Learn more about our impactLearn more about our impact
WWF works to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, collaborating with partners from local to global levels in nearly 100 countries.
In 2008, several members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)—a coalition of 39 island nations ranging from Barbados to Vanuatu—were already experiencing the devastating effects of global temperature increase: coral bleaching, species extinction, and more regular flooding. AOSIS commissioned a study to better understand these impacts, and the findings clearly showed that global warming of 2°C above preindustrial levels—the broadly accepted global temperature limit at the time—would be catastrophic for these small island states.
So these nations, with the support of climate change-vulnerable African countries, decided to make the case for a 1.5°C limit, setting off a seven-year fight for the lower cap.
A warming cap provides governments and businesses a needed signal to implement climate policies and investment strategies. After years of advocacy by AOSIS and other groups—and organizations such as WWF—1.5°C became the global benchmark, included in the Paris Agreement of 2015 and endorsed by the UN.
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s climate science body, published a comprehensive assessment of a 1.5°C limit. The report clearly set out what’s at stake. In a world 2°C warmer than preindustrial levels, 2 billion people would be exposed to extreme heatwaves at least once every 20 years and over 1 billion to drought and desertification. There would also be a 170% increase in flood risk compared to today. Keeping the world under 1.5°C warmer, on the other hand, could lessen the number of people exposed to extreme heatwaves and drought by 1.3 billion and 200 million, respectively, and would mean a 70% lower risk of flooding than in the 2°C scenario.
The relative impacts are just as stark for wildlife and ecosystems. Biodiversity loss would increase from 14% in a 1.5°C world to 18% in a 2°C world. In a 1.5°C world, 70% of the world’s coral reefs would be lost by 2050, but virtually all warm water corals would be lost in a world 2°C warmer.
Recently, the IPCC published the Sixth Assessment Report—the most comprehensive assessment of the state of knowledge on climate change drivers, impacts, adaptation, and mitigation solutions in a decade. The report bolstered the findings of the 1.5°C assessment, but also gave us the dire warning that we are running out of time to achieve a cap of 1.5°C—and we must act now to keep this goal within reach. There are solutions available across all sectors that can reduce emissions by over 50% by 2030, an important milestone to limit warming to 1.5°C. But it is challenging. Countries have differing capabilities to act based on their access to money and resources. Some countries and companies are still taking a “you first” attitude, and every moment of delay makes it more unlikely the world will be able to limit warming to under 1.5°C.
Stephanie Roe, WWF’s global climate and energy lead scientist, and a lead author on the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, says, “We have all the solutions and tools within our grasp. This decade is critical for ramping up implementation. We need to go bigger and faster to make real change happen in time.” In short, we need swift, dramatic, and collaborative action in the years leading up to 2030.
Over 70% of energy systems emissions come from the power sector, which produces electricity and heat. The remaining 30% come from fugitive emissions due to intentional flaring or venting and unintentional leaks from defective equipment or seal joints in oil, gas, and coal mining; petroleum refining; and biomass energy systems. Despite several international agreements and treaties, the energy sector remains the world’s biggest emitter, and its emissions continue to increase.
Producing metals, chemicals, cement, plastics, fertilizers, pulp and paper, textiles, and other commodities—and the incineration and disposal of waste—generates a massive amount of emissions. The production of cement and iron, steel, and other metals for construction is responsible for almost 10% of global emissions.
About half of what is known as land sector emissions comes from agriculture, and the other half comes from land-use change, which includes deforestation, ecosystem conversion and degradation, wetland drainage, and the commercial harvesting of wood. All of these land-use change examples release carbon emissions. In contrast, agriculture—which includes raising livestock, applying manure and fertilizers, flooding rice paddies, and burning organic materials that come from plants and animals—emits mainly methane and nitrous oxide. The land sector is unique in that it’s not just a source of emissions but also an important carbon sink: Currently, the Earth’s forests and soil absorb over 30% of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.
Globally, 73% of transportation emissions come from fuel used by road vehicles, 11% from planes, 10% from shipping, and 1% from trains. Due to a global dependence on fossil fuels for transportation, between 1990 and 2021 this type of emissions increased by an average of nearly 1.7% every year. After a brief fall early in the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation emissions returned with a vengeance, increasing by 8% by the end of 2021. In the US, burning gasoline and diesel to power vehicles makes transportation the number one emitter of greenhouse gases.
Greenhouse gas emissions produced in buildings largely come from energy produced onsite for heating and cooling (gas and coal boilers) and for lighting and cooking (using gas, kerosene, biomass, or other fuels). Residential buildings contribute about two-thirds of those emissions, and nonresidential buildings one-third. Increasing population, greater wealth, and lifestyle changes are leading to larger residential floor spaces and higher energy use in buildings—changes that are projected to triple related emissions by 2060.
Source for all sectoral estimates/definitions: Working Group III, IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.