ICYMI: 2021 Wasn’t a Total Disaster for Climate. Here’s the News That Gives Us Hope

Clockwise from top left. Collage image shows Kenyan entrepeneur Nzambi Mateee, a swimming sea turtle, a brown bear, cuddling panda bears, an elephant, and wind farms, the focus of just some of 2021's most notable good climate news stories.

This year has been another tough one, but a lot of positive stuff has happened in 2021, too, including some good climate news. From urban greening innovation and inner-city rewilding to additional breakthroughs in renewable energy, electric cars, and high-tech food, 2021 has shown that progress can be made, even if the going remains slower than we would like.

Despite falling biodiversity rates and continued environmental destruction, some parts of the world are actually showing signs of recovery (or at least the potential for future recovery), providing more than enough reason for cautious optimism as we move into 2022.

It’s also been a year of extensive rewilding efforts, wildlife conservation, urban greening, tree planting, and activism. Here are some of the other good climate news stories from 2021.

ICYMI: Good climate news of 2021

Photo shows a swimming turtle from above. Rereleased sea turtles were part of one of the good climate news stories of 2021.
Good climate news: around 30 Hawksbill, Green, and Loggerhead turtles were rereleased on World Sea Turtle Day 2021. | Trey Thomas/Getty

Rehabilitated sea turtles went home

In our first-ever good climate news feature, a turtle rehabilitation project rescued, supported, and re-released 30 Hawksbill, Green, and Loggerhead turtles on World Sea Turtle Day 2021. Also, biologists spotted an ultra-rare long-snouted seahorse (a Priority Species and “Feature of Conservation Importance”) off the UK coast, and researchers turned plastic waste into vanilla flavoring using genetically engineered microbes. Sustainable and delicious.

Photo shows Saiga antelopes grazing.
Kazakhstan’s rare saiga antelope population has doubled in just two years. | ABDUAZIZ MADYAROV/AFP via Getty Images

Restored antelope and carbon-eating graffiti

The last two years have seen Kazakhstan’s extremely rare saiga antelope population double in numbers thanks to extensive conservation efforts nationwide. Meanwhile, two British cities used striking murals to absorb carbon from the air, and Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego rejected the salmon farming industry in order to preserve its beautiful and biodiverse waters.

Photo shows two panda bears cuddling in a treetop. The popular black and white bear is no longer endangered, a significant piece of good climate news from 2021.
According to Chinese officials, pandas are no longer endangered. | Buena Vista Images/Getty

Pandas are no longer endangered!

The world’s favorite black and white bears are finally making a comeback, and earlier this year Chinese officials reclassified pandas as “vulnerable” rather than endangered. The UK welcomed the first baby beaver to be born on Exmoor in over 400 years (named Marcus Rashford by the British public), and in the U.S. the 10 year struggle to halt the Keystone XL pipeline ended in victory—a huge win for the environment, community members, and grassroots organizing.

Photo shows a pregnant Muslim woman standing next to a window in the UAE.
Drones are just one way that scientists are fighting increasing global temperatures. | Maria Fedotova/Getty

Scientists could make it rain in Dubai

Weather modification turned another corner when scientists backed by the UAE showed that drones could help drop the soaring temperatures experienced in Dubai. Meanwhile, renewable energy provided the bulk of Britain’s power in 2020 due to increasing adoption and a decrease in overall demand. After several years of rehabilitation, Maruja the former circus monkey returned to the forest alongside the orphaned baby monkeys she helped to nurture.

Photo shows one of a herd of wild Asian elephants.
After more than 18 months of roaming China, a group of elephants finally headed for home. | VCG/VCG via Getty Images

China’s roaming elephants finally headed for home

After a year and a half of wandering, a herd of elephants from Yunnan’s Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve finally returned back home, Canada announced a $25 million fund to protect its invaluable wetlands, and new evidence shows that England’s New Forest is definitely home to a well-established pine marten population after over 100 years of functional extinction.

Photo shows a swimming whale from above. Blue whales are incredibly important to the marine ecosystem, and their return to Spain is a huge good climate news story from 2021.
In another standout good climate news story from 2021, blue whales finally returned to Spain’s Atlantic coast. | Carl Finkbeiner/Getty

Blue whales came back to Spain

This year also saw blue whales returning to Spain’s Atlantic coast decades after being hunted to near extinction, while Mallorca’s marine protected area has benefited the region’s wildlife, humans, and economy. At the 2021 IUCN General Assembly, Indigenous organizations were finally able to fully participate for the first time in 73 years, a welcome but long-overdue development.

Photo shows Kenyan entrepeneur Nzambi Matee, who is fighting plastic waste by turning it into bricks.
Kenyan entrepeneur Nzambi Matee is turning plastic waste into durable bricks. | SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images

Plastic pollution solutions and a platypus renaissance

A Kenyan company has been turning plastic waste into hard-wearing bricks, creating opportunities for young folks and recycling more than 20 tonnes of plastic in the process. In Australia, the Royal National Park began working towards the reintroduction of platypus, while a report by the Indigenous Environmental Network highlighted how Indigenous resistance has prevented at least 25 percent of North American emissions.

Photo shows a brown bear in the Bavarian forest sat on a moss-covered rock.
Fat bear week shows once again that a fat bear is a healthy bear. | RobChristiaans/Getty

Fat bear week and the magic of kelp

One of the best things about September is Fat Bear Week, and 2021’s winner managed to show up late and still eat his way to victory. Meanwhile, a tech startup launched an underwater vessel that uses kelp to absorb carbon, and manta rays showed scientists a solution to plastic filtration.

Photo shows U.S. President Joe Biden with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as he signs three proclamations to restore National Park protections—a notable good climate news story from 2021.
One of 2021’s good climate news stories saw President Biden restoring essential legal protection for three U.S. natural monuments. | OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

Millions of acres of public land are protected (again)

California’s Highway 101 could finally get a much-needed wildlife crossing to help the mountain lions, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, and more that call the area home. Australia has managed to increase its bandicoot population tenfold, and President Joe Biden restored essential protections for three U.S. natural monuments totaling millions of acres of public land.

Photo shows offshore wind farms.
Offshore wind farms could help President Biden’s administration reach sustainable energy targets. | Liang Wendong/VCG via Getty Images

Harvesting wind… In the ocean?

In order to reach its goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore energy by 2030, the Biden-Harris administration could build enormous wind farms on both coasts of the U.S. Community conservation groups in Mombasa, Kenya, are working to restore important mangrove trees, and four of the world’s most-threatened tuna species are finally (slowly) recovering.

Photo shows a flight of butterflies against a blue sky.
Coastal California has seen rebounding nummbers of the important Monarch butterfly. | James L. Amos/Getty

Monarch butterflies are rebounding in California

Monarch butterflies are rebounding in coastal California, Conservationists released approximately 3,000 baby river turtles into a river in the Peruvian Amazon, and the U.S. government could officially label the grey wolf “endangered” again. (That’s a good thing!)

Photo shows a seal in London, UK. The River Thames is much healthier than it was 50-odd years ago, but it still needs work. This story was a significant moment for good climate news in 2021.
The UK’s River Thames is home to sharks, eels, and seals. | Christopher Sweet / EyeEm via Getty

The Thames is alive!

This year saw the most comprehensive assessment of England’s River Thames in well over half a century, which concluded that the waterway is much healthier than it was in the 1960s. Today it’s home to eels, seahorses, seals, and three different species of shark. In the U.S., Apple finally launched a self-repair service (a huge win for sustainability), and California vineyards swapped toxic pesticides for owls.

Photo shows a canine member of Rogue Detection Teams workforce.
Rescue dogs are supporting conservation and wildlife science at Rogue Detection Teams. | Rogue Detection Teams

Rescue dogs become conservationists

Washington’s Rogue Detection Teams exclusively rescues dogs from shelters and trains them to track wildlife, aiding scientific and conservation efforts around the world. New York City now has potential plans to green the notorious Cross Bronx Expressway, while the Welsh government promised to give every household in the country its own tree to plant.