Global average temperatures have increased by more than 1℃ since pre-industrial times
Earth's climate is changing. Multiple lines of evidence show changes in our weather, oceans, ecosystems, and more. We see that over the last few decades, global temperatures have risen sharply — to approximately 0.7℃ higher than our 1961-1990 baseline. When extended back to 1850, we see that temperatures then were a further 0.4℃ colder than they were in our baseline. Overall, this would amount to an average temperature rise of 1.1℃. Natural causes alone cannot explain all of these changes.
Increased atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions are the major cause for this temperature rise
Certain gases in the atmosphere block heat from escaping. Long-lived gases that remain semi-permanently in the atmosphere and do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are described as "forcing" climate change. In the chart here we see global average concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Human activities are contributing to climate change, primarily by releasing billions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping gases, known as greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere every year. Climate changes will continue into the future. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the larger future climate changes will be.
The importance of 1.5°C and the need for urgent action
In November 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published research warning of the devastating impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre- industrial levels on natural and human systems. The impacts include the loss of arctic ice sheets, sea level rise, warming oceans, biodiversity loss, increasingly severe extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, storms, coastal and inland flooding, leading to greater food insecurity, destruction of livelihoods and assets, and loss of life.
At current emissions rates, human-induced warming is adding around 0.2°C to global average temperatures every decade. If this rate continues unabated, global warming could reach 1.5°C by as early as 2030. The science makes it clear that to have more than a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophic climate breakdown, we must halve global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 (from 2010 levels) and reach net zero global emissions around 2050.
Current climate policies will reduce emissions, but not quickly enough
As we see from the graph above, current policies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses will likely have some impact to reduce future warming. However, there is an ever increasing gap between actual emissions reductions commitments made by countries (Nationally Determined Contributions - NDCs) and those necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C. Based on current unconditional NDC pledges, the world is heading for a 2.8°C temperature rise. In reality this number may be even higher as NDC implementation is uneven and patchy.
Companies have a pivotal role to play in closing this emissions gap
Their actions, resources, ability to innovate, and wide-reach are critical to rapidly decarbonizing industries, infrastructure, value chains, and what we produce and consume. Action over the next decade - which equates to the next two business cycles - will be critical to make it possible to limit warming to 1.5°C . Companies have a responsibility to drive this transformation, and to protect their employees, customers, investors, and most critically, the societies they serve.