The beginning of a new year presents a perfect opportunity to stop and reflect, and 2021 is no exception. Looking back on the year, market-based environmentalists have much to celebrate. Here are five great things that happened for the planet in 2021:
Private Investments Soared
Conservation projects and innovation require funding, and in 2021, the private sector stepped up. Companies like Blue Forest expanded their impact, leveraging innovative funding mechanisms to match the private sector with reforestation projects to support. COP26 in Scotland brought us another example, with a pledge from the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) to leverage financial commitments toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions. From these two examples and everything in between, 2021 was a banner year for private sector investment in conservation.
Renewables Took Off
Renewable energy generation soared across 2021. This year saw international renewable energy growth on pace to set global records. While there are certainly challenges facing the future of renewable energy, such as the global supply chain and shipping delays, 2021 proved that a great global energy transition is already taking place with no signs of stopping.
Fossil Fuels Got Cleaner
While a global energy transition is certainly occurring, it will not happen overnight; therefore, making traditionally dirty sources of energy cleaner is an important environmental step, and 2021 saw this happening across the globe. Occidental Petroleum is but one example as the company took huge steps in the funding and implementation of direct air capture. This past year also saw environmentally-friendly commitments from Equinor, Chevron, and many others.
Certain Species Populations Rebounded
Many species are still teetering dangerously close to extinction, but the good news is that 2021 saw populations of certain species on the rebound. The monarch butterfly is one monumental example of this: Fewer than 2,000 monarchs were counted during the migration to California in 2020, but that number exploded to more than 100,000 in 2021. While the species is not out of the woods yet, this is an extremely encouraging sign. Globally, other examples include tigers in Nepal, gorillas in Africa, and wolves across Europe.
Finally, environmental innovation took off in 2021. We witnessed this in the growth of innovative business practices like those of Beam Suntory or Iron Ox. Innovation was found in problem solving, such as the research that is leading to new solutions for nuclear waste. Innovation also came through invention, with technology like that of Smart Wires being finessed and implemented at larger scales. Market-based environmentalism is not possible without innovation, and innovation was in large supply this year.
2021 saw much that environmentalists can celebrate, with great strides forward made for the sake of our planet and all who live upon it. As we enter 2022, our goals should build upon the success of this past year to reach even greater heights.
Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan and a senior staff writer for the American Conservation Coalition.