All of the environmental victories in 2021 shared one thing. They were put in motion years ago, and were pulled across the line by people power. They are almost always a win over some other thing, with humanity pushing back against its greed.
People have been at the center of the environmental losses that have occurred over the past 12 months. Whether it’s decisions taken in oil executive boardrooms, or climate breakdown due to public inaction, however they come about, it’s the changes in the natural world that we observe with horror. Scientists have found that Europe now has 600 million fewer breeding birds per year than 40 years ago. DiscoveredLast month, while one of Antarctica’s most important ice sheets is fracturing.
The simple act of adding up wins or losses reveals how interconnected the planets are.
Our understanding of the environment’s health is filtered through our imperfect lens. The new Arctic record for the hottest temperature (38C) was just recognized this week, from summer 2020.
Some of the pioneering projects that were launched this year – such as an initiative to map the world’s underground fugal networks for the first time, and grasp their ecological potential – won’t be fully understood for years to come.
Even so, it’s good to take stock; to take heart from the wins – and note which ones are not quite in the bag yet, but require sustained pressure. In the grand scheme of things, wins and losses may seem simple. They appeal to our human need to tell stories. We need all the positive stories we can get in December 2021.
7. 1.5C was kept alive by COP26 agreements
It’s a seriously compromised victory – few would describe the Glasgow Climate Summit as an overall “win” – but progress was made.
A major deal was forged to protect the world’s forests, with more than 100 leaders committing to End deforestation before 2030. The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use was signed by the majority of countries in the Amazon Rainforest, and has nearly €16.5 billion funding behind it – so the potential is huge. Now it’s up to us to hold leaders accountable, to stop the pledge falling short like the New York Declaration on Forests from seven years ago.
A new plan was also announced by more than 100 countries. Reduce methane emissionsBy 30 percent. This is another step forward in the right direction as methane is becoming more widely recognized as one of the most potent greenhouse gasses. Some steps were made in the Finance sector too.
“We can say with credibility that we have kept 1.5C within reach but its pulse is weak,” COP26 president Alok Sharma concluded. “It will only survive if we keep our promises, if we translate commitments into rapid action and if we deliver on the expectations set out in this Glasgow Climate Pact to increase ambition to 2030 and beyond.”
The UN system is still fighting another day. At the very minimum, it lives to fight another day. The new expectation that countries will improve their nationally determined contributions, or their commitments to reduce emissions, every year is a significant shift.
6. Shell was packed by Stop Cambo during the Stop Cambo campaign
Shell pulled out this year of Cambo. NewsAfter six months of coordinated campaigning to stop the development a new North Sea oilfield, the delighted activists from all over the globe arrived late on 2/12/12.
People made a moral case and it was clear. “How can the UK host COP26 and claim to be a green leader, while facilitating projects like this?” said Scottish environmental scientist Mara. “We know from the IPCC ReportIt is imperative that this extraction cease. It’s positive that Shell has withdrawn, but it also shows the power of grassroots activism and public pressure.
The fight over the seafloor near Scotland’s Shetland Islands is not over yet though. Siccar Point (which owns 70% of the field) has indicated that it intends to find a new investment. As others have done, It should be notedThe UK government has not yet made a final decision.
5. The courtroom is losing for polluters
Shell, the multinational oil-and-gas giant, lost a Case before the Supreme CourtBack in May. After finding that its policies were too vague, judges in The Hague ordered that the company cut its carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 in the Netherlands.
Milieudefensie van Veranderaars (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), started assembling the case in 2018 with other charities and more that 17,000 co-plaintiffs. In an emotional statement read outside the court, lawyer Roger Cox said “people around the world are ready to sue oil companies in their own country, following our example.
“And not only that. Oil companies will be much less willing to invest in fossil fuels and polluting fuels. The climate has won today.”
To make it even easier for other activists to succeed, Milieudefensie released a DIY manual entitled “How we defeated Shell” to encourage others to take on some of the biggest companies in the world.
4. Australian courts establish ‘duty of care’ precedent towards young people
People are seeking legal remedies to stop pollution and hold government and companies accountable. We don’t yet know the final results of some of them, but they have a weight and inspiration well beyond the particulars.
17-year olds are also available in May Anjali SharmaShe was able to prove that she had won against the Australian government. Although the coal mine at the heart of the dispute could still be expanded (the outcome is expected soon), the judge ruled that there is a duty of care for young people to avoid climate harm.
In the UK, ‘Paid to Pollute’ campaigners took the UK government to court this month, accusing it of illegally subsidising fossil fuel producers through tax incentives, which undermine its climate goals. The ruling is expected to be published in the early part of next year.
3. The movement to give nature legal protections gains momentum
It’s not just in high profile cases that the law is affording the environment greater protection. This year has seen a steady increase in the movement to grant legal protections to nature, including rivers, lakes, mountains.
In February, Quebec’s Magpie River became the first one in Canada to gain legal personhood. The Innu Council of Ekuanitshit in Canada, a First Nation band, established nine rights for the river, including the right of flow, safety from pollution, and the ability to sue.
It is hoped that the Muteshekau–shipu, as it is known by the Indigenous Innu community, will be preserved for future generations like the Whanganui River of New Zealand. It is being recognized more and more. Indigenous peoples’ land rightsStewardship and management.
Another important milestone was the first legal definition of ‘ecocide’ – decided by top lawyers in June 2021. This is a crime under international law, according to campaigners.
2. There are some major wins for the university divestment movement
Harvard University, the richest institution, announced its divestment form fossil fuels in September. It took organisers 10 years to make that happen,” American writer Rebecca Solnit Not noted.
“For more than nine years you could have looked at the campaign as unsuccessful, even though it was part of a global movement that got trillions of dollars out of fossil-fuel investments, recast the fossil-fuel industry as criminal and raised ethical questions for all investors to consider.”
Lancaster University became the UK’s 92nd university to withdraw investments from fossil fuel companies in November. Students haven’t stopped putting their institutions under the spotlight, however. Last month, Cambridge and Oxford students were the focus of attention. Their colleges were turned aroundWe rank them based upon how ambitious their divestment, decarbonisation and other policies are.
1. A ‘mega’ marine protected area was created in the Pacific
Although it was lost in COP26 coverage in Panama, Ecuador and Colombia, a mega marine protected zone (MPA) was established by Costa Rica, Colombia, Colombia, and Colombia in November. The Pacific-facing nations agreed to join their marine reserve to create one large corridor where sea turtles can safely migrate.
The Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor covers more than 500,000 km and includes the extension of existing national MPAs.
“This is the new language of global conservation,” Ecuador’s environment minister, Gustavo Manrique told The Guardian.
“Never have countries with connecting maritime borders joined together to create a public policy.”