If 2011 is any indicator, 2012 promises to be a year of remarkable events for the environmental sector.
From surprising cleantech trends to devastating natural disasters, the past year has featured major changes that continue to shape the development of environmental industries.
With 2012 just beginning, what are the top environmental highlights of the year we’ve left behind?
11.) New insights into the economic and human costs of climate change.
The September release of NRTEE’s report, Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada, added a compelling new demonstration of how the effects of climate change could translate into billions of dollars each year by 2020.
10.) Hydraulic fracturing debate.
The use of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to release natural gas deposits went from an insider technical topic to a major public debate when several studies linked the drilling technique to water pollution. This continued controversy highlights the importance of careful environmental monitoring and measurement when industrial activities have the potential to negatively impact the surrounding environment.
9.) International Year of Forests
The UN declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests, in recognition of the strong connection between forest health and human wellbeing. In Canada alone, more than 600,000 people depend on the forest industry for their livelihood.
8.) Record jump in CO2 emissions
The trend of rising carbon dioxide emissions attracted renewed attention following the release of new research from the Global Carbon Project. Based on the report’s findings, global CO2 emissions had increased by the highest amount on record in the previous year, with estimates that current CO2 levels are up to 40% higher than the levels present during the Industrial Revolution.
7.) Major cleantech innovations
On a happier note, we also saw a number of extraordinary cleantech advancements in 2011, including the development of 3D solar panel cells and preliminary construction of the world’s first vertical “forest” in Milan. On the Canadian front, Concordia University officially opened the Solar Simulator – Environmental Chamber lab. This facility is the only one of its kind in the world, check out the quick clip of it below:
6.) Severe flooding in Thailand and Australia
Three months of unusually heavy rain produced devastating effects in Thailand. Extensive flooding damaged farmland, forced hundreds of thousands of residents to flee affected areas, and cost over 500 people their lives. In Australia, flash floods in Queensland state crippled infrastructure and led to multiple deaths.
5.) Wildfire in Slave Lake, Alberta
Canada saw its own natural catastrophe when strong winds and dry weather triggered a massive wildfire in the Slave Lake area. With thousands of residents without a home and total estimated losses of over $700 million, the Slave Lake wildfire was the second most costly natural disaster in Canadian history.
4.) Drought in the Horn of Africa
Severe drought conditions in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Uganda created a devastating humanitarian crisis, with an estimated 12.4 million people in urgent need of food. The drought was the worst in 60 years, and its effects continue to destabilize regions with already fragile social and political security.
3.) Keystone XL Pipeline controversy
Heated debate surrounded the proposed development of TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline to transport oil from Alberta to Texas. Arguments in support of or against the pipeline have focused on everything from the potential to create much-needed jobs to the serious risks of an oil spill over ecologically sensitive regions. Following the passage of a recent bill that requires President Obama to approve the pipeline in 60 days or decide that it is not in the best interests of the country, the future of the Keystone pipeline remains uncertain.
2.) Climate change talks in Durban, South Africa
Over 190 delegates arrived in Durban, South Africa for the 17th annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. After several days of deliberation and intense media scrutiny, representatives left the climate talks with the agreement to work towards a new global treaty and to create a Green Climate Fund that would help developing countries address climate change.
1.) Triple earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan
By far, the most striking environment-related event of 2011 occurred when an extremely powerful earthquake hit Japan, generating a tsunami and triggering a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. While the immediate destruction and death toll from the triple disaster were already incredibly high, the potential long-term consequences are still unclear.
So many events of the past year have demonstrated the importance of climate science, environmental protection and disaster response. Several of the highlights of 2011 are also still ongoing, making these events potential repeat headliners in the news of 2012.
What news would you add or delete to this list for 2011? What environmental events do you think we’ll encounter this year?