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 stories from the past week that you should know about.
Businesses and companies are stepping up as climate leaders by curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
The story: At New York Climate Week, some of the world’s biggest companies including Walmart and Morgan Stanley set more ambitious emissions reductions targets to combat climate change, reported Steven Mufson and Brady Dennis for The Washington Post. On Monday, the first day of the global virtual conference, Walmart pledged to achieve carbon neutrality across its global operations by 2040 through the use of renewable energy, and announced its plans to protect, manage or restore more than 20 million hectares (50 million acres) of land and 2.58 million square kilometers (1 million square miles) of ocean by 2030. Other companies such as General Electric and AT&T also pledged to drastically reduce their contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions.
The big picture: Despite the U.S. pullout of the Paris Climate Agreement that takes place in six weeks, many U.S. businesses have committed to continue — and even ramp up — their efforts to reduce global emissions. Climate commitments from the private sector are critical to slowing climate breakdown, but experts stress that the only way to limit average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is if governments also commit to drastically reducing their countries’ overall emissions.
- For more Climate Week coverage, visit here.
One rodent can have a profound impact on ecosystems affected by wildfires.
The story: A recent study found that beavers can help prevent or stop wildfires by building dams and carving out canals, which create well-irrigated — and fireproof — sections of ecosystems, reported Ben Goldfarb for National Geographic. Using satellite data to track major wildfires across the Western U.S. since 2000, a group of scientists discovered that sections of land that contained beaver dams had little to no fire damage, which created a refuge for local wildlife and domestic livestock threatened by the fires. According to the scientists, the plants in the area did not ignite because they were so well-watered from the dam system, remaining three times lusher than sections of land without beaver populations.
The big picture: “If we have a wetter landscape, we are going to resist fire and recover from it better,” beaver expert Alexa Whipple told National Geographic. “My hope is that wildfire can be the gateway for people to understand the whole suite of benefits that beavers offer.”
Along with protecting certain areas from wildfires, beavers can also help ecosystems recover from fire damage. Research has shown that beaver ponds and wetlands filter out water pollution, absorb carbon and support the recovery of native plant species in regions impacted by fire.
The world’s largest emitter just committed to carbon neutrality by 2060.
The story: Chinese President Xi Jinping recently pledged that the country will achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, which could limit global temperature rise by 0.2-0.3 degrees Celsius (0.36-0.54 degrees Celsius), reported Kate Abnett for Reuters. Currently, China is the world’s single-largest emitter — contributing 28 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. If achieved, China’s goal of carbon neutrality would result in the biggest decrease in projected temperature rise out of any single climate commitment made to date, experts say.
The big picture: “Humankind can no longer afford to ignore the repeated warnings of nature,” President Xi said in a broadcast addressing the General Assembly by video. While China’s efforts toward carbon neutrality are crucial to stopping climate change, experts agree that other high-emitting countries around the world must also commit to drastically reducing emissions to limit global warming at a level necessary to prevent environmental collapse. According to analysis from the research organization Climate Action Tracker, pledges from China, the European Union and the United States to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 could make it possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — which scientists say could help prevent climate catastrophe.
Two months after the unexplained deaths of more than 350 elephants in northern Botswana, government officials announced that the elephants died after ingesting toxins produced by naturally occurring cyanobacteria in their waterholes. Local sources say that these cyanobacteria were likely able to thrive due to the presence of algal blooms — harmful accumulations of algae that are becoming more frequent and severe as climate change accelerates.