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.

We are currently updating our pathways information. As part of this update there will be a new UK Pathways Calculator. The new calculator will use the latest available data and explore pathways beyond 2050, as well as those that meet the 2050 target. The My2050 simulation will also be updated.

The original Calculator was released by DECC (now BEIS) and is currently 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 new look web-tool version of the Calculator for a detailed look at the issue with a user friendly interface
  • the “classic” version of the webtool that allows you to see all your options in one view
  • the full Excel version of the Calculator for experts who want to look at the underpinning model.

While the UK Pathways Calculator is being updated, the simplified My2050 simulation and the My2050 Schools Toolkit have been taken offline. They will be available again once the update is complete.

BEIS is now working with teams around the world to help them develop their own calculators, and has also built a Global Calculator to look at ways to reduce emissions worldwide.

If you have any questions, please contact BEIS’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

Video: Dr.Tom Counsell presents on the British 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.

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.

The My2050 Schools Toolkit

While the UK Pathways Calculator is being updated, the simplified My2050 simulation and the My2050 Schools Toolkit have been taken offline. They will be available again once the update is complete.

The analysis

Lying behind the 2050 Calculator 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. The wiki has lots of additional detail on the model, including answers to questions that stakeholders have posed.

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:

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.

We are currently updating our pathways information. As part of this update there will be a new UK Pathways Calculator. The new calculator will use the latest available data and explore pathways beyond 2050, as well as those that meet the 2050 target. The My2050 simulation will also be updated.

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

BEIS is working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the Department for International Development (DFID) to engage with experts from other parts of the world to build their own 2050 Calculators. Wallonia in Belgium, China, South Korea, Taiwan, India South Africa and Japan 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 also worked in collaboration with a number of other organisations to build a Global Calculator, which enables 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.

Published 22 January 2013
Last updated 23 January 2013 + show all updates
  1. Update includes information on the My2050 School Toolkit and feedback from 2050 engagement.
  2. First published.