UN adopts world-first high seas treaty protecting marine biodiversity, and other nature and climate stories you need to read this week

A lionfish is seen on the reefs off Roatan, Honduras.
Top climate change and environment news: UN adopts world-first High Seas Treaty protecting marine biodiversity, and more.
Image: REUTERS/Christa Cameron
  • This weekly round-up contains the key nature and climate news from the past week.
  • Top nature and climate stories: UN adopts world-first high seas treaty protecting marine biodiversity; Three quarters of Himalayan glacier ice could disappear by 2100; Europe is warming at twice the global average rate of other continents.

1. UN adopts world-first high seas treaty protecting marine biodiversity

The high seas treaty - more formally known as the Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction treaty - is the culmination of more than 15 years of discussions and five rounds of UN-led negotiations.

Seventy five articles are contained in the treaty aimed at protecting, caring for and ensuring the responsible use of marine environments, maintaining ocean ecosystems and conserving marine biological diversity.

Adoption of this legally-binding legislation could reduce ocean plastics pollution through polluter-pays provisions, and help sustainably manage fish stocks.

The agreement will take effect once 60 countries have ratified the treaty, which will be open for signatures in New York for a 2-year period beginning in September 2023.

“The ocean is the lifeblood of our planet, and today, you have pumped new life and hope to give the ocean a fighting chance,” the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told delegates at Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Our ocean covers 70% of the world’s surface and accounts for 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. We can't have a healthy future without a healthy ocean - but it's more vulnerable than ever because of climate change and pollution.

Tackling the grave threats to our ocean means working with leaders across sectors, from business to government to academia.

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute, convenes the Friends of Ocean Action, a coalition of leaders working together to protect the seas. From a programme with the Indonesian government to cut plastic waste entering the sea to a global plan to track illegal fishing, the Friends are pushing for new solutions.

Climate change is an inextricable part of the threat to our oceans, with rising temperatures and acidification disrupting fragile ecosystems. The Forum runs a number of initiatives to support the shift to a low-carbon economy, including hosting the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, who have cut emissions in their companies by 9%.

Is your organization interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

2. Three quarters of Himalayan glacier ice could disappear by 2100

Scientists from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal's capital Kathmandu, warned of dangerous flooding and water shortages affecting almost 2 billion people living downstream of the region's mountain rivers.

Climate change has increased the likelihood of more frequent flash floods and avalanches, the report notes.

“The people living in these mountains who have contributed next to nothing to global warming are at high risk due to climate change,” said Amina Maharjan, a migration specialist and one of the report’s authors.

“Current adaptation efforts are wholly insufficient, and we are extremely concerned that without greater support, these communities will be unable to cope.”

Ice and snow are key water sources that feed the many rivers originating in the mountains that flow through several Asian countries, carrying drinking water to communities.

Renewable freshwater resources per capita
Water stress is reducing per capita renewable freshwater resources over time
Image: Our World in Data

When rates of fresh water withdrawal exceed replenishment rates, countries or communities can experience water stress.

Global per capita renewable fresh water resources are declining over time in many countries, due to increasing populations among other factors.

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

Europe is warming at twice the global average rate of other continents, with extreme weather causing excess deaths and economic distruption, the World Meteorological Organization and the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service has warned.

Brazil has been rocked by a cyclone strike that leaves 11 dead and 20 unaccounted for in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, with many residents in the worse-hit areas forced to seek emergency shelter, state authorities report.

An unprecedented marine heatwave that sent global ocean surface temperatures soaring could last well into the autumn, according to scientists at the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.

A London council is the latest to introduce a polluter-pays-more parking scheme that penalises owners of cars producing high CO2 emissions, who can expect to pay more than twice as much as cleaner cars.

A sweltering Texas heatwave continues to cause power outages across southern US states, leaving more than 300,000 people without power, according to PowerOutages.us.

First debt-for-nature swap this year targeted by the EU's influential lending body, the European Investment Bank, as it attempts to increase efforts to protect biodiversity loss.

4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

Brazil's President Da Silva aims to restore large swathes of the Amazon rainforest, reversing years of deforestation and degradation covering a land area twice the size of California. But where will all the new trees come from?

Inequality is causing a heatwave 'heat gap', which leaves people living in poorer neighbourhoods experiencing greater heat stress than those in wealthier ones. What can be done to even things up?

Could imposing a global wealth tax assist efforts to adapt to the growing climate change threat? A UN-backed report says such a tax could close the funding gap for climate adaptation in developing countries.

Barbados is adopting a data-driven approach to building climate resilience, using technology to monitor and predict the growing threat to island life caused by extreme weather events.

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