At the beginning of every year, we undertake a retrospective of the past year, focusing on the good news relating to sustainable development. This year this exercise has proven more challenging than in previous years, but also more interesting as it involved a thorough assessment of the reality versus our expectations, as well as the many uneasy events that came our way in this unprecedented period of time.
How we thought 2020 would be
Viewed from the perspective of the beginning of this millennium, this past year (2020) should have seen humanity well advanced in the path of global solidarity, peace, and environmental sustainability. These universal principles were translated into the UN Millennium Development Goals, which had the target of being reached in 2015.
Had the goals been reached by 2015, this past year (2020) would have been five years after the second set of universal goals – known as SDGs or Sustainable Development Global Goals – were set. The leaders of the world would have been cooperating to “leave no one behind” and keep the Earth’s global heating under 1.5 degrees above that of the pre-industrial era.
Today, efficient environmental legislation is not yet globally implemented, sustainable farming and businesses are not adequately supported, and fossil fuels are still heavily exploited and subsidised. While many summits, words and promises have been made, the steps taken for decarbonisation and to protect the environment have been too few and too slow.
Some lessons to take into consideration
As a result of this slow progress, biodiversity is collapsing, leading directly to the emergence of Covid-19, a new zoonosis (pathogen transmitted from animal to human).
This zoonosis is not a warning or a message from Mother Nature to us Earthlings. Let’s be clear, it is solely the consequence of our unsustainable societies. From this, there are several lessons we must take onboard.
Environment and health are intertwined
Our health is dependant of the health of our environment. Undeniably, an abundant biodiversity makes ecosystems resilient, reducing the likelihood of zoonotic overspill. Furthermore, people living next to green areas demonstrate better physical and mental health and are less affected by Covid-19. Making our cities leafier and greener will boost its residents’ health and wellbeing while saving the health service billions. According to Sir James Bevan, the NHS would save more than £2 billion a year if everyone had access to good quality green spaces.
We are an integral part of nature and the Earth system
This pathogen event affecting all countries and regions, including Antarctica, reminds us that we are all part of the same global village and same family, homo sapiens. Anyone, regardless of their financial and political power, can catch it. Despite all the technological advances and medical know-how, we remain a part of nature and more comprehensively of the Earth System. We can impact our planet, but we do not control it. A negative impact on the Earth system, such as shattering the global climate or biosphere, will eventually hit us. And the reverse is true: protecting the planet is preserving ourselves and our civilisations.
2020 in one (positive) word: transformative
If I had to choose just one word to encapsulate 2020, it would be “transformative”.
This pandemic has profoundly modified our way of living, working, and socialising. We came to the realisation of what is really important for us: health, family, friends and being able to move around freely. Overdue digital transformations have been accelerated. Society has revealed its backbone: less well-paid jobs in care, delivery, and education sectors turned out to be paramount in making our cities function. While we were forced to isolate, solidarity and collaboration have boomed within neighbourhoods and across countries. International partnerships allowed vaccines to be swiftly discovered, produced, and shipped all around the world. “Force of habit” has proven to be not that strong after all. We can adjust our behaviour and adapt in a timely manner.
Times of upheaval are times to rebuild, rethink, renew. This is the chance to change. This is the chance to build back better. Some of these transformations must continue so we can truly and rapidly achieve the necessary ecological transitions to preserve our world.
Resilience is our best asset for 2021
The concept of “sustainable development” was introduced in 1986 as a strategy that would also sustain the needs of future generations. With 2020 opening with Australian megafires, swiftly followed by this pandemic, we have indisputable confirmation we are now in a new era. This future is now. We are these future generations, experiencing the consequences of several unsustainable decades.
To achieve sustainability, the most important skill is resilience.
We must foster individual resilience to keep our minds and bodies healthy. We must be creative and apply systematic thinking to find solutions. We must be courageous, mindful and frugal while being able to adapt and adjust in the face of new events such as further containment measures.
We must develop socio-economic resilience, increase solidarity, diversity and inclusion as inequalities are sharpening steadily. Since the pandemic, a number of corporations have been booming, making millions - and even billions, in the case of Amazon - while small and local businesses are struggling to survive. Wealth and opportunities must be distributed fairly to not further tear the fabric of society.
And of course we must build environmental resilience. This implies effort at individual, corporate, local, national, and international levels to implement genuinely circular and sustainable models, nature preservation, environmental mitigations, and decarbonisation. The rest of the decade will depend on what we do now. If we keep the carbon in the ground and plant trees, we will get flowers of change blooming.
We hope our positive 2020 news retrospective below will inspire you. Please feel free to share any positive stories you have in the comments.
Best wishes of health, happiness, and resilience.
2020 good news list
This list has been compiled by MAINTENANT’s partner, Clotilde Baret. We thank her sincerely for tracking all of the year’s positive and uplifting news stories and sharing them.
UN Sustainable Development Global Goals
- Both the climate and the pandemic crises require long-term political cooperation and collective behaviour change to create a sustainable future, for all. Science, system change, and education embed more than ever the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
- Find out how the COP25 shaped the progress we made in the last 5 years towards global sustainability
- Five success stories of Ocean Health and Wealth
- First major court ruling in the world to be based on the Paris Climate Agreement
Biodiversity and Health
Biodiversity is essential to ecosystems, and its disruption provides opportunities for zoonotic diseases (like Covid-19) to spread. Biological diversity is crucial for the planet’s health - and ours. This year saw an increase in international pledges to protect the environment. Healthy news for the biosphere!
- The world wakes up to the links between the health of people, animals, plants and the environment
- Twenty new species discovered in Bolivia
- Discovery of a 500 meters high detached reef in Australian Great Barrier Reef
- Two Iraq lakes naturally bounce back
- A new “National Forest” in Wales
- The return of the beaver
- Eleven new emperor penguin colonies discovered in Antartica
- Joe Biden boosts the so-called “30 by 30” climate change plan that would protect 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters from development by 2030
- Leaders’ pledge to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 at United Nations Summit
- EU legal framework to tackle deforestation
- More wildlife conservation success stories
- Wildlife taking to the streets amid lockdown as per the photo of wild ducks in Paris. More wild urban scenes in The Guardian
Natural resources and energy
- Earth Overshoot Day, the day Earth’s natural resources run out, has come earlier every year for the last 30 years, but in 2020 it was delayed by 3 weeks (August 13th) thanks to of the decrease in human activity
- Another piece of good news is that carbon emissions fell by 2.4 billion tons, or 7%, the largest drop ever recorded. The decline was most pronounced in the United States (-12%) Europe (-11%) and India (-9%).
- Free public transports in Luxembourg to reduce carbon emissions
- Green China by 2060?
- Green Japan by 2050?
- Renewable energy record production in the UK
- The unusual suspects
- Green Hydrogen production cheaper and more accessible
- Sun-powered chemistry can turn carbon dioxide into common materials
- Clean energy - wind, solar and hydro – are available and sustainable, they accounted for nearly 90% of new electricity infrastructure installed in 2020.
Pollution and plastic reduction
- When Chinese industrial production stopped....
- 'No-waste' Japanese village
- Ozone victory
- Plastic-recycling enzymes
Agriculture and Food Industry
Feeding sustainably the populations worldwide will mean global health and wealth. Leading institutions like the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) support nations in transforming their production methods to reduce deforestation, pollution, and habitat loss.
- La Via Campesina movement brings together millions of peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, rural women and youth, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. They promote the concept of Food Sovereignty which implies that people who produce, distribute and consume food should have the right to define their own food and agriculture systems.
- Climate-friendly novel protein
- Less industrial farming, more wildlife conservation in the UK
- Thai rice farmers tackling greenhouse gas emissions
- Plant-rich diets are good for us and the planet!
Social justice, diversity, and inclusion
- The Black Lives Matter movement is one of the most important movements of our lifetime. We must keep on educating ourselves to create lasting changes across institutions and organisations
- Since 1995, the proportion of girls receiving primary and secondary education has increased from 73% to 89%. That's an extra 180 million girls in school compared to a generation ago.
- Raising awareness on environmental justice
- UK students’ demand for a reform of the education system
- UK Free School Meals Campaign
- Indian Farmers Protests
It is the collection of global and regional laws regulating nature resources, their sustainability and renewability - including water, mineral, forest, wildlife, fish and game.
- A book tribute to Polly Higgins and her legacy. The legal concept of Ecocide is boosting environmental legislation.
- “Ecocide” or ecosystem destruction will be legally defined.
- International Treaty to ban nuclear weapons
- USA to re-join Paris Climate Agreement
- Unprecedented international pledge to use marine ecosystems sustainably
- Victory for the Great Lakes’ Tribes, the world’s largest source of fresh surface water
- Fifty-four cities on track to keep global heating below 1.5C
- The European Green Deal