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Evaluating the Rate of Technological Improvement Necessary to Achieve Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets

[+] Author Affiliations
C. Andrew Miller

US Environmental Protection Agency, Los Angeles, CA

Paper No. IMECE2013-64664, pp. V06BT07A004; 11 pages
  • ASME 2013 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Volume 6B: Energy
  • San Diego, California, USA, November 15–21, 2013
  • Conference Sponsors: ASME
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5629-1


Considerable effort has been made to evaluate the technological improvement required to achieve global emission levels that are estimated to be needed to prevent the most serious impacts of climate change. While these analyses have highlighted the magnitude of technological change needed to meet target emission levels, the rate of such change has not been discussed as frequently. Application of the simple yet informative Kaya Identity, which relates emission levels to social and technological drivers, can be applied to gain insights into the required rate of technological change. This analysis shows that the current rate of technological improvement, as measured by the rate of change in energy intensity of economic growth (energy/dollar of GDP) and carbon intensity [carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per unit energy], must be accelerated to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels to levels estimated to be needed to avoid serious climate impacts, even if population and economic activity were to remain constant. Given projected population growth and desired economic growth, the rate of technological change must accelerate by a factor of 5–8 times current levels and maintain that level of change for the foreseeable future. Such an accelerated pace of technological change has substantial implications for energy technology development, the need for technical expertise, and potentially the structure of the economy as a whole.



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