Clean Air Task Force

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Since 1950, the earth’s surface has warmed by 0.8° C (or 1.4°F)—the steepest climb in the last 2,000 years. Earth’s 20 hottest years since 1880 have all been in the last 27 years.

Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index chart
Source: NASA

While many natural factors affect global climate, scientists understand that human activity is producing greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the buildup of these gases in the atmosphere over the past century is responsible for the unprecedented warming we face today.

CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have increased an astonishing 35% since the start of the Industrial Revolution 150 years ago. This buildup is an enduring and dangerous legacy, since CO2 remains for hundreds or thousands of years in the atmosphere. The disturbing reality is that global temperatures will not only increase, but will remain elevated for many centuries, even if we are able to stabilize GHG emissions and concentrations. Current scientific thinking suggests that we need to zero out our CO2 emissions—probably even begin to take CO2 out of the atmosphere—by mid-century to avert some of the most damaging consequences of climate change.

This is a monumental task, and one which grows ever more daunting as energy demand from the developing world accelerates. The International Energy Agency (IEA) and other global monitoring authorities suggest that world energy demand will double or triple by 2050, as illustrated below.

The Carbon Challenge

Energy Demand chart
This analysis (from IEA, Green and others) shows global energy growth by 2050 under different plausible growth rates. To achieve zero CO2 emissions by 2050, we will have to build an energy infrastructure that is two to three times the current infrastructure, but has zero carbon emissions.

Solving the climate crisis will require simultaneous action across many fronts. Through research, public education, and advocacy, CATF seeks to propel a number of promising steps toward slowing, and eventually halting, our current, dangerous course of irrevocable climate change. Our work is focused on:

Glacier photos courtesy of National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology, Boulder, CO