The 5 most impactful measures worldwide to reverse climate change

Climate Action 6 min read , November 8, 2018

Discouraged by the many negative consequences of global warming and frustrated by world leaders who set wrong priorities: battling climate change might seem hopeless sometimes. Nevertheless, the book Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming does offer a solution. With optimistical testimonials, clarifying numbers and lots of research, they managed to construct a neat guide to solving the global warming crisis. They made up a top 80 of the most urgent measures. This article shortly summarizes their top 5. The complete list of 80 measures with additional data can be found on their website.

polluted air


Our planet is warming up. Sea levels are rising. Natural disasters are causing catastrophes in the South. There is no more denying climate change, so all that is left for us is: What are we going to do about it? It's a challenge of massive importance, which demands multiple substantial measures to tackle. Which exact measures these are, how much impact they will have and how much they will cost remain unknown. This thought inspired the people at Drawdown to construct a plan with the 80 most important measures needed to reverse global warming.

For every measure, they made calculations for three different possible scenarios of humanity handling climate change. This obviously has an effect on the CO2 emission reduction we will be able to reach (which explains the title: to draw down the amount of CO2 in the air). There are three scenarios: the plausible, the drawdown and the optimum scenarios. The plausible scenario is a realistic, yet optimistic prediction of the future amount of CO2 reduction. Drawdown happens when we do not consider the major conservative bias, this scenario predicts a net decrease in CO2 emissions by 2050 when all 80 measures are implemented (hence - the drawdown scenario). Lastly, the optimum is the best-case scenario.

Top 5

This chapter contains an overview of the five most impactful measures to be implemented worldwide. Below each measure is the amount of CO2 reduction it would cause by 2050 according to the plausible scenario.

5. Restoring tropical forests

61.23 gigatons reduced CO2


Tropical forests are the largest global carbon sink. Nevertheless, deforestation has already caused 30% of tropical forest to disappear and another 20% is heavily damaged. The main reason for this is the growth of our agricultural needs. Most of the destructed grounds are being used to let cattle graze, or to produce livestock feed.

Stopping or reducing deforestation can have an enormous impact on the climate. Apart from that, there is also a tremendous need for restoration of the degraded grounds. Doing this, it is important not to just plant new trees, but to make sure that a healthy ecosystem grows. This also implies that the more damage is done to the ecosystems now, the more complex and difficult it is going to be to repair them. The people behind the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests clearly understood this message. They target to restore 150 million hectares of forest by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030: that is almost 10 times the size of Germany!

4. Plant-based diet

66.11 gigatons reduced CO2

vegan food

As mentioned before, the modern livestock industry is very damaging for the environment. The most conservative estimate states that the sector is responsible for at least 15% of worldwide CO2 emissions. More realistic studies say up to 50%. The University of Oxford has completed an elaborate model in case everybody in the world would adopt a vegan diet. The results are self-explanatory: 70% reduced emissions and global mortality drops with 6 to 10%. This worldwide improvement of health in turn causes savings in Health Care of more than 1 trillion dollars.

That livestock has a giant impact on the environment, is also known by the people behind the documentary Cowspiracy. They give a detailed explanation as to why exactly eating meat is an incredibly unsustainable way of living.

3. Reduced food-waste

70.53 gigatons reduced CO2

fresh food supermarket

Producing food is an essential way of generating incomes for a lot of people. Despite this, over a third of produced food worldwide is wasted. Considering that over 800 million people live in hunger, it is obvious that this is a global challenge that needs to be solved. The reason why it has earned its place in this top 5 however becomes quite clear when we look at the emissions that are caused by the wasted food: 4.4 gigatons CO2 each year. In conclusion we could say that people who live in hunger do not have access to food, the food that is not consumed is warming the planet.

What can we do? In countries with a lower income, it is essential to improve the infrastructure for storing and transporting food. Countries that have higher incomes have to apply substantial changes for retailers and consumers. Most essentially, standardized labelling system should be elaborated. The current system causes a lot of waste due to the confusion between 'use by' and 'best before' labels. There also has to be more tolerance towards 'ugly' products. Lastly also national goals and policies can be implied to encourage widespread change.

2. Building onshore wind turbines

84.6 gigatons CO2 reduced

onshore windmills

The 314,000 wind turbines around the world today already provide 4% of all electricity. This will soon be much more. Wind turbines have a small footprint, most of the time it is less than 1% of the land on which they are built. Thanks to the predicted cost reduction, wind power will soon be the cheapest source of energy. Current production costs for renewable energy sources are 2.9 cents per kWh for wind and 5.7 cents per kWh for solar.

What still requires some attention is the need for storage for this variable energy source. The wind does not always blow. This raises the question how we are going to 'fill in the gaps' in periods with little to no wind. The solution seems to be quite straightforward: invest in the necessary infrastructure for transmission and storage of wind energy.

1. Management of refrigerants

89.74 gigaton CO2 gereduceerd


In order to be able to cool buildings or fridges, cooling systems contain several refrigerants. These chemicals have in common that they can easily absorb and release heat. These used to be the so-called CFC's (chlorofluorocarbons) or HCFC's (hydrochlorfluorocarbons). When it was discovered that they were causing a massive hole in the ozone layer, they were replaced by HFC's (hydrofluorocarbons). These HFC's might not affect the ozone layer anymore, but their capacity of warming the earth is up to 9.000 times higher than that of CO2.

Due to the pressing issue of global warming in combination with this knowledge about refrigerants, officials of 170 countries met in Rwanda in 2016 to find a solution. It led to the remarkable Kigali agreement, which obliges the world to start phasing out HFC's. In 2019 the wealthier countries will start, followed by the countries with lower income by 2024 at the latest. This historical agreement is mandatory for all countries, as opposed to (for example) the Paris agreement. The impact of the Kigali agreement is estimated at a global temperature reduction of over 0.5°C. A clear example that political leaders are capable of taking up a huge responsibility in the battle against global warming!

This top five is only the tip of the melting iceberg concerning possible solutions for climate change. The writers of Drawdown shared all their results on their website, along with extra information.

Source: Drawdown

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