Environmental issues became the main agenda of all aspects of life. We need more solidarity, relief, and protection, and we continue to need them at this time period we live in where multiple disasters, crises, and social issues are increasing. Old issues intensify, and new and complex issues emerge in this century- of which we have already completed one fifth.
Climate change is defined as the “crisis of our time,” and significant advancements were made regarding this crisis in 2021.1 Triggering the impacts of climate change, this crisis became “a race we are losing” as the United Nations Secretary-General stated. Significant reports on this matter were published, an important summit was held, yet no positive change in climate parameters have been observed. Climate change is defined by the World Meteorology Organization (WMO) as “a statistically significant variation in the mean state of the climate and in its variability, persisting for a long period- decades or longer.” The current situation in the climate crisis is stated on this organization’s reports. The last report was published in 2021 and it became one of the most significant advancements of the year.2 3 4 It contains the following information about the current situation:
The Earth’s average temperature rose to 1.2°C compared to the 1850-1900 period, and it continued to warm.
Main greenhouse gas concentrations including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) continued to increase despite a temporary decrease.
Previous year was recorded as one of the three hottest years of all time, even though 2021 data is not complete yet. The last six years were the hottest six years recorded. Highest temperature recorded in the north of the Arctic Circle (20°C) was recorded in Verhoyansk, Russian Federation, and the temperature reached 38.0°C.
Sea level rise trends accelerated. Heat accumulation and acidification increase in oceans, and this decreases the capacity of oceans to mitigate climate change.
Approximately 9.8 million people were displaced due to large-scale hydro meteorological dangers and disasters.
Extreme weather events continued to occur frequently.
Another important report was the one published in 2021 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is a United Nations board consisting of independent experts. This year’s report was titled as Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. The impact of human activity in rising temperatures and some impacts related to climate change being irrevocable were emphasized. Analyzing temperature changes in different scenarios, the report involves significant warnings stating that warming will be 1.5°C even when the emissions were drastically reduced, and especially methane gas emissions were concerning.5 Therefore, it is certain that the world will warm by 1.5°C even in the best-case scenario. Warming by 1.5°C is considered as a safety threshold, and it is important in this respect. So, where are we now? According to data released by NASA, the world has warmed by 1.18°C since 1880.6
That being the case, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) which is held annually, was held in Glasgow, Scotland. The summit was among the important events in terms of climate and environment issues in 2021. It could not meet the expectations, although it was important in terms of the topics related to the use of coal being gradually decreased, and providing more economic support to developing countries.
Deforestation and Forest Fires
2021 was also important in that it revealed the information about the environment in 2020. One of these pieces of information about the environment was that we continued to destroy the world’s forests. We saw that deforestation in tropic regions increased by 12%, and more than 12 million hectares of tropic forests (nearly the size of Switzerland) were destroyed.7 Deforestation is an important environmental issue especially in terms of pandemics becoming frequent aside from its many negative impacts.
Deforestation, which became frequent as a result of the climate crisis, also had serious impacts on Türkiye. According to data released by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), lost forestlands due to fires in Türkiye is 178,000 hectares. Antalya and Muğla fires are responsible for 70% of this loss.8 It is estimated that forest fires will occur more frequently, and they will be bigger, and more intense due to the impacts of the climate crisis. Wildfires in different parts of the world, especially in recent years, brings up the question, “Are forest fires the new normal?”9
Another important environmental issue of 2021 was mucilage, also known as sea snot or marine snow, and which most of us heard about for the first time. We witnessed the collapse of an ecosystem in the Marmara Sea. We saw that waste management is the key factor for this issue, even though different factors were at play along with climate change, urban infrastructure, environmental policy, and urbanization dynamics. We acknowledged the importance of waste water treatment facilities that perform water treatment in order to eliminate nitrogen and phosphor which is an important factor for mucilage to occur in cities located in coastal regions, especially in Marmara, and that water treatment activities were not enough.10
Another significant event of 2021 was the updated limit values in WHO Air Quality Guidelines. According to the WHO, there are 7 million premature deaths due to air pollution which is defined as one of the biggest threats to human health as well as climate change. WHO updated, and leveled down the guideline levels on the six pollutants (particulate matter 10 and 2.5, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide).11
An important report which is published annually, the Dark Report, and the data on this report demonstrated the extent of the air pollution problem in Türkiye. It showed that carcinogen fine particles (PM2.5) were not measured adequately in 42 cities, that particulate matter (PM10) levels are above the national limit values in 45 of the 72 cities that hold enough data, that only 2 cities have proper air quality compared to WHO limit values.12
Problems Concerning Mine Tailings Impoundment
Two consecutive significant events that led to environmental problems occurred in 2021. Tailings impoundments belong to a lead, zinc, copper mine in Şebinkarahisar, Giresun exploded and sludges which involve chemicals and are used in ore enrichment were discharged into a stream and affected the nearby city, and then the sludge with the chemical content reached the Kılıçkaya Dam on Kelkit Creek. The waste landfill of an iron mine operating in a village of Ayvalık, Balıkesir collapsed for the second time in the same year, and wastes reached the Madra Dam nearby. Analyses and assessments continue in the region on both issues. However, these situations pose a serious public health threat.13
The impacts of COVID-19 continued, and new problems emerged including plastic wastes and social environmental issues related especially to poverty and nutrition in 2021, and it was a difficult year which is also the case for previous years. In 2021, there were more visible impacts of the climate crisis, and the impacts of problems that pose a threat to the future of the planet such as the destruction of ecosystems, biodiversity loss, deforestation and public health issues such as air pollution, wastes, and water crises. Inequalities grew; we do not have enough time to take action to live in a better environment.
1. UN 7 December 2021. The climate crisis – A race we can win https://www.un.org/en/un75/climate-crisis-race-we-can-win
2. WMO. 7 December 2021. Climate. https://public.wmo.int/en/about-us/frequently-asked-questions/climate#:~:text=Climate%20change%20refers%20to%20a,(typically%20decades%20or%20longer)
3. WMO. 10 December 2021. State of the global climate 2020 (WMO-No. 1264) https://library.wmo.int/index.php?lvl=notice_display&id=21880#.Yb4kgslBzIW
4. WMO. 11 December 2021. State of climate in 2021: Extreme events and major impacts https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/state-of-climate-2021-extreme-events-and-major-impacts
5. Yeşil Gazete. 9 August 2021. Dünyanın merakla beklediği ıpcc raporu açıklandı. https://yesilgazete.org/tum-dunyanin-merakla-bekledigi-ipcc-raporu-aciklandi/
6. NASA. 11 December 2021. Climate. https://climate.nasa.gov/
7. WRI. 16 December 2021. Forest pulse: the latest on the world’s forests https://research.wri.org/gfr/forest-pulse
8. Greenpeace. 13 August 2021. Madalyonun tek yüzü: İklim krizi ve 2021 Türkiye orman yangınları. https://www.greenpeace.org/turkey/blog/madalyonun-tek-yuzu-iklim-krizi-ve-2021-turkiye-orman-yanginlari/
9. UN Enviorenment Programme. 16 January 2020. Are “megafires” the new normal? https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/are-megafires-new-normal
10. Yavuz C. I. 15 June 2021. Müsilaj üzerine-I. http://cevresagligi.org/musilaj-uzerine-i-cavit-isik-yavuz/
11. WHO. 22 September 2021. New WHO global air quality guidelines aim to save millions of lives from air pollution. https://www.who.int/news/item/22-09-2021-new-who-global-air-quality-guidelines-aim-to-save-millions-of-lives-from-air-pollution
12. Temiz Hava Hakkı Platformu (2021). Kara rapor 2021. hava kirliliği ve sağlık etkileri. https://www.temizhavahakki.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/KaraRapor2021.pdf
13. HASUDER. 16 December 2021. Ülkemiz her gün yeni bir çevre felaketi ile karşı karşıya bırakılıyor. https://hasuder.org.tr/ulkemiz-her-gun-yeni-bir-cevre-felaketi-ile-karsi-karsiya-birakiliyor