While many countries, cities, regions, companies and financial institutions have adopted more ambitious commitments to fight the climate crisis, significantly more action across all sectors is needed this decade to keep the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C within reach, according to Systems Change Lab’s flagship report, State of Climate Action 2022.
The report analyzed recent progress made in accelerating climate action across sectors that collectively account for roughly 85 percent of global GHG emissions (power, buildings, industry, transport, forests and land, and food and agriculture) and in scaling up carbon removal technologies and climate finance. It then quantified the global gap in climate action by comparing current efforts to those required by 2030 and 2050 to limit warming to 1.5°C. Of the 40 indicators assessed, none are on track to achieve their 2030 targets. Instead:
- Six indicators are “off track,” moving in the right direction at a promising but insufficient speed.
- 21 indicators are “well off track,” heading in the right direction but well below the required pace.
- Five indicators are headed in the wrong direction entirely.
- Eight have insufficient data to track progress.
“This year, the world has seen the devastation wrought by just 1.1 degrees Celsius 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,” said Ani Dasgupta, President and CEO, World Resources Institute. “The State of Climate Action 2022 is an urgent wakeup call for decision-makers to commit to real transformation across every aspect of our economy.”
Despite lagging progress overall, the report does point to some encouraging signs. The adoption of zero-carbon power sources, including renewables like solar and wind power, is on the rise across the world, with recent years witnessing record-breaking growth in uptake of these technologies. From 2019 to 2021, for example, solar generation grew by 47 percent and wind by 31 percent.
The transition to electric vehicles (EVs) is also taking off, with EVs accounting for almost nine percent of passenger car sales in 2021 — a doubling from the year before. And the global share of battery electric and fuel cell electric vehicles in buses sales reached 44 percent in 2021, growing from just two percent in 2013 — an increase of over 20 times in under a decade.
“Increasingly rapid uptake of zero-carbon technologies like renewables and electric vehicles show us that exponential change is possible when decision-makers deploy the many tools at their disposal to accelerate the transition to a net-zero future,” said Nigel Topping, High-Level Climate Action Champion of COP26 and the UK. “And with the right support, other nascent technologies, from green hydrogen to zero-emission fuel for shipping, could soon take off.”
“Despite the huge growth in both wind and solar capacity over the past 20 years, renewables have not kept pace with growing demand for power,” said Niklas Höhne, NewClimate Institute. “To decarbonize society, the share of zero-carbon sources in electricity generation must accelerate exponentially to tackle the climate crisis. This can only be achieved with a commensurate and rapid phase out of fossil power.”
For the 21 indicators categorized in the report as “well off track,” recent rates of historical change need to accelerate at least two times faster to achieve their 2030 targets. For example, the report finds that to keep 1.5°C within reach, we must:
- Phase out unabated coal in electricity generation six times faster — equivalent to retiring roughly 925 average-sized, coal-fired power plants each generating approximately 320 MW annually.
- Expand public transportation systems like metros, light-rail trains, and bus rapid transit networks six times faster.
- Lower the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per metric ton of cement produced over 10 times faster.
- Reduce the annual rate of deforestation 2.5 times faster — equivalent to avoiding deforestation across an area roughly the size of all arable land in Switzerland each year.
- Shift to healthier, more sustainable diets five times faster by lowering per capita consumption of ruminant meat to the equivalent of roughly 2 burgers per week across Europe, the Americas and Oceania.
“At this moment, we have never had more information about the gravity of the climate emergency and its cascading impacts, but we have also never known more about what we need to do to reduce these intensifying risks,” said Sophie Boehm, a research associate at World Resources Institute and lead author of the report. “The encouraging signs of progress that we are beginning to see did not materialize on their own. They were nurtured by strong institutions, supportive policies, and strategic investments — all of which will be needed this decade to keep 1.5°C within reach.”
Still, another five indicators that are currently trending in the wrong direction, including the share of unabated fossil gas in electricity generation, the carbon intensity of global steel production, the percentage of kilometers travelled in passenger cars, mangrove loss, and GHG emissions from agricultural production, all of which are on the rise.
“While climate action is not moving fast enough in any sector, some indicators are going in the wrong direction,” said Bill Hare, CEO, Climate Analytics. “What’s particularly worrying is the rise in fossil gas power generation, despite the availability of low-cost and healthier alternatives. The ongoing energy crisis resulting from shocks like the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown very clearly how continued reliance on fossil fuels is not only bad for the climate, but also comes with serious security and economic risks.”
Achieving targets across these sectors requires substantial increases in climate finance as well as for the financial system to stop underwriting many carbon-intensive industries. State of Climate Action 2022 finds that total global climate finance needs to increase more than ten times faster to reach $5.2 trillion per year by 2030 — equivalent to increasing flows by an average of roughly $460 billion per year this decade. At the same time, public financing of fossil fuels, including subsidies, need to be phased out five times more quickly.
“The disconnect between the massive funding necessary to address the climate crisis and the modest sums that governments have delivered is startling,” said Helen Mountford, President and CEO, ClimateWorks Foundation. “Considering how governments mobilized to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and respond to the energy crisis, it is clear that governments aren’t treating climate change with the urgency it demands. At COP27, nations must commit to increasing finance and investments in the clean economy, boost resilience to climate impacts, and address loss and damage to support the people and communities severely impacted by climate change today.”
Critically, State of Climate Action 2022 also identifies a set of sector-specific, supportive measures, which decision-makers can employ to help deliver transformational change by 2030 and 2050. These include urgently needed investments in research, development and demonstration of zero-emissions technologies; policy portfolios that can mandate or incentivize the transition to a 1.5°C pathway; stronger institutions that can implement these laws and regulations more effectively; leadership on establishing more ambitious climate commitments and following through on them; and shifts in behaviors and social norms.
“This report provides the most professional assessment to date of humanity’s progress on our climate ‘to do’ list. Its findings should evoke two emotions. First, a sense of shame and anger that we are failing to live up to our commitments to act. Second, a sense of hope and possibility that real change is within grasp and can lead to a healthier economy, healthier citizens, and a healthier society,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO of Bezos Earth Fund. “The change we need across these 40 transitions will not come in the form of incremental gradualism but through sudden acceleration as tipping points are crossed. We must act accordingly so that this year is remembered as the point in time we turned our back on yesterday’s economy.”
The report will be an invaluable handbook at COP27 and beyond for decision-makers in government, civil society, companies, investing firms and funding institutions to determine where to focus their limited time and resources to tackle the climate crisis.