While it would be easy to believe that 2020 was dominated by just one event, the year would still arguably have been the most momentous of the 21st Century so far and a standout of the past 100 years.
Culturally, environmentally and politically 2020 continued to deliver story after story that will shape discourse for years to come. Here we look at some of the most significant environmental stories of 2020 you may have missed.
The year started with Australia on fire, literally. While the wildfires had begun in the months before, the size and intensity peaked through January and by February it was reported that 27 million acres had been burnt and nearly 500 people had been directly killed by flames or smoke.
The Australian government estimated that a billion animals had been lost and produced a list of over one hundred species that were at direct risk without emergency intervention.
Six months later a similar story emerged on the west coast of the United States as circa 6 million acres were burnt across California, Oregon and Washington, double the previous record size of annual wildfire.
While these events may be the most notable environmental stories, it was not hard to find others of equal import in 2020, from further major wildfire events in Siberia, the Amazon and Africa to a record number of major tropical storms. Record high temperatures in both the Arctic and Antarctic lead to mass melting of ice sheets and thawing of permafrost, changing the regional ecosystems permanently.
Major flooding, drought and storm events were common across the globe, while an increase in the poaching and trafficking of endangered species could be linked to the Covid-19 Pandemic, it is an increasing concern if not addressed.
While we must be cautious about connecting specific individual events directly to man-made global warming, the trends relating to the impact of humanity on our planet are clearer with each passing year. 2020 was the joint hottest year ever recorded (alongside 2016).
But in this year of gloom, there are reasons to be hopeful. Throughout 2020 Mother Nature has shown her resilience time and time again, especially as humans have been forced to stay at home for extended periods. Animals returned to urban areas, rivers became cleaner and endangered species were spotted in regions they had been previously thought to have vanished from. All the while, the lack of human activity saw a drop in C02 emissions by 7%.
The likelihood is that environmental successes directly attributed to Covid restrictions will be short lived at best. The 7% drop in C02 in particular is in reality a tiny fraction of what is required and will likely be wiped out by the surge in activity and manufacturing that follows the end of the pandemic as global economies are prioritised.
But if nothing else, the successes of 2020 have shown what is possible with concerted effort. Many governments around the world have been planning what are being called Green Recovery measures, policies that allow for a social and economic revival from the pandemic and encourage positive environmental programmes. Many countries have set aside an encouraging percentage of their recovery budgets for green initiatives that improve energy efficiency, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and invest in preserving and restoring nature.
And while not every country has the will or the ability to do this, grassroots movements across the globe are keeping the pressure on governments to make sure that promises are kept and this opportunity for change is taken.
This year's delayed COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow will undoubtedly have an increased remit which includes debates on human / wildlife conflict & encroachment and the causes & effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the recovery from it and the opportunities it provides. It was due to be an important summit anyway, reviewing and ratifying many of the commitments made during the 2015 Paris summit and asking delegations to submit their new commitments for the next five years. Following the events of 2020, COP26 may now be more important than ever if a green recovery is to truly emerge.