Guidance

2050 Pathways

Exploring how the UK can meet the 2050 emission reduction target using the web-based 2050 Calculator.

Overview

The UK is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, relative to 1990 levels. For this to happen, we need to transform the UK economy while ensuring secure, low-carbon energy supplies to 2050. The 2050 Calculator is an award-winning, user-friendly model that lets you create your own UK emissions reduction pathway, and see the impact using real scientific data. The Calculator helps everyone engage in the debate and lets Government make sure our planning is consistent with this long-term aim.

The Calculator is available in three versions to allow a range of audiences to explore the fundamental question of how the UK can best meet energy needs while reducing emissions:

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is now working with countries around the world to help them develop their own calculators, and is also building a Global Calculator to look at ways to reduce emissions worldwide.

If you have any questions, please contact DECC’s 2050 Team.

The 2050 challenge

The 2050 Pathways work presents a framework through which to consider some of the choices and trade-offs we will have to make over the next 40 years. It is system-wide, covering all parts of the economy and all greenhouse gas emissions released in the UK. It is rooted in scientific and engineering realities, looking at what is thought to be physically and technically possible in each sector. It allows you, as the user of the Calculator, to explore all the available options and some of their key implications.

We believe it is essential to be transparent about the assumptions and approach used in the 2050 work, which is why we have published the full Calculator model. You can read more about this and how we developed the model in the analysis section below.

Video: The energy challenge

Creating your pathway

Try out different ways of securing a low-carbon future for the UK by creating your own pathway using the 2050 Calculator, or if you’re short of time, you can explore what a low-carbon UK might look like in 2050 by playing the simplified My2050 simulation.

On the supply side you can choose how the UK produces its energy. For example, you can choose to build up to 40,000 offshore wind turbines or up to 50 3GW nuclear power stations, you can allocate up to 20% of the UK’s land to growing bio crops and you can reduce our use of landfill sites.

For each choice four trajectories have been developed, ranging from little or no effort to reduce emissions (level 1) to extremely ambitious changes that push towards the physical or technical limits of what can be achieved (level 4). The assumptions behind these trajectories are explained.

You can explore some of the wider implications of your pathway by using the web-tool’s tabs. For example, you can see the implications of your pathway for the size of the electricity sector, you can visually track how energy flows through the system, and you can see how much your new energy system will cost to build. You can also read a short summary of your pathway on the story tab.

Video of David Mackay explaining how to create a pathway

The My2050 Schools Toolkit

In partnership with Involve, Think Global and Sciencewise-ERC, DECC created the My2050 schools classroom toolkit to help teachers engage students in debates about the energy choices we will have to make to meet our 2050 carbon target, using the My2050 simulation.It is aimed particularly at teachers of Geography, Science, Maths and Citizenship. It is most suited to students in Key Stages 3 and 4 (age 11–16 years old), but can be adapted for students of different ages. Specific links are made to key strands of the national curriculum.

Kirsten Bodley, STEMnet Chief Executive:

I am pleased DECC is taking this initiative to encourage students to think about reducing carbon emissions. Particularly as the data obtained from students playing the my2050 game will feed into DECC’s research on how to actually reduce carbon emissions in the UK by 2050.

You can find out more about the 2050 schools toolkit information.

The analysis

Lying behind the 2050 Calculator and My2050 is the data in the Excel 2050 calculator. This is a more complex model, but it is open source and entirely transparent in displaying all of our supporting calculations and assumptions. This How to Guide should help those looking for a more detailed understanding of the Excel version. We also have compilation of the one-page guides to each sector, which appear in My2050. The wiki has lots of additional detail on the model, including answers to questions that stakeholders have posed.

My2050: one page guides

This file may not be suitable for users of assistive technology. Request a different format.

If you use assistive technology and need a version of this document in a more accessible format please email correspondence@decc.gsi.gov.uk quoting your address, telephone number along with the title of the publication ("My2050: one page guides").

The calculator will run on Microsoft Excel for PCs 2007 and 2010, and Microsoft Excel for Macs 2011, so older versions of Excel will not open it. Trial copies of the appropriate Excel versions are available to download from Microsoft.

Improving the analysis

The 2050 Pathways analysis report was first published in July 2010, with experts from businesses, NGOs, technical fields and academics helping government to produce the original work. Since then, both the calculator and accompanying analysis have developed considerably, with the support of a wide range of stakeholders. For more detail on this development, and some of the frequently asked questions on the 2050 analysis please refer to the wiki site that is maintained by the 2050 team.

In March 2011, we released an update to the calculator following a successful call for evidence that received over 100 responses from across the energy and climate change community. This included more detailed information on the waste and transport sectors. We also published 17 illustrative pathways that introduced some of the major themes of the dialogue about the potential merits of different pathways to 2050.

You can read about the government’s response to the call for evidence and other reports by downloading:

Most recently, the Carbon Plan published in December 2011 used the calculator to produce four futures that show some of the plausible routes towards meeting the 2050 target. This used the latest version of the Calculator which for the first time included details on the cost and air quality impacts of pathways, which had undergone a call for evidence phase. For more information on how these costs were calculated see this separate paper on costs methodology and results.

The debate

Video: What Do You Think - ‘my2050’

Because it’s so open and easy to use, the 2050 work can help facilitate an energy literate debate. During March 2011 over 10,000 ‘My2050 Worlds’ were submitted online and these results were analysed by Ipsos Mori. In partnership with Ipsos Mori we also held a series of deliberative dialogues with members of the public about the UK energy system using the 2050 Calculator in 2011. Details of these can also be downloaded:

In 2011 we invited a panel of experts to propose their own preferred pathways to 2050. Some of the experts have since updated their pathways in the new version of the calculator.

In 2013 DECC organised the British Energy Challenge roadshow, a series of nine events in cities around the UK attended by local community, business and political leaders, as well as the interested general public. The focus of these events was an interactive session involving the calculator, in which participants voted on the different options and worked together towards meeting the 2050 emissions reduction target. Nearly 2000 people took part in these debates. For more information, please see the British Energy Challenge blog.

International collaboration

DECC is working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the Department for International Development (DFID) to engage with experts from other countries to build their own 2050 Calculators. Wallonia in Belgium, China, South Korea, Taiwan, India and South Africa have already published theirs, and more are in the pipeline. You can find out more about our international outreach work on the International outreach work of the 2050 Calculator page.

DECC is also working in collaboration with a number of other organisations to build a Global Calculator, which will enable users to explore the options for reducing global emissions, and the impact of climate change associated with them. Please see the Global Calculator website for more information on the project.

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