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The Maastricht Diplomat

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The Harrowing and the Hopeful of Climate News 

Updated: 7 days ago

As we near the end of April, long-awaited sunny days have finally arrived! As I bask in its warmth at a cafe terrace in Amsterdam, I reflect on how much the weather has fluctuated during this past week. Past Monday, for instance, was a day complete with periods of intense rain and wind, surprising hail, and even short-lived moments of cloudless skies and bountiful sun. This Sunday Summary brings you interesting tidbits of climate news that you may have missed during the past week, amidst an undoubtedly-tumultuous series of intense headlines. 

In my last Sunday Summary in June 2023, I discussed the extremely-likely occurrence of an El Niño in the fall period of 2023. Not only did this climate event occur, the beginning of this past week brought the news that it has officially ended. Every two to seven years, El Niño is an event that typically happens in which we experience higher temperatures and sea levels than usual. This change promotes a series of unfavourable weather conditions, such as drier seasons as well as potential heatwaves and flooding. However, with current ocean temperatures, it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict the true impact of these typical climate events using historical data. Karl Braganza, the Head of Climate Services at The Bureau of Meteorology, stated that “we haven’t observed ocean temperatures like this before so we just need to be a bit circumspect in having history as a guide.” While the highest increase in sea temperatures recorded during an El Niño was 2.5 degrees Celsius in 1997, temperatures of the sea’s surface last fall increased by as strong as 2.1 degrees Celsius. The impacts of this past El Niño induced more dry weather patterns observed around the world, with more dire impacts for Australia; the country experienced their driest season ever recorded between August to October of last fall. The counterpart to El Niño, known as La Niña, is anticipated to begin this June and induce the reverse effect. 

Despite these influences upon climate events, there is a notable retraction of climate efforts from the UK. This week, the head of the Climate Change Committee (CCC) Chirs Stark has discussed his disapproval of green policy delays, demonstrated by the UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. In September 2023, Sunak made an announcement regarding a series of exemptions and delays to green policies. Examples included pushing back the implementation date of bans on new sales of petrol cars, diesel cars, and gas boilers. He claimed that slowing this policy adoption avoids “risks [in] losing the consent of the British people". However, this decision did not please many figures, including First Minister of Scotland Humza Yousaf; he believes that this change "very firmly takes the UK out of the global consensus". Stark notes the lack of “ambition” that Sunak’s decision communicates, and the need to enforce more green solutions to truly achieve the net zero target set for 2050. Net zero entails a country to not contribute towards additional levels of greenhouse gases present in our Earth’s atmosphere. Stark states that to truly achieve the net zero goal, there is a current gap in addressing more sustainable solutions for areas such as residential heating and systems of transportation. 

Nevertheless, there is climate news worth celebrating! During the past decade, it is likely that we all have encountered news about our coral reefs gradually decaying; for the past decade leading up to 2018, around fourteen percent of coral reefs around the globe had passed away. One notable coral reef is the Great Barrier Reef, due to warmer ocean temperatures, has increasingly experienced a series of white-bleached and even dead coral. Heat is the greatest threat to coral reef health, with 54 percent of the reefs worldwide having undergone such “heat stress”. Thankfully, a recent experiment demonstrates great potential for coral reef restoration, through a fusion of fish sound broadcasts and “coral IVF”. This process first involves the breeding of coral spawn that specifically have a higher tolerance for heat. The larvae, once ready, are then led to attach to unhealthy reefs by following a transmitted recording. This recording specifically omits the sounds of fish living in a thriving reef, which the larvae are capable of identifying through their hair movements. When these heat-resistant larvae attach to deteriorating coral, they begin to grow and repopulate the reef. While there is much work to be done to restore our coral reefs, marine biology professor at the University of Bristol Steve Simpson has described surviving reefs as a “beacon of hope”.


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