'Fossil fuel age' has failed says UN Secretary-General, and other nature and climate stories you need to read this week

Top nature and climate stories: 'Fossil fuel age' has failed, says UN Secretary-General; Antarctic sea ice at record winter low; and more.
Top nature and climate stories: 'Fossil fuel age' has failed, says UN Secretary-General; Antarctic sea ice at record winter low; and more.
Image: REUTERS/Ralph Teddy Erol
  • This weekly round-up contains key nature and climate news from the past week.
  • Top nature and climate stories: 'Fossil fuel age' has failed, says UN Secretary-General; Antarctic sea ice at record winter low; Pacific island of Niue aims to attract sponsors to conserve its ocean territory.

On 18-22 September, the World Economic Forum convened business leaders, policy-makers, civil society organizations, innovators and social entrepreneurs for the Sustainable Development Impact Meetings.

These carefully curated impact-driven leaders’ dialogues focus on ways to get the Sustainable Development Goals back on track at the halfway point of the 2030 Agenda.

1. 'Fossil fuel age' has failed, says UN Secretary-General

"G20 countries are responsible for 80% of greenhouse emissions. They must lead. They must break their addiction to fossil fuels," United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told the UN General Assembly in New York last week.

To stand a fighting chance of combatting the climate crisis, coal, oil and gas must be phased out in a fair and equitable way, and renewables massively boosted, he told the assembly.

"The fossil fuel age has failed," he said. "If fossil fuel companies want to be part of the solution, they must lead the transition to renewable energy."

Guterres told world leaders at a high-level forum a day earlier that "the Sustainable Development Goals aren’t just a list of goals. They carry the hopes, dreams, rights and expectations of people everywhere.”

He outlined six key areas where action is needed, including renewable energy and the "war on nature".

Taking action on climate and protecting nature have been high on the agenda at the World Economic Forum's Sustainable Development Impact Meetings this week.

One session on Innovation for Tough-to-Decarbonize Industries focused on the need to develop cleaner technologies and manufacturing processes.

In another session called Exploring the Climate and Health Nexus, global health experts discussed how countries should adapt to better address the implications of climate change on the wellbeing of their citizens.

2. Antarctic sea ice at record winter low

Winter sea ice in Antarctica has reached new lows, creating a risk of destabilization in the region that could have serious consequences for other parts of the world, experts warn.

"It's so far outside anything we've seen, it's almost mind-blowing," Walter Meier of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center told the BBC.

Antarctica's winter sea ice helps regulate global temperatures by reflecting the sun's rays and cooling the ocean water around it. The loss of this ice coverage means larger areas of ocean surface absorb sunlight, which heats the water and leads to further ice loss.

Extreme ice loss could cause a tipping point, where Antarctica begins to exacerbate global warming rather than prevent it.

Daily Antarctic sea ice extent 1979-2023. Nature and climate
Antarctic sea ice levels are falling to unprecedented lows.
Image: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Winter sea ice forms each year between March and October. It integrates with icebergs, land ice and vast ice shelves, before melting in the warmer summer months.

This year's floating ice covers a record low area of 17 million square kilometres, around 1.5 million square kilometres below the September average. This expands a worrying trend, with 2022 having also marked a record low. Antarctica's winter sea ice levels had been increasing in size until 2016.

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

The small Pacific island of Niue is looking to attract sponsors to raise $18 million to help conserve 127,000 square kilometres of its ocean territory against illegal fishing and plastic waste.

Now is the time for a global plan to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the SDG Summit in New York this week. Each of the 17 goals contains targets, with 169 overall, but only 15% are on track and many are going in reverse, Guterres warned.

An exceptionally dense plankton bloom is creating an aquatic "dead zone" in the Gulf of Thailand. Plankton levels are 10 times above average. This is depleting oxygen supplies to an extent that can kill marine life, and threatening the livelihoods of local fishermen.

Scientists have developed a 100% plant-based alternative to palm oil. The new oil is 70% better for the environment than palm oil, which has been linked to significant deforestation.

The climate crisis is making events such as the recent storms that devastated Libya up to 50 times more likely and 50% more intense, according to experts at World Weather Attribution.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

Here are five key takeaways from the World Economic Forum's Sustainable Development Impact Meetings 2023 (SDIM23), ranging from food systems and food security to forest restoration.

What are the key commitments in the UN's new declaration on the Sustainable Development Goals? Find out what progress has been made and what challenges lie ahead in achieving the SDGs by 2030.

World leaders have suggested four ways to manage climate overshoot, where average global temperatures exceed the "safe" temperature targets set by the Paris Agreement.

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