10 climate change milestones

In 1967, the Earth’s changing climate was modelled for the first time. While subsequent climate milestones in the last 50 years have not been overwhelmingly positive, change in the form of research enabling innovation, government pledges, and small steps driving global action, is worthy of recognition. In this listicle, we highlight 10 impact-driven milestones in the fight to mitigate climate change.

From pioneering computer models and groundbreaking global agreements to technological advancement, we spotlight 10 milestones driving the climate change agenda.

1967: Earth’s climate modelled

US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers Syukuro Manabe and Richard Wetherald broke new ground by creating the first computer model of Earth’s climate. The pioneering model allowed them to adjust CO2 levels to see the effect on global temperatures, with the simulation predicting that doubling concentrations of CO2 could raise global temperatures by 2°C. Voted the most important science paper of all time by the Nobel Prize for Physics committee, the study opened doors to an entirely new field of science.

1980: First wind farm launched

The US state of New Hampshire was selected as the location for the world’s first wind farm, with twenty 30-kilowatt turbine capacity; with Greece home to Europe’s first onshore wind farm project (five 20-kilowatt turbines) in 1982. A proven, mature technology, wind is now one of the predominant sources of power generation in the race to achieve global Net Zero 2050 goals. In the UAE, Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA) is advancing plans to develop a 28-megawatt wind farm in Hatta.

1985: Invention of the lithium-ion battery

Developed by Japanese scientist, Professor Akira Yoshino, this was the launchpad for innovation in energy storage. His design pioneered the use of carbon-rich anode materials into which lithium-ions could be inserted, improving battery safety and heralding the start of commercial production. Viewed as an exit strategy from fossil fuels reliance - and a gamechanger for the electric vehicle industry - the global supply of mined lithium is finite and its energy-intensive extraction process and resulting impact on local ecosystems, far from ideal. More environmentally friendly solutions, including ammonium-ion and sodium-ion alternatives, are being explored.

1988: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established

Established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the panel brings together thousands of scientists to regularly assess scientific evidence on climate change and its impacts. A driver for global policy action, IPCC’s successive assessment reports have informed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, and the 2015 Paris Agreement.

1994: Climate change legislation comes into force

A total of 197 countries signed up to the first global treaty to combat climate change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations ‘at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human influenced] interference with the climate system’, within a timeframe that allows people and planet to adapt and economies to develop sustainably. Parties to the Convention acknowledge the existence of the threat of climate change and agree to undertake efforts to combat it.

1996: First carbon capture and storage project

The Sleipner North Sea gas field was the site of the world’s first commercial carbon storage project. A way to reduce carbon emissions, underground storage prevents the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Monitored since inception by British Geological Survey scientists, and instrumental in demonstrating the safety and feasibility of CO2 storage, the team uses advanced 3D imaging studies to precisely track CO2 movement and security. In September 2023, UAE energy giant ADNOC announced one of the MENA region’s largest carbon capture projects, with the goal of trapping and storing 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 from the Habshan gas processing plant.

2002: Bangladesh bans plastic bags

The Bangladeshi government was the first country globally to impose a nationwide ban on plastic bags. Two decades on, around 100 countries now have a partial or full ban on single-use plastic (SUP) bags with many governments also introducing new legislation outlawing other SUPs. The UK, for example, will ban the use of single-use plates and cutlery from October 2023. Greenhouse gases are emitted throughout the plastic life cycle with the wholesale extraction, refining and manufacture of plastics all highly carbon intensive activities

2015: Paris Agreement adopted

A landmark agreement, the Paris accord saw 196 countries commit to work towards limiting global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Entered into force in November 2016, with a 1.5°C goal, countries set their own legally binding targets for greenhouse gas reduction with a five-year progress report structure put in place. COP 28, which will convene in Dubai later this year, will COP28 UAE will be the setting for the first global stocktake of progress on the Paris Agreement.

2020: Solar ‘cheapest energy in history’

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2020 report revealed that power generated by solar photovoltaic was more affordable in most (large) countries than electricity generated by coal or fossil fuel plants. The annual energy forecast document presented four pathways to 2040, all of which predicted a major rise in renewables - with solar leading the way - and cost savings of anywhere from 20-50 per cent on previous forecasts. In the same year, Abu Dhabi announced a record low price tariff bid of 1.35¢/kWh for its Al Dhafra Solar PV project.

2021: Pledge to phase out coal power

COP26 in Glasgow concluded with a milestone agreement between more than 40 countries to phase out coal power. The pact included 23 nations that, for the first time, made a public commitment to halting the building of and permit issuing for new coal plants. Among them were some of the top 20 power-generating countries, namely Indonesia, Poland, South Korea, Vietnam and Ukraine. Although major emitters such as China and the US declined to commit, the pledge marked a major step in eliminating coal power globally.

2022: Global emissions peak in sight

Despite Global Carbon Project data recording 2022 as a year when fossil fuel emissions were higher than ever, registering one percent global year-on-year- growth, many countries are now seeing their output plateau or even decline. In the US, emissions peaked in 2005 and have declined by just over 10 per cent to date, with the European Union, Japan and Russia plateauing. According to the International Energy Agency, global emissions are expected to reach their peak around 2025. Some countries, however, are still seeing emissions growth, largely due to growing populations and economies.