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Urban warming, platypus peril, climate costs: 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. Climate change is turning cities into ovens 

Cities are trapping excess heat as global temperatures warm, a new study found. 

The story: A new study found that the world’s cities could warm by up to 4.4 degrees Celsius (7.92 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 if countries do not drastically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, reported Matt Simon for Wired. Buildings and roads absorb heat during the day and release it at night — a phenomenon known as the “heat-island effect.” For this reason, cities are more likely to heat faster than rural areas, which are more spread out and have plant life that can provide shade and cool air. To measure the climate impact cities could face over the next century, the study’s authors created a model that projects how temperatures and humidity will change in urban areas — and found that those changes could trigger a steep rise in heat-related illnesses. 

The big picture: Although they make up just 3 percent of the Earth’s surface, cities contain half the world’s population — and could grow by an additional 2.5 billion people by 2050. As climate change accelerates and urban populations increase, the number of people exposed to extreme heat is expected to skyrocket, studies find. To adapt to rising temperatures, experts say cities must create more shade-giving green spaces and prevent roads and buildings from absorbing excess heat. 

Read more here

One of the world’s only venomous, egg-laying mammals is at risk of extinction.

The story: Climate change and human activities such as development and poaching are decreasing platypus populations in Australia, reported Haley Cohen Gilliland for National Geographic. Platypuses are found exclusively in Australia where they make their homes near rivers and streams. Since the climate-fueled Australian bushfires in 2019 and 2020, research shows that platypuses have vanished from 14 percent of the areas they previously inhabited — and populations continue to dwindle in size as they are poached for their fur and their habitats are destroyed to build new urban areas.  

The big picture: According to recent research, roughly three-fourths of Australia’s platypus populations could die out over the next 50 years if global temperatures continue to rise at their current rate. To prevent this, scientists are urging the Australian government to allocate more resources to protecting platypuses by declaring them a vulnerable species, while also conserving their habitat. 

Read more here

From wildfires to hurricanes, natural disasters are costing billions in damage across the United States. 

The story: A recent report found that natural disasters across the United States cost US$ 95 billion in damage last year, reported Christopher Flavelle for The New York Times. Data compiled by insurance company Munich Re showed that last year’s record number of named tropical storms cost a total of US$ 43 billion in losses — almost half the total of all disasters. Convective storms — such as thunderstorms, tornados and hailstorms — and wildfires such as those in California also contributed to the high cost of damages. In all, last year’s natural disasters were almost twice as costly as those in 2019, according to the report. 

The big picture: “Climate change plays a role in this upward trend of losses,” Ernst Rauch, the chief climate scientist at Munich Re, told The New York Times. A growing body of research finds that warming temperatures and drier air caused by climate change are exacerbating environmental catastrophes, particularly wildfires and hurricanes. Not only must countries reduce emissions to prevent severe climate-driven losses, they must also prepare for the unavoidable impacts of the climate crisis by building more resilient infrastructure, experts say

Read more here.


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: A member of the Pataxó tribe in Brazil (© Flavio Forner/Conservation International)