The Drawdown Project to Reverse Global Warming — Educational Resources

By Lisa DiCaprio, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club NYC Group

Project Drawdown comprises 100 existing solutions* for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reversing global warming.

I learned about Project Drawdown at a September 24, 2018 event at the New York Society for Ethical Culture that was produced by Climate Reality Leaders Elly Lessin, the Pachamama Alliance, and Monica Weiss, New York Society for Ethical Culture and 350NYC. Over 700 people attended the Drawdown event, which was part of Climate Week NYC 2018, and co-sponsored by the New York Society for Ethical Culture, 350NYC and the Pachamama Alliance.

Each Drawdown solution “reduces greenhouse gases by avoiding emissions and/or by sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.” Drawdown is defined as “that point in time when the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere begins to decline on a year-to-year basis.”

The Drawdown timeline correlates with the conclusions of the October 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C. The report compares climate change impacts at 1.5° Celsius (2.7° Fahrenheit) versus 2°C (3.6°F) of global warming since the Industrial Revolution. Currently, average temperatures have increased by about 1°C (1.8°F). Limiting warming to 1.5°C will require reducing carbon emissions from human activities “by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030 reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.”**

Project Drawdown is described on its website and in The New York Times best-selling book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (Penguin 2017), edited by author and environmental activist Paul Hawken, the project founder. The lead writer for Drawdown is Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, the Vice-President of Communications and Engagement at Project Drawdown. Dr. Jonathan Foley is the project’s Executive Director.

To date, the Drawdown Coalition includes over 70 research fellows from six continents and 22 countries as well as more than 120 advisors.

Eighty existing solutions were selected based on five criteria, which are explained in Drawdown’s Frequently Asked Questions.
“Is the solution currently available and scaling?
Is it economically viable? In other words, is there a business case?
Does it have the potential to reduce GHGs in the atmosphere, either through avoided emissions or sequestration, by at least 50 million tons of greenhouse gasses over 30 years?
Are there any negative results, such as pollution, reduced food security, land conversion, etc.? And, if so, do the positive benefits outweigh the negatives?
Do we have sufficient data to be able to model these technologies at global scale?”

Drawdown, an ongoing project, also identifies 20 Coming Attractions that have the potential to meet these criteria in the future.

Project Drawdown provides an essential guide for advocacy by compiling and evaluating technically feasible solutions that relate to virtually all aspects of our natural and built environments.

We may access the 80 solutions by overall rank or sector. The top ten solutions by rank are:
  • refrigerant management
  • wind turbines (onshore)
  • reduced food waste
  • plant-rich diet
  • tropical forests
  • educating girls
  • family planning
  • solar farms
  • silvopasture (the “integration of trees and pasture in a single system for raising livestock”)
  • rooftop solar
The seven sectors of solutions are:
The solutions in the Women and Girls sector facilitate the realization of women's potential, contributions to sustainability solutions and stabilization of the world's population, which is projected by the UN to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050. Providing women smallholder farmers with equal access to finance and resources will increase agricultural yields and reduce deforestation. 

For each of the 80 solutions, Drawdown provides an essay that describes its main features and typically includes a photograph, a ranking, and achievable results by 2050 with regard to carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emission reductions, net cost, net savings and impact. The essays are accompanied by references, a technical summary and the modeling methodology.

Here are the impacts described for a single solution from each of the seven sectors.

ELECTRICITY GENERATION, Wind Turbines (offshore), Rank #22: “IMPACT: For offshore wind, growing from .1 percent to 4 percent could avoid 14.1 gigatons of emissions. At a combined cost of $1.8 trillion, wind turbines can deliver net savings of $8.2 trillion over three decades of operation. These are conservative estimates, however. Costs are falling annually and new technological improvements are already being installed, increasing capacity to generate more electricity at the same or lower cost.” (See also the impact for onshore wind turbines, Rank #2.)

FOOD, Plant-Rich Diet, Rank #4: “IMPACT: Using country-wide data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, we estimate the growth in global food consumption by 2050, assuming that low-income countries will consume more food overall and higher quantities of meat as economies grow. If 50% of the world’s population restricts their diet to a healthy 2,500 calories per day and reduces meat consumption overall, we estimate at least 26.7 gigatons of emissions could be avoided from dietary change alone. If avoided deforestation from land use change is included, an additional 39.3 gigatons of emissions could be avoided, making healthy, plant-rich diets one of the most impactful solutions at a total of 66 gigatons reduced.”

WOMEN AND GIRLS, Educating Girls. Rank #6: “IMPACT: Two solutions influence family size and global population: educating girls and family planning. Because the exact dynamic between these solutions is impossible to determine, our models allocate 50 percent of the total potential impact to each. We assume that these impacts result from thirteen years of schooling, including primary through secondary education. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, by closing an annual financing gap of $39 billion, universal education in low- and lower-middle-income countries can be achieved. It could result in 59.6 gigatons of emissions reduced by 2050. The return on that investment is incalculable.”

BUILDINGS AND CITIES, Insulation, Rank #31: “IMPACT: Retrofitting buildings with insulation is a cost-effective solution for reducing energy required for heating and cooling. If 54 percent of existing residential and commercial buildings install insulation, 8.3 gigatons of emissions can be avoided at an implementation cost of $3.7 trillion. Over thirty years, net savings could be $2.5 trillion. However, insulation measures can last one hundred years or more, realizing lifetime savings in excess of $4.2 trillion.” (This solution mentions Passive House, an international building efficiency standard that saves up to 90% of the energy required for heating and cooling conventional buildings and 75% of all energy usage when electricity is included in the total. For more information on Passive House, see my article, “High-rise Passive House in NYC,” in the Fall 2017 Sierra Atlantic.)

LAND USE, Indigenous Peoples’ Land Management, Rank #39: “IMPACT: Indigenous peoples have secure land tenure on 1.3 billion acres globally, though they live on and manage much more. Our analysis assumes higher rates of carbon sequestration and lower rates of deforestation on lands managed by indigenous peoples. If forestland under secure tenure grows by 909 million acres by 2050, reduced deforestation could result in 6.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions avoided. This solution could bring the total forest area under indigenous management to 2.2 billion acres, securing an estimated protected stock of 232 gigatons of carbon, roughly equivalent to over 850 gigatons of carbon dioxide if released into the atmosphere.”

TRANSPORT, Ships, Rank #32: “IMPACT: With an efficiency gain of 50 percent across the international shipping industry, 7.9 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions can be avoided by 2050. That could save $424 billion in fuel costs over thirty years and $1 trillion over the life of the ships.”

MATERIALS, Industrial recycling, Rank #56: “IMPACT: As mentioned above, household recycling and industrial recycling were modeled together. The total additional implementation cost of both is estimated at $734 billion, with a net operational savings of $142 billion over thirty years. On average, 50 percent of recyclable materials come from industrial and commercial sectors. At a 65 percent recycling rate, the commercial and industrial sectors can avoid 2.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050.” 

COMING ATTRACTIONS: In addition to the 80 solutions, Project Drawdown describes 20 “Coming Attractions.” These include solutions that are still in a developmental phase, such as an artificial leaf and a hyperloop transportation system in which trains travel in vacuum tubes, and solutions that are already being implemented; for example, smart highways paved with solar panels, building with wood (engineered wood), Living Buildings (a green building certification) and industrial hemp, a raw material for a wide variety of products. It was grown in the US until its cultivation was banned in 1937. Hemp is now legalized in several states, including New York State. 

Drawdown also includes these essays: Andrea Wulf, “Alexander von Humbodt”; Michael Pollan, “Why Bother”; David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle, “The Hidden Half of Nature”; Mark Hertsgaard, “The Man Who Stopped the Desert”; Peter Wohlleben, “The Hidden Life of Trees”; Pope Francis, “On Care for our Common Home”; Janine Benyus, “Reciprocity”; and Paul Hawken, “Opening.”

Throughout the world, organizations, individuals, NGOs, corporations and educators are implementing Drawdown solutions. Initiatives that provide a framework for activism include the Pachamama Alliance’s Drawdown Solutions: Getting Into Action Workshop, Drawdown Learn and the annual Drawdown EcoChallenge.

The Pachamama Alliance’s Drawdown Solutions: Getting Into Action Workshop is a multi-session workshop offered in locations throughout the US. Founded in 1996, the Pachamama Alliance describes its purpose in these terms: “With roots deep in the Amazon rainforest, our programs integrate indigenous wisdom with modern knowledge to support personal, and collective, transformation that is the catalyst to bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet.”

In NYC, Elly Lessin and Keith Voos, volunteers with the Pachamama Alliance, led a five-session workshop in October and November 2018 that gave participants an opportunity to learn more about Project Drawdown and to select a solution or solutions of particular interest for which they created an action plan.

This workshop inspired Andrea Kennedy, founder of Fashiondex, Inc. and a faculty member teaching fashion sustainability courses at LIM College in NYC, which focuses on the study of business and fashion, to develop a project on the fashion industry relating to Transport, Ships, Solution #32. As described in this solution, eighty percent of global trade, by weight, is transported by ships that are responsible for 11 percent of emissions from transportation. Andrea organized a panel for the April 12, 2019 second annual Fashion & Sustainability Summit at LIM on how to reduce the environmental impact of the shipping industry. This goal can be achieved by retrofitting container ships with ducktails, air compressors and energy sails to increase their fuel efficiency, and consolidating the number of trips required for the global manufacture and distribution of clothing. The panel will be moderated by Andrea, who will provide an introduction to the Drawdown solution on ships. The speakers include Barak Ayata, Senior Director of Sea and Air Logistics, North America, at Kuehne and Nagel Inc. Rationalizing shipping will also reduce the noise pollution in the oceans that adversely affects marine life. Compounded sounds from container ships are projected to double noise from these ships by 2030. See: Jim Robbins, “Oceans are Getting Louder, Posing Potential Threats to Marine Life,” The New York Times, January 22, 2019.

On January 10, 2019, I attended a follow-up to the workshop in which participants discussed their projects that relate to a variety of Drawdown solutions, such as a plant-rich diet, composting, bioplastics, the installation of rooftop solar and communicating about Drawdown in NYC public schools. The participants decided to convene on a monthly basis to discuss how they are developing their Drawdown projects and initiatives to publicize Project Drawdown.

Elly Lessin and Keith Voos are planning to organize additional multi-session Drawdown workshops in the NYC area in the future. If you’re interested in participating, write to

Drawdown Learn is an initiative to develop resources for K-12, including the K-12 Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) higher education and community sustainability initiatives.

The annual Drawdown EcoChallenge, developed from the Earth Month EcoChallenge, was first organized in 2009 by the Northwest Earth Institute as an online platform in which participants earn points for taking an action that reduces carbon emissions. The April 2018 Drawdown EcoChallenge involved 65 countries, 50 states and 7,247 participants, of whom 2,181 focused on the Women and Girls sector of solutions. The 2019 Drawdown EcoChallenge will be held from April 3 to 24, 2019.

The second edition of Drawdown is scheduled for publication in 2020.
* The Sierra Club does not support all of the Drawdown solutions; for example, we oppose nuclear power and waste-to-energy.
** For more information on this IPCC report, see my article, “Key Resources on Recent Climate Change Reports,” in the Fall/Winter 2018 Sierra Atlantic.

Key Resources on Project Drawdown