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This is the Year that Climate Action Turns the Corner
2022 was devastating in so many ways. Who knew that it would leave us with so many reasons to be hopeful, or so many powerful hooks for climate action and results?
Many of the leading voices in the climate community are marking the new year with an unaccustomed tone in their online commentaries: Hope.
It isn’t that the climate crisis has become any less urgent. Emissions are still rising. Coal consumption is still (at least briefly) at a record high. The combination of all the pledges and promises under the Paris climate agreement would still fall short of a 1.5°C climate stabilization target—and researchers report this week that even that much warming would melt half of the world’s glaciers.
But U.S. climate analyst Dr. Leah Stokes, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said history may still look back at 2022 as the inflection point that brought us back toward climate stabilization. And she’s not alone. Easily a half-dozen or more year-end analyses traced 12 conflicted, deeply difficult months that still delivered major gains on climate, energy, and nature and species protection.
What Climate Progress Looks Like
• Vladimir Putin’s obsessively brutal invasion of Ukraine triggered an energy crisis in the European Union and deepened food insecurity around the world, leading to obscene fossil industry profits, record-high coal consumption, and a dash for gas to prevent households from literally freezing in the dark this winter. It also forced countries to realize they must never again become so dependent on fossil fuel imports from anywhere, ever, prompting the EU to accelerate its shift to renewable energy and finalize the world’s first carbon border adjustment mechanism.
• In a flurry of studies and reports, the once-staid International Energy Agency declared that the decline of fossil fuels has begun, with clean energy already employing the majority of the world’s energy work force, renewables set to deliver 90% of the world’s new electricity supply through 2025, energy efficiency gaining momentum, and heat pumps on track to eliminate half a billion tonnes of CO2 emissions this decade.
• This past week, a Bloomberg analysis looked at the growing number of “climate quitters” leaving their fossil fuel jobs to work in clean energy. (Check out next Monday’s Energy Mix for a deeper dive on the job transition taking shape in the U.S.)
• The United States Inflation Reduction Act delivered an historic, US$369-billion boost to mostly clean energy investment, producing a continuous wave of announcements and news reports as the dollars begin to flow through state and local agencies and private project developers.
• Australia elected a new government that moved quickly to speed up climate action. This week, Twitter lit up with a cabinet announcement in Brazil that included Amazon activist Marina Silva as environment minister and renowned Indigenous organizer Sônia Guajajara as the country’s first Indigenous peoples’ minister. Around the world, the number of countries led by ideologically-driven populist governments hit a 20-year low.
• The deeply disappointing result of the COP 27 climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt still included first steps on the devastating loss and damage facing countries on the front lines of the climate emergency. The COP also coincided with a G7 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, where a Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping of the U.S. and China agreed to restart formal climate cooperation between the world’s two biggest carbon polluters.
• The COP 15 biodiversity summit in Montreal produced a “Paris moment” for nature, setting a 2030 deadline to protect 30% of the world’s lands, oceans, coasts, and inland waters, cut subsidies that harm nature by $500 billion, and cut food waste in half. The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) is no more perfect than the result of any other international negotiation, but it’s expected to speed up the response to a global emergency that intersects with the climate crisis.
On balance “this year, climate progress has been a dance,” Leah Stokes wrote for the Times. “Rather than two steps forward, one step back, it’s unpredictable and improvisational. A tyrant invades a sovereign country, fossil fuels spike in price, rogue actors blow up pipelines, and heat pumps have their breakthrough moment.
“It’s hard to say how things will play out. But my bet is clean energy wins the day.”
2023: From Words to Action
For Stokes and all the rest of us to win that bet, 2023 will have to be the year when climate action moves from words and promises to hands-on results. We’ve spent decades building some degree of consensus on what needs to be done. Now it’s time to show that we know how to start driving down actual emissions.
In a year-end message to supporters, Canadian Climate Institute President Rick Smith and Board Chair Peter Nicholson point to five policies that could deliver on the country’s 2030 emissions target as long as they’re implemented quickly and well. Three of them—the federal oil and gas emissions cap, the Clean Electricity Regulation, and a new method of reducing uncertainty around carbon pricing—are ready to roll this year.
Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is also promising to introduce long-awaited legislation to help fossil industry workers and communities make the transition to the green economy.
Smith and Nicholson say success in 2023 will depend on increasing investment, federal-provincial cooperation, and continuing leadership by Indigenous governments. They also call for fast action to implement Canada’s new National Adaptation Strategy. All of that and more will have to get done quickly and well, without losing focus on the equity, inclusion, and critical mineral supply chain issues at the heart of the transition.
None of this is simple, and it won’t happen overnight. But no one ever promised this work would be easy—only that it’s essential. The good news is that an often devastating year in 2022 left us with lots of good reasons for hope and action. That should be a sufficient start for the next round of successes in the weeks and months ahead.
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Mitchell Beer traces his background in renewable energy and energy efficiency back to 1977, in climate change to 1997. Now he scans 1,200 news headlines a week to pull together The Energy Mix and The Energy Mix Weekender.
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