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.
Climate change and human activities threaten to submerge coastal cities.
The story: A new study found that sea-level rise is disproportionately impacting many of the world’s coastal communities, which are gradually sinking, reported Madeleine Stone for National Geographic. As global warming melts Earth’s ice sheets, sea levels around the world are rising at an average 3.3 millimeters (0.5 inches) per year. Simultaneously, human activities, such as the extraction of groundwater and oil, are causing many low-lying cities to sink, including Bangkok and New Orleans. As a result, coastal communities are now experiencing sea-level rise at a rate three to four times higher than the global average.
The big picture: While slowing sea-level rise will take collective action at a global scale, experts say that coastal communities and cities can slow the sinking of their land at a local level. In Tokyo and Shanghai, for example, this will require residents to limit the water they are extracting from the ground, which causes underground wells to compact and the land to sink. In other cities such as New Orleans, officials must restore natural ecosystems that have been degraded due to levees and other environmentally damaging flood control measures, according to geology experts.
Read more here.
Indigenous peoples are critical to protecting the planet — and they must have greater representation and more opportunities for participation in decision-making processes at global environmental negotiations, experts say.
The story: Later this year, world leaders are set to convene at a series of global negotiations to chart an ambitious new course for conserving the world’s biodiversity, with many countries rallying around a goal to protect 30 percent of land and sea by 2030. Currently, however, Indigenous peoples are not recognized as official parties at this international negotiation — and cannot vote on its outcome. To illustrate the vital contributions Indigenous peoples make to nature — and why they must have a seat at the table when it comes to conservation — reporters Somini Sengupta, Catrin Einhorn and Manuela Andreoni from The New York Times recently highlighted a series of Indigenous and local communities fighting to protect their land and stave off biodiversity loss.
The big picture: Though they only account for 5 percent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples manage a variety of Earth’s ecosystems, including forests, grasslands and coastlines, and protect 80 percent of global biodiversity. Overall, lands that are owned, used or occupied by Indigenous peoples show less species decline and pollution, and better-managed natural resources, research shows. Without Indigenous involvement and a greater recognition of Indigenous rights, there is little to no chance that the global goal of protecting 30 percent of land and sea will succeed, experts say.
“If you’re going to save only the insects and the animals and not the Indigenous people, there’s a big contradiction,” José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, who leads the group the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, told The New York Times. “We’re one ecosystem.”
Read more here.
Temperature rise and high humidity in the tropics could imperil human health — but there is still time to prevent “intolerable” conditions.
The story: Researchers project that roughly half the world’s population will reside in the tropics by 2050. However, a new study found that due to climate change temperatures and humidity in those areas could soon surpass levels that are tolerable for humans, reported Daisy Dunne for The Independent. Extreme heat and humidity can be hazardous to human health because these conditions hinder the body’s ability to cool itself through sweating.
The big picture: “The tropics are the warmest and the most humid places on Earth, and therefore potentially vulnerable to humid heat,” Yi Zhang, the study’s lead author, told The Independent. According to the study, keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — the goal of the Paris Agreement — could help prevent intolerable conditions in the tropics. To limit temperature rise — and protect human health — experts agree that countries must rapidly reduce their emissions and invest in natural climate solutions such as reforestation and the restoration of mangroves.
Read more here.
Cover image: Kayapo man standing on mountain top, Brazil (© Cristina Mittermeier)