The environment’s health is in a downward spiral, with rampant deforestation and unprecedented global warming. Over the years, our planet has experienced extreme environmental changes. Many have been harmful to species and natural ecosystems.
2021 looks no different. Protecting biodiversity on the planet is a major issue. These are the top environmental challenges that we face in 2021.
Top Environmental Concerns
#1. Climate change
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, described 20201 in a recent address to Member States as a “crucial year” for tackling climate change. He urged countries to be more ambitious in reducing carbon emissions as per the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The 2015 Paris agreement proposes to limit global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and best 1.5 degrees. The 1.5-degree limit target is still far off, which could threaten a critical climate threshold.
Countries are increasing their efforts to decarbonize and achieve the 2050 target of net-zero emission. The US is returning to the Paris agreement, which gives hope that we can tackle climate change.
#2. Air pollution
Air pollution is still one of the most serious environmental health threats in the world. According to a 2019 World Health Organization report, 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted indoor air. The report also shows that outdoor air pollution causes the deaths of 4.2 million people each year. Motor vehicles and industrial sources continue to be the main polluting factors.
Studies proving a positive correlation between air pollution and the spread of the virus have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Experts are urging countries to take steps to reduce emissions from ports, airports, and industries. As more people are more aware of their health, they see a mass migration to less polluted areas as a possibility.
#3. Loss of biodiversity
According to UN reports, close to 1 million species of animal and plants are at risk of extinction. This makes it one of the most important environmental concerns for this year and beyond. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that biodiversity is under threat.
Guterres, in a recent speech at the UN Environment Assembly, stressed the need for the world to prioritize nature-based solutions for sustainable growth. Scientists warn that the natural world is in danger and that countries must take urgent action to prevent a “ghastly” future.
#4. Loss of tropical forests
2020 was a difficult year for conservation efforts in tropical rain forests. A large swathe of Amazon rain forest, which was considered to be the “world’s lung”, was destroyed in the year.
Further exacerbated the situation was the COVID-19 pandemic that led to a reduction in spending by major forest conservation funds. Ecotourism-based conservation livelihood models also failed, and NGOs pulled out of field projects. However, the deforestation pressure in tropical forests remains high.
A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report (FAO), states that over 420,000,000 hectares of forest have been lost between 1990 and 1990. The global area covered by forests is estimated at 4.06 billion ha.
Rainforests in 2021 don’t look very promising. Mega-infrastructure projects in several tropical countries could be accelerated deforestation. For example, in Peru, many companies involved with logging were awarded stimulus money to help revive the forestry sector after COVID.
#5.Continued plastic pollution
Plastic pollution is, without a doubt, one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time.
Nearly 11 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year, causing severe harm to wildlife and their habitats. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in a strategy report, ranked the US as the world’s largest producer of plastic waste. It produced approximately 42 million metric tonnes in 2016.
Experts predict that plastic waste could reach 29 million tonnes per year by 2040 if the countries don’t take action to stop the problem. The COVID-10 pandemic could impede countries’ efforts to reduce plastic waste. This has led to an increase in single-use plastics and more people ordering takeout from home.
#6. Global warming
Global temperatures continue rising each year due to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Global Climate Summary shows that annual temperatures have risen at an average rate of 0.08°C per decade from 1880 to 1981 and more than twice that rate (+0.18°C).
This increase caused extreme weather events in 2020. These included unprecedented bushfires and locust invasions in many African countries, an Antarctica heatwave that broke records, where temperatures reached above 20 degrees Celsius for the first time, wildfires in California, and more.
The formal US return to the Paris Agreement could signal that 2021 will be a turning point in the fight against global warming. The country is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world and seeks to fulfill its commitment to zero emissions by 2050.