitra
  • Date accepted: 08/04/2021
  • Authors: Paul Drummond, Daniel Scamman, Paul Ekins (UCL ISR), Leonidas Paroussos (E3-Modelling), Ikka Keppo (UCL and Aalto University)


Historically, CO2 emissions have tended to increase alongside economic growth. To reduce CO2 emissions to zero by 2050, this link needs to be broken – what is known as “emissions decoupling”. However, some worry that emissions decoupling is not possible at the necessary speed and scale, and that the economy should instead decline compared to the current levels. Others worry that low or negative economic growth would make emission reductions very difficult or impossible, since significant investments in new low-carbon technologies are needed, and new investments boost economic growth.

The results of this study show that deep CO2 emission cuts in line with the 1.5 °C target and positive GDP growth can occur at the same time. However, it requires profound changes in most of society’s fundamental techno-economic systems, which must be driven by much more ambitious policy regimes than are currently in place. The rapid reduction in the use of coal, and the development of negative-emission technologies, should be particular priorities. The results show that economic growth can result from ambitious climate policies, although other costs to the environment from the pursuit of economic growth must not be overlooked.

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