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Did We Just Blow Our Last, Best Chance to Tackle Climate Change?

Did We Just Blow Our Last, Best Chance to Tackle Climate Change?

In mid-2020, after the pandemic had settled in, I wrote in a TIME cover story that the stars had aligned to make 2020 and 2021 the “last, best chance” to keep the world from experiencing the worst impacts of climate change. Temperatures have risen more than 1.1°C since the Industrial Revolution, and the COVID-19 pandemic had unexpectedly opened up new pathways to rethink the global economy to help the world avoid the 1.5°C of temperature rise, long seen as a marker of when the planet will start to experience the catastrophic and irreversible effects of climate change.

Now, 18 months later, the world seems poised to blow it. Governments across the globe have failed to spend big on a green economic recovery. Political leaders from the world’s largest economies have made lofty promises to eliminate their carbon footprints but failed to offer concrete policies to get there. And President Joe Biden’s ambitions for bold climate legislation have been stymied in Congress.

“We’re sort of standing on the precipice,” says Rob Jackson, an earth system science professor at Stanford University and the chair of the Global Carbon Project. “I am loath to say it, but I’m deeply skeptical that we will reduce emissions fast enough to keep global temperatures from rising 1.5°.”

So with two landmark years for the planet—not to mention everyone who lives on it—in the rearview mirror, it’s worth looking at the missed opportunities. But it’s just as important to consider what comes next: missed chances cannot be viewed as an excuse to give up.

Spending money

The most obvious—and perhaps easiest—opportunity to turn the COVID-19 pandemic into progress in the fight against climate change boiled down to dollars and cents. COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns shocked the economy, requiring governments to spend trillions to keep the wheels turning.

'We're sort of standing on the precipice'