5 environmental stories to look out for in 2021
February 3, 2021
We are more than a month through 2021. It’s been a hard start to the year, with the COVID pandemic continuing to surge despite the beginnings of vaccinations in many countries.
On top of coronavirus, climate change presents another dire challenge that requires massive mobilization from the world to solve, and we’re running out of time. Climate change, species loss, pandemics and massive natural disasters might define the future — unless we do something now.
Addressing the climate crisis — as well as preventing future pandemics — necessitates large-scale restoration efforts. 2021 can be the year in which we reach a breakthrough to fabricating a healthier, more sustainable and more equitable world.
From policy, to plastic, this year holds a lot in store for Restoring our Earth. Here are five topics to keep a lookout for this year.
1. COP 26
The 26th COP, or the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, will be held in Glasgow, UK this November. It will see a gathering of world leaders to convene on the most pressing climate change issues. Most importantly, COP may hold the door open to large-scale cooperation and action on climate change.
COP26 comes at a critical juncture, as it marks six years since the Paris Agreement was adopted by 196 parties. The agreement calls on countries to reduce overall carbon emissions and meet targets that would keep warming to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This year’s gathering will ideally see countries ramp up their climate action plans, also known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
2. CLIMATE LITERACY
Creating a climate literate citizenry holds the key to creating jobs, building a green consumer market and allowing citizens to engage with their governments in a meaningful way to restore our earth. According to a recent paper in PNAS, scientists designated climate education as one of six societal transformations needed to stabilize the earth’s climate by 2050.
As we stand, few countries require climate change to be taught in schools, and even fewer require its inclusion and application across disciplines. That’s why activists worldwide are pushing for compulsory, assessed climate education with a strong civic engagement component.
3. regenerative agriculture
Do you know where your food comes from? And perhaps more importantly, do you know how your food is grown?
Industrial farms commonly employ pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to grow and harvest food. Such chemicals and related processes strip the soil of its nutrients, which not only decrease soil organic matter, but also lower resilience to climate change.
On the contrary, regenerative agriculture seeks to boost soil health through practices such as livestock integration, cover crops and no-till agriculture. Regenerative agriculture also captures more carbon from the atmosphere than industrial agriculture, which can help mitigate against climate change. Large food companies are warming up to regenerative agriculture, committing to investments and sustainable efforts across their supply chains.
4. restore our species
Species are undergoing the greatest extinction rate in more than 60 million years. Corals are but one of the many species at risk from climate change. According to a 2021 University of California, Los Angeles-led study, increased ocean acidification and rising ocean temperatures can interact to harm reef-building corals. The continuation of these trends may result in increased coral bleaching, the movement of species to different locations and deaths.
Corals provide a wide-range of ecosystem services for humans and need our protection. Fortunately, top-down restoration efforts alongside grassroots stewardship has the potential to preserve these and many more species.
5. end plastic pollution
Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary to curb the spread of Covid. Plastic masks and gloves have become commonplace in our everyday lives. But all this plastic is adding up: of the roughly 52 billion face masks made in 2020, 1.56 billion masks have ended up in our oceans.
Each year, ocean plastic pollution kills about 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, over a million seabirds and even greater numbers of fish and other species. What’s more, it greatly impacts coastal communities and economies, who rely on oceans for their livelihoods. While opting for PPE made from more sustainable materials is not an option for many, there are many other ways to reduce our collective impact.
Climate change threatens to throw nature and human societies out of balance, but our resilience to history’s many challenges has shown us that we can make a change. Together, we can restore our earth.