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5 reasons for hope about the climate

Gero Rueter
December 19, 2023

DW highlights the trends providing grounds for optimism in the face of the climate crisis. From cheap renewables to lucrative green investments there is lots of progress and innovation according to experts.

A young girl holds up a sign saying "everyone can change the world" at a climate rally
The Fridays for Future demonstrations and other climate movements have helped raise the issue of climate change in the public consciousness, even if not everyone agress Image: Gero Rueter/DW

With carbon emissions set to reach record highs this year and global climate action falling short, it can be easy to slide into despair.

But according to a new study by the German think tank New Climate Institute, there are many reasons to remain hopeful.

The study looks at technological and societal progress in limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) as agreed in Paris in 2015 and highlights key global trends that suggest all is not lost.

Climate awareness is now mainstream 

The authors wrote that understanding the causes and impacts of climate change has come a long way since the Paris Agreement was adopted.

Climate change has now become a mainstream issue and is discussed among a larger segment of the population. Media coverage has also increased but so too has climate misinformation and fake news. 

Growing awareness has led to more climate protests, with young people leading global calls for urgent action in movements such as Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil and the Last Generation.

A man holds up a piece of paper in celebration. Other people celebrate behind him
Celebrations after a historic 2021 court ruling in The Hague ordering Shell to drastically reduce CO2 emissions Image: Piroschka van de Wouw/REUTERS

And people are taking to the courtroom as well as onto the streets. The report highlights a rising wave of climate litigation against states and companies. Plaintiffs are pushing for compliance with legislation to protect the environment and climate with some success. Germany passed legislation to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions cuts by 2030 after a 2021 Federal Constitutional Court ruling. 

Advances in weather attribution science, which investigates the links between extreme weather and climate change, have helped bolster legal cases.

A net-zero economy is now on the table 

Before the Paris Agreement, climate policies focused on reducing emissions in specific sectors, according to the authors. Today, achieving net-zero emissions across the entire economy is the goal for many countries, regions, and cities across the globe. 

By the end of 2021, 90% of the global economy included some kind of net-zero target that was leading to discussions of full decarbonization. 

"That was previously politically not acceptable," stated the report.

Increased ambition has not yet translated into global emissions reductions, but the authors wrote the world is on a better path than before. 

Businesses and investors are responding to pressure

Sustainable investments were a niche endeavor over a decade ago and have "now become a standard model in the finance world," according to the report.

The threat of climate litigation against companies is heating up, too. Businesses and investors are increasingly responding to societal pressure for change and recognizing the growing risk climate change poses to their wealth.

The authors also noted that the risk of investing in fossil fuels that could potentially no longer be burned or in infrastructure that may soon become defunct is making banks more reluctant to finance new coal power plants. 

Wind turbines in front of a coal power planet with smoke billowing from the chimneys
Electricity can be generated more cheaply with wind and solar power than with existing coal-fired power plantsImage: H. Blossey/blickwinkel/picture alliance

Many companies are now publishing their climate risks partly on their own initiative or because of new laws. Of the 500 largest US companies listed by credit rating agency Standard & Poor's, more than 70% also disclose their emissions.

Still, according to the authors, oil and gas-based business models remain very lucrative and still dominate the market. Business models are shifting, but too slowly. Corporate lobbying is often hampering climate action.

Energy systems are transforming

Renewable energy costs have plummeted in the last decade at an even faster speed than predicted. They are now cheaper than new fossil fuels in 90% of the world and the cheapest source of bulk electricity generation.

Renewables such as solar and wind providing the core of global energy systems "is a new normal," according to the authors. Phasing out fossil fuels "is no longer a question of 'if' but 'when.'" 

At the same time, the supply of renewable power is becoming increasingly decentralized, improving energy access for many private households. Investments in renewables are now five times greater than in fossil fuels.

While gaps in the deployment of wind, heat pumps and electrolyzers used to create hydrogen fuel still exist, the report stated that a "paradigm shift on multiple levels towards renewable energy has started that cannot be reversed." 

Electrification of transport and heating 

Electrification is playing an increasingly important role in transport and heating.

According to the study, electrically powered heat pumps are becoming the "key technology for decarbonization" of building heating systems. Europe saw a 38% increase in sales of heat pumps last year. 

Electric car sales worldwide have also risen much faster than expected. By 2023, 18% of all new cars sold will likely be electric, according to the study. In some countries around the world, they are already standard. All major car manufacturers have pledged to go electric in the next few years. The European Union, Canada and Chile have also set deadlines for phasing out combustion engines.

Fact check: Myths about electric vehicles busted

Although, high prices and the need for more investment in charging infrastructure remain roadblocks, the electrification of vehicles has grown exponentially according to the report. That's particularly the case in rich industrialized countries and China, where more and more electric trucks and buses are hitting the road.

While far more action is needed to reach the Paris Agreement targets, the authors emphasized that the world can "draw strength" from a continued increase in awareness, knowledge and technical know-how in tackling the climate crisis.

Edited by: Anke Rasper

This article originally appeared in German and was adapted by Holly Young.