Maybe because I am the child of immigrants. Or maybe because I’m a Virgo. I cringe at questions about climate hope. I also cringe at the hype that the planet is about to become unlivable.
I’m a practical guy. So the urgent question for me is: what can be done to slow down climate change? Tell me what is possible. Tell me what’s stopping you.
This is what I find most valuable in this week’s new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This tells us that the world already has many of the tools needed to move away from fossil fuels and rapidly slow climate change.
It’s doable, in other words. It just doesn’t happen.
(The IPCC’s previous report, in February, focused on adaptation, or efforts to live with the reality of climate change. We wrote about it here. The panel publishes periodic reports, and this latest deals with the mitigation, or how to reduce the emissions that cause global temperatures to rise.)
This panel, convened by the United Nations, is made up of 278 experts from around the world, representing a range of disciplines: meteorology, economics, political science and others. Their deliberations on the exact wording of the report continued until Sunday, delaying its official release by a few hours. What they posted was the lowest common denominator of what they could agree on. It’s not controversial.
I was struck by the contrast between the actions the authors say are possible to move away from fossil fuels right now, and what the fossil fuel industry is demanding in the midst of Russia’s war in Ukraine : the production and sale of more oil, more gas, more coal .
“Decades of failure in global leadership, combined with fossil fuel companies’ steadfast focus on profits and unsustainable consumption patterns among the world’s wealthiest households, are putting our planet at risk,” he said. said Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union of Concerned. Scientists, said in a statement.
Here are the key points of the report:
The technology is (mostly) there.
The panel makes one thing very clear: we know how to move away from fossil fuels for electricity and transportation, two broad categories of human activities that are among the largest sources of emissions.
My colleagues Raymond Zhong and Brad Plumer explained this succinctly in their article on the report. “Petrol cars could be replaced by electric vehicles powered by low-carbon grids,” they wrote. “Gas furnaces in homes could be replaced with electric heat pumps. Instead of burning coal, steel mills could switch to electric furnaces that melt scrap metal.
We also know how to use less energy. We can help people get out of their cars by developing clean and fast public transport. We can help people lower their energy bills with insulation. We can reuse raw materials. All this does not happen by itself. This requires policy changes — and public investments.
We don’t yet know how to do some of the more difficult things, like building long-haul airplanes that run on batteries. But there are plenty of actions we can take immediately as we develop solutions for some of the toughest problems.
Greening agriculture, which produces about 22% of emissions, is also difficult. But there are simple levers: Stop mowing forests to grow food and stop throwing away so much food. These are corporate and government policies that impact the rest of us every day. Do your local supermarkets give out food that will expire soon or do they just throw it away, for example? Does your municipal administration facilitate composting?
Renewable energies are developing and becoming cheaper.
Clean energy technology has advanced much faster than expected and has become much cheaper, faster than expected. (The price of wind turbines has more than halved, for example, since 2010.)
A study, published last week by an independent think tank called Ember, found that clean energy sources – mostly nuclear and hydro, but also wind and solar – will produce 38% of the electricity used globally in 2021. .
Europe is leading the way. And the Russian invasion is prompting many European lawmakers to call for accelerated installation of renewables.
Many countries, including the United States, still burn coal to generate electricity. But across the world, plans to expand coal-fired power plants have been scaled back. This is largely because, the IPCC tells us, it makes more economic sense in some cases to build renewable energy infrastructure than coal-fired power plants.
We actually have a better chance than a few years ago of slowing climate change.
Emissions from fossil fuels grew more slowly in the 2010s than in the 2000s. world has “a much better chance of avoiding some of the worst scenarios of global warming“.
It is important to note. When the Paris Agreement was reached in 2015, the average global temperature was on track to warm by 4 degrees Celsius, or 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of this century. If all countries met their current emission reduction commitments (and that’s a big if), the world would be on track to warm by about 2.7 degrees Celsius. Is this enough to avoid some truly frightening climatic consequences, including widespread crop failures and coastal towns flooding? No. But it is a forward movement.
Giving up fossil fuels is expensive, but sticking to them costs more.
The shift from the global coal economy to renewables will not happen spontaneously. It needs government subsidies to promote renewable energy rather than promoting fossil fuels, which is currently the case. According to the IPCC, governments and businesses may need to invest three to six times the $600 billion they currently spend each year to promote clean energy and reduce emissions.
Not doing so would most likely cost more. The panel’s projections indicate that countries will be poorer if they do not take action to switch to renewable energy sources, and this estimate does not even take into account the economic benefits of improved public health and reduction of extreme weather disasters.
The essentials of The Times news
Sudden turn of an oil tanker: A ship loaded with a million barrels of Russian oil was in the middle of the Atlantic en route to Philadelphia when it apparently lost its buyer.
Before you go: the journey of a climate warrior
Farhana Yamin calls her life “a dance between an insider and a stranger”. Her experience as an insider goes back more than 30 years. Yamin, 57, is an internationally renowned environmental lawyer and was one of the main architects of the Paris climate accord. But after the deal, as Donald J. Trump rose to power in the United States and other countries, continually delayed action on climate change, she said her faith in the institutions began to crumble. . Thus, Yamin focused on grassroots activism. “I learned that we cannot rely on lawyers and diplomats alone,” she said. You can read his story here.
Thanks for reading. We will be back on Friday.
Manuela Andreoni, Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward.
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