The State of the Climate 2021 indicates that extreme weather — the day-to-day face of climate change — wreaked a heavy toll on human lives, triggered shocks for food and water security, and led to hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses last year.
The report, which describes yet more clear signs that human activity is causing harm on a planetary scale — to our land, ocean and atmosphere — also confirms that the past seven years have been the warmest on record, with global temperature in 2021 reaching about 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels.
“It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record. Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come,” World Meteorological Organization chief Petteri Taalas warned. “Sea level rise, ocean heat and acidification will continue for hundreds of years unless means to remove carbon from the atmosphere are inverted.”
A plan for renewables
Calling the report a “dismal litany of humanity’s failure to tackle climate disruptions,” UNITED Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that while time is running out to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis, there is a “lifeline” right in front of us.
“We must end fossil fuel pollution and accelerate the renewable energy transition before we incinerate our only home… Transforming energy systems is low-hanging fruit,” he emphasized in a video message.
Highlighting that renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar are readily available and, in most cases, cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels, the UN chief proposed five critical actions to jump-start the energy transition, which he called the “peace project of the 21st century”.
1. Treating renewable energy technologies as essential global public goods
This means removing obstacles to knowledge sharing and technological transfer, including intellectual property constraints.
Guterres called for a new global coalition on battery storage led by governments and bringing together tech companies, manufacturers and financiers to fast-track innovation and deployment.
2. Secure, scale up and diversify the supply components and raw materials for renewable energy technologies
Supply chains for renewable energy technology and raw materials are concentrated in a handful of countries, and more international coordination is needed to overcome this obstacle.
3. Build frameworks and reform fossil fuel bureaucracies
The UN chief is calling for governments to fast-track and streamline approvals of solar and wind projects, modernize grids and set ambitious renewable energy targets that provide certainty to investors, developers, consumers and producers.
4. Shift subsidies away from fossil fuels
Each year, governments around the world pour around half a trillion dollars into artificially lowering the price of fossil fuels – more than triple the subsidies given to renewables.
“While people suffer from high prices at the pump, the oil and gas industry is raking in billions from a distorted market. This scandal must stop,” Guterres highlighted.
5. Private and public investments in renewable energy must triple
The UN chief is calling for and adjustment to risk frameworks and more flexibility to scale up renewable finance.
“it’s time to jump-start the renewable energy transition before it’s too late,” the Secretary-General urged.