Great Graphs #1: The GHG Cost Abatement Curve

Great graphs communicate important insights in compelling ways. An earlier version of this one apparently made a strong impression at the Scottish Parliament in June last year.

Three things you need to know: 1.) Each bar is a set of actions to reduce carbon emissions. 2.) Every bar below the line saves money, every bar above the line costs money. 3.) The wider the bar, the more carbon saved.

The graph comes from McKinsey & Compay's Jan 2009 report: Pathways to a Low-Carbon Economy: Version 2 of the Global Greenhouse Gas Abatement Cost Curve. (Do take a look at the technical explanation on page 9 of the full report before using the figures in earnest!)

The report's key findings are:

  • The potential exists to reduce GHG emissions by just enough to stay on track until 2030 to contain global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Opportunities can be grouped into three categories of technical measures: energy efficiency, low-carbon energy supply, and terrestrial carbon.
  • Capturing all the potential will be a major challenge: it will require change on a massive scale, strong global cross-sectoral action and commitment, and a strong policy framework.
  • While the costs and investments seem manageable at a global level, they are likely to be challenging for individual sectors.
  • Delays in action of even 10 years would mean missing the 2 degrees Celsius target.

So, let's get started, working from left to right!

Can you recommend any great graphs that communicate important insights in compelling ways?

Osbert Lancaster is director Footprint Consulting Ltd.