2021 in review: In a critical year for climate, nature took center stage

© Michael Christopher Brown

Nature saw ups and downs in 2021, and Conservation News was there for it all. This month, we are revisiting some of the most significant stories of the past year.

It was a crucial year for climate change. A grim UN climate report found that humans are indisputably responsible for warming the planet — and that drastic action to protect nature is needed to prevent a climate catastrophe. 

Against this backdrop, we explored stories of innovators on the forefront of nature-based climate solutions, highlighted new research on nature’s powerful influence on our climate and showed how we can each take action. 

In a landmark study, Conservation International scientists mapped the essential ecosystems that humanity must protect to avoid total climate breakdown. From mangroves to old-growth forests, these ecosystems hold vast stores of “irrecoverable carbon” — which, if emitted into the atmosphere, could not be restored by 2050. Conservation international scientist Allie Goldstein, who co-authored the study, was unequivocal about the implications of the findings: “This is our generation’s carbon to save, and how we choose to move forward as a global community will determine our climate fate.”

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One of the most-discussed and most contentious issues in conservation this past year was carbon offsets — a way to compensate for, and ultimately reduce, climate-warming carbon pollution. With trillions of dollars of potential investments on the line, a major new report earlier this year proposed ways to improve standards and increase the effectiveness of offsets. In this post, we take you through what it means and why it matters. 

When you run out of coffee, what do you do? Do you fly to Central America and pick some beans yourself, or do you simply go the supermarket? In an eye-opening and colorful commentary, Conservation International scientist Bronson Griscom roasts critics’ complaints about carbon markets while highlighting why we — and the climate we depend on — need them now.

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A Conservation International study earlier this year showed that our planet’s oceans, forests and other living ecosystems saved us from a climate cataclysm: Without Earth’s biosphere, researchers found, the climate would have already crossed the 1.5°C (2.7°F) temperature increase widely considered to be the threshold for avoiding potentially catastrophic climate impacts. All the more reason to protect nature.

Read more here.

The latest United Nations climate report, released earlier this year, sounded the grimmest alarm yet on the intensifying effects of climate change. In this piece, Conservation International Senior Scientist Will Turner discussed what made this report different, the emotional response it seemed to evoke, and what we can do about it. 

Read more here.


Will McCarry is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: Endangered Florida manatee (© Comstock Images)