Key Takeaways from “The Drawdown Review 2020”

by | July 31, 2020


Project Drawdown is the world’s leading resource for climate solutions. Their mission is to help the world reach “Drawdown” – as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible.

For those who don’t know, “Drawdown is the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline.”

Aka this is when we’ll start to actually reverse global warming, which is the language in Crowdsourcing Sustainability’s mission.

So, naturally, I am obsessed with Project Drawdown and was excited to read their 100+ page update on “Climate Solutions for the Next Decade”.

It’s impossible to sum it all up (especially with all the wonderful visuals on the impact of their 80+ solutions), so I encourage you to read or skim it yourself if you’re interested but…

Here are the findings that I found to be the most powerful:

First, we can avoid catastrophic warming with existing climate solutions.

“Project Drawdown’s work points to two fundamental realities: We can reach Drawdown by mid-century if we pursue climate solutions already in hand; and, doing so will require immense ambition and bold action.

It’s an emotional paradox in some ways, perhaps prompting a simultaneous sense of hope for what’s possible and overwhelm about just how much needs to be done. This is especially true given that, globally, current commitments and plans for climate action fall far short of what’s required.

The two Drawdown Scenarios may seem unrealistic today— especially the more ambitious one. But it’s important to note that what may be politically unrealistic at present is physically and economically realistic, according to our analysis. There is a path forward for the world. The question is how to bring physical, economic, and political possibility into alignment.”

(The two scenarios they analyzed are for limiting warming to 1.5°C and 2°C.)

Second, everyone has a role to play.

“Widespread awareness and understanding of climate solutions is vital to kindle agency and effect change worldwide, across individual, community, organizational, regional, national, and global scales. People and institutions of all kinds, in all places, have roles to play in this great transformation, and the solutions in these pages are a synthesis of collective wisdom and collective action unfolding around the globe.”

Third, a super useful framework for thinking about what we need to do.

  • Reduce Sources: Bringing emissions to zero.
  • Support Sinks: Uplifting nature’s carbon cycle.
  • Improve Society: Fostering equality for all.

(check out #6 below if you’re confused on sinks)

Fourth – it turns out Drawdown created their own 10 key insights which are as follows (shortened for time):

  1. We can reach Drawdown by mid-century if we scale the climate solutions already in hand. Drawdown is a bold goal but an absolutely necessary one, given that global emissions are still rising each year—not declining as they need to. Our new analysis shows the world can reach Drawdown by mid-century, if we make the best use of all existing climate solutions. Certainly, more solutions are needed and emerging, but there is no reason—or time—to wait on innovation. Now is better than new, and society is well equipped to begin that transformation today. If we pursue climate solutions with purpose and determination, our analysis shows we could reach Drawdown as early as the mid-2040s—or not until the 2060s, depending on our level of ambition.
  2. Climate solutions are interconnected as a system, and we need all of them. The notion of “silver bullets” has persistent appeal—“what’s the one big thing we can do?”—but they simply don’t exist for complex problems such as the climate crisis. A whole system of solutions is required…
  3. Beyond addressing greenhouse gases, climate solutions can have “co-benefits” that contribute to a better, more equitable world. Climate solutions are rarely just climate solutions. For example, those that curb air pollution are also health solutions. Others that protect and restore ecosystems are also biodiversity solutions. Many can create jobs, foster resilience to climate impacts such as storms and droughts, and bring other environmental benefits such as safeguarding water resources…
  4. The financial case for climate solutions is crystal clear, as savings significantly outweigh costs. Unfounded arguments about the economic inviability of climate action persist but are patently false. Project Drawdown analyzes the financial implications of solutions: How much money will a given solution cost, or save, when compared with the status quo technology or practice it replaces? That financial analysis looks at the initial implementation of a solution, as well as the use or operation of that solution over time. Overall, net operational savings exceed net implementation costs four to five times over: an initial cost of $23.4–26.2 trillion versus $96.4–143.5 trillion saved. If we consider the monetary value of co-benefits (e.g., healthcare savings from reduced air pollution) and avoided climate damages (e.g., agricultural losses), the financial case becomes even stronger. So long as we ensure a just transition for those in sunsetting or transitioning industries, such as coal, it’s clear that there is no economic rationale for stalling on climate solutions—and every reason to forge boldly ahead.
  5. The majority of climate solutions reduce or replace the use of fossil fuels. We must accelerate these solutions, while actively stopping the use of coal, oil, and gas…
  6. We cannot reach Drawdown without simultaneously reducing emissions toward zero and supporting nature’s carbon sinks. Imagine the atmosphere as a bathtub overflowing, as the water continues to run. The primary intervention is clear: turn off the tap of greenhouse gases by bringing emissions to zero. In addition to curbing the source of the problem, we can also open the drain somewhat. That’s where nature plays a vital role: absorbing and storing carbon through biological and chemical processes, effectively draining some of the excess out of the atmosphere. Human activities can support natural carbon sinks, and many ecosystem or agriculture-related climate solutions have the double benefit of reducing emissions and absorbing carbon simultaneously. It takes stemming all sources and supporting all sinks to reach Drawdown.
  7. Some of the most powerful climate solutions receive comparably little attention, reminding us to widen our lens.
  8. Accelerators are critical to move solutions forward at the scale, speed, and scope required. It goes without saying: solutions do not scale themselves. We need means of removing barriers and accelerating their implementation and expansion. Key “accelerators” can create the conditions for solutions to move forward with greater speed and wider scope. Some, such as changing policy and shifting capital, are closer in and have more direct impacts; others, such as shaping culture and building political power, are further out and more indirect in their effect…As with solutions, they intersect and interact; none are singularly effective, and we need them all.
  9. Footholds of agency exist at every level, for all individuals and institutions to participate in advancing climate solutions. The climate crisis requires systemic, structural change across our global society and economy. The reality of intervening in a complex system is that no one can do it all, and we all have an opening to show up as problem-solvers and change-agents and contribute in significant ways—even when we feel small. The range of climate solutions illuminates diverse intervention points across individual, community, organizational, regional, national, and global scales. The necessary accelerators expand that array of action opportunities even more. It will take a whole ecosystem of activities and actors to create the transformation that’s required.
  10. Immense commitment, collaboration, and ingenuity will be necessary to depart the perilous path we are on and realize the path that’s possible. But the mission is clear: make possibility reality. In September 2019, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg testified before the U.S. Congress. “You must unite behind the science,” she urged. “You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option.” In four short sentences, she articulated exactly the task and challenge at hand. Project Drawdown’s mission is to help the world reach Drawdown as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. That could also be humanity’s mission in this pivotal moment for life on Earth. The current path we are on is beyond dangerous, and it’s easy to be paralyzed by that perilousness. Yet possibility remains to change it. Together, we can build a bridge from where we are today to the world we want for ourselves, for all of life, and, most importantly, for generations yet to come.

Fifth, as mentioned in takeaway 8 above, solutions do not implement themselves. “Accelerators create the conditions for solutions to move forward.”

The 7 accelerators for climate solutions:

  1. Shape culture.
  2. Build power.
  3. Set goals.
  4. Alter rules and policy.
  5. Shift capital.
  6. Change behavior.
  7. Improve technology.

I highly recommend you check out the screenshots here and here to get the full context and rationale for each of the accelerators above.

Project Drawdown’s Closing Words:

“We are living in a time of dramatic transformation. The basic physics, chemistry, and biology of this planet make that non-negotiable; stasis is not an option. Society has a choice to make about what shape that transformation will take. Will we employ collective courage and determination and the legion of existing solutions to move the world away from widespread climate catastrophe? Will we pursue climate action in ways that heal systemic injustices and foster resilience, wellbeing, and equality? Who will we choose to be in this pivotal moment of human history?

A transformation that moves us toward Drawdown is possible, as demonstrated here, but it will require much more than the right technologies and practices being available. Genuine evolution is in order—evolution in what we value, how we treat one another, who holds the reins of power, the ways institutions operate, and the very contours of our economies. This time of transformation also asks that we learn from cultures and communities that have sustained human-nature symbiosis for centuries, even millennia.

At times, this can all feel like a draconian assignment. But it’s also an invitation into deeply meaningful work. Our purpose as human beings in this moment is to create a livable future, together—to build a bridge from where we are today to the world we want for ourselves, for all of life, and for generations yet to come. With commitment, collaboration, and ingenuity, we can depart the perilous path we are on and come back into balance with the planet’s living systems. A better path is still possible. May we turn that possibility into reality.”


This post originally featured in the Crowdsourcing Sustainability newsletter.

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