Most of the climate change news is not good. In fact, there is a daily barrage of troubling climate data that tell us the future will be exceedingly challenging. We already face multiple and costly climate disasters ranging from record heatwaves to massive flooding. But, now and then, there is a little good news.
As Casey Crownhart reported recently in the MIT Technology Review, greenhouse gas emissions reached a new peak in 2022. She implies that is actually good news. “But, while emissions grew globally, many countries have already seen their own plateau or begin to decrease. U.S. emissions peaked in 2005 and have declined by just over 10% since then. Russia, Japan and the European Union have also seen emissions plateau.”
She says global emissions will peak by 2025. Crownhart points out “reaching an annual maximum is a significant milestone, the first step.” China has pledged to peak emissions by 2030 or sooner and is deploying renewables at a rapid pace.
According to Crownhart, another piece of good news is economic growth is now less dependent on fossil fuels. This is due to the wide use of renewable energy and technological improvements that increase efficiency. Now, emissions can be cut and growth can be maintained.
There is still a long way to go. We are way behind the curve as we did not begin to cut emissions soon or fast enough. It is undisputed that, to keep warming under 1.5 degrees C, the world’s emissions need to reach net zero by 2050 and be cut in half by 2030. Reaching a peak may seem like nothing to celebrate.
There is other good news. In the United States, a massive network of new universal EV charging stations is on the way and the Biden administration has established a $27 billion “Green Bank” to fund clean-energy projects all over the country. The EU is phasing out all new gas and diesel cars by 2035. Similar initiatives have passed in California and New York.
Researchers at the University of Exeter in England have identified some “positive tipping points” – a wave of breakthroughs in low-carbon technologies that could trigger the de-carbonization we need. This includes the small policy changes we are already seeing that promote electric cars, green fertilizers and diet changes that can lock in rapid emission cuts.
Solar and wind are expected to triple in the next few years and fossil fuel use for generation of electricity is on the way out. The Times reported the EU has drawn up plans for a multibillion-euro package of subsidies for green energy companies and EV makers. The U.S. Inflation Reduction Act is putting $369 billion in climate change initiatives and appears to have instituted a global race to entice green investment. The country of Columbia announced it would no longer approve new oil and gas projects.
According to Science Daily, researchers at McGill and other universities have estimated emissions from natural gas-fired power plants at a total 3.6 billion tons annually; available mitigation techniques could reduce those emissions by 71% if they were adopted globally. Sarah Jordaan, one of the authors of the paper published in Nature Climate Change, stated, “if natural gas is going to play a role in a low-carbon future, even for a transitional period, there will be a need to improve efficiency in power plants and to cut methane emissions from natural gas production, as well as capture and storage.”
The Brookings blog by David Victor and Parker Bolstad recently discussed new thinking emerging in regard to international climate change treaties. Rather than relying on consensus that is often non-existent, the new theory suggests small groups of highly motivated governments and companies invest in new technologies and business models. “Run experiments and find out what works. Those experiments could determine the basis of new industrial futures. Those that drag their feet will lose out,” they assert.
Their research also asked what motivates these leading firms and governments to act. They found public opinion and the public pressure media can apply is what keeps governments and companies from prevaricating. Focused public pressure is what is shaping how leaders think and act. That may be the best good news. What we do matters. We need to make sure our officials and industrial leaders know our opinions. And we need to stay focused on making sure they listen. They need to know we are paying attention.
Judith Polich is a New Mexico resident and a climate change columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.