World's carbon budget being devoured as emissions hit all-time high – plus other nature and climate stories you need to read this week 

A green turtle swims through corals on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia October 25, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson / Top climate change and environment news this week
Top climate change and environment news: The world's carbon budget is being devoured as emissions hit all time high, and more
Image: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
  • This weekly round-up contains the key nature and climate news from the past week.
  • Top nature and climate stories: The world's carbon budget is being devoured as emissions hit an all-time high; Australia to phase out gill net fishing in Great Barrier Reef; Smoke cloud from Canadian wildfires enshrouds US Capital.

1. The world's carbon budget is being devoured as emissions hit all-time high

Global greenhouse gas emissions are at their highest-ever level, pushing the world towards "unprecedented" levels of climate warming, according to new research.

In a critical decade for climate action, human activity is burning through the available "carbon budget" – the remaining volume of CO2 emissions that can be emitted while keeping global temperatures within the 1.5°C climate target.

From 500 billion tonnes a few years ago, the carbon budget has been roughly halved to around 250 billion tonnes today. Over the past decade, global CO2 emissions have averaged 54 billion tonnes annually – a rate that would consume the remaining budget in the next few years, the UK newspaper The Guardian reports.

Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and land use change, world
Global CO2 emissions continue their upward trend.
Image: Our World in Data

Emissions continue to rise, despite global efforts to transition away from fossil fuels to cleaner forms of energy. The fall seen during COVID-19 lockdowns has now been reversed.

At the upcoming COP28 climate talks in the UAE, there will be a "global stocktake" to assess how far current emissions reduction commitments go towards meeting climate targets. This will be the first stocktake since the 2015 Paris Agreement was signed.

2. Australia to phase out gill net fishing in Great Barrier Reef

Destructive gill net fishing in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef is set to be phased out, as part of an AUD160 million ($110 million) protection package agreed by the Australian and Queensland state governments.

The package will provide funds to buy out existing gill net fishing licences, with a complete ban coming into force by 2027. It will also enforce independent data validation for commercial fishing boat operations, and hammerhead sharks will receive "no-take" protected status.

Commercial gill net fishing kills indiscriminately, catching targeted fish but also ensnaring other sea creatures, including dolphins, hammerheads and other threatened shark species, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

“This announcement is shaping up as a globally significant moment for ocean conservation, fisheries management and the Great Barrier Reef – one of the natural wonders of the world,” said Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia.

“If all goes to plan, by June 2027, we’ll have a 'Net-Free Reef' where dugongs, turtles, dolphins and other threatened species can swim without the threat of becoming entangled and drowning in a gill net, and that’s a cause for global celebration."

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's most extensive coral reef ecosystem and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status in 1981. Comprising 2,500 individual reefs, it supports more than 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and is home to and 4,000 types of mollusc.

3. News in brief: Other top nature and climate stories this week

A smoke cloud emanating from Canadian wildfires has enshrouded the US capital, Washington DC. Millions of North Americans have been advised to stay indoors to avoid respiratory issues and other related health problems.

Wealthy greenhouse gas-emitting countries could be liable to pay $170 trillion in climate compensation to low-polluting developing countries, according to a new study published in the Nature Sustainability journal.

Brazil's President has revealed a plan to eliminate deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by 2030, using satellite imagery and stricter law enforcement to track criminal activity.

As the annual World Ocean Day was observed on 8 June, an estimated 8 million to 10 million tonnes of plastic is still released into the ocean each year, according to UNESCO.

Indonesia's Anak Krakatau volcano erupted twice in an hour on 9 June, sending clouds of ash up to 3,000 metres into the atmosphere. Authorities have issued the second-highest alert level, Reuters reports.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has announced new guidance to help manage the transition planning of financial institutions, in an effort to boost decarbonization work.

A document seen by news agency Reuters suggests that at a meeting next month in Paris, a new $100 billion plan will be discussed to push additional funds into climate and development finance.

4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

The Arctic Ocean is warming twice as fast as other parts of the planet and could be ice-free in summer by the 2030s, creating dangerous consequences for the planet, a new study shows.

Protected forests and other landscapes store as much carbon as fossil fuels emit per year, according to research funded by the US National Science Foundation and NASA.

Europe's bird population has declined by half a billion over the past 40 years, with pesticides and fertilizers listed as a leading cause of this decline, data on biodiversity shows.

What are voluntary carbon markets?

Activities that demonstrate their capacity to remove CO2 from the atmosphere or prevent CO2 from being emitted are verified by an independent standard and issued as carbon credit certificates (representing one metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent).

Standards are organizations, usually NGOs, which certify that a particular project meets its stated objectives and its stated volume of emissions. Some of the most prominent standards include the UN Clean Development Mechanism, Verra, the American Carbon Registry, Climate Action Reserve and Gold Standard.

Carbon credits can be grouped into three large categories: avoidance projects (they avoid emitting greenhouse gasses altogether), reduction (they reduce the volume of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere) and removal (they remove greenhouse gasses directly from the atmosphere).

Forestry avoidance projects or programmes known as REDD+ (Reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) prevent deforestation or wetland destruction. Other examples include soil management practices in farming that limit greenhouse gas emissions — such as projects aiming to avoid emissions from dairy cows and beef cattle through different diets.

Carbon removal from the atmosphere can include afforestation and reforestation projects and wetland management, which, as they grow, turn CO2 into solid carbon stored in their trunks and roots.

The reduction category includes projects that mostly centre on reducing the demand for energy efficiency, including cookstove projects, fuel efficiency, or the development of energy-efficient buildings.

International voluntary carbon markets (VCM) provide a platform for individuals and organizations to offset/balance their unavoidable and residual emissions by purchasing and retiring (cancel in a registry after which it can no longer be sold) carbon credits issued by sellers who have a surplus carbon budget — either because they’ve avoided emissions or undertaken some additional activities that reduce or removed emissions.

While compliance markets are currently limited to carbon credits from a specific region, voluntary carbon credits are significantly more fluid, unrestrained by boundaries set by nation-states or political unions. They also can be accessed by every sector of the economy instead of a limited number of industries. The Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets estimates that the market for carbon credits could be worth upward of $50 billion as soon as 2030.

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