Demonstrators hold placards during a protest called by the "Fridays For Future" movement on a global day of student protests aiming to spark world leaders into action on climate change in Santiago, Chile, on March 15, 2019. - The worldwide protests were inspired by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who camped out in front of parliament in Stockholm last year to demand action from world leaders on global warming. (Photo by Martin BERNETTI / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest called by the "Fridays For Future" movement on a global day of student protests aiming to spark world leaders into action on climate change in Santiago, Chile, on March 15, 2019. - The worldwide protests were inspired by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who camped out in front of parliament in Stockholm last year to demand action from world leaders on global warming. (Photo by Martin BERNETTI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
01:37
Watch students around the globe protest for climate change
PHOTO: Getty Images
Now playing
02:17
Alexey Navalny arrested on his return to Moscow
Now playing
00:00
John King: It's a horrific time to become president
A sign for the National Security Agency (NSA), US Cyber Command and Central Security Service, is seen near the visitor
A sign for the National Security Agency (NSA), US Cyber Command and Central Security Service, is seen near the visitor's entrance to the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) after a shooting incident at the entrance in Fort Meade, Maryland, February 14, 2018. - Shots were fired early Wednesday at the ultra-secret National Security Agency, the US electronic spying agency outside Washington, leaving one person injured, officials said. Aerial footage of the scene from NBC News showed a black SUV with numerous bullet holes in its windshield crashed into concrete barriers at the main entrance to the NSA's headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
01:31
Christopher Miller orders NSA chief to install Trump loyalist as agency's top lawyer
PHOTO: CNN Weather
Now playing
02:41
US to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord on Bidens First Day
Now playing
02:38
Biden: Science team 'among the brightest, most dedicated'
Mike Pence remarks vpx
Mike Pence remarks vpx
PHOTO: Senate TV
Now playing
02:27
New timeline shows just how close rioters got to Pence and his family
MyPillow notes
MyPillow notes
PHOTO: Jabin Botsford
Now playing
02:21
Photographer snaps notes of MyPillow CEO after visiting Trump
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:31
Teachers feel pressure as schools weigh in-person classes
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:48
FBI warns of potential armed protests across country
Staffer White House move out
Staffer White House move out
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:36
Moving trucks spotted at White House as staffers clean out their desks
southern california january strong winds low humidity fire conditions weather santa ana winds_00000000.png
southern california january strong winds low humidity fire conditions weather santa ana winds_00000000.png
Now playing
01:19
Fire weather prevalent across Southern California
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:34
Blizzard, rain, and snow to hinder Central and Eastern US weekend weather
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
00:48
Pence makes surprise visit to Capitol to thank National Guard
FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks during a virtual news conference at the Department of Justice on October 28, 2020 in Washington, DC.
FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks during a virtual news conference at the Department of Justice on October 28, 2020 in Washington, DC.
PHOTO: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
Now playing
03:47
FBI director speaks publicly for first time since Capitol riots
PHOTO: From Public Report / Jeremy Lee Quinn
Now playing
01:39
Video from inside Capitol raises questions for investigators
A man receives a dose of the Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination site at South Bronx Educational Campus, in the Bronx New York on January 10, 2021. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)
A man receives a dose of the Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination site at South Bronx Educational Campus, in the Bronx New York on January 10, 2021. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:25
Coronavirus cases surge as states struggle to vaccinate

Editor’s Note: Helen Mountford is the vice president for climate and economics at World Resources Institute, which works to identify and advance the structural shifts needed to address climate change. She was previously the deputy director of environment for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN) —  

On Friday, countless young people will flood the streets of the world’s major cities, demanding action to tackle climate change. The global movement stems from the stark reality that the window to addressing this emergency is closing. At the front of these demonstrations, there is frequently a banner warning that there are just “12 years to save the Earth.”

Helen Mountford
Helen Mountford
PHOTO: Courtesy of Helen Mountford

If political leaders finally respond to the climate crisis, we may well have these youthful advocates to thank. But there is a problem with this timeline: We don’t have 12 years to jump-start action on climate change – we have just one.

According to an article in the journal Nature, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak no later than next year and rapidly decline thereafter for us to have a good chance of preventing increasingly severe consequences from the climate crisis – everything from imperiled croplands, flooded communities and widespread disease. Delaying any longer will push us toward an ecological tipping point, with no way for humanity to claw its way back out.

Next year is also a critical point because it is when country leaders agreed to put forward new climate plans when they adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015. They knew that the climate action commitments in Paris would not be enough, and so they agreed to come back in five years to step up their efforts. We will soon find out if prime ministers and presidents will stand by their word. Collectively, these revised plans will point humanity to a future that is either bright or bleak.

Right now, the picture looks bleak.

Deforestation is increasing, with 12 million hectares of tropical forest chopped down last year. Coal plants are still being built in at least 30 nations. Every year, countries prop up the coal, oil and gas industries with more than $5.2 trillion in subsidies, tax breaks and unaccounted costs of fossil fuel use in 2017. Ford sold nearly 1.1 million F-150 trucks last year (one every 29.3 seconds) even though the pickup gets a paltry 19 mpg.

Earlier this month atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations hit 415 parts per million for the first time in human history; the last time levels were that high was during the Pliocene Epoch when there were trees at the South Pole and sea levels were 20 meters higher than they are now.

I could go on. Clearly, the world is not yet making the urgent and unprecedented changes needed to halt global warming.

In a landmark UN climate report released last year, scientists found that a global temperature rise of just 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) over preindustrial levels would greatly increase the risk of drought, floods and extreme heat, and food supplies would be in jeopardy even as the global population steadily rises. Every iota of warming leads to even more catastrophic consequences.

No one expected the national climate plans submitted in 2015 to solve the problem. In fact, even if all the Paris commitments are realized, global temperatures would still be on track to rise 2.7 to 3.7 degrees C (4.9 to 6.7 degrees F) in the next century. Climate change is humanity’s largest challenge; it would be sheer hubris to think we would fix it in one fell swoop. The beauty of the pact is that it calls for countries to come back to the table every five years – in 2020, 2025 and so on – with new plans informed by the latest advances in high-tech, science and shifting markets.

Economic, technological and market trends since 2015 provide a compelling case for countries to strengthen their climate plans next year. And there are promising signs that industries are making environmentally friendly shifts. Renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels nearly everywhere and accounts for nearly two-thirds of new electricity capacity.

More affordable energy-storage options are making wind and solar attractive options, even when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun sets. Plummeting battery prices are expected to make electric cars cheaper than gas cars just three years from now. And the F-150 pickup? Ford is planning for it to go electric, too. The rapid decline of the internal combustion engine – and how quickly leading car manufacturers have committed to clean solutions – caught everyone by surprise.

Other major companies are also shifting their business models to seize the opportunities of the zero-carbon transition, with more than 550 businesses setting or committing to set bold emission reduction targets informed by climate science. And in recent years the very concept of climate action has shifted from a potential burden to a major economic opportunity as countries compete in the race for the $26 trillion in benefits from bold climate action between now and 2030.

To prepare for the major moment of truth in 2020, world leaders are gathering at the UN Climate Action Summit in September in New York. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has set a clear benchmark for success by challenging countries to present concrete plans to strengthen their climate commitments and make them compatible with the Paris goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C.

This summit is a wake-up call for heads of state, ministers, mayors and business leaders to get ready to up their game. It is also an opportunity to show the rising generation of climate activists such as Greta Thunberg how – this time – world leaders will keep their promises.

Get our free weekly newsletter

Now is the time to jump-start climate action and get on a path to a brighter future. Countries have just one year to step forward with bigger, bolder commitments that respond to the scale of the climate crisis.

Our children are in the streets demanding a world worth living in. Let’s give it to them.