Winds, winter drought and wildfires: Everything 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: Kate Whiting, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • This weekly round-up brings you some of the key environment stories from the past seven days.
  • Top stories: Madagascar hit by Cyclone Emnati; Portugal may limit irrigation amid winter drought; animals flee Argentina’s wildfires as a report warns such blazes are here to stay.

1. Environment and climate change stories to read this week

Winds of up to 135 kilometres per hour (84 miles per hour) battered Madagascar early on Wednesday as Cyclone Emnati made landfall, becoming the fourth major storm to hit the Indian Ocean island in a month. Emnati struck on the southeastern side of the island, where another cyclone, Batsirai, killed scores of people just under three weeks ago. More than 30,000 people were evacuated from of Emnati’s path as a precaution, the government’s Office for Risk and Disaster Management said late on Tuesday.

Facing a worrying winter drought, Portugal may have to limit irrigation of green spaces and use of water for street cleaning in the most affected regions, the environment minister said on Wednesday. The southern European nation is facing its worst dry spell since 2005, with the size of the area suffering severe or extreme drought doubling in the first two weeks of February to cover 91% of the territory, threatening crops and water supplies.

Three in four people worldwide want single-use plastics to be banned as soon as possible, according to a poll released on Tuesday, as United Nations members prepare to begin talks on a global treaty to rein in soaring plastic pollution. The percentage of people calling for bans is up from 71% since 2019, while those who said they favour products with less plastic packaging rose to 82% from 75%, according to the Ipsos poll of more than 20,000 people across 28 countries.

The Lifecycle of Plastics
How long it takes a selection of single-use plastic to break down. Image: WWF

The Bahamas is on the “front lines” of the catastrophic effects of climate change and is trying to mitigate these, but it needs more help from rich nations, Prime Minister Philip Davis said in an interview on Wednesday. “Within 15 to 20 years, what we now believe to be unusual, for example, Category 5 hurricane events, may become the usual,” Davis said. “Such occurrences will have grave implications for the way we live.” The archipelago nation northeast of Cuba suffered $3.4 billion in damage – nearly 25% of its GDP – from the 2019 Category 5 Hurricane Dorian. Experts say further climate shifts may cause more droughts, brush fires and high-intensity hurricanes.

Airbus said on Wednesday that it would build a demonstrator to test propulsion technology for future hydrogen airplanes in co-operation with French-US engine maker CFM International. The planemaker plans to fit a specially adapted version of a current-generation engine near the back of an A380 superjumbo test plane. Airbus delivered its last A380 in December.

2. Capybaras, anteaters flee Argentina’s wildfires

Wildfires in northern Argentina are forcing local species of wildlife including capybaras, marsh deer and anteaters to attempt to flee ahead of the flames, with many animals killed or injured while trying to escape as the fires spread.

The blazes in Corrientes province, which borders Paraguay, have burned through nearly 900,000 hectares of forest and pasture land, some 12% of the region, including destroying habitats in the biodiverse Iberá Park wetlands.

“There are sectors of the Iberá where animals have been trapped,” said Sofía Heinonen, Executive Director of Rewilding Argentina, a foundation that works to protect at-risk species.

“They usually have water as a refuge area, they always have the mountains, but in this case the extraordinary recent drought has caused many of the ravines, many of the lagoons and a large part of the mountains to be dry,” Heinonen said.

Images show alligators, capybaras and marsh deer fleeing from the fire, with some burned. Heinonen said the foundation, which has reintroduced animals to the wild in Iberá, has found jaguars and bird species alive and brought them back to its centres.

Amid prolonged periods of drought, firefighters spent two months battling the blazes, which have caused millions of dollars of damage to ranch lands and farming business, as well as putting plant and animal life at risk.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about nature?

Biodiversity loss and climate change are occurring at unprecedented rates, threatening humanity’s very survival. Nature is in crisis, but there is hope. Investing in nature can not only increase our resilience to socioeconomic and environmental shocks, but it can help societies thrive.

There is strong recognition within the Forum that the future must be net-zero and nature-positive. The Nature Action Agenda initiative, within the Platform for Accelerating Nature-based Solutions, is an inclusive, multistakeholder movement catalysing economic action to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.

Dynamic and flourishing natural ecosystems are the foundation for human wellbeing and prosperity. The Future of Nature and Business report found that nature-positive transitions in key sectors are good for the economy and could generate up to $10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030.

To support these transitions, the Platform for Accelerating Nature-based Solutions has convened a community of Champions for Nature promoting the sustainable management of the planet for the good of the economy and society. The Nature Action Agenda also recently launched the 100 Million Farmers initiative, which will drive the transition of the food and agriculture system towards a regenerative model, as well as the BiodiverCities by 2030 initiative to create an urban development model that is in harmony with nature.

Get in touch if you would like to collaborate on these efforts or join one of our communities.

3. Extreme wildfires are here to stay – and multiply

Indonesia’s peatlands, California’s forests and now vast swathes of Argentine wetland have all been ravaged by extreme wildfires, heralding a fiery future and the dire need to prevent it.

With climate change triggering droughts and farmers clearing forests, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase by 30% within the next 28 years. And they are now scorching environments that were not prone to burning in the past, such as the Arctic’s tundra and the Amazon rainforest.

“We’ve seen a great increase in recent fires in northern Syria, northern Siberia, the eastern side of Australia, and India,” said Australian government bushfire scientist Andrew Sullivan, an editor on a report on wildfires released on Wednesday by the UN Environment Programme and GRID-Arendal environmental communications group.

At the same time, the slow disappearance of cool, damp nights that once helped to temper fires also means they are getting harder to extinguish, according to a second study published last week in the journal Nature.

With night-time temperatures rising faster than day-time ones over the past four decades, researchers found a 36% increase in the number of after-dark hours that were warm and dry enough sustain fire.

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