2021 in Review: What Green Advances Have we Made?

As we approach the end of the year, it is important to reflect on how we have progressed with climate change action in 2021. In this article we’ll have a look at some of the positive steps being made in different areas to help the planet. From how we heat our homes to how we look after the countryside, huge strides are being made in our transition to a green economy. We’ve have picked out some great developments you might have missed, that are important to help us on our path to a better world.

Politics 

There is no doubt that big deals were struck at The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) earlier this year. (Check out our article with everything you need to know here) These included a pledge by more than 141 countries to end deforestation by 2030. Notably, among the signatories were Russia and Brazil, who account for over 30% of the world’s total land area covered by forest. Other important pledges included reduction of methane emissions – a greenhouse gas second only to carbon dioxide in terms of its impact on the climate – in the form of the Global Methane Pledge signed by 40 countries, and the phasing out of coal use. More than 40 countries signed the COP26 Coal to Clean Power Transition Agreement, pledging for the first time to stop constructing and issuing permits for new coal plants.

Important pledges in the area of coal use reduction, methane emissions and deforestation were made at COP26.

On the national level, big steps are being taken in politics as well. In Europe more environmentalist parties are in power than ever before, with Greens in coalition in Austria, Ireland and Germany. Even here in the UK, the Greens have made it to government, joining a coalition with the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Holyrood which could see them having real influence on policy. We may already be seeing the effects of this with Nicola Sturgeon’s hardened stance on the Cambo oil field. 

Transport

Greening transport is an enormous task ,which ranges from motor vehicles to rail travel. However the topic of active travel (walking, cycling etc.) often gets less attention, possibly because it’s less flashy and attracts less investment. 

During the pandemic, walking and cycling programs have been encouraged by councils around the country. The number of journeys made by bicycle has crept up by a percentage point per year since 2018. Low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) have emerged as a way of improving active travel, as well as road safety and air quality. The measures include adding bollards or planters to prevent cars cutting through streets, widening pavements and introducing protected bike lanes. In London, 3,700 LTN’s exist, with 1,500 in Greater Manchester and 1000 in West Yorkshire. Encouragingly, despite a move away from active travel in central government policy, local councils are still focused on LTNs. 

Bicycle journeys have increased by a percentage point per year since 2018 as walking and cycling programs have been encouraged by councils.

The Second Global Sustainable Travel Conference also took place in Beijing, China in October, which aimed to give a platform for discussion of the challenges and solutions faced internationally in pursuit of the objectives outlined in the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And while 2020 saw an increase in the number of electric vehicle (EV) models produced by mainstream manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Vauxhall, 2021 has seen the steady rise of EV sales. The top three auto-motive markets – namely China, the United States and Europe – demonstrated an increase in EV sales of 160% in the first half of the year, and sale of EV’s is only expected to accelerate as we near the eradication of petrol and diesel car sales in 2030.

Clean Energy

Clean energy use in the UK has increased dramatically in the past few years, with renewables making up 43.1% of energy production in 2020. It seems backing for green energy solutions is finally on the way as their financial viability increases. There has been a five-fold increase in off-shore wind leading up to 2021, and new projects started this year have increased their value to six times the amount in 2019. 

There has been a five-fold increase in off-shore wind leading up to 2021.

The UK currently has the largest offshore wind farm in the world at Hornsea 1, with Hornsea 2 (not yet fully in production) set to be even bigger when it is complete.

Wildlife

In recent years there has been increasing awareness that the health and continuation of other species is intricately interwoven with the health of our own species.On mainland Europe, as rural areas are abandoned there has been an increase in carnivores such as bears, wolves and lynxes as well as larger herbivores like Roe deer and the omnivorous Wild boar. However, as the UK is an island, natural population growth of over-hunted species isn’t so straightforward.  Reintroducing species to the wild has become ‘en vogue’ in 2021, with Hazelnut dormice released earlier this year in Lancashire and pine martens, after a successful reintroduction scheme in Gloucestershire, being spotted in woodland in Shropshire. 

An increase in both carnivorous and herbivorous species has been seen on mainland Europe.

Plans are currently underway to allow applications to reintroduce beavers, who are noted for improving wetland habitats, preventing flooding and having positive effects of other biodiversity. These industrious creatures can already be found in Devon, but the scheme could see them building dams all over the country in an effort to improve our landscapes.

Worldwide, a number of species previously on the verge of extinction have made remarkable comebacks. Chinese conservation officials announced the removal of Giant pandas from the endangered species list and Nepal is set to double its wild tiger population by 2022. Importantly, environmental conservation has also approached the forefront of government policy and support in 2021; as mentioned the end of deforestation was a key discussion at COP26, and outside of COP, Panama promised to double its marine protected areas, Guayana established a law that will protect a forested area twice the size of Singapore, and Mozambique created a massive new national park.

What Can we Expect from 2022?

It is undeniable that massive advances have been made in 2021; the COVID pandemic has shifted many’s perspective on the importances and priorities of our lives and our existence in harmony with the Earth is a rapidly evolving prospect. Whilst all the above areas should also be watched, topics such as innovative agriculture, changes in our diet and the rise of conscious consumerism, up-cycling and thrifty fashion are likely to also be increasingly discussed.

What are your thoughts on sustainability trends in 2022? Have you any specific priorities in your life? Please let us know in the comments!

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