The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) just released its Emissions Gap Report 2022 – and let’s just say, the news isn’t good. So brace yourselves: You’re likely to see a slew of frightening, doom-mongering headlines about it today, unleashing a fresh wave of terror over those of us who care about the planet. But rather than panicking, here’s what to do instead.
What the UN’s Emissions Gap Report says
The 99-page report’s title is: “The Closing Window: Climate crisis calls for rapid transformation of societies.”
The UNEP really isn’t messing around with that title, is it?
It undoubtedly wants to light a fire under the bottoms of world leaders ahead of November’s 2022 UN Climate Change Conference, aka COP27, in Egypt. But my heart sank when I read that the UNEP views the year between COP26 and now as “a wasted year.”
Inger Andersen, the UNEP’s executive director, states in the report’s foreword that nations are procrastinating action to fight climate change, and this is what all countries must do:
To get on track to limiting global warming to 1.5°C, we would need to cut 45% off current greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. For 2°C, we would need to cut 30%.
A stepwise approach is no longer an option.
And then Andersen summarizes the part where hope lies – in action:
This report tells us how to go about such a transformation. It looks in-depth at the changes needed in electricity supply, industry, transport, buildings and food systems. It looks at how to reform financial systems so that these urgent transformations can be adequately financed.
She then says something that I found deeply jarring:
Is it a tall order to transform our systems in just eight years? Yes. Can we reduce greenhouse gas emissions by so much in that timeframe? Perhaps not. But we must try.
An alternative to panic
So after I read over the UNEP’s embargoed report documents, I could feel the climate change anxiety setting in, so I do what I usually do on such occasions: I went into the forest near my house in Vermont to regroup. I dug in the soil and the leaves with my bare hands, getting gloriously dirty. It’s incredibly cathartic to get earth on my face and under my fingernails. And as I was doing that, and taking deep, slow breaths, I thought about how to approach this rather overwhelming UN report.
This report, which asserts that “the international community is still falling far short of the Paris goals, with no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place. Only an urgent system-wide transformation can avoid an accelerating climate disaster.”
And it also says really scary things like this:
Policies currently in place, without further strengthening, suggest a 2.8°C hike.
I won’t lie. I initially wanted to hide in the woods and not write this. I felt intimidated. But giving up is a form of passive panic. And the UN report most definitely does not say, “Do nothing.” Rather, I thought about what I choose to do instead of panic every day. I learn and write about clean energy and electric vehicles and batteries. I easily find inspirational things to write about (such as solar over canals, pictured above) because I regularly discover innovative scientific breakthroughs, or big milestones that inspire delight.
I drive an electric car. I am working to electrify my house with solar and storage. And as I do these things, I then share what I learn in my stories in order to make it easier for others to navigate the path to electrification.
I am also a dual US/UK citizen, and I vote in both places. I vote only for people who want to fight for our planet. Thank you, Joe Biden, for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, both of which are catalysts for climate action in the US now. (Doesn’t that count in the “wasted year,” UNEP?) And Boris Johnson, you are a hot mess, but I appreciated you championing clean energy. Rishi Sunak, you must now do the right thing.
Look for the helpers
However – I’m not a scientist. So while digging furiously in the dirt and the leaves, I decided to “look for the helpers,” so to speak. (What can I say? I find Fred Rogers comforting.)
The expert I really wanted to talk to was Michael Mann. He is the presidential distinguished professor and director, Penn Center for Science, Sustainability & the Media, at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s a climatologist and geophysicist, and he also thinks panic is a waste of time.
Here is Professor Mann’s take on UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2022:
I would quibble with some of the claims made. They just don’t stand up to the actual peer-reviewed literature.
The claim that “Climate pledges leave the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.4-2.6°C by the end of this century” is misleading if not outright false.
The most comprehensive peer-reviewed work on this, published by a leading team of modeling experts in April in the leading journal Nature, shows that COP26 commitments can keep warming below 2C if they are kept in full and on time.
Where the report is correct is that more work clearly needs to be done if warming is to be kept below 1.5C.
Just months ago, however, nobody foresaw the major policy advances in both Australia and the US with the election of a pro-action Labor government in the former case, and the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act by a 50/50 Senate in the latter case. It is estimated that the legislation will lower US emissions by 40% this decade, which puts us very close to our emissions reduction target. And with US leadership, we can expect other major emitters to now come to the table at COP27.
But I would once again emphasize that more has to be done, and those who care about the defining challenge of our time — the climate crisis — need to turn out in droves in the upcoming midterm elections. The president is constrained in what he can do, particularly given the punitive agenda of the current conservative majority on the US Supreme Court. That means it is necessary for Congress to take a leadership role.
The Inflation Reduction Act represents real progress, but only with a larger climate-friendly majority in the Senate will it be possible to pass even more aggressive climate legislation in the US.
Don’t hesitate to let me know if any of this can use further elaboration.
The UN and Michael Mann align on the fact that more needs to be done.
But not panicking doesn’t mean resting on your laurels. It means actually doing your part. No more “blah blah blah.” And that’s not just a directive for world leaders. That’s a responsibility everyone has to take.
Insulate your house. Get an electric bike. Turn your heating down. Tap into the Inflation Reduction Act rebate for money for a heat pump. Go solar, as it’ll also save you money on your electric bill. Write your representative. Vote for the candidate who will fight climate change. Compost. Never stop learning. Drive an EV sooner rather than later.
Every small change makes a difference.
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