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Climatewatch - Why 2020 marks the start of a crucial decade for the environment

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Climate
Climatewatch - Why 2020 marks the start of a crucial decade for the environment
01 Jan
2020
As a new decade begins, Marco Magrini wonders if the 2020s could be make or break for when it comes to fixing the environment

Welcome to the 2020s, a crucial time in history. To put it bluntly, during this decade humankind will either decide to steer clear of the climatic maelstrom, or to plunge into it. For some time, climate scientists have been describing 2020 as a key turning point.

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However, the world hasn’t taken more drastic measures than the discretionary-only emission cuts of the Paris Agreement. Its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, reaches the end of the line in 2020 without having made a dent in the atmospherical greenhouse gas stock. Europe will likely proclaim the success of its ‘20-20-20’ energy package, which promised to cut 20 per cent of its emissions (base year: 1990) and have a 20 per cent renewable energy supply by 2020. But Europe represents a mere 9.3 per cent of man-made emissions.

Global emissions, after a two-year dip, are still rising. India’s population is projected to surpass China’s in 2022 and both countries will experience soaring energy needs. American presidential elections in November will decide if the most energy-hungry nation on Earth will fight climate change or actually propel it, as is happening now.

The United Nations’ desperate call for a quick and unanimous climate action is at odds with an extensive surge of nationalism and potential conflicts. The severe hurricanes, droughts and wildfires of the 2010s have partially shifted public opinion and younger generations are protesting loudly, yet not loudly enough to make the climate crisis a defining political issue.

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Even if extreme weather events are expected to increase, an upcoming reduction in solar activity may temporarily slow down the warming trend, thus risking hampering emission-reduction actions in this crucial decade.

In the 1920s, after World War I and the Spanish flu had ceased killing people, there was a widespread sense of relief and hope. One century later, we find ourselves on a sick and overpopulated planet, lacking the universal will to wage a war-like decarbonisation of the global economy.

Will human civilisation dodge the biggest, overarching problem ever met in its amazing 200,000 year-long adventure? Or will it just surrender to the prospect of a ‘sixth extinction’? No one can tell. Yet, at the starting line of the next decade, the picture appears rather bleak. Don’t expect the 2020s to be ‘roaring’. Or, indeed, boring.

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