Racial inequality and flooding, tropical forest loss, extinction acceleration: 3 stories you may have missed

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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.

1. Flooding disproportionately harms Black neighborhoods 

As climate change accelerates, increased flooding could destroy “high-risk” areas in coastal cities, many of which have high Black populations.

The Story: According to a recent analysis by E&E News, Black neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by flooding, largely due to poor infrastructure and limited access to flood protection, reported Thomas Frank for Scientific American. In the wake of both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Harvey, zip codes with predominantly Black residents faced the most extensive damage to property, especially in low-lying and low-income urban areas. Beset by issues with urban development, including dilapidated sewer systems, many of these same neighborhoods are not equipped with the proper infrastructure to protect people and property from floods. Experts are concerned that this could widen racial disparities across coastal cities as floods become more frequent due to climate change.

The Big Picture: “Climate change is indivisible from social justice and uneven power dynamics not only in the United States but also globally,” said Shyla Raghav, the vice president, climate change at Conservation International. “Financing and equal access to resources for vulnerable populations must be at the core of our efforts to address climate change.” In anticipation of more intense storms caused by climate change, the Federal Emergency Management Agency — the government agency that provides more than 96 percent of all flood coverage in the U.S. — is expanding the scope of "high-risk" areas in coastal cities, many of which have high Black populations. In these vulnerable areas, residents are increasingly unable to afford higher insurance rates and could be forced into foreclosure.

Read more here

Tropical forest destruction is the third highest it has been since 2002, according to new analysis

The Story: A recent report found that more than 3.76 million hectares (9.3 million acres) of tropic forests were destroyed in 2019, a 3 percent increase compared to 2018, reported Henry Fountain for The New York Times. Driven by mining, logging and agricultural expansion, this Switzerland-sized swath of destroyed forest released around 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — equivalent to the emissions released by more than 432 million cars over an entire year. According to the analysis, Brazil was responsible for more than a third of total tropical forest loss last year, largely due to policies implemented by the country’s administration that have allowed development to expand deeper into the Amazon, experts say

The Big Picture: Research shows that countries around the world must reduce forest loss in 2020 to slow climate change within the next decade, but experts fear that the COVID-19 pandemic could derail efforts to enforce anti-deforestation policies and laws. Recent reports from Conservation International field offices revealed that deforestation in the tropics has already increased since COVID-19 restrictions went into effect around the world, with a surge in illegal mining and agricultural expansion in Brazil and Colombia. To prevent additional forest loss while helping communities around the forest rebound from the economic impacts of the pandemic, countries must dedicate a portion of stimulus packages to natural climate solutions — the protection, restoration and improved management of land, oceans and forests. 

Read more here.

Recent research revealed that more species may go extinct within the next 20 years than those lost over the entirety of the last century. 

The Story: A new report revealed that more than 500 species of land animals have populations below 1,000 and are likely to be lost within the next two decades, reported Damian Carrington for The Guardian. According to the analysis, this number is the equivalent to the species lost over the entirety of the past century, showing that species extinctions are accelerating. These at-risk species, including the Sumatran rhino and the Española giant tortoise, are vulnerable to climate change, habitat loss from development activities and the global wildlife trade. 

The Big Picture: “The biodiversity crisis is real and urgent. But — and this is the crucial point — it is not too late,” said Andrew Purvis, a professor at the Natural History Museum in London. “To transition to a sustainable world, we need to tread more lightly on the planet.” A groundbreaking study by Conservation International scientists revealed that by conserving just 30 percent of tropical lands, humanity can cut the extinction risk of nearly 1 million vulnerable species in half. To do this, experts stress that countries must implement and enforce environmental protections for national parks, protected areas and community conservancies, while limiting development that encroaches on tropical forests.

Read more here.

News Spotlight

Due to a lack of access to healthcare and information, indigenous and traditional peoples in Brazil are dying from the coronavirus at double the rate as the rest of the country’s population, a new report revealed.

As deforestation reaches an all-time high in the world’s largest rainforest, experts warn that the destruction could fuel more intense and frequent forest fires than the blazes that ravaged the Amazon in 2019. 


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: Flooding during Hurricane Harvey (© Shutterstock)

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