This Is The Year We'll Know If We Can Reverse Climate Change

Photo: Ryan Tuttle

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?"

How close are we to reversing climate change by 2020?

So how are we doing so far? Since the report's original release in June, Whiteman tells mbg that she's been heartened to watch the businesses she works with continue to seek out climate science to inform their decisions. "There's so much that business can do, but they have to have the information," she says, noting that many are particularly worried about the impact climate change could have on their supply chains. "Business is interested in more science than people think."

International meetings like the Bonn Climate Conference this fall—when U.S. states banded together to say they will still fight for the Paris Climate Agreement and China stepped up as a major leader in sustainable innovation—also encouraged her. "We haven't seen any lessening in climate action. We've only seen more and more acceleration, and that's encouraging given the challenge that we face." She also notes that an increase in renewable energy around the world and Elon Musk's in-demand line of EVs are fueling her optimism.

It's not all good news, though. "We can start to see that there is so much momentum gathering, but I'm still worried," she sighs. "I don't think it's an easy win. I'm not 100 percent sure that we can bend the emissions curve, or keep it flat, by 2020. Next year will absolutely be the year that we'll know where we're going to come out."

Even more reason to make a resolution to stay on top of the news in 2018.

Next up: Check out the climate change report that 15,364 scientists have signed on to.

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