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There is not currently enough public pressure to force the economy to decarbonize by 2050

In 2019, more than four million people across the world participated in a strike for climate action. As of 2021, more than 1,300 institutions, from universities to pension funds, have committed to divest from fossil fuels. According to a survey covering half the world’s population, 64% of people believe climate change is a global emergency. Everyday it seems there are more social pressures to address the climate crisis—but these are just baby steps, according to new research, that likely won’t get us to deep decarbonization by 2050. To truly decarbonize by 2050, we need to ramp up these social factors even more.

Most reports that assess the viability of a 1.5 degree future by 2050 look at the technical aspects of achieving that goal—the pathways to building the infrastructure required to lower emissions and the practical requirements needed to keep countries aligned to their Paris Agreement goals. The Hamburg Climate Futures Outlook, published by the Cluster of Excellence Climate, Climatic Change, and Society (CLICCS) at the University of Hamburg, looks at something different: the social drivers that will motivate all that technological and tangible change.

“These social drivers of decarbonization create the grounds on which technologies can be implemented globally in the first place,” Anita Engels, a social scientist at the University of Hamburg and co-chair of CLICCS, says via email. “Although technologies are already available in many high emitting sectors, the main frontier for deep decarbonization right now is social and political—it is a question of power. … Without assessing social drivers, the plausibility of low carbon climate futures cannot be understood.”

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