Caldeira Lab Research:Energy, Global Carbon Cycle, and Climate

Energy implications of future stabilization of atmospheric CO2 content

Martin I. Hoffert, Ken Caldeira, Atul K. Jain, Erik F. Haites, L.D. Danny Harvey, Seth D. Potter, Michael E. Schlesinger, Stephen H. Schneider, Robert G. Watts, Tom M.L. Wigley, & Donald J. Wuebbles

An investigation of the energy requirements that will be needed in the future in order to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of CO2. Taking into account economic growth and the probability that in the future energy requirements will be much higher than they are today, the world will require new and innovative clean technologies that can produce more power than fossil fuels do now.

Hoffert M.I., K. Caldeira, A.K. Jain, E.F. Haites, L.D.D. Harvey, S. D. Potter, M.E. Schlesinger, S. H. Schneider, R.G. Watts, T. M. L Wigley, and D. J. Wuebbles. Energy implications of future stabilization of atmospheric CO2 content. Nature 395, 881–884, 1998.

Required amounts of clean power: The amount of power that does not emit CO2 that will be required in order to stabilize atmospheric concentrations at 750, 650, 550, 450, and 350ppm by the year 2100.


Energy requirements must go down: In order to stabilize the atmosphere, we must not only begin using more clean power, but also slow the rate at which we are currently increasing our energy use due to economic growth.


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change calls for ‘‘stabilization of greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system . . .’’. A standard baseline scenario that assumes no policy intervention to limit greenhouse-gas emissions has 10 TW (10 • 10^12 watts) of carbon-emission-free power being produced by the year 2050, equivalent to the power provided by all today’s energy sources combined. Here we employ a carbon-cycle/energy model to estimate the carbon-emission-free power needed for various atmospheric CO2 stabilization scenarios. We find that CO2 stabilization with continued economic growth will require innovative, cost-effective and carbon-emission free technologies that can provide additional tens of terawatts of primary power in the coming decades, and certainly by the middle of the twenty-first century, even with sustained improvement in the economic productivity of primary energy. At progressively lower atmospheric CO2-stabilization targets in the 750–350 p.p.m.v. range, implementing stabilization will become even more challenging because of the increasing demand for carbon-emission-free power. The magnitude of the implied infrastructure transition suggests the need for massive investments in innovative energy research.