December is often a time to look back on the year's events. If we had to pick out one striking aspect of 2021 concerning the climate issue, it would be the increasingly stark contrast between climate change and the pace that politics has moved at it to address it.
The frequency of climatic events – particularly extreme climatic events – can be called ‘climate rhythm’, while the intensity of substantial policy changes to tackle climate change can be called ‘political rhythm’. These two rhythms have rarely moved at a similar speed. Several authors have pointed out that three decades of political efforts and scientific warnings have not succeeded in curbing CO2 emissions. On the contrary, the world has seen a 60% increase in CO2 since 1990.
However, there has never been such a discrepancy between the pace of climate change and that of politics as in the past year.
In 2021, the climate rhythm accelerated considerably within a very short timeframe of just a few months, with the most significant adverse effects experienced on a regional scale, in the form of increasingly frequent floods, storms and droughts. In Europe, we began the year with record-breaking snowfalls in Madrid, followed in June by catastrophic floods in western Belgium and Germany. The summer was also characterised by record temperatures of over 45 degrees in southern Europe (Greece), accompanied by devastating wildfires.
The political rhythm, meanwhile, continued its slow progression, looking ahead to deadlines years away. The COP26 summit held in Glasgow in November recognised the importance of reducing global emissions by 45% by 2030 (compared to 2010 levels), while calling for carbon neutrality to be achieved by around 2050.
For too many years, climate-related policies have not kept pace with climate change. Ensuring that these two rhythms are in sync should be a priority for all policymakers in 2022.
Isak Stoddard, Kevin Anderson, Stuart Capstick, Wim Carton, Joanna Depledge, Keri Facer, Clair Gough, Frederic Hache, Claire Hoolohan, Martin Hultman, Niclas Hällström, Sivan Kartha, Sonja Klinsky, Magdalena Kuchler, Eva Lövbrand, Naghmeh Nasiritousi, Peter Newell, Glen P. Peters, Youba Sokona, Andy Stirling, Matthew Stilwell, Clive L. Spash, Mariama Williams
Annual Review of Environment and Resources 2021 46:1, 653-689