5 Biggest climate stories of 2020
2020 – what a year for climate change news. This year, we’ve seen many of the world’s most powerful institutions shift in their thinking about climate change. From the UK’s “green industrial revolution” to Joe Biden bringing one of the world’s superpowers back to the climate table, it has been a momentous year.
Let’s take a look at the five biggest climate stories of 2020 and why they are giving us hope for a greener future.
1. President Xi Jinping’s announces that China would be net zero by 2060
China is the world’s most populous country with a population of 1.4 billion. China is also the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, responsible for 30% of global carbon pollution. Unlike North America and Europe, who are also significant polluters, China’s greenhouse gas emissions are currently still increasing.
So it was a big surprise when on the 22nd of September, President Xi Jinping announced to the UN General Assembly that China would aim to become carbon neutral by 2060. This is Beijing’s first ever long-term climate target.
In making this pledge, China joins the European Union, the United Kingdom, and dozens of other countries in adopting mid-century climate targets. These targets are in line with the requirements of the Paris Agreement.
Practically speaking, going carbon neutral means China will have to reduce its emissions by as much as 90% and offset the rest. If they deliver this target, this alone will cut approximately 0.2C to 0.3C from global warming projections. So this makes Xi’s pledge the world’s single largest climate commitment to date.
2. Europe and the UK pledged new climate goals
In 2020, European leaders agreed to strengthen Europe’s climate goals, pledging a new target of 55% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030. At 15% more than previously pledged, this is a huge step in the right direction.
Combined, the EU is the world’s third biggest carbon polluter behind China and North America. They are responsible for approximately 8% of the world’s emissions. With all 27 member states working together, this sets a hopeful precedent for countries working together to set and (hopefully) achieve climate goals.
As for the UK, 2020 was the year that they announced a commitment to reducing emissions by at least 68% by 2030. This represents the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), a pledge made with the aim of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement of net zero emissions by 2050.
In order to achieve this goal, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a radical 10 point plan, which he dubbed a “green revolution”. This includes increasing offshore wind power energy production, promoting electric vehicles, and becoming a world-leader in carbon capture technology.
The UK is hosting the COP conference in 2021, which was delayed because of the Coronavirus pandemic. With these ambitious targets, it appears that the UK is aiming to establish itself as an international climate leader ahead of the conference. It remains to be seen whether the UK can actually meet these goals, but it certainly sets the bar high for other countries who have yet to announce their targets.
3. The effect of the pandemic on the climate.
2020 will always be remembered as a bleak year because of the global health crisis that was the Covid-19 pandemic. However, as a result of international travel grinding to a halt, greenhouse gas pollution dropped by about 7%. Although this may seem initially positive, the conclusions we can draw from this fact are mixed.
In the grand scheme of things, this drop in emissions is relatively small. If anything, this confirms that lifestyle changes alone will not be enough to fix climate change. Solutions such as carbon offsetting remain as vital as ever to meet net zero targets.
On the plus side, pollution levels are down, and as a society we have all reconsidered the necessity of international travel, particularly by air. However, we need to be aware of emission levels rising again when the economy recovers.
The speed with which we developed the coronavirus vaccine is testament to how quickly we can deploy life-saving technology when we need to. Applying a similar approach to clean energy and other climate change tech could be a game-changer in the fight against climate change.
Above all, Coronavirus has come as a timely reminder of the vulnerability of the human race. In order to prevent more pandemics and natural disasters like that of 2020, we must commit now to taking radical climate action.
4. The price of renewable energy dropped lower than ever
More and more countries are committing to cutting their carbon emissions. And with good reason. It is becoming financially easier than ever before to do so. In 2020, we saw for the first time a concerted move to recognizing the potential and price-competitiveness of zero-carbon energy.
In October 2020, the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation, announced that solar power is now “the cheapest source of electricity in history.”
What’s more, it will soon be cheaper to build new solar and wind plants than to continue to operate existing coal plants. The logic is simple. The more countries invest in the production of renewable energy, the cheaper it gets. With finite resources for fossil fuels becoming increasingly scarce, renewable energy is certainly the way to go.
And so the world’s most powerful financial institutions increasingly believe that the future is decarbonised, and that far from hurting the economy, climate action will help it. Investors will follow the money as they always have done, and increasingly green energy is looking like a good bet.
5. Joe Biden won the U.S. election on a vow to put climate policy at centre of his domestic and foreign policy.
When Joe Biden was elected the new President of the United States at the end of 2020, he made a significant pledge to environmental policy. Firstly, he vowed America would rejoin the Paris Agreement, which Trump had pulled the country out of.
What Biden is promising is important news for the climate. He has proposed to make US electricity production carbon-free by 2035 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Provisionally, he has promised $2 trillion over four years to upgrade four million buildings, making them more energy efficient to produce less emissions. This, as well as other actions are all focused on simultaneously reducing emissions and creating jobs.
Less spoken about but no less important is Biden’s commitment to phasing out hydrofluorocarbons. Used in fridges and AC units, hydrofluorocarbons can escape into the atmosphere and trap heat thousands of times more effectively than CO2. Phasing them out has monumental climate benefits – this bill will avert the equivalent of more CO2 emissions than Germany emits in a year. If other countries followed America’s lead, a global phase out of hydrofluorocarbons would get us 10% of the way to reaching the 2C goal.
Here’s to 2021 delivering the climate action we’re hoping for…
So there we have it, the 5 biggest climate stories of 2020.
With COP26 in the calendar for 2021, and hopefully a recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic, many of us are putting our hopes in 2021 to deliver more positive news for the environment.
It remains to be seen whether these ambitious targets can be met, but there is much to be hoped for.
If you want to learn more about how individuals can make a meaningful contribution to the fight against climate change, head over to Treepoints.