By Laurie Stone
This past year saw many memorable moments, from vaccine rollouts to a new Ghostbusters movie to Bernie Sanders’ mittens going viral. But it also saw real progress on climate action. Here we list our top 15 climate developments of 2021, in no particular order.
- US Rejoins Paris Climate Agreement
The year started out strong as on January 20, President Biden took steps to bring the United States back into the Paris Agreement. On February 19, the country was once again a party to the unprecedented international treaty on climate change.
- Renewables Had a Banner Year
This year saw 290 gigawatts of new renewable energy generation capacity around the world, breaking 2020’s record of 260 GW. China installed the most renewables in 2021, and is expected to reach 1,200 GW of wind and solar capacity in 2026, four years earlier than its target of 2030. And in India, renewable energy capacity has grown by 500 percent over the past seven years, and now makes up almost 40 percent of installed capacity.
- The Private Sector Goes Green
Non-state actors have stepped up and are setting ambitious climate goals. Nearly half of the largest publicly traded companies have committed to reducing emissions and the latest UN climate conference (COP26) saw more active participation from businesses and financial institutions than any prior climate summit.
- Financial Institutions Go Green
Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Bank of America joined JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley in setting net-zero goals. Besides these six prominent US banks, more than 450 firms with $120 trillion in assets have joined the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). GFANZ brings together leading net-zero initiatives from across the financial system to accelerate the transition to net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
- COP26 Had a Methane Moment
Methane seemed to be the hot topic at COP26. More than 100 countries representing over 70 percent of global GDP committed to reducing methane emissions 30 percent by 2030. On top of that, the US Environmental Protection Agency proposed to enhance protections to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas infrastructure across the United States.
- Green Hydrogen Commitment Grows
Demand for green hydrogen is growing from steel, aviation, shipping, and other need-to-abate sectors. Governments are setting targets, implementing policy, and supplying funding for green hydrogen. And the Green Hydrogen Catapult announced a joint commitment to develop 45 GW of electrolyzer capacity by 2027 and drive down costs to below $2 per kilogram.
- China and the United States Agree to Coordinate on Emissions Reductions
The two top greenhouse gas-emitting countries agreed to work together to limit emissions. This agreement came about at COP26, and while there is no concrete action yet, it’s great to know China and the United States are talking about the issue.
- Financial Institutions Tackle Hard-to-Abate Sectors
High-emitting sectors such as steel and aviation are taking a lesson from the Poseidon Principles—an agreement in which financial institutions joined forces to reduce emissions from maritime shipping. There is now a Steel Climate-Aligned Finance Working Group and soon to be Aviation and Aluminum working groups to create climate-aligned finance agreements for these hard-to-abate sectors.
- A Global Alliance Launches to Scale Renewable Energy in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
The Rockefeller Foundation spearheaded partners to launch the Global Energy Alliance for People and the Planet to provide clean, productive-use energy to 1 billion underserved people, create tens of millions of green jobs, and avoid and avert over 4 billion tons of emissions. With $10 billion earmarked for investment, it is scaling an equitable energy transition in low- to mid-income countries.
- The EV Market Hits the Double Digits
Global EV sales are at a record high, reaching more than ten percent market share. One in 10 newly registered passenger cars is rechargeable, bringing the number of EV sales in 2021 to almost 6 million. Ebike sales also continue to boom, and many cities have continued to expand on pandemic-era street redesigns to prioritize biking and walking or using shared space.
- Trucks Are Ready to Go Electric
EVs aren’t just limited to passenger cars. Light-duty, medium-duty, and some heavy-duty trucks are also poised for electrification, as was proven in the Run on Less – Electric roadshow in which 13 electric trucks from companies such as DHL, Anheuser-Busch, and Frito-Lay delivered products across the country. Ford also revealed the fully electric version of the most popular pickup truck in the United States, the F150. There are already more than 200,000 reservations for the model that will be available in the spring of 2022.
- India Embraces EVs
In India, 2021 saw the roll out of a production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme to boost the manufacturing of advanced automotive technology products including EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, a PLI scheme for battery storage manufacturing of advanced chemistry cells, and a website that functions as a one-stop destination for all information on EVs. The e-AMRIT website includes information on charging facility locations, EV financing options, government policies, and available EV subsidies.
- More US Cities and States Embrace Electrification
Cities and states across the United States are enacting new policies and taking action to move away from fossil fuel use in homes and buildings and toward embracing an all-electric future. New York City; Eugene, OR; Ithaca, NY; and Denver, CO; are some of the latest cities passing policies supporting electrification. And California became the first state in the country to strongly incentivize all-electric construction of buildings.
- Cities Drive Action on Clean Energy
Local governments are increasingly engaging in state-level regulatory proceedings to drive broader action on clean energy. Cities are also getting more ambitious and creative with their renewable energy plans—such as committing to 24/7 clean energy, which is happening in Des Moines, Iowa, and South Lake Tahoe, California.
- US Funds Green Infrastructure and Commits to Carbon Neutrality
President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal into law. The legislation includes billions of dollars for EV charging, electric school buses, public transit, and electricity grid reliability. The policy represents some of the largest US investments in combating climate change to date. And just this month, the Biden administration announced a sweeping executive order to decarbonize federal buildings, electrify the federal vehicle fleet, and more to make the federal government carbon neutral by 2050.
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