Editor’s Note: Sign up for CNN’s Life, But Greener newsletter. Our seven-part guide helps you minimize your personal role in the climate crisis — and reduce your eco-anxiety.
The world is careening toward levels of global warming that will have irreversible impacts, a new landmark report says, but we already have the solutions — the only thing preventing us from taking advantage of them is political will and status-quo interests in fossil fuels.
The third and final installment of the sixth UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, published Monday, shows how renewable energy sources like wind and solar are now economically viable and becoming cheaper by the day.
But while the focus on solutions give the report an optimistic tone, it also serves as a reminder of how policies lag far behind science, technology and even economics.
UN Secretary General António Guterres called the report “a litany of broken promises” and “a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world.”
“The jury has reached a verdict. And it is damning,” Guterres said. “We are on a fast track to climate disaster.”
If the world doesn’t strengthen its policies toward renewable energy, global warming could blow through the 1.5 degree-Celsius threshold that scientists have warned of and surpass 3 degrees by the end of the century, the report’s scientists said. The planet is already around 1.1 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels.
The report was published as much of the world grapples with an energy crunch that has sent energy prices soaring. Russia’s war in Ukraine has also moved several countries, especially in Europe, to not only wean off Russian fossil fuel exports but to replace them in part with more renewable energy.
Here are the key takeaways.
Wind and solar are now economically viable replacements for fossil fuels
The cost of wind and solar energy have dropped dramatically in the past decade and are now competitive with coal and gas for electricity, the report shows. In some contexts, these renewable sources of energy are even cheaper than fossil fuels.
Many countries have ramped up the installation of wind turbines — both on and offshore — and solar panels, whether on buildings or in huge solar farms that can power entire communities.
And the amount of electricity generated by renewables is growing rapidly. A recent report by climate think tank Ember showed the world generated a record-setting 10% of its energy from wind and solar 2021. The International Energy Agency said in a recent report that renewable energy capacity grow by more than 60% by 2026, from 2020 levels.
While onshore wind and solar are now cost competitive with coal and natural gas for power, there are still huge upfront costs for installation which add to the inequities of the renewable energy transition, according to the report. For that reason, many developing countries — particularly in the Global South — lag behind in the adoption of solar and wind power.
In deliberations over Monday’s report, some developing countries were calling for rich nations to transfer more money to the Global South to help it pay for the transition, according to a source familiar with the talks. Those countries argued that wealthy nations were historically more responsible for climate change and should shoulder more of the financial burden.
We need to ditch fossil fuels — and fast
To limit warming to 1.5 degrees, or even 2 degrees, the world’s energy systems must rapidly decarbonize, the report’s authors say. Ending fossil fuel subsidies could also reduce emissions by up to 10% by 2030.
The report was published after marathon talks between global representatives went well into Sunday night, during which fossil fuel-producing nations opposed to a declarative call to end the use of coal, oil and gas in the near future, a source familiar with the talks told CNN, without naming particular nations.
“We cannot run our fossil fuel-based infrastructures anymore the way we did,” said Jan Christoph Minx, a climate researcher and a lead author on the report, at a news conference. “The big message coming from here is we need to end the age of fossil fuel. And we don’t only need to end it, but we need to end it very quickly.”