The District of Columbia city council held a public hearing on Oct. 9, 2018, to discuss legislation that would halve the U.S. capital’s greenhouse-gas pollution by 2032.
“When the IPCC report dropped, you could feel the urgency. Everyone said we don’t have any more time,” said Anna Lising, now a senior climate advisor to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who at the time worked for the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment. Discussion of the bill “went from everyone being supportive to everyone acting with urgency.”
Two years later, eight of the 10 largest economies have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century—nine once President Joe Biden formalizes his campaign promise to do so. Twenty-nine countries, plus the European Union, have net-zero pledges for either CO₂ or all greenhouse gases, accounting for 14.5% of global emissions. Some 400 companies, including Microsoft, Unilever, Facebook, Ford, Nestle, Pepsi Co, and Brunswick Group, have signed on with the Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge, which is built on the IPCC’s analysis. (Bloomberg LP, publisher of Bloomberg Green, also signed the pledge.)
The portion of the report outlining the 2050 timeline was just a single sentence, and yet very few corners of the world have remained unaffected by it. If all these countries and companies (plus the hundreds of others that will have to join them for this to work) succeed in zeroing out their emissions in time, it may turn out to be the grammatical unit that saved the world. If not, it’ll be remembered as the last, best warning we ignored before it was too late.
Like most statements the IPCC sets down, the most important sentence ever written is just terrible—clunky and jargon-filled. What it says, in English, is this: By 2030 the world needs to cut its carbon-dioxide pollution by 45%, and by midcentury reach “net-zero” emissions, meaning that any CO₂ still emitted would have to be drawn down in some way.