• This weekly round-up brings you some of the key environment stories from the past seven days.
  • Top stories: UN says pollution causing more deaths than COVID-19; US sea levels will rise by up to 30 centimetres by 2050; a ghost village has appeared in Spain as drought dries up dam.

1. Environment and climate change stories to read this week

Pollution by states and companies is contributing to more deaths globally than COVID-19, a UN environmental report published on Tuesday said, calling for "immediate and ambitious action" to ban some toxic chemicals. The report said pollution from pesticides, plastics and electronic waste is causing widespread human rights violations and will result in at least 9 million premature deaths a year, but that the issue is largely being overlooked. COVID-19 has killed more than 5.8 million people, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine data.

India plans to manufacture a cumulative 5 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2030, the power ministry said on Thursday, aiming to meet its climate targets and become a production and export hub for the fuel.

The death toll from mudslides and floods in Brazil's colonial-era city of Petrópolis rose to 117 on Thursday and is expected to increase further as the region reels from the heaviest rains in almost a century.

An Atlantic storm battered England and Ireland on Friday, with winds of up to 100 miles per hour (160 kilometres per hour), prompting warnings from Britain's weather office that Storm Eunice could cause significant disruption, tear off roofs and hammer London. Eunice, which began in the central Atlantic and was spun up from the Azores towards Europe by the jet stream, has extreme wind speeds that pose a danger to life, Britain's Meteorological Office said.

Argentina's farm belt is set for days of hot and dry weather, weather experts said on Tuesday, stoking fears among grain farmers whose corn and soy crops are in sore need of rainfall after spells of drought. Argentina is the world's top exporter of soybean oil and meal, and the second-biggest exporter of corn. Both crops suffered losses between December and the first half of January due to a drought and heat waves. Rains in mid-January brought hope of a change in the dry climate pattern, but arid weather returned this month.

US banks this week welcomed a regulatory proposal to incorporate climate change risks into their daily operations, yet said they opposed prescriptive risk management and lending criteria, exposure disclosures and capital penalties. Banks pushed back on the suggestion by President Joe Biden's administration that they should have to report climate risk exposures publicly or to regulators, noting that many banks are already engaged in voluntary reporting efforts.

The German government plans to transfer hydrogen production technology to African countries amid its efforts to quit coal and nuclear energy, a German government official said on Wednesday. Germany will have to import 40-60% of the hydrogen it needs for its energy transformation plans, the official said ahead of a meeting between the African Union and the European Union scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Brussels.

A ghost village that has emerged as drought has nearly emptied a dam on the Spain-Portugal border is drawing crowds of tourists with its eerie, grey ruins. With the reservoir at 15% of its capacity, details of a life frozen in 1992, when the Aceredo village in Spain's northwestern Galicia region was flooded to create the Alto Lindoso reservoir, are being revealed once more.

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.

2. US sea level to rise by 2050 as much as in past century, NOAA says

Sea levels around the United States will rise up to a foot over the next 30 years due to climate change – as much as they have risen in the previous century, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projected in a report on Tuesday.

The study forecasts that sea levels along the US shoreline will rise 10-12 inches (25-30 centimetres) on average by 2050. Sea levels will tend to be higher along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts than along the Pacific, because of greater land subsidence.

In addition to more frequent bouts of coastal inundation associated with storm surges, rising sea levels are leading to increasing episodes of flooding from high tides alone.

Damaging coastal floods typical of today's sea levels, weather conditions and infrastructure are expected to occur more than 10 times as often in the next 30 years, Nicole LeBoeuf, Director of NOAA's National Ocean Service, said in a summary of the report.

"I can tell you with complete confidence that these are not the kind of changes that we grew up with," said LeBoeuf, a native of the Texas Gulf Coast.

At least 60 centimetres of sea level rise is likely by 2100.
How sea level rise can be reduced and monitored.
Image: NOAA

3. Global nature pact urged to reform harmful subsidies of $1.8 trillion a year

Subsidies that are harming ecosystems, wildlife and the climate amount to nearly $2 trillion a year, researchers said on Thursday, calling for the subsidies to be reformed under talks on a global nature pact due to be agreed in the coming months.

A study backed by The B Team and Business for Nature – a global coalition of companies seeking to stop biodiversity loss and promote sustainability – is the first in over a decade to estimate the total value of environmentally harmful subsidies.

It found that, worldwide, at least $1.8 trillion a year in government money, tax breaks and other forms of support goes to damaging practices in agriculture, construction, forestry, fossil fuels, marine fisheries, transport and water – sectors responsible for the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions.

"Most people think subsidies are pretty boring or a completely taboo topic [because] they're so ingrained in our economy," said Eva Zabey, Executive Director of Business for Nature.

But when primarily designed to boost growth, they can be "unintentionally harmful for nature", she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Geneva.

A new system is needed that balances people, nature and the economy, although "we cannot just switch [subsidies] overnight", she added.