Fighting the good fight for the planet isn’t just about focusing on the bad stuff – celebrating and reflecting on successes is vital for our wellbeing.
The less said about 2020 the better, really. It’s certainly been a year, and you’d be forgiven for wanting to write it off entirely. But among all the global turmoil, uncertainty and sadness, there have been pockets of climate positivity that can give us all a reason to be hopeful in these strange times. Here are the biggest climate wins from 2020.
- The UK had a record-breaking coal-free run
The UK went without burning coal for a record 67 days, 22 hours and 55 minutes between April and June, during which time renewable energy sources made up the biggest share of the energy mix (36%), followed by gas (33%) and nuclear (21%). The record far outstrips the previous longest stretch without coal-fired power of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes, which ended in June last year.
- Earth Overshoot Day arrived three weeks later this year
Earth Overshoot Day marks the point in the year when humans’ use of ecological resources exceeds what the planet can regenerate in a year. Last year, the grim day fell on July 29, this year it came three weeks later on August 22. Of course, this still means we’d effectively ‘run out’ of resources with four months of the year left to go, but it still marks a significant improvement!
- The world saw a seismic shift towards clean power
For the first time ever, solar and wind made up the majority of the world’s new power generation. According to BloombergNEF, solar additions alone totalled 119 gigawatts, representing 45% of all new capacity. Together, solar and wind accounted for more than two-thirds of the additions. That’s up from less than a quarter of all new power plants in 2010.
- Massive companies made major climate promises
Some of the biggest brand names on the planet made ambitious climate promises this year. In July, tech giant Apple committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030, while Unilever promised to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in the production of its cleaning products by 2030. Meanwhile, Facebook has committed to net zero by 2030 – as has Google and Nestle – while 13 new signatories including Coca-Cola and Microsoft have joined Amazon’s climate pledge, which aims to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement 10 years early.
- Planet-saving science made significant strides
This year saw a host of new technologies and innovations that are set to counter some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by the planet. Clean Earth Technologies in Australia, for example, has created a material that can safely clean up pollution such as oil spills, mercury pollution and fertiliser run-off, while tech start-up Carbios has identified a bacterial enzyme that digests PET plastic into its chemical building blocks, which could lead to infinitely recyclable plastic. Meanwhile, scientists are closer than ever to creating artificial photosynthesis for renewable energy. And of course there are all the advances with lab-grown meat!
- China went from red to green
China, like many countries, has traditionally focused on economic growth at any cost. This year, however, it introduced some new measures that could help it turn things around. At the start of the year it announced a ban on single-use plastics, while in May it removed fossil fuels from the list of programs that can be funded by green bonds. In September, it pledged to become carbon neutral before 2060, while the country’s environment ministry is proposing a crackdown on state involvement in building coal power plants abroad. As the world’s biggest polluter these are really important measures.
- The UK got better at recycling
WRAP’s annual Recycling Tracker report showed that the UK is making steady improvements when it comes to household recycling. According to the report, which gathered evidenced from 5,297 households in March this year, almost nine in 10 (87%) of UK households say they recycle ‘regularly’, whereas fewer than one in 10 households (9%) say they only recycle ‘occasionally’. Better yet, almost three quarters of those surveyed (72%) agreed with the statement ‘I am prepared to make lifestyle compromises to benefit the environment’ – that’s up from 64% in 2018. A significant leap.
- It was a good year for trees
Wildfires and blazes have blighted forests around the world this year, but we also saw a renewed focus on tree planting and woodland initiatives – important work, as trees remove carbon from the air as they grow. Wales announced plans to plant a huge national forest, while in March Earthwatch pioneered the ‘tiny forest’ concept in Oxfordshire. In Pakistan, day labourers laid off due to COVID have been reemployed as tree planters, while Australia announced plans to plant one million trees in bushfire recovery nurseries around the country. Meanwhile, a Canadian start-up has discovered a way to plant up to 40,000 trees a month using drones, and an initiative in India saw one million fruit trees planted, helping to combat both climate change and hunger.
- Governments laid down the law on climate change
Governments around the world all have some kind of environmental plan in place, but 2020 saw a lot of them getting serious about the issue. The European Commission announced its green recovery package which set extremely high standards for other nations, while Britain said it will bring in legally binding targets on air quality, waste reduction, biodiversity and cleaner water as part of efforts to combat climate change. Demark, meanwhile, introduced one of the most robust laws on climate change yet, which could make a lack of effort to prevent climate change genuinely illegal.
- Previously-endangered animal species make a comeback
While we’ve been keeping ourselves to ourselves this year, a number of animal species have been out and about and thriving. New research shows that humpback whales are making a remarkable recovery off the coast of Brazil, while activists are now working on returning the threatened pangolin to the wild. Red kites are now flourishing in England, and one of the world’s rarest dolphins is rebounding in Pakistan. Meanwhile, Amboseli National Park in Kenya reported a baby boom of elephants this year, with over 170 calves born in 2020 (and counting!), while October saw a record number of endangered turtles hatch in Mexico.
The bottom line
When it comes to protecting our environment and preventing runaway climate change we still have a long way to go. But as these stories show – and as the cost of clean energy plummets – there are many reasons to be hopeful. In the year of the UN’s COP26, the biggest climate negotiations ever, let’s all be stubborn optimists.
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