The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Amid backsliding on climate, the renewables effort now must be tripled

Penguins on an iceberg on the northern side of the Antarctic peninsula on Jan. 15. (Natalie Thomas/Reuters)
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António Guterres is secretary general of the United Nations.

A report released Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a litany of broken climate promises. Together with the IPCC’s previous two reports on physical science and adaptation in the past year, it reveals the yawning gap between climate pledges and reality. And the reality is that we are speeding toward disastrous global warming of more than double the limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, as cited in the Paris agreement of 2016.

In concrete terms, this means major cities under water, unprecedented heat waves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages, and the extinction of 1 million species of plants and animals.

So far, high-emitting governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye; they are adding fuel to the flames by continuing to invest in climate-choking industries. Scientists warn that we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate effects.

The new IPCC report arrives in a period of extraordinary global political and economic turbulence that has further jeopardized efforts to address climate change. Energy prices spiked after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, prompting several nations to increase fossil-fuel production. In the long run, that will only make matters worse.

Leaders who claim to be protecting their people by doubling down on fossil fuels are doing the exact opposite: throwing their people to the wolves of energy insecurity, price volatility and climate chaos.

The IPCC report lays out a saner, safer approach, one that would get the world back on track by using renewable solutions that provide green jobs, energy security and greater price stability.

This report is a blueprint to bring us back to the 1.5-degree pledge that nearly 200 nations made in Paris and renewed at the COP26 gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

We left Scotland with a naive optimism, based on new promises and commitments. But the main problem — the enormous, growing emissions gap — was all but ignored.

The science is clear. To keep the 1.5-degree limit within reach, we need to cut global emissions by 45 percent this decade. But current climate pledges would mean a 14 percent increase in emissions. And most major emitters are not taking the steps needed to fulfill even these inadequate promises.

That is why this latest IPCC report is focused on mitigation — cutting emissions. It sets out viable, financially sound options in every sector.

First and foremost, we must triple the speed of the shift to renewable energy.

That means moving investments and subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables, now. In most cases, renewables are already cheaper.

It means governments ending the funding of coal, not just abroad, but at home: Stop financing all forms of coal extraction, production and power generation everywhere, including in the form of subsidies. To support major emerging economies in making this shift, I have been advocating for climate coalitions, made up of developing and developed countries, multilateral development banks, private financial institutions and corporations with the technical know-how to help.

All of us have a role to play in the shift to green energy. Young people, civil society and Indigenous communities are among those who have already stepped up, sounding the alarm and holding leaders accountable. We now need to build on their work to create a worldwide grass-roots movement that no one can ignore.

I hereby appeal directly to everyone with an interest in our planet and our future: Make your voice heard, wherever decisions are taken — in political debates, local authorities, boardrooms and at the ballot box.

Demand an end to coal-fired power.

Call for renewable energy to be deployed rapidly and widely.

I will be following up on net-zero pledges by private finance later this year. Promises to phase out coal must be backed up by comprehensive plans, without exceptions or loopholes, and with action.

The decisions governments make today will determine the future of achieving the 1.5-degree limit.

A shift to renewables will mend our broken global energy mix and offer hope to millions of people already suffering from the impact of climate change.

Climate promises and plans must be turned into reality and action, now. It is time to stop burning our planet, and start investing in the abundant renewable energy all around us.