A climate change protest placard at COP26. Image: Pixabay

Are we too late to save the planet from cataclysmic climate change? Maybe. Given the increasing numbers of electric vehicles on the road, the rapidly declining cost of renewable energy, and fresh discussion about our warming planet, one would think that humanity was on track to change how it produces and consumes energy. Climate naysayers have in essence been discredited and excluded from debates on the future of the planet.

But despite these profound changes, we are dangerously close to missing key targets in the battle to get global warming under control.

According to new findings, we have likely missed the primary target of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. The goal of the Paris Agreement, the world’s most ambitious piece of climate legislation, is to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels. While technically possible, scientists suspect that we will not manage to achieve this target. The results could be catastrophic. 

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations–led panel of scientists and scholars, released its final report, and the findings were harrowing. Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary general, announced the panel’s findings by saying that “we are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5-degree-Celsius limit.”

The IPCC was crucial to the creation of the 1.5-degree warming target and convincing the world of its necessity. If we fail to reach this target, the IPCC conclusively demonstrated, the consequences in terms of drought, rising ocean levels, and other climate catastrophes will be dire. 

The creation of the 1.5-degree warming target enabled the rise of environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing, diversification of corporate assets, and a spike in interest in renewables. It hasn’t all been rosy, though.

One could write several pieces about the failure of international cooperation on climate change. The United States, under then-president Donald Trump, famously withdrew its support of the Paris Agreement, which would have spelled the end of the pact before it really began.

The last UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) was also weighed down with geopolitical infighting regarding the best paths forward to achieve tangible climate targets.

Recent spikes in the price of oil and the energy implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine conclusively demonstrate the international community’s reliance on fossil fuels. Sales of Teslas might be through the roof but most people still rely on fossil-fuel-guzzling internal combustion engines. In other words, we still haven’t hit peak oil. 

With the scientific community ringing the warning bell on warming targets, we have to ask some difficult questions. What does missing the Paris Agreement’s warming target mean for continued climate initiatives?

Despite the failings of international cooperation, there are opportunities to be found in the dire news about the 1.5-degree warming target. For one thing, the global conversation around climate change has never been so vibrant and far-reaching. Our collective consciousness about climate change has been switched on unlike at any other point in human history. People across societies and classes are aware of the consequences of inaction. 

This is important given what needs to change. Meeting warming targets will require unheard-of investments in new energy technologies. This also means that existing energy infrastructure dependent on coal, oil and natural gas would need to be taken offline before their scheduled decommission dates.

From an economic standpoint such an action would be counter-intuitive. Given the cost involved, the only way that such actions would be carried out is with ample political cooperation and the institutional capacity of countries. The only way truly to effect change is through the power and cooperation of nations, not individuals. 

This unavoidable reality is counter to the marketing from renewable-energy companies and electric-vehicle manufacturers that are selling a vision of the future in which individual decisions can transform climate change. It’s wonderful that people are buying electric cars and outfitting their homes with solar panels, but these actions alone will do nothing to alter the actual direction of the climate. 

Whether we like it or not, only nations can make (and pay for) the historic changes that will meaningfully alter our climate prospects. Certain nations have much more sway over the direction of the fight.

If China, for example, were to introduce new residential development guides that required renewable-energy infrastructure, that would have a profound effect on the amount of carbon the world releases into the atmosphere. Such a serious government step would dwarf individual efforts. 

Given the state of the international community today, this should give us pause, but at least the path forward is clear. The Paris Agreement was bound to fail but the renewed conversation it spurred could be transformed into an agreement that works.

This is what we need to focus on going into the next COP meetings in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.

Joseph Dana

Joseph Dana is a writer based in South Africa and the Middle East. He has reported from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, Istanbul and Abu Dhabi. He was formerly editor-in-chief of emerge85, a media project based in the UAE exploring change in emerging markets.