Climate action is gaining momentum. So are the disasters.

The US finally stepped up as a leader in climate action, enacting a trio of major laws that could add up to the largest federal investment ever into climate and clean-energy technologies. The nation will leverage hundreds of billions of dollars in federal grants, loans, procurements, and tax credits to turbocharge wind and solar development, electric-vehicles sales, battery manufacturing, and emerging means of capturing, sucking up, and storing away carbon dioxide.

Meanwhile, renewables, electric vehicles, and meat alternatives are now competitive mainstream options that are seizing market share. The cost of building large solar farms plummeted more than 80% in the last decade. The gas-guzzling Ford F-150 is now available as the Lightning EV. And Impossible Whoppers made the menu at Burger King.

Thousands of corporations have committed to zero out their climate pollution in the coming decades, and a decent share have already made real progress. A variety of companies are developing more sustainable ways of producing cement, fertilizer, steel, and chemicals. And venture capitalists are pouring billions of dollars into climate tech.

Many other nations have raised their climate ambitions as well. The EU passed a law in 2021 requiring member countries to slash emissions 55% by 2030 and become “climate neutral” by 2050. China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have all committed to achieving carbon neutrality or net-zero emissions by 2060. India has pledged to get there by 2070. 

If we assume every country follows through on its latest commitments under the Paris climate deal, the world will be on track for about 2.4 ˚C of warming over the levels of the late 1800s.

That’s too much, but few scientists are still warning that we’re barreling toward a 4 ˚C or hotter planet this century.

That’s a dramatic shift over just the six years I’ve been covering climate and energy for MIT Technology Review. But as projections for coal use plummeted, expectations for renewables soared, and nations enacted more climate policies, the worst-case scenarios have come to seem increasingly unlikely. And that is very good news.

Tragically late

But in so many other ways, we are getting started tragically, disastrously, unforgivably late. While we’re setting ourselves up to make faster progress in the future, the measure that matters most has continued to rise: global emissions reached their highest level ever in 2021, as the world economy sputtered back from the depths of the pandemic. 

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