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The latest U.N. climate report is focused on climate warming solutions


The latest United Nations report on climate change is out, and it is grim. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, once again makes clear that the world needs to act now to save the planet from the worst effects of global warming. Emissions of all kinds have an obvious effect - so does the pandemic, and also the war in Ukraine. But unlike two previous IPCC reports, this one tries to focus on solutions. Joining us now, climate scientist Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Thank you so much for being with us.

RACHEL CLEETUS: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: We know that the world is way off track from meeting the goals that were set out in Paris in 2015. What do IPCC experts say is necessary in order to turn things around?

CLEETUS: Yeah, the IPCC report that was released yesterday is a stark warning that global emissions, heat-trapping emissions, are far off track. We're poised to exceed 1.5 C and even 2 degrees Celsius if we stay on our current path. But it's also a source of hope, because the report says that we can cut emissions in half by 2030. We have the solutions at hand. They're within reach. What's been missing is political will. So we are in this dire climate crisis right now because of decades of failure in global leadership. Fossil fuel companies focus on their profits. This is what has got us in this quandary. But we can get ourselves out. The solutions are there.

MARTIN: OK. So I'm going to ask about how that political will may change, but let's talk about what the solutions could be. You say that there are tools available to cut emissions in half by 2030. What are they?

CLEETUS: The solutions are obvious, and they've been for a long time. The world needs to rapidly phase out fossil fuels. We need to accelerate the shift to clean energy that's already underway. We've seen costs of renewable energy, like solar and wind and battery storage, fall precipitously. So this is the moment to implement the policies and investments we need to rapidly scale up solutions like that. Every sector of the economy can contribute - clean transportation, making sure that emissions from our building sector and industrial sectors go down, that we preserve and restore forest soils, natural ecosystems that help absorb carbon dioxide. Every sector of the economy, all across, every actor, every policymaker, businesses - we can all play a role. And this is the time to bring everything to the table.

MARTIN: The report says that climate litigation is one tool that could be used more - using the legal system to try and hold fossil fuel companies accountable. Does that work?

CLEETUS: Well, the reality is fossil fuel companies and their allies have been stymieing climate progress for decades now. We're seeing it right now in the U.S. Congress, where we have a very promising package of clean energy, climate and environmental justice solutions on the table, and they have been stalled in Congress. And that's in no small part because of the intense lobbying from the fossil fuel lobby. So we do have to take away their social license, hold them responsible for moving their businesses over to cleaner forms of energy. And climate litigation is one of the tools that the IPCC report speaks to. There's been an increase in interest in climate litigation globally, including here in the United States.

The other important piece is to have climate risk disclosure in the marketplace. And the SEC has just moved - the Securities and Exchange Commission has just moved to propose a rule for just that here in the United States. Climate risk disclosure is critical so that businesses and investors understand what's needed to move to a clean energy economy.

MARTIN: So, you know, at every answer in this conversation, you have mentioned something being stymied in Congress. So if all roads lead to political will to make these things happen, I mean, are you seeing any traction there? Are you seeing any shift?

CLEETUS: Well, this IPCC report is just the latest alarm bell, and policymakers have to take this seriously now. The thing is, it's so obvious. Not only is it good to make this clean energy transition to meet our climate goals, it can create a tremendous number of jobs here if we invest in supply chains and a manufacturing base for clean energy, electric cars, right here in the United States. It can also help address decades-long environmental injustices where Black and brown communities have been exposed to outsized amounts of pollution from fossil fuels. And so let's embrace this future. This is an opportunity. It's a huge business opportunity, as well. There is no reason not to do this. It's good for public health. It's good for business. It's good for the climate. Policymakers need to step up and act. They need to act with courage. We have to look young people in the eye today and say, we've done our best.

MARTIN: Climate scientist Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists, thank you so much.

CLEETUS: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.