Environmental Trends to Watch Out for in 2020

The Eco Experts

Veganism will explode in popularity

Millions will take part in the largest climate protests in history

Renewable energy will be produced at record levels

2020 is going to be a big year for the environment. With natural disasters already killing dozens in Australia and Indonesia, climate change will be at the forefront of the public’s consciousness.

Governments will use more renewable energy than ever before, with the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels dropping even further.

We can expect record-breaking rallies headed by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, meat-free and dairy-free diets to rise in popularity, and companies and governments to be held to account like never before.

Companies will reluctantly embrace the move towards sustainability, cutting down on plastic and water usage, and committing to “circular solutions” – a new, popular phrase.

Meanwhile, over the next 10 years, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s annual Earthshot Prize will award millions of pounds to people who find answers to “Earth’s greatest environmental problems”.

Let’s focus on the next year though, and see what’s coming in 2020.


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Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion movement continue to inspire and push for change

Greta Thunberg will not stop, that’s for sure.

After inspiring millions of people to demand change in 2019, the Nobel Peace Prize nominee will continue to make waves in 2020.

The Swedish activist’s UN speech last year is credited with influencing 70 countries to commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

A Hulu documentary about Thunberg (set to be released in 2020) will increase her prestige, and she’ll further inspire the next generation to demand climate action.

A 2018 study found 68% of 14 to 18-year-olds in the UK have taken part in social action. This will only rise in 2020, as young people fight for the future of their planet.

The 2019 protests by Extinction Rebellion (XR) – which isn’t affiliated to Thunberg, but has her support – were just the tip of the spear. The group will continue to disrupt everyday activities and grab widespread attention.

XR is planning to build a “mass mobilisation of ordinary people across the country” in 2020, aiming to get at least 10,000 people to pledge their willingness to “engage in civil disobedience which may risk arrest”.

“The decisions made over the next 12 months will define the future of our world.

“The stakes have never been higher as time runs out to act on the climate and ecological emergency.”

– Extinction Rebellion about 2020

The group’s rallies outside November’s UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow will attract media attention, cutting through the noise to promote pro-climate messages.

This cultural shift will be worldwide, too.

A record six million people joined climate protests around the world in September 2019 (which were coordinated by Thunberg’s group, FridaysForFuture), and those numbers will rise this year.

“It was the biggest ever climate mobilisation, and it’s only the beginning. The momentum is on our side and we are not going anywhere.”

– FridaysForFuture

This activism will lead to a huge rise in veganism and flexitarianism

The number of vegans in the UK increased fourfold from 2014 to 2019, rising to 600,000 people, according to surveys carried out by Ipsos Mori for The Vegan Society.

In 2020, this trend will continue – and speed up.

A survey by Finder found that in 2020, the number of vegans in the UK will increase by more than 320%.

The ideology is becoming popular, helped by an increasing number of celebrity influencers, climate protests, vegan restaurants, and Netflix documentaries extolling its health benefits.

Did You Know?

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the most effective way to reduce your impact on the climate, according to a 2018 study in Science.

42% of vegans in the UK switched in 2018, according to GlobalData, while 2019’s Veganuary attracted 250,000 participantsmore than the previous four years combined.

And Veganuary has estimated that a whopping 1.3 million actually took part, with a huge number participating without taking the official pledge.

More and more people are choosing flexitarianism – this involves reducing the amount of meat and fish you eat, without becoming a strict vegetarian or vegan.

14% of people in Britain are flexitarian, according to YouGov, and the ideology’s welcoming nature – a far cry from the stereotypical vegan firebrand of yesteryear – means it will become mainstream in 2020.

Artificial, lab-grown meat will also come on leaps and bounds. This innovation is grown independently of animals, from a cell culture, and therefore doesn’t require precious farmland or water to be dedicated to crop development. 

Its widespread rollout will have to wait until later in the decade, but it’s coming – and it’s going to practically destroy the animal meat industry.

Renewable energy will also become more widespread

With the launch of the Smart Export Guarantee on January 1st, solar panels will be even more popular in 2020.

This new government policy means you can potentially save hundreds of pounds on your energy bills every year, making solar energy less of a financial risk.

2018 was the first year that solar power made up a greater percentage of Britain’s fuel consumption than coal, and we’re never going back.

Did You Know?

In the third quarter of 2019, for the first time ever, the UK produced more electricity from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.

Other methods of renewable energy will also continue to grow in the UK. Wind is set to supply more than 20% of energy in 2020 – and when put together with solar power, it will likely surpass gas, knocking the fossil fuel off its perch for the first time in decades.

In the 13 years from 2005 to 2018, global renewable energy generation increased by more than it had in the previous 40 years, according to BP. The winds of change are blowing.

Governments and companies will be exposed and shamed for anti-climate practices

This is the age of the death of insincerity. Leaders will continue to make mealy-mouthed attempts to seem environmentally friendly, but activists won’t let them rest on their laurels.

This was signposted by Thunberg during her powerful 2019 speech to the UN.

“You are failing us, but young people are starting to understand your betrayal.

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”

– Greta Thunberg

You can see the effect of public opinion on political aims already. Before the 2019 general election, parties in the UK fell over themselves to appeal to pro-climate voters, promising to spend billions fighting climate change.

And while Thunberg was talking directly to world leaders, heads of corporations are equally culpable. This year, they’ll feel the heat.

Amazon has already suffered a backlash for allegedly threatening to fire a group of its workers who called on the company to make pro-climate changes.

Pressure from environmental activists led CEO Jeff Bezos to announce plans in September 2019 for Amazon to be powered by renewable sources by 2030, and get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

In the same month, Microsoft employees released a letter calling their company “complicit” in climate change, in response to the tech giant’s partnership with oil companies.

And more than 1,000 Google workers signed a letter demanding that the corporation cancel its contracts with fossil fuel entities, and commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

This came shortly after it was revealed by The Guardian that Google has donated large sums of money to more than a dozen anti-climate groups.

While these donations may have previously gone unnoticed, the mood has changed. More and more people care about the climate, and they won’t let CEOs get away with it.

Expect to see more wealthy owners cave to pressure by making concrete commitments to tackling climate change.

In response, companies will cut down on water…

You’ve heard of making your activities carbon neutral. Now, organisations are increasingly attempting to go water neutral.

Water is scarce. By 2030, the UN estimates that around half the world will live in high water stress areas.

2020 will be the year this problem comes to the fore. Companies will finally address the issue, with extra motivation coming from the millions of pounds that can be saved by reusing water.

The trend is already underway. PepsiCo saves 450 million litres of water every year, while Coca-Cola has long boasted about being water neutral – though there are doubts that this claim includes anything other than the liquid in its bottles.

Nevertheless, steps towards water neutrality are positive, and you’ll see a lot more efforts to reach this milestone in 2020.

…and cut down on plastic

In November, Tesco pledged to remove one billion pieces of plastic from products by the end of 2020.

Tesco reportedly produced more than 18 billion pieces of plastic in 2018, so this will represent a 5.5% reduction – but still, it’s a positive move.

turtles swimming with plastic bags

Giant corporations like Unilever are getting on board too. The company, which owns brands from Ben & Jerry’s to Vaseline, uses 700,000 tonnes of plastic per year. It’s promised to halve that number by 2025.

McDonalds has also committed to a 2025-based goal, pledging that all its customer packaging will be renewable or recycled. It’s also aiming for all of its establishments to have recycling bins – up from just 10% in 2018.

For what it’s worth, Coca-Cola has promised to recycle the equivalent of 100% of its global packaging, and to use at least 50% recycled plastic when making its bottles by 2030.

Get ready for ‘circular solutions’

This means addressing a problem holistically. In an environmental context, it means companies looking at their entire process when attempting to reduce their carbon footprint.

This phrase will become a corporate buzzword, as companies adapt to growing cultural expectations.

For instance, tech companies will analyse the parts, labour, and energy they use, the effect of customers using their products, and what happens when people get rid of them. 

Supermarkets will make their supply chain less environmentally costly, get their food from more climate-conscious sources, and expand their meat-free ranges and dairy alternatives. If you enjoy pea milk, you’re in luck.

You’ll still hear plenty of insincere promises – but the 2020s will belong to companies who commit to genuinely circular solutions.

But this will produce a backlash, as the climate splits left and right

Unfortunately, the climate has become a partisan issue, with the left wing taking up the pro-climate banner just as the right wing denies the problem’s existence.

This is a simplistic way of putting it, but it’s broadly accurate – and it’s getting worse.

An annual Gallup poll assessing the percentage of Americans who think the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated seemed to peak in 2010 – only for 2019 to feature an uptick for the first time in nine years.

“In spite of the evidence at hand, climate change remains the toughest, most intractable political issue we, as a society, have ever faced.”

– Elaine Kamarck, a senior figure at the Brookings Institution think tank

And this trend has been reflected in the election of populist leaders all over the world who deny man-made climate change is happening, or who play down its effects.

Since becoming president, Donald Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement, denied his own administration’s climate report, and gutted the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Obviously [Donald Trump’s] not listening to scientists and experts, so why would he listen to me?”

Greta Thunberg

The past few years have also seen the election of Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro (who has called Thunberg “a brat”), and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has denied a clear link between climate change and the wildfires plaguing his country.

November’s federal election in the US will see two of the most opposed views on climate in history go head to head, whoever the Democratic Party nominates. Get ready for more climate-denying vitriol.

Regardless of popular opinion, climate change will keep fuelling disasters

2020 has started horribly.

The Australian wildfires have burned 15 million acres, razed 2,500 buildings, and killed at least 22 people.

Meanwhile, floods in Indonesia have led to 26 deaths so far, after Jakarta experienced its largest rainfall in two decades.

Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning.

2019 saw around 3,000 people die in the 15 worst natural disasters linked to climate change.

2020 will see a continuation of this trend – in fact, disasters are only going to get more serious and frequent, according to expert sources like the Public Health Institute and Scientific American.

Expect thousands more to die as politicians fail to act.

“The first decade of the 21st century saw 3,496 natural disasters from floods, storms, droughts and heat waves.

“That was nearly five times as many disasters as the 743 catastrophes reported during the 1970s – and all of those weather events are influenced by climate change.”

– The Guardian


There are plenty of reasons to despair this year – but also many reasons to feel hopeful.

Environmental protests and lifestyle choices will reach new heights, as public attitudes improve – though the issue will be entrenched along partisan lines.

Companies and governments will be forced to change their practices, while Will and Kate have committed to spending millions on the environment.

Overall, things are looking up for the climate and the planet – let’s just hope it’s not too late.

Written by:
josh jackman
Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past four years. His work has been displayed on the front page of the Financial Times, he's been interviewed by BBC One's Rip-Off Britain, and he regularly features in The Telegraph and on BBC Radio.
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