Earth Day 2022

Earth Day 2022: Is there still room for optimism?
Posted by
Freddie Green
on
May 6, 2022
Scientists across the world have been sounding final warnings for humanity to take drastic action on climate change in recent times. Their predictions for what failing to temper global warming means for future life on Earth are extremely bleak and they are in no doubt that the stakes simply couldn’t be higher.

Earth Day offers a great chance each year to take stock of where we stand and so this year, in light of the gravity of the circumstances we face and the thunderous discourse on the subject, Minimum wants to pose the question: is there any room for optimism? We certainly think so!

Minimum wants to pose the question: is there any room for optimism? We certainly think so!

Firstly, let’s look at the latest scientific consensus. 

Where are we now?

Distressing findings from the latest international climate mitigation report, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have made global headlines this month. Jim Skea, co-chair of the working group behind the report claims it’s ‘now or never’ for sufficiently far-reaching and timely climate action. Without immediate action we are extremely likely to overshoot the target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, with our current track putting us on the path to 2.8-3.2 degrees of warming by 2100. This red alert and its severity certainly hasn’t come completely out of the blue, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less alarming. 

Some of the key findings from the April 2022 IPCC report include:

Despite increasing engagement with climate action, total net Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, generated by human activities, still increased continuously between 2010 and 2019.
  • Climate models suggest that with current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), it is likely that we will overshoot the target outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement of a temperature increase well below 2.0 degrees (and ideally below 1.5 degrees) vs pre-industrial levels. At the current rate of emissions, we will exhaust the remaining carbon budget for limiting warming to 1.5°C in 8 years.
  • Exceeding a 1.5 - 2.0 degree temperature increase vs pre-industrial levels - and we are already at approximately 1 degree - would cause drastic intensification of multiple climate hazards and the associated risks of devastating loss of human life, nature and property. 

All told, it’s not looking especially good. Reading the science can often inspire bouts of nihilism and deter people from taking positive climate action, simply because it all seems too late, or they wonder what difference they can possibly make. 

Climate fatigue and anxiety is common and something we’re sure many of us have experienced. Indeed, a global survey of 10,000 students conducted by the University of Bath in September 2021 found that it is particularly rife among young people. Nearly 60% of those approached said they felt very worried or extremely worried about climate change, more than 45% of those questioned said feelings about the climate affected their daily lives and over half (56%) think humanity is doomed. These feelings of ‘climate doomism’ or ‘eco-anxiety’ can understandably sometimes be overwhelming but it’s also important not to let them induce fatalism. At best, this might convince people to stop trying and at worst it can justify environmental neglect. 

That’s one of the reasons we at Minimum believe it’s important to stay optimistic in the fight against climate change. The window to act is certainly closing fast… but it is still open!

Should we remain optimistic? 

While it cannot possibly be stated enough that without sweeping and immediate action we find ourselves on a path to vastly overshoot the international target for a 1.5 degree climate and face catastrophic consequences as a result, the findings from the latest IPCC report indicate that we do have the necessary tools at our disposal to effectively tackle the issue.

Although there is clearly still a way to go in changing policies, attitudes and habits, we must not lose sight of the fact that we do ALREADY have everything we need to battle this crisis. We have the knowledge, the means and the weapons within our grasp to win this fight. We know what needs to be done and we know how to do it. There are no unknown unknowns facing us around what we need to do. 

Some of the key breakthroughs we think it’s important to celebrate this Earth Day include: 

  • The unit costs of several clean technologies have continued to fall since 2010. Solar technology and batteries for electric vehicles have both seen significant drops in price of around 85%, with offshore and onshore wind also falling by around 55%. 
  • Due to the falling costs of low-emissions technologies and supportive government policies around the world, in 2021 alone the global sale of electric vehicles doubled to 6.6 million, amounting to 9% of car sales that year. 
  • According to the International Energy Agency, in many cases around the world, it’s now cheaper to situate a new wind or solar farm than to deploy a new coal-fired power plant.
  • Wind and solar technologies supplied 10% of global electricity supplies for the first time in 2021.
  • In 2000 there were c. 160 laws and policies globally explicitly relating to climate change. By 2021, this had increased to c. 2,500. This surge of regulatory action has successfully led to the avoidance of emissions that would have otherwise been emitted as well as increasing the adoption of renewable technologies and sustainable infrastructure.
  • At least 18 countries have managed to sustain a reduction in their emissions for longer than 10 years, with even China and India demonstrating evidence of relative decoupling as their emissions growth has lagged behind their economic growth in recent years.
  • Regulation proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States outlines new rules to enhance climate-related disclosures for investors. Improving transparency around climate risks and enhancing accountability would be a great leap forward for the country’s response to climate change.
  • In 2015, Climate Action Tracker estimated that the contemporaneous policies and pledges of global governments put us on track to warm a disastrous 3.6 degrees by the end of the century. The same organisation calculated that the pledges and policies made at COP26 in November 2021 put us on course for 2.4 degrees of warming - still far too high, of course, but a powerful indicator that significant progress is possible if we take meaningful action. There should be no doubt that being able to move the needle in the right direction lies within our hands!

We have made some exciting progress and necessary steps to reduce GHG emissions around the world, particularly in industrial nations where the green transition is most needed. 

However, despite having the relevant tools at hand, there’s still a huge gap between targets and current action. It’s evident that we’re moving much too slowly in the face of an existential crisis, but there’s no reason we can’t drastically change our course of action and, indeed, it is simply imperative that we do. We must all continue the necessary hard work and strive to keep the pressure on the various decision makers and business leaders who have the power to set policy and drive impactful, positive change.

Quite simply, we no longer have a choice in the matter.

Thoughts from Minimum

Chris Winchurch -  Acting CEO & Co-founder of Minimum:

“As we approach the 52nd Earth Day, it’s still evident that the world desperately needs to reduce its carbon emissions. Yet, at the moment there is a remarkable lack of accessible tooling for businesses to manage their climate impact. Minimum was founded to change that. Our vision is to make it as achievable as possible for any organisation to calculate, report on and reduce its carbon footprint.”

Freddie Green - COO & Co-founder of Minimum:

“Earth Day is always an apt time to reflect on the state of play in the climate crisis. It’s clear beyond any doubt that there is so much we still need to do and that the time we have in which to do it is rapidly vanishing. Nevertheless, it’s super important to not lose sight of the great strides that have been made in recent times and let fatalism seep in. We’ve come a long way already and it is absolutely within our power to fix the mess we find ourselves in but we need to do more and we need to do it immediately. It certainly won’t be easy but, with nothing less than the future habitability of the planet at stake, we simply have to believe it can still be done.”

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