Deep decarbonization—reducing net human greenhouse gas emissions to zero in the 21st century—is best pursued as a risk management challenge. This Perspective explores three concepts that are particularly important to the implementation of risk management for deep decarbonization—risk governance, complexity, and robustness.
Risk governance provides a useful framework for organizing thinking and acting in pursuit of deep decarbonization, because it applies the principles of governance to the identification, assessment, management and communication of risks in a diverse and decentralized society.
Complex systems consist of many elements interacting in ever-shifting, often disordered ways. Such systems often respond nonlinearly to small perturbations, and their overall behavior can be understood but not predicted. Decarbonization presents a complex challenge, rather than a complicated one. This distinction proves important because managing a complex system is fundamentally different from managing a complicated one, and often offers more opportunities for small interventions to result in significant change.
Robustness provides a useful concept for managing the complexity of the decarbonization challenge. Seeking robust strategies involves considering a multiplicity of plausible futures, evaluating how strategies perform over a wide range of such futures, and often employing adaptive pathways that adjust over time to perform well over many futures.