None of the six key sectors expected to lead climate change mitigation — power, buildings, industry, transportation, forests and agriculture — are making fast enough progress to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to a joint report from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and ClimateWorks.
The report analyzed 21 indicators across the six sectors to find that current climate efforts are too slow to drive a 50% cut in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. In the transportation sector, for example, the report said greater adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) will depend on governments to promote behavioral change among consumers. Shifting people away from cars and onto public transit will need incentives for that behavior change, the report said, with policy likely to lead the way.
Overall, WRI and ClimateWorks found that increasing the share of renewable energy used in electricity generation must be accelerated five times faster; coal must be phased out for electricity generation five times faster; and the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) must happen 22 times faster than the rate of adoption in recent years. These requirements were calculated using historical data on the rate of change, and specific targets for 2030 and 2050.
"Two areas where the world is doing especially poor is halting deforestation and curbing emissions from agricultural production," the report reads, though the measures of increasing crop yields and maintaining consumption of ruminant meat are both on track to reach 2030 targets.
Indeed, EV adoption has accelerated in recent years as cities embrace the technology and the need to invest in charging infrastructure, but it remains to be seen if consumer habits can change, especially to ease range anxiety. The American Lung Association (ALA) earlier this year found a "widespread shift" to EVs could bring immense economic and health benefits, although making up-front investments in charging infrastructure and the vehicles themselves could still be tricky.
The report called for greater climate financing across public, private and philanthropic sectors, and for governments and businesses to support more significant emissions reduction policies. But the cost to carry out "rapid transformation" could be steep, the report warns. It estimates that efforts to transform just the energy industry through more robust renewables portfolios will cost between $1.6 trillion and $3.8 trillion annually through 2050, meaning climate financing efforts need to step up.
"Most finance has been focused on renewable energy, EVs: the more charismatic things," said report co-author Katie Lebling. "But [climate] adaptation has received, I think, around 5% of total climate finance. So it needs to be a lot more focused on that."
Worldwide, richer countries should do more financially to help poorer countries reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change, she said.
In a bid to try and raise additional funds at the local level for climate action, a number of governments in the United States have turned to ballot initiatives, especially as local budgets have been decimated by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Beyond that, some have suggested turning to public-private partnerships (P3s) and other alternative funding mechanisms in areas like energy efficiency.
And there is some evidence that local governments are looking to invest in some less visible, but still important, ways to mitigate climate change. New York City voted recently to strengthen the building requirements for its Climate Mobilization Act, in an acknowledgement of the impact that sector has on emissions.
It will take all levels of government and the business sector to step up and take action, the report says. After President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris accord in 2017, cities and states have stepped up with their own policies to cut emissions in lieu of federal leadership. But while goals have been set, Lebling said everyone can do a better job at transparently keeping track of progress.
"There's so many commitments that have been made," Lebling said. "But it doesn't mean that there's actually been action that's been taken on the ground. So making the commitments but then actually following up to report on the progress transparently, and show that something is actually happening to back up, is important."