Published 20 December 2022 ● Last Updated on 30 December 2022

2022 has been another eventful year for planet Earth. It has suffered climate-impact events such as floods and droughts that begged for a comprehensive response and witnessed political decisions that will create long-term impact. Here’s a quick catch-up of the year that was – links for deeper reads included. May 2023 be the year where we learn from the setbacks and do better moving ahead!

COP 27 agrees on milestone ‘loss and damage fund’ for vulnerable countries, but achieves little else

The 27th Conference of Parties – or COP27– was held from 6 – 20 November 2022 in Egypt, with over 92 heads of state and an estimated 35,000 representatives in attendance. A key outcome was the breakthrough agreement on a new ‘loss and damage fund’ – which will support vulnerable countries hit hard by the climate crisis. The step has been hailed as a milestone as it comes after years of resistance by rich countries, who are responsible for the bulk of historical greenhouse gas emissions and yet balk at the idea of paying for their contribution to climate change.

Demonstrators at COP 27. Image credit: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images via Guardian

Other key outcomes of COP 27can be summed up as an exercise in staying steady. Temperature goals stay put at the same levels as per the Paris Agreement – to keep the rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C (though some countries did try to dilute their commitment to this aim in COP27). Likewise, commitment to “phase down all fossil fuels” – a commendable goal – still does not appear on the final COP27 resolution, though countries – led by India – wanted its inclusion. Instead, the final resolution aims for a phasedown only on coal (the crowning achievement of COP26).

Courts are called in to step up and defend planet Earth (and they are rising to the occasion)

Citizens action found support in some key rulings this year. In a big loss for fossil fuel majors, a South African court set aside Shell’s oil and gas exploration rights off the Indian Ocean coast. The company’s plans to use seismic waves met with fierce opposition on the ground, as they involved potential harm to marine species in the naturally rich waters. The High Court court passed an interim order revoking the right in December 2021, and in September 2022 this ruling was upheld.

Protest in Cape Town against Shell’s plan for seismic surveys. Image credit – Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images via Guardian

In another adjudication for climate, an Australian court blocked Clive Palmer coal mine on climate grounds in November 2022. The Galilee Coal project would have produced 40mn tonnes of coal a year if fully developed, making it the largest coal mine in Australia. Commenting that “climate change was a key issue”, the court has moved to block the $8.4bn coal mine development in Queensland.

Next up – a lawsuit against the Swedish state for insufficient climate action. Filed in November 2022 by youth-led initiative Aurora, the 87-page document was signed by over 600 young people under the age of 26 – among them Greta Thunberg.

Climate playing havoc across national borders, again

As the world temperature rises, so does the probability of extreme weather events. These were on ready display across continents this year:

Heatwave in Europe
Sunflowers suffer from lack of water as extreme heat plagues Europe. Image Credit – VOA News
  • In Asia – Pakistan floods dominated headlines; nearly 1500 people were killed and 30 million displaced after record-breaking rain in August.
  • In East Africa, drought threatens millions with starvation. A famine is looming in East Africa as rains fail for the fourth consecutive year. At peril are over 500,000 people in Kenya and 7 million people in neighboring Somalia, plus livestock.

US passes landmark climate legislation that reaffirms its commitment to Paris Agreement goals

The Climate Bill – formally the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – passed through the House in August 2022 in a hard-won victory for US President Biden. At its heart is a $369bn package of climate investments that helps transition the country to renewable energy, and also cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Biodiversity suffering a steep decline worldwide – but small pockets of good news and an international summit add a dose of optimism

In July 2022, sightings of southern fin whales in Antarctica sparked hopes of recovery. In August 2022 came heartening news from down under, when climate champions were celebrating two-thirds of The Great Barrier Reef’s best signs of coral recovery in 36 years.

Great Barrier Reef
Parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef show highest coral cover in 36 years. Image Credit – Reuters

But tempering the good news – yes, there are quite a few happy stories – is the fact that the wild is on a decline. In its bi-annual Living Planet Report, released in October 2022, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has reported an average 69% decrease in monitored wildlife populations since 1970. Covering more than 5,000 species around the globe, the report assesses how various animal populations are faring and serves as a stand-in for the state of biodiversity on Earth.

Tracking the health of nature over 50 years. Image Credit – WWF

Addressing this on an international stage was the The UN Biodiversity Conference – COP15. Held in Montreal, Canada between December 7 and 19 2022, it achieved a landmark conservation rule to prevent further nature loss. 196 countries entered the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, agreeing to protect and restore 30% of the world’s land and seas globally by 2030, while also respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples. Though the United States is notably absent among the signatories, and there is no accountability processes in place yet – the agreement is hailed as a milestone, and the 30% target is set to serve as a guiding post for future plans and negotiations.

The world resolves to have a legally binding Plastic Treaty; negotiations underway

Plastics are a growing waste problem, and finally there is a coordinated international action in sight. In March 2022, members of the UN Environment Assembly met in Nairobi to arrive at a historic resolution to End Plastic Pollution. The agreed-upon end goal is a legally binding agreement that addresses the entire lifecycle of plastic, right from production, to design and disposal. Plastic treaty conversations kicked off in December 2022 in Uruguay and the aim is to forge the treaty by 2024.

A respite for the Amazonian Rainforest, if promises are kept

The past few years have seen Brazilian Amazon in the news for the wrong reasons – such as the forest fires in our 2019 roundup. Then president Jair Bolsonaro was widely criticized for presiding over the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and refused to hold the 2019 climate summit originally planned for Brazil.

But during COP27, Brazil’s new President Lula promised to protect the Amazon Rainforest, which is a marked turnaround from his predecessor’s perspective on environmental matters.

Oil spills further evidence the risks associated with fossil fuel

The year began with the worst environmental disaster that Peru has seen on its coastline – over 10,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the Pacific Ocean from an oil tanker owned by Spanish energy company Repsol in March. And as we end 2022, Keystone Pipeline has had its biggest spill yet – 14,000 barrels of oil into the creek in north-eastern Kansas (USA).

In sum, 2022 has seen political leaders making stronger commitments to sustainability, citizens taking to the streets to express their views, and strategic alliances between countries being made. Although it remains to be seen whether our world leaders will walk the talk, 2022 has revealed that countries across the globe are moving in the direction of climate action. Let’s build up the momentum in 2023!

Related links

Biodiversity | 5 Species that have come back from the brink of extinction

What a Waste! | The rising challenges of humanity’s trash


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