Scientists, activists release plan for maximum-speed decarbonization

New Climate North Star project calls for full global decarbonization by 2035

Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024

MISSOULA, Mont. – With the impacts of the climate crisis growing more acute and frequent across the globe, a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and researchers has collaborated to create a bold, new plan to speed up decarbonization worldwide.

The need for climate action is urgent, with 2023 now recorded as the hottest year in recorded history and perhaps in the past 100,000 years, and greenhouse gas levels continuing to rise. The Climate North Star project offers a path forward, integrating the fields of forestry, soil science, energy and materials management to maximize the speed of transition to a fossil fuel-free world, with the aim of completely decarbonizing the global energy system by 2035. The plan also emphasizes climate justice as a critical element of decarbonization efforts. 

“We have run out of time for slowly weaning the world off of fossil fuels,” says David Merrill, project director for Climate North Star. “We see new examples every day of the damage being caused by the climate crisis: flooding, wildfires, drought, storms, record heat. This is an emergency, and we must move swiftly away from the climate status quo before it’s too late. Climate North Star can be the guide for how we get to where we need to go.”

Using IPCC data,  Climate North Star illuminates actions that can stop global temperature increase by 2030, followed by global cooling.

By implementing the strongest recommended actions, we can:

  • Limit global temperature to a peak increase of 1.3 degrees Celsius by 2030.
  • Yield a 1-degree Celsius or lower global temperature rise by 2100.
  • Cap atmospheric CO2 concentration at 428 parts per million by 2030, falling to 372 ppm by 2100.
  • Limit sea level rise by the year 2100 to 5 inches below the most aggressive IPCC scenario.

“This is a moral obligation,” says energy researcher Steve Nelson. “People and communities across the globe are increasingly suffering the impacts of the climate crisis. And the first thing we can do to address the problem is to remove the root cause. It is technologically and economically feasible for us to completely replace fossil fuels with renewable energy worldwide. Doing so will yield massive savings and other substantial benefits such as better air quality, water availability and improved public health.” 

The companion piece to cutting CO2 emissions is a transformation of land-use practices that will speed the uptake of carbon out of the atmosphere. Through climate-smart forestry and improved agricultural practices, it’s possible to begin reducing atmospheric carbon concentrations, according to Dr. Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist with Earth Island Institute’s Wild Heritage project.

“Just like we must keep fossilized carbon in the ground, we also must keep carbon sequestered and stored long-term in forests as natural climate solutions,” says DellaSala. “That includes preserving all remaining unlogged (primary) forests, especially those with mature and old-growth trees, and  reforming logging practices that contribute over 11% of the annual global increase in CO2 concentrations.” Doing so, he adds, would avoid the estimated equivalent of 34 years of global CO2 emissions. 

Likewise, says Marshall McDaniel, a similar retooling of agricultural practices is critical to reaching climate protection goals. “In the Midwestern U.S., for example, two centuries of farming have cut the carbon content of agricultural soils in half,” he says. “Through regenerative organic agricultural practices, there is potential for removing the equivalent of all the carbon emitted worldwide for 2.5 years and storing it in soils.”

 Climate North Star also offers an analysis of the intersection of wealth, consumption, and waste. Consumer demand and waste generation in the world’s wealthiest nations account for a disproportionate share of carbon emissions, says Jeremy Drake, certified associate and instructor at Zero Waste USA. “Reducing personal consumption and supporting zero-waste systems can be powerful carbon reduction accelerators in the transition to a decarbonized economy during the period we need it most, which is right now” says Drake.

“This is a roadmap to victory in the climate fight, not just survival,” says Dr. Scott Denning, a climate scientist at Colorado State University . “The Climate North Star program would result in much less climate damage than even the most aggressive emissions scenarios considered in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or U.S. National Climate Assessments.”

As the world moves to a carbon-free future, however, it will be vulnerable, front-line communities that face the most painful and disruptive impacts of transitioning away from economies built on fossil fuels.

“It’s tempting to think about the climate crisis as a numbers issue, but nothing that we do happens in an objective vacuum,” says Mark Chavez, a climate justice organizer in Bozeman, Montana. “Front-line communities have suffered the most from the impacts of the fossil fuel industry, and because of how our economic system is set up, they will be impacted the most as that industry is shut down. The steps proposed in Climate North Star must take place with the self-determination of impacted communities as a top priority, including ensuring their free, prior, and informed consent and centering them in decision-making.”
Principals in the Climate North Star project are: climate scientist Dr. Scott Denning of Colorado State University; Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, the chief scientist at Wild Heritage, a project of the Earth Island Institute; Jeremy Drake, associate and instructor at Zero Waste USA; Iowa State University associate professor of agronomy
Dr. Marshall McDaniel; climate justice activist Mark Chavez; Steve Nelson, an independent energy researcher;
and David Merrill, Climate North Star project director.


For more information, visit

An archived recording of the Climate North Star report release webinar featuring authors is available online at:

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