In 2015 the countries of the world met in Paris and agreed to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels
But four years later, progress is not going well.
The emissions gap, between the world’s stated ambitions on climate and the actions it is currently taking, are substantial.
For a fair chance of hitting our goal, researchers believe global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020 and the gap must be closed by 2030 – if we are not on the right trajectory by 2030, all hope of 1.5 degrees is lost and 2 degrees is almost certainly out of reach as well.
Why are we not hitting the Paris goals?
Collectively, the pledges made by countries to reduce carbon emissions in Paris are hugely inadequate.
Even if all countries fulfill their pledges, it would account for only about a third of the needed emission reductions to get to 2 degrees.
On the other hand, if Paris’s current pledges are a total success, it still leaves the world on track for temperature rise of more than 3 degrees which would have disastrous effects for people and planet.
So what political change do we need to help the planet?
The UN’s Environmental Programme (UNEP) recommends increasing the use of renewable energy (wind, solar, biomass) and combined heat and power installations; improved energy efficiency in buildings, industry, household appliances; reduction of CO2 emissions from new passenger cars; reduction measures in the manufacturing industry and measures to reduce emissions from landfills.
But what does that actually look like in practice?
The issues are fraught with complications and impacts on business, jobs and people.
But below is a beginner’s guide to what tangible policies we need to help mother earth.
Five policies Governments can introduce to meet climate targets and reduce climate breakdown.
1. Encourage and enable people to use more electric cars
Moving people and goods around is the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions, given fuels made from oil to power most of our transportation system.
In answer to this, we need to encourage and enable people to use more electic cards.
Even with the current electricity mix in Europe, which still includes a lot of electricity from coal, electric cars are preferable to petrol or diesel cars, especially as Europe uses more renewable energy in the future, according to the European Environment Agency.
To help this along, governments could issue tax credits to consumers, making them available for buyers when they’re at the car dealership.
Governments could also electrify their vehicles and induce businesses to follow their lead; experiment with electric-only delivery zones and financially incentivise local governments and firms to build a robust charging-station network, according to experts cited in the Washington Post.
2. Switch to renewable energy and stop using fossil fuels
If we burn fossil fuels we are already digging for and exploring, we will use up the 2-degree budget.
Even if global coal use were eliminated overnight, burning the oil and gas we’re already exploiting would exceed the 1.5-degree carbon budget.
There is simply no room for new fossil fuel development — gas included — within the Paris Agreement goals. But sadly, the number of coal-fired power plants are currently continuing to increase globally.
If the countries of the world are serious about their shared targets, they must cease new fossil fuel exploration and cancel plans for new wells and mines.
3. Regulation of the meat and dairy industry
Livestock farming has a huge environmental impact. With its use of large swaths of land land, pesticides and fertilisers, it contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration and deforestation.
In fact it contributes 18% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is more than all emissions from planes, cars, ships and all other transport put together.
Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be shrunk by more than 75% – an area the size of the US, China, the EU and Australia combined – and still feed the world.
To counter its impact, we should curb both over-production and emissions by securing a moratorium on new factory farms, a.k.a. CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), according to Juliette Majot – executive director of the Institute for Agriculture And Trade Policy in the US.
Juliette also proposes a stop on taxpayer money to fund the construction and expansion of big factory farms.
Instead, we should start investing in a ‘transition to agricultural systems that lift up rural communities by supporting farmers practicing sustainable grazing practices, expanding the infrastructure for the growing grass-fed beef and dairy markets, and enforcing fair market and fair contract rules for the livestock industry’, she says.
4. Invest in biological carbon-removal technologies.
Engineered technologies — carbon capture and storage, “direct carbon removal”, are costly to implement, but biological carbon removal, which is the better management of forests, wetlands, and soils could save between 4 and 12 GtCO2e a year according to some reports.
However this theory does not come without criticism.
5. Implement a carbon tax
Is the best way to inspire meaningful change to put a price tax on carbon? That’s the idea of the UK’s Green Party and Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, outgoing representative for Florida’s 26th Congressional District in the House of Representatives.
After all the cost of doing nothing is much worse: cue warming temperatures, rising sea levels and more extreme weather caused by greenhouse emissions that have the potential to adversely affect the health of every person and the strength of every country’s economy.
A tax on carbon emissions at the source, rather than at its use – such as gas and aviation fuel taxes – could be used to fund infrastructure, ‘help coastal communities adapt to the immediate effects of climate change’ and give low-income households and displaced workers ‘assistance in the transition’, according to Curbelo.
Analysis from Columbia University indicates this would maintain manufacturing competitiveness and provide regulatory certainty to allow for long-term investments in cleaner energy projects, so long as emissions goals are being met.
What do you think of these suggestions? Do you have any of your own? Tell us what you think below.