Nature and Biodiversity

UN treaty aims to end global plastic pollution – and other nature and climate stories you need to read this week 

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A bird with rubbish in its beak.

Also in this nature round-up: almost half of animal species are in decline - and New York is sinking. Image: Unsplash/Tim Mossholder

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate

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  • This weekly round-up contains the key nature and climate news from the past week.
  • Top nature and climate stories: UN treaty aims to end global plastic pollution; Almost half of animal species are in decline; New York is sinking partly due to the weight of its many skyscrapers.

1. UN treaty aims to end global plastic pollution

Talks are underway in Paris this week, held by a United Nations committee, seeking to agree upon a landmark treaty to bring an end to global plastic pollution.

Members of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for Plastics are holding the second in a series of five meetings, which aim to establish a legally binding international treaty to end plastic pollution – the first of its kind.

Uruguay hosted the first meeting six months ago, where conflicting opinions by different countries called for both a global policy framework and national solutions to combat the plastics crisis. Treaty negotiations are expected to conclude by the end of 2024.

While there is little agreement on specific outcomes, many countries involved believe the focus of the treaty should be on "circularity", meaning renewing or regenerating resources, rather than wasting them.

Countries like the US, China and Saudi Arabia, which produce both plastics and the fossil fuels used for plastic production, are calling for the treaty to retain the benefits of plastics to society, for example. Here, the treaty's scope would focus on tackling plastic waste and increasing recycling levels, rather than restricting production.

However, countries like Norway and Rwanda are part of a coalition that wants the treaty to go further in tackling plastic pollution. This group suggests imposing limits on plastics production, curbs on some chemicals used in its manufacture and a legally binding instrument to end plastics pollution by 2040.

Speaking to The Independent, Björn Beeler the international coordinator for the International Pollutants Elimination Network supported this view, calling the talks “the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a global conversation to change the trajectory of plastic production growth”.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

2. Almost half of animal species are in decline

Researchers from Queen's University Belfast and the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, found 48% of all animal species in decline, in what they described as "one of the most alarming consequences of human impacts on the planet".

Published in the Biological Reviews Journal, the study found stable populations in 49% of animal species, with just 3% of species increasing.

A pattern of decline emerged, which shows concentrations of species decline around tropical areas, while stable and expanding populations were characteristic of more temperate climates.

Importantly, the study found that around a third (33%) of species classified as "non-threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species, were in fact in decline.

Biodiversity decline by region.
Global biodiversity decline by region. Image: World Wildlife Fund

The World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet Report 2022, breaks down biodiversity loss by world region.

Latin America and the Caribbean has seen 94% of species in decline – the largest of any region. Deforestation for things like agriculture and logging in the Amazon rainforest and other regions can partly account for this high toll on biodiversity.

Africa and Asia and Pacific regions have also suffered very high rates – more than half – of biodiversity loss.

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

New York is sinking partly due to the weight of its many skyscrapers, with annual subsidence of between 1-2 millimetres leaving the coastal city further exposed to the threat of rising sea levels due to climate change.

An ancient savannah "super national nature reserve" has been created in the UK. Modern animal replacements of long-extinct ancestors are being grazed to boost biodiversity across a protected area of Purbeck Heaths in rural Dorset.

Record May heatwaves hit countries across Asia, as seasonal highs were recorded in China, Southeast Asia and elsewhere, raising concerns about the region's ability to adapt to the intensifying climate crisis.

Powder from Greenland's ice sheets could help combat climate change, as rock dust created by the slow grinding of moving glaciers has been found to capture CO2 emissions when spread over agricultural fields, new research shows.

Have you read?

A loss and damage-style fund for nature should be created so rich nations pay for biodiversity loss and nature destruction in poorer countries impacted by climate change, experts say. This would be similar to the compensation fund agreed by world leaders at COP27.

El Niño could threaten the world's food producers, bringing dry weather to Asian farmers and delaying the monsoon rains that crops like rice and oilseed depend on, while deluging drought-hit US crops with rain, according to meteorologists.

A Financial Times piece points to the impact of species decline on business risk as biodiversity takes more prominence (paywall).

4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

Finland aims to become carbon neutral by 2035, ahead of its European neighbours, by scaling up nuclear power and renewables like wind and solar, while shifting away from using extensive forestry resources for fuel.

India's protected tiger reserves have helped jungle, mangrove and dry forest environments flourish, preventing 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions reaching the atmosphere.

How can we prevent flash droughts that lead to crop losses and higher food prices? Here, a new study looks at what can be done to prevent this increasingly common threat to agriculture.

Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityClimate Action
1. UN treaty aims to end global plastic pollution2. Almost half of animal species are in decline3. News in brief: Top nature and climate stories this week4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

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