Happy new super year! Why is 2021 such a big deal for climate, nature and people?

As the world woke up on 1 January this year, you could be forgiven for not noticing a new year had dawned. With lockdowns and restrictions still in place across many countries, new year celebrations were muted. But here at IIED, even without the midnight countdown, we’re gearing up for an exceptional year in 2021: a year of great ambition and opportunity to drive better outcomes for climate change, nature and people.

Ebony Holland's picture
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2 February 2021

Ebony Holland is senior researcher in IIED's Natural Resources and Climate Change research groups

The world is dealing with multiple and intertwined crises – climate change, unprecedented biodiversity loss, rising inequalities and the COVID-19 pandemic. The poor and vulnerable are disproportionately affected, and inequalities are deepening. A clear demonstration of this is in the stark difference in COVID-19 vaccination rates between developed and developing countries.

Even with the inequalities exposed by the pandemic, the recovery process provides a unique opportunity. The world is searching for practical solutions to get us through this pandemic and we won’t see this scale of economic stimulus for decades to come. We need to pivot; not resuscitate the economy of December 2019 but reimagine a better economy that places climate, nature and people at the centre. 

2021, with its major meetings, conferences and dialogues, presents crucial opportunities to address these intertwined crises and pave the way to a better future.

What’s happening in 2021?

Before the pandemic, the global community was gearing up for a big 2020. But as the pandemic spread and took hold, meetings were postponed to 2021. The result? A concentrated series of big events and decision-points related to climate change, nature and development over the coming 12 months: leading this year to be labelled the 2021 'super year'.

Among the many landmark activities taking place in 2021, two will take centre stage: the 26th UN climate talks (COP26) and the 15th UN biodiversity conference (COP15) will bring countries together to set the agenda on climate change and nature for the decade to come. The ambitions and agreements reached at these meetings will affect us all.

Global leaders will also meet under the auspices of the G7 and G20 Leaders’ Summits, the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Environment Assembly, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. At these meetings, leaders will tackle the big issues – economic recovery from the pandemic, climate change, environmental degradation and more.

Add to this the World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual meetings, the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the UN Food Systems Summit and an array of global North and global South conferences and workshops… and 2021 is big!

Events are already under way: last month, the 1st Gobeshona Global Conference organised by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) convened adaptation researchers under the theme of locally led adaptation. And last week, the Dutch government convened thousands of people to launch a comprehensive adaptation agenda at the Climate Adaptation Summit.

While these meetings are discrete activities, there are concerted efforts under way to align their agendas and drive real and practical change this year – and the world is watching.

IIED will be there at every step

Building on our research, and working closely with partners, we will act to influence change at every opportunity during the 2021 'super year'. We will actively collaborate to drive a cohesive agenda on climate, nature and development, to build a fairer and more sustainable world.

We’ll engage closely with partners throughout the year, including government, business, academics, non-government organisations and civil society. And in particular, we’ll continue our work with local communities and people, to amplify their voices in the places where decisions that matter are made this year.

To achieve this, we will be hosting events undertaking research and publishing reports. We’ll also be developing guides for biodiversity negotiators and continuing to support negotiators from the least developed countries. Check out our dedicated 2021 'super year' webpage for more information on our activities this year.

We’ve been busy already: just last week, with the World Resources Institute, we launched the principles for locally led adaptation which already have more than 40 endorsing organisations. And with ICCCAD, we launched a 10-year learning journey on locally led adaptation to emphasise the need for a long-term focus to building resilience and managing multi-dimensional risks.

Importantly, this 10-year journey links three big annual conferences to drive practical action on locally led adaptation: Gobeshona Global Conference, International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change and the Development and Climate Days at UNFCCC COPs.

These unprecedented times require unprecedented responses. 2021 is the year to reshape and define the future we want – to tackle the climate, nature and inequality crises that we have struggled to overcome, and to address these issues as part of our pandemic recovery.

We might have slept through the midnight New Year celebrations last year, but the countdown is on to make the most of the 2021 'super year' so we can ring in 2022 with renewed focus and determination.

About the author

Ebony Holland (ebony-holland@iied.org) is senior researcher (nature-climate policy lead) in IIED's Natural Resources and Climate Change research groups

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