The State of Climate Action 2023

Anna Triponel

November 17, 2023
Our key takeaway: The current 1.1°C of global temperature rise is “wreaking havoc across the planet,” from extreme temperatures, to worrying sea level rise from melting ice, “record-breaking” warming in oceans, and “supercharg[ed] droughts, floods, wildfires, and cyclones.” In this context, urgent action on the part of governments is needed at COP28. With the right goals and a practical roadmap, “the world can jump-start an urgently needed course correction on climate change as Parties respond to findings from the first Global Stocktake.” A report by the Systems Change Lab highlights the constellation of efforts—and diversity of actors—that will be needed to help limit warming to 1.5°C. The report highlights the importance of government action to not only set ambitious targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but to embed these goals in economic policies and regulations to push and incentivise companies to reduce emissions, with “justice and equity [taking] center stage in global efforts to accelerate sectoral transformations.” Companies have a role to play in drastically reducing their own emissions across the value chain, but they can also have a multiplier effect across the economy by advocating for such policies, taking meaningful efforts that will support national goals, and both encouraging and facilitating action on the part of their suppliers  across the globe. “A shift from business-as-usual, incremental change into emergency mode is now needed to deliver this level of required acceleration.”

The Systems Change Lab (a joint effort between the Bezos Earth Fund, Climate Action Tracker, Climate Analytics, ClimateWorks Foundation, NewClimate Institute, the United Nations Climate Change High-Level Champions, and World Resources Institute) published State of Climate Action 2023 (November 2023):

  • Collective efforts to reduce GHG “still fall woefully short”: The report tracks 42 indicators of progress on climate change, and finds that 41 of these indicators across key sectors are not being met to reach 1.5°C-aligned targets for 2030. These sectors include power, buildings, industry transport, forests and land, food and agriculture, technological carbon removal, and climate finance. Further, “[w]orryingly, 24 of those indicators are well off track, such that at least a twofold acceleration in recent rates of change will be required to achieve their 2030 targets.” And 6 other indicators are “heading in the wrong direction entirely. Within this subset of lagging indicators, the most recent year of data represents a concerning worsening relative to recent trends for 3 indicators, with significant setbacks in efforts to eliminate public financing for fossil fuels, dramatically reduce deforestation, and expand carbon pricing systems.” The results on the planet have been significant: in 2022, deforestation globally increased to 5.8 million hectares, “losing an area of forests greater than the size of Croatia in a single year. Approximately 60 percent of these permanent losses occurred across humid tropical primary forests, among the world’s most important landscapes for carbon sequestration and storage, as well as biodiversity.”
  • “Bright spots” and the potential for change: The report highlights positive progress for the rising proportion of electric vehicles (EVs) in overall light-duty vehicle sales, which is on track to meet the sector’s 2030 target. Even meeting goals for just one indicator can have multiplier effects: “Because EVs emit much less than fossil-fueled vehicles even when powered by dirty grids, achieving this target could go a long way toward decarbonizing road transport, which currently accounts for 11 percent of global GHG emissions.” In addition, six other indicators are moving in a positive direction, albeit more slowly than needed given the urgency of the moment. However, the report authors believe that “appropriate support and concerted actions” by all market players and other stakeholders could be enough to create “rapid, nonlinear change in the coming years” when considering previous trends. The greatest gains, per the report, are in “efforts to mandate corporate climate risk disclosure, increase uptake of electric trucks, and expand the adoption of light-duty electric vehicles.”
  • Needed steps: “[A]n enormous acceleration in effort will be required across all sectors to get on track for 2030. A shift from business-as-usual, incremental change into emergency mode is now needed to deliver this level of required acceleration.” The report highlights some key growth areas for companies, governments and investors to focus on. For example, a significant increase in solar and wind power could do much to shift the needle; “the share of these two technologies in electricity generation has been growing by an annual average of 14 percent in recent years, but this needs to reach 24 percent to get on track for 2030.” Stakeholders should also collaborate to reduce annual deforestation (in 2022, this rate was “equivalent to deforesting 15 football (soccer) fields per minute”) four times faster than the present rate. Another action is shifting food systems and changing incentives for agribusiness to reduce production and consumption of meat in the regions where it is greatest per capita, Europe, the Americas and Oceania. For a just transition, a reduction in consumption among wealthy countries must balance the needs of low-income countries, ensuring that food-insecure populations globally are able to modestly increase their consumption of meat to increase nutrition. All actors should likewise work together to “[s]cale up global climate finance by nearly $500 billion per year throughout the remainder of this decade.”

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