The newest climate report looks grim. Here’s why we still have hope.

Flooded area near the Port of Manaus, capital of the Amazonas state, during Negro river's record water level

If we needed any more proof that the climate crisis is an existential threat to people and the planet, it has just arrived in the form of a new United Nations scientific report focused on the causes and impacts of climate change and paths to mitigation. Leaving no doubt, the report concludes that countries have a long way to go in reducing carbon emissions to curb the worst impacts of global warming.

Let's recap the basics.

The climate crisis is caused by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions that continue to rise across all sectors, from energy (34% of emissions) to agriculture (22%) to transportation (15%) and others. Earth’s average global temperature has already warmed by 1.1°C compared to pre-industrial levels, and we’re already seeing devastating consequences including more intense disasters, changing weather patterns, and struggling ecosystems. In 2015, nearly every country signed the Paris Agreement, which aimed to limit warming to 1.5°C to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, even if we take into account all pledges and targets that world leaders have set so far for reducing carbon emissions, we’re still on track for at least a 2.1°C increase.

Is there any hope left?

Yes. Climate action works, and evidence of it can be seen in the elimination of several gigatons of emissions per year, according to the new report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists convened by the UN. The problem that we must overcome is scaling climate solutions across sectors and making sure we’re cutting enough emissions to meet the 1.5°C target.

Aerial view of a Mangrove forest in water along a coast

What does that look like?

Transformation in nearly all facets of our economies is necessary. And while that may sound daunting, the longer we wait to implement it, the more radical and impossible it will appear. The good news is that low-carbon energy sources are more affordable than ever. Transitioning the energy sector to clean, renewable systems is often the same price—or cheaper—than sustaining the existing carbon-intensive systems, especially when we consider the damage they are doing to the planet that will also cost billions to recover from or adapt to.

Transforming the way we feed the planet is crucial, too. Unsustainable agriculture is a primary driver of deforestation, which in turn destroys wildlife habitats, increases carbon emissions, erodes income sources for local communities, and increases our risk of pandemics. Moving agriculture to sustainable practices can benefit food security and biodiversity—all while slashing emissions. It would be a win-win for people and nature.

And we can’t ignore the value of nature-based solutions either. Restoring and expanding ecosystems like mangroves can not only help absorb and store carbon, but also provide protection from extreme weather, economically sustain communities, and preserve some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems.

Finally, across all sectors one of the biggest lacking pieces is finance. The report posits that investments are currently three to six times lower than they need to be by 2030 in order for climate solutions to be at scale with the magnitude of the crisis. As economies are recovering from the blow of COVID-19, governments have a prime opportunity to inject funds into transformative climate action and international cooperation for a brighter future.

What role can people play? 

Collective power has extraordinary strength. Combining our voices to call for transformational climate action can influence political leaders, industries, and businesses—the top decision-makers on whom cutting carbon emissions depends. We must cut emissions and enact a just transition to a clean, renewables-powered economy. We must take advantage of existing climate solutions by putting more money behind them. Developed countries must take accountability for their far-outsized contributions to the climate crisis and lead this transformation.

Let’s act now. 

There’s no need to feel defeated. We still have time to act—for people, for the planet, and for a brighter future. 

Ryan Zlatanova works on WWF’s Activism and Outreach team where he helps manage WWF’s Panda Ambassador program and activism strategy.