May 18, 2016

Winning at Drawdown Chess

Mark Trexler

Quite a few people in the climate field have been showing interest in Project Drawdown and the Project’s anticipated 2017 book (and database) covering  the 100 ways to best “draw-down” greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The list is detailed and includes more than “pure” climate issues—for example, it includes education of girls.

There’s nothing fundamentally new about arguing that we could address climate change “if only” we would scale up and deploy a particular technology or implement a particular social, technical, or political measure. Socolow’s “stabilization wedges” (2004), Randers and Gildings “1 degree war plan” (2010), Mckinsey’s mitigation cost curves (2007), Jacobsen’s 100% renewable electricity roadmaps (2016), all fall into this category of “if only we would . . . .” strategies.  Unfortunately, acting on these strategies turns out to be much more difficult than coming up with the ideas. Will Project Drawdown’s 100 measures simply become another entry in the “if only we would . . . “ list?

A lot depends on whether—along with assessing the “drawdown potential” of each measure—we explicitly identify and understand the barriers that prevent each measure from rapidly scaling up under the status quo and come up with strategies to overcome those barriers. In addition, we would be well-served to identify constituencies that realistically can mobilize to overcome those barriers. Ideally, such a “barriers and constituencies” assessment went into the identification of the 100 measures in the first place, but there’s no indication of that on the website or in Paul Hawken’s talks about the project.

In other words, much depends on whether Project Drawdown envisions itself solely in a technology assessment role, or in the role of a chess player who is coordinating efforts to move the 100 Drawdown measures forward on an enormous Climate Chessboard. It’s not clear whether Project Drawdown has such an ambition. We hope it does.

We use the Climate Web Spotlight below to explore some of the key questions that one would need to explore in order to make such forward movement.  The Spotlight focuses specifically on the 71 Project Drawdown options currently listed on the group’s website. It also provides alternative ways to look at those options (clicking on each of the hyperlinks below will take you to the indicated spot in the Spotlight):

  • [link link=””]By Sector:[/link] which sectors dominate?
  • [link link=””]By Key Barriers:[/link] where might we get the most bang for our buck if certain barriers can be overcome?
  • [link link=””]By Drivers Behind Development of Solutions:[/link] what’s going to cause these measures to deploy at a level that leads to drawdown of GHGs? Do public policy mandates have to dominate the drivers list?
  • [link link=””]By Constituency:[/link] who’s likely to be implementing the options, and how can they be motivated to want to do so?

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These explorations are preliminary; they don’t pull all the information together in order to prioritize certain options over others, at least in the near term. But they do begin to identify the steps involved in thinking through the idea of Drawdown Chess.

The Climate Web also explores the larger topic of Climate Chess in much more depth, into which the idea of Drawdown Chess fits.

  • Identifying more than 100 [link link=””]Team Climate Urgency[/link] chess pieces
  • Identifying the numerous [link link=””]players (just) on Team Climate Urgency[/link]
  • Sorting through the [link link=””]motivations of Team Climate Urgency[/link]

Climate Chess is a complicated game. It’s a critical game to understand, however, if we want to more successfully tackle climate change. Project Drawdown could help. Let’s hope it does.


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Mark Trexler

Mark has more than 30 years of regulatory and energy policy experience. He has advised clients around the world on climate change risk and risk management. He is widely published on business risk management topics surrounding climate change, including in the design and deployment of carbon markets. Mark has served as a lead author for the IPCC and holds advanced degrees from the University of California at Berkeley.

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