Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
Climate change and environmental degradation are among the gravest threats to humanity, says a new report.
The story: The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risk Report this year finds that the top five long-term risks to our world are all environmental — with climate action failure, extreme weather and biodiversity loss ranking as the most severe. Risks were gathered from surveys with approximately 1,000 experts and leaders, Ashira Morris reports for World War Zero. Though climate change has already arrived “in the form of droughts, fires, floods, resource scarcity and species loss, among other impacts,” current climate commitments are not sufficient to meet the challenge, according to the report.
The big picture: “The World Economic Forum finds public and private-sector leaders in broad agreement … decisive climate action cannot wait,” Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan told World War Zero. “To date, the industrialized world has consistently failed to make good on their climate promises. As we look ahead to COP27,” — the international climate negotiations set for later this year in Egypt — “governments, companies and financial institutions must not only increase their own decarbonization ambitions — they must make fairness a priority [for] communities on the frontlines of climate change.”
Read more here.
Russia’s frozen lands contain vast amounts of carbon, which is being released as the permafrost melts.
The story: In northeastern Russia’s boreal forests, where permafrost can be a kilometer deep, annual temperatures have risen by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since the Industrial Revolution — twice the global average, Joshua Yaffa writes for The New Yorker. Climate change, exacerbated by deforestation and wildfires, is melting the permafrost. As it thaws, once-frozen organic matter — everything from woolly mammoth remains to tree stumps — is releasing “a constant belch of carbon dioxide and methane,” writes Yaffa. This fuels a dangerous feedback loop: Greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere lead to higher temperatures, which in turn contribute to further melting these frozen soils.
The big picture: “Irrecoverable carbon” refers to the vast stores of carbon in nature that are vulnerable to release from human activity and, if lost, could not be restored by 2050 — when the world must reach net-zero emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Due in part to its massive land area, Russia contains the most irrecoverable carbon of any country, with high concentrations in its boreal peatlands and forests, according a recent study by Conservation International, which mapped irrecoverable carbon around the world — providing policymakers with the clearest view yet on the areas that most need to be protected.
One mountainous region, the East Russian taiga in the southeast corner of the county, contains 2 percent of Earth’s irrecoverable carbon — and the last Siberian tiger range — making it a priority for protection, experts say.
Read more here.
- FURTHER READING: These ecosystems could determine our climate future: study
Companies that supply the world’s commodities are also driving deforestation, according to a new report.
The story: Protecting forests is critical to limiting climate change, yet a third of the 350 companies most involved in commodities such as soy, beef and palm oil lack policies to ensure their products do not contribute to deforestation, reports Simon Jessop for Reuters. According to Global Canopy’s annual “Forest 500” report, 93 of the world's 150 leading financial institutions — providing US$ 5.5 trillion in finance — do not have a deforestation policy covering their lending to companies in key commodity supply chains.
The big picture: Each year, large swaths of tropical forests are destroyed to make room for palm oil, cattle, soy and other commodity-driven agriculture. But this destruction of nature comes at a climate cost; tropical deforestation accounts for 8 percent of annual emissions, equivalent to those released by the entire European Union.
In November, at the UN global climate summit known as COP26, more than 100 countries — accounting for about 86 percent of the world’s forests — committed to stop deforestation on their lands by the end of this decade. In addition, more than 30 financial institutions pledged to eliminate deforestation driven by agriculture from their portfolios and increase investments in nature-based solutions by 2025.
“The new political space created at COP26 can pave the way for stronger and more broadly applicable legal frameworks … but these proposals could be strengthened, and must be enforced, with clear accountability and penalties for breaches,” according to the “Forest 500” report.
Read more here.
- FURTHER READING: UN climate talks: Protecting forests take priority
Cover image: Alder Fire in Yellowstone National Park (© Mike Lewelling, National Park Service)