While most of us know that action on climate change needs to be an immediate priority, the timeline is hazy. The Paris Climate Agreement calls on countries to cut down on emissions by 2100, while companies and cities around the world are setting targets on their own timelines. This summer, though, a coalition of experts banded together to announce that 2020 is the year that change will need to occur.
While the increase in greenhouse gas emissions has slowed down in recent years, overall emissions continue to rise. According to the report, if we cannot reduce, or at least steady, our emissions by 2020, there is little hope that we'll be able to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius—the threshold that represents the point of no return.
Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary for the UN's climate change group who was instrumental in shaping the Paris Agreement, put out the report with the help of researchers, CEOs, and business experts including Gail Whiteman—a professor who specializes in helping big business make sense of environmental change.
"Scientists are good at saying there's risk. But that's kind of a gloom-and-doom scenario, and then people tend to just shut it out or ignore it," Whiteman says of the importance of bringing a multidisciplinary team into a study like this. In addition to using science to explain why 2020 is a major year for reducing emissions, it outlines a practical road map that can help citizens, cities, corporations, and governments do so. In order to reach the goal, we'll need to fuel 30 percent of the world with renewables (up from 23.7 percent in 2015), support electric vehicles so they make up at least 15 percent of new car sales globally, significantly reduce deforestation, and vow to stop building new coal-fired power plants altogether.
"We're speaking to a coalition of the willing—those who are willing to step up," Whiteman says of the audience her team intended to reach with the rallying report. "We're encouraging them to accelerate that step up and answer the same question: Are we bending emissions by 2020?"