Our 5 favourite planet-positive news stories from 2021 and what’s happened since

The sun has well and truly set on 2021 and as we look back on the year that was, no doubt it will conjure up some nasty images of negative headlines and news stories. But I promise you – it wasn’t all bad in 2021!

At Earth Collective, we make it our mission to search for the planet-positive stories hiding behind the headlines and despite everything, we found plenty of them last year.

So, to keep that hope alive as we plunge into 2022, here’s an update on five of the best things that happened for the planet in 2021.

1. In January, a new study revealed that climate disaster could be avoided, if net zero emissions are reached

What happened then…

Getting to ‘net zero’ means achieving an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions taken out of the atmosphere by, for example, planting rainforests or grasslands.

Until January 2021, it had been thought that even with the efforts of countries such as the UK, Japan and New Zealand pledging to achieve net zero by 2050, future global heating would still be locked in for generations to come. However, research at the beginning of the year provided hope that heating could be more swiftly diminished.

Prof Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, explained that if the world could achieve the net zero target by 2050, it would prevent the earth’s surface temperatures from continuing to warm, and warming would therefore stabilise within a couple of decades.

Read more here.

What has happened since…

In April, the Australian Academy of Science shared a landmark report that claimed limiting global heating to the 1.5C inscribed in the Paris climate agreement had become “virtually impossible”. However, not all scientists agreed with this statement, which also goes against the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, which in 2018 stated that we only had 12 years to act on climate change to prevent a rise of more than 1.5C.

The vast majority of climate scientists agree that rapid action is still needed to prevent a rise of more than 1.5C, but that this target certainly shouldn’t be written off yet.

Prof Michael Mann backed up his January reports, telling The Guardian that the published evidence offers a simple conclusion – that keeping global heating to 1.5C would require global emissions to be cut in half over the next decade. This, according to Prof Mann, is “entirely doable” and “simply a matter of political willpower”.

“There’s nothing about the physics that says it isn’t [possible].”

2. In February, a survey found the majority of us believe climate change is a global emergency

What happened then…

A survey of 1.2 million people found two-thirds of people believe climate change is a global emergency.

The Peoples’ Climate Vote, conducted by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), was the largest survey of public opinion on climate change ever conducted and included respondents of all genders, ages, and educational backgrounds, across 50 countries.

The insights generated from the survey were intended to help governments deepen their understanding of public perceptions towards climate solutions and, in turn, ensure people feel they have a voice when it comes to making critical decisions on national policy.

Read more here.

What has happened since…

Following the success of the Peoples’ Climate Vote in January, and to contribute to the discussions of G20 in October 2021, the UNDP partnered once again with the University of Oxford to produce a second report – G20 Peoples’ Climate Vote.

The report focused on under-18s and how far ahead of the curve they are when it comes to the climate emergency, compared to adults, as a “powerful forecast” for how public opinion is changing – and why governments should take note.

The research found that:

  • an overwhelming number of under-18s (70 percent across the G20 countries) believe there is currently a climate emergency;
  • protecting nature is the number one priority for both under-18s and adults;
  • energy and transport must be cleaned up, and soon;
  • the transition to a green economy is essential; and
  • young people want justice for those already affected by climate change, as well as adaption to the climate emergency to protect everyone else’s future.

Read more about the report here.

3. In May, UK law formally recognised animals as sentient beings, and live animal exports were halted

What happened then…

The UK government set out a suite of animal welfare measures, including halting most live animal exports and banning the import of hunting trophies. The Action Plan for Animal Welfare formally recognised animals as sentient beings in UK law for the first time.

The UK government announced plans to protect wildlife by making it illegal to keep primates as pets, supporting restrictions of glue traps, cracking down on illegal hare courses, and funding wildlife conservation projects both in the UK and abroad.

It was also announced that farmers would be given incentives to improve animal health and welfare through the future farm subsidy regime, and that the use of cages for poultry and farrowing crates for pigs would be examined.

Read more here.

What has happened since…

The second Animal Welfare Bill (Kept Animals) was announced in June 2021, promising  to raise animal welfare standards in the five key areas of puppy smuggling, live exports, banning keeping primates as pets, tougher measures on livestock worrying, and improving zoo regulations.

In addition to the new Kept Animals Bill, the Government also shared plans to announce a series of further reforms, relating to microchipping, pet theft, farm animal welfare and tackling wildlife crime, whilst earlier this month, the UK government introduced new legislation to crack down on cruel illegal hare coursing.

Read more here.

4. Also in May, 60 companies joined the Plastics Pact in bid to eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging

What happened then…

More than 60 organisations, businesses and brands from across the Oceana region signed a pact committing to reduce plastic waste.

Amongst those who signed the ANZPAC Plastics Pact included major Australian supermarket chains Woolworths and Coles, as well as Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Arnott’s Biscuits, Vanuatu Brewing and the Samoa Tourism Authority.

The pact aimed to drastically reduce the amount of plastic waste ending up in landfills from Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific by 2025, by eliminating problematic plastic packaging and ensuring that any that remains is recyclable, reusable or compostable.

The Pact is led by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO), which is also responsible for delivering Australia’s national 2025 targets on plastic packaging. When announced, it was three years in the making and followed years of crisis in the broken waste industry.

Read more here.

What has happened since…

The ANZPAC Plastics Pact joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s global Plastics Pact Network – a community that unites 550+ organisations across 11 Plastics Pacts around the world. Some of the successes of the collaborative since May include:

  • ALDI Australia removing almost 2,000 tonnes of plastic packaging and achieving a 10 per cent reduction across its fresh produce range in just one year (October).
  • Coles trialling the replacement of plastic bread tags with new a cardboard variety that is made from 100 per cent paper-based recycled content (September).
  • Coca-cola announcing plans to manufacture 100 percent recycled and fully recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) plastic bottles of 500ml or less from September 2021 in the UK.

To which we say… it’s a start, and look forward to seeing what these 550+ organisations do this year to really ramp up the movement.

Read more here.

5. In October, the scientists who played a significant role in reversing the damage done to the ozone layer won the 2021 Future of Life Award

What happened then…

As the end of the year drew nearer, in October we heard the excellent news that the ozone layer was on track to heal completely by 2050.

The three humans who played a significant role in reversing the damage done to the ozone layer – Atmospheric Chemist Susan Solomon, Geophysicist Joseph Farman, and Environmental Protection Agency official Stephen Andersen – were also awarded the 2021 Future of Life Award from the Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit that studies how to reduce risks to our world. The award recognises unsung heroes who made our world safer from global catastrophic events.

Solomon, Farman and Anderson won the award for “their critical contributions to the most successful international environmental treaty to date”.

Dr. Jim Hansen, former Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Director of Columbia University’s Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions said:

“In Farman, Solomon and Andersen we see the tremendous impact individuals can have not only on the course of human history, but on the course of our planet’s history. My hope is that others like them will emerge in today’s battle against climate change.”

In addition to preventing millions of excess skin cancer deaths, ecosystem collapse and climate change, this treaty showed that international collaboration can overcome environmental challenges without sacrificing economic prosperity. 

Read more here.

What has happened since…

Last month, The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported that the Antarctic ozone hole has almost completely closed after setting the record for being one of the longest lived Antarctic ozone holes on record.

Vincent-Henri Peuch, Director of Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service at ECMWF, commented: “CAMS monitors and observes the ozone layer by providing reliable and free-to-access-data based on different types of satellite observations and numerical modelling, which makes the monitoring of the inception, development and closure of the yearly ozone holes possible in a detailed way. The compiled data, along with our forecasts, allows us to follow the ozone season and compare its development against the ones of the last 40 years.”

The closure of the hole in the ozone layer is attributed to The Montreal Protocol of 1978, which banned harmful chemicals linked to ozone destructions, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, the concentrations of these chemicals are slowly decreasing. Although their long lifetimes mean it will still take about four decades for the ozone layer to fully recover, this success story is a clear example of how protocol, legislation and individual action can work together to protect the future of our beautiful blue and green planet.

Read more here.


Read more planet-positive news from Earth Collective right here.

Show more

Charli Ferrand Higgins

After a decade working for global and boutique PR and Marketing agencies in Sydney, with clients that included some of the biggest consumer brands in the world, Charli returned to her homeland of the UK in 2017 and decided the time had come to use her professional skills and experience for good. She has since split her time between supporting passionate, purpose-driven small and medium-sized businesses to grow through conscious content marketing, managing and editing the planet-positive content hub Earth Collective (weareearthcollective.com), and hosting the podcast Easy Being Green? Lessons in sustainable business for SMEs.

Related articles

Back to top button