Climate Action

Europe experiences one of its warmest ever winters, and the other climate crisis stories you need to read this week

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Top climate change and environment news: Europe experiences its joint second-warmest winter; Plastic in the oceans could almost triple by 2040; and more.

Top climate change and environment news: Europe experiences its joint second-warmest winter; Plastic in the oceans could almost triple by 2040; and more. Image: REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • This weekly round-up brings you key climate crisis stories from the past week.
  • Top climate crisis and environment news: Europe experiences its joint second-warmest winter; Plastic in the oceans could almost triple by 2040; Chile looks to protect an endangered species of deer.

1. Europe experiences its joint second-warmest winter

Europe is emerging from its joint second-warmest winter on record, as the climate crisis continues to intensify. The average temperature in Europe from December to February was 1.4°C above the 1991-2020 average for the Boreal winter season, according to data published by the European Union's (EU) Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).

C3S says temperatures were particularly high in eastern Europe and parts of some Nordic countries. However, while overall temperatures in Europe were above the norm, some regions were below-average, including parts of Russia and Greenland.

This winter was Europe's joint second-warmest on record
This winter was Europe's joint second-warmest on record. Image: Copernicus Climate Change Service

Europe experienced what’s been described as a winter heatwave in late December and early January. Record-high winter temperatures forced ski resorts to close because of a lack of snow. Hundreds of temperature records were broken across the continent, during this period, according to the European Commission, with the Swiss town of Altdorf reaching 19.2°C, breaking an 1864 record.

Copernicus also reports that the global average temperature for February was the fifth warmest on record, and Antarctic sea ice dropped to its lowest level for any February in the 45-year record of satellite data.

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2. Plastic in the oceans could almost triple by 2040, says report.

Plastics entering the world's oceans have surged by an "unprecedented" amount since 2005, and could nearly triple by 2040 if no further action is taken, according to new research. An estimated 171 trillion plastic particles were afloat in the oceans by 2019, according to a study led by the 5 Gyres Institute.

Marine plastic pollution could rise 2.6-fold over the next two decades if legally binding global policies are not introduced, it predicted. "We've found an alarming trend of exponential growth in microplastics in the global ocean since the millennium," Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of the 5 Gyres Group said. "We need a strong legally binding U.N. global treaty on plastic pollution that stops the problem at the source," he added.

The study shows that the level of marine plastic pollution in the oceans has been significantly underestimated. "The numbers in this new research are staggeringly phenomenal and almost beyond comprehension," said Paul Harvey, a scientist and plastics expert with Environmental Science Solutions.

The United Nations began negotiations on an agreement to tackle plastic pollution in Uruguay in November, with the aim of drawing up a legally binding treaty by the end of next year. A separate international treaty was agreed on 12 March to help protect biodiversity in the world's high seas.

3. News in brief: Top climate crisis stories this week

Heatwaves unfolding on the bottom of the ocean can be more intense and last longer than those on the sea surface, according to an assessment by scientists in the United States (US). The ocean's average temperature has increased by about 1.5°C over the last century, with marine heatwaves becoming around 50% more frequent over the past decade.

Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rainforest rose in February to the highest level on record for the month, highlighting challenges the new government faces to tackle the problem. Space research agency Inpe's data showed 322 square km (124 square miles) were cleared in the region last month, up 62% from February 2022, and well above the average of 166 square km for the period.

A group of the world's biggest copper producers says it is aiming to slash direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, in a move that could make the sector more attractive to environmentally-conscious investment funds. The copper producers plan to reduce emissions by decarbonizing power supply, and improving efficiency and scrap collection.

The US government directing $6 billion in funding to speed decarbonization projects in industries like steel, aluminium and cement making that contribute nearly 25% of US greenhouse gas emissions. The programme is part of President Joe Biden's pledge to decarbonize the US economy by 2050.

The climate crisis is already having a major economic and financial impact on the US and may trigger asset value losses in coming years that could cascade through the US financial system, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns. There has been a five-fold increase in the annual number of billion-dollar disasters over the past five years, compared to the 1980s.

Extreme weather caused by the climate crisis could cost Germany up to 900 billion ($965 billion) in cumulative economic damage by mid-century, according to a new study. The costs include loss of agricultural yields, damage or destruction of buildings and infrastructure due to flooding, impairment of goods transportation and impact on the health system.

Climate factors such as temperature, rainfall and humidity have made reduced coffee yields more frequent over the past few decades, The Guardian reports. Changing climatic conditions are likely to lead to ongoing systematic shocks to global coffee production, according to new research.

Parts of northern China have been hit by high temperatures that smashed seasonal records, with the city of Shahe hitting 31.8°C, official data shows. "We are witnessing a rapidly warming earth with all the high temperatures recorded today," China's official weather forecaster said on the Weibo social media platform.

A 20 year-long research project in the UK and Ireland has revealed a “devastating loss” of native wild plants. The Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland reports that more than half of native flora has declined in the UK because of human impact, including the climate crisis.

Chile has launched a programme to protect the Huemul, an endangered species of deer. A ‘biological corridor’ will be made up of approximately 16 connected, state-protected areas alongside other private conservation initiatives.

Discover

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

4. More on the climate crisis on Agenda

The United States and the European Union are implementing their own green subsidy schemes to boost investments in renewable technologies. But while such schemes encourage private-sector climate action, they also risk leaving developing and emerging economies behind, warns the Forum's Timothy Conley.

Can bushfire smoke reduce the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere? An expert explains how a rising number of wildfires means ozone concentrations could be on track to fall.

A group of scientists recently issued a plea for responsible research into "solar geoengineering". The Forum's John Letzing explains how this method could be deployed to deflect the sun's rays with tiny particles and limit climate change impacts.

Related topics:
Climate ActionNature and Biodiversity
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Contents
1. Europe experiences its joint second-warmest winter 2. Plastic in the oceans could almost triple by 2040, says report. 3. News in brief: Top climate crisis stories this week4. More on the climate crisis on Agenda

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