The top climate stories 2021 ranged from withdrawal from EV range anxiety to failures by world leaders to secure pathways to a slower warming world. Throughout the year, it was evident that the climate crisis was prominent in many people’s minds. Progress was too slow for lots of us, but there were cleantech innovations, increased conservation efforts, calls to limit deforestation, species protection, and a strong climate activist voice — all of which pressed power brokers to transcend politics and big business.
Has the momentum shifted? Maybe…
Here are the Top Climate Stories 2021, Part 1.
COP26 Failed to Align Climate Goals & Big Business
The goal of 1.5 degrees maximum global warming temperature rise was barely alive after October’s COP26 — the biggest UN climate summit since the 2015 Paris agreement. The Glasgow, Scotland assembly of world leaders, delegates, activists, and celebrities from nearly 200 nations saw fierce negotiations over emissions commitments, carbon trading, and reparations for climate damage.
But the end result was disappointing at best. On the final day of the summit, China and India mounted a successful last-minute change to the agreements, weakening the language around coal. As they ran for the airport, delegates pledged to revisit and strengthen their climate targets by the end of 2022.
Research afterward from the UN estimated that countries’ short term climate commitments put the world on a path to warm 2.5 degrees Celsius, or 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That is a full degree above the 1.5-degree target that scientists say is the upper limit of warming to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Activists spoke up to protest feeble climate actions at COP26. Most famously, 18-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg, one of the world’s best known climate campaigners, called out world leaders for failing to meet their goals to address global warming. “No more blah, blah, blah,” said Thunberg, imploring people in power across the world to act with more urgency in tackling harmful emissions.
We Now Know Biodiversity Loss is Connected to the Climate Crisis
Diversity of plants and animals creates a gestalt that makes the planet function, ensuring that there is oxygen in the air and fertile soils to propagate crops. In March, the Dasgupta Review put biodiversity at its core and demonstrated how, by bringing economics and ecology together, the natural world may be saved — but we’re at the outer edge of timing to do so. Biodiversity loss is one of 3 planetary crises — the others are climate change and a human health crisis. Together, they point us to ecological disaster. All are driven by economic activities and reinforce each other.
Why is so much biodiversity loss occurring?
- Humans are destroying habitat through activities like farming, mining, and logging.
- Overfishing breaks apart interrelated ocean systems.
- Pollution and introduced species drive out native ones.
We must work toward separate but interconnected solutions. Unprecedented changes in climate and biodiversity, driven by human activities, have combined and increasingly threaten nature, human lives, livelihoods, and well-being around the world. That was the theme of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report that was issued in June.
The average abundance of native species in most major terrestrial biomes has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. The rapid vanishing of carbon-trapping mangroves and seagrasses prevents carbon storage and exposes coastlines to storm surges and erosion. Had you heard of the turgid-blossom pearly mussel, the flat pigtoe mussel, or the stirrupshell mussel? What about the Scioto madtom or the San Marcos gambusia, two freshwater fish? These species, like so many others, went extinct before most of us even knew their names.
Research out of the EU outlined how climate change is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss, but destruction of ecosystems also undermines nature’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to protect against extreme weather, thus accelerating climate change and increasing vulnerability to it. This explains why the crises must be tackled together with holistic policies that address issues simultaneously, not in silos.
The Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) scientific and implementation bodies, and the working group tasked with developing the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, will meet in March, 2022. The US is the only country in the world besides the Vatican that is not a party to its underlying treaty.
Devastating Weather Events Made the Climate Crisis Up Front & Personal
No longer is NIMBY relevant when discussing the climate crisis. At least one-third of people around the world experienced a weather disaster over the summer — I experienced the residues of 4 hurricanes in my jaunt to New England. This was the 6th year in a row that the Atlantic saw higher-than-average hurricane activity.
Some people say the link between severe weather events and the climate crisis needs more investigation. Bill McKibben of 350.org counters, saying, “This is so frightening is that it suggests fundamental parts of the way that the planet works have begun to shift, allowing for physical phenomena we’ve never seen before.”
- In February, Texas blackouts, the result of massive winter storms, revealed the area to be in an unlikely energy crisis. Blame went to frozen wind turbines when the actual culprit was frigid temperatures that stalled natural gas production.
- In mid-summer, the California Dixie fire spewed plumes of smoke and rapidly heated the air above it, which began to quickly rise. Chimney-like fire clouds attracted water particles and grew into Pyrocumulonimbus, or pyroCb — fire-fueled thunderstorms. Wildfires also raged out of control in Siberia, Turkey, and Greece.
- Floods wreaked havoc in Germany and China.
- A record-breaking heat wave occurred in the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
- Record-breaking rains bore down on the eastern part of the US. In Louisiana, homes were flattened by hurricane winds, and thousands were displaced.
- December tornadoes and windstorms devastated parts of the US and were linked to global warming.
Range Anxiety? Not Anymore — One of the Top Climate Stories 2021
Vice President Kamala Harris and other Biden administration officials unveiled a plan to build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers, with a particular emphasis on charging infrastructure in disadvantaged and rural areas. Part of the effort is the creation of a Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, an effort by the Energy and Transportation departments to smooth the rollout of electric vehicles.
What are the growing home, workplace, and public charging needs through 2030 to support the transition to EVs in the US? A report from Charging Up America outlined a series of steps that will be needed for EV charging infrastructures to be commonplace, easily accessible, and worry-free. It was announced that, as part of the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, two new electric vehicle programs will receive funds to address climate change by reducing carbon emissions. The National Electric Vehicle Program or EV Charging Program will provide funding to the States to strategically deploy EV charging infrastructure and to establish an interconnected network to establish data collection, access, and reliability.
It’s really tough to argue against a smooth, quiet, reliable, fun-to-drive car, which you can recharge right at home instead of having to detour over to a gas station. Last summer, Mercedes took steps to restore its brand reputation with a splashy new EV announcement featuring battery range that could top 600 miles, which should put all that talk about range anxiety on permanent vacation.
Final Thoughts about the Top Climate Stories 2021
As I researched topics for this article, it became all too clear that there were way too many top climate stories 2021 to include in one piece. That’s a very sad commentary on this moment in time, especially considering the disinformation and denial that surrounds the climate crisis.
Global powers lied to themselves and their citizens that curbing fossil fuel emissions could wait. Now it’s 30 years later, and United Nations scientific reports make it clear: we can no longer stop global warming from intensifying. We need to grasp with all our might this short window of time available to us to alleviate the most deadly future. Clearly, we are in the midst of an existential crisis.
In Part 2, I’ll continue to explore the Top Climate Stores 2021, helping all of us to see the big picture of what the climate crisis looks like at this moment in time as well as actions being taken to mitigate its deadly effects.
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