Today, falling renewable energy prices are helping humanity decarbonize: Wind power prices fell 55% in the 2010s, the new report notes, while solar power and batteries lithium-ion batteries have become 85% cheaper, much cheaper than the researchers had expected. Falling prices have enabled the proliferation of solar panels, reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Scientists are scrambling to figure out where to put them all, like on the rooftop gardens And cultivated land, on the channelsOr floating on tanks.
The report “clearly shows the world has made progress on climate change – there’s good news,” says Zeke Hausfather, a researcher at Stripe and the nonprofit Berkeley Earth, who did not participate. to synthesis. “At the same time, there is such a big gap between where we are now – and even where countries have committed to be by 2030 – and what is needed to meet our most ambitious climate goals.”
The future is uncertain. When scientists model climate change, they imagine different scenarios in which humanity reduces emissions, keeps them stable or increases them. These models spit out a range of numbers for warming potential. Not so long ago, scientists believed that an increase 4 or 5 degrees might be possible, given the emission trajectories. But last year’s modeling by Hausfather and his colleagues found that if countries stick to their reduction pledges, we could keep warm under 2 degrees. “We can be cautiously optimistic about the direction of these trends, and also realize that technology won’t save us alonesays Hausfather. “Without stronger policies to propel these adoptions, we will not achieve our goals.”
The new IPCC report falls in the middle of these ranges – it warns that unless policymakers get much more ambitious on reductions, we could be heading for a rise of around 3 degrees by the year. 2100. Given the severity of the environmental damage we’re already seeing at 1.1 degrees of warming, that would be an unfathomable escalation.
Hausfather sees hope that we could rule out that future. Last year, the United States passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocates hundreds of billions of dollars to stimulate the green economy and encourage people to make their homes climate-proof. The invasion of Ukraine forced Europe to wean off russian gas and adopt cleaner technologies such as heat pumps. “What is China made with electric vehicles is huge,” says Hausfather, referring to the rapid adoption of electric vehicles in the country. And as the price of renewables goes down, he continues, “solving this problem is probably going to cost a lot less than we thought a decade ago.”
The food system, however, will be harder to decarbonize. A study published earlier this month estimated that industry alone could add one degree Celsius of warming by 2100. But it also highlighted powerful levers that can be pulled to control emissions: three-quarters of this warming would come from methane-heavy industries such as dairy and animal production (cows burp a lot) and rice cultivation (bacteria that emit the gas thrive in flooded rice fields). Methane is 80 times more potent than CO2, but disappears from the atmosphere in 10 years rather than centuries. Changes such as lower demand for beef or development of food additives preventing cows from belching could help reduce global warming quickly.
Decarbonization has other benefits, the report notes, known as multiple resolution. Adding green space to a city, for example, absorbs carbon, cools the airmitigates flooding, improves mental health and can empower residents grow more of their own food, increasing food security while reducing emissions from shipping. Switching from gasoline cars to electric vehicles reduces both carbon dioxide and air pollution. “So all of a sudden, this transition to net zero is a major win for public health around the world,” says Elizabeth Sawin, founder and director of the Multisolvent Institute, which focuses on climate solutions.
The latest installment in this IPCC series comes at a time when humanity is reaching a turning point: the status quo or the acceleration of the green revolution. “If we act now,” IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said in a statement, “we can still secure a sustainable and livable future for all.”