Environmental organizers had big hopes for 2021. They envisioned a year of breakthroughs, of countries finally aligning their policies with the goals of the Paris climate agreement and improving the planetary outlook for all wildlife.
But the year turned out differently. While countries formed coalitions and made commitments, they largely failed to meet the challenge of the climate crisis, refusing to deliver on even the most basic of climate pledges such as mobilizing adequate climate finance for low-income countries. At the same time, the intensifying impacts of climate change harmed communities worldwide, and greenhouse gas emissions rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. At this rate, the world is on track to warm far beyond the 1.5 degree Celsius goal of the Paris climate agreement and dangerous feedback loops — such as melting permafrost and collapsing forest ecosystems — could create environmental catastrophe within the next few decades.
There’s no time to waste for meaningful climate action — every day is an opportunity to invest in and build a more ecologically just tomorrow.
As we look ahead to 2022, there are dozens of environmental goals that we hope countries, companies, and individuals advance. Here are just a few of them.
1. Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions
From a scientific perspective, solving the climate crisis is simple — countries just have to stop releasing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. But for all sorts of political and economic reasons, countries have failed to take the scientific consensus seriously.
Hundreds of countries have pledged to reach “net zero emissions” by the middle of the century but most of their plans are sketchy at best and, in their current form, put the world on track to warming more than 2.7 degrees by the end of the century, according to the Climate Action Tracker.
Under the Paris climate agreement, countries map out emissions reductions through a process called nationally determined contributions (NDCs). In 2022, countries must improve their NDCs to clearly show how they will transform their economies in alignment with the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.
The biggest improvements need to come from high-emitting countries like the US, Australia, Russia, Brazil, and China.
2. Mobilize Climate Finance
The climate crisis is a global injustice. The countries least responsible for global warming and biodiversity loss are facing the harshest consequences. Because of this imbalance, high-income countries promised in 2009 to provide $100 billion in annual climate finance by 2020 to help low-income countries adapt to climate change.
So far, countries have failed to realize this commitment. Not only that, the true cost of adapting to climate change is far greater than $100 billion annually, so even reaching this amount will be insufficient.
In 2022, high-income countries must fulfill the original climate finance pledge and then go beyond it to ensure that all countries can adequately adapt to climate change and transition their economies. This funding should also come in the form of grants rather than loans to prevent low-income countries from being further burdened with debt.
3. Create Funds for Loss and Damage
The costs of recovering from climate change are rising as forest fires, extreme storms, and droughts get worse. As a result, countries need to mobilize funds for what’s known in climate circles as “loss and damages.” These funds need to be globally distributed on an as-needed basis to account for the historic injustice of climate change and the vast wealth disparities that exist between countries.
Similar to climate adaptation, countries need to create mechanisms in 2022 for loss and damage that allow countries to access resources to recover from catastrophic environmental events. During COP26, the Glasgow Loss & Damage Facility was proposed by highly impacted countries and the year ahead can see it become a reality.
4. End Fossil Fuel Subsidies
Ending these subsidies would have an immediate and dramatic effect on greenhouse gas emissions, the International Monetary Fund found. In fact, accurately pricing fossil fuels to account for their cost of production and societal impacts would cut emissions by a third.
That money could then be shifted to renewable sources of energy and other facets of a country’s economy to fund a just transition.
5. Stop Approving New Fossil Fuel Projects
The International Energy Agency reported that no new fossil fuel projects can be approved if countries want to stay within the 1.5 degrees Celsius range. That’s not the same as saying all fossil fuel production needs to stop immediately. On the contrary, existing fossil fuel projects are enough to supply global demand for decades.
Countries need to get serious about phasing out fossil fuel production in 2022 by saying no to new fossil fuel proposals. For countries like the US, which has been approving projects at a record pace, this will require significant political effort. But the global carbon budget is not flexible — the atmosphere can only absorb so much carbon dioxide, methane, and other heat-trapping gases, before the planet becomes uninhabitable.
6. Stop Methane
Carbon dioxide gets most of the attention when it comes to the analysis of global warming. But methane is the second leading greenhouse gas and, while it doesn’t last in the air as long as carbon dioxide, it traps 80 times as much heat.
Halving methane emissions — mainly by locating and stopping methane leaks — would prevent more than 0.3 degrees Celsius of warming, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said in a statement. “The benefits to society, economies, and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”
7. Invest in Conservation and Restoration
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential but severe climate change will still occur if countries fail to protect global biodiversity, from forests to oceans to endangered animals.
In particular, countries need to stop degrading ecosystems and then rehabilitate already degraded areas. Roughly 75% of land areas have been degraded, and the ocean is both overexploited and over-polluted.
Over the past few years, more than 100 countries have pledged to protect 30% of land and marine spaces by 2030, but some of the most egregious environmental polluters have yet to sign on, including the US, Russia, Brazil, and China.
Reaching this “30 by 30” goal demands enormous investments, universal buy-in, and global collaboration, especially when it comes to international forests and marine areas. Not only that, countries have to phase out or transition environmentally harmful industries. For example, industrial agriculture is a leading cause of deforestation, land erosion, water scarcity, and greenhouse gas emissions. Investing instead in regenerative agriculture would remove an active source of harm from the planet.