Here’s what the UN’s Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has said recently about where our world stands in addressing global heating. “Emissions are still growing at record levels. That means our planet is on course for reaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We need to move from tipping points to turning points for hope.” Further, “we have a choice – collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”
He is only speaking the stark truth from recent climate reports from the UN. The reports say there remains “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and the current level of action puts us on track to experience global temperatures rising by a devastating 2.5 degrees Celcius. We are currently experiencing a rise of 1.15°C.
The 1.5°C limit was the global target agreement agreed at the Paris climate conference in 2015, understood as a target to avoid the worst effects of global heating. So, in spite of recent climate initiatives, in only seven years we are likely aiming at reaching a 2.5°C global rise in average temperatures, rather than a 1.5°C rise.
A February 2022 UN report adds that “any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.” The UN has concluded that climate progress has been “woefully inadequate.”
Looking at things another way, only a few years back, the worst-case global temperature maximum was seen to be a rise of 5°C — so a likely maximum rise of 2.5°C represents a big step forward. A Stanford climate scientist, Marshall Burke, says the climate “problem is a result of human choices, and our progress on it is also the result of human choices. And those should be celebrated. It’s not yet sufficient. But it is amazing.”
The International Energy Agency (IEA) states, in its annual report, that global carbon emissions from energy will peak in 2025, thanks to massively increased government spending on clean fuels in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The IEA also estimate that new investments in green energy will rise to $2 trillion a year by 2030, 50 percent more than today.
But this figure will need to reach $4 trillion a year by 2030, if our planet is to get on track for net zero climate emissions by 2050.
China represents both the worst and the best in climate actions. China leads the world in building solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars. To help toward cleaner air, the Beijing area reduced its use of coal power by 95 percent in the decade after 2010. China’s nationwide installation of solar panels has doubled in the last year alone, surpassing that of the rest of the world combined.
But China also still burns more coal than the rest of the world combined — and the use of coal must drop to zero worldwide by 2030, for climate goals to be met. Because of its coal use, China still creates nearly one third of all greenhouse gas pollution globally, more than the U.S., Europe and Japan together.
Here at home, the Biden administration is working at great speed (as opposed to a rush) to kick off the implementation of the climate segments of the historic Inflation Reduction Act. John Podesta is in charge of this very complex project.
First, the administration must publish guidelines describing how each program will work and creating measures to oversee how the funds deliver their intended purposes. There are tight timelines, for instance for the brand new $27 billion greenhouse-gas-reduction fund, whose distributions must start flowing in February 2023 and which must all be spent within two years. It must also distribute $100 billion to states, cities, tribes, corporations, and local agencies. One commentator put it like this: “These programs are going to be so popular and so supported by both Republicans and Democrats that it will be hard to take them away.”
COP 27 in Egypt
The COP 27 global climate conference kicked off on November 6 and will end 12 days later. One major initiative, championed by the host nation, Egypt, along with Pakistan, which is representing a group of 77 developing nations, is to establish adequate funding for climate mitigation for poor nations.
These nations are bearing the brunt of floods, famines, heat waves and rising oceans, globally. Their case is very simple — their dire situations are the result of the fossil fuel use by the rich nations over the past 150 years. In 2021, they were pledged climate aid of $40 billion, but they already need five times that much.
The UN reminds us that the past eight years were the hottest ever recorded on our planet. There remains much to be done, and the time to do so is shrinking. As Antonio Guterres says, climate optimism is “an illusion.”