What have we learned about the climate crisis in 2021?
From flash floods to forest fires, COP26 to carbon footprint lies, the devastating impact of climate change came into sharp focus this year.
As is always the case with the climate crisis, every year breaks new records.
In 2021, some of these were good, such as the renewable energy sector hitting a record year of growth, as well as a number of promising pledges signed at COP26. But most of the others were, frankly, terrible: it rained for the first time on record in Greenland, global sea-level rise accelerated to a new high in 2021, extreme weather events got even more, er, extreme and atmospheric greenhouse gases hit a record.
With the overall picture now becoming razor-sharp, here are the main takeaways we’ve gleaned from the climate crisis this year.
The science is looking bad
Many people (and organisations) with their heads in the sand might try to convince you that things are good, actually. And while having nuggets of hope certainly serves a purpose in tackling the climate crisis, that hope needs to be based on the truth, which is that the scientific research is telling us that we’re dealing with an emergency.
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has released its annual Emissions Report Gap, which shows that despite all the current climate pledges around the world, we’re still on track for 2.7°C heating by the end of the century. And that’s if we stick to those pledges. A reminder that the 2015 Paris Agreement (COP21) concluded that we need to be aiming for 1.5°C to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Anything above 2°C is essentially different levels of disaster. The IPCC report, which was published earlier this year, also found that the 1.5°C limit of a relatively“safe” temperature rise could well be reached by the 2030s, a whole decade earlier than scientists predicted a few years ago. I won’t bore you with the stats, but essentially, the house is on fire and we have no way of getting out of the burning house without putting out the fire.
Indigenous communities and people from the Global South must be centred in conversations around climate solutions
Not only is the climate crisis a capitalist issue due to its extractivist nature, but it also disproportionately affects people from the Global South because… colonialism. Historically colonising countries have extracted resources from the countries they invaded, stripping nations not just of wealth but also their natural habitats. Poorer countries are now having to face multiple social, economic and financial barriers when it comes to protecting themselves from the worst effects of the climate crisis, especially because many of these countries are in the hottest or most vulnerable regions of the world.
The Global North is responsible for 92 per cent in excess emissions, with the US being responsible for 40 per cent and the EU countries (the report was published while the UK was still in the EU) totalling 29 per cent. Meanwhile, as much as 80 per cent of the world’s remaining forest biodiversity lies within indigenous peoples’ territories. With all that considered, it’s clear that indigenous voices, as well as the voices from the Global South, must be at the forefront of climate solutions.
Climate reparations are going to be key in tackling the climate crisis
Now that we’ve established that wealthy countries are largely responsible for the very hot mess (pun intended) we’ve found ourselves in, there needs to be a redistribution of wealth to deal with the climate crisis and that wealth needs to come in the form of reparations (AKA climate reparations). This money is needed to cover “adaptation, loss and damage” costs. Basically, these countries need funding to carry out schemes that mitigate the impact of climate change, and cover the cost of both economic and physical damage. The UN estimates that countries in the Global South will need anywhere from $140 to $300 billion in 2030. So far, wealthy countries haven’t even reached the $100 billion figure they promised to hand over to poorer countries each year by 2020 and climate activists are rightfully furious.
The climate crisis is going to exacerbate all other social justice and human rights issues
As places become uninhabitable to live in, mass migration has already begun. Countries like the UK deciding to “toughen up” their borders and enforce xenophobic bills will leave more refugees, asylum seekers and climate migrants dead. We have seen people become homeless and have no access to food or water after extreme events, and unfortunately, this will continue happening. As the seasons become more sporadic and weather patterns become unpredictable, there is a threat that the global food-chain supply will simply break down, causing global famines. Natural resources like water are going to become more in demand, so conflicts and wars over resources may inevitably happen. And as things get worse, so will gender inequality because people of marginalised genders are less likely to be in positions of power and, when crises strike, they are more likely to be responsible within their families for securing water, food and fuel for cooking and heating. I could go on, but the list of human rights issues exacerbated by the climate crisis is very long and depressing.
Individual action is not enough
Remember when the whole TL was having debates on whether not having showers will stop climate change? Yikes. For years we’ve been told that individual action is what’s going to stop humanity from destroying our planet and, while some individual changes are better than no changes at all, it seems that the idea of the “carbon footprint” actually serves as effective propaganda to absolve guilty corporations and fossil fuel giants from making the climate crisis worse! It’s very clear that despite many of us trying our best to be as eco-friendly as possible, action is required from the top-down, not just the bottom-up.
Political pressure works and we need to ramp it up in the years to come
The evidence is there: 80 per cent of people in the UK think climate change is a global emergency. However, the current Tory government is clamping down hard on climate protesters and it’s simply terrifying, which is why these types of authoritarian measures must be resisted at all costs.
What is hopeful, however, is the ramping up of political pressure to deal with the climate crisis. In the UK, we’ve seen the rise and rise of Insulate Britain, direct action and mass protests. There is no doubt that this kind of political pressure borne out of grassroots organisations has stopped the major Cambo oil and gas project in its tracks, as Shell (one of the major investors of the project) has now pulled out of it. The fight isn’t over yet because the UK government has avoided making its own call on Cambo, but it is proof that pressure, when applied well, works. Next year, we will need a hell of a lot more of it.