The 2024 climate crisis forecast

After the hottest year on record, what can we expect—and what must we accomplish—in the year ahead

Wind turbines line the top of Pillar Mountain in Kodaik, Alaska

Having clocked the hottest year ever in 2023, and hotter by much more than expected, people are more concerned than ever about what the future holds for us with respect to climate change. 2023 is the year that the climate change future we were long warned about arrived.

While we at WWF do not have a crystal ball, we can share with you what issues the Climate Team is monitoring, what we are expecting to see, and why it matters. Here’s our run down of what to look for as 2024 unfolds:

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Making Good on the Pledges and Promises of COP28

Last year, nations and companies alike made big promises in the initial days of United Nations Convention Framework on Climate Change 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai. The $11 billion-dollar Loss and Damage Fund was finally launched to help vulnerable countries deal with the impact of climate change. More than 120 countries committed to triple the amount of renewable energy and double the amount of energy efficiency over the next decade. More than 140 countries pledged to account for greenhouse gas emissions from food systems in their climate mitigation planning. Oil companies made big promises to address methane pollution, which can be even more damaging than carbon dioxide emissions. At the end of COP28, we had the historic commitment by the parties to “transition away” from fossil fuels toward clean energy.

And while all these commitments are terrific, we are past the point where words alone are going to make a difference for the planet. We are running out of time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt the acceleration of climate change. At every gathering of world leaders, every event from Davos to the G7 Summits to the UN General Assembly, every event and meeting between now and COP29 in Azerbaijan, we need to measure the outcomes of those meetings by a quite simple benchmark – has anything been done to realize the commitments that were made at COP28?

The International Energy Agency recently released a report on renewable energy making clear that while the global community can meet the renewable energy tripling goal by 2030, we will not do so based on current policies and market trends. To be clear, this decade will show how the global community can come together to shatter historic trendlines by deploying more renewable energy over the next five years than the previous 100. Renewable energy will surpass coal power as the primary energy source next year. But if we intend to meet our climate commitments, we need to do so more urgently.

WWF is paying close attention to the new round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that parties to the Paris Agreement are obligated to develop and submit this year. The NDCs represent the plans that a party intends to use to reduce its emissions in accord with the Paris Agreement. Ideally, countries should deliver emissions reductions of about 60% by 2035 to stay on track with the goals of the Paris Agreement. How countries get to their targets is critical. The more federal policymakers involve businesses, their regional, city and local governments, civil society, and other institutions, the more likely we are to reach our climate goals.

Reaching these kinds of goals requires massive scaling of renewables and energy efficiency. Companies will have to make strong net-zero commitments, report against them, and stick to them. We cannot treat technologies like carbon capture utilization and storage, direct air capture, or advanced nuclear as "silver bullets," as they are not ready to be used at scale. WWF is looking critically at the plans of governments and companies to ensure they are engaging in authentic, cost-effective, and practical measures to reach their goals. Utility-scale solar and wind are already cheaper than fossil fuel power generating facilities today so there is no need to rely on hypothetical technologies when investments in clean, renewable energy can be made now.

Fighting the flywheel effect of climate impacts with nature

Although 2023 was the hottest year on record, 2024 looks like it just might be worse. Last year sported a record-breaking number of billion-dollar disasters, with two high-powered storms slamming the Eastern half of the US within days of each other in the first weeks of January. There is no reason to expect 2024 is going to be different as storms, wildfires and other threats are exacerbated by climate change. We have already seen insurance companies backing out of providing ordinary coverage in places like Florida and California, by requiring property owners to pay extra charges to insure their homes. Climate-related weather events and disasters continue to impact communities and rack up billions in costs. Critically, communities, local and federal policymakers, and affected industries must invest in resilience and climate-adaptive buildings and infrastructure.

WWF will continue to advocate for more funding and deployment of nature-based climate solutions for precisely this reason. Unchecked climate change tends to behave like a flywheel – a circular object continuously spinning and gaining momentum if there is no intervention. We are witnessing storms, wildfires and other climate-related disasters destroying forests, mangroves, and landscapes that help sequester carbon and break up storm surges. And in turn these valuable ecosystems are becoming even more susceptible to climate impacts. The cycle accelerates the problem without intervention. Nature-based solutions – using large scale landscapes to help sequester carbon and protect landscapes and communities from storm damage – are one of the few tools that allow us to interrupt the cycle as we seek to reduce emissions and reduce climate impacts.

Leaders walk out of the COP28 pavilion in Dubai

Promises made at COP28 must lead to action

Good policy and policymakers remain critical to realizing our climate goals. The passage of both the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022 were major watershed moments for U.S. federal climate legislation. In many ways, federal legislation is the start of the emissions reduction journey, not the end. Resources unlocked by legislation must be appropriately allocated and utilized, while still more policy issues, particularly at the federal level, need to be addressed. The Biden Administration indicated it will be finalizing several critical regulations in early 2024, including those related to implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act and fossil fuel power plant emissions, and issuing the long-awaited finalization of the Securities and Exchange Commission financial disclosure rule.

There is also the matter of the development of the new NDC for the United States, a process that the Biden Administration noted will solicit input from a wide range of stakeholders, including state and local governments, businesses, and other institutions. Congress will consider this year’s reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which includes several provisions that impact climate, including the fate of a near $20 billion investment in climate-smart agriculture and forestry provided by the Inflation Reduction Act. As lawmakers continue negotiations on a full five-year Farm Bill, it is necessary to ensure that this historic funding is protected and remains in climate-smart agriculture and conservation programs. This investment represents the best opportunity in decades to meet demand for programs that help farmers, ranchers and foresters sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to a changing climate.

Policy is a tool, and like any tool, it is only ever as good as the hand that wields it. And 2024 is a big year globally for decision-making around who gets to hold the reins on policymaking. More than 50 nationstogether home to more than half the world’s population—will be holding nationwide elections in 2024, including the United States. And in the US, 35 Senators and the entire House of Representatives are on the ballot in 2024. Eleven states will vote for governors, and nearly 30 major cities from Anchorage, Alaska to Raleigh, North Carolina will choose their mayors. And with the 2024 presidential election, it’s more critical than ever to exercise one’s right to vote and choose policymakers that will provide leadership on climate action.

Lastly, the international community will gather throughout 2024 to discuss climate issues during G7 and G20 meetings, in New York for the UN General Assembly and Climate Week, and again in Baku, Azerbaijan in November of 2024 at COP29. These will be critical moments of assessment, reflection, and hopefully further action. By the time we get to Baku, we want the world to be decisive and aggressive in eliminating fossil fuel emissions, investing in impactful innovation, and moving forward on ambitious goals to curb the climate crisis.