5 Good Environmental News From 2020
One thing that is easy to agree on is that 2020 has been one rollercoaster of a year. The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed the way we lived our lives, forcing us to put things into a different perspective. It was a year when checking the news became a source of anxiety, as our hopes for improvement seemed more and more out of reach. However, some positive news managed to slip through the cracks. So let’s give the new year a warm welcome and focus on some good environmental news from 2020, which ought to be remembered.
1. Renewables are now the cheapest form of energy
As of 2020, solar photovoltaic energy became the cheapest source of electricity. The price of wind power also continues to decline. More precisely, in the 10-year period between 2009 and 2019, the price of solar-sourced electricity declined by 89%, while the one for onshore wind power decreased by 70%.
This remarkable fact is the result of the massive technological advancement of renewable energy in the past years. However, this would not have been possible without the rising demand for green energy. As the demand for renewables increased, their prices continued to lower, leading to even higher sales.
Moreover, as the pandemic cut down the demand for fossil fuels dramatically, oil prices reached their minimum levels in history. In April 2020, the price of US crude oil became negative for the first time ever. This happened after the producers of crude oil had no more space for storing it as the demand plummeted.
2. Governments are stepping up their ambitions for carbon cuts
In September 2020, Chinese President, Xi Jinping, made the astonishing announcement that China aims to become carbon neutral by 2060. As China is the most polluting nation on the planet, accountable for around 28% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, this piece of news came as a complete surprise.
This ambition is even more encouraging when coupled with EU’s commitment to carbon neutrality in March 2020. Currently, over 110 countries have expressed their target of becoming carbon neutral by the middle of the century. They account for over 65% of global emissions.
Moreover, with the election of Joe Biden, the USA is planning to re-join the Paris climate agreement that the former president-elect steered away from. During his campaign, Joe Biden shared his ambitions for net-zero emissions by 2050. This would follow shifting to carbon-free electricity production by 2035.
3. Steps forward in the decarbonisation of the transportation sector
The transportation sector is accountable for almost a quarter of man-made CO2 emissions. Needless to say, this industry is in need of urgent change and new technologies.
Another example of good environmental news from 2020 is that more than one million battery-electric and plug-in hybrid cars have been sold in Europe alone last year. That is two times more than in 2019. Worldwide, electric car sales reached around 2.3 million units and a 3.2% market share in 2020. Moreover, this industry trend forces car producers to keep up. One example is the luxury carmaker, Bentley. The company aims to become carbon neutral and stop making fossil fuel cars by 2030.
Furthermore, continuous technological advancements in the transportation industry are crucial for the target of reaching a maximum of 2°C warmings by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels.
A notable example from last year is that a team of researchers from Oxford University has managed to turn carbon dioxide into jet fuel. The discovery still needs large-scale experiments until it can reach a practical application. However, the finding could revolutionise air travel, which is responsible for 12% of emissions from transportation.
As aviation emissions are expected to triple in the following three decades, the breakthrough of the Oxford team definitely has major potential if economics favour it.
4. Species saved from extinction
As habitat loss and climate change are leading to the endangerment and extinction of more and more species, researchers and conservationists are intensifying their efforts to secure as many of them as possible.
In 2020, their work proved fruitful and led to the saving of several species on the brink of extinction. The list includes the Loa water frogs, the black stilt, and the Burmese roofed turtles.
Moreover, a few species that could be found only in captivity or were thought to be already extinct were rediscovered last year. Some proud representatives of this wonderful finding are the New Guinea singing dog, the devil-eyed frog, and the Voeltzkow’s chameleon.
Lastly, scientists have found a shred of hope for some of the most beautiful organisms nature holds – coral reefs. Scientists have discovered an area of the Indian Ocean where corals are still thriving. This happens despite the advancing climate crisis that critically endangers the reefs. This is possible due to unique local conditions favoured by the proximity to Mount Kilimanjaro.
5. More efforts to get rid of plastic
The last piece of good environmental news from 2020 aims to sabotage nature’s perpetual enemy – plastic.
Each year, we produce an outrageous amount of plastic, weighing nearly as much as the planet’s entire human population. It is responsible for almost 4% of global GHG emissions, double than the aviation sector. If we continue this way, plastic production is estimated to generate 15% of global GHG emissions by 2050.
That is why governments are doing extensive efforts to regulate the use of plastic. After France declared to ban single-use plastics by 2040, last year brought similar ambitious goals. China, one of the biggest plastic users in the world, plans to completely change its practices. The decision to ban single-use plastics came as the country’s largest trash dump already filled up, 25 years earlier than planned.
China started by banning plastic bags in major cities by the end of 2020, which will become the norm in all towns by 2022. However, this is just the beginning of the country’s major anti-plastic ambitions that may revolutionise the way China deals with plastic.
Moreover, Canada plans to stop plastic waste by 2030 and will start with the ban of six types of single-use plastics – plastic grocery bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and food take-out containers that are hard to recycle.
Looking ahead to the new year
The fight against our approaching environmental catastrophe has one major challenge – we humans are very resistant to change when it is for the sole purpose of the greater good. However, last year’s COVID-19 pandemic showed that people have an incredible power to adapt and look past their personal needs and interests. This may be the best illustration of good environmental news from 2020.
Moreover, governments have made massive efforts to take control of the pandemic and try to keep it contained. As tackling our changing climate issue becomes more urgent, seeing the governments’ quick response brought some hope that comparable efforts could be done for the environment. It showed once again that we have the tools, just lacking true motivation for change.
As the world seemed to stop for a moment, the pandemic brought a 7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 compared to 2019. However, our environmental challenges are more urgent than ever.
The Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to below 2°C already seems to be out of reach. A UN report published in December 2020 predicts a warming of 3°C by the end of the century.
However, the UN emphasises that the temperature rise can be kept to 2°C if governments invest in low-carbon industries and technologies as they build the pandemic recovery strategy.
In November this year, world leaders will meet in Glasgow for the United Nations climate change summit. The meeting follows the one that took place in Paris during 2015, and brings with it the hope that major and disruptive carbon-cutting ambitions will be formulated, bringing us one step closer in our fight against climate change.