Low-emission pathways in 11 major economies: comparison of cost-optimal pathways and Paris climate proposals


In order to evaluate the effectiveness of climate policy, it is important to understand emission trends and policies at the national level. The 2015 Paris Agreement includes (Intended) Nationally Determined Contributions, so-called (I)NDCs, outlining the contribution of different Parties to the overall target of the agreement to limit global mean temperature increase to well below 2 °C. Here, we assess emission trajectories and the energy system transition of 11 major economies (in the remainder: countries) projected by integrated assessment models (IAMs) for baseline and cost-optimal 450 ppm CO2 eq mitigation scenarios and compare the results with the (I)NDCs. Limiting global temperature increase to below 2 °C implies a substantial reduction of the estimated available carbon budget for each country. The national carbon budgets between 2010 and 2100 showed reductions between the baseline and the 2 °C consistent mitigation scenario ranging from 52% in South Korea to 95% in Brazil. While in the baseline scenario, the share of low-carbon primary energy sources is projected to remain around 15% (with Brazil being a notable exception, reaching 30%); in the mitigation scenarios, the share of low-carbon energy is projected to increase to over 50% in 2050 in nearly all countries, with the EU, Japan and Canada reaching the largest shares. Comparison with the (I)NDCs shows that in Brazil, Canada, the EU, Mexico (conditional target), South Korea and the USA, the emission reduction targets of the NDCs are closer to the mitigation requirement of the 2 °C scenario; in other countries, however, there is still a large gap. The national detail of the indicators adds to the literature on low-carbon emission pathways, assists the assessment of the Paris Agreement and provides support to national policymakers to identify focus areas for climate policy in the coming years.

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    In the remainder: countries, while there is one exception (EU).

  3. 3.

    The USA’s NDC target for 2025 was extrapolated to 2030 by assuming a linear pathway to the national long-term target (83% reduction below 2005 levels by 2050).

  4. 4.

    Here defined as less than 10 percentage point difference between the (I)NDC and cost-optimal 450 ppm CO2 eq scenario projections (Fig. 3).

  5. 5.

    All primary energy sources except coal, gas and oil without carbon capture and storage (CCS)


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This study benefited from the financial support of the European Commission via the Modelling and Informing Low-Emission Strategies (MILES) project, financed by Directorate General Climate Action (DG CLIMA), under contract to DG CLIMA (No. 21.0104/2014/684427/SER/CLIMA.A.4), and the Linking Climate and Development Policies-Leveraging International Networks and Knowledge Sharing (CD-LINKS) project, financed by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 642147 (CD-LINKS). The work is largely based on published scenarios from integrated assessment modelling studies, collected for MILES. The results presented here are not automatically endorsed by MILES project partners. We thank Annemiek Admiraal (PBL) for providing (I)NDC data.

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Correspondence to Heleen L. van Soest.

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van Soest, H.L., Aleluia Reis, L., Drouet, L. et al. Low-emission pathways in 11 major economies: comparison of cost-optimal pathways and Paris climate proposals. Climatic Change 142, 491–504 (2017) doi:10.1007/s10584-017-1964-6

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  • Emission Reduction
  • Climate Policy
  • Baseline Scenario
  • Marginal Abatement Cost
  • Mitigation Scenario