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The Decade, Past And Future, In Climate Change


We're approaching the end of a decade during which the effects of climate change have become more and more noticeable, so we're going to begin today with a closer look at what the past 10 years have meant for our climate and a look ahead at where we're likely to be climate-wise a decade from now.

For that, we've called on Brenda Ekwurzel. She is the director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She says that she and her colleagues see reasons for both pessimism and optimism.

BRENDA EKWURZEL: What struck us all was that this decade was marked both by disasters unfortunately made worse by climate change and a surge in clean power deployment.

MARTIN: We're going to hear more about some of the biggest storms of the past decade in a couple of minutes. But first, we asked Brenda Ekwurzel to tell us what climate trends she'll be looking for over the next 10 years.

EKWURZEL: Between now and 2030, we're going to continue to warm because we've baked in the amount of warming because of past emissions. And that point at 2030, we're going to start seeing what our past emissions and the choices we make over this decade regarding emissions of carbon into the atmosphere will really determine which pathway we go on beyond 2030.

MARTIN: Ekwurzel says the key will be whether countries around the globe, including the U.S., can build on existing climate agreements.

EKWURZEL: In general, there was a huge surge forward this decade because the world leaders came together in Paris in 2015 and created the Paris climate agreement, where all countries are saying, we're going to put our chips on the table and see how deep we can reduce our own emissions. And the U.S. was in that agreement, part of that 2015 Paris agreement. And the U.S. has signaled pulling back from that on the national scale and international scale.

At the same time, what gives me optimism is that leaders around the world, children like Greta Thunberg leading Fridays For Future strikes every Friday and getting the attention of world leaders. And in the U.S., cities and states and people in communities are saying, we are still in Paris. And so, in fact, we are growing the U.S. economy, but at a less carbon-intensive economy.

MARTIN: Well, you mentioned earlier that there's also been an unprecedented deployment of clean power technology. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

EKWURZEL: One of the things that also happened over this decade is the price of some clean, renewable energy to power our electric sector has come down. For example, solar panels, the costs now are at least 80% cheaper. The price of wind and solar is lower than the price of a coal-fired power plant per kilowatt hour. So when you're getting a price point where something is much cheaper to make, but it's also cleaner and better for the environment, that's super exciting, that innovation.

And that means that can drive the electrification of end uses. And there, we're having innovation, too, because you have electric cars. You have solar panels on people's roofs or in buildings. And they're also having onsite storage so that you can have 24/7 power. And that's some very exciting innovation that's also happened in the clean energy space this decade.

MARTIN: Is that mainly by individual consumers? Is this taking place on a broad enough scale to make a difference?

EKWURZEL: The deployment of clean energy options is happening across the world globally, and in some places more than others. So businesses are really starting to embrace cleaner energy because it makes economic sense and individuals are also demanding that as well.

Unfortunately, right now, the holy grail is to try to have clean energy that is cheaper so that everyone can have energy independence and be - climbing out of energy poverty is what we call it. And so that's something that is - really, we have to push the science, and we have to push the research and development to make sure everyone can have access to clean energy at a reasonable cost.

MARTIN: That was Brenda Ekwurzel, a senior climate scientist and the director of Climate Science at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Brenda Ekwurzel, thank you so much for talking with us, and happy holidays to you.

EKWURZEL: Thank you. Happy holidays. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.