Moving the date calls for foresight,
innovation, and bold action.

Moving the Date: What’s possible?

It is possible to end overshoot. Four key factors drive a country’s resource picture and thus offer high-leverage opportunities to end overshoot: how we build and operate our cities, how we provide energy, how we feed ourselves, and how many we are. Carbon is the largest component of the Ecological Footprint, and it should fall to zero well before 2050 if we want to live up to the Paris Climate Accord. We need achieve this reduction without increasing the burden on the other components of the Ecological Footprint: cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, forests, and built-up land.

Various studies have outlined how this is possible. Here we dive deeper into two recent studies of such pathways, by Project Drawdown and McKinsey & Company.

Project Drawdown

One recent study, produced by Project Drawdown, surveyed the most substantive, existing solutions to reduce carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. This impressive project, documented in an accessible, well-explained book, analyzed all available options on their overall potential for reducing carbon emissions or sequestering carbon by 2050. A qualified and diverse group of researchers from around the world also studied the economics of each solution and dispelled the myth that we cannot afford the solutions to achieve a zero carbon Footprint.

The table below lists the Drawdown solutions and indicates how many days Earth Overshoot Day would move if they were implemented. We include here Project Drawdown’s “plausible scenario,” but the research team studied more aggressive scenarios, too.

Drawdown includes two population solutions. In our own analysis on population, we chose different assumptions on family size reductions, and also recognized that there will be Footprint savings beyond carbon. This is why we estimate a 30-day gain potential from population-oriented solutions as compared to the 12.6 days Project Drawdown estimates (for Educating Girls and Family Planning solutions). Gains from population size are particularly large in the long run, as these gains accumulate. Yet, they can be achieved through activities that have powerful short-term social gains.

Top 5 Project Drawdown Solutions

Solution Sector Total atmospheric CO2 reduction by 2050 - Plausible Scenario (tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) Solution Moves Earth Overshoot Day This Many Days
(2030 Scenario)
Solution Moves Earth Overshoot Day This Many Days
(2050 Scenario)
Refrigerant Management Materials 89.74 2.9 9.5
Wind Turbines (Onshore) Energy 84.6 2.7 8.9
Reduced Food Waste Food 70.53 2.3 7.4
Plant-Rich Diet Food 66.11 2.1 7
Tropical Forests Land Use 61.23 2 6.5

McKinsey & Company

Another study, McKinsey & Company’s Pathways to a Low-Carbon Economy, focuses on technical solutions at the commercial and residential scales. McKinsey also assessed potential costs. Their assessment reaches till 2030. The carbon emissions implications of both the Drawdown and the McKinsey scenarios are depicted in the graph below.

McKinsey forecast emissions savings in 2030 compared to a business-as-usual scenario. We translated this data into number of days the scenarios  would, on average, shift the Earth Overshoot date. Both studies generate similar overall results, confirming that even with current technology and without prohibitive initial investments, it is possible to bring the carbon Footprint down to zero before 2050—if  we apply all the available solutions and start now.

Top 5 McKinsey & Company Solutions

Solution/ Area Sector Potential CO2 abatement in 2030 compared to Business as Usual beginning 2010 (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) Solution Moves Earth Overshoot Day This Many Days
(2030 Scenario)
Solution Moves Earth Overshoot Day This Many Days
(2050 Scenario)
Coal carbon capture & storage (new build) Power 2107 2.2 7.5
Reduced deforestation from slash and burn agricultural conversion Forestry 1986 2.1 7.1
Reduced deforestation from pastureland conversion Forestry 1620 1.7 5.8
Degraded forest reforestration Forestry 1366 1.4 4.9
Grassland management Agriculture 1354 1.4 4.8

Explore Additional Solutions

We see four major areas that help us #movethedate: cities, food, population, and energy among even more solutions.

Yes, we can #movethedate back to December 31, and beyond!