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The State of Global Environmental Governance 2021

Negotiating global agreements on climate action, biodiversity restoration, plastic pollution control, and other environmental crises is not easy at the best of times—and 2021 was far from that.

  • In 2021, pledging became a go to form of environmental governance. Many meetings featured promises from countries, companies, and other actors.

  • The ties between equity and the environment were more prominent than ever in 2021, underscoring the need to address both, together.

  • 2022 will be a very busy year, with milestones possible for plastics, biodiversity, the ocean, and chemicals. How can we build on lessons learned from the past year of global environmental governance?

Shifting waves of COVID-19 cases, unequal vaccines distributions, and ongoing travel restrictions continued to harm countries' efforts to reach agreement, even in a year when the impacts of climate change wreaked havoc around the world.

But 2021 was also a year of learning. Online meeting practices evolved. We had “hybrid” meetings involving both online and in-person modes of work, often rotating starting times as delegates tried to juggle time zone equity with day jobs. Forays into in-person meetings took massive leaps at the IUCN World Congress, the Barcelona Convention COP 22, and the Glasgow Climate Change Conference.

Our Earth Negotiations Bulletin team explores the highlights and lowlights in a tumultuous year—including the problematic popularity of pledging, the strategies that helped online meetings make progress, and the growing recognition of inequality as an environmental issue. With 2022 featuring possible milestones for plastics, biodiversity, the ocean, and chemicals, it's more important than ever to build on lessons learned.

Report details

Governance and Multilateral Agreements
Earth Negotiations Bulletin
Focus area
Act Together
IISD, 2022