Progress Lags on Every Measure Except EV Sales
Global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C are failing across the board, with recent progress made on every indicator — except electric passenger car sales — lagging significantly behind the pace and scale that is necessary to address the climate crisis, according to the State of Climate Action 2023 report.
Published under Systems Change Lab, the report is a joint effort of the Bezos Earth Fund, Climate Action Tracker (a project of Climate Analytics and NewClimate Institute), ClimateWorks Foundation, the United Nations Climate Change High-Level Champions and World Resources Institute (WRI).
The State of Climate Action 2023 offers the world’s most comprehensive roadmap of how to close the global gap in climate action across sectors and can inform governments’ rapid response plan to the Global Stocktake at COP28.
“In a year where climate change has been wreaking havoc across the world, it’s clear global efforts to curb emissions are falling short. Continued incremental change is not an option; 1.5°C is still achievable but we urgently need a step change in climate action. The State of Climate Action report outlines tangible sector-by-sector targets to orient governments in making that step change in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit,” said Louise Jeffery of NewClimate Institute and one of the report’s lead authors.
The report translates the Paris Agreement’s temperature limit into 1.5°C-aligned targets for 2030 and 2050 to avoid intensifying climate impacts, while also minimizing harm to biodiversity and food security. These targets span sectors that account for roughly 85 percent of global GHG emissions — including power, buildings, industry, transport, forests and land, and food and agriculture — and also focus on the scale-up of carbon removal technologies and climate finance.
“Global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C are lackluster at best. Despite decades of dire warnings and wake-up calls, our leaders have largely failed to mobilize climate action anywhere near the pace and scale needed,” said Sophie Boehm, Research Associate II, World Resources Institute and lead author of the report. “Such delays leave us with very few routes to secure a livable future for all. There’s no time left to tinker at the edges. Instead, we need immediate, transformational changes across every single sector this decade.”
Across the 42 indicators assessed, only one — the share of electric vehicles in passenger car sales — is on track to reach its 2030 target. Of the other 41 indicators:
- Six indicators are “off track,” moving in the right direction at a promising but insufficient speed.
- 24 indicators are “well off track,” heading in the right direction but well below the required pace.
- Six indicators are headed in the wrong direction entirely, such that a U-turn in action is required.
- Five indicators have insufficient data to track progress.
“It is only becoming more clear and more urgent to course-correct on climate,” said Ani Dasgupta, President & CEO, World Resources Institute. “We already know what needs to be done, sector by sector, by 2030. The world has made some progress — in some cases, exponential progress — but overall, we are lagging, with several trends moving quickly in the wrong direction. It’s going to take drastic action from all of us — governments, corporations, cities — to embrace the systemic change needed to create a livable and thriving future for people, nature and climate.”
Achieving rapid transformations across all sectors to achieve global climate goals will require a tremendous acceleration in climate action this decade. For example, the analysis finds the world needs to:
- Increase growth in solar and wind power. The share of these two technologies in electricity generation has grown by an annual average of 14 percent in recent years, but this needs to reach 24 percent to get on track for 2030.
- Phase out coal in electricity generation seven times faster than current rates. This is equivalent to retiring roughly 240 average-sized coal-fired power plants each year through 2030. Though continued build-out of coal-fired power will increase the number of plants that need to be shuttered in the coming years.
- Expand the coverage of rapid transit infrastructure six times faster. This is equivalent to constructing public transit systems roughly three times the size of New York City’s network of subway rails, bus lanes and light-rail tracks each year throughout this decade.
- The annual rate of deforestation — equivalent to deforesting 15 football (soccer) fields per minute in 2022 — needs to be reduced four times faster over this decade.
- Shift to healthier, more sustainable diets eight times faster. This involves lowering per capita consumption of meat from cows, goats and sheep to approximately two servings per week or less across high-consuming regions (the Americas, Europe and Oceania) by 2030.
Worryingly, some indicators show a worsening trend in the most recent year of data. Efforts to end public financing for fossil fuels, dramatically reduce deforestation and expand carbon pricing systems experienced the most significant setbacks to progress in a single year, relative to recent trends.
Deforestation, for example, increased from 5.4 million hectares in 2021 to 5.8 million hectares in 2022, equivalent to permanently losing an area of forests greater than the size of Croatia in a single year. Similarly, government financing for fossil fuels increased sharply in 2021, with government subsidies, specifically, almost doubling from 2020 to reach the highest levels seen in nearly a decade. And due to data limitations for 2021, this is likely an underestimate.
“Something doesn’t stack up. Clean energy markets are bullish; governments everywhere should be getting in on the act. Yet they continue to use public funds and subsidies to hold onto our fossil past. Meeting our climate goals means closing down coal power seven times faster and gas power more than ten times faster than today. It’s absurd to keep investing in more of both. At COP28, governments should agree to a fair and fast phase out of fossil fuels,” said Claire Fyson, one of the report’s lead authors and Co-Head of Climate Analytics’ policy team.
But amid this grim reality, some encouraging bright spots are emerging. For the first time in the State of Climate Action series, the share of electric vehicles in passenger car sales is on track, with these sales more than tripling since 2020.
“We’re seeing electric vehicles take off faster than what we thought possible just a few years ago, in turn creating vast benefits for public health, the economy and the climate. If we can replicate this progress in other areas, it shows that transformative change is possible if pursued in a concerted, emergency effort, moving them over positive tipping points,” said Helen Mountford, President and CEO, ClimateWorks Foundation.
In other encouraging news, indicators focused on increasing mandatory corporate climate risk disclosure, sales of electric trucks and the share of EVs in the passenger car fleet saw the most significant gains in a single year, relative to recent trends. In 2022, for example, the number of countries with mandatory climate-related disclosures grew from 5 nations emitting 3% of global GHGs to 35 nations emitting 20% of global GHGs. New laws in the European Union and other high-emitting nations like India and Japan drove this annual increase.
“These findings on the State of Climate Action come at a pivotal moment,” said H.E. Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion from the COP28 Presidency. “This year, as the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement culminates at COP28, world leaders must recognize the insufficient progress to date and chart a path forward that builds on the successes we’re seeing. This moment should serve as a springboard for accelerated actions.”
The report will offer a guide for how decision-makers can allocate their limited time and resources to effectively tackle the climate crisis.
“This superb report provides compelling evidence of two seemingly irreconcilable truths,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, President & CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund. “First, we are deep in a climate emergency and are critically off-track in reaching our 2030 goals. Second, we are seeing spectacular gains that are surprising even optimists. Progress is not linear but powerfully exponential. Hugely positive tipping points lie in our near-term future if we have the wisdom and courage to see them through. Today’s negative headlines must prompt action, not paralysis. It’s not too late! COP28 in December provides a chance for leaders to choose hope over despair.”
How to cite this report:
Published under Systems Change Lab, this report is a joint effort between the Bezos Earth Fund, Climate Action Tracker (a project of Climate Analytics and NewClimate Institute), ClimateWorks Foundation, the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions and World Resources Institute.
*Please do not attribute the State of Climate Action 2023 to a single organization.
This article was originally published on Systems Change Lab.