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10 Major Climate Events that Happened in 2021

Worldly Wednesday

2021: A Climate Review  

2021 was a record-breaking year. Extreme weather events were seen across the globe, and UK Prime-Minister Boris Johnson described the IPCC's climate report as a "wake-up call to the world". At the same time, we saw incredible innovations in climate related science and collaborative action from nations across the world to reduce global emissions. 

1) Joe Biden Re-Committed the United States to the Paris Climate Accord. 

Joe Biden re-signs the Paris Climate accord in the Oval Office. 

On January 20th, less than 6 hours after he was sworn in to office, President Joe Biden re-committed the United States to the Paris Climate Accord. President Trump had previously withdrawn the nation in November 2020: After war-torn Syria signed the accord in 2017, the United States was the only country in the world to refuse it. Biden's promises to "take swift action to tackle the climate emergency" effectively reversed Trump's previous position on climate action.

2) Elon Musk Donated $100 Million for a Carbon Removal Technology Prize. 

Digital edit of Elon Musk surrounded by dollar bills

XPrize announced a competition for carbon-capture technology, with entries required to be able to remove billions of tons of carbon from air or water. The prize is the largest ever announced by XPrize.

3) Record Freezing Temperatures Swept North America, Then Swung Back Up in Historic Heatwaves.

Map of North American polar vortex, 2021

Temperatures plummeted more than 50 degrees below average in Texas in February. Nearly 300 people were killed, millions lost power and water, and an estimated $198 billion USD in damages were caused. 

The Pacific Northwest experienced extreme opposites in the summer, as temperatures soared to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Sudden deaths spiked, power cables melted, crops were destroyed, and wildfires spiked across the affected regions. 

Now officially dubbed the 2021 Western North America Heat Wave, the World Weather Attribution has concluded that the intensity of the wave would have been 150 times less likely without human-caused climate change. 

4) Speaking of Wildfires: They Were Really, Really Bad.

Firefighter in front of California wildfire, 2021

Massive forest fires were seen around the world as a result of record high temperatures. The town of Lytton in British Columbia was destroyed days after it broke record Canadian temperatures. Wildfires spread rapidly across western North America, including California, Idaho, Oregon, British Columbia, Alberta, Western Nevada, and Washington. Death tolls are estimated to be in the thousands. 

The fires weren't limited to North America, either: Europe and Asia saw some of the worst wildfires on record this year, with blazes like the fire in Spain coming perilously close to city centres. 

5) While Parts of the World Battled Fires and Drought, Others Experienced Extreme Flooding. 

Pedestrians wade through flooded New York streets

The city of Zhengzhou, China, broke national records when it received more than 200mm of rainfall in an hour. More than 180 people were killed in India and Nepal from deadly flash-floods during one of the worst monsoons seasons in history. South Sudan also saw extreme rainfall, while the City of New York's flash flood emergency in November killed more than 30 people, swept away cars, and grounded flights. 

6) Wind Storms Swept Around the Globe.

Man stands outside home devastated by Tornado in the Southern United States.

The US experienced its most deadly tornado outbreak in history in December, as  "Quad-State" tornados ripped across the southern states and devastated communities and infrastructure. Meanwhile, Super Typhoon Rai displaced more than 400,000 people in the Philippines. 

7) Scotland Hosted the 26th Annual COP, Where 141 Countries Pledged Climate Action.

World leaders gathering at the UN IPCC conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

After being delayed by a year due to the covid-19 pandemic, 141 nations pledged international cooperation on climate action in our "last, best", hope". The UN stated that, as a result of the COP, "Adaptation, mitigation and finance are all strengthened in a complex and delicate balance supported by all Parties."

8) China Made Massive Climate-Positive Comittments. 

Chinese President makes climate commitments at UN

In mid-September, China pledged to immediately stop emitting HFC-23, a greenhouse gas 14,600 times more powerful than C02. This effort was a belated enforcement of the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. 

China also announced plans to divest from overseas coal projects: The move is estimated to prevent more than three months worth of global emissions. 

9) The IPCC Climate Report Came Out and Re-Confirmed That Climate Change is Human-Caused. 

Graph from ICPP: Future Temperatures Depend on Actions of Today

 

In August, the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released. 200 scientists collaborated to provide a comprehensive review on climate science from the past decade According to the IPCC, "the Report addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, bringing together the latest advances in climate science, and combining multiple lines of evidence from paleoclimate, observations, process understanding, and global and regional climate simulations." In its essence, the report's conclusion was that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” 

10) Eco-Anxiety is Added to the Oxford English Dictionary. 

Climate action protesters

In response to the growing climate-related verbiage of today, the Oxford English Dictionary added several terms, including "Net Zero", "Climate Catastrophe", and "Eco Anxiety". The latter comes in response to a Lancet September publication which found that 60% of 10,000 participants aged 16-25 were either "very" or "extremely" worried about climate change. Of those, 45% reported that the feelings and stress related to that fear was impacting their daily life. 

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Can you think of any other notable 2021 climate events? Let us know in the comments below!