These are the 76 climate solutions we need to scale up right now to have a chance

Onshore wind power, utility-scale solar power, reduced food waste: These are just the first three of Project Drawdown’s plan to end the climate crisis with existing technologies.

These are the 76 climate solutions we need to scale up right now to have a chance
[Source Image: StudioM1/iStock]

An important thing to realize for anyone thinking about the climate crisis is that things are not hopeless. In fact, the solutions the world needs to tackle climate change already exist. A new report from the nonprofit Project Drawdown analyzed the potential of dozens of solutions and found that we could reach what the organization calls “drawdown”—the point where greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere peak and begin to drop—as early as 2040 if all of the solutions are scaled up together.


“We look at individual solutions to climate change that actually exist in the real world,” says Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown. “They’re not just in the lab, they’re not a startup somewhere that’s talking about it, but they actually exist in practice today. And we ask fundamental questions like, how big could it be? How effective at removing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions would it be? What does it cost to build it and what does it cost to operate it?” It’s an updated version of an analysis that the organization did in 2017, leading to a best-selling book called Drawdown.

All of the solutions need to be deployed in combination, but some rise to the top as most impactful—and they aren’t necessarily what most people would consider first. In a version of the analysis that looks at what it would take to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the top solution is reducing food waste, which could reduce more than 87 gigatons of CO2 over the next few decades. That’s followed by health and education; educating girls, and providing access to reproductive health care, leads to young women choosing to have fewer children, which in turn has a major impact on emissions. Third on the list is switching people en masse to a plant-rich diet, since meat and dairy production is a significant source of emissions. Next is managing refrigerants, the ultra-polluting chemicals that can leak from air conditioners and refrigerators. That’s followed by restoring tropical forests, which play a crucial role in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The full list of 76 solutions is available on Project Drawdown’s website.

To stop at 2 degrees of warming, these are the most important things to focus on:

  1. Reduced food waste
  2. Health and education
  3. Plant-rich diets
  4. Refrigerant management
  5. Tropical forest restoration
  6. Onshore wind
  7. Alternative refrigerants
  8. Utility-scale solar power
  9. Improved clean cookstoves
  10. Distributed solar power

Another version of the analysis, which considers how to move faster and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, ranks the solutions in a slightly different order, with onshore wind turbines and solar photovoltaics at the top, followed by reducing food waste, plant-rich diets, health and education, tropical forest restoration, and improved clean cookstoves that can replace sooty cooking fires that are still common in many parts of the developing world. While the ranking is interesting, it doesn’t really matter whether a particular solution is higher than another on the list, since everything needs to happen—including the solutions that rank lower, from smart thermostats to bike infrastructure. “We need all of them,” Foley says. “But the rankings do show you the relative impact each of these could have.”

To stop at 1.5 degrees warming, the list is slightly different:

  1. Onshore wind power
  2. Utility-scale solar power
  3. Reduced food waste
  4. Plant-rich diets
  5. Health and education
  6. Tropical forest restoration
  7. Improved clean cookstoves
  8. Distributed solar power
  9. Refrigerant management
  10. Alternative refrigerants

The report also lays out a basic explanation of the problem, illustrating the emissions coming from various sectors. Agriculture and land use are as polluting as power plants. On the other side, the ocean and land absorb some greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, though obviously not enough to keep up with the current rate of human-caused emissions. The complexity shows why such a diversity of solutions is needed simultaneously; solar panels and electric cars are only a small part of the answer. “If you don’t start with a framework of knowing where the problem is, it’s really hard to understand what the solutions are,” says Foley.


This is now the second time Project Drawdown has calculated this list, after a first attempt in 2017. “Since 2017, a lot of things have changed in the economics, the technology, the policy landscape,” says Foley. “And so we had to kind of do it all over again.” They now plan on releasing a new list every year.

The challenge now is making the changes in policy, business, urban design, and culture to actually implement each of these solutions. The report estimates that implementation might cost $23.4-$26.2 trillion but would save $96.4-$143.5 trillion. “We’ve shown, I think pretty convincingly, we have the tools,” Foley says. “They could be big enough to solve the problem. They all would cost some money but then make back far, far more. They’d all be good for us. They improve our health, our security, our jobs, our economy, our well-being, all of these things would improve. So it’s not like we can’t do it, we just have to do it fast.”

Businesses, he says, must play a key role. Some, of course, are already moving faster than others, such as Microsoft, which plans to be carbon negative by 2030 and then reduce more carbon by 2050 than it has emitted in its history as a company, or Intuit, which plans to reduce carbon emissions 50 times greater than its current carbon footprint by 2030.


“Business leaders can really step up and lead, not just be followers, not just be pushed by governments, but maybe help shape what regulations could be in the future to take advantage of this new emerging economy,” Foley says. “The smart businesses are not going to be just dragged kicking and screaming to a climate-safe future. They’re going to be leading it.”


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley