A succession of hottest-day records smashed, then smashed again. Flooding in the north-east of the US, Pakistan and southern Japan. Health warnings in Italy, China and the southern US. Wildfires in Quebec. Flooding in northern India. Rainfall records broken across New Zealand’s north island. Insurers quitting Florida, citing hurricane risks. The world is ringing a five-alarm fire, yet we keep hitting the snooze button. Climate action is still too slow. Sure, we are making small steps in our hazy slumber, but we are not quite springing into action. We have lolled for too long. None of what the world is experiencing is normal – yet.

I don’t mean to downplay some of the positive news of recent days. Amid fears of yet another COP hosted by an oil-producing nation, COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber – who is also CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Minister for Industry and Advanced Technology for the UAE, and the Arab nation’s climate envoy – last week laid out his “brutally honest” plan for the UN talks in November, which includes a commitment to the 1.5°C goal and “the phase down of fossil fuels” (still stopping short of the phase out that parties like Vanuatu, the Marshall Islands, Palau and St Lucia want to see). Instead, he wants governments to revise and up their emissions reduction plans and for the world to commit to a tripling of renewable energy capacity to 11,000GW by 2030, amid other goals.

This renewables target feels like it may just be achievable, with the IEA’s Tracking Clean Energy Progress report last week finding that clean energy deployment in 2022 accelerated, with solar approaching alignment with the agency’s net-zero scenario (although all other electricity sources needing more progress). Other notable highlights include a 55% jump in electric vehicle (EV) sales and an 11% increase in heat pump sales. This is all good stuff, but we desperately need to see efforts accelerate, especially in industrial processes and reducing oil and gas use.

“Progress is occurring faster in those parts of the energy system for which clean technologies are already available and costs are falling quickly, such as for electricity generation and passenger cars,” the IEA said. “But a full transition to net-zero emissions will require decarbonising all areas of energy production and use. Rapid innovation is needed to bring to market clean technologies, in particular for those parts of the energy system where emissions are harder to address, such as heavy industry and long-distance transport.”

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Ah yes, transport. July began with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopting a net zero “by or around 2050” target. Well done, for finally completing a task that was set in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. I know I was often late with my homework in 1997, but I was never this tardy (and no one ever suffered if my essay on child language development was late, aside from my poor teacher – sorry again, Mrs T).

As a long-time follower of the UNFCCC process, I get it; negotiations with 190-plus parties are never easy, and I am not naïve to the historical challenges nor the battle it took to get the IMO to this point. However, try explaining that to the community that is having to relocate due to rising sea levels, or to the family that has just lost a loved one due to heatstroke or as a result of flooding.

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Also in the naughty corner is the UK, as it backslides on all the promises made in Glasgow – even the country’s independent Climate Change Committee recently found that the UK has lost its status as a leader on climate action. This comes as no shock, given the government’s support for new oil and gas projects and that controversial Cumbrian coal mine – and no sign of any renewal of efforts to regain that leadership under the current government.

I am worried that, as we get closer and closer to 2030, there is still too much of a head-in-the-sand mentality when it comes to climate change adaptation – and mitigation. A lively debate with a relative over his opposition to EVs recently centred around his fear that, on average, they weigh more than internal combustion cars and that moving too quickly to adopt them could cause multi-storey car parks to collapse. Never have I heard a better argument for public transport.

However, it is these minds and fears that need to be addressed and changed, for it is only by a chorus of citizen voices demanding change that it can truly happen, that politicians will have the cover of public support to act (although it is rare to find a poll where a majority does not support climate action these days). I can understand, then, why some protestors are choosing to disrupt sporting events and other high-profile public actions – taking the conversation to the people. Ok, the medium may not be optimal, but the message is solid. People think a tennis match being interrupted is inconvenient? Try rebuilding your life after floods have washed it all away or feeding your family after years of drought has taken its toll on crop yields. 

Read more from this author: Katie Kouchakji

In the low-carbon transition, I have long agreed with those smarter than me that it needs to be a well-managed, thoughtful, planned step-change. I have long had faith that the right things would be done – after all, the science has been clear for years, it was just a matter of technology development, finance and deployment.

Yet, with so much more available and more still on the cusp, as that window to avert dangerous climate change continues to narrow, I am struggling to keep the faith. I am scared that post-Covid fatigue, cost of living pressures and a general weariness towards tackling society’s big existential problems will win, that short-term political point-scoring will trump the long-term survival of humanity. I am scared that we are fast going to become desensitised to the weather events we are witnessing around us and just internalise the stress and trauma until it becomes the norm. None of this is normal, we don’t have to live this way, and we need to push for faster climate action, and better, fairer decisions. Orange confetti optional.

About the author: Katie Kouchakji is an Auckland-based freelance journalist specialising in climate change policy and the low-carbon transition. She has been writing about energy and climate change for more than 15 years, including for Environmental Finance, Carbon Pulse, the International Bar Association and FORESIGHT.