As the climate crisis continues to show its hand ― through catastrophic fires, scorching summers, powerful hurricanes and melting Arctic ice ― a debate rages as to how we should respond. Some, recently Jonathan Franzen writing in The New Yorker, suggest we should accept what they say is now an unstoppable, impending catastrophe. But many others, from scientists to those taking part in the global climate strikes this week and next, say there is still hope.
Those advocating optimism can find support in a new study, published on Thursday, which says that the world can halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 if it concentrates on 36 key solutions, including solar and wind power, electric cars and reduced red meat consumption.
The Exponential Climate Action Roadmap, compiled by 55 experts across science, academia, policy and consultancy, aims to serve as a plan of action to keep the world within 1.5 degrees Celcius of warming (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), consistent with the target set in the Paris climate change agreement to keep global temperature rises well below 2 degrees C (3.6 F). Beyond this, the possibility of the world tipping into unstoppable and catastrophic climate change becomes much more likely.
These ideas are not new, and many are already happening. It’s the pace of change that’s the problem.
“While solutions exist,” the report says, “the scale of transformation requires system-wide action accelerated by climate leadership, much stronger policy, finance and exponential technologies.”
Here’s a look at some of the report’s key suggestions:
Solar and wind are cheaper ― stop propping up fossil fuels
While investment continues to pour into fossil fuels, and governments around the world pay out $5.2 trillion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, solar and wind power are now in many instances cheaper. Last year, renewables accounted for nearly 75% of all electricity installations, according to the report.
Allowing renewables like wind and solar to continue to grow exponentially would halve emissions from electricity generation over the next decade, according to the report. With the right policies and pricings, cities could see as much as 70% of their electricity coming from renewable sources by 2030.
The report also calls for policies supporting those who may lose out in the transition to renewables ― for example coal miners ― so they do not get left behind socially or economically.
Embrace electric cars
We have the technology and the capability to reduce transport emissions to zero, according to the report, which says that if the rapid growth of electric cars is allowed to continue, 90% of cars could be electric by 2030.
Cities are already making commitments. Seattle is planning a ban on new fossil fuel-powered cars by 2030. The trajectory is even clearer in Europe, with more than two dozen cities, including Paris and London, setting bans on fossil fuel-powered cars within the next decade. And automakers, such as Volkswagen and Volvo, have made commitments to produce only electric or hybrid vehicles.
Better mass transit and a move away from private car ownership to sharing are also recommended.
Cut down on meat
It’s no secret that the food system is broken, featuring unsustainable farming practices that cause deforestation, pollution and biodiversity loss. And while there is enough food to feed the global population, 820 million people don’t have enough to eat.
“Food and agriculture is the dark horse in the fight against climate change. It may be the hardest sector to rapidly halve emissions,” said Brent Loken from the EAT Foundation, who wrote the report’s chapter on food.
The report calls for removing the subsidies that help prop up an unhealthy, intensive and destructive food system. More than $1 million a minute of public money is being spent on these subsidies globally, according to a different report, published on Monday.
Diet is another pressure point. A raft of recent studies have pointed to a need to reduce meat intake and adopt a more plant-based diet, especially for those living in rich countries. The new report calls for a move to diets plentiful in fruits, legumes and vegetables.
Natural systems, from forests to peatlands, store huge amounts of carbon, but many of these ecosystems are being destroyed for agriculture and industry. The report suggests nature-based solutions, including halting deforestation and reforesting, reducing the use of fertilizers, better managing farmland and restoring peatland. These solutions could potentially store 9.1 billion tons of CO2 a year, according to the report.
Make industry less dirty
Stronger emissions standards, especially for climate-intensive industries such as steel, cement and plastics, are key, says the report. It calls for all industries to set targets to halve their emissions by 2030.
The report also advocates a circular economy model that keeps resources in the economy for as long as possible ― through reuse, repurposing and recycling ― rather than sending them straight to landfill.
“This could provide half of the emissions reductions we need by 2030 from key industry,” said Johan Falk, co-lead author on the report and a fellow at Stockholm Resilience Centre and Future Earth, Sweden.
New technology, says the report, would allow better tracking of where products come from and where they end up, as well as help make processes more efficient.
Give power to the people
Social movements are a key part of this change, according to the report. It mentions the Fridays for Future movement, kicked off by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, which has seen school-aged children around the world striking from classes to protest global inaction on the climate crisis.
The movement is gaining momentum, and is the driving force behind global climate strikes happening this month in which will see people of all ages take to the streets to demand action.
These movements are having an impact. Earlier this year, Mohammed Barkindo, the OPEC secretary general, said the growing mass mobilization against oil is beginning to “dictate policies and corporate decisions, including investment in the industry.”
Christiana Figueres, former head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and who was involved in the report, said: “I see all evidence that social and economic tipping points are aligning. We can now say the next decade has the potential to see the fastest economic transition in history.”
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