There are a variety of strategies available today that, if implemented quickly, can rein in global warming and avoid its most severe consequences. There are solutions at every level, from the individual to the international, and everything in between. Although there has been significant progress in recent years, policies enacted to date have not been nearly substantial enough to counteract the growth in global emissions driven by increasing fossil fuel consumption, forest clearing, and population growth.
To limit the risks of climate change, comprehensive policies to sharply reduce global emissions are necessary, and meeting this goal will help bring the needed technologies into widespread use. The key policy changes required would:
- put a price on carbon emissions, making it no longer free to dump heat-trapping gases into the air
- improve energy efficiency
- greatly increase research, development, and deployment of non-emitting energy sources
- stop forest loss
- slow population growth
Technology has a major role to play. Increased investment in energy research, development, and deployment of low-carbon energy sources is urgently needed. The amount of energy provided by biomass, biofuels, solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal must be greatly expanded. Advanced nuclear power and carbon capture and storage technologies for coal and gas-fired power plants also have a key role to play.
Climate change will affect the global economy. If emissions are not rapidly reduced, the destructive impacts of global warming and extreme weather events will eventually inflict trillions in damage each year. However, making the necessary investments to build a clean energy economy will create new jobs, save energy, reduce expensive petroleum imports, improve urban air quality, and lessen geopolitical tensions.
Solutions that cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to solve the climate challenge must be comprehensive, covering all parts of the economy. Addressing the problem will require significant investments, but the total costs are estimated to be just 1 percent of global GDP.
Ignoring the problem does not make it disappear, and further delay in taking action will prove costly. The good news is that many families, regions, nations, and corporations have already begun to reduce their emissions, showing others the way.