EU countries approve 2035 phaseout of CO2-emitting cars, and the other nature and climate news you need to read this week
- This weekly round-up brings you key nature and climate news from the past week.
- Top nature and climate news: EU countries approve 2035 phaseout of CO2-emitting cars; Antarctic ice melt slows global ocean flows; India's heatwaves approaching limits of human survival.
1. EU countries approve 2035 phaseout of CO2-emitting cars
European Union countries gave final approval on 28 March to a landmark law to end sales of new CO2-emitting cars in 2035, after Germany won an exemption for cars running on e-fuels.
The approval from EU countries' energy ministers means Europe's main climate policy for cars can now enter into force – after weeks of delay caused by last-minute opposition from Germany.
The EU law will require all new cars sold to have zero CO2 emissions from 2035, and 55% lower CO2 emissions from 2030, versus 2021 levels. The targets are designed to drive the rapid decarbonization of new car fleets in Europe.
The European Commission has pledged, however, to create a legal route for sales of new cars that only run on e-fuels to continue after 2035, after Germany demanded this exemption.
E-fuels are considered carbon neutral because they are made using captured CO2 emissions, which proponents say balances out the CO2 released when the fuel is combusted in an engine.
The EU policy had been expected to make it impossible to sell combustion engine cars in the EU from 2035. But the exemption won by Germany offers a potential lifeline to traditional vehicles – although e-fuels are not yet produced at scale.
2. Rising Antarctic ice melt will dramatically slow global ocean flows, study finds
Rapidly melting Antarctic ice is dramatically slowing down the flow of water through the world's oceans, and could have a disastrous impact on the global climate, the marine food chain and even the stability of ice shelves, new research has found.
The "overturning circulation" of the oceans, driven by the movement of denser water towards the sea floor, helps deliver heat, carbon, oxygen and vital nutrients around the globe.
But deep ocean water flows from the Antarctic could decline by 40% by 2050, according to a study published on 29 March in the journal Nature.
As temperatures rise, freshwater from Antarctica's melting ice enters the ocean, reducing the salinity and density of the surface water and diminishing that downward flow to the seabed.
Antarctic ice levels have been declining over time due to the impact of climate change.
The study's findings also suggest the ocean would not be able to absorb as much carbon dioxide as its upper layers become more stratified, leaving more CO2 in the atmosphere.
The research indicated that warm water intrusions in the western Antarctic ice shelf would increase, but did not cover how this might create a feedback effect and generate further melting.
3. News in brief: Top nature and climate stories this week
More intense and frequent heatwaves in India, one of the world's most populous countries, are approaching the limits of human survival for millions of people. The threat from extreme heat – at times exceeding 50°C – is exacerbated by a growing population and urbanization.
The first report to analyze the hazardous effects of plastic across their entire lifecycle warns of major health impacts, including cancers, lung disease and birth defects. Plastic production workers were identified as being at particular risk of harm.
A Switzerland-based trading house has set up an investment platform with the aim of supporting ventures that promote the protection and growth of trees. Mercuria says it will initially invest $500m in sustainable projects around the world, including in the US, Brazil and Australia.
Buyers of carbon credits will be able to invest more responsibly thanks to new guidelines. Developed by the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market following a consultation process, the standards will require carbon credit certifiers to prove the science behind all emission reduction or removal schemes, as well as respect the rights of indigenous and local communities.
Offshore oil and gas is expected to see the highest growth for a decade in the coming two years, with more than $200 billion of investments in new projects proposed. A key driver of offshore growth comes from projects based in the Middle East region, research from independent advisory body Rystad Energy shows.
France and Switzerland are the first countries to be taken to the European Court of Human Rights for failing to protect the environment. A group of elderly citizens in Switzerland and the former mayor of Grande-Synthe in France are seeking to hold their respective countries accountable for alleged climate change inaction.
A new environmental project celebrating King Charles' coronation seeks to restore the original meadowlands of 100 historic sites in England. Some will need to be reinstated, others only enhanced, but in each case, they will increase biodiversity and engage local communities, says English Heritage.
The United Nations (UN) votes to ask the World Court to rule on national climate obligations, a legal opinion that could drive countries to take stronger measures and clarify international law. The historic resolution seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice was inspired by Pacific island law students.
Tunisian authorities cut off water supply at night amid severe drought, affecting areas of the capital Tunis and other cities in what appears to be a bid to reduce consumption. The unannounced move could fuel social tension in a country experiencing challenges with public services, high inflation and a weak economy.
4. More on nature and the climate crisis on Agenda
"Exceptional" surge in methane emissions from wetlands worries scientists, as rises in global temperatures and disruptions to rainfall patterns are speeding up the release of emissions, new research shows. Wetlands cover 6% of the planet's surface and are its biggest natural source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
A group of MIT students started a project to use open-source instructions and a 3D printer to measure pollution, reports Fast Company. In the US, only about 1,000 counties, out of more than 3,000, have any air-quality monitoring data. Now you can make your own air-quality monitor.
Climate change is speeding up global ocean currents, according to scientists. The ocean is the world’s largest carbon sink, which has absorbed close to 90% of heat generated by emissions, says the UN. Find out what happens when ocean currents get faster and how it impacts the planet.