The year 2016 may have been turbulent, but it certainly scored some wins for the environment and sustainability. Momentum from a triumphant 2015, which saw the adoption of the Paris climate agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, continued into 2016 with some major breakthroughs for our planet. Here are some of 2016’s big wins for the environment.
The Paris Agreement on climate change came into force early
Much earlier than expected, the universally-agreed Paris Agreement entered into force, holding its signatories to the actions they’ve promised to keep global warming at a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius and to adapt to climate change.
That meant that the climate conference in Morocco could focus in earnest on the finer details of implementation and how to ramp up action— which is a good thing, because UN Environment’s analysis of carbon emissions showed that current pledged action falls short of curbing the temperature rise to 2°C.
Keeping cool in a climate-friendly way
Living up to its reputation as the world’s most successful multilateral environmental agreement, the Montreal Protocol — having ensured that the ozone layer was now on the mend — took responsibility for phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These ozone-neutral substances replaced ozone-munching chlorofluorcarbons (CFCs) in many refrigerators, air‑conditioners and aerosols, but they turned out to be powerful greenhouse gases with a global warming potential thousands of times higher than carbon dioxide.
So, in a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, the 197 Montreal Protocol parties agreed on a schedule to bring down the use of HFCs in the world. This could prevent a 0.5 degree Celsius rise by the end of the century. If that doesn’t seem like much, remember that all it took was a one to two degree drop to plunge the Earth into the Little Ice Age.
The world rallied for endangered species
Pangolins, grey parrots, rhinos, lions, sharks and rays, elephants and rosewood were among the winners at the largest ever World Wildlife Conference, the 17th conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Johannesburg. Countries agreed on actions that would strengthen enforcement against illegal trafficking and trade in endangered species and their parts, including ivory. UN Environment’s #WildForLife became one of the most recognizable campaigns in major economies.
The world’s largest Marine Protected Area established
A pristine, biologically diverse area in the Antarctic, larger than the UK, France, Germany and Italy combined, was declared a Marine Protected Area, after five years of negotiations, and tireless “Speedo diplomacy” from endurance swimmer and UN Environment’s Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh. An unprecedented 3.6 million square kilometres — an area larger than India — was added to marine protected areas worldwide, including through the creation and expansion of five “mega protected areas” in Chile, Palau, Hawaii, the Pitcairn Islands and St Helena's in the South Atlantic.
G20 recognize that green is the way to go
For the first time, leaders of the world’s most powerful economies formally recognized that scaling up green finance was important to strong, sustainable and balanced growth. The G20 welcomed input from the Green Finance Study Group (to which UN Environment acts as secretariat), launched in January last year to develop options on how to mobilize private capital for green investment.
Major environmental agreements start to grow legs at UN Environment Assembly
They say that the devil is in the detail; and 2016’s UN Environment Assembly, coming months after the signing of major sustainability and climate change agreements, began to dig down into the nittier, grittier question of how to get these running on the ground. Twenty-five landmark resolutions of the Assembly brought crucial decisions on the 2030 sustainability Agenda, the Paris Agreement, illegal trade in wildlife, marine litter and debris, the nexus of environment and health, and other pressing environmental issues.