Rare good news about climate change

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The fatal consequences of climate change have become clearer this year, breaking records Heat wave, floodAnd wildfire Be killed thousand And it limits the limits of our disaster relief personnel.

In the last few days of 2021, scientists warn The eastern ledges of Florida glaciers are about to break from Antarctica. American lawmakers have discovered that they may have Missed their best opportunity Develop a comprehensive climate policy within ten years.

But among these obvious signs, there are also signs that the momentum behind climate action is beginning to take shape. In fact, there are good reasons to believe that the world can at least avoid the most serious danger of global warming.

Princeton Energy Researcher Jesse Jenkins accurately and vividly pointed out the strange moment we arrived The most recent tweet: “We are no longer fully f$%@ed. But we are also far from fully unf$@%*ed!”

To be sure, limited progress is far from enough. It took us too long to start making real changes. World events and politics may still slow or reverse trends. In the face of intergenerational challenges, we cannot allow a little progress to ease the pressure to take greater action.

But it is worth emphasizing and reflecting on the progress made in the world, because it shows that it can be done-and can provide a template for achieving more goals.

momentum

So, what are the signs of progress in the sluggish climate?

Just a few years ago, the most severe situation that many people were still worried about seemed increasingly impossible. This includes a temperature increase of 4 or 5°C this century I and other Previously emphasized as a possibility.

An early high-end emission scenario (called RCP 8.5) by the United Nations Climate Group found that by 2100, global temperatures could rise by more than 5 °C. These assumptions are often incorporated into research that assesses climate change risks, and it’s eye-catching—capture the top results frequently cited by the media. (guilty.)

Some controversy First of all, this is not so reasonable. Considering the rapid transformation of coal-fired power plants, initially shifting to lower-emission natural gas, but increasingly shifting to carbon-free wind and solar energy, this situation seems increasingly far-fetched.

Global emissions May have flattened out Taking into account the recent revisions to land use changes, this means that the world is gaining and losing the latest statistics on forests, farmland and grassland.

Today, if you put together all the climate policies that have been implemented around the world, we are now on the track of 2.7°C warming up this century, as an intermediate estimate, according to Climate Action Tracker. (Similarly, the United Nations’ Latest report It was found that under its “intermediate” emission scenario, the earth may heat up by 2.1 to 3.5 °C. )

If you assume that countries will fulfill their emission commitments under the Paris Agreement, including new commitments The recent United Nations summit in Glasgow, The figure drops to 2.4 °C. If every country achieves its net zero emissions target around the middle of this century, it will drop to 1.8°C.

Given the increasingly stringent climate policy and the sharp drop in the cost of solar and wind energy, we are about to witness an absolute Renewable energy development boom. As we all know, the International Energy Agency underestimated the growth of renewable energy in the past. Now say By 2026, global production capacity will increase by more than 60%. By then, solar, wind, hydroelectric dams and other renewable energy facilities will be comparable to the global production capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear power plants.

Sales of new electric vehicles, which have been growing in low single digits for many years, are also taking off. They will reach approximately 5.6 million vehicles this year, a jump of more than 80% from the figure in 2020, as automakers release more models and the government formulates more and more aggressive policies. according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The proportion of electric vehicles in new sales increased from 2.8% in the first half of 2019 to 7% in the first half of 2021, especially in China and Europe. By 2030, zero-emission vehicles will account for nearly 30% of all new purchases. Research company project.

Progress

At the same time, there are many signs of technological progress.Researchers and companies are thinking of ways to produce Carbon-free steel and cement. Plant-based meat substitutes are becoming more and more popular More delicious and more popular Faster than anyone expected.Business is under construction Growing plants Extract carbon dioxide from the air. According to data from PitchBook, venture capital investment in climate and clean technology startups has risen to unprecedented levels, totaling more than $30 billion by the third quarter.

This is an important and counterintuitive finding: Although dangerous extreme weather events are becoming more common or severe, the world seems to be getting safer and safer in keeping people away from these events. In recent decades, the average number of deaths caused by natural disasters has generally fallen sharply.

“We have better technology to predict storms, wildfires and floods; protect our own infrastructure; and networks to cooperate and recover in the event of a disaster,” famous Our head of data world research, Hannah Ritchie, quoted in a recent Wired UK article Her own research.

This provides additional hope that with the right investments in climate adaptation measures such as seawalls and community cooling centers, we will be able to manage some of the increased risks we will face. However, rich countries that emit the most greenhouse gases must provide financial assistance to help poor countries strengthen their defenses.

Realistic baseline

Some people seized on these signs of improvement and argued that climate change would not be so bad. That’s nonsense. In any case, the world is still seriously under-reacting to rising risks.

An almost 3°C hotter It will be a more dangerous and unpredictable place. These temperatures have the potential to destroy coral reefs, sink major parts of our coastal cities and low-lying islands, and expose millions of people to greater risks of extreme heat waves, droughts, famines and floods.

In addition, we may still underestimate the sensitivity of the atmosphere to greenhouse gases, the spiraling influence of climate tipping points, and the dangers posed by these higher temperatures. And there is no guarantee that countries will not change their policies and commitments in the face of economic shocks, conflicts, and other unpredictable events.

But what is certain is that a world with a temperature of 3°C is more livable than a world with a temperature of 5°C, and it is also the starting point for a temperature of 2°C.

“The point is not that this is a good result,” said Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute. “The point is, this is the baseline we are using now. And it’s easier to imagine falling faster from there.”

In some respects, it is particularly noteworthy that the world has made so much progress, and many countries have not fully implemented climate policies, even though the partisan politics surrounding climate change has been poisoned.

The shift to natural gas, then solar and wind energy, and more and more electric vehicles have been helped by government support, including loans, Subsidies and other policies Bring the underlying technology to the market. The business-driven expansion process quickly reduces the cost of these technologies and helps them become more attractive.

Commitment to increasingly competitive and business-friendly cleaning alternatives Simplify politics Further climate action. If more and more countries formulate more and more radical policies — carbon taxes, clean energy standards, or provide more funds for research and demonstration projects — we will reduce emissions faster.

The world is not over

There are other reasons to pay attention to the moderate progress we are making.

Progressive American politicians are now casually repeating the statement that climate change is an “existential threat”, implying that it will wipe out all mankind. After the 2018 UN report pointed out that global warming may reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, climate activists and the media distorted this finding into “We have 12 years to save the planet!”

If so, it will now be reduced to nine. However, 1.5°C is not some scientifically determined threshold for social collapse. Although the world will not be able to achieve this goal, it is still crucial to fight for every half a degree of warming that exceeds this goal, and every warming brings higher risks.

At the same time, climate research has not shown that the 3°C increase in the approximate target we have now reached will turn the entire planet into some uninhabitable hell.

So no, climate change is not an existential threat.

But this sentiment must have gained a foothold. Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Bath surveyed 10,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 in 10 countries to assess the level of “climate anxiety.” More than half, 56%, agree In the phrase “humanity is destined to perish”.

It is standard practice for politicians and activists to exaggerate the dangers and demands in order to promote a compromise solution. Growing climate concerns and the increasingly influential climate activist movement have undoubtedly put more pressure on politicians and companies to take these issues more seriously, thereby driving some of the policy changes we have seen. They deserve real praise for this.

But insisting that the world is on the verge of collapse, if this is not the case, this is a terrible message for young people, and it also brings some real risks. This obviously damages credibility. It may cause some people to completely lose hope. It may force others to demand extreme and often counterproductive responses.

“It’s time to stop telling our children that they will die of climate change,” Ritchie wrote“This is not only cruel, but it may actually make it more likely to come true.”

When people can’t seeReasonable way forward,” They began to rationalize the unreasonable.

The frequency I heard was surprising: we must shut down all fossil fuel infrastructure and stop oil and gas extraction now. We must use today’s technology to solve all problems and refuse to continue to invest in the “predatory delay” strategy of clean energy innovation. We must stop consumption, construction and economic development. Even: We must crush the global capitalist system that causes all the problems!

Trade-offs

In my opinion, nothing is more politically feasible than repairing our energy system.

We do have to close fossil fuel plants, replace vehicles, and switch to new methods of producing food, cement, steel, and other commodities—and relatively fast. But we must do this by developing alternatives that do not emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If we adjust the goal post back to 2°C, it is regrettable but only realistic for now, and we still have decades to make the required changes. Under a moderate emission scenario, as an intermediate estimate, the world will not exceed this threshold until around 2052. Haus Faser’s analysis The latest UN climate report recommends.

What we can’t do is shut down the infrastructure that drives the global economy—which causes huge damage to jobs, food, healthcare, and security. We will sacrifice the economic resources needed to develop a more sustainable economy and make our communities more resilient to the coming climate hazards.



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