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Sharks in the Thames and renewable energy records: Positive environment stories from 2021
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Sharks in the Thames and renewable energy records: Positive environment stories from 2021

From the accelerating extinction of species worldwide to wildfires in Siberia and record-breaking floods in China and Italy, the slew of environmental disasters over the last year have been impossible to ignore.

Cop26 was able, after being delayed by the pandemic. However the final agreement’s wording was criticised. The Glasgow pact only just kept the 1.5C goal alive and that could unravel if countries dont stick to their commitments and present more ambitious plans in future.

There were some positive stories in the environment even in 2021. Lost species were rediscovered and rewilding projects thrived, and renewable energy saw another record year.

Here, are some of The Independents top positive environment stories of the year:

Renewable energy had a record year

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

This year was renewable energys biggest yet despite the pandemic and the rising cost of raw materials, according to the International Energy Agency.

By the end of 2021, additions of new renewable power capacity are expected to rise to 290 gigawatts mostly in the form of wind turbines and solar panels. This would surpass the previous record of 280 megawatts set last year.

The IEA stated that renewable energy would eventually account for the same global power generation as nuclear and fossil fuels in five years. The agency cautioned that this growth rate is only half of what is needed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by midcentury.

Sharks found living in River Thames

Starry smooth hound sharks now live in the River Thames

(Hans Hillewaert/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Londons River Thames is now home to sharks thanks to extraordinary conservation efforts that have restored the waterway after it was declared biologically dead in 1957.

Tope sharks can grow up to six feet in length and can live for 50 years. Spurdogs release venom through their fins.

According to the State of the Thames Report published by the Zoological Society of London, seals, eels, and seahorses can also be found in the river. This report is the first ever complete health check of the river.

According to the report, despite the success of Thames conservation efforts it paints a worrying picture about the river’s future.

The average temperature of London’s waterway has increased by 0.2% per year and water levels are up since 1911.

Cop26 kept goal of 1.5C of global heating alive, but only just

(AFP via Getty Images)

The agreements and deals made by the 196 nations at the Cop26 climate summit helped move the world a little closer to the path of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Notably, the summit saw countries agree to greater coordination in their efforts to eliminate coal, reduce deforestation, and cut methane emissions. Surprise announcement: China and the US announced that they would increase climate cooperation over ten years.

The final agreement reached at the summit was criticised because it did not go far enough in reducing our dependence on coal. The final text did not provide loss and damage financing to assist developing countries in coping with the worst effects of the climate crisis.

Although the Cop26 goal of 1.5C was achieved, we still have a lot to do before we can meet it. Climate Action Tracker says that the summit results will result in a global temperature rise of 2.4C by the end the century, if the 2030 pledges are not implemented. If all targets are met, it will rise by 1.8C.

Shelleys Eagle owl photographed in wild for the first-time.

(Dr Rob Williams)

A giant owl that had gone almost unseen in African rainforests for 150 years was photographed in the wild for the first time.

British researchers discovered the Shelleys Eagle-owl in Atewa forest in Ghana in October. It was the first sighting of the bird in Ghana since the 1870s.

Robert Williams, one among the researchers who spotted it, said that he hopes the discovery of such a rare and majestic owl will boost efforts to preserve one of Ghana’s last wild forests.

China pledged not to build any coal plants in foreign countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping


Xi Jinping announced in September that China will stop building coal plants abroad, a move that could be pivotal in reducing global emissions.

China is the largest international public financier of coal plants. It funds projects from South Africa to Indonesia as part of the massive infrastructure project known simply as the Belt and Road initiative.

Climate scientists, policy experts, and activists welcomed President Xis’s announcement. They also stressed that there are still many questions.

President Xis’ remarks did not include a timeline or mention if it included public and private funding for overseas coal plants. It is unclear whether the announcement applies to proposed plants or plants in the planning stage.

Scientists learnt more about the amusing habits of octopuses


Researchers discovered that female octopuses will sometimes throw shells at males annoying them.

The footage of octopuses from Australia showed that females would throw silt and shells at males during unwelcome mating attempts.

One instance showed that a single female octopus was throwing material 10 times. Five of these hits a male in a nearby den, which scientists believe had been trying to mate with her several times.

The research team from Australia, Canada and the US concluded that octopuses should be added to a short list of animals which regularly throw or propel material. They also need to be added to a shorter list of animals who direct their throws at other animals.

Beavers returned to British rivers after 400 years


Around 400 years after humans wiped out beavers across Britain, the species was brought back to several sites in record numbers in 2021.

In the South Downs and Derbyshire, Derbyshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Isle of Wight, Montgomeryshire, and elsewhere in mid-Wales, beavers were introduced as pairs.

After two adults were introduced in Somerset to Holnicote Estate in January 2020, Exmoor saw the birth of the first baby beaver in 400 years. After a public vote, the kit was named after Marcus Rashford, England’s football star.

There are many other releases, including plans for reintroduction of the species to London’s Hyde Park.

Beavers are a keystone species and play an important role in helping to alter the environment, support other animals, and reduce flood risk.

Orchid thought to be extinct in UK found on roof of London bank


A rare species of orchid thought to be extinct in the UK was discovered growing on the rooftop of an 11-storey London bank in June.

Serapias Parviflora, also known by small-flowered tongue orchid (also known as Serapias parviflora), has not been seen in the UK since 1989 when a colony was discovered in Rame Head, Cornwall.

The entire wild population of this species in the UK was discovered by the new discovery of 15 plants on the roof garden of Nomura (a Japanese bank). The plants can grow to 30cm in height and have between 3 and 12 small orange flowers.

Shell was forced to slash global emissions after a landmark court ruling

(Getty Images)

A court in the Netherlands ordered oil giant Shell to cut its global emissions by 45% compared to 2019 levels in a landmark case in May.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) says this is the first time that a company has been legally required to align its policies with the Paris climate agreements.

FoE, six other activist groups, and more than 17,000 Dutch citizens brought the case to court in 2019.

The decision is only applicable in the Netherlands but could have wider implications elsewhere. Roger Cox, FoE lawyer and environmentalist, described it as a historic turning point in holding large polluting corporations accountable for their emissions.

US officially rejoined the Paris agreement

(AFP via Getty Images)

Just 107 days after it had left at the behest of former president Donald Trump, the US officially returned to the Paris climate accord in February.

This was done by Joe Biden on his first day of office as part of an executive order sweep to address the climate crisis.

After Trump’s declaration that the agreement was a disaster for America, he had made a decision to withdraw from it during his presidency.

Nearly 200 countries signed The Paris Agreement. It aims to limit global temperatures rising to 1.5C above preindustrial levels by 2050.

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