IPCC report: the 1.5C target is still viable

Owen Gaffney, project lead at Earth4All and co-founder of the Exponential Roadmap Initiative, and Johan Falk, CEO of the Exponential Roadmap Initiative.

The latest mammoth climate assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) arrives at a remarkably positive conclusion.

To be sure, the report states in no uncertain terms that humans have permanently changed the planet, that climate change is already killing people, destroying nature and making the world poorer. What’s more, the final report also warns that governments are way, way off-target on their commitment to stabilize temperature rises to 1.5C, which is needed to ensure a liveable future on Earth.

And yet there’s good news. The 1.5C target is still viable. The world’s leading scientists conclude that all the solutions to halve emissions by 2030 ‒ from wind and solar energy to electric vehicles and heat pumps ‒ are here already. No new research needed. And these solutions are scalable; they can be deployed rapidly. And, most importantly, they are all affordable.

This next decade must see the fastest economic and energy transformation in history, but it also can see that transformation.

For energy, the cheapest way to transform is massive investment in scaling up wind and solar and cutting wasteful methane emissions from coal, oil and gas. And, of course, use energy more efficiently. Solar is now the cheapest form of electricity in history. This fact alone should spur rapid deployment. This is not a burden; this is a business opportunity.

For cities, which make up 70% of emissions, this means electric vehicles, public transport and more bike lanes. This is not a burden on societies; it will make cities quieter and cleaner too, and people will be healthier.

For land and food, this means reducing meat consumption, healthy diets and reduced food waste. Rather than a cost, these changes will save money. And, of course, we need to manage forests better, stop deforestation and store carbon in soils through regenerative agriculture.

The solutions outlined by IPCC are either cheaper than things that burn fossil fuels, or the cost is easily affordable at just $100 per tonne of CO2 or less. And each year the solutions become more affordable as we follow Wright’s Law, which states that as production doubles the costs of production fall rapidly.

The IPCC points out that halving global emissions will undoubtedly be disruptive. There will be winners and losers. That is why we created the Exponential Roadmap Initiative to bring together the most innovative companies to drive the disruption and transformation of every sector of the economy.

We believe there is little value in haggling with oil companies and the coal industry. Henry Ford didn’t strike a deal with horse stables to enable the success of his legendary Model T. Similarly, we want to accelerate the change in demand away from fossil fuels through new products, new supply chains and greater efficiency. And we’re committed to sharing that knowledge with others.

The key to rapid change is to identify the feedback loops where behaviour change and political, economic and technological shifts create self-reinforcing cycles, driving ever-greater action and a green race to the top that crushes emissions.

Politicians need to act to accelerate the disruptive trajectory. In the U.S., the Inflation Reduction Act has already spurred action and has the potential to lower emissions by up to 40%. Europe now needs to offer similar incentives to remain competitive. This will set up another feedback loop, driving prices of electric vehicles down, driving up sales, bringing prices down further.

But forces are in play that are putting the brakes on. Fossil-fuel subsidies reached a record $1 trillion as a result of Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis. IPCC authors say making fossil fuels more expensive by removing subsidies could reduce greenhouse gases by up to 10%.

And we need to connect investors to the people building the future. In a jittery economic climate, the investment community is desperate for long-term safe investments providing a strong return year on year. What better than energy security and mass transportation.

Everyone needs energy and efficient transportation. More needs to be done to connect the mega infrastructure projects to investors, and more needs to be done to reduce red tape to make these projects happen.

This is the last time we will hear from the IPCC while they prepare for the seventh assessment report, slated for publication towards the end of the decade. By then we will know whether 1.5C is alive or dead.

But there is good news in that, too: For decades, the climate conversation focused on long time horizons that meant little to businesses and politicians alike. Now, with 2030 within sight as the first crucial milestone in the race to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, we have a time frame to which we can all relate.

We have the science base and the solutions we need to seize this brief window of opportunity to give our own and future generations a stable planet.

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This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of Earth4All or its supporting organisations. 

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