Nature and Biodiversity

Two years to save the planet, says UN climate chief, and other nature and climate stories you need to read this week

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The effect of bleaching on coral off Caye Caulker, Belize.

Top nature and climate news: Two years to save the planet, says UN climate chief, and more. Image: REUTERS/Susannah Sayler

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
  • This weekly round-up contains key nature and climate news from the past week.
  • Top nature and climate stories: Two years to save the planet, says UN climate chief; Forever chemicals in groundwater exceed safe levels, global study finds; Australia's Great Barrier Reef experiencing one of its worst ever recorded bleaching events.

1. UN climate chief issues stark warning

The next two years are "essential in saving the planet" warns Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Governments, business leaders and development banks must take immediate action to combat climate change or risk far worse climate impacts, he said.

Stiell called for an increase in climate finance through debt relief, cheaper funds for poorer countries, new streams of international finance and World Bank and International Monetary Fund reforms.

"Every day, finance ministers, CEOs, investors, and climate bankers and development bankers, direct trillions of dollars. It's time to shift those dollars," he said.

Monthly global surface air temperature anomalies.
Global temperature records continue to be broken, month-on-month. Image: Copernicus ECMWF

March 2024 was the hottest ever recorded, reaching 0.73°C above the 1991-2020 March average and exceeding the previous March 2016 high by 0.10°C, according to data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service.


2. Chemicals in groundwater exceed safe levels, study finds

Levels of PFAS or "forever chemicals" in some of the world's groundwater sources exceed safe limits, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed 45,000 data points from different world regions over a 20-year time span.

The first-of-its-kind study published in the Nature Geoscience journal, found levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to use their scientific name in global source water samples exceeded the limits advised by the US Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada.

These human-made chemicals are commonly used in industry and found in household products, including non-stick frying pans, cosmetics, insecticides and food packaging.

Once ingested or in the environment they don't degrade, hence the label forever chemicals.

Research has linked PFAS chemicals to environmental harm and human health issues like cancer, but more analysis is needed to realise the extent of the threat they pose.

“We already knew that PFAS is pervasive in the environment, but I was surprised to find out the large fraction of source waters that are above drinking water advisory recommendations,” said Denis O’Carroll, senior author of the research and engineering professor at the University of New South Wales.

“We’re talking above 5%, and it goes over 50% in some cases,” he said.

However, Professor O'Carroll notes the study analyzed source water bodies and not tap drinking water, which goes through a treatment process designed to filter bacteria and chemicals, so should be safe to drink.

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

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is experiencing one of its worst-ever recorded bleaching events, according to marine biologists. Aerial surveys show the 2,300 kilometre reef system is suffering its fifth mass bleaching within the past eight years, The Guardian reports.


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

A rare, blind, palm-sized mole that lives almost entirely underground has been photographed in a remote area of the Australian outback, the BBC reports. Sightings of the elusive creatures occur on average only a few times each decade.

The Al Massira reservoir in Morocco is drying up due to six consecutive years of drought and climate change, satellite images show. This vital waterway is the country's second-largest dam, which supplies water to a number of major cities.

The 2024 European Tree of The Year contest has been won by a Polish beech tree rooted in a park in the University of Wroclaw's botanical gardens. Known as Heart of the Garden, it's the third tree from Poland to win the award.

AI and big data are helping conservationists analyze the full annual lifecycle of bird species across continents, harvesting "unlimited" data to help prioritize bird habitats and combat the impact of biodiversity loss.

Extreme flooding has hit Russia's Orenburg region and parts of Kazakhstan, as the Ural river, which rises in the Ural mountains and flows through Kazakhstan to the Caspian Sea, breached embankment dams.

4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

As environmental concerns climb higher up the agenda, global businesses are well-placed to make financial commitments to conserve forests and help mitigate the climate crisis. Here's how.

"It's now cheaper to save the world that destroy it" says Akshat Rathi, the author of Climate Capitalism and senior climate reporter for Bloomberg. Here he speaks to Radio Davos about how the profit motive is moving the dial.

Is climate inaction a violation of human rights? A recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights found that Switzerland failed to act "in time and in an appropriate way" to safeguard people from the climate crisis.

Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityClimate Action
1. UN climate chief issues stark warning2. Chemicals in groundwater exceed safe levels, study finds3. News in brief: Other top nature and climate stories this week4. More on the nature and climate crisis on Agenda

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