Nature and Biodiversity

Heat-related deaths could increase four-fold by mid-century, and other nature and climate stories you need to read this week

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Paramedics answer emergency calls during a day of high temperatures at a medical emergency centre, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Top nature and climate news: Heat-related deaths could increase 4-fold by mid-century, and more. Image: REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
  • This weekly round-up contains key nature and climate news from the past week.
  • Top nature and climate stories: Heat-related deaths could increase four-fold by mid-century; Dominica devises first marine reserve for endangered sperm whales; US and China climate envoys agree to cooperate on climate change.

The latest Countdown report on health and climate change published in The Lancet medical journal, found people were exposed to around 86 days of dangerously high temperatures in 2022.

Annually, the number of people experiencing heat-linked deaths could increase by 370% by 2050 if the world warms to by 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the report predicts. The planet has already warmed by around 1.1°C above these levels.

Exposure to extreme heat increases the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer diabetes and other health conditions.

The world is "moving in the wrong direction" the report notes, with little action taken in response to past warnings.

Global surface air temperature anomalies - October.
Global surface air temperature anomalies in October. Image: Copernicus ECMWF

This year looks almost certain to be the world's hottest ever recorded, with several months reaching record-breaking average temperatures.

October 2023 was the hottest October on record, with average surface temperatures of 15.30°C, for example. This was 0.40°C warmer than the previous hottest October in 2019, according to the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service.

2. Dominica creates first marine reserve for endangered sperm whales

The protective zone covers almost 300 square miles (800 square kilometres) of ocean to the west of the island nation, which forms an important nursing and feeding ground for the creatures, the Guardian reports.

Large ships and commercial fishing vessels will be banned from the new protective zone, but local fishing craft and a limited number of tourist boats that don't impact the whales will be permitted.

A pod of sperm whales dives into the deep blue sea off the coast of Mirissa, in southern Sri Lanka.
Sperm whales are among the largest creatures on Earth. Image: REUTERS/Joshua Barton

Sperm whales are among the largest animals on the planet and are well dispersed around the globe. But unusually, in the seas surrounding Dominica, some species can be found year-round.

Scientists think these giant marine creatures to add nutrients to the ocean's surface, creating plankton blooms that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and deliver it to the ocean floor when they die, which helps tackle climate change.

"The 200 or so sperm whales that call our sea home are prized citizens of Dominica," said Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.

"Their ancestors likely inhabited Dominica before humans arrived. We want to ensure these majestic and highly intelligent animals are safe from harm and continue keeping our waters and our climate healthy," he added.

The rise of marine protected areas.
The rise of marine protected areas. Image: Statista

In 2021, marine protected areas covered almost 8% of the world's coastal waters and oceans, increasing from 1.79 million square kilometres in 1990 to 28.05 million square kilometres two decades later.


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

Negotiations for a global plastics treaty at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Nairobi ended without desired progress this past week. Said Douglas McCauley, a University of California, Santa Barbara ecologist in Nature: “We now only have about a year left in this process and are nowhere near where we need to be."

US and China climate envoys agreed to cooperate on climate change, with commitments to back new renewables targets and work together on methane and plastic pollution. This development follows talks in California ahead of the upcoming COP28 climate talks in the United Arab Emirates.

"We are severely off track" as global emissions set to fall just 2% by 2030, according to a new report by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). "COP28 must be a clear turning point" said Simon Stiell, UNFCC executive secretary.

The dense fog choking India's capital New Delhi is visible from space, satellite imagery from NASA shows. City residents have been advised to avoid spending time outside as air quality reaches "very unhealthy" levels, increasing the risk of health problems like heart disease or lung cancer.


What's the World Economic Forum doing to tackle air pollution?

Greenhouse gas emissions in China could go into "structural decline" as early as next year, as fossil-fuelled power energy generation begins to fall due to growth in renewable energy and hydropower, according to research from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki.

The EU has made a provisional agreement to restore one-fifth of its lands and waters by 2030, and restore all ecosystems by mid-century. The agreement aims to repair damage to nature across the bloc and help meet biodiversity targets, climate goals and international commitments.

Residents of the Greek village of Metamorfosi, which all but disappeared beneath catastrophic floods caused by Storm Daniel, will vote this week to decide whether to relocate their community to a safer place, Reuters reports.

A land area equivalent in size to all of Brazil's cropland will be needed by 2030 to support global demand for food, animal feed, fuel and natural capital, according to new McKinsey report. However, this new land can't come from deforested land, the report says.

4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

Mass-planting monoculture forests is not the way to combat climate change. Thomas Crowther of the Trillion Trees Campaign explains why empowering local communities to cultivate biodiversity is key in fighting the climate crisis.

The climate crisis is changing how we communicate for the better, bringing new terms to the mainstream and causing us to re-evaluate traditional expressions like "natural" disaster. Here's how.

Is 2023 going to be the world's hottest year ever recorded? With this year's record-breaking July, August, September and October average temperatures, it seems almost certain. Global temperatures are also more likely than not to exceed 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels in the coming five years, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityClimate Action
1. Heat-related deaths could increase four-fold by mid-century, study says2. Dominica creates first marine reserve for endangered sperm whales 3. News in brief: Other top nature and climate stories this week4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

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