Climate Action

These are the 7 actions we need to take to get back on track to limit global warming to 1.5°C

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The importance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C is widely recognized. Image: Unsplash/ Li-An Lim

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • A new report measures our progress towards the systemic change needed to meet climate targets – and finds we fall significantly short.
  • The rise in use of gas for power, greater emissions from steel production and the continued destruction of mangroves are among the most problematic issues.
  • The World Resources Institute identifies seven key areas to tackle if we are to hit 2030 emissions reduction targets.

The importance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C is widely recognized – but so too is the fact that the systemic change required is not happening nearly quick enough.

Many targets set for 2030 will be missed and emissions continue to mount. Although there are signs of progress, without significantly accelerated action the window to limit global warming to ‘acceptable’ levels will close.

A new report by Systems Change Lab, a coalition of bodies pushing for positive climate action, examines progress across 40 indicators of change and highlights where gaps are emerging. These indicators serve as key measures of the systemic change needed to halve global emissions by 2030 in order to guard the 1.5°C global warming limit.

A graphic showing global GHG emissions by sector in 2019.
Electricity and heat continue to be the biggest single source of emissions. Image: State of Climate Action 2022.

Progress, but not fast enough

Of the 40 areas assessed, progress is being made, but insufficiently fast in six areas and well below the required pace in 21 areas. We are heading in the wrong direction in five areas, and there is insufficient data to assess the remaining eight.

Particularly problematic is the rise in gas use for electricity production, despite targets to prioritize green energy and an ongoing rise in emissions from steel production. Passenger vehicle use continues to rise, as do emissions from agriculture. And efforts to nurture crucial mangroves – a brilliant natural carbon sink – are also failing dismally.

A graphic showing coal consumption in China, United States, India and the rest of the world.
Coal consumption has rebounded strongly as the pandemic has eased. Image: State of Climate Action 2022.

There are however some bright spots. The share of electricity generated by renewables has risen from 20% in 1990 to 29% in 2020. Battery prices have fallen significantly, making new electric vehicles (EVs) comparable in price to fossil fuel-powered alternatives. And hand-in-hand with this, EV sales are rising, with many countries setting a deadline to phase out new petrol and diesel cars.

As the authors of the report point out – these changes did not happen on their own. They demonstrate what can be achieved with coordinated and concerted efforts from policymakers and industry, with supportive policies and investments.

The annual Conference of the Parties (COP), bringing together political and business leaders along with climate experts and champions, is one such opportunity to drive action. One of the biggest achievements of COP27 this year was an agreement to provide payments for loss and damage to vulnerable countries hit by climate change.

A graphic showing global direct and indirect emissions from industry.
Cement production is one of the most carbon-intensive industrial processes. Image: State of Climate Action 2022.

Ani Dasgupta, the chief executive of the World Resources Institute (WRI), one of the organizations responsible for the report, told The Guardian: “The world has seen the devastation wrought by just 1.1°C of warming. Every fraction of a degree matters in the fight to protect people and the planet. We are seeing important advances in the fight against climate change but we are still not winning in any sector.”

With that in mind, here are the seven actions the WRI identifies we must take if we are to still hit our 1.5°C limit.

1. Phase out coal power generation six times faster. This is equivalent to retiring 925 average-sized coal plants per year. A steep decline in coal use during the pandemic caused the carbon intensity of electricity production to decline, but it is expected to rebound strongly.

2. Improve the energy intensity of building operations five times faster for commercial buildings and seven times faster for residential buildings. The energy intensity of buildings declined in the 2000s and early 2010s, but this trend has since tailed off.

3. Lower the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per tonne of cement produced over 10 times faster. Cement production is a particularly carbon-intensive process, although technologies are beginning to emerge that recycle cement, as well as use it as a carbon store itself.

4. Expand public transportation systems, including metros, light-rail trains and bus rapid-transit networks across the world’s highest-emitting cities six times faster. The report says politicians globally are still directing too few funds into public transport and enabling walking and cycling. New development too often prioritizes car travel over affordable resource-efficient alternatives.

5. Reduce the annual rate of deforestation two-and-a-half-times faster – equivalent to avoiding deforestation across an area roughly equivalent to all arable land in Switzerland. Halting deforestation, peatland degradation and mangrove loss is critical to near-term carbon targets as well as mitigation.

6. Shift to healthier, more sustainable diets five times faster by lowering per capita consumption of ruminant meat to the equivalent of two burgers per week across Europe, the Americas and Oceania. Governments and businesses need to promote low-carbon diet shifts.

7. Phase out public financing for fossil fuels five times faster – equivalent to reducing subsidies by an average of $69 billion per year. The easing of lockdown restrictions and the war in Ukraine has driven up subsidies. And although complete data for 2021 or 2022 is not yet available, production and consumption subsidies in 51 major economies covering 85% of the world’s energy supply nearly doubled from 2020 levels to $697 billion in 2022, the report says.

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