2020 has ended, and the vast majority of us will be pleased to see it go. When I was writing at the beginning of 2020 we had no idea of what was to come with the pandemic and the massive changes that it would bring. And we are still working that out. So the issues that loom large in 2021 are:
1) The COVID-19 pandemic. Are we in the middle of the pandemic, or still at the very beginning? We are certainly not near the end. The good news that the vaccines are on the way has been somewhat offset by the discovery that new variants that seem to be more contagious have arisen in the UK and South Africa. So it is likely that in the UK we will have a very rough few months before things might hopefully get back to some sort of “normal”. Of course, the situation is, if anything, worse in the United States, and the roll-out of vaccines worldwide is likely to be fairly haphazard.
2) On Brexit, the trade deal is now sorted, and the topic will probably move down the news. But it is certain that Brexit will have major impacts on environmental policy and on scientific research in the UK and beyond. The loss of the Erasmus scheme for UK students was a serious blow. We will need to monitor the positive and negative effects of Brexit on our environment over the coming months.
3) The United States. As we said recently, it now seems highly probable that Joe Biden will be inaugurated as President of the United States on 20th January. Even now though, we cannot say with absolute certainty as Trump may yet bring about some sort of coup. It seems that the legal routes for him overturning the election have largely closed, but it is still possible that he might try to stir up enough trouble to then impose martial law. We hope not. The result of the election is crucial for our global environment.
4) Climate Change. Once again, 2020 will be one of the hottest, if not the hottest, year on the instrumental record when the figures are released in a few weeks. Carbon dioxide emissions will be down in 2020 due to the pandemic, but will quite probably rebound a bit in 2021. There is some hope that the peak in global emissions has been reached, and that we can now seriously work on bringing them down. Which, of course, brings us to COP26 in Glasgow this November- at least we think that will be the case, but we said the same last year! Assuming that Biden is in charge there should be considerable momentum for a strong agreement in Glasgow.
5) The Environment. In JRI we have a long tradition of looking at climate change, started of course by our founder, the late Sir John Houghton. It is natural that we will focus on climate change again this year as we approach COP26. But, and it is a big but, climate change is not the only environmental problem we have to worry about. Biodiversity loss, plastic, ocean acidification, soil degradation, the huge human impacts on the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and many other issues also require our attention. We could “solve” climate change, and still wreck the planet. So some balance in looking at the issues is required.
6) The Church. At least in the UK, the Church, in its widest sense, seems to be finally recognising the environment as a major legitimate concern. I think we must expect that if we can get past the immediate problems caused by the pandemic then programmes like Eco Church and CRES will continue to grow very rapidly. We will also see increases in the demand for speakers again, and we could become very busy in the second half of the year.
So those are my thoughts for 2021. How many will prove correct? How many surprises will happen? Let us hope that we do not get another surprise like COVID-19. We will do our best to keep you informed on all of the above in the next 12 months.
Dr Martin J. Hodson (JRI Operations Director)
Photo: Kingfisher taken at Bibury in the Cotswolds in December 2020- biodiversity is important too!