The case for climate optimism?
New data and long-term trends are starting to paint a much better picture for avoiding serious climate change
Is there a good case for climate optimism? I feel that there is. This is a huge question and I don’t mean to suggest that we can sit back and assume things are fine.
What I mean by my “reasonable person’s case for climate optimism” (the link is to a 2019 article where I set forth my case for the first time in detail) is that we seem to be well on track, under current and accelerating renewable energy and reforestation/afforestation trends, to achieve the emissions reductions we need, globally, to stay within the 1.5 degree warming scenarios identified by IRENA/IPCC.
I know this is a minority view at this time but I have good confidence it will become the majority view.
The most recent projections suggest a China emissions peak in 2025, which is incredible and far earlier than previously projected.
According to projections from Climate Action Tracker and other monitoring organizations, China’s emissions are nearing their peak, years ahead of when China’s government had pledged to reach that goal. Analyses show China’s rate of emissions neither growing nor declining from now until 2025, before gradually dropping off. China’s peak will occur at a far lower per capita emissions level than countries like the United States.
This is China’s projected emissions track:
And as China goes so the globe goes in this case (with India certainly a big concern as it grows and it remains adamant about its fossil fuel habits).
In fact, the IEA projected that global emissions will also peak in 2025 in a recent analysis (I disagree with the 2.5 degree projection b/c it’s clear that emissions reductions are accelerating rapidly and I would bet money that they will revise this downward in the coming years). Here’s a New York Times article describing these trends:
Based on current policies put in place by national governments, global coal use is expected to start declining in the next few years, natural gas demand is likely to hit a plateau by the end of this decade and oil use is projected to level off by the mid-2030s.
Meanwhile, global investment in clean energy is now expected to rise from $1.3 trillion in 2022 to more than $2 trillion annually by 2030, a significant shift, the agency said.
Current energy policies put the world on track to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 and warm roughly 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 compared with preindustrial levels, the energy agency estimated. That is in line with separate projections released Wednesday by the United Nations, which analyzed nations’ stated promises to tackle emissions.
Renewables are now far cheaper than fossil fuels so the “solar singularity” scenario I dared only dream of just a few years ago is now here in a large number of countries around the world.
We are also seeing a rapid pace of reforestation/afforestation around the world, though I think far more work needs to be done on protecting old growth forests and avoiding equating new forests with old forests b/c they’re so very different in terms of ecosystems and other effects.
I have been very inspired by Charles Eisenstein’s thinking on climate change in his book Climate: A New Story, in which he argues that the very strong focus on climate change has caused many other very important environmental issues to fall by the wayside, such as protecting old forests, biodiversity issues, pollution, etc.
I am personally shifting some of my focus to reforestation, protecting old growth forests, and forest policy more generally since I feel like much of the necessary work to get us on the right track on climate issues has been done.
I would agree that none of this means necessarily that we won’t see significant human-caused climate change simply b/c the models aren’t oracles and there’s a lot of uncertainty inevitably in the models. But if we are to rely on the 1.5 degree scenarios for our planning on policy it seems that we are doing unexpectedly well in that regard.