• This weekly round-up brings you some of the key environment stories from the past seven days.
  • Top stories: The Great Barrier Reef threatened by severe marine heatwaves; IEA's 10-point plan to cut oil use; report finds world falling short of climate goals.

1. News in brief: Top environment and climate change stories to read this week

Waters off Australia face more frequent and severe marine heatwaves that threaten the Great Barrier Reef, a report said on Monday, as a United Nations team began a visit to evaluate whether the World Heritage site should be listed as "in danger". The reef is at risk of another mass bleaching, following three in the past six years, as sea surface temperatures off the northeast coast of Australia have soared to as much as 2-4°C above average, Australian environmental group Climate Council said in the report.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) on Friday urged consumers to travel less, share transport and drive more slowly, as part of a 10-point plan to cut oil use as Russia's invasion of Ukraine deepens concerns about supply. The recommendations – which include lower speed limits, working from home, car-free days in cities, cheaper public transport and more carpooling – could cut oil demand by 2.7 million barrels a day within four months, the IEA said.

The IEA's 10-point plan to cut oil use.
The IEA's 10-point plan to cut oil use.
Image: IEA

Britain said on Thursday it had agreed its biggest-ever civil infrastructure export finance deal to underwrite a high-speed rail line between the Turkish capital Ankara and the port of Izmir in the west of the country. Britain hosted the COP26 climate conference last year and its trade ministry said the deal would help Turkey decarbonize its transport sector and meet commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

France will end government subsidies for the installation of new residential gas heaters and boost support for renewable energy heating in a bid to further reduce reliance on Russian fossil fuel exports, the environment minister said on Wednesday.

Global methane emissions from the extraction of coal could rise by as much as 21.6% if all new mining projects now under development go into operation, according to a research report by US environmental group Global Energy Monitor.

Colombia's President Ivan Duque on Tuesday inaugurated the world's largest genetic library for beans, cassava and tropical forages for feeding livestock, which will provide long-term crop conservation and could help shock-proof global food systems.

Denmark on Tuesday pledged to build up to six gigawatts of electrolysis capacity to convert renewable power into green hydrogen as it looks to wean itself off fossil fuels and boost its energy security.

A study has found that smoke from Australian wildfires in 2019 and early 2020 has destroyed high-altitude ozone in the southern hemisphere.

2. World falling short of climate goals: report

Climate action promised by countries would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 9% this decade – far short of the global goal of nearly halving emissions by 2030, new analysis shows.

Failing to meet the 2030 emissions target risks pushing the world toward irreversible climate impacts, even if a second goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 is met, scientists say.

For the analysis, Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy tallied countries' climate plans – known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs. The result "highlights the gap in the ambition of NDCs and the trajectory necessary to meet net-zero emissions by 2050", the report says.

The report says territories such as the United States and European Union, which are pledging net-zero emissions by 2050, are on track to reduce emissions from 2015 levels by only 27% by 2030. Countries like China and India, which are pledging to reach net zero after 2050, would actually see emissions rise by 10% through this decade.

The net reduction of 9% reflects only what nations aim to deliver, without considering whether those aims are supported by policy or law. In fact, the report finds that few countries are turning their pledges into clear action. Of the 65% of around 100 countries with net-zero or carbon neutrality targets before 2050, only 14 have signed net-zero targets into law.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

3. EU countries support plan for world-first carbon border tariff

European Union countries have backed the bloc's plan to impose a world-first carbon dioxide emissions tariff on imports of polluting goods, although the finer details will need to be worked out in upcoming negotiations.

The EU wants to introduce CO2 emissions costs from 2026 on imports of steel, cement, fertilizers, aluminium and electricity – a move aimed at protecting European industry from being undercut by cheaper goods made in countries with weaker environmental rules.

A three-year transition phase for the levy would begin in 2023, so EU countries and the European Parliament are racing to negotiate and approve the rules this year. Finance ministers from EU countries agreed on their negotiating position on 15 March.

"It's a major step forward in the fight against climate change," French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said after the ministers' meeting in Brussels, adding that a "sizeable majority" supported the position.

"We're making the effort to reduce carbon emissions in industry ... We don't want these efforts to be of no avail because we import products which contain more carbon," Le Maire said.

The levy is part of a package of EU climate change policies designed to cut the bloc's emissions by 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels.