Why 2021 Could Be the Turning Point for the Climate Crisis
2020 will forever be known as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and rightfully so, as the virus has taken the lives of over 2 million people and changed the very fabric of our everyday lives. However, it was also a year of extreme weather conditions and natural disasters, precursors to an even greater threat to humanity: climate change.
Australia and California experienced unprecedented wildfires and historical droughts have destroyed agricultural production, leaving millions struggling to survive in Madagascar and Zimbabwe. Overall, 2020 was the hottest year on record, a clear sign of the impact climate change is having on the planet.
Because of this, 2021 is a crucial year for climate change. The UN secretary General, Antonio Guterres, believes 2021 is the make-or-break moment for the climate crisis. This statement is echoed by several world leaders including US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
This article will investigate the importance of this year in fighting climate change and outline the reasons to feel optimistic about the long road ahead.
Biden the bold
Under the Trump administration, climate change rarely featured on the agenda. The former President’s personal belief about the crisis was confusing. Some weeks he’d recognise it as a serious the issue, the next he claimed climate change was a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese. Climate policy was almost non-existent, a political decision made by Trump to appeal to influential Republicans.
With Biden now president, the United States intends to work hard in combatting the climate crisis. The President has already started undoing the work of his predecessor, re-joining the Paris climate agreement hours after he was sworn in and asking all nations to come together, share resources and save the planet.
The President’s environmental plan is extremely ambitious. Domestically, Biden intends to achieve net zero emissions whilst making the US a 100% clean-energy economy by 2050. He proposes spending nearly $2 trillion over four years on green initiatives, including upgrading millions of buildings to make them more energy efficient. He intends to invest heavily on transport including the production and manufacturing of electric vehicles.
Biden’s environmental ambition is historic, far surpassing the lofty goals of the Obama administration. Being the first of its kind, it is difficult to determine whether or not Biden’s green plan is feasible. However, the US is undoubtedly making an increased effort to tackle climate change and after 4 years of minimal environmental action, it is encouraging to see Biden and his team re-join the global effort. The US is a global superpower, and the chances of successfully combating the crisis increases significantly with Biden leading the way.
Countries cutting carbon
In a move considered unexpected by leading scientists and political-experts, several countries have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060 and have been making promising progress. Previously viewed as an expensive chore, leading nations shyed away from this green initiative over fears of economic downturn coupled with the fact that other countries may not follow suit.
However, over the past 18 months, the world’s biggest carbon criminals have committed to becoming carbon-neutral, regardless of whether there is a global effort. In September 2020, Chinese president, Xi Jinping, announced plans to go carbon neutral by 2060. South Korea, notorious for their reliance on fossil fuels, pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050.
In Europe, Spain leads the way in its attempt to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Under their socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, the government announced its intention to go carbon neutral by 2050, shifting away from fossil fuels like coal.
Spain’s actions are part of a wider movement. For the first time in history in Europe, renewables have produced more power than coal. The European Commission stated its desire for Europe to be the world’s first carbon-neutral continent. These statements and ambitions align with the actions taken by other European countries including Germany, Britain, and Denmark.
"For the first time in history in Europe, renewables have produced more power than coal."
One only must look at the funding pledged to these green initiatives to understand that this movement is historic. The European Commission forecasts investments totalling €1 trillion over the next 10 years, including a quarter of the EU budget. Spain intends to invest €750 billion to become carbon neutral and South Korea estimates US$61 billion is needed to implement successful green initiatives.
A global effort on this scale, particularly towards climate change, is unheard of. Understandably, many people are feeling optimistic about our ability to combat the threat of climate change. However, nations need to remain consistent in their pursuit for a cleaner world. In 2008, South Korea promised ‘green growth’ – but disastrous policies resulted in higher emissions for the Asian superpower.
Clean energy no longer costly
The move towards carbon-neutral countries is partly explained by the recent report that renewable energy is now cheaper to use than fossil fuels. According to the World Economic Forum, the cost of renewable energy has decreased rapidly over the last 10 years and power-industry experts say the switch to renewables is now unstoppable.
This clean energy revolution has taken significant steps over the last few years. In April 2019, the US generated more electricity from renewables than from coal for the first time in its history. Additionally, the UK generated electricity without the use of coal for 18 consecutive days. It is estimated that over $20 billion could be saved on the world’s energy bills if the costliest coal-generating plants are replaced by solar and wind energy.
"power industry experts say the switch to renewables is now unstoppable"
If countries continue investing in renewable energies, prices will likely drop even further, eroding any reasons to continue investment in fossil fuels like coal. With clean energy now economically beneficial, we could witness nations shut down coal and gas power plants.
Previously, investing in clean energy was a decision guided by morality, not by profit. But investors now have the added benefit of making money, so it is a win for all parties involved.
Covid-19 brings opportunity
The global economic impact of COVID-19 has been disastrous and profound. The world faces an economic disaster not seen since the 1929 Great Depression. However, there is a silver lining. Nations are now putting together ambitious strategies and policies to revive economies. The impact of COVID-19 has resulted in a drop in interest rates, meaning governments can afford to invest in projects that were previously labelled as pipe dreams.
Furthermore, as green projects tend to be labour-intensive, a green recovery could create tens of thousands of long-term jobs whilst helping to save the planet at the same time.
This is reflected in the promised green recovery investments made by the United States and the European Union. With trillion-dollar investments, these powerhouses hope other nations will do the same. But hope is not enough and the United States have warned of a tax on imports of countries that continue to emit too much carbon. This policy could push nations such as Brazil and Saudi Arabia to develop their own green initiatives and act.
All eyes on the Glasgow conference
In November, World leaders will attend the COP26 conference in Glasgow. The purpose of the conference is to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
World leaders will look to address pressing issues and solidify government plans. The conference intends to tackle supporting the needs of the most vulnerable nations and finalising well-conditioned rules to build a green and stable global economy.
On the agenda are seven key issues: fossil fuel exit, debt relief, public finance, private finance, adaptation and resilience, nature-based solutions, carbon-markets and offsets. Attending countries will need to form alliances and share resources to tackle both short-term and long-term climate problems.
The willingness of World leaders to come together demonstrates their intention to act. Acknowledging the need for a global effort is a step in the right direction and pooling knowledge and resources can only benefit the crisis every nation is facing.
2021 is a year that warrants cautious optimism. The global aim is to prevent the global temperature rise below 1.5C. If we wish to hit this target, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate we need to halve total emissions by the end of 2030.
Countries have expressed lofty ambitions for cutting carbon, moving away from fossil fuels and outlining green initiatives that require major social change. However, the challenge is developing strategies to make those ambitions practical.
Governments have a history of committing to fighting climate change whilst still investing heavily in fossil fuels. With the global attitude on climate change shifting, it will be interesting to see just how far world leaders are willing to go.
For more articles and resources on this topic, head to our dedicated Climate Crisis section.