The rare spots of good news on climate change

The catastrophic consequences of climate change have become more apparent this year, as record heat waves, floods and forest fires have killed thousands and strained our disaster response.

In the last days of 2021, scientists warned that the east coast of the Florida-sized glacier was about to be stripped from Antarctica, and US legislators have realized for decades that they have lost their best chance at formulating comprehensive climate policy.

But among these clear signs, there were also signs that climate action was starting to pick up. Indeed, there is now good reason to believe that the world can at least eliminate the worst threats of global warming.

Princeton’s energy researcher Jesse Jenkins accurately and colorfully illustrated the strange moment we arrived at. Recent Tweet: “We are no longer completely f $% @ ed. But we are also far from completely unf @% * ed! ”

To be sure, limited progress is almost not enough. We’ve taken a long time to make real changes. World events and politics can still slow down or reverse trends. And facing the challenge of the firm to ease the pressure for greater action, we cannot allow for little progress.

But it is worth highlighting and reflecting the progress of the world, as it shows that it can be done અને and can provide a model for achieving more.

Momentum

So what are the signs of progress amidst the darkness of climate?

The horrific scenarios that many people were worried about a few years ago seem increasingly unlikely. This includes the 4 or 5 degree Celsius temperature of this century that I and others had previously highlighted as a possibility.

An earlier high-end emission view from the UN Climate Panel, known as RCP 8.5, found that global temperatures could rise above 5 ° C by 2100. These assumptions have often been incorporated into studies evaluating the risks of climate change, which are distributed to the eye. To capture the top-end results frequently quoted in the press. (Guilty.)

Some argue that it was not so sensible in the first place. And the scenario seems to be moving farther away from coal-fired power plants, initially shifting to lower-emission natural gas but increasingly toward carbon-free wind and solar.

Given recent changes in land use, global emissions may already be flat, meaning forests, farmland and grasslands that the world is gaining and losing.

Today, if you level up all the climate policies that already exist around the world, according to Climate Action Tracker, we are now on the 2.7 ° C temperature track as the average estimate for this century. (Similarly, the latest UN report found that the planet is likely to warm up between 2.1 and 3.5 ° C under its “intermediate” emission scenario.)

If you assume that the nations will fulfill their emissions promises under the Paris Agreement, including the new commitments surrounding the recent UN summit in Glasgow, the figure will drop to 2.4 ° C. And if each country achieves its net-zero emission targets by the middle of the century, it will drop to 1.8 ° C.

Given increasingly stringent climate policies and declining solar and wind costs, we are about to witness a full-blown boom in renewable development. The International Energy Agency, which has been known to underestimate the growth of renewables in the past, now says that by 2026, global capacity will grow by more than 60%. At that time, solar, wind, hydroelectric dams and other renewable facilities will compete worldwide. Capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear plants.

Sales of new electric vehicles have also been growing at low single digits over the years. They will reach about 5.6 million this year, a jump of more than 80% from the 2020 figure, as automakers release more models and governments formulate more and more aggressive policies, according to BloombergNEF.

Electric vehicle sales increased from 2.8% in the first half of 2019 to 7% in the first half of 2021, with huge gains, especially in China and Europe. Zero-emission vehicles will account for about 30% of all new purchases by 2030, the research firm projects.

Progress

Meanwhile, there are plenty of signs of technological progress. Researchers and companies are looking for ways to produce carbon-free steel and cement. Plant-based meat alternatives are becoming tastier and more popular than anyone expected. Businesses are increasingly building larger plants to release carbon dioxide from the air. According to Pitchbook, venture capital investments in climate and clean-tech startups have reached unprecedented levels, with a total of more than $ 30 billion in the third quarter.

And here’s an important and compelling finding: While dangerous, extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common or serious, the world seems to be doing much better to protect people from them. The average number of deaths due to natural disasters has generally declined sharply in recent decades.

“We have better techniques for predicting storms, forest fires and floods; Infrastructure to protect ourselves; And a network for cooperation and recovery in the event of a disaster, “Hannah Ritchie, head of research at Our World of Data, noted in a recent Wired UK essay, citing her own research.

This addition provides the hope that with appropriate investments in climate adaptation measures such as seawalls and community cooling centers, we will be able to manage some of the increased risks we face. The rich nations that emit the most greenhouse gases, however, should provide financial assistance to help the poorer nations strengthen their defenses.

A real baseline

Some have seized on these improving signs and argued that climate change is not so bad. That’s nonsense. The world, by any measure, is still reacting dramatically less to the growing risks.

A planet that is about 3 degrees Celsius warmer would be a more dangerous and unpredictable place. That temperature threatens to destroy coral reefs, submerge major parts of our coastal cities and lowland islands, and expose millions of people to extreme heat waves, droughts, droughts and flooding.

Furthermore, we can still underestimate how sensitive the atmosphere is to greenhouse gases, as well as the serpentine effects of climate tipping points and the hazards of these high temperatures. And there is no guarantee that nations will not back down from their policies and commitments amidst economic shocks, conflicts and other unforeseen events.

But to be sure, a 3 ° C warmer world is a better place to live than 5 ° C warmer, and a much more promising starting line to reach 2 ° C.

“It’s not a matter of saying it’s a good result,” says Zack Hoesfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute. “The point is, that’s the baseline we’re working on now. And it’s easy to imagine a faster decline from there. “

In some ways, it is particularly noteworthy that the world has made so much progress without expanding climate policies in many countries and despite all the toxic, partisan politics surrounding climate change.

Natural gas, then the shift to solar and wind and increasingly EVs, was aided by government support, including loans, subsidies and other policies that pushed the underlying technology to market. And the business-driven scale-up process quickly reduced the cost of those technologies, helping them become more attractive.

Increasingly competitive and business-friendly clean options promise Simplify politics More climate action. If more and more nations adopt more and more aggressive policies – carbon taxes, clean-energy standards or more funding for research and performance projects – we will reduce emissions faster.

There is no end to the world

There are other reasons to take note of the modest progress we are making.

Progressive U.S. politicians now casually reiterate the claim that climate change is a “threat to existence,” suggesting that it will destroy all of humanity. After a 2018 UN report noted that global warming could reach 1.5 ° C between 2030 and 2052, climate activists and media outlets protested that “we have 12 years to save the planet!”

If so, it will now be reduced to nine. But 1.5 C is not some scientifically defined threshold of social collapse. Although the world will miss that goal, it is crucial to fight for every additional half-degree warming beyond that, each of which brings consistently high risks.

Meanwhile, climate research does not suggest that a temperature of 3 degrees Celsius that we are now almost on target would turn the entire planet into some desolate hell.

So no, climate change is not a threat to survival.

But that spirit has definitely taken hold. Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Bath surveyed 10,000 young people aged 16 to 25 in 10 countries to assess their level of “climate concern”. More than half, 56%, agree with the statement “humanity is doomed.”

It is the standard material for politicians and activists to overstate the risks and demands, in the hope of moving towards some compromise. And the growing climate fears and the increasingly influential climate activist movement have undoubtedly put more pressure on politicians and businesses to take these issues more seriously, helping to drive some of the policy changes we’ve seen. They deserve real credit for that.

But insisting that the world is on the brink of collapse, when it is not, is a terrible message for young people and also carries some real dangers. It clearly undermines credibility. It can simply make some people lose hope. And it can force others to demand extreme and frequent adverse reactions.

“It’s time to stop telling our kids they’re going to die from climate change,” Ritchie wrote. “It’s not just cruel, it’s actually more likely to be true.”

When people don’t see the “fair way forward”, they start rationalizing the unfair people.

From that I hear with surprising frequency: we should shut down all fossil-fuel infrastructure, and now finish oil and gas extraction. We must fix everything with today’s technologies and reject the “violent delay” tactic of continued investment in clean-energy innovation. We have to stop consumption, construction and economic development. Or else: we must break the global capitalist system that caused all the problems!

Balancing trade

None of this seems to me more politically feasible than fixing our energy systems.

We have to shut down fossil-fuel plants, change vehicles and switch to new methods of producing food, cement, steel and other materials – and relatively quickly. But we have to do this by developing alternatives that do not pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If we adjust the goalpost back to 2 ° C, which is unfortunate but only real at the moment, we still have many decades left to make the necessary conversions. Under the average emissions scenario, the world will not exceed that threshold by 2052, according to moderate estimates. Hesfader’s analysis The latest climate report from the UN suggests.

All we can do is shut down the infrastructure that drives the global economy – not to the detriment of jobs, food, health care and security. We will sacrifice the economic resources needed to develop a more sustainable economy, as well as to make our communities more resilient to impending climate risks.

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