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.
A new report warns of climate doom — but not all hope is lost.
The story: For the first time, a new UN report states unequivocally that “human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land" — and that global temperature rise will almost certainly reach 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over the next 20 years. Co-authored by more than 200 experts, the report found that this level of warming will fuel more frequent extreme weather events, such as the heat waves that hit the Pacific Northwest in June and the floods that devastated Germany in July, writes Matt McGrath for the BBC.
The big picture: The findings from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are “a code red for humanity,” said Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations in a recent statement. “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet.”
Fortunately, there is still time to prevent global warming from surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). According to the report’s authors, countries must cut global emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero by the middle of this century, which can be done by investing in clean technology and natural climate solutions.
On the current climate trajectory, the world’s largest penguin species is unlikely to survive past the end of the century.
The story: If global temperatures continue to rise at their current rates, 98 percent of emperor penguin colonies are expected to be wiped out by 2100, according to a new study. At least two-thirds of colonies could become “quasi-extinct” — meaning they are doomed to die out, even if a few individuals remain — by 2050, researchers estimate.
Like polar bears, emperor penguins are extremely vulnerable to changes in sea ice — which is where they breed, seek shelter from predators and molt. Climate change is already taking a toll on the species: In 2016, about 10,000 chicks from a colony in the Antarctic’s Weddell Sea drowned when seasonal sea ice broke up before they had a chance to develop waterproof adult feathers, reported Rachel Pannett for the Washington Post.
The big picture: This study’s findings have led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose declaring the emperor penguin as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act — an unusual move given that the agency tends to avoid listing endangered species that are not native to the United States.
“Although they are found in Antarctica, far from human civilization, [emperor penguins] live in a delicate balance with their environment, which today is rapidly changing — they have become modern-day canaries” for the effects of climate change, Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist and lead author of the study, told the Washington Post.
As climate change accelerates, communities in flood-prone areas expand.
The story: Over the past two decades the number of people at risk from flooding has increased tenfold as more people have moved into flood-prone areas, according to a new study.
By analyzing global flood exposure and satellite observations, scientists created the largest flood database ever, reported CNN’s Rachel Ramirez. They identified the locations of major floods since 2000 and found that nearly 90 percent of those events happened in South and Southeast Asia, particularly in China and India — where migration has grown.
The big picture: Researchers found that 32 countries are already experiencing increased flooding — and unless climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions are cut, 25 new countries will be added to that list by 2030.
Low-income communities are often most at risk, since they tend to have fewer alternatives to living in flood-prone areas, which are usually less expensive. Experts are concerned that this could widen racial and economic disparities as floods become more frequent.
“Climate change is indivisible from social justice and uneven power dynamics not only in the United States but also globally,” Shyla Raghav, Conservation International's vice president of climate strategy, told Conservation News. “Financing and equal access to resources for vulnerable populations must be at the core of our efforts to address climate change.”
Cover image: A school of tuna in the Maldives (© Sebastian Pena Lambarri/Unsplash)