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The level of ambition of the public and policy makers to protect the climate is currently far too low to slow the accelerating pace of climate impacts. Ambition can be strengthened using strategies that disaggregate the overall climate problem into manageable pieces, borrow existing laws and institutions to take fast action following a ‘start and strengthen’ approach. This is illustrated by the strategy to phase down the production and consumption of high global warming potential hydrofluorocarbons under the Montreal Protocol. Such an approach could cut the rate of global warming in half for the next several decades, and even more in the Arctic and other climate vulnerable regions. This can provide fast success and build the sense of urgent optimism needed to raise ambition to do more to address carbon dioxide emissions – the single largest contributor to climate change.