Air quality, aviation fuel and Australia’s koalas: Everything you need to know about the environment this week

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Joe Myers Writer, Formative Content


  • This weekly round-up brings you some of the key environment stories from the past seven days, to help keep you up to date.
  • Top stories: WHO releases new air quality guidelines: China’s new pledge on coal power; a new commitment on sustainable jet fuel.

1. Environment stories from around the world

The World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit took place this week. You can check out the highlights here.

South Africa has adopted a more ambitious emissions reduction target ahead of COP26.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson used an address at the United Nations General Assembly to urge the world to “grow up” and tackle climate change.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a rule that will slash the use of hydrofluorocarbons, commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners.

Despite the impact of COVID-19 on air quality, most European Union countries broke at least one air pollution limit last year, according to provisional data.

Australia has lost about 30% of its koalas over the past three years, with drought, bushfires and deforestation all hitting numbers.

Sixty companies have pledged to accelerate the supply and use of sustainable aviation fuel to reach 10% of global jet aviation fuel supply by 2030.

A new set of case studies and best practice examples to help cities reduce emissions has been launched by the World Economic Forum and Accenture.

At an event on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, philanthropists and investors committed $5 billion to nature restoration and conservation.

The $8.2 billion MacArthur Foundation said on Wednesday it would divest from fossil fuel holdings with changes to its equity indexes, becoming the largest foundation to move money away from the oil and gas sector.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

2. WHO releases new air quality guidelines

The World Health Organization (WHO) tightened its air quality guidelines this week, marking the first change in them since 2005. The new recommendations could save “millions of lives”, the organization said.

The WHO hopes that the changes will encourage member countries towards actions that slash fossil fuel emissions.

Scientists applauded the new guidelines but worried that some countries would have trouble implementing them, given that much of the world was failing to meet the older, less stringent standards.

WHO_Air Pollution Slides_200921_CCAir Quality guidelines
The WHO says the new guidelines will save millions of lives. Image: WHO

3. China pledges: no more coal-fired power projects abroad

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced on Tuesday that the country would not build any new coal-fired power projects abroad. He used an address at the UN General Assembly to add to pledges to tackle climate change.

“China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad,” Xi said in his pre-recorded video address at the annual UN gathering, in which he stressed China’s peaceful intentions in international relations.

Xi provided no details, but depending on how the policy is implemented, the move could significantly limit the financing of coal plants in the developing world.

The announcement follows similar pledges by South Korea and Japan earlier this year.

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