There is cause for optimism for the atmosphere in 2021 despite the gloom of 2020.

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There will be one feeling that unites most people at midnight on December 31 in a world of strife and division: relief that 2020 is finally over – without exaggeration: the past year has taken our world to the brink.

To kill 1.6 million people, bring global economies to their knees, and trigger untold suffering across the world, a single virus that moved from animal to person was enough. And as the pandemic raged, the climate emergency, like two intersecting horror films, did the same. We have seen record-breaking wildfires across the U.S. The West Coast, the record number of strong Atlantic hurricanes, the Arctic ice melting at the end of October, and the deadly floods that struck countries from Italy to Indonesia. We got a glimpse of a turbulent world ravaged by numerous crises, each exacerbating the other, and it was terrifying. Unless we change course, the disasters of 2020, incredible as they might be, may only be a preview of what is to come. Random incidents are neither the pandemic nor the extreme weather.

Outbreaks of disease are on the rise, and about 70% are the product of viruses breaching the animal-to-human barrier – industrial agriculture is opening a viral Pandora’s box from rampant deforestation in the Amazon to covid-infected mink farms in Denmark, which could cause pandemics much worse than the current one. Destructive factories were also more busy burning forests and displacing animals while experts were busy creating a vaccine, raising the chance of awakening the next deadly virus. We are mopping the floor while making the leak worse. There is no vaccine, no single solution when it comes to the atmosphere. Technology will help, but it is only a drastic shift in political and corporate will that will make a real breakthrough.

Despite the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the atmospheric amount of gases that heat the earth has hit a new record high this year.

It is clear that nothing can save us from climate catastrophe short of a total transformation of our economy and culture, so reverting to the old standard is not a choice. The worst is not over unless we stop oil companies from searching for any more oil, food giants from destroying rainforests, and devastating fisheries from exploiting our oceans – it has just started. It’s just half the fight to end the pandemic – we will need to launch something fresh and better. While addressing the plight of many, we need to build new green jobs and invest in communities.

And 2021 is the year we will do that: we have learned some major lessons, considering the destruction caused by the pandemic.

It has forced us to slow down and reconsider the importance of family, friends and access to nature, what is really important in life, what the important tasks are.

And the most simple lesson of all: we’re going to burn in hell if we become complacent in the face of the challenges we face. There are reasons to be optimistic.

It has been shown in the past year that what was previously considered unlikely is possible. Chancellor Rishi Sunak found the money to improve safeguards for employment and the welfare of people.

Collaboration to combat the virus was prioritized by ministers, and world leaders worked together to create vaccines.

Why not do the same to tackle the climate change if our leaders can do all this to respond to a health crisis? When it comes to climate change, talk is cheap. On the other side of the Atlantic, U.S. voters defied all expectations and voted out a sitting president who also happens to be the most powerful climate denier in the world. The government must deliver now | Matthew PennycookRead more Now that Donald Trump is no longer in the White House, and leading economies like China, South Korea, and Japan are more focused on climate action, we have an opportunity to bring the world back together to minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

But the UN climate conference in Glasgow next year may be the catalyst for the breakthrough we need so urgently. Real leadership would be important for this to happen.

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