Reasons for (cautious) optimism: the good news on the climate crisis | Adam Morton is no shortage of things to say about what’s going wrong. The extent of the damage caused to 1.2 ° C of global warming from pre-industrial levels is turning out to be greater than climate scientists predicted not long ago.

As discussed last week, the disastrous toll of Pakistan’s historic floods, heatwaves and drought in the Northern Hemisphere summer look like signs of escalation. A peer-reviewed study found that several disastrous climatic tipping points, including the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet and Gulf Stream currents in the Atlantic Ocean, may now be inevitable.

But there is also evidence that action to combat the climate crisis is belatedly accelerating. Recognizing that every fraction of a degree of global warming avoided makes a difference, here are some reasons for hope.

Declining emissions in China

While Australia’s emissions increased in the most recent data, China, the world’s largest annual carbon polluter, experienced an 8% decline in the June quarter and a 3% year-over-year cut.

As reported by analyst Lauri Myllyvirta In Carbon Brief, the decline from the same period in 2021 was 230 million tonnes, equivalent to nearly half of Australia’s annual emissions and the largest cut in China’s carbon pollution in at least a decade. It has been driven by both short and long-term trends: housing collapse, Covid-related restrictions, weak growth in electricity use, and continued expansion of renewable energy.

It’s too early to tell whether this is a permanent decline – a recently announced incentive package could encourage construction and use of clean and dirty energy – but it’s the fourth consecutive quarter that pollution has declined.

Despite all the talk that China is continuing to build coal-fired power plants, electricity production from burning dirty fuel fell by 4% in the first six months of the year. As with most types of infrastructure, the country is building more coal capacity than needed.

This could still be reversed, at least temporarily: coal-fired power has rebounded in recent weeks as hydroelectric capacity has plummeted due to extreme drought and heat, and China’s commitment to the United Nations is that its emissions will catch up. the peak before 2030.

Renewable energy, especially solar energy, is on its way

A report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that more people are now employed in the clean energy sector (which it defined as including renewable energy, electric vehicles, energy efficiency measures and energy nuclear power) compared to the fossil fuel industry. One small problem: clean energy jobs aren’t as well paid, in part because they’re less likely to be unionized. But the argument that there are no clean energy jobs has dissipated.

Investments in clean energy have grown 12% annually since 2020, partly due to increased public and private support for sustainable finance, especially in rich countries. Renewable energy, new grids and energy storage represent over 80% of the total investments in the energy sector. The IEA estimates that spending on solar energy, batteries and electric vehicles is now growing at a pace consistent with achieving global net emissions of zero by 2050.

In Europe, where the Russian invasion of Ukraine has increased energy supplies, there has been a significant shift towards renewable energy even as countries offer short-term support for fossil fuels to keep lights and heating on. British think tank Ember found that a record northern summer of solar generation meant the continent was able to avoid spending 29 billion euros ($ 43 billion) on gas. In the 27 EU countries, renewable energy provided 35% of electricity, compared to 16% for coal.

According to an analysis by Bloomberg NEF, production of solar polysilicon, the semiconductor used in photovoltaic panels, is happening so quickly that the entire supply chain needed to stop emissions is already under construction. It’s nearly all in China – just one of many potential complications outlined by Bloomberg’s David Fickling – but he says something about what’s achievable.

The rich are finally starting to come forward (somehow)

There was no deal at the United Nations climate talks on the rich who pay to help the developing world deal with the inevitable loss and damage caused by global emissions, but the rich are finally moving to lead an energy transition clean in some of the countries that will matter.

The goal is quite simple: to provide the major rising broadcasters with the financial and other support they need so that their economic expansion moves away from fossil fuels. A model deal was announced at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, when South Africa signed a partnership between Germany, the UK, the US and the EU that promises $ 8.5 billion in global capital over the next three to five years as country restructures its coal-dependent energy system.

In June, the G7 confirmed a broader goal: to access up to $ 600 billion in public and private funding over five years for clean energy infrastructure in countries including Indonesia, India, Senegal and Vietnam. Along with other steps, such as the G20 countries pledging to stop funding new coal-fired energy overseas and the Asian Development Bank’s Energy Transition Mechanism, it could redraw what’s possible. Ensuring that local communities are not exploited or left behind in the process will be vital to its success.

The United States has landed their white whale

This is probably the biggest reason for optimism this year. After years of trial and error, the United States – the largest historical emitter – has passed major climate change legislation through its Congress. The analysis found that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) could push the country to a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030 from 2005 levels, a big leap from where it was otherwise headed. If his political system holds together, he should put within reach the national target of a 50% cut this decade and bigger cuts beyond.

A key point to note: US law stresses that penalizing fossil fuel industries by pricing carbon is, although not dead, out of fashion. The IRA is primarily about investments, including $ 370 billion, to help clean solutions usurp the old dirty model. Much of it will only be available for products manufactured in the United States. Experts say that in addition to reducing local pollution, this could also increase competition and reduce costs in international markets.

Australia is no longer a complete laggard

Compared to the United States, passing Australia’s first climate change legislation in a decade is less news – it’s a smaller country and a more modest bill – but it’s still arguably one of the upbeat stories of the moment.

After years where Australia has been bracketed with Russia and Saudi Arabia as a global lag, the Albanian government will get praise for its new 2030 emissions reduction target (a 43% cut from 2005) next time. major UN climate summit in Egypt in November.

But the Labor government can also expect questions. The most relevant is likely to be the same one he’s getting at home – will it really undermine his new commitment, and global effort, by continuing to expand fossil fuel exports? A better answer may need to be developed.

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