Here is a quick review of some of the best and the worst environmental stories of 2010.
Cars and trucks are responsible for a quarter of US carbon emissions. However, this year, both Chevrolet and Nissan were amongst a slew of car makers who launched electric vehicles. Even SUVs, crossovers, luxury cars, station wagons and hatchbacks are getting more efficient.
Social media efforts succeed in pushing Nestle to reduce its palm oil deforestation footprint. Although the campaign against Nestle's palm oil deforestation footprint began with Greenpeace, it quickly became an online grassroots movement that Nestle could not afford to ignore.
The Cancun Agreement reached at the UNFCCC talks in Cancun, Mexico put the multilateral process back on track toward a global climate framework. Some 26 individual agreements were reached in Cancun, including advances in the mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). The accord compensates developing countries for forest protection and peatland restoration. The Cancun Agreement also saw progress on a climate finance mechanism and technology transfer to help developing economies.
Proposition 23 would have overturned AB32, a bill that mandates a decrease in Calilfornia’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Despite the millions spent by oil companies to support it, Californians voted to maintain the state's climate law. The California Air Resources Board voted to adopt cap and trade regulations. As part of the cap and trade system, California signed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (RED) deals with Mexico and Brazil it is scheduled to start in 2012.
In 2010 many Americans took advantage of this year's tax credits of up to $1,500 to make their homes more energy efficient. While the home energy efficiency tax credits expire this year, tax credits for solar, wind and geothermal systems remain until 2016.
After a decade of intensive review, Massachusetts' Cape Wind project will finally be built off the coast. This is one of the largest greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in the US. Cape Wind is expected to create enough electricity to power much of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island combined. Besides green jobs, Cape Wind will cut C02 emissions from conventional power plants by 700,000 tons annually.
A landmark agreement was reached in Nagoya, Japan by 193 nations on the Convention on Biological Diversity to help stave off mass extinctions of the world's species. The agreement includes 20 measurable goals, such as restoring 15 percent of degraded lands and protecting 10 percent of marine waters by 2020. Although participation is voluntary and there are no penalties for non-compliance, there is a greater understanding of the importance of biodiversity.
A billion dollar agreement was signed by Indonesia and Norway to protect forests in the Southeast Asian nation, which has become the world's third largest greenhouse gas emitter due to deforestation and peat lands degradation. The agreement includes provisions for monitoring, reporting, and verifying. Indonesia will establish a two-year moratorium on new forestry concessions in primary forest areas and peat lands beginning in January 2011.
Deforestation is now estimated to account for around 10 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, down from 15-18 percent a decade ago. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell to the lowest rate on record, putting Brazil on track to meet its targets for reducing rainforest destruction.
This year, public and private interests came together to protect wilderness in the US and even China is beginning to develop conservation planning. The Montana Legacy Project succeeded in protecting 310,000 acres of forest, rivers and lakes. China developed large-scale plans for protecting the country’s land and water resources.
On April 20th, BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded killing 11 people and for the next three months, almost 5 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico. The ecological and economic disaster killed thousands of marine animals and endangered coral reefs and devastated beaches and marshlands. Although it was the worst oil spill of all time and the largest environmental disaster the US has ever faced, America's dependence on fossil fuels continues unabated.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2010 will be the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880. This observation is echoed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which indicated that temperatures reached record levels in several regions of the world in 2010. Climate change is behind streak of floods in Pakistan, Colombia, Venezuela and the US. Massive wildfires were spawned by a deadly heat-wave in central Russia and record drought in the Amazon. Higher temperatures also caused warmer seas leading to devastating coral bleaching. Researchers observed bleaching activity in every ocean and sea where corals live.
Americans are profoundly misinformed about climate change. According to a Pew study, less than a third of Americans think that climate change is a very serious problem. Only 59 percent of Americans believe there is “solid evidence” that the planet’s getting warmer at all, down from 79 percent in 2006.
The Congress failed to pass climate legislation in 2010. The midterm elections gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives and eliminated the Democrats’ super-majority in the Senate, making climate legislation very unlikely for at least two years.
Humans continue to cause the worst extinction since the time of the dinosaurs, species including mammals, frogs, birds, butterflies, reptiles and fish, have been lost forever.
One million cubic meters of red sludge devastated two Hungarian villages, killing nine, and injuring approximately one hundred others. The red sludge that devastated two Hungarian villages was made of waste products from an aluminium processor. The red muck extinguished freshwater life in a number of local rivers. Even though aluminium is entirely recyclable, mining continues to cause deforestation and pollution while using large amounts of water and energy.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics and eco-economics.