An overview of what's been going on in 2020 from an environmental perspective.
2020 has been a year to be thankful for scientists and acts of kindness, bravery, friendship and creativity that demonstrate the best qualities within us. It's also safe to say many of us got rather acquainted with, and developed a new appreciation for, our houseplants.
Now there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon, and thanks to everyone on the front lines who worked tirelessly to keep us safe and healthy. Props to female leaders as well.
For this editorial, we thought we’d do a high level overview of where we are regarding the environment, covering climate, biodiversity, conservation, technology and politics. There is lots to be positive about!
The Earth is warming, there is no question about it. It is almost certain 2020 will be the hottest on record and the mercury hit 54.4C in Death Valley, the third hottest temperature ever recorded.
Death Valley, USA
It’s estimated that COVID-19 caused the biggest drop in greenhouse gas emissions since the Second World War, around 7% or 2.4 billion tonnes, a major factor being a reduction in transport emissions.
The result of this reduction in emissions: in 2050 temperatures will be lower by 0.01C. It’s clear we need to do a lot more but, before you begin to feel too gloomy, it looks like one major sector had crossed a threshold.
Technology- the rise of renewables
One of the most positive developments of recent times has been the rise of renewables. This year, Austria closed its last coal power station and likewise Sweden (two years ahead of schedule!). Also, the UK ran a grid without coal for a record 67 days.
In the last ten years, the price of solar electricity has plummeted 89% and wind 40% (onshore) and 29% (offshore) respectively. This means that now, for many parts of the world, renewables are the cheapest option for new energy! This goes beyond environmentalist’s wildest dreams and certainly marks the beginning of the end for fossil fuels.
Cities are getting on track
A positive outcome of COVID-19 is that, in response to residents enjoying less pollution and noise over lockdown, many towns and cities are introducing measures to curb traffic and increase green spaces.
As we’ve spoken about, cities are important in our fight against climate change. It’s encouraging that 54 major cities, from Milan to Buenos Aires, are now rolling out plans that will help us to meet the 1.5C warming goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement.
Biodiversity and conservation
There was a glimmer of hope for biodiversity when a recent study found that the loss of population decline large vertebrate species isn’t as bad as we thought and that, in some cases, systems are improving. We were certainly happy to see that blue whales are doing well in South Georgia. Great conservation efforts!
However, whilst it’s good news for some, others aren’t doing so well. 31 species were added to the newly extinct list and many more to the endangered. Plants too are under threat, with a third of oak tree species threatened with extinction.
It’s not just about cute animals and pretty plants, biodiversity is crucial to healthy ecosystems that we all rely on for survival. It's going to require protecting a lot more land and water from human activity.
One notable story we liked was the small, remote island of Tristan de Cunha in the South Atlantic protecting 90% of their surrounding seas to create the fourth-largest completely protected marine area in the world. A great win for them and plenty of marine life.
On the flipside, according to a UN report, deforestation is still a concern, especially the Amazon and in Indonesia, threatening many species there. All the more reason to go veggie!
A Green Response?
COVID-19 put a lot of pressure on already creaking economies and governments are having to step in and offer support. Many are calling for government funds to be put towards ‘shovel ready’ green projects, in some cases literally building back green.
These ‘green deals’ have the potential to use substantial government stimulus packages to help transition to greener economies, creating new jobs in the process. President-elect Biden's $2 trillion climate plan is a great example of this.
What 2021 will bring is still unclear, but many predict a GHG emissions rebound as economies ramp up to compensate for lost time. However, global leaders are starting to make some encouraging noises.
Despite COP26 being cancelled, in the latter part of this year there have seen some encouraging happenings on the international stage. We were buoyed by emissions pledges from the likes of China, Japan, South Korea, the US, the EU and the UK. If (big if) these are upheld, then it puts the Paris Climate Agreement goals ‘within reach’.
Also, shout out to Denmark who became the first large oil-producing nation to pledge to ‘turn the taps off’ by 2050.
In the business world, global corporations, such as Microsoft, are also making bold emissions pledges, and we’re seeing the shoots of a circular economy beginning to emerge led by major retailers such as IKEA.
The world’s a competitive place, and it looks like the competition might be switching to ‘who can be the leader regarding sustainability’. Now that’s healthy!
Attenborough steals the show
If you didn’t watch the latest David Attenborough documentary ‘A Life on Our Planet’ we suggest you do (and you can read our review here). Bittersweet, it perfectly summarises the impact we're having on our planet and the potential consequences. It seems fitting, then, to end on some words from him:
“It's surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth. If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us.”
Happy holidays everyone!
We hope you found this fun and informative. If you have anything you'd like to share from this year we'd love to hear from you. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.