Climate and Nature

Hottest ever ocean temperatures threaten planet's health, and other nature and climate stories to read this week

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A bleaching coral is seen in the protected area of Ko Losin in Thailand.

Top nature and climate news: Hottest ever ocean temperatures threaten planet's health, Amazon deforestation rate is falling, and more. Image: REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda

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  • This weekly round-up contains the key nature and climate news from the past week.
  • Top nature and climate stories: Record ocean temperatures endanger planet's health; Amazon deforestation reduced by 66% year-on-year; Beijing hit by third deadly storm.

1. Record ocean temperatures threaten the planet's health

The climate crisis has pushed the world's oceans to their hottest-ever temperatures, with serious repercussions for the planet's wellbeing.

Average water temperatures hit 20.96°C on 1 August, far higher than the recorded average for this time of year and exceeding the previous all-time high set in 2016, according to the European Commission's climate change service, Copernicus.

Warming oceans have long-term implications for the planet. Ocean waters not only absorb the majority of harmful greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, but also produce around half of the planet's oxygen.

As water temperatures increase over time, our oceans' ability to mitigate climate change decreases, meaning less carbon dioxide is absorbed, while the increasing heat exacerbates glacial melting, leading to rising sea levels.

Beneath the waves, warmer waters increase the threat of events like coral bleaching. This can destroy reefs and other ecosystems, and displace fish and other marine species as they seek cooler waters, destabilizing the global food chain.

The timing of this month's record-breaking temperature has alarmed some experts.

March should be when ocean temperatures peak, rather than August, according to Dr Samantha Burgess, from the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

"The fact that we've seen the record now makes me nervous about how much warmer the ocean may get between now and next March," she told the BBC.

While the impact of El Niño, which pushes up global temperatures, contributes to this year's temperature highs, scientists say this is only part of a long-term trend of warming ocean waters.

2. Amazon deforestation reduced by 66% year-on-year

July saw an area covering 500 square kilometres (193 square miles) cleared, satellite data from Brazil's space research agency INPE shows, a 66% year-on-year reduction.

This is part of a pattern of falling deforestation in the first seven months of the year, resulting in a 42.5% reduction in canopy loss compared to the same period in 2022.

Summer months often see deforestation spike as the weather turns drier, so for some, the results are particularly encouraging.

"It's a very significant drop for a drier month," Mariana Napolitano, WWF-Brasil manager, told Reuters.

"That shows us the emergency measures that were taken, especially command and control ones, have been working. But deforestation remains at high levels, and to zero it by 2030 more structural measures will be needed," she said.

Drivers of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon.
Cattle grazing remains the top cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Image: Our World in Data

Almost two-thirds of forest loss is due to land clearance for beef production, with more than 20% due to small-scale farming and commercial agriculture crops like soy.

Rainforests like the Amazon are an important part of efforts to mitigate the climate crisis, as they naturally remove and store harmful carbon dioxide gases from the atmosphere.

The news comes as the eight countries of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization prepare to meet in Belem, Brazil, from 7-9 August.


What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?

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

Beijing has been deluged by deadly rains as residents prepare for a third typhoon in three weeks. Twenty-one lives have been lost, a further 26 people are missing and it's not known how many people remain trapped in flooded areas of the city, AP reports.

An eco-friendly bicycle made of bamboo has been developed by a local workshop in Cuba's capital Havana. The workshop uses volunteers to teach local people how to make and repair the lightweight bikes.

An influx of aggressive blue crabs is putting Italy's clam industry in danger, as the invasive species that originates from coastal regions of North and South America has consumed up to 90% of the country's young clams, according to marine biologists.

Wildfires in California's Mojave Desert severly burned the area's iconic Joshua trees, which are an important part of the desert ecosystem. So far, the York Fire (93% contained as of Sunday) has not reached the Joshua-Tree National Preserve, which sits 100km (60 miles) from the blaze.

India aims to stop the practice of stubble burning by crop farmers, to reduce pollution. Smoke from burning crop waste after harvesting contributes to the heavy smog in Delhi, the world's most polluted capital city.

A glacier lake has burst in Alaska, prompting officials to declare an emergency as flooding threatens lives and livelihoods.

4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

Airborne wind energy. If you've never heard of flying energy generators, which can operate offshore and off-grid, this is how they could help efforts to achieve net-zero emissions.

We need a paradigm shift in testing to prevent the next plastics or microplastics threat before it turns into a crisis, a chemical and environmental engineer explains.

Indigenous communities could play a critical role in helping to combat the climate crisis. Ahead of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, WEF looks at five ways indigenous people are protecting the planet.

Related topics:
Climate and NatureClimate Change
1. Record ocean temperatures threaten the planet's health2. Amazon deforestation reduced by 66% year-on-year3. News in brief: Other top nature and climate stories this week4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

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