The Year in Climate Progress
Climate, Health and Equity Brief

The Year in Climate Progress

The Climate, Health & Equity Brief is GMMB’s take on the week’s news on the current impacts of climate change. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking here.

Hot Topic: Hope. There is no question that 2021 has been a challenging year on the climate front. From commitments falling short at COP26 and the U.S. Senate failing to pass the Build Back Better Act to powerful weather disasters proliferating around the globe and the world’s biggest glacier now predicted to collapse within a few short years, the stakes for humanity and our planet have never been higher.

Yet there has also been meaningful action to celebrate this year, signaling that the world’s climate ambition is growing to meet the incredible challenge of the moment. Hope for the future is critical to maintaining momentum—and here at the Brief, we are choosing to be thankful for the following ways the fight against climate change advanced in 2021.

  • U.S. cities and states moved toward net-zero. States from coast to coast took decisive action this year to set climate neutrality goals. To date, 22 states from California to Massachusetts have set targets for carbon-free electricity by 2050. On the municipal front, 130 American cities officially joined the Cities Race to Zero campaign, committing to reach net-zero emissions in the 2040s or sooner, among other pledges.
  • EVs charged forward.The shift away from gas-guzzling cars and toward electric vehicles (EVs) accelerated significantly this year. From federal mandates and state-level initiatives to commitments from a range of automakers, moves toward making EVs “ubiquitous” were bold. The White House mandated that 50 percent of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. be electric by 2030, and called upon the federal government to operate a 100-percent electric fleet by 2035. 27 states and the District of Columbia announced new laws, incentives and regulations aimed at advancing EV production and sales. And major automakers including Bentley, Cadillac, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo all devised plans to completely phase out the sale of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 or sooner.
  • Clean energy gained steam. 2021 has been a record-breaking year for renewable energy, and experts predict that at the current pace, clean energy capacity will equal that of fossil fuels and nuclear power combined by 2026. According to the International Energy Agency, the growth of renewables will increase in all global regions, with deployments in critical regions including China, India, Europe and the United States all set to accelerate significantly.
  • Climate philanthropy and innovation ramped up. Donors committed billions in new funding to the climate fight this year, thanks to the super-charged engagement of top philanthropies. Together, nine foundations announced $5 billion in funding for the 30×30 program, which aims to preserve 30 percent of the Earth’s land and sea by 2030. The IKEA and Rockefeller Foundations pledged $1 billion for renewable energy in developing nations. Seven companies committed $1 billion to the Breakthrough Energy Catalyst program for the development and scaling of new climate mitigation technologies. And the Bezos Earth Fund continued to allocate more of the $10 billion it pledged in 2020, with historic levels of giving to organizations focused specifically on advancing environmental justice.
  • Washington took several steps forward. At the federal level—and despite the disappointing demise of the Build Back Better Act as it stands, given the misgivings of Sen. Joe Manchin (WV)—the U.S. Government took some decisive steps to implement a whole-of-government approach to the climate crisis. The bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law on November 15 allocated $122.5 billion for climate resilience, clean energy investments and EV charging infrastructure nationwide. FEMA announced the allocation of $3.5 billion for state-level climate resiliency projects. President Biden committed the federal government to net-zero emissions by 2050.  And new climate-focused offices and roles were established within the Departments of Human Health and ServicesTransportationInteriorTreasury and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
  • Environmental justice took center stage. Underscoring its focus on environmental justice, the White House this year announced the  Justice40 initiative, the first government plan to ensure at least 40 percent of benefits from federal energy and environmental spending reach disadvantaged communities. Accompanying this effort throughout the year were several projects and grants for front-line communities from the Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, and most notably  $100 million for environmental justice grants as part of the COVID relief package in March.
  • International commitments from COP26.Despite disappointment that global climate commitments did not go far enough, this year’s long-anticipated UN Climate Change Conference yielded several significant commitments from countries around the world. More than 100 countries made separate pledges to discontinue financing international fossil fuel projects by the end of next year, to cut methane emissions 30 percent this decade, end deforestation by 2030, phase down coal-fired power usage globally by 2040 and increase mitigation aid to vulnerable nations.    
  • As 2021 comes to a close, we thank each and every one of you for doing your part in the climate fight—and we look forward to continued momentum, partnership and most of all hope in the critical year ahead.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

— Matt & Traci, GMMB


Need some last-minute gift inspiration? Check out the Climate, Health and Equity Brief’s 2021 holiday climate book recommendation list.

Programming note: The Brief will be on hiatus for the holidays, returning to your inbox on January 7, 2022.  We wish you all a healthy, safe and restful holiday break.

The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team—Aaron Benavides, Elke Cortes and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to