Looking Back at 2020: Reasons to be Hopeful

2020 has been a year like no other, seemingly full of relentless bad news. However, there have been some glimmers of hope in amongst all the doom and gloom. We’ve put together this list of good news stories from 2020 to show that positive things have happened and there is hope for a brighter future if we all individually and collectively continue to take steps in the right direction.

A Record Year for Renewables

2020 was a record year for renewable energy. Advances in green technology have massively reduced the costs of wind and solar power, making them an attractive economical alternative to fossil fuels.

In the first three months of 2020, there was a surge in wind power and almost half of the UK’s electricity came from renewable energy. Then in April, Britain went without coal-fired power generation for the longest period since the Industrial Revolution. And on Boxing Day, a new record was set, as wind turbines provided more than half of Great Britain’s electricity (50.7%) over 24 hours, for the first time ever.

In response to pressure from campaigners, the UK government announced a major overhaul to the UK’s onshore wind subsidies. This is welcome news as currently renewables supply only 12% of our energy and this must massively increase as we start to electrify transport and heating. Later in the year, Boris Johnson promised to power every home in the UK with offshore wind energy within a decade.

Well over a third of the House of Commons (233 MPs to date) now supports the Local Electricity Bill, which, if made law, would empower community energy groups to start up and sell their clean electricity to local people. And MP attendance at an Adjournment Debate on the Bill set a House of Commons record.

The Beginning of the End for Oil?

According to a BP report from September, demand for oil is in terminal decline and most likely peaked in 2019.

In November, the UK government announced it will ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 — a full decade earlier than planned. November was also the first month in which sales of new electric and plugin hybrid cars overtook sales of diesel cars for the first time, according to the RAC.

And in December, Denmark, the largest oil producer in the EU, declared it will phaseout existing production by 2050 and cancel all future permits for North Sea oil and gas exploration.

Global Action

Joe Biden won the US presidential election in November, with a mandate to take bold action on climate change, including rejoining the Paris agreement. As the US is the world’s second biggest emitter, Biden’s victory offers a glimmer of hope for meaningful action to address the climate crisis.

In 2020 more countries made national net-zero pledges. According to Future Crunch, countries that are responsible for approximately 42% of global carbon emissions now have in place “somewhat credible” net-zero targets. South Korea and Argentina set a goal of 2050, with China (the world’s biggest emitter) and Japan committing to net-zero emissions by 2060. Austria, Finland and Sweden brought their net-zero targets forward. The UK committed to reducing emissions by 68% within the next decade, and the EU is aiming for a 55% reduction in emissions by 2030.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) announced in September that net-zero commitments had roughly doubled in under a year, saying “Cities and regions with a carbon footprint greater than the emissions of the US, and companies with a combined revenue of over $11.4 trillion (equivalent to more than half of the US GDP), are now pursuing net-zero emissions by the end of the century.”

Rewilding – an Abundance of Beavers

Beavers were released by the National Trust on Exmoor and at the Knepp Estate rewilding project, after an absence of 400 years, whilst 15 beaver families won the permanent “right to remain” on the River Otter in East Devon. Beavers are seen as a sustainable way of reducing flooding; the damns created by beavers are a natural flood defence, slowing the flow of water and reducing the impact of drought in dry periods.

Meanwhile, in May white stork chicks hatched in the wild at the Knepp Estate. This is thought to be the first time wild white storks have hatched in the UK for over 600 years.

And in July a project to reintroduce wild bison to Kent was given the go-ahead. A small herd of one male and three females will be released in Spring 2022. It is hoped that the bison, considered to be a keystone species, will help regenerate a former pine plantation, encouraging growth of more diverse plants and trees and increasing insect, animal and bird populations.

Roadside Meadows – Habitat Protection and Creation

With the UK being one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, there has been some good news regarding protecting and creating vital habitats.

Highways England recently announced its new low fertility topsoil policy which will create species-rich grassland verges along new major road schemes. This could create hundreds of miles of rare habitats, which are desperately needed after decades of loss. Plantlife (the wild plant conservation charity) is supporting 30 councils which are actively working to review, trial or fully implement more wildflower–friendly verge management.

And in December, plans were announced to turn an empty 1970s shopping centre in Nottingham into wetlands, pocket woodlands and a wildflower meadow, as part of a post-pandemic urban rewilding project, which could set a precedent for rewilding vacant retail space in other cities.

Plastic Action

In September, at the fourth World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit, Ghana, Indonesia and Vietnam were highlighted for their commitments as part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership. Each country has made significant pledges to tackle plastic pollution. Ghana has pledged to achieve a 100% circular economy for plastics, Indonesia has committed to reducing marine plastic debris by 70% by 2025, with Vietnam aiming for a 75% cut in marine plastics by 2030.

On 1st October a ban on single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds came into force in England, which is a step towards tackling single-use plastic waste.

Daring Divestment

In July, the UK’s largest pension fund, Nest, announced it was to divest from firms involved in coal extraction, tar sands and Arctic drilling. Then, the world’s biggest insurance market, Lloyds, pledged to stop new insurance cover for coal, oil sands and Arctic energy projects by 2022.

In December, the Bank of America became the final major US bank to stop funding oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, following previous commitments from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Chase, Wells Fargo and CitiBank.

When the UK co-hosted the Climate Ambition Summit in December, Boris Johnson announced that the UK will end public investment in new climate-wrecking oil and gas projects overseas. However, a few months ago he signed off up to £900 million of taxpayer funding to back a vast gas project in Mozambique and this announcement was too late to stop that decision, but the good news here is a legal team is challenging it in court.

And Finally

There have been some interesting inventions in 2020 that could offer solutions for a greener future based on a circular economy.

A scientist from the Philippines won the James Dyson Prize for his invention to turn rotting vegetables into renewable energy. Carvey Ehren Maigue’s Aureus system uses the natural scientific principles behind the northern lights and can be attached in panels to windows and walls. However, as well as using crop waste, it has an advantage over solar panels as it works even when a panel is not directly facing the sun, as it can pick up UV rays through clouds and bouncing from walls, pavements and other buildings.

And in December, Walkers (as in the crisps manufacturer) announced a technique to use CO2 captured from beer fermentation in a brewery mixed with their potato waste to produce fertiliser (which usually has a high carbon footprint). It claims this new technology will reduce CO2 emissions from its manufacturing process by 70%.

To Sum Up

While researching this post, it was nice to focus on positive things that happened in 2020 and we were surprised to find so many good news stories. We’ve included a selection here, but there are many more we didn’t have space to include. This gives us hope that action on the climate and ecological crises will accelerate in 2021.

Looking forward to 2021, there will be many opportunities for the UK and global governments to turn their climate commitments into actions. In particular, the UK government has the chance to lead by example and show global leadership at the UN Climate Conference (COP26), which the UK is hosting in Glasgow in November.

2021 is the year that ambition urgently needs to be matched by action. To quote Greta Thunberg: “We can’t just keep talking about future, hypothetical, vague, distant dates and pledges. We need to do things now. And also net zero … that is a very big loophole, you can fit a lot in that word ‘net’.”

There are several political issues we will be keeping an eye on over the coming year. Among other actions, we will continue to write to our MP to urge him to support the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill, which has the potential to become the most significant major climate legislation since the Climate Change Act 2008.

We will of course also continue to take individual eco-actions and share them to inspire others to make incremental change. Here’s hoping that with our combined efforts we can make 2021 a better year for people, wildlife and the planet!

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