The environment’s condition has been on a downward slope since its infancy, from massive deforestation to unprecedented levels of global warming. The environment has seen drastic changes over the past few years. Some of these changes have been devastating to various species and their natural ecosystems.
2021 looks no different. There is much at stake in protecting biodiversity. Here are the top environmental problems that will be faced in 2021.
Top Environmental Concerns
#1. Climate change
Antonio Guterres (UN Secretary-General) described 20201 as a “crucial Year” in his recent address to Member States. He challenged countries to be ambitious and to take action to reduce carbon emissions according to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The 2015 Paris climate agreement proposes to keep global temperature increases well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. At best, 1.5 degrees. The world is still well short of the 1.5-degree target, which would threaten a crucial climate threshold.
Countries are intensifying efforts to reduce their carbon footprints and meet the 2050 goal of zero emissions. There is renewed hope of tackling climate change in the United States, the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter.
#2. Air pollution
Air pollution continues to be a major threat to the environment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 9 out of 10 people are exposed to polluted atmospheres. It also revealed that outdoor air pollutants cause the death of around 4.2 million people annually. Motor vehicles and industry continue to be major polluting sources.
Experts urge countries to adopt measures to reduce the local emissions of airports, ports, and other industries. They see mass human migration to less polluted regions in the future, as more people become health-conscious.
#3. Loss of biodiversity
According to UN data, nearly 1 million plant and animal species face extinction. This is one of the top environmental issues this year. It is indeed under serious threat. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns that biodiversity is declining at a “perilous rate.”
Guterres made a speech at the UN Environment Assembly highlighting the urgent need for nature-based solutions to sustainable development. Scientists warn that the natural environment is in peril and that without drastic measures, humanity could face a ‘ghastly tomorrow’.
#4. Loss of tropical forests
2020 presented many challenges to tropical rainforest conservation efforts. The Amazon rain forest, known as the “world’s lungs”, saw its vast extent reduced to ashes.
Further aggravating the situation was COVID-19, which caused major forest conservation funders to reduce their spending. The COVID-19 pandemic caused conservation livelihood models that depended on ecotourism to fail, while NGOs withdrew their support from field projects. Yet, deforestation is still high in areas where there are tropical forests.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 420 Million hectares worth of forests has been destroyed since 1990. The global forest cover stands at 4.06 Billion hectares.
The outlook for rain forests in 2021 is not promising. Many tropical countries are likely to embark on mega-infrastructure initiatives that could increase deforestation. Peru is an example of a country that received stimulus money for its forestry industry to revive it after the collapse of COVID.
#5. Continued plastic pollution
Plastic pollution is, without doubt, the greatest environmental concern of our times.
The oceans are home to close to 11,000,000 tons of plastic waste annually. This causes great damage to marine life and habitats. A strategy report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ranked the US the top producer of plastic waste globally, with 42 million metric tons in 2016.
Experts believe that the world’s plastic waste will grow to 29 million metric tons per annum by 2040 if no countries act to reduce it. Even though countries have pledged to reduce plastic trash, the COVID-10 Pandemic may hinder these efforts. The pandemic has led to an increase in single-use plastics. More people order takeout at home.
#6. Global warming
The increase in greenhouse gas emissions is a major reason why global temperatures continue to rise every year.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Climate Summary (NOAA), shows that annual temperatures have risen by an average of 0.08 degrees Celsius per decade since 1880 and at more than twice the rate (+0.18°C), since 1981.
This rise caused extreme weather events such as bushfires, locust invasions, unprecedented heatwaves in Australia and Antarctica that saw temperatures surpass 20°C, wildfires across California, and many other things.
The US formal return of the Paris Agreement could indicate that 2021 is a pivotal year in addressing the global warming crisis. The United States is the 2nd-largest emitter worldwide of greenhouse gases. Now, it wants to renew its pledge to reduce emissions to zero by 2050.