We all know how challenging 2020 was for everyone all over the world – with the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed almost 1.7 million lives and impacted livelihoods, pushing more than 265 million to the brink of starvation. This is aggravated by the disastrous effects of climate change that has forced many vulnerable people in Asia-Pacific and across the globe to their breaking point. As the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation said, “Climate change continued its relentless march in 2020.” And prompting United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres to say, “Our planet is broken.”
This year is set to be one of the warmest years on record which brings much concern because it seems like we are losing our battle against climate change.
But hope is not lost.
Amidst this staggering news, there are also encouraging signs; people, organisations and countries who continue their valiant efforts to fight for the environment and vulnerable communities. These victories are like ripples in the water that can have a great impact in our planet. And today, we want to highlight some environmental and climate action triumphs and successes – to inspire hope.
For many months this year, the world stood still, countries were on lockdown, and many businesses had to stop their operations. This gave our planet some breathing room. As the UK’s Green Party leaders Sian Berry and Jonathan Bartley said, “In the middle of all the horror of the pandemic, we glimpsed that a different world might be possible.” Studies show that during those months, the air quality improved, there was less noise and water pollution, and harmful greenhouse gas emissions were reduced. Although this is only for some time, it showed us the path towards sustainability.
2. Growing awareness about climate change
Global awareness regarding climate change has reached a crescendo in 2020. During this year’s Earth Hour, 190 countries participated and showed their support for the planet. In the US, climate change was one of the top priorities among those who voted in the US presidential elections which propelled pro-climate action presidential candidate Joe Biden to victory. When people are aware about the issue, they seek to do more and encourage others to support their cause so that eventually, we’ll have the global community behind us as we face the most important battle of our generation.
3. The rise of environmental justice and racial justice
The killing of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic prompted communities of colour especially those living near industrial sites to fight for their right to live and work in a cleaner and safer environment. They have given a broader context to Floyd’s last words “I can’t breathe” as it is now seen in the context of environmental racism wherein minorities suffer from pollution such as those caused by highway infrastructure and toxic waste landfills. It ignited the National Black Environmental Justice Network to call for change, and companies, local and national officials are now taking notice.
4. Some countries have implemented laws on Net Zero Emissions
Hungary, China, Japan, and South Korea have brought in legislation that will reduce their CO2 levels to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to 2060. These countries are now legally bound to the targets that they have set, and this is a big leap from their pledges during the Paris Agreement. This is a big boost in our effort to ensure that “global warming remains well below two degrees Celsius by 2100” and we hope that more nations will follow suit.
5. Hurray for companies that joined the UN Race to Zero campaign
The world’s largest alliance of investors, businesses, and local governments that aim to achieve net zero emissions before 2050 has just gotten bigger with New South Wales, Brambles, C.P. Group, Facebook, and Ford joining the cause. They now have the commitment of 45 big investors, 549 universities, 1,101 businesses, 452 cities in 22 regions all over the world. And the best part is that the UN Race to Zero coalition continues to grow. As entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg said, “It’s possible to reduce air pollution, improve health, extend people’s lives, fight the climate crisis, and grow local economies. We don’t have to choose just one of those outcomes. They all really do go hand in hand.”
6. The surge of the vehicles of the future
There were 17,000 electric cars in 2010, and now there is around 7.2 million electric vehicles used on the roads in different parts of the world. Electric vehicles are said to be the vehicles of the future. They have a huge advantage over gasoline or diesel-powered cars because they are less polluting, more efficient, sustainable, and “they offer a pathway to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” The UK and the state of California have already said that they wouldn’t allow new gasoline or diesel-powered cars to be sold by 2030 and 2035 respectively.
7. Protection of our oceans
Right before 2020 ends, 14 members states of the United Nations made a pact to “sustainably manage 100% of the oceans under their national jurisdictions by 2025 and set aside 30 percent of their seas as marine protected areas by 2030.” These nations include Indonesia, Japan, Australia, Ghana, Kenya, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Norway, Portugal, Namibia, as well as the island nations of Palau, Jamaica, and Fiji. This is a momentous occasion because together, they make up 40% of the Earth’s coastlines where various economic activities take place.
8. Governments moving to ban single-use plastics
Canada has joined 170 other nations in reducing their use of plastics. It has launched a zero-plastic waste by 2030 campaign by banning the use of plastic grocery bags, cutlery and food takeout containers, six-packs rings, straws, and stirrers. The country has readily available alternatives for these plastic products and by banning single-plastic use, is helping to reduce the size of the plastic problem. The state of Western Australia introduced Australia’s most comprehensive ban on single-use plastic this year, which will see plastic plates, cutlery, straws, thick plastic bags, polystyrene food containers, and helium balloon releases to be banned over the next three years.
9. Cutting climate pollution in the United States
The US states of California, Oregon, and Virginia have passed legislations to curb pollution by shifting to clean energy sources, drafting strategies per sector to achieve net zero emissions, and making a commitment to fight for economic and environmental justice. Numerous other states are taking an active part in climate action because they believe that the United States should take the lead in the global response to climate change. These states have made climate action declarations despite Trump’s climate policy rollbacks and we salute their political will and commitment to our environment.
10. Victory for the anti-coal movement
In November, members of the anti-coal movement celebrated another victory as major investors of the Thabemetsi coal plant in the Limpopo Province of South Africa backed out. This 557-MW power station was a major threat to the already limited resources in the community which would only make the residents suffer in the long run.
In Australia, the Stop Adani movement have pressured insurance giants to refuse to cover Adani’s Carmichael coal project. 27 insurance companies have now refused coverage, including insurer Apollo. In an email to environmental advocacy group Market Forces, Apollo Syndicate Management said: “I can confirm that we participate in one construction liability policy in respect of Adani Carmichael. This particular policy terminates in September 2021 after which we will no longer provide any insurance cover for this project. We have recently declined to participate in an additional policy relating to the Port and Rail extension and have agreed that we will not participate in any further insurance policies for risks associated with this project.”
These victories, no matter how small they may seem in the grand scheme of things, give us a ray of hope in our battle against climate change. Our planet may seem broken but what’s broken can be mended through our intentional collective action to make this world a better place to live in. Let’s continue to build on these environmental and climate action wins in 2021!
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Cover image by NOAA.