For the last few months, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have been at record levels unseen in over 800,000 years. The chairman of the IPCC, an international panel of the world’s top climate scientists, warned earlier this year that "nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change".
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Future generations will no doubt wonder at our response, given the scale of the threat. It’s known that death, poverty and suffering await millions, and yet governments still vacillate.
But solutions are available. Here are ten reasons to be hopeful that humans will rise to the challenge of climate change.
1) Barack Obama has made it one of his defining issues
Any politician who runs as the personification of hope is bound to be a bit of a let down. And so it seemed for five long, hot years. Barack Obama inaugurated his first US presidential term by promising to "roll back the spectre of a warming planet". Yet he seemed unable (or willing) to even roll back the ghosts haunting his Congress. Now, as he staggers into his legacy-building stage, Obama has confronted and even circumvented Congress. His emissions caps on coal power stations, announced last month were the culmination of a massive public relations push and scientific blitzkrieg with Obama as its champion, potentially making the next presidential election a referendum on climate change action.
2) China has ordered coal power plants to close
Just a day after the launch of Obama’s big crackdown on coal, He Jiankun, a top Chinese government climate advisor told Reuters, "The government will use two ways to control CO2 emissions in the next five-year plan, by intensity and an absolute cap". This was the first time the promise of limiting absolute emissions had emerged from a source close to the Chinese leadership (even if He was later forced to disown the comments).
The response of world’s largest emitter of carbon has the potential to be swift and decisive, given its centrally controlled economy. Responding to smog-tired residents in China’s cities, the government has ordered a mass shutdown of coal plants within a few years. Coal control measures now exist in 12 of the country’s 34 provinces. Greenpeacehave estimated that if these measures are implemented, it could bring China’s emissions close to the level the International Energy Agencysays are needed to avoid more than 2C warming.
3) The cost of solar has fallen by two thirds
According to the authoritative IEA thinktank, the price of installing photovoltaic (solar electricity) systems dropped by two thirds over the past six years. The resulting solar explosion has generated a "prosumer" market, in which the owners of homes and businesses are taking ownership of a growing proportion of the energy supply. During June in Australia’s "sunshine state" of Queensland the price of electricity fell below zero for several days, largely thanks to the input from privately-owned solar panels. The UK, Germany and other European nations smashed their record solar outputs over this year’s summer solstice.
4) People are taking their money out of fossil fuels
Dozens of cities, institutions and investors are taking their money out of fossil fuel companies after the launch of a divestment campaign in the US around 18 months ago. Similar campaigns were used in the past to hamstring apartheid South Africa and tobacco companies, but this one is happening faster than any of those. Supporters of the movement include former US vice president Al Gore, who says fossil fuel companies are overvalued because they cannot burn the assets they own if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change. "Investors have so far been slow to appreciate the implications for the carbon-intensive assets within their portfolios." More