Tracking Progress of the 2020 Climate Turning Point

Publication / Report


  • For the best chance of limiting temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C), global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must peak by 2020 and dramatically decline thereafter.
  • Transformations in policy, behavior, finance, and technology are needed to reach this climate turning point and meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
  • Analysis of existing data shows that while meaningful progress has been made, we are not yet on track to achieve the 2020 climate turning point.
  • Progress is uneven across the six milestones: For some underlying outcomes in several milestones, action has been progressing and accelerating. However, in most cases action is insufficient or progress is off track.
  • Greater transparency is needed in many areas where outdated or insufficient data exist for assessing progress.
  • Governments, businesses, and financial institutions urgently need to ramp up ambition, fulfil commitments, and deliver net zero emissions by 2050.
  • Tremendous opportunities to scale up and accelerate action remain untapped across all sectors. For almost all milestones and outcomes, the opportunities must be harnessed quickly if these goals are to stay within reach.
  • Under the Paris Agreement, countries have the opportunity to enhance their commitments, or nationally determined contributions (NDCs), by 2020, which can catalyze action in the short term to avoid lock-in of an emissions-intensive pathway in the longer term. These updated NDCs will, in turn, need to translate into changes in policy, actions, and investments.



This paper is targeted at national and subnational leaders, as well as leaders of major corporations and investors. A secondary audience is subject experts who support such decision-makers in strengthening implementation of existing commitments, as well as increasing ambition in the future.

Climate change presents both tremendous challenges and opportunities. To avoid the worst climate impacts, the global community must first halt growth in GHG emissions, and then swiftly reduce emissions to reach net zero by mid-century as agreed in the Paris Agreement. In doing so, the world can unlock multiple benefits, from new jobs and innovation to improved health and protection of ecosystems and their services, to name a few.

To reach our targets, we must first know where we are and how big the remaining gap in action is. That’s why monitoring our progress in bending the global emissions trajectory downward is of critical importance. We already know that peaking global emissions by 2020 gives us the least-cost likely chance of limiting warming to 1.5˚C by the end of the century. In 2017, the 2020: The Climate Turning Point report took stock of what it would take to peak global GHG emissions by 2020, including transforming policy, technology, behavior, and investment (Revill and Harris 2017). A collaboration between multiple experts in the field, the peer-reviewed report identified six milestones across key emitting sectors that must be reached to deliver such a turning point in the world’s emissions trajectory (Box ES-1). Encouragingly, the milestones that 2020: The Climate Turning Point identified are also desirable and achievable in the context of sustainable development and human well-being.


With two years left until the end of 2020, this working paper seeks to

  • assess the world’s collective progress toward achieving the six milestones that 2020: The Climate Turning Point identified; and
  • identify untapped opportunities for making progress toward those milestones.

This paper takes stock of the latest available data to determine whether the global community is on track toward meeting the above milestones, what further action is needed, and the opportunities for getting ahead.


Six Milestones Identified in 2020: The Climate Turning Point

1. ENERGY: Renewables outcompete fossil fuels as new electricity sources worldwide.

2. TRANSPORT: Zero-emissions transport is the preferred form of all new mobility in the world’s major cities and transport routes.

3. LAND USE: Large-scale deforestation is replaced with large-scale land restoration and agriculture shifts to earth-friendly practices.

4. INDUSTRY: Heavy industry—including iron and steel, cement, chemicals, and oil and gas—commits to being Paris-compliant.

5. INFRASTRUCTURE: Cities and states are implementing policies and regulations to fully decarbonize buildings and infrastructure by 2050.

6. FINANCE: Investment in climate action is beyond US$1 trillion per year and all financial institutions have a disclosed transition strategy.