Global warming can sometimes feel like this big, intractable problem that no one’s actually doing anything about. But the past two weeks have seen a genuinely impressive barrage of climate action around the world. Let’s take a minute to tally up everything that’s gone down this month:
  1. Canada gets a carbon tax.
    On October 4, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government would implement a nationwide carbon tax starting in 2018. The tax will start at $7.60 per ton of CO2 and rise to $38 per ton by 2022. Individual provinces can forgo the tax and adopt their own policies — as long as they cut emissions by an equivalent amount. The Canadian press is currently enjoying a vigorous debate over carbon pricing.
  2. The Paris climate deal becomes official.
    That same day, enough countries ratified the Paris climate agreement that it is now officially “in force.” What this means is that the world’s nations will start meeting regularly at the United Nations to discuss how to strengthen their individual climate pledges over time and scrabble toward their agreed-upon goal of limiting total global warming below 2°C. Countries will also have to regularly report and review their progress to the UN.
  3. A global deal on aviation emissions!
    On October 6, more than 190 countries agreed to offset much of the global growth in aviation emissions starting in 2020. What this means is that airlines will have to start buying carbon offsets to compensate for the emissions produced by flights. This deal is far from perfect, and has some notable holes in it. But it’s the first time the International Civil Aviation Organization has started tackling the climate impact of flying — one of the fastest-growing sources of CO2.
  4. A global deal to phase out HFCs!
    Finally, on October 15, 197 countries agreed to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), an extremely powerful greenhouse gas used in refrigerators and air conditioners. While it sounds obscure, this was probably the most important climate policy taken to date — by some calculations, it will prevent between 0.2°C and 0.44°C of warming by the end of the century. This deal is legally binding and enforceable through trade sanctions.
  5. Now, if you want to be a downer, you could focus on the very real limitations of all these agreements.
    Even if you add them up, they don’t get us anywhere close to keeping global warming below 2°C (or 3.6°F) — the level that the world’s governments have all agreed is dangerous and unacceptable. If you take all the domestic policy pledges that various countries put forward at Paris last year, they put us on pace for well over 2°C of warming. And that’s assuming countries actually hit their pledges, which they may not.
  6. Getting serious about climate change would require more than nibbling around the edges of energy policy.
    Global emissions would have to start falling sharply. Like, yesterday. Every single country on Earth would need to radically increase its deployment of clean energy sources — things like solar or wind or nuclear or carbon capture for coal or electric cars or hydrogen cars — by an order of magnitude. And that task is far, far more complicated. We’re not there yet. But what these steps show is that the world is starting to gesture meaningfully in the right direction.