A stable climate sustains healthy ecosystems, economies, and societies.
The stability of the climate we all depend on is at risk. Human activities such as energy generation and transportation (think smokestacks and tailpipes) emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are heating the planet. The graph below shows global annual average temperatures since 1880, and carbon dioxide concentration — largely the result of human activity — during the same period.
Global Average Temperature & Carbon Dioxide Concentration
Climate change is already impacting ecosystems, economies, and the communities in which we live. We can still prevent the most negative impacts — but we must change course.
ClimateWorks subscribes to the international goal of holding the increase in global average temperature this century to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels while pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. While considered a “safe” range, we can expect significant disruptions, such as melting of ice sheets, rising sea levels, more acidic oceans, and more frequent extreme weather events. These shocks affect water supply and food production, unsettle communities, and harm economic activity. The poorest communities are often the most vulnerable. The following table illustrates some of the impacts of rising global average temperatures.
Climate change is caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions — a global and multifaceted problem.
Curbing climate change depends on our ability to reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. However, these emissions — largely products of fossil fuel use — are deeply embedded in the infrastructure, economic systems, and social fabric of the world’s communities and in the high standard of living that much of the world enjoys today. Building a prosperous low-carbon world — the key to mitigating the worst impacts of climate change — requires global, systemic transformations. The following graph illustrates the share of greenhouse gases produced in different sectors and regions, and illustrates the global nature of the challenge.
2010 greenhouse gas emissions: geographically & sectorally dispersed
As we seek to curb greenhouse gas emissions, we have a responsibility to increase access to energy.
Access to energy is a fundamental condition of human and economic development. Lack of access too often deprives communities of other economic and social benefits. Currently, 1.2 billion people still don’t have electricity. Another 2.8 billion rely on health-harming fuels to cook and to heat their homes and cities. Societies must address energy poverty and climate change in concert. As vital efforts are made to reduce global poverty, we must maximize the energy that comes from sustainable, affordable, low-carbon sources.
People Without Access to Modern Energy Services (in millions)
There is time to act.
We can prevent the most disruptive consequences of climate change if we act with urgency and determination to transform the practices that drive greenhouse gas emissions. In pursuit of this goal, ClimateWorks strives for a peak in global emissions by 2020, knowing that peaking after 2020 will increase the difficulty and cost of staying well below 2°C this century. Even if global emissions peak by 2020, strong climate mitigation efforts will need to continue well beyond 2020 to constrain temperature rise to well below 2°C and protect ecosystems, communities, and economies from the worst impacts of climate change. As modeled in the scenario below, the world’s ability to hold average global temperature increase to well below 2.0°C will require action, innovation, and transformation in every sector. More political will, faster innovation, and the cultivation of natural carbon sinks can further close the gap between our current trajectory and limiting global average temperature increase to well below 2.0°C.
Scenario of possible reductions to limit greenhouse gas emissions
The keys to unlocking a low-carbon future: effective public policy, business innovation, public support.
Change at the speed and scale required will take political will, economic transformation, and public support. Determined government action — locally, nationally, and globally — is central to these efforts. Public policy shapes markets and industries by creating standards, norms, incentives, and investment opportunities. Business innovation creates new products, processes, and markets; drives consumer expectations; and paves the way for further advances. The following graphic shows how rapidly wind and solar energy investments and capacity have grown in the past decade. This growth is supported by a virtuous cycle that includes adoption of supportive policies, the growth of renewable energy investments, and consumer adoption of new technologies and practices.
Global Investment Trends & Capacity of Wind & Solar Energy
Philanthropy has a critical role to play in the transition to a prosperous, low-carbon world.
Philanthropy has already made significant contributions in the drive to prevent dangerous climate change – supporting research and analysis, educating stakeholders and policymakers, building greater awareness in the general public, and mobilizing critical constituencies for action. But it’s not enough. The world is not yet on track to solve the climate crisis. The severity of this challenge, and the fact that climate change compromises progress toward other philanthropic goals such as poverty reduction and better public health, calls for philanthropy to do more. And yet, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions receive a small portion of total philanthropic spending in the U.S. and globally. Philanthropy can make a difference: more resources, smart investments, and greater collaboration will help accelerate change and strengthen our collective efforts to solve the climate crisis and ensure a prosperous future.