Environmental setbacks, rock dust, lemur loss, temperature rise: 4 stories you may have missed

© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com

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.

1. COVID-19’s environmental benefits evaporate as world reopens 

Scientists say permanent changes to society are crucial to limiting global emissions as countries reopen after lockdowns.

The Story: Although global emissions are set to drop by 8 percent this year — the lowest in a decade — experts agree that this drop will be short-lived if governments do not encourage high-emitting industries such as transportation to make permanent changes that will help slow climate change, reported Sarah McFarlane for The Wall Street Journal. To measure the impact that COVID-19 lockdowns have had on global emissions, climate scientists compiled data from road traffic, cellphones, Apple Inc.’s map apps and electricity meters around the world. They found that global emissions were down by 17 percent in April — but have risen to just a 5 percent drop since countries have started to ease COVID-19 restrictions

The Big Picture: “We’re getting [these emissions reductions] by stopping all activities, not structural changes, so when people go back to work there’s no reason these emissions wouldn’t go shooting back up,” said Corinne Le Quéré, who led this research. For long-term emissions reductions, experts stress that governments must implement low-emissions technologies such as electric cars and the private sector must focus on reducing emissions within their supply chains. By doing this, governments and businesses could actually help revive the global economy faster, according to a recent study. In addition, the study showed that green policies — such as those that support renewable energy and energy efficiency — resulted in greater immediate economic benefits and higher long-term savings compared with traditional stimulus packages.

Read more here.

An innovative farming technique could drastically reduce emissions worldwide. 

The Story: A new study found that spreading crushed calcium and magnesium-rich silicate “rock dust” across farmland could remove around half of the greenhouse gas emissions currently released by Europe, reported Lyndsey Layton for The Washington Post. When this “rock dust” is dissolved by rain, it forms a solution that pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The solution will eventually run off into the ocean, where the carbon is stored in small minerals in the sea. Using models and computer simulations, the authors of the study also determined that this practice — known as enhanced rock weathering — could remove about 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air if used in China, the United States and India. 

The Big Picture: “Cutting fossil fuel emissions is crucial, but we must also extract atmospheric CO2 with safe, secure and scalable carbon dioxide removal strategies to bend the global CO2 curve and limit future climate change,” said climate scientist James Hansen, a co-author of the study. Along with pulling and storing a significant amount of carbon from the atmosphere, enhanced rock weathering could help restore degraded agricultural soils and improve crop yields. As the world’s highest emitters of carbon dioxide, the United States, China and India must implement climate-friendly technology and methods like enhanced rock weathering to cut emissions rapidly and effectively, while reducing fossil fuels. 

Read more here.

The iconic primates of Madagascar could soon face extinction.

The Story: Out of the 107 surviving lemur species on the planet, 33 of these species face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, reported Victoria Gill for The BBC. Found only in Madagascar, lemur populations are rapidly dwindling due to human activities such as deforestation and hunting, according to the recently updated Red List, which tracks the status of wildlife species around the world. In addition to the lemur, the North Atlantic right whale, the European hamster and the caterpillar fungus are now critically endangered due to increased pressure from humans. 

The Big Picture: "[I]f we continue to impact the natural world as we're doing — and if we lose species like lemurs — then our chances of looking to nature for those solutions [to human problems] is reduced dramatically," said Craig Hilton-Taylor from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. A recent study by Conservation International scientists found that by conserving just 30 percent of tropical lands, humans can cut the global extinction risk in half. According to experts, this can be achieved through a variety of conservation tools, such as protected areas, national parks, Indigenous-managed conservation areas and community conservancies. 

Read more here.

Research from a UN agency revealed that global temperatures are rising faster than scientists previously thought.

The Story: According to new data from the World Meteorological Organization, there is a 20 percent chance that average global temperature rise will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) within the next five years, reported Amy Woodyatt for CNN. By analyzing natural variations in the climate and the impact of human activities, scientists determined that western Europe will experience more storms over the next five years, while regions in South America, southern Africa and Australia will become drier, which could exacerbate forest fires. The study does not account for the sharp emissions drop in recent months due to COVID-19 because it will likely not contribute to a decrease in global temperatures within the next five years. 

The Big Picture: Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, world leaders committed to reduce carbon emissions to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). However, a growing body of research finds that if average global temperature rise exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius, it would cost trillions of dollars in economic losses, cause severe heatwaves in all inhabited parts of the planet, spur die-offs of large parts of the Amazon and displace millions of climate refugees. To prevent climate catastrophe, countries must commit to more ambitious targets to dramatically reduce their emissions, and invest in natural climate solutions such as reforestation and nature protection, which could help contribute at least 30 percent of the emissions reductions necessary to slow climate breakdown.

Read more here.

News Spotlight

2020 is our last, best chance to save the planet

As climate change accelerates, countries must use the pandemic as an opportunity to divest from fossil fuels and rebuild their economies to support nature and clean energy, reported Justin Worland for Time Magazine. 

Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar (© Art Wolfe)

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