Are we at a tipping point on the climate crisis?
Reality Check

Editor's note: Many countries around the world are facing the impact of extreme weather events. What's behind such phenomenon? Have we arrived at a point of no return on the climate crisis? We talked to Zhao Xiaolu, Senior Director of Climate Environmental Defense Fund Beijing Representative Office, to get her take on this. The views expressed in the video are her own and not necessarily those of CGTN.

Edited excerpts:

CGTN: Currently, we are seeing the effects of extreme weather across the globe. There's wildfire in North America. China just got hit by a typhoon. Beijing experienced its heaviest rainfall in 140 years. Europe has heatwaves. So why are we seeing such frequent extreme weather events on such a large scale?

Zhao Xiaolu: Human activity has caused the globe to warm to a unprecedented level mostly due to heat-trapping gases emitted into the atmosphere. And the warming climate increases the likelihood of extreme climate events such as wildfires, typhoons, flood, extreme drought, and all of this are because these events are fueled by higher temperature. It is hard to ignore signals like this when they are coming from almost everywhere all at once, on the global level or in particular places. It looks like the past July might have been the hottest month on Earth in past 120,000 years.

This is a global phenomenon, and we will continue to see such events occurring throughout the regions of all of the world. And the impacts are dangerous for the people, for the nature, and also disruptive for agriculture system and the economy as a whole.

So, the solution is to drastically reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution from burning fossil fuels and other sources. So, we need to transit from burning fossil fuels and increase the share of renewables in our energy mix. And we also need to become more resilient to a changing climate, because these types of events are not going away soon even if we drastically change or reduce our greenhouse emission.

CGTN: On a scale of 1 to 10, how far away are we from a point of no return on climate change? And why?

Zhao Xiaolu: Scientists have talked about a lot of tipping points. But the fact is, things are not going to get any better just because we've passed certain threshold. So, the choice is always the same at any given point: We can make things worse, or we can make things better. It’s never too late to act. And it's never too soon to act. The moment of intervention is actually now.

CGTN: Many countries around the world have made commitments to combat climate change. China made the carbon neutrality pledge by 2060. Europe is trying to get there by 2050. The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement. So, with all these commitments made or re-made on this issue, have we slowed down the progress towards climate crisis?

Zhao Xiaolu: International collaboration in combating climate change is really crucial. And the Paris Agreement is a framework that allows all of the countries to commit what they are going to achieve. However, by the end, it's really upon those countries to act and to achieve their commitments.

So, we see really positive actions in China like China increasing its installed capacity of renewables. And China's official pledge is to achieve carbon peaking by 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. And we see Chinese government and industry are making a lot of progress. For example, China has built the largest carbon market in the world, and is improving it and expanding to more industry sector soon. And by doing that, China can reduce greenhouse emission in a faster pace and lower cost.

And also, EU and the United States are moving forward too. It's important for all of the country making progress, although we are seeing different approaches in different countries. There are actually hope that we could achieve our goals to combat climate change. But we still need to do much more and do it faster. And there's no time for us to waste.

CGTN: U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry visited China several weeks ago, and his visit really restarted high-level climate diplomacy between China and the United States. So now with these two countries working together on climate again, what’s the most single critical issue that we need to address right now?

Zhao Xiaolu: It takes time to change the world's energy systems, which is why there is no time to waste. But there is one thing we can do that can make a huge difference right now, which is cutting methane emission. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas responsible for around 30 percent of global warming. And the biggest human sources of emission is fossil fuel production. So, if we cut this emission as fast as possible, just using current available technology, we could slow down the rate of warming by nearly a third. That would be a very huge accomplishment.

Methane is featured as a key collaborative area under the U.S.-China Glasgow joint climate declaration, and it will be a central issue at the international climate talks in this November. Methane monitoring, measurement and best-practice sharing are also offering an immediate opportunity for bilateral collaboration between the U.S. and China.

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