The Climate Game cheat sheet: how to get to net zero by 2050

The Climate Game cheat sheet: how to get to net zero by 2050


Your path through the Financial Times’ Climate Game is fraught with obstacles. You might be tempted by options that fail to cut emissions. You may not invest in the right technologies. You could land on too many planetary “tipping points”.

The challenge might be steep, but we want you to reach net zero — the future habitability of Earth is counting on it — so we thought we would give you a helping hand.

Spoiler alert: if you are yet to play the game, read no further. But let us give you one piece of advice before you take on the role of global minister for future generations: the effort spent cutting emissions in the next decade will be crucial.

Round one: 2022-2025

In the first round, you need to stop any new coal plants being built and close those in wealthy countries. Coal is incredibly carbon intensive, producing about twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas per unit of energy.

Many of the technologies needed to decarbonize the global economy are not yet widely used, meaning investing in innovation is key. But watch out, two of the technologies available are far less effective than the others.

Methane emissions must also be tackled in the next decade if we are to have any hope of keeping global warming to 1.5C. The gas has about 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Changing how we use land is also important. Most of us associate climate change with burning fossil fuels, but poor farming practices and deforestation hamper the ability of soils and trees to store carbon.

Round two: 2026-2030

Shifting from fossil fuels to a cleaner economy requires huge public and private spending. Many people will be directly affected — either through changes to their industries or a rise in taxes — but the transition will also present new opportunities that you must capitalize on to stay in your role.

Also important to maintaining public support is spending on adaptation. Much of the discussion around climate change focuses on mitigation — limiting the temperature rise by slashing greenhouse gas emissions — but building infrastructure to help people cope with the effects of climate change is vital too.

An illustration of Dystopiana — a made-up city featured in the Climate Game

Passenger air travel needs to be capped at pre-pandemic levels, according to the International Energy Agency. This is a challenge given that only 2 to 4 per cent of the global population at present flies and demand is ever increasing as populations and incomes rise in developing countries.

Like aviation, our homes contribute to climate change. This is down to heating and cooking systems that rely on fossil fuels, but also the emissions produced when making building materials and loss of heat through inefficiency. Insulating existing homes and installing solar panels or heat pumps — known as “retrofitting” — is key to reducing the impact.

Setting a carbon price, effectively a tax for every ton of carbon produced by the goods and services we make or buy, is also important. But don’t set it too high — the yellow vests protests in France reflect what could happen if you do.

Round three: 2031-2050

Given the sweeping global powers that come with your role, much of the climate game is focused on top-down policy decisions, but the behavior of your citizens must change too.

Those in wealthier countries need to limit their energy use — ditching tumble dryers and capping thermostats at 20C — to enable a renewables-based system to meet demand.

A shift in diets is also needed: experts say we must consume more plant-based food, which generally uses less land and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions per gram of protein than meat.

The costs of your options in the final round reflect your previous decisions in the game. If you are not on track for net zero, it will be very expensive to correct your course in the last round.

A shift to green technology will mean an uptick in the number of critical minerals required for electric circuits and batteries, such as copper, lithium and cobalt. Fueling a circular economy is recommended, where materials are widely recycled and reused, rather than continually mined from finite reserves in ways that damage the planet.

Industry must also undergo a seismic change in round three. The energy required to make materials crucial to developing economies, such as steel and cement, makes this tricky to decarbonise.

Scaling up green hydrogen is a gamble worth taking, and carbon capture systems that suck in emissions produced by industrial plants are also important. From 2030, the world needs to rapidly expand the use of both technologies.

Illustrations by Johan Papin

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