By Tom Gilbert
Let’s face it, the news on climate change can be pretty frightening: extreme storms, record-breaking heat waves, out-of-control wildfires, sea level rise and associated flooding.
But amid the bad news, there are glimmers of hope that humanity still has the ability to prevent the worst impacts of a warming climate. We just need the will – by governments, industry and individuals.
That is the gist of a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body assessing the science related to climate change.
According to “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change,” average global greenhouse gas emissions hit their highest levels in human history during the decade of 2010-19.
The encouraging news is that it is possible to halve emissions by 2030 by taking urgent action.
As the report points out, the world has made progress in many areas since 2010, including technology. The costs of solar and wind energy, and battery storage, have decreased by up to 85%.
A broad range of policies and laws have improved energy efficiency, accelerated the use of renewable energy and slowed the rate of destruction of forests that absorb and store greenhouse gases.
“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a livable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said. “I am encouraged by climate action being taken in many countries.
“There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective. If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation,” Lee said.
The key to averting a worst-case scenario is keeping the average global temperature from warming more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions. But the window for taking action is small and there is no time to waste.
“It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F),” said Jim Skea, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”
Greenhouse gases trap the sun’s heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise. Carbon dioxide, created mainly by burning fossil fuels, accounts for 79% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The remainder is made up of methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases.
Limiting global warming will require a substantial reduction in fossil fuel use, along with widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and use of alternative fuels, according to the report.
Opportunities exist in all landscapes, even cities and urban areas. For example, creating greener, walkable cities will result in lower energy consumption.
Other promising options include more zero-energy or zero-carbon buildings, and electrification of transportation such as city buses. Farms, forests and other natural lands can also provide “natural solutions” to reduce emissions by removing and storing carbon dioxide.
The annual Gallup environmental poll seems to indicate that a majority of Americans stand behind proposals to fight climate change. The poll reports that 43% of Americans said they worry “a great deal” about climate change and another 22% worry “a fair amount.”
The poll found:
• A large majority of survey respondents, 89%, favored providing tax credits as incentives for people to install clean energy systems in their homes;
• Three-quarters, 75%, favored providing tax incentives to businesses to promote the use of clean wind, solar and nuclear power;
• A substantial majority, 71%, favored setting higher fuel efficiency standards for cars, trucks and buses;
• 62% supported setting strict limits on the release of methane in natural gas production;
• 61% favored providing tax credits for those who purchase electric vehicles;
• 59% support a recent initiative to use federal money for electric vehicle charging stations across the country.
The Gallup poll also asked respondents which they would prioritize: protecting the environment or economic growth. The survey found that 53% prioritize environmental protection, while 42% prioritize economic growth.
Annual surveys of New Jersey voters consistently show strong support for comprehensive action to address the climate crisis and transition to clean energy.
Last year, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of the economy by 50% by 2030, consistent with the IPCC target.
But as the IPCC report makes clear, immediate measures to reduce emissions are needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
New Jersey has made good progress in some areas, including ramping up offshore wind and electric vehicles, but is lagging in other areas, such as de-carbonizing the building sector, the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
We cannot afford to ease up on climate action due to the current high energy prices. High and volatile prices for fossil fuels, impacted by the actions of hostile foreign nations, are yet another reason why now is the time to double down on affordable, home-grown, renewable sources of energy.
Tom Gilbert is a co-executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. He may be reached at email@example.com