• Here's a quick rundown of some of the key environment stories from this week, to help keep you up to date.
  • Top stories: COP15 biodiversity summit and agreement delayed; US declares historic water shortage from Colorado River; blue hydrogen's green credentials questioned.

The news agenda this week has been dominated by Afghanistan and Haiti, which now faces a cyclone in the aftermath of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the country on Saturday.

But wildfires continuing to rage kept many other countries in the headlines, while a historic water shortage was declared in the US.

Here's a snapshot of the main environment stories you might have missed around the globe for the week ending 20 August.

Water shortages

The River Colorado, which famously carved out the Grand Canyon over millions of years, is officially running dry as drought persists in western US states.

EcoWatch pulls together reporting from America, including this quote from the Washington Post:

"It's as if a switch got flipped in 2000, and we now have a completely different river than we had in the 20th century."

—Brad Udall, a senior water and research scientist at Colorado State University

A water shortage was officially declared for the Lake Mead reservoir on Monday. It's the largest in the US – with 25 million Americans dependent on it for their water supply – and was formed by damming the Colorado.

Water apportionments to Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will be reduced for the year from October.

Take a deeper dive into the size and scale of the reservoir with this excellent Reuters Graphics article.

This Twitter picture from the City of Las Vegas shows the stark difference in water levels.

COP15 biodiversity summit delay

There are two COPs coming this autumn. While media attention has largely focused on COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference in Scotland in November, COP15, the Convention on Biological Diversity, was due to take place in China in October.

This week, officials announced a third COVID-caused delay, which will see the conference split into two parts, delaying a global agreement to protect 30% of the planet's land and sea by 2030 – a much-needed Paris accord for nature.

A virtual opening session will be held from 11 to 15 October and in-person negotiations will be held from 28 April to 8 May 2022 in Kunming, China, to finalize an agreement, Reuters reports.

While the delay is generally seen as a risk to the agreement, in this analysis, one environmentalist sees it as an opportunity to enable more participation and negotiations on sticking points.

"It will ensure a better (global) framework, greater ownership and therefore better implementation," Isaac Rojas, forests and biodiversity coordinator at Friends of the Earth International, said.

Wildfires and COVID

Dixie, California's second biggest ever wildfire, raged further this week fuelled by strong, shifting winds and dry vegetation, causing thousands of residents to flee their homes in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The fire, which began in mid-July, covered an extra 65,000 acres north of San Francisco in just two days, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

A Harvard study found smoke from wildfires may have made people more susceptible to catching and dying from COVID-19 in three US states last year.

"The cumulative numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths attributable to daily increases in PM2.5 from wildfires were 19,700 and 750, respectively," the Harvard Gazette said.

Fires were still being fought in Israel, Algeria and Europe, where firefighting helicopters took to the skies over Greece and aircraft were deployed to tackle a blaze in the hills above St Tropez, France.

People float on boards as a Canadair aircraft flies after being filled up with water to help with efforts in extinguishing a major fire that broke out in the Var region, at the Gulf of Saint Tropez, France August 17, 2021. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC2Z6P90RYNG
Holidaymakers look on as an aircraft flies to tackle fires in St Tropez.

There are long-term solutions to reduce damage from wildfires, says Peter Moore, a forestry officer specializing in fire management at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

In an opinion piece for Thomson, he urges governments to introduce sustainable forest and land management practices before blazes begin.

Spotlight on Sweden

Over in Scandinavia, Swedish police warned of roads collapsing due to heavy rainfall on Wednesday.

Stockholm University reported the country's only remaining mountaintop glacier had lost another two metres in height in the past year due to global warming.

Swedish furniture brand IKEA announced it was branching out into renewable energy and would be selling affordable electricity from solar and wind farms through an app from September.

Blue hydrogen's green credentials

In other energy news, a study has questioned the green credentials of 'blue hydrogen', which involves the use of carbon capture and storage to lower carbon dioxide emissions.

The authors say: "Far from being low carbon, greenhouse gas emissions from the production of blue hydrogen are quite high, particularly due to the release of fugitive methane."

It comes as the UK proposes investing in low-carbon hydrogen to create jobs – the BBC digs into the story here.

Writing for the Forum, Circular Economy Fellow, Mo Chatterji, and Kearney colleague Fiona Walman explain why hydrogen in 2021 is a carbon-intensive technology, and how to bring it to life.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Energy said solar power could supply more than 40% of the nation's electricity by 2035 – up from 3% today – if Congress adopts policies like tax credits for renewable energy projects and component factories.

Here's a chart that shows we're on the right path for renewables:

Renewable Energy boomed in 2020
How renewables are growing globally.
Image: Statista

Solutions after IPCC

Still reeling from the IPCC report findings in last week's environment round-up? Here are David King and Jane Lichtenstein from the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University explaining the three things we must do now to stabilize the planet.

Solutions to the global challenges will be the focus of Forum’s upcoming Sustainable Development Impact Summit. The virtual four-day event is hosted alongside the United Nations General Assembly and brings together global leaders from business, government, and civil society.

It will focus on new technologies, policies and partnerships to advance cooperation and accelerate progress.