Wouldn’t it be nice if we had only one global crisis at a time to deal with? Unfortunately, even as the pandemic continues to disrupt just about every aspect of our existence, the climate keeps warming—and it’s having a devastating effect on our lives.
According to a report from the UN Office on Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), there’s been a “staggering” rise in climate-related disasters over the past 20 years. About 1.23 million people have died over that time in 7,348 disaster events (most of which were caused by climate change)—with more than four billion people affected in total. Death rates in poorer countries are more than four times higher than those in wealthier nations.
The frequency and cost of such climate-fueled events will only continue to increase—in fact, 2020 broke records for billion-dollar disasters. The truth is that we’ve run out of time to avoid the worst effects of climate change. If we want a habitable planet, we’ve got to act now. Here’s why 2021 is the most important year ever in the fight against the climate crisis.
Item number 1
2020 tied for the hottest year ever
NASA reports that 2020 tied 2016 for the hottest year in recorded history, but we can’t say that really comes as a shock. All 10 of the hottest years in NASA’s records have happened since 2005, and the top seven have occurred since 2014. When a Siberian town above the Arctic Circle sees temperatures rocket past 100˚F, you know something has gone very wrong. The Earth’s average temperature has now risen 2˚F since the late 1800s—and if we don’t drastically reduce carbon emissions, the earth could be “nearly unlivable” for up to 3 billion people by 2070.
Item number 2
Global carbon dioxide emissions fell by 6.4% in 2020
Global carbon dioxide emissions have been rising for decades, but in 2020, thanks to pandemic quarantines imposed around the world, they fell by 6.4%, the largest drop ever recorded. If there was a bright spot in a long, difficult year marked by sickness and uncertainty, it could be this—clear evidence that urgent, collective action can lead to substantial positive change. That’s the good news. The less-good news is that when quarantines began to be lifted, carbon dioxide levels rose rapidly. That’s why, as we build back from the pandemic, we need to use the massive stimulus packages being implemented in countries all around the world to spark a fossil fuel-free recovery. In 2021, let's remember how much we can accomplish when we work together.
Item number 3
The US has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement
Scorching global temperatures are an obvious indication that climate change is a threat to all of us, no matter where we live. Which is why all governments on this planet need to work together in common purpose to reduce carbon emissions. The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement was a hopeful moment when it seemed like that kind of cooperation was finally possible. Then… the Trump Administration decided to pull out, leaving the accord in limbo (and the country that has emitted more carbon dioxide, in total, than any other nation on earth on the sidelines). So it’s good news for the world that, under President Biden, the US officially rejoined on February 19. Of course, now the hard work of drastically cutting emissions begins.
Item number 4
Renewables are the cheapest form of energy in history
All that is taking place in a world that has been transformed by renewable energy. This fall, solar energy became the cheapest source of electricity in history. Which is… amazing. But it’s also part of a trend that dates back years now, as coal has collapsed and other fossil fuels fall out of favor. The world has increasingly turned to renewables, manufacturing more batteries, more wind turbines, more solar panels, and all that investment has led to a consistent decrease in cost. The IEA (International Energy Agency) reported that almost 90% of new electricity generation last year was renewable—and that we’re on track for renewables to be the world’s largest source of power by 2025.
Item number 5
COP 26 is happening in Glasgow, Scotland later this year
It’s a time of massive upheaval and needed change, which makes it the perfect moment to bring back all the nations of the world for the next big climate change conference. COP 26 (the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties) will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. This is the world’s best chance since Paris in 2015 to make some real, tangible progress on cutting emissions, fighting for climate justice, and ensuring a fair and just transition to a green, net-zero economy. In Glasgow, we need to make sure that protecting the world’s most vulnerable populations is on the agenda. We need to act together. And we need to act now.
If COVID-19 and the multiple catastrophes of the past year taught us anything, it’s that everything can change in an instant. Hopefully we’ve also learned that we’re all connected. In fact, everything on our planet is connected. New studies suggest that the best way to protect ourselves against the next pandemic may be to fight climate change with all we’ve got. This planet belongs to all of us, and if we care about our families, our neighbors, and our communities, then we have a rare opportunity right now to come together and make a difference. COVID showed us how collective action can lead to change. 2021 may be our last, best shot at making sure the planet and all its people stay healthy. Join the climate movement today.