Wind and solar farms just out of Palms Springs

Ten Climate Fixes to Catch Up in the Race to Cut Emissions

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of researchers convened by the United Nations, makes it clear that it’s now or never if there is hope of containing the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5C.

We have the tools and insights to innovate our way there — but only if we go all-in right away. “It’s now or never,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III.

At RMI, we agree. It’s go time.

To address climate change, we need to do nothing short of transforming the global economy. Buildings, mobility, industry, and the electricity grid all must change.

We can do this. The consensus of the IPCC’s global team of experts corroborates RMI’s take on the immediate steps. We’re pushing for rapid change across these 10 fronts:

  1. Up our political ambition at local, state, and national levels. The IPCC report makes clear that clean energy is not only becoming more feasible to incorporate into the energy system, but these sources are also getting much cheaper. Governments — from the local to the federal level — have a ripe opportunity to invest robustly in clean energy technologies, stronger supply chains, and zero-carbon alternatives across economic sectors to meet climate targets. These climate investments will also help provide insulation from future economic shocks and security crises. — Sarah Ladislaw, Managing Director, US Program 
  2. Use resources more effectively. The new IPCC report shows we need to reach peak emissions in three years and halve them by 2030. A big piece of how we get there is by decarbonizing our buildings. With 70 percent of existing buildings still standing by 2050, we know we must dramatically increase retrofits and provide healthy, affordable places to live and work for all — goals that RMI is catalyzing through the REALIZE and Pathways to Zero initiatives. We also need to eliminate fossil fuels entirely from new construction globally, which our team is working diligently to achieve by advancing electrification policies and codes, stronger appliance standards, innovative clean heating and cooling technologies like heat pumps, and low embodied carbon materials. All-electric and highly efficient buildings are the answer. Now is the time to accelerate the pace and scale of adoption. — Stephanie Greene, Managing Director, Carbon-Free Buildings 
  3. Electrify everything. The new IPCC report shows it is very cost-effective to decarbonize the transportation sector on a path toward 1.5°C alignment. This is a sector that is primed to go — the technology is ready, consumers and fleets are willing. And the efforts RMI has been championing are not only possible but also achievable at large scale: electrify vehicles, make vehicles as fuel-efficient as possible, and reduce vehicle miles traveled by increasing the use of micro-mobility and public transportation. The opportunity is global. In India, for example, RMI co-leads the Shoonya campaign to improve air quality by speeding the deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) for ride hailing and deliveries. Globally, IPCC’s report highlights that the transportation sector can realize the lowest costs per ton of CO2 mitigated, meaning it’s possible to accelerate decarbonization efforts quickly in this sector. The speed of the transition to a decarbonized future matters, so getting what works out into the market as fast as possible matters, too. Rapidly implementing these transportation measures and overcoming the barriers to scale is critical to a 1.5°C-aligned path. — Britta Gross, Managing Director, Carbon-Free Mobility Program 
  4. Make emissions transparent. The IPCC report outlines the need to develop low-carbon production processes, especially in hard-to-abate industries such as steel and cement, and increase efficiency and circular economy measures. But to do so, industry must have an accurate sense of the emissions at each link in their supply chains. Through the Horizon Zero project, RMI’s vision is to digitize and standardize emissions tracing to accelerate industrial decarbonization. With a digital-first approach to reporting, powered by a blockchain-based data architecture, supply chain emissions reporting will be transparent from raw materials to final products. Transparency is key for creating climate-differentiated markets and fostering investment in low-carbon supply chains. — Paolo Natali, Principal, Climate Intelligence Program 
  5. Wind down coal and gas power. Coal and gas power dominate global electricity generation, but carbon-free alternatives are quickly becoming more affordable and resilient than these legacy technologies. Already, two-thirds of the world’s population lives in a country where wind and solar photovoltaics are the cheapest sources of new generation. And by 2025, renewables plus energy storage will be able to cost-effectively replace 78 percent of existing coal power plants. Gas power, once seen as an unavoidable “bridge” to a low-carbon future, is increasingly a higher-cost, less-resilient choice than new carbon-free energy resources — both in the United States and globally. RMI’s work on resource procurement, coal phaseout, and associated regulatory and policy interventions breaks down the barriers to phasing out fossil generation and accelerating adoption of carbon-free electricity. — Mark Dyson, Managing Director, Carbon-Free Electricity 
  6. Scale alternate fuels. In the words of the report, industry must boldly reorient to bring transformational — not just incremental — changes to production processes. Hydrogen, especially green hydrogen made from renewables-powered electricity, will be by 2027 a cost-ready, cross-cutting solution to decarbonize industry that’s already being implemented by first movers in RMI’s Green Hydrogen Catapult. To ensure that measures are taken immediately and at a sector level, public-private cooperation and alignment is crucial, such as our work in the Mission Possible Partnership and the sector decarbonization strategies that this dynamic coalition is developing. — Bryan Fisher, Managing Director, Climate-Aligned Industries 
  7. Curtail GHG leakage. The IPCC report once again underscores the pressing need to slash emissions 50 percent by 2030 to stay within 1.5°C of warming. Immediate emissions reductions from the most potent greenhouse gases, especially methane, are critical for success. They also present some of the best opportunities to maximize our near-term impact. We are dramatically increasing emissions visibility — in partnership with Climate TRACE and Carbon Mapper, for example — to better quantify the problem and prioritize climate action. We are also advancing pioneering market-based solutions like the MiQ methane standard to incentivize the rapid curtailment of methane emissions in the oil and gas sector. — TJ Conway, Principal, Climate Intelligence Program 
  8. Make cities smarter. The new IPCC report makes it abundantly clear that cities are paramount to solving the climate crisis. This is a cause for hope, though. There are immense opportunities for cities to lead on climate action using existing and emerging solutions — and so many cities are already doing so. RMI’s Urban Transformation program works with hundreds of cities and helps them to accelerate transitions to renewable energy, understand their greenhouse gas emissions, optimize their land use, increase climate resilience, implement urban cooling strategies, and more. The places where so many of us live, work, and play can be powerful change agents in creating a climate-friendly future. — Rushad Nanavatty, Managing Director, Urban Transformation Program 
  9. Integrate mitigation, adaptation, and sustainable development. Equitable adaptation action must be accelerated to address the vulnerabilities of communities most impacted by climate change. This should be enabled by a substantial increase in the climate finance support promised by the Global North at COP26. It should also include building the capacity of nations in the Global South to integrate their climate responses into their sustainable development choices. To fund and implement these solutions, RMI’s Climate Finance Access Network (CFAN) supports developing countries to better access the finance and expertise necessary. Our work through the Energy Transition Academy (ETA) aims to empower energy professionals to be leaders of clean energy economies in the Global South. These and related initiatives are helping RMI advance local adaptation solutions from Puerto Rico to the Pacific Islands.  — Laetitia De Marez, Director, Climate Finance Access Network (CFAN) 
  10. Advance CO2 removal. The models show that carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies will be necessary to avoid a rise in global temperatures beyond 1.5°C. RMI, through our cleantech innovation arm, Third Derivative, supports the development of these technologies, specifically direct air carbon capture, by standing up a cohort of CDR startup companies in summer 2022. RMI also provides analysis and context around the role of carbon removals while advocating development pathways that prioritize emissions reductions. — Charlie Bloch, Principal, Strategic Analysis and Engagement Group

For these fixes to take shape, we’ll need to continue innovating along the way to build improved low-carbon industries. And investments will need to shift dramatically, too. We must increase our zero-carbon capital investments three- to six-fold to rebuild infrastructure, with a keen eye toward an equitable and just transition.

It is affirming to see RMI’s long-held perspectives on solutions echoed so clearly among the world’s leading scientists. While daunting, we all must keep in mind that the outcome of this large-scale transformation is not only a habitable world, but also one that promises to be cleaner, fairer, healthier, and more resilient for all.