The world is facing a looming water crisis says UN, and the other environment stories you need to read this week
- This weekly round-up brings you the key nature and climate stories from the past week.
- Top nature and climate news: UN warns of looming water crisis; World must act now to limit global warming, says IPCC; EU to crack down on crimes against the environment.
1. UN warns of looming global water crisis
The United Nations used its first conference on water security in almost half a century to push governments to better manage the world's water.
"We are draining humanity's lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use, and evaporating it through global heating," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
A quarter of the world's population relies on unsafe drinking water while half lacks basic sanitation, the UN says. Ensuring access to clean drinking water and sanitation is one of the organization's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Hundreds of commitments to the Water Action Agenda were sent to the UN before the conference started. Projects ranged from investing in "climate-smart" agriculture and wetland restoration in the Niger River basin, to mapping the water system in the Dutch city of The Hague.
The UN will now review these plans ahead of another meeting in July, said Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs of the Netherlands.
There is no international binding agreement for water like the one reached for climate in Paris in 2015, or a framework like that established to protect nature in Montreal last year, despite dire warnings of the risks humanity faces if water is not managed better.
Ovink acknowledged that much more needs to be done, and that the conference was "the beginning of a rippling effect across the world".
The World Economic Forum is gathering high-level public and private sector stakeholders to discuss key outcomes from the UN Water Conference at a session to be livestreamed on 28 March at 8:30 EST. Speakers include Ovink; Usha Rao-Monari, Undersecretary-General and Associate Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Gary White, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Water.org.
2. IPCC says world must act now to limit warming to 1.5°C
The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned that the "climate time bomb is ticking" and has urged rich nations to slash emissions sooner. It follows a new assessment from scientists that there is little time to lose in tackling the climate crisis. "The rate of temperature rise in the last half century is the highest in 2,000 years," he said.
Describing the sixth synthesis report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as "a survival guide for humanity", Guterres urged developed countries to commit to reaching net-zero emissions by the earlier date of around 2040.
The IPCC says emissions must be halved by the mid-2030s if the world is to have any chance of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. On current trajectories, the planet is on track to warm by 3.2°C by century's end, and temperatures could still rise by at least 2.2°C even if existing pledges are met. Average temperatures are already 1.1°C higher than 1850-1900 levels, driving more extreme weather events worldwide.
The world needs to accelerate the transition to green energy and transform agriculture, agri-food systems and eating habits if it has any chance of making the necessary cuts in emissions, says the IPCC. It also warned of more extreme weather, rapidly rising sea levels, melting Arctic ice and the growing likelihood of catastrophic and irreversible "tipping points". Nearly half of the world's population is already vulnerable to climate impacts, it said.
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3. News in brief: other top environment stories this week
Somalia's ongoing record drought killed as many as 43,000 people last year, half of them children under five, new research estimates. After five consecutive failed rainy seasons, half of Somalia's 17 million people are in urgent need of aid, according to the UN.
Colombia's government has sharply raised its 2026 reforestation target. President Gustavo Petro has vowed to implement an ambitious green agenda built around reduced deforestation, a transition away from fossil fuels and increased protection of water resources.
Peru's government says it will spend around $1.06 billion on climate and weather-mitigation measures. The money will be spent on trying to prevent and contain adverse impacts stemming from the climate crisis and El Niño-related weather events.
A decade-long study of marine life around Australian reefs has found that more than 500 species are in decline, reports The Guardian. Scientists say the climate crisis was the main driver of the falls.
Italian rice output is set to drop in 2023 as farmers face a second year of drought that has reduced the land dedicated to the water-intensive crop to the lowest for more than two decades. Scientists and environmental groups sounded the alarm about looming Italian water shortages in January after a sharp drop in winter snowfall.
A new study has found that at least 80% of the world's most important biodiversity areas are on land containing infrastructure, Phys.org reports. It's the world's first assessment of the presence of human developments in key biodiversity areas.
European Union lawmakers have toughened up a draft law to crack down on the illegal timber trade and other crimes against the environment. Sanctions will include imprisonment for up to 10 years for the most serious offences.
Vanuatu says it hopes the upcoming UN General Assembly will adopt its push for greater priority to be given to the human rights impact of the climate crisis. Thousands of people have been left homeless after two cyclones hit the small island nation earlier in March.
Vietnamese authorities have seized seven tonnes of ivory smuggled from Angola, the largest seizure of wildlife products in years. Trade in ivory is illegal in Viet Nam but wildlife trafficking is believed to remain widespread.
What is the Forum doing to address the global water challenge?
Water security – both sustainable supply and clean quality – is a critical aspect in ensuring healthy communities. Yet, our world’s water resources are being compromised.
Today, 80% of our wastewater flows untreated back into the environment, while 780 million people still do not have access to an improved water source. By 2030, we may face a 40% global gap between water supply and demand.
The World Economic Forum’s Water Possible Platform is supporting innovative ideas to address the global water challenge.
The Forum supports innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships including the 2030 Water Resources Group, which helps close the gap between global water demand and supply by 2030 and has since helped facilitate $1Billion of investments into water.
Other emerging partnerships include the 50L Home Coalition, which aims to solve the urban water crisis, tackling both water security and climate change; and the Mobilizing Hand Hygiene for All Initiative, formed in response to close the 40% gap of the global population not having access to handwashing services during COVID-19.
Want to join our mission to address the global water challenge? Read more in our impact story.
4. More on the climate crisis on Agenda
The world is already feeling the effects of climate change, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. These 5 charts lay out some of the report’s findings, and the consequences of not making widespread, deep and rapid emissions cuts.
The International Labour Organization estimates that by 2030, the green economy could create 24 million jobs worldwide, with climate tech playing a vital role in this growth. But two experts say there is a shortage of climate tech talent and a talent pool must be built quickly and at scale.
Natural climate solutions have the potential to provide a third of the climate crisis mitigation needed by 2030, but only if we act now, urges the Centre for Nature and Climate.