A List of the Climate Progress We’ve Made in 2022
It’s been a bad six months for our planet.
Just before Christmas of last year, Senator Joe Manchin went on Fox News to say that he wouldn’t vote for Build Back Better and its historic climate policies. In February, the Supreme Court heard West Virginia v. EPA, suggesting that many executive actions aimed at curbing emissions will be ruled unconstitutional. To top it all off, the U.S. solar industry came to a screeching halt last month due to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s tariff investigation.
Despite all the bad news, the last six months were full of progress, too. It’s important to keep this in mind. After all, if you think nothing can ever change, what’s the point of trying?
In order to see, and appreciate, some of that progress for myself, I reached out to leading climate scientists, activists, and clean energy business leaders. I asked them a simple question: Has there been any progress on climate action in 2022?
If I’m honest, I thought the list would be short. Fortunately, I was wrong. In this article, I want to share some of the best news I heard for those who, like me, might need a little hope and inspiration.
Electric vehicles 🚗
Transportation is responsible for a huge share of greenhouse gas emissions. The only way to get these emissions to zero is to stop burning fossil fuels in trains, planes, and automobiles. We’ve made a lot of progress on that in the last six months.
EV sales are booming
In the US, EV sales grew by 76% in the first quarter of the year, enough to double their share of new car sales from 2.5% to 5.2%.
Meanwhile in Europe, plug-in electric vehicles accounted for 22% of all new passenger vehicle sales in the first quarter of the year.
In China, EV growth was even stronger. In the first quarter of 2022, plug-in car sales rose 130% compared to the year before, bringing the total share of new car sales to 21%.
States ban gas-powered cars
Of course, the market alone won’t be enough to decarbonize the transportation sector. In order to prevent catastrophic climate change, we need policy.
In March, Washington state passed a bill banning the sale of gas-powered cars after 2030. While Washington’s bill is considered the most ambitious, they aren’t alone: 12 other states will require electric vehicles by 2035.
Automakers finally invest in EVs
Anyone who’s seen the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?” knows that big automakers fought tooth and nail to keep selling gas-guzzling vehicles. But it looks like they’re finally getting on the electric bandwagon.
In December, General Motors announced it will invest $7 billion to build a battery plant in Michigan and retrofit an existing factory to produce electric pickup trucks.
That came just a month after Toyota, the largest car manufacturer in the world, announced it would invest $1.3 billion in a North Carolina electric car battery plant. Ford likewise announced a $11.4 billion plan to build four EV factories.
Clean electricity ⚡
One of the best stories of the last decade has been the decline of coal and rise of renewable energy. Despite some recent hiccups, it appears the clean energy revolution is quickly accelerating.
The decline of coal power continues
In April, Global Energy Monitor released a report showing that countries continued to build fewer coal-fired power plants in 2021 and retired many existing ones.
And while the US isn’t retiring coal-fired power plants fast enough to meet its climate targets, the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects 12.6 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity to retire this year. That’s the equivalent of about 5 million homes worth of dirty electricity that will go offline.
The US is finally building offshore wind
Today there are just two offshore wind farms operating in the US, with an embarrassing 42 megawatts (MW) of capacity. By comparison, Europe has about 1,000 times more offshore wind capacity than the US.
When the Biden-Harris administration took office, they set a goal of 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030. In February, they took their biggest step towards meeting that goal when the U.S. Interior Department’s offshore wind auction attracted a massive $4.37 billion worth of bids. By comparison, the last offshore oil and gas auction attracted $192 million in bids.
Once built, the new wind farms could supply enough electricity to power about 2 million homes.
And the Interior Department is just getting started. A few months after their record-breaking auction, they held another auction that could provide 1 GW of offshore wind capacity off the coast of the Carolinas, enough to power about 500,000 homes.
Europe continues to build offshore wind
Meanwhile, Europe continues to make the United States’ climate ambitions look paltry. Earlier this month, four European countries announced they will build 150 GW (50 million homes worth) of offshore wind capacity in the North Sea by 2050.
The announcement comes as Europe is doing everything they can to reduce their reliance on Russian fossil fuels.
China announces new “clean energy bases”
A few weeks before Europe’s announcement, China touted an even more ambitious clean energy plan. In the next five years alone, China will build a staggering 570 GW of wind and solar.
To put that in perspective, in just five years, China plans to build more wind and solar than the top 5 countries (the US, Germany, India, Japan, and Spain), combined, have ever built.
(chart showing China plan vs. current top ranking countries)
Existing nuclear plants get a lifeline
For decades, nuclear power growth in the US and other developed countries has been on the decline. That’s a problem, given that nuclear plants supply a huge amount of the world’s carbon-free electricity.
The two main reasons for nuclear’s decline are politics and rising operating costs. This year there was some good news on both fronts.
In April the Biden admistristration opened applications for a $6 billion program to financially support existing nuclear plants. A few weeks later, California’s Governor Gavin Newson announced he may extend the life of one of the state’s largest nuclear plants, Diablo Canyon. The plant could be key to California meeting its climate targets, while balancing its grid over time.
Buildings are responsible for 40% of emissions globally. One of the most effective ways to cut building-related emissions to zero is to stop using fossil fuels for heat and power and electrify everything. Like other sectors, this isn’t happening fast enough, but the transition is gaining momentum.
Heat pump installations are growing
Heat pumps are 2-4x more energy efficient than traditional heating and cooling systems. According to a recent Carbon Switch analysis, heat pumps can reduce emissions by 142 million tons in the US single-family housing sector alone.
In March, Jan Rosenow and Duncan Gibb released new data showing that heat pump sales are growing in countries around the world. They found that in Europe, heat pump sales grew by 25%, while in the US they grew by 15%.
The US plans to ratify the Kigali agreement
After years of opposition, Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to move ratification of The Kigali Agreement to a floor vote. Ratifying The Kigali Agreement would effectively ban hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gasses found in many air conditioners and refrigerators.
The potential impact of this? According to the EPA, “The ambitious phase down schedule will avoid more than 80 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2050—avoiding up to 0.5° Celsius warming by the end of the century—while continuing to protect the ozone layer.”
States and EU countries ban fossil fuels
In order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, governments around the world must ban fossil fuel heating systems by 2025, according to the IEA. But the politics of this have been tricky, due to strong opposition from fossil fuel lobbyists.
In December of 2021, New York City made headlines when it banned fossil fuels in new buildings starting in 2023.
A few months later, Washington became the first state to ban fossil fuels in commercial buildings. The state plans to ban fossil fuels in residential buildings later this year.
In Europe, Denmark and The Netherlands joined Germany and the U.K. when they announced they will phase fossil fuels out of buildings.
Other good news
175 nations agree to limit plastic production
In order to make plastic today, you need oil. So not only does the stuff pollute our oceans, but it also causes climate change. In March, 175 nations agreed to write a treaty that would restrict the growth of plastic production.
Tech companies commit $900 million to carbon removal
Like it or not, we will probably need to remove a lot of carbon from the atmosphere to limit global warming. In April, some of the biggest tech companies in the world announced a plan to dramatically increase funding for carbon removal.
Current net-zero commitments could limit warming to below 2°
In April, Zeke Hausfather and Francis Moore released a paper showing that if countries stick to their net-zero pledges—still a very big “if”—global warming could stay below 2 degrees Celsius.
A planet that’s 2 degrees hotter is not cause for a street festival. But it’s worth noting that a few years ago, most climate scientists thought we were headed for 3 to 4 degrees of warming. That’s progress.
The SEC announces new climate reporting rules
In March, the SEC proposed new rules that would require public companies to report their greenhouse gas emissions, and how climate change is affecting their business. A public, regulated accounting of which firms are producing the most carbon is good data to work from.
Big oil isn’t investing like it used to
In 2013, the last time that oil prices passed $100 per barrel, oil companies invested more than $150 billion in new production. This year oil prices surpassed $100 per barrel, but companies are planning to invest half as much in new production, due largely to the fact that investors don’t see a bright future for fossil fuels.
Insurers aren’t backing oil projects
Last month, Swiss RE, the second largest reinsurer in the world, announced it would only reinsure companies that align with science-based net-zero targets. In doing so, they became the 10th major insurance company to adopt oil and gas restrictions.
States continue to lead the way
For years, blue states have been filling the climate action void left by our paralyzed federal government. In recent months, that trend has only continued. This year saw the passage of a 100% clean electricity bill in Connecticut, a net-zero bill in Maryland, and somewhat surprisingly, a net zero commitment from North Carolina.
A little good news isn’t enough
Of course, none of this progress is sufficient to avoid catastrophic climate change. One of the most frustrating things about this problem is that to solve it we need unprecedented action in every sector in every country all around the world.
As Princeton professor Jesse Jenkins puts it, “We have to smash records every year for basically the rest of my life”
Let’s go smash those records.