The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has seriously underestimated the technological advances needed to stem carbon dioxide emissions, say Roger Pielke Jr, Tom Wigley and Christopher Green in Nature.
They describe the IPCC's assumption that the majority of future emission reductions will occur spontaneously, in the absence of climate policies, as "optimistic at best and unachievable at worst".
Led by China and India, the world is on a development and energy path that will bring a surge in carbon dioxide emissions and can end only with a transformation of global energy systems, say the authors.
But such a transformation will take many decades, even if aggressive action on energy technology innovation is taken today.
The authors conclude that, instead of playing the "risky game" of assuming that technological advances will happen spontaneously, the IPCC should focus on how to create the conditions for innovation to occur.