24. January 2022

The themes that dominated environmental action in 2021


For anybody with a passing curiosity in local weather and setting politics and coverage, there was merely no escaping the Conference of the Parties in Glasgow this yr.

By any evaluation the commitments made by the 197 signatories to the Paris Agreement made in Glasgow in November constituted too little action to halt international warming, made approach too late.

But in the weeks because it ended, one thing like a consensus has emerged that its achievements had been important.

The Glasgow summit attracted worldwide attention.

The Glasgow summit attracted worldwide consideration.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen, Bevan Shields, Getty Images,

Firstly, it proved that the Paris Accord has held and may operate. Secondly, it cemented the extra bold goal of holding warming to 1.5 levels because the central focus of efforts moderately than 2 levels, which many countries had sought to entrench in Paris in 2015.

For the primary time, a UN doc known as particularly for coal to be phased down (moderately than out, as an earlier draft had put it) and large commitments had been made by many countries to cut back logging and fossil gasoline use.

Whether that 1.5-degree goal may be achieved is greater than in doubt. An evaluation by the International Energy Agency (IEA) discovered that if each dedication introduced on the convention is stored – and that is a big if – the world stays on monitor for 1.8 levels of warming.

At the tip of the convention, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres introduced the trouble to achieve 1.5 levels was nonetheless alive, however on life assist.

It didn’t assist that inside days of the convention ending, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union all signalled they might not enhance their targets earlier than subsequent yr’s COP27 Climate Summit, as that they had been known as upon to do in the Glasgow Pact that they had simply signed.

Australian politics reacts

In the face of a public strain marketing campaign waged by a few of Australia’s strongest pals, together with Britain and the United States, Prime Minister Scott Morrison ultimately introduced a web zero by 2050 goal and agreed to attend the COP.

There he confirmed that Australia’s 2030 goal would stay 26 to twenty-eight per cent, bolstered by a projection that the precise minimize would find yourself being as excessive as 35 per cent.

The support of National’s leader Barnaby Joyce was required to allow the government to agree to net zero emissions by 2050.

The assist of National’s chief Barnaby Joyce was required to permit the federal government to comply with web zero emissions by 2050.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Both targets are nicely beneath what scientists say can be a good contribution to the worldwide effort to carry warming to 1.5 levels later this century, and disenchanted observers right here and overseas.

After the convention, Labor introduced its personal coverage which included a goal of 43 per cent by 2030, additionally wanting the action scientists consider is critical.

Indeed, solely the Greens’ coverage of lowering emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 is in line with the reductions the Climate Council has cited as mandatory.

Despite this, the Labor coverage was typically well-received by local weather observers.


“Labor’s plan helps bridge the gap between the Morrison government’s do-nothing approach and state government and business leaders who are forging ahead to create jobs and grow our nation’s prosperity by slashing emissions this decade,” stated the Climate Council’s chief govt, Amanda McKenzie.

Richie Merzian, director of vitality and local weather coverage with The Australia Institute, stated many in the sector had been merely exhausted by the local weather wars that have cruelled local weather coverage for a technology in Australia, and keen to welcome any actual motion by the foremost events.

With News Ltd newspapers supporting the federal government’s web zero plan and the Business Council of Australia backing Labor’s targets, there was cause by yr’s finish to consider these wars could also be ebbing.

The vitality revolution

Buoyed by the findings of a landmark 2020 report by the IEA that solar energy had turn into the most affordable vitality created in historical past, a global motion coalesced across the COP to make this the yr that fossil fuels had been lastly knocked out of the financial system – or at the least peaked.

Sun Cable is the world’s largest solar farm, delivering power from the Australian outback to the Northern Territory and Singapore.

Sun Cable is the world’s largest photo voltaic farm, delivering energy from the Australian outback to the Northern Territory and Singapore. Credit:

This was not a fringe motion both. As COP host and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a cheerleader, and because the UK had managed to shrink its coal use from 25 per cent of the nation’s energy to beneath 1.6 per cent, his was a reputable voice. US local weather envoy John Kerry threw his weight behind the trouble too and loved the backing of the EU.

At the COP, a gaggle of developed nations raised cash to assist South Africa shut down its soiled coal business and in the weeks after, the Asian Development Bank laid out a plan to lift capital to purchase out and shut down coal energy stations in this area.

But at the same time as 40 nations signed a pledge to desert coal on the COP, a grim set of unexpected circumstances was inflicting coal and gasoline costs to surge to new file ranges – blackouts engulfing China and India.

An oddly windless northern autumn had lowered the anticipated quantity of wind energy obtainable in Europe simply as a chilly snap lifted heating demand. With the so-called pipeline of latest fossil tasks already constricted because of the lingering shock of the COVID-19 downturn and the movement of worldwide capital away from new fossil gasoline tasks, provides had been failing to maintain tempo with a sharper-than-expected return in demand, inflicting a crippling scarcity of fossil fuels that would have appeared unthinkable only a yr earlier.

Few consider although that the surge in demand will likely be sustained. Indeed, the primary vitality shock of the inexperienced energy period might even drive nations to speed up their embrace of renewable and firming applied sciences to free themselves from capricious international vitality markets.

Business will get on board

With the reshaping of worldwide vitality markets now wanting extra like a sensible actuality moderately than an activist fantasy, the world’s main vitality corporations started to reconfigure themselves.

Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s new green venture, Fortescue Future Industries, is taking a modern approach to workplace culture.

Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s new inexperienced enterprise, Fortescue Future Industries, is taking a contemporary strategy to office tradition. Credit:FFI/Twitter

Australia is residence to a few of the world’s largest assets corporations. And because the push to arrest local weather change grew to become markedly extra pressing, buyers continued retreating from corporations in the enterprise of drilling up planet-heating fossil fuels, pushing the price of capital increased and triggering a wave of merger and acquisition exercise.

BHP, the nation’s largest mining firm, has stepped up plans to higher align its portfolio with the worldwide decarbonisation mega-trend, putting a deal to promote its total petroleum division to Perth-based Woodside and persevering with its efforts to promote out of thermal coal.

Two of Australia’s prime oil and gasoline producers, Santos and Oil Search, agreed to a $21 billion merger in the hope of gaining larger capability to self-fund their progress tasks as monetary challenges intensified.

Meanwhile, the inflow of latest large-scale renewable vitality and rooftop photo voltaic panels throughout Australia’s east coast electrical energy grid has led to a serious shake-up of the market, inflicting wholesale energy costs to plunge to ranges the place fossil fuel-based mills have been struggling to remain viable.

In March, the strain prompted EnergyAustralia to announce it will shut down its big Yallourn coal plant in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley in 2028, 4 years sooner than scheduled, whereas AGL has unveiled plans to embark on a historic demerger to separate off its carbon-heavy coal and gas-fired energy stations after sinking to a $2 billion full-year loss.

But it was not simply the large emitters that started getting ready for a brand new world. Over the yr it grew to become clear that the monetary sector was on board with the broader decarbonisation motion, and in this nation at the least gave the impression to be extra enthusiastic to behave than the federal government itself.


Chief govt of the Carbon Market Institute John Connor says it was clear from conversations with Australian executives this yr that local weather was now not a fringe situation however entrance and centre in the nation’s boardrooms.

He notes that the value of carbon credit on the Australian market climbed from round $16.50 initially of the yr to virtually $50.

This yr it grew to become clear that the EU is decided to introduce some type of carbon border tariff, penalising carbon-intensive merchandise from crossing its border. Should the coverage succeed it’s more likely to be replicated, driving a virtuous circle of greening-for-profit in the worldwide provide chain.

It was additionally the yr that hydrogen grew to become a darling of governments pursuing new clear industries and buyers searching for to make a clear buck.

In Australia, Andrew Forrest pumped cash into tasks to construct the electrolysers to make hydrogen and renewable vitality infrastructure to energy them.

Forrest was rewarded with an viewers with Joe Biden at COP, the place he was invited to affix the so-called “First Movers Coalition”, a automobile the US President was backing to assist speed up the enlargement of latest inexperienced industries.

But nonetheless the world warmed

With such a deal with local weather coverage and politics, and with south-eastern Australia having fun with a interval of cooler climate led to by the La Nina climate sample, it was attainable at occasions to lose sight of the tempo of change in our local weather, regardless of the floods and tornadoes that struck the area.

It was not this manner in northern Australia, or in different components of the world.

La Nina weather conditions have brought record-breaking wet weather to the Australian east coast.

La Nina climate situations have introduced record-breaking moist climate to the Australian east coast. Credit:Nick Moir

Researchers Rohan Fisher and Neil Burrows, of Charles Darwin University and the University of Western Australia respectively, discovered that in October and November alone, excessive climate situations contributed to 120,000 sq. kilometres of Australia’s tropical savannah and rangelands burning.

With heating growing, the world has slipped into what they name the Pyrocene – a world age of fireplace.

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