This paper provides pathways of the carbon content of electricity extracted from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth Assessment Report scenarios database. It demonstrates three policy-relevant aspects of the carbon content of electricity that are implicit in most integrated assessment model results but under-discussed in academia and the policy debate. First, climate stabilization at any level from 1.5 °C to 3 °C requires the carbon content of electricity to decrease quickly and become almost carbon-free before the end of the century. As such, the question for policy makers is not whether to decarbonize electricity but when and how to do so. Second, decarbonization of electricity is still possible and required if some of the key zero-carbon technologies—such as nuclear power or carbon capture and storage—turn out to be unavailable. Third, progressive decarbonization of electricity is part of every country’s cost-effective means of contributing to climate stabilization. The pathways of the carbon content of electricity reported here can be used to benchmark existing decarbonization targets, such as those set by the European Energy Roadmap or inform new policies in other countries. They can also be used to assess the desirable uptake rates of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, electric stoves and heat pumps, industrial electric furnaces, or other electrification technologies.


Audoly, R., Vogt-Schilb, A., Guivarch, C. & Pfeiffer, A. (2018). 'Pathways toward zero-carbon electricity required for climate stabilization'. Applied Energy, 225, pp.884-901.
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