The health of our environment and the stability of Earth’s climate system are growing concerns across the globe. Human activity over the last two centuries, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, has increased heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and led to noticeable planetary warming.
The potential impacts of climate change include rising sea levels, more extreme weather events, severe droughts, food and water insecurity, ecosystem shifts, species extinction, and risks to human health and infrastructure. Avoiding the worst of these will require limiting global temperature rise to below 2°C or even 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels through steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
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Here we provide the latest news, research, and key developments related to the environment and climate change, including the following sections:
- Recent International Agreements & Commitments
- Emission Trends & Mitigation Report Card
- Extreme Weather and Climate Disasters
- Climate Change Impact Assessments
- Clean Technology Advancements
We have also compiled two comparisons for reference – one of major economies’ climate targets and performance and one of the environmental voting records of the two major US political parties:
|2030 Emissions Target
|On Track to Meet Target
|50-52% below 2005 levels
|No – current policies have US reducing emissions by only 24-35% by 2030
|At least 55% below 1990 levels
|Within striking distance – latest policy updates have EU on track for 50-58% reduction
|Peak emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060
|Not yet sufficient – needs to implement more aggressive near-term policies
|Reduce emissions intensity 45% below 2005 levels
|Yes, but needs to set an absolute emissions target
|46% below 2013 levels
|Yes, expected to achieve target
|LCV Environmental Voting Score
|Number of Senators with 100% Pro-Environment Score
|92% average score
|32 out of 50
|13% average score
|0 out of 50
Over the last three years, countries around the world have stepped up commitments and launched new initiatives to tackle environmental degradation and climate change in the wake of extreme weather events and dire warnings from scientists.
The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, UK resulted in several key global agreements:
- Glasgow Climate Pact: Nearly 200 countries pledged to strengthen emission reduction targets in order to keep global warming below 2°C and ideally limit it to 1.5°C this century as compared to pre-industrial levels. However, concrete near-term actions and policy details were lacking for most nations.
- Global Methane Pledge: Over 100 countries pledged to reduce methane emissions 30% by 2030, targeting the potent greenhouse gas from oil, agriculture, waste, and other sectors. This could reduce warming 0.2°C by mid-century.
- Deforestation Pledge: 130 countries covering over 90% of the world’s forests agreed to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. The $19 billion pledge includes both public and private funding sources.
The 2022 UN Conference brought mixed results, with several major greenhouse gas emitters announcing new climate change plans and funding, but still falling short of emissions cuts needed to reach 1.5°C targets.
- The United States launched several new climate initiatives and reaffirmed a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030.
- The European Union outlined plans to reduce net emissions by 57% by 2030 under newly adopted policies, just shy of the bloc’s target for a 55% reduction.
- China agreed to work together with the US to address the climate crisis more ambitiously this decade, but did not put forward new targets, pledges, or policies at the conference.
- A coalition of countries led by Germany and the US launched a Global Shield Initiative to provide funding to nations enduring climate disasters. But the initiative faced criticism for not addressing the root causes of climate change or committing funds from larger historical emitters.
- A contentious debate around “loss and damage” payments from wealthy nations to developing countries facing unavoidable climate impacts ended without the creation of a new climate change compensation fund.
In efforts to conserve falling levels of global biodiversity, conveners are looking to broker a new Global Biodiversity Framework agreement in late 2023 similar to the Paris Climate Agreement. Goals under discussion include designating 30% of Earth’s land and oceans as protected areas and requiring businesses to assess biodiversity impacts and dependencies.
But progress has been slow and contentious thus far. Disagreements remain around topics like biopiracy, benefit sharing, conservation targets, and most importantly, financing mechanisms to resource protection and restoration in the developing world.
Global carbon emissions rose to record highs in 2022 after a brief pandemic decline. And most major economies are falling short on commitments to cut greenhouse gases this decade, according to leading analysis and reports over the last two years.
After a 5.3% drop in 2020 due to COVID slowdowns, global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels rebounded to 36.6 billion metric tons in 2022 – the highest ever recorded.
This was fueled by continued coal power reliance across Asia as well as an uptick in oil and gas consumption as economies reopened. Deforestation also drove up net emissions but precise annual figures remain difficult to tally.
Emissions must fall rapidly over the next few years to align with international climate goals and then continue declining to net-zero around mid-century. But 2023 and 2024 projections point to new record highs under current policy scenarios.
|No improvements; world’s highest emissions per capita; still subsidizing fossil fuels
|Deforestation spiked to 15-year high; attempts to undermine Indigenous land protections
|Plans for new coal power; exploring shale gas options; tariffs undercut solar competitiveness
|Carbon price rising steadily but oil sands expansion continues
|Leading on many fronts but still building new coal capacity
|Strengthened 2030 emissions target; limited financing overseas coal
|Major climate law passed but regulations & enforcement are uncertain
|Accelerated renewable energy but Russian gas reliance impacted progress
These assessments come from Climate Action Tracker and other leading scientific analyses. None of the world’s largest economies have plans deemed consistent with 1.5°C – though a few European countries like Denmark and Spain are close. With present policies, global warming is expected to surpass 2°C this century.
- Methane emissions surged by record amounts in 2020 and 2021 due to expansion in oil, gas, and livestock sectors. But the recent Global Methane Pledge could curb future rises if commitments translate into regulations and changes on the ground.
- Carbon removal & sequestration measures like reforestation and direct air capture expanded but remain minimal compared to actual emissions rates. And debates continue around permanence, performance guarantees, conflicts with food systems, and more.
- Fossil fuel production is not yet showing declines aligned with emissions reductions goals. The world’s governments plan to produce over double the amount of fuels this decade than scenarios to limit warming to 1.5°C, according to the UN.
Climate change increased the severity of many of the major floods, storms, droughts, wildfires and heat waves in 2022, scientists have reported. Extreme weather events have also led to heightened disease risks, ecosystem shifts, infrastructure stresses, and economic losses worldwide.
- Record shattering summer heat baked Europe, China, North America and other regions creating droughts, wildfires, low river levels impacting shipping and energy, glacier melt, and threats to agriculture. Studies found human-caused climate change made these extreme temperatures as much as 10 to 100 times more likely.
- Over 1.8 billion people faced significant water stress and crop yield declines in 2022. Drought emergencies were declared across Europe, China, Africa and the Americas. With La Niña conditions, rains are expected to remain suppressed through winter 2023 as well in key grain producing regions.
- Repeated heat waves took heavy human tolls, with tens of thousands of excess deaths attributed directly to extreme heat on nearly every inhabited continent. Morbidity also rose for cardiorespiratory diseases, renal failure, mental health conditions, infections, and more.
- Devastating flooding submerged over a third of Pakistan for weeks after record monsoon rains intensified by climate change. Over 1,500 died and millions were displaced by the unprecedented floods. Health risks soared amid damaged infrastructure and stagnant waters.
- Hurricanes Fiona and Ian gathered in strength over exceptionally warm Atlantic waters to deliver severe damage and loss of life after making landfall in Caribbean islands plus the southeastern US. Modeling indicates climate impacts increased hurricane rainfall rates by over 10%.
- repetitive storms flooded Mississippi River communities and battered vulnerable coastal cities globally, spurring calls for improved warning systems, infrastructure upgrades and relocation support. Rapid analysis helped confirm connections to climate change for several of these flood events.
- Over 224,000 wildfires covering over 8 million hectares burned across EU countries from January through late October – a new records, especially in western/central regions. Hundreds died from the blazes and smoke pollution.
- Siberia experienced massive uncontrolled forest and grassland fires akin to record seasons in recent years, resulting in summer smoke now blanketing much of the Arctic annually as temperatures rapidly rise across higher latitudes.
- Western US states faced expanded wildfire frequency, duration and intensity but avoided extremes on prior years. Better forest management and fire mitigation programs were credited with preventing higher losses though fires are expect to worsen without emissions cuts.
Thousands of studies over recent years continue to reveal increasing evidence of climate change impacts across natural and human systems worldwide. As patterns emerge, researchers are gaining higher confidence in attributing causal links between the warming climate and biological, ecological and social shifts underway.
Higher temperatures, extreme weather, shifting seasons and ecosystems, wildfires, flooding, declining water/food security, exposure to toxins and pathogens, and mental trauma are taking an accelerating toll on human health and wellbeing globally according to the WHO and National Academy of Medicine.
Climate change impacts physiological regulation, cardiovascular function, pregnancy outcomes, mortality risk across ages, spread of infectious diseases, healthcare infrastructure damage and disruptions, and mental illness – among numerous other detriments to foundational determinants of health.
Vulnerable populations including infants, the elderly, marginalized ethnic groups, outdoor laborers, and those in poverty bear disproportionate climate health risks. Deaths from extreme heat alone may rival the combined mortality burden today from all infectious diseases according to The Lancet.
The dual threats of more extreme weather disruptions and gradually shifting climate patterns threaten global progress on hunger and malnutrition. Studies project tens of millions more people could face undernourishment by mid-century, reversing a long improving trendline.
Rising temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, loss of glacial runoff, soil moisture changes, and elevated carbon dioxide itself – along with worsened droughts and flooding – endanger crop yields and nutritional content on farms worldwide. Animal and fishery productivity face similar stresses.
Water security is declining with glacial, snowpack, reservoir, and groundwater supplies threatened across regions. Saltwater intrusion, waterborne illnesses, water treatment and distribution infrastructure damages pose mounting challenges to reliable clean water access with climate change.
Recent studies project over a half million land species meet climate risk criteria for endangered status without intervention. Tropical areas with exceptionally high endemism are among the most vulnerable ecologies.
Shifting temperature, moisture, wildfire and disturbance regimes force adaptation and migration or risk population collapse – trends already observable in many plant and animal populations. Research documents worldwide ecosystem shifts including declining coral reef health, Arctic greening, and forest conversions.
These ecosystem changes drive risks of cascading trophic downgrading, loss of biodiversity, and challenges meeting sustainability targets. They also impact services nature provides humanity like fisheries productivity, water purification, soil health, pollination, and carbon absorption.
Clean technology innovation is accelerating across industries, driven by policy incentives and targets plus growing commercial viability. Key developments over the last two years showcase progress cutting emissions across electricity, transportation, buildings, manufacturing and removing past emissions.
- Installations of new solar PV projects are expanding at a 20% annual pace while wind power additions ticked up 5% in 2022. Concentrated solar, geothermal, tidal also saw upticks. Renewables generated 22% of global electricity in 2021.
- Plummeting clean energy prices make renewables the most cost effective option for new power plants in the vast majority of the world, without subsidies. Emerging battery storage options are beginning to address intermittency.
- But the pace of renewable additions needs to triple over this decade to align with climate targets according to the IEA. Bottlenecks like permitting delays, grid connectivity, and supply chain issues must be overcome.
- EV sales doubled in 2021 and rose another 65% to a record of over 10 million vehicles in 2022. Cost parity with conventional cars nears while performance improves dramatically.
- Charging networks are growing quickly – there are now over 1 million public EV charging ports globally. And batteries with almost 1,000 km ranges debut this year while new fast-charging cuts fillup times toward parity with gassing up.
- But the overall auto market continues growing too, especially SUVs. The IEA warns the rapid transition required to hit climate targets is still not yet underway in transportation.
- Governments committed over $70 billion to scale up hydrogen technology through 2030 to decarbonize heavy industry like steel, heavy transport, shipping, aviation, and more. Green hydrogen from renewable electricity promises deeper emission cuts than fossil-based hydrogen.
- Dozens of large scale green hydrogen generation facilities have been announced globally to test scaling potential. But costs remain high – potentially 4 times conventional options. Questions around hydrogen leakage and competition with batteries persist as well.
- Direct air capture facilities that chemically scrub CO2 from ambient air opened across Europe and North America, highlighting scalability but still at a high cost per ton removed.
- Reforestation and ecosystem restoration initiatives brought millions of hectares under conservation protections worldwide to absorb carbon naturally through photosynthesis and foster biodiversity. Monitoring and verification systems are advancing to track permanence and additionality of removals.
- But current carbon removal deployments equal less than 1% of actual emissions. Acceleration plans lean heavily on unproven or contentious negative emissions technologies that may compromise land use, biodiversity, or food security if scaled hastily.
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What was agreed at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference?
The key global agreements reached were the Glasgow Climate Pact where nearly 200 countries pledged stronger emission reductions to keep warming below 2°C or ideally 1.5°C; a Global Methane Pledge from over 100 countries to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030; and a commitment from 130 countries to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 backed by $19 billion in public/private funding.
Do current country climate plans align with 1.5°C targets?
No major economy has put forward emissions reduction plans rated as consistent with 1.5°C goals by Climate Action Tracker and other leading scientific analyses. With present policies taking into account gaps between rhetoric, targets and action, analysts expect over 2°C of warming this century.
What was behind the rise in fossil emissions in 2022?
Both coal reliance continuing in Asian power sectors as well as rebounds in oil/gas consumption as economies opened back up contributed to record CO2 output of 36.6 billion tons. Deforestation and cement manufacturing also play a role but are secondary contributors. Renewables are growing quickly but still only provide 22% of global electricity needs.
How did climate change impact recent extreme events?
Studies found climate change boosted the likelihood and severity of disasters worldwide, though attribution science remains complex for any single event. Estimates suggest human-caused warming made recent European droughts and China heatwaves 10 to 100 times more likely and added over 10% more rainfall to Hurricanes Fiona and Ian.
What ecosystems are most vulnerable to climate impacts?
Tropical forests have exceptionally climate sensitive ecologies and support over half the world’s land biodiversity, yet face escalating risks across Amazonia, the Congo Basin, and Southeast Asian rainforests from heat, drought, fire, fragmentation, pathogens and invasive pests. Island ecologies and coral reefs rank among the most endangered habitats as warming and acidifying oceans swell.
When will electric vehicles reach cost parity with conventional cars?
Multiple analyses including from BloombergNEF forecast electric vehicles reaching upfront price parity with gasoline cars by 2025 on average, and likely sooner for many models and segments. Total cost of ownership parity could arrive even earlier as EV maintenance and ‘fueling’ prove cheaper despite today’s higher sticker prices.