Ten Years to Act Is Ten Years Too Late

I still sometimes hear that we have ten years to act to avert dangerous climate change. This misleading concept was first popularized by the press as "12 years to act" when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its special report on global warming of 1.5˚ C in late 2018.

But, as many experts have pointed out, acting by 2030 is far too late to avert the worst impacts of climate change. The IPCC report tells us we have ten years to cut global warming pollution in half, meaning that we must start now to convert the world's carbon-based energy system to clean, renewable energy, in order to be on the pathway to net zero by 2050.

This rapid transformation of our global energy systems is unprecedented. But fortunately energy experts have shown what looks like a complex, overwhelming challenge can be boiled down to a simple formula: focus on scaling up the big, known solutions, in the biggest emitting countries, using effective, proven policy measures.

There is widespread agreement on what these big, "off the shelf" solutions are: 100% clean electricity from wind and solar; decarbonizing vehicles, buildings, and factories through energy efficiency and electrification; and the common sense controls of global warming super-pollutants especially methane and refrigerants (called "HFCs").

As the latest report from America's Pledge (comprised of cities, state and business leaders committed to climate action) demonstrates, if the U.S. commits to an "All-in" climate strategy, using these known solution, we can cut emissions 49% by 2030 , while cleaning the air and water, creating thriving communities and ecosystems, and ensuring all American workers benefit from the transition to a 21st century, clean energy economy.

While the health, environmental, and economic benefits of this great transition are overwhelming, what stands in the way is the powerful fossil fuel industry and their allies, determined to protect their whopping $4.65 trillion in assets. This powerful industry has been able to flex its muscles, especially at the federal level, and subvert the will of the people, who overwhelming support action on climate and clean energy.

What will it take this decade, to beat the fossil fuel industry and their allies?

History has shown that change comes from the bottom-up in America, with the public leading new movements, a critical mass of local and state leaders championing the cause and demonstrating how progress can be made, and finally the federal government following to accelerate the spread of the transformation.

In 2020, many of these elements are coming together for transformative change.

About 7 in 10 Americans think global warming is happening, an all-time high. An overwhelming 67% of Americans say the federal government is not doing enough to protect the climate. The climate movement, led by those with the most stake in the outcome, youth, is finally breaking through as a potent force demanding action. And 25 states, 534 local governments, and 2,008 businesses representing 65% of all Americans have committed to taking action ahead of the federal government. In 2019, numerous states and cities acted on their commitments and adopted specific policies to accelerate renewables energy and electrifying cars and buildings.

The 2020's must be the decade for climate action. We have no time to waste.

About the Authors

Roland Hwang

Managing Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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