2021 in the environment and environmental sciences

This is an article of notable issues relating to the terrestrial environment of Earth in 2021. They relate to environmental events such as natural disasters, environmental sciences such as ecology and geoscience with a known relevance to contemporary influence of humanity on Earth, environmental law, conservation, environmentalism with major worldwide impact and environmental issues.

List of years in the environment (table)
Extraterrestrial environment
Terrestrial environment


Date / period Type of event Event Topics Image
January 11Coordination, PolicyThe One Planet Summit is held as a virtual event. Results: 50 nations of the "High Ambition Coalition" agree to aim to protect 30 % of their terrestrial and marine areas, financing of the Great Green Wall (Africa) is agreed to.
February 1PolicyChinese national carbon trading scheme is launched[1][2] The nationwide carbon trading market is set to launch by June.[3]

Environmental disasters

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Environmental sciences

Date / period Type Description Topics Image
January 6 Review In the first scientific systematic review of the scientific evidence around global waste, its management and impact on human health and life, authors provide assessments, suggestions for corrective action, engineering solutions and requests for further research. They find that about half of all the municipal solid terrestrial waste – or close to one billion tons per year – is either not collected or mismanaged after collection, often being burned in open and uncontrolled fires. Authors conclude that "massive risk mitigation can be delivered" while noting that broad priority areas each lack a "high-quality research base", partly due to the absence of "substantial research funding", which scientists often require.[4][5] [waste]
January 13 Statistics / records A new record high temperature of the world's oceans is reported, measured from the surface level down to a depth of 2,000 metres.[6][7] [temperature record]
January 13 Review, Analysis, Assessment A group of 17 high-ranking ecologists publish a perspective piece that reviews a number of studies that, based on current trends, indicate that future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed, concluding that current challenges – themselves in specific – that humanity faces are large and underestimated. The small group cautions that such an "optimism bias" is prevalent and that fundamental changes are required, listing a few of such they consider adequate in the form of broad descriptions in their largely static document, published by a scientific journal.[8][9][10] [policy]
January 22 Review A study described as the "first long-term assessment of global bee decline", which analyzed GBIF-data of over a century, finds that the number of bee species declined steeply after the 1990s, shrinking by a quarter in 2006–2015 compared to before 1990.[11][12] [insect decline]
January 25 Review Global ice loss is found to be accelerating at a record rate in a scientific review, matching the worst-case scenarios of the IPCC.[13][14][15] [global warming] [sea level rise]
January 27 Scientists report that shark and ray populations have fallen by 71% since 1970 as a result of human actions, primarily overfishing.[16][17] [animals]
February 9 Attribution, Modelling A study using a high spatial resolution model and an updated concentration-response function finds that 10.2 million global excess deaths in 2012 and 8.7 M in 2018 – or a fifth[dubious ] – were due to air pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion, significantly higher than earlier estimates and with spatially subdivided mortality impacts.[18][19] [air pollution] [transportation]
February 9 Analysis, Predictions A study concludes that the rates of emissions reductions need to increase by 80% beyond NDCs to meet the 2 °C upper target range of the Paris Agreement, that the probabilities of major emitters meeting their NDCs without such an increase is very low, estimating that with current trends the probability of staying below 2 °C of warming is 5% and if NDCs were met and continued post-2030 by all signatory systems 26%.[20][21] [global warming] [policy]
February 9 A study finds that air pollution by nitrogen dioxide could be a technosignature by which one could detect extraterrestrial civilizations via "atmospheric SETI".[22][23][24] [air pollution]
February 15 Researchers report, for the first time, the detection of lifeforms 872 m below the ice of Antarctica, at a depth of 1,233 m and 260 km from the open water at the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf's calving margin.[25][26][27] [animals]
February 16 Global warming is found to cause increases of pollen season lengths and concentrations.[28][29] [global warming]
February 25 Researchers confirm that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, which includes the Gulf Stream, is at its weakest since about 1,000 years ago, experiencing unprecedented weakening – likely due to global warming – which could result in more extreme weather events – including heatwaves and intense winters – and is moving towards a "tipping point".[30][31][32] []
March 8 Study results indicate that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C would prevent most of the tropics from reaching the wet-bulb temperature of the human physiological limit, beyond which they are fatal after a few hours without artificial cooling.[33][34] [global warming]
March 8 Attribution A new global food emissions database indicates that the current food systems are responsible for one third (34%) of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.[35][36] [Food system]
March 12 Review Results of a scientific synthesis indicate that, in terms of global warming, the Amazon basin with the Amazon rainforest now emits more greenhouse gases than it absorbs overall due to climate change impacts and human activities in the area – mainly deforestation.[37][38] [deforestation] [forests]
March 17 Assessment, Development A study finds that an optimized globally coordinated marine conservation could be "nearly twice as efficient as uncoordinated, national-level" planning and estimates that bottom trawling releases as much CO2-emissions as pre-COVID-19 aviation.[39][40][41] [ocean] [policy]
March 18 Attribution An accepted preprint finds that the severity of heatwave and drought impacts on crop production roughly tripled over the last 50 years in Europe.[42][43] [extreme weather]
March 29 Attribution, Analysis In a static proprietary article that appeared in and was reviewed by a scientific journal, authenticated scientists analyze data from multiple public databases to create a regional representation of levels of deforestation induced by nations' recent, largely unmodulated, trade-, production- and consumption-patterns, showing e.g. that the G7 are driving an average annual loss of 3.9 trees per capita and that India and China increased the deforestation embodied in their imports.[44][45] [deforestation]
March 29 Observation A case-control study of cities finds that redistributing street space for cycling infrastructure – for so-called "pop-up bike lanes" – during the COVID-19 pandemic lead to large additional increases in cycling.[46][47] [global warming] [policy]
March 29 Analysis The extensive pesticide pollution risks worldwide are estimated with a new environmental model.[48][49] []
April 6 A study finds that carbon emissions from Bitcoin mining in China – where a majority of the proof-of-work algorithm that generates current economic value is computed, largely fueled by nonrenewable sources – have accelerated rapidly, would soon exceed total annual emissions of countries like Italy and Spain in 2016 and interfere with climate change mitigation commitments.[50][51] []
April 7 Statistics / records The NOAA reports the largest annual increase in methane emissions since records began, with a rise of 14.7 parts per billion (ppb) in 2020.[52] [Methane emissions]
April 12 Meta The magazine Scientific American announces that it will stop using the term "climate change" in articles about human-caused global warming and substitute "climate emergency" instead.[53] []
April 12 Development News outlets report that the first prototype 3D printed house made out of clay, Tecla, has been completed. The low-carbon housing was printed by two large arms from a mix of mainly locally-sourced soil and water.[54][55][56] Such buildings could be highly cheap, well-insulated, stable, get produced rapidly, require only very little easily learnable manual labor, mitigate carbon emissions from concrete, require less energy, reduce homelessness, help enable intentional communities, and enable the provision of housing for victims of natural disasters as well as for migrants to Europe near their homes, rather than political facilitation of their influx. []
April 12 Development Scientists develop a prototype and design rules for both-sides-contacted silicon solar cells with conversion efficiencies of 26% and above, Earth's highest for this type of solar cell.[57][58] []
April 15 Development Researchers demonstrate the whitest ever paint formulation, which reflects up to 98.1% of sunlight and could be used in place of air conditioners.[59][60] []
April 16 Scientists report that in the case of Alaskan forests, such boreal forests recovered from wildfires by shifting to a deciduous-coniferous mix, which could offset the carbon emitted during the fires.[61][62] []
April 23 Assessment Scientists report that of ~39 million groundwater wells 6-20% are at high risk of running dry, particularly that this would likely occur if local groundwater levels decline by less than 5 meters, or – as with many areas and possibly more than half of major aquifers[63] – if they continue to decline.[64][65] []
Geosciences, biotechnology, anthropology and geoengineering
Date / period Type Description Topics Image
January 13 Scientists report that all glacial periods of ice ages over the last 1.5 M years were associated with northward shifts of melting Antarctic icebergs which changed ocean circulation patterns, leading to more CO2 being pulled out of the atmosphere. Authors note that this process may be disrupted as the Southern Ocean may be too warm for the icebergs to travel far enough to trigger these changes or effects.[66][67][68] [climate change]
February 19 Scientists report that the short global geomagnetic reversal – a geomagnetic excursion – of Earth's magnetic field ~42,000 years ago – the Laschamp event – in combination with grand solar minima, caused major extinctions and environmental changes and may have contributed to the extinction of the Neanderthals and appearances of cave art. It altered the geographical extension of auroras and levels of harmful radiation worldwide. They term the event which they find to constitute a major enviro-archaeological boundary "Adams Transitional Geomagnetic Event".[69][70] [geomagnetic reversal]
March 30 Scientists report evidence of subglacial sediment stored since 1966 that indicates that Greenland was ice-free and vegetated at least once within the last million years.[71][72]
April 2 Scientists report that the event that caused the mass-extinction of dinosaurs gave rise to neotropical rainforest biomes like the Amazonia, replacing species composition and structure of local forests. During ~6 million years of recovery to former levels of plant diversity, they evolved from widely-spaced gymnosperm-dominated forests to the forests with thick canopies which block sunlight, prevalent flowering plants and high vertical layering as known today.[73][74]

Environmental policy

  • 5 February – Australia's Northern Territory bans seabed mining in its coastal waters.[75]

Predicted and scheduled events

International goals

A list of − mostly self-imposed and legally voluntary or unenforceable − goals related to the environment and/or environmental sciences due by or established in 2021 as decided by multinational corporate associations or international governance entities and their status:

Entity Agreement Goal Status
 European Union Plan S Plan S is an initiative for open-access science publishing launched in 2018[76][77] by "cOAlition S",[78] a consortium of national research agencies and funders from twelve European countries. The plan requires scientists and researchers who benefit from state-funded research organisations and institutions to publish their work in open repositories or in journals that are available to all by 2021.[79] The "S" stands for "shock".[80]
Paris Agreement Paris Agreement
Result reports
Entity Agreement Goal Status
 United NationsConvention on Biological Diversity Aichi Target 11, 2010 (1) Protecting 17% of Earth's land by 2020 Yes (16.64 % officially reported, assessed as likely exceeding 17 %)[81]
 United NationsConvention on Biological Diversity Aichi Target 11, 2010 (2) Protecting 10% of Earth's marine environments by 2020 No (7.74 %)[81]

A session of the United Nations General Assembly decided that the theme and Sustainable Development Goals discussed at the 2021 High-level Political Forum will be "Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development".[82]

Goal-oriented coordination

Governmental budgets
  • 22 April – Brazil's political leader, Jair Bolsonaro, or his leadership apparatus decides to cut the government's annual environmental budget by 23 % compared to the previous year, making it the lowest in the history of the nation since the 1990s and reducing means to protect the Amazon rainforest.[83][84]
  • 3 May – It is announced that Germany will spend an additional 5 billion euros to reduce emissions from the steel industry and will finance steelmakers' hydrogen production projects.[85]

See also


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