Climate change is increasingly disrupting life on Earth as we know it. Wildfires, droughts, floods, heatwaves and greenhouse gas emissions are worsening disasters across the globe. Hope, however, is not lost for all eight billion of us.
Science is creating new ways for us to coexist with nature, from hacking the genome of plants to creating marine reserves that protect people and the planet. Politically, the environment also won some major victories this year.
Here are the top environmental wins from 2022.
1. Global climate deal addresses a long-time injustice
It has long been known that some countries most affected by climate change have done the least to cause it. At the global climate conference, COP27, this past November, World leaders went some way to rectifying this by agreeing to a ‘loss and damage’ financing system that would help developing nations access financial assistance to adapt to and recover from climate change. The deal was hailed as a historic recognition of growing global climate injustice.
2. Protecting nature has surprising benefits for us
Marine protected areas are stretches of the ocean that limit human activity to protect animal and plant species. Scientists say these reserves are important for limiting the rapid rate of extinction happening as a result of climate change and human activities like drilling, mining, and shipping.
The world’s largest marine reserve, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawai’i, has shown it not only protects marine life in the park’s boundaries but also helps the marine life living outside its borders flourish. And, as an added bonus, it helps us, too.
A study on the reserve published last October found that boats fishing for lucrative tuna species outside the park’s boundaries have been catching more tuna since the park was created. Scientists think these catch rates are a result of the “spillover effect” of marine reserves—meaning when fish populations in the park flourish, they “spill over” into nearby areas.
Evidence that protected areas like these can benefit both people and nature shows that more sustainable ways of doing business are possible.
3. US makes historic investment in fighting climate change
Confirmed and signed into law in August 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was a landmark political moment for the planet. The law is projected to reduce inflation across the country through several measures, including heavy investment into the countries domestic energy production, namely through renewables. The IRA committed $369bn (£306.89bn) in clean energy projects and incentives for energy-efficient technology such as electric vehicles.
“This is the most consequential piece of US legislation for the climate ever,” Richard Newell, chief executive of Resources for the Future, a non-profit energy research organisation, told National Geographic writer Craig Welch at the time.
4. Hacking into the technological power of plants
As humans pump more carbon dioxide pollution into the atmosphere, plants play an essential role in removing that carbon from the air and storing it underground. Using CRISPR (an acronym for the wordy ‘clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats’) gene editing technology, scientists in San Francisco are embarking on an $11 million research project to try to hack photosynthesis to suck carbon out of the air more efficiently.
5. Cracking down on plastic
Plastic is everywhere—in our water, air, and even our blood. That’s why governments, internationally and at the local level, are trying to curb the amount of plastic flowing into the environment.
In March, 175 United Nations delegates agreed to negotiate a global treaty by 2024 that would drastically reduce the flow of plastics. The treaty would legally require countries to clean up their plastic pollution, a framework that is stricter than the voluntary emissions reductions countries make under the Paris Climate Agreement.
6. Brazil choose to save the Amazon rainforest
The election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as Brazil’s president has already helped the country’s climate credibility. Last October, Lula defeated right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro in one of the tightest presidential races, with just 50.9% of the votes. During his presidency, Bolsonaro championed the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, with rates of deforestation increasing to up to 75% in 2019. Bolsonaro also refused to hold the 2019 climate summit originally planned for Brazil.
In his first international trip after being elected, Lula delivered a powerful speech at COP27 with the message that “Brazil is back” as a leader confronting climate change.
“We must stop this rush to the abyss. There is no climate security for the world without a protected Amazon,” he said, saying climate change would have the highest priority for his government. We will do whatever it takes to have zero deforestation and the degradation of our biomes.”
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