• This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
home_icon-01_outline
star
  • Earth.Org Newsletters

    Get focused newsletters especially designed to be concise and easy to digest

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Earth.Org PAST · PRESENT · FUTURE
SHOP Support

As November temperatures in Australia reached their highest since 1985, experts fear a series of mass coral bleaching events for the second summer in a row. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s longest and largest coral reef ecosystem.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef should be classified as a world heritage “in danger”, a UN panel recommended on Tuesday.  

The world’s largest and longest coral reef ecosystem, already threatened by climate change and warming oceans, risks another mass bleaching event for the second consecutive summer as Australia’s temperatures reached record highs this November. 

“According to NOAA’s [US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] predictions there’s a good chance we will see another back-to-back bleaching event,” said Professor Terry Hughes, a leading expert on coral bleaching at James Cook University in Queensland. “That was not supposed to be happening until the middle of this century.”

Coral bleaching is a phenomenon in which coral reefs expel the microscopic marine algae called zooxanthellae that live in their tissues when under stress – be it heat, ocean acidification, or human activity – and as a result, causes corals’ tissues to become transparent and lose its signature vibrant colours, exposing its white exoskeleton underneath.

The most notable mass bleaching events occurred in 2016 and 2017, leading to the disappearance of a stunning 50% of Australia’s famous reef. While major efforts have since been put in place to reduce coral bleaching, the scale of mortality has proven increasingly difficult for the reef system to regrow and replenish, a report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) suggested.

Earlier this year, Australian government scientists confirmed the reef was undergoing its sixth mass bleaching event on record, with more than 90% of the corals surveyed along the Great Barrier Reef this year found to be bleached.

Under the new leadership of the recently elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Australia’s labour government pledges to spend AU$1.2 billion (US$800 million) to protect the Great Barrier Reef in coming years. The party also increased the country’s climate targets ahead of COP27, committing to a 43% emission reduction target by the end of the century.

You might also like: Frequency of Australia Bushfires and Extreme Weather Events Set To Increase As Climate Crisis Worsens, Report Warns

Among the most pressing environmental issues that need to be addressed are food production and food waste. Thankfully, we now have a multitude of sustainable technologies that can help us grow food without destroying our planet. One of them is insect farming. Founded in 2019, the agri-tech start-up FlyFarm has positioned itself as a leader in this rapidly growing market, growing black soldier fly larvae on organic waste to reduce emissions and produce sustainable protein feed.

The Protein Crisis

Driven by the relentless human population growth – the global demand for proteins is set to increase by about 60% by 2050. Besides this exponential increase, what is truly concerning is the fact that current protein production utilises extremely unsustainable methods. Traditional farming systems put tremendous pressure on our environment, contributing to the depletion of already stressed wild fish stocks and water sources. 

To meet the need for protein to sustain a global population of 10 billion people by 2050 sustainably, new farming methods are required. But what’s the best solution? An increasing number of experts would answer this question with two words: insect farming. 

Insect Farming: All You Need to Know

Insects are incredibly easy to raise due to their fast reproduction rates and they are also incredibly high in protein. Believe it or not, insects such as mealworms, crickets, and black soldier fly larvae have been shown to provide significantly more protein than meat.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of producing edible insects for human and animal consumption is that they can be raised on food waste. Modern insect farms can produce low-cost protein by upcycling organic waste. It doesn’t stop here. When coupled with renewable energy, the production process also has a significantly lower carbon footprint. Research suggests processing waste through insect bioconversion generates up to 90% less greenhouse gases compared to landfill or composting. Additionally, insect farming saves about 100 times the CO2 emissions and requires between 50% and 90% less land in comparison to conventional livestock, freeing up space for the cultivation of foods for human consumption. 

Given the multitude of benefits, it comes as no surprise that the insect protein market is growing extremely rapidly and is expected to be worth US$10 billion by 2030. According to data from Dealroom.co over 400 companies worldwide have so far taken up the challenge of producing protein feed from insects and the number is set to grow very rapidly in the coming years. One of them is FlyFarm. Striving to develop insect farms as a means of producing animal feed, the agri-tech company headquartered in Singapore hopes to address some of the food chain’s most pressing issues. We sat down with Constant Tedder, FlyFarm’s Founder and CEO, to discuss how black soldier fly larvae are grown for pet as well as poultry and fish feed.

You might also like: Entomophagy: An Easy-To-Digest Solution to Save the Planet

How FlyFarm Is Shaping the Insect Farming Sector

Founded in 2019 by serial entrepreneur and passionate sustianability advocate Constant Tedder and Andres Crabbe, FlyFarm Worldwide Ltd., the agritech start-up builds black soldier fly larvae biorefineries which bioconvert organic waste to reduce emissions and produce sustainable protein for pet and animal feed. 

The company has successfully raised in excess of US$5 million in two seed rounds to develop their highly automated first cloud-connected pilot farm in Brisbane, Australia, where the livestock industry contributes about AU$31 billion (US$22 billion) to the national economy annually. 

“Our vision is for a world where pets, farmed fish and poultry are fed with sustainable protein from insects reared on organic waste,” explains Tedder. 

Since its inception, FlyFarm has been working with several waste partners to secure different types of organic food waste to feed their black soldier fly larvae, including on-farm waste, waste from the agribusiness and food preparation, unsold food from retailers as well as food and beverage manufacturing waste. 

FlyFarm’s insect choice is not coincidental. Black soldier fly larvae have enormous potential. These wide ranging insects are super converters of organic waste with an incredibly high growth rate. Not only can they eat 50 times their body weight in basically any type of food waste but female flies can also deposit between 200 and 600 eggs a day which hatch after about four days, making them an extremely prolific species. Moreover, black soldier fly larvae are very rich in protein and amino acids, which makes them an excellent food source for pets, poultry, and fish.

Headquartered in Singapore, Tedder and Crabbe work with a team of passionate and skilled engineers and biologists located in Brisbane – where they operate a demonstration plant that proves their subsidiary FlyFarm Systems insect farming robotics and automation technology – and are now looking to expand the business in Australia. The company has recently embarked on an innovative collaborative joint research partnership with James Cook University (JCU) with the intent to better understand and advance Black Soldier Fly (BSF) larvae production at industrial scales.

insect farming

FlyFarm Systems builds robotics and software to automate the farming process.

By striving to tackle the joint problems of emissions from waste and the sustainability of protein supply chains – FlyFarm is addressing some of the most pressing environmental issues while generating high-value products, abating GHG emissions from waste and promoting a circular economy:

“The problems we are addressing are organic waste and the emissions and costs that it generates – as well as the unsustainable supply of protein for growing pet food and aqua feed markets.” – explains Tedder.

“Our ambition is to build the world’s largest network of highly automated insect farms – operating on our scalable technology platform producing traceable sustainable protein for large commercial buyers seeking to improve their Scope 1 and 2 emissions. In 10 years we can have a network of FlyFarms in every continent.

Final Thoughts

Insect production on a large scale requires a fraction of the land, water, or energy, as other ways of producing farmed protein. BSFL and many other farmed insect species can be fed using organic food waste or bi-products from agricultural, food processing, or manufacturing processes. In addition to lowering emissions and generating value from waste – the product insect protein meal itself displaces unsustainable sources of protein still widely used such as fishmeal made from pelagic or ocean caught fish. 

Earth.Org believes that there is a gargantuan opportunity to recycle organic waste and believes companies like FlyFarm are showing that insect bioconversion eliminates emissions at the same time produces high-value sustainable protein. 

Challenges remain for post-consumer waste around waste segregation and incentives for consumers to ensure their waste is free of contaminants. Governments should focus on ensuring that organic waste can be recycled.

You might also like: 11 Effective Solutions for Food Waste

Australia bushfires and other climate change-induced weather events will be more frequent and intense in the coming year, a new report warned on Wednesday. 2022 was Sydney’s wettest year on record in nearly two centuries.

A study published on Wednesday warned that Australia would experience a drastic rise in bushfires, floods, and heatwaves in the years ahead as climate change intensifies. Global greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are at the highest levels in at least two million years.

The outcomes of the seventh biennial climate report by the Bureau of Meteorology and the national science agency CSIRO, which analyses year-to-year viability and long-term changes in Australia’s climate, are alarming. 

You might also like: 3 Things to Know About Australia Bushfires

Since records began in 1910, temperatures in Australia have increased by an average of 1.47C, leading to more frequent heat events and longer and more intense bushfire seasons. Sea surface temperatures have also increased by an average of 1.05C, resulting in mass coral bleaching events, marine heatwaves, and tropical cyclones.

australia bushfires

Line chart of the temperature anomaly relative to the 1961 to 1990 average, in degrees Celsius, from 1910 to 2021, for temperatures over Australia and for sea surface temperatures in the Australian region. Source: CSIRO

Coral reefs play a significant role in ocean habitats and the ecosystem for marine life. But they have suffered devastating and possibly irreversible effects within the last few decades due to a number of man-made activities and influences. Australia is home to the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest and longest reef system, and also one of the most threatened. The most notable mass bleaching events occurred in 2016 and 2017, and a stunning 50% of Australia’s famous reef died as a result. While major efforts have since been put in place to reduce coral bleaching, the scale of mortality has proven difficult for the reef system to regrow and replenish.

Sea levels are also rising faster than ever, the report said, increasing the risk of inundation and damage to coastal infrastructure. The northern and southeastern parts of the continent are the most affected by sea level rise.

Australia has also been experiencing increasingly intense weather events that experts attribute to climate change – especially within the last decade – including devastating bushfires and droughts. Simultaneously, the weather phenomenon known as La Niña, which refers to trade winds that blow from the Pacific Ocean that bring more rainfall and cloudiness to Australia, has caused a surge in storms and floods since early 2021. New South Wales and Queensland have experienced several record ‘rain-bombs’. 2022 was Sydney’s wettest year in 164 years

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons

You might also like: Australia’s Wildlife And Habitats Are Disappearing Rapidly: Report

Flooding in Australia has been a cause of concern in recent years. On Tuesday, heavy rain in South East Wales sparked rapidly rising water levels, forcing thousands to evacuate and leaving hundreds of homes without power.

Heavy rain triggered flash flooding in South East Wales on Wednesday, damaging homes and businesses and forcing thousands of people to evacuate high-risk areas. 

In less than 24 hours, some areas received more than a month’s worth of rain, resulting in roads, bridges, and farms across the state being submerged and forcing many to seek shelter on roofs and trees.

Cowra, a city about 166 miles (106 kilometres) west of Sydney, got 121 millimetres of rain in the 24 hours to Monday morning – the highest rainfall in 118 years, according to official data.

Between Monday and Tuesday, the NSW State Emergency Service performed more than 200 flood rescues and received nearly 1,000 requests for help.

“The velocity was extremely fast – too fast in many cases to put boats in the water – hence the evacuations we performed yesterday with the 12 assets we had on hand via helicopter,” State Emergency Service Cief Superintendent Dallas Burnes told Nine’s Today programme.

Flooding in Australia isn’t new. In recent years, the country has been affected by unprecedented rainfall. Scientists associate these extreme events with a weather phenomenon known as La Niña, trade winds that blow across the Pacific Ocean affecting weather systems differently depending where you are in the world. 

While La Niña typically brings warmer and drier temperatures to the western and southern US, creating optimal drought conditions, in Australia, the phenomenon is associated with more rainfall and cloudiness. Just a month ago, a third consecutive La Niña weather event sparked severe flooding in Australia. Earlier this year, entire cities and towns across Queensland and New South Wales were submerged following a record-breaking ‘rain bomb’ that experts described as a once-in-a-century event.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons

You might also like: What’s Behind the Record-Breaking Extreme Weather Events of Summer 2022?

Australia is home to some of the world’s most unique and rare animal species. However, since European settlements in 1788, the country has experienced widespread habitat destruction and degradation, and the introduction of non-native predators such as cats and foxes, causing more than 100 endemic species to go extinct over the past 200 years. According to a recent study, Australia’s wildlife has also experienced unprecedented losses, with 202 new animal and plant species making the list of threatened species between 2016 and 2021. Many more animals are currently threatened or at risk of extinction as urban development and bushfire events persist. Here are 10 endangered species in Australia that are in dire need of protection.

Most Endangered Species in Australia

1. Koala

Undoubtedly the most iconic animal species in Australia, koalas unfortunately have been hit hard in recent years due to a combination of factors including severe bushfires and droughts, and persistent habitat loss from land clearing. As koalas are arboreal, meaning that they spend most of their lives in trees, losing forest land critically impacts the survival of the species. Within the past three years, the koala population has plummeted down from eight million to 32,000 with many experts fearing that the marsupial will go extinct very soon. Every region across Australia saw a decline in population with zero evidence of any upward trends. In some areas, the loss has led to only five to 10 koalas remaining. 

You might also like: Australia Has Lost a Third of Its Koala Population in Just Three Year’s Time

2. Mountain Pygmy-possum

One of the starkest examples of a species facing extinction due to climate change, the Mountain Pygmy-possum is a tiny mammal no larger than a mice that are only found in the snowy mountain tops in Victoria and New South Wales. The marsupial goes through a prolonged hibernation over winter of up to seven months under two to four metres of snow. With rising temperatures, the length of time snow stays on mountain tops are lessened, shortening the possum’s hibernation period and impacting its food foraging activities. Along with added impacts from the 2019-2020 summer bushfires, losing critical habitats as a result, the species is highly vulnerable with only about 2,000 individuals left in the wild. 

3. Long-footed Potoroo

This small kangaroo-like marsupial can mostly be found in southeast Victoria and up across the border with New South Wales. Much like significant portions of wildlife in Australia, the long-footed Potoroo was severely impacted by the 2019-2020 bushfires, and lost much of its range and habitats. However, the animal has played a crucial role in the recovery of burnt areas, dispersing the spores of a fungi in its droppings that helps re-establish plant life in the affected areas. The Potoroo remains listed as Endangered in both the states of Victoria and New South Wales, as well by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Estimates place less than 2,500 individuals left in the wild and the species’ population continues to decline and fragmented from other factors like timbering and predators. 

greater glider, endangered species in australia Image by: Dash Huang/Flickr

4. Greater Glider

With soft toy-like bushy ears and tail, the Greater Glider is a nocturnal animal that travels the highest parts of the forest canopy across Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria at night while denning in hollowed trees by day. Recent bushfires have destroyed the majority of its critical habitats while logging activities in the country saw its population drop by 80% within the last 20 years. Though the species is currently listed as vulnerable, experts predict they will likely become endangered in the next five years as land clearing and other destructive practices for urban development continue. 

5. Numbat

Also known as the banded anteater, the Numbat exclusively feed on termites – up to 20,000 every day – with its long sticky tongue. Land clearing, habitat loss and predation by feral predators such as cats, foxes, dingoes and birds of prey have driven the species to lose 99% of its historical range by the 1970s, pushing the animal to be endangered as a result. There are two naturally occurring populations remaining in the southwestern portion of Western Australia. While other populations have been reintroduced in New South Wales and South Australia, there are still only less than 1,000 individuals left in total in the country. 

You might also like: 10 Australian Extinct Animals That Came Back from the Dead

6. Regent Honeyeater

As its name suggests, the Regent Honeyeater feeds primarily on nectar from a small number of eucalypt plant species and other plant sugars. These birds play a crucial role as pollinators for many flowering plants. They can mainly be found in eucalypt forests and woodlands but land clearing, fragmentation and degradation of its natural habitats as well as competition for nectar from larger, more aggressive honeyeaters have driven its population to drop by more than 80% within three generations. The honeyeater is now listed as critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 with only just 300 individuals remaining in the wild. The species has become so threatened that scientists have found that it has started to lose its bird’s song

orange-bellied parrot, endangered species in australia Image by: Wikimedia Commons

7. Orange-bellied Parrot

One of only three migratory parrot species in the world, the Orange-bellied Parrot migrates from Tasmania to coastal Victoria and South Australia to spend autumn and winter every year. While habitat loss and degradation are contributing factors, increased predators and noxious weeds as well as disease in their breeding region have all pushed the bird species to the brink of extinction – some estimates within three to five years – with only up to 50 mature individuals remaining. The lack of female parrots in the wild also makes it difficult to help with species recovery. 

8. Eastern Quoll 

The Eastern Quoll was once found throughout south-east Australia and has disappeared from the mainland Australian for more than half century due to disease, predation by foxes, feral cats and domestic dogs, poisoning and persecution. Today, they can only be found in Tasmania. This nocturnal catlike carnivorous marsupial not only hunts for invertebrates such as spiders, cockroaches and grasshoppers but also rabbits, mice and rats, acting as natural pest control and helping maintain the ecosystem. Other threats such as vehicle collision and trappings in some areas continue to hinder conservation efforts. 

You might also like: Australia’s Wildlife And Habitats Are Disappearing Rapidly: Report

9. Eastern Curlew

The Eastern Curlew is the largest shorebird in the world where it uses its impressive bill to dig through mud for crabs and molluscs. Wetland destruction and alteration to the chain of coastal wetlands along their migratory path, which have been degraded by urban development, flood mitigation, agriculture and pollution, have caused its population to plummet by more than 80% in the last 40 years, and is now critically endangered species in Australia. Additionally, the shorebird is also impacted by bycatch in fishing nets, disturbance of nest sites and degradation of coastal mudflats.

10. Woylie

Once widespread throughout Australia, this rabbit-sized marsupial has been threatened by the introduction of predators of foxes and cats, causing their rapid decline. Disease, competition with rabbits for food and impact from grazing animals from agricultural activities have all contributed to its status as a critically endangered species in Australia. Woylie plays an important role in the desert ecosystem as they disperse fungal spores that help native plants grow. Losing this species could have long-term effects on the larger natural environment. 

You might also like: 10 of the World’s Most Endangered Animals in 2022

Australia has joined 111 other countries in signing the global methane pledge launched at COP26 last year to collectively reduce methane emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by the end of the decade. 

On Sunday, Australia’s Climate and Energy Minister Chris Bowen announced that the country is joining the COP26 methane pledge led by the US and the European Union. The move, Bowen said, will help avoid 2C of global warming. 

Australia is the world’s 11th biggest emitter of methane, a gas that is 84 times more potent in trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a two-decade period and possesses global warming potential 25 times more than carbon dioxide. The extremely potent gas is a major contributor to total GHG emissions, second only to carbon dioxide (CO2). 

Two-thirds of the global economy and half of the top 30 major methane-emitting countries – which together account for 45% of global human-induced methane emissions – joined the global methane pledge at COP26 last year. All signatories commit to taking voluntary actions to collectively reduce emissions of the potent gas by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.

You might also like: Why the COP26 Methane Agreement is a Big Deal

Following Sunday’s announcement, Australia became one of the last major developed economies to sign on to the global effort to slash methane emissions. The decision also marked the latest push by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to make climate change a priority, following years of inaction and climate-denial under former PM Scott Morrison.

Bowen also added that the country is not planning to introduce a methane tax or levies to reduce livestock emissions. Earlier this month, the government of New Zealand announced that it will start taxing farmers by 2025, the world’s first nation taking such step to reduce agricultural emissions. 

According to a recent energy think tank Ember analysis, the cheapest way for Australia to cut methane emissions is to reduce leaks from coal mines. The study found that this could reduce annual emissions by approximately 18% by the decade’s end.

In 2021, increased activity in wetlands and deliberate vents by oil and gas companies have caused methane concentration in the atmosphere to hit a record high of 1,900 parts per billion, a number that is nearly three times the pre-industrial levels, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

You might also like: Addressing Planet-Warming Methane Emissions in the Energy Sector

Cities across the globe are rapidly adopting urban redevelopment projects, a form of ‘neighbourhood revitalisation’. In its most basic aspect, urban redevelopments and revitalisation efforts comprise the act of creating new, more advanced built environments  – including infrastructure and the addition of amenities – in existing urban areas. With ever-rising concerns about climate change and its consequences, a new angle for urban redevelopment projects has been emerging: green gentrification. Yet, despite the good intentions, these projects often result in negative social and environmental consequences.

Blueprints increasingly show efforts to introduce forms of urban greening, driven by the United Nation’s call for action through the Sustainable Development Goals. From green spaces in the forms of parks, manmade bodies of water, and pockets of flora to buildings and infrastructure built with more environmentally-friendly materials, the incorporation of traditional city builds with a greener landscape is now deemed a commercial solution to climate concerns – often portrayed to carry benefits of global warming adaptation, resilience, and mitigation.

Despite their good intentions, some urban redevelopments have detrimental social and environmental consequences. With the act of neighbourhood transformation comes a financial cost from rebuilds and construction, and as new developments with green amenities arrive, property prices quickly skyrocket. This, in turn, attracts high-income buyers to purchase or invest within these revitalised neighbourhoods, subsequently pricing out lower-income residents and thus widening the inequality gap. This phenomenon, one of social displacement amidst attempts to revitalise and adapt to climate change, is what is commonly known today as green gentrification. 

Climate Injustice Amidst Climate Adaptation

Gentrification itself has been observed to exacerbate social and racial inequalities in cities. However, the juxtaposition of green gentrification tilts further towards the environmental injustice that greening urban spaces ultimately introduce. While governments continue to transform the urban landscape via retrofitting and integration of green spaces, minority groups and working-class residents are displaced or forced to pay higher rents and higher priced amenities attached to the neighbourhood after redevelopment. 

The inequality gap and racial and ethnic injustice present a paradox for governing bodies and developers working towards promoting urban living that promises improved quality of life and a much-needed climate solution. The rising inequality from such developments can be observed in many projects in today’s cities, concentrated in the Global North. Prime examples include London, New York City, the Sant Marti district in Barcelona, the city of Malmö in Sweden, Victoria Park in Brisbane, Australia, and the city of Medellín in Colombia.

green gentrification

Victoria Park, Brisbane, Australia (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

Opportunities In Green Urban Planning 

While green gentrification is controversial, it does not imply that governing bodies and developers should halt efforts to create and implement a green-city model. According to UN-Habitat, cities contribute approximately 75% of global CO2 emissions – a rather alarming figure that constitutes from heavy energy consumption by their residents as well as infrastructure built with carbon-intensive materials.

Additionally, it is estimated that the world has lost at least one-third of its forests from increasing agricultural production and urbanisation. As forests continue to shrink, negative environmental and social impacts naturally exacerbate. The absence of a third of forest cover has essentially contributed to global warming, and simultaneously caused major loss of natural habitats and biodiversity, an increased probability of natural disasters occurring such as landslides and flooding, as well as the displacement of many indigenous communities. As cities continue to grow with increasing urban population, deforestation will likely continue to meet the agricultural and spatial demands of urban consumers, adding to the already huge amount of carbon emissions emitted in cities while simultaneously reducing precious carbon sinks

You might also like: 10 Deforestation Facts You Should Know About

By addressing green gentrification, green urban planning can still be beneficial in transforming cities to produce a smaller carbon footprint without harming poor and vulnerable communities. For instance, green urban redevelopments using the existing urban landscape provide an opportunity to reduce forest clearing for urban land expansion by increasing residential density. Following the integration of urban forests and more eco-friendly systems and materials, these redevelopments can still address climate concerns – provided they are not offset by social inequality. Ensuring that these redevelopments are affordable and inclusive is therefore key in addressing the process of green gentrification.

The body of literature studying green gentrification is constantly growing and it will need to be a focal point to the space of urban redevelopment, as policymakers and private companies are increasingly pressured to address global environmental, social, and governance standards. Therein lies the potential for cities to have climate solutions with inclusive policies that promote equity and better livelihoods for all communities and the natural environment.

Featured Image: The city of Malmö, Sweden where sustainable redevelopment projects are deemed unaffordable for low-income residents. (Wikimedia Commons)

You might also like: 5 Innovative Urban Solutions to Tackle Climate Change in Cities

Australia’s wildlife has experienced a sharp decline and most of the continent’s ecosystems are rapidly deteriorating or even disappearing, a five-year report on the state of the environment released in July found.

Australia’s ecosystems are collapsing due to climate change, invasive species, pollution, and other human interventions, the latest five-year national environmental scorecard found. 

In recent years, ecosystems in the continent have rapidly degraded, with at least 19 now showing signs of collapse or near collapse. Australia’s wildlife has also experienced unprecedented losses, with 202 new animal and plant species making the list of threatened species between 2016 and 2021. 

You Might Also Like: ​​10 of the Most Endangered Species in Australia

Often described as a mega-diverse country given its wide variety of landscapes and the high number of endemic species, scientists found that climate change and human-caused habitat destruction have led to the highest loss rate of mammal species among any other continent and one of the highest rates of species decline in the developed world.

In the last five years, Australia has experienced record-breaking droughts, bushfires, and floods. The intensity and frequency of these extreme weather events are unprecedented and are set to further rise with increasing global warming, not just in Australia but all over the world, as the latest IPCC assessment warned.

The latest State of the Environment report is a stark reminder that climate change is rapidly destroying the natural world, which scientists warn holds the key to human wellbeing and survival. 

However, human activities like mining and deforestation have also played a huge role in the deterioration of the continent’s ecosystems, only exacerbating the issue. According to the report, 6.1 million hectares of primary native forest have been cleared since 1990 and especially over the past five years, with land clearing activities mainly affecting Queensland and New South Wales. As of today, almost half the country’s land has been converted and is now used for grazing. 

The report also highlighted the poor conditions of Australia’s waterbodies, which have seen a 90% decline in native fish populations in the past 150 years. Moreover, ocean acidification and marine heatwaves have caused mass coral bleaching events affecting particularly the Great Barrier Reef, which covers about 350,000 square kilometres, an area larger than the UK and Ireland combined. Coral reefs play a key role in ocean habitats and the ecosystem for marine life. Besides containing one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth, they protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms, are a source of nitrogen and other nutrients for marine food chains, assist in nitrogen and carbon fixing, and are a source of income for millions of people around the world.

You Might Also Like: How Can The Great Barrier Reef be Saved?

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek – who released the report at an address to the National Press Club – described it as a “shocking document” that told “a story of crisis and decline in Australia’s environment, and a decade of government inaction and wilful ignorance,” Reuters reported.

Scientists completed the study last year but the Morrison government – often criticised for downplaying climate change – held it back for months until after the federal election. The report claims that not nearly enough funding was allocated to environmental protection in recent years and there has been a lack of coordination across jurisdictions to properly tackle the issues. 

Leading scientists are now calling on the newly elected government to urgently ramp up emission reduction efforts and take concrete steps to protect Australia’s wildlife and ecosystems.

You Might Also Like: Newly Elected Australia Government Puts Climate Change at the Forefront

It is undeniable that the climate crisis and land-use changes are worsening wildfires around the world. According to the UN, extreme fire events are set to increase by about 50% by the end of the century, with the Western US, northern Siberia, central India, and eastern Australia already experiencing significantly more blazes. Here is a list of the top 12 largest wildfires in history and the damage they caused to biodiversity, ecosystems, and urban settlements.

Top 12 Largest Wildfires in History:

1. 2003 Siberian Taiga Fires (Russia) – 55 Million Acres

In 2003 – during one of the hottest summers Europe experienced up to that point – a series of extremely devastating blazes in the taiga forests of Eastern Siberia destroyed over 55 million acres (22 million hectares) of land. A combination of extremely arid conditions and increased human exploitation during recent decades are believed to have played a role in what is remembered as one of the most devastating and largest wildfires in human history. The fires spread across Siberia and the Russian Far East, northern China, and northern Mongolia, sending a plume of smoke that reached Kyoto thousands of miles away. Emissions from the Siberian Taiga fires can be compared to the emission cuts promised by the European Union under the Kyoto Protocol and their effects can still be seen in present-day environmental studies on ozone depletion.

2. 1919/2020 Australian Bushfires (Australia) – 42 Million Acres

The 2020 Australian bushfires went down in history for their catastrophic impact on wildlife. The ​​extreme bushfires tore through New South Wales and Queensland in southeastern Australia, burning 42 million acres, destroying thousands of buildings, and killing dozens of people as well as 3 billion animals, including a staggering 61,000 koalas. Australia experienced the hottest and driest year in its recorded history in late 2019 and early 2020, which was a major contributing factor to the devastating wildfires. Data released by the climate monitoring body show Australia’s mean temperature in 2019 was 1.52°C higher than average, making it the warmest year since records began in 1910; January 2019 was the warmest month Australia has ever recorded. Rainfall was 40% below average, its lowest level since 1900.

You might also like: 3 Things to Know About Australia Wildfires and Bushfires

3. 2014 Northwest Territories Fires (Canada) – 8.5 Million Acres

In the summer of 2014, over 150 separate fires broke out across the Northwest Territories, an area of about 442 square miles (1.1 billion square kilometres) in northern Canada. 13 of them were believed to have been caused by humans. The smokes they generated sparked air quality warnings across the whole country as well as in the US, with smoke visible as far away as Portugal in western Europe. A total of nearly 8.5 million acres (3.5 million hectares) of forest were completely destroyed and firefighters operations cost the government a staggering US$44.4 million. These devastating consequences made the Northwest Territories Fires one of the worst recorded in nearly three decades.

4. 2004 Alaska Fire Season (US) – 6.6 Million Acres

The 2004 fire season in Alaska was the worst on record  in the history of the US state of Alaska in terms of area burned. More than 6.6 million acres (2.6 million hectares) of land were burned by 701 fires. 215 of these were started by lightning strikes; the other 426 were started by humans. The summer of 2004 was extremely warm and wet in comparison to the typical interior Alaska summer climate, which resulted in record amounts of lighting strikes. After months of this lighting and increased temperatures, an uncharacteristically dry August resulted in the fires that continued through September.

5. 1939 Black Friday Bushfire (Australia) – 5 Million Acres

Gone down in history as Black Friday, the bushfires that destroyed more than 5 million acres in Victoria – a state in southeastern Australia – in 1939, were the culmination of several years’ drought, followed by high temperatures and strong winds. The fires covered over three-quarters of the state’s area and resulted in 71 casualties, making it the third most deadly bushfire in Australia’s history. Despite going on for several days, on 13 January, when temperatures reached 44.7C in the capital Melbourne and 47.2C in Mildura in the northwest, the fires escalated, claiming 36 lives and destroying more than 700 homes, 69 sawmills as well as several farms and businesses. Ash from the blazes fell as far away as New Zealand.

6. The Great Fire Of 1919 (Canada) – 5 Million Acres

Despite happening more than a century ago, the Great Fire of 1919 is still remembered as one of the largest and most devastating wildfires in history. In early May, a complex of many fires swept through the boreal forest of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The wood that had been cut for the timber industry, combined with strong, dry winds, contributed to the quick-burning flames that, within just a few days, ravaged about 5 million acres (2 million hectares), destroying hundreds of buildings and claiming 11 lives.

You might also like: 10 Interesting Facts About Wildfires

7. 1950 Chinchaga Fire (Canada) – 4.2 Million Acres

Also known as the Wisp fire and ‘Fire 19’, the Chinchaga Forest Fire burned in Northern British Columbia and Alberta from June until the early fall of 1950. It went down in history as one of the largest recorded fires in North American history, burning an area of approximately 4.2 million acres (1.7 million hectares). While lowering the impact on buildings and threat to humans, the lack of settlements in the region allowed the fire to burn freely. The massive amount of smoke from the blazes created the historic ‘Great Smoke Pall’, a thick cloud of smoke that obscured the sun for nearly a week, turning it blue and making it visible to the naked eye without discomfort. The phenomenon could be observed for several days across eastern North America and Europe.

8. 2010 Bolivia Forest Fires (South America) – 3.7 Million Acres

In August 2010, more than 25,000 fires burned across Bolivia, covering an area of approximately 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) and damaging especially the country’s section of the Amazon. The thick smoke that resulted from them forced the government to halt numerous flights and declare a state of emergency. Among the causes was a combination of fires started by farmers to clear land for planting as well as dry vegetation resulting from the extreme drought that the country experienced during the summer months. The Bolivia forest fires were some of the worst the South American nation experienced in nearly 30 years.

9. 1910 Great Fire of Connecticut (US) – 3 Million Acres

Also called the Big Burn, Big Blowup or the Devil’s Broom fire, this wildfire roared through the states of Idaho and Montana during the summer months of 1910. Despite burning for just two days, strong winds caused the initial fire to combine with other smaller fires to form one massive blaze that destroyed 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) – approximately the size of the entire state of Connecticut – and killed 85 people, making this one of the worst wildfires in US history. Despite being remembered for the destruction it caused, the Fire paved the way for the government to enact forest protection policies

10. 1987 Black Dragon Fire (China and Russia) – 2.5 Million Acres

Also known as the Daxing’annling Wildfire, the Black Dragon fire of 1987 may have been the largest single fire in the world in the past several hundred years as well as the deadliest forest fire in the People’s Republic of China. It burned incessantly for over a month, destroying approximately 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of land, 18 million acres of which were forest. While the exact cause is not clear, Chinese reports stated that the fire might have been caused by human action. A total of 191 lives were lost during the fire, with a further 250 left injured. Additionally, nearly 33,000 people were left displaced.

You might also like: The Impact of Wildfires on Biodiversity and the Environment

11. 2011 Richardson Backcountry Fire (Canada) – 1.7 Million Acres

The Richardson Backcountry Fire broke out in May 2011 in the Canadian province of Alberta. It was the largest fire event since the 1950 Chinchaga Fire. The blaze burned nearly 1.7 million acres (688,000 hectares) of boreal forest and resulted in a series of evacuations and shutdowns. According to authorities, the fire was almost certainly the result of human activities, however, extremely dry conditions, abnormally high temperatures, and high winds aggravated the intensity.

12. ​​The 1989 Manitoba Wildfires (Canada) – 1.3 Million Acres

Last on our list of the largest wildfires in history are the Manitoba fires. Between mid-May and early August 1989, a total of 1,147 fires – the highest number ever recorded – broke in Manitoba, a Canadian province home to an immense variety of landscapes, from the arctic tundra and the Hudson Bat coastline to dense boreal forest and large freshwater lakes. The record-breaking fires burned nearly 1.3 million acres (3.3 million hectares) of land, resulting in the evacuation of 24,500 people from 32 different communities. The costs to suppress them amounted to US$52 million. While fires during the summer months are nothing new in Manitoba, the number of fires occurring in 1989 was nearly 4.5 times higher than the 20-year average of 120 monthly fires. While May’s blazes were mostly attributed to human action, most of July’s fires were caused by intense lightning activities.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also like: 15 Largest Wildfires in US History

Research for this article was conducted by Earth.Org research contributor Anjella Klaiber

Cities generate 80% of gross domestic product, they are the engines of economic growth and have lifted millions out of poverty. As rural to urban migration is accelerating, sustainable cities are emerging to achieve idyllic urban settings. Here are the top five most sustainable cities in the world right now. 

Technology is growing at a rapid pace every day. As each new technology brings with it an immense pool of possibilities, governments around the world are continuously investing in smart city technologies and incorporating them into their policy-making decisions and the developments of the cities they govern. 

By leveraging connected technology, most sustainable cities are able to improve their operations and people’s lives in many different ways such as by enabling data-driven decision-making powered by “big data”, increasing civic engagement through enhanced transparency, reducing environmental footprint as a result of the development of energy-efficient buildings and investment in renewable energies, and improving the transport network. 

UK-based company Uswitch recently came up with a list of the most sustainable cities in the world, ranking them with a score based on energy, transport infrastructure, affordability, pollution, air quality, CO2 emissions, and percentage of green space. The scores are out of 600 (600 being the best). To fully understand how technology can be beneficial, we can examine how the top smart cities in the world are making use of the latest technologies in the most practical ways to support their sustainability goals. 

1. Wellington, New Zealand

Pollution from our everyday lifestyle is one of the most common contributors to climate change. In Wellington, however, that does not seem to be the case. The city scores a pollution index of 13.66, meaning for every 100 air particles, only 13.66 are polluted. Wellington’s air is clean for several reasons. For starters, the population of just 213,000 living there are relatively sparse compared to other regions. Unlike countries filled with large factories, Wellington’s main industries are horticulture, agriculture, fishing, and tourism. 

It is home to organisations advancing in circular economic agendas such as Kaibosh, Powershop, Flick, and Whare Hauora, with the city regularly funding startups to assist finding new solutions to address social issues.

Wellington has adopted circular economy principles in its design of smart city infrastructure, allowing countless components to be reused, remanufactured, and replaced in ways that support continued improvement. These infrastructures are also complementing projects that help conserve the environment, such as Predator Free Wellington, which is a strategy eradicating pests from the city in order for bird life to thrive. The number of birds is counted by sensors with TensorFlow capabilities. 

2. Zurich, Switzerland

Although Zurich is known for its financial powers, it is also one of the leading smart cities when it comes to sustainability. The city’s smart initiatives mainly focus on education, efficient public transport, waste-reduction goals, and the use of renewable energies. 

In a place where sustainable mobility and public transport are all heavily promoted, Zurich is also known as “a biker’s haven”. Similar to Copenhagen, there are bikes offered all over the city free of charge. Zurich has been building dedicated cycling tracks and car-free roads, some of which already cover almost 20,000 km of Swiss soil and are perfectly coordinated with public transportation to ensure seamless transport. 

The construction of new housing and public buildings needs to comply with strict sustainable-building principles, with businesses and industries being held accountable for their energy consumption and waste-reduction goals. As of today, 70% of hotels in the city are sustainable certified. 

Zurich is able to produce 80% of its electricity with renewable energy sources. Over 40% of its waste gets recycled. 94% of old glass and 81% of polyethylene terephthalate containers arrive at special collection points instead of ending up in household bins. 

You might also like: 4 Commonly-Used Smart City Technologies

most sustainable cities, copenhill Skiing in Copenhill. Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

3. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen has multiple sustainability initiatives in place to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2025. Buses are making the transition from diesel to electric, while more roads are devoted to cycling. People are getting more accustomed to cycling than driving to get around, with only 29% of households owning a car

Over two-thirds of the city’s hotels are eco-certified and provide bicycles for rentals. Each hotel has an environmental manager to ensure industry-leading sustainability standards. 

A quarter of the city’s total food sale is made up of organic produce. Even fast food options such pizzas, hot dogs, burgers, and craft beers are produced with organic ingredients here. 

One of Copenhagen’s significant landmarks, Copenhill, is an incredibly efficient energy plant that turns waste into energy that helps power houses and buildings. The facility is also covered by a year-round artificial snow slope – one of the longest in the world – for skiing and snowboarding, 

4. Madrid, Spain

Madrid’s well-publicised move to ban polluting vehicles in the urban centre is considered one of the most significant actions taken by a European city to improve air quality.

In addressing the impending threats of climate change, the city’s municipal government introduced the “Strategic Plan of Green Areas, Trees and Biodiversity of the City of Madrid”. It believes that green infrastructure investments bring benefits by expanding and restoring gardens and parks, improving diversity, and minimising air pollution through improved traffic management. Madrid is currently building a green wall around the city, as well as a 75-kilometre forest with nearly half a million new trees. 

To meet the city’s nitrogen reduction goals this year, diesel cars have been completely banned from the city centre. This would also make the city significantly more pedestrian-friendly. While some plans to turn car lanes into pedestrian walkways and cycling lanes are in motion, the city is also introducing more green transport options and installing more docking stations for bicycles, all so that people are encouraged to leave their cars at home. If residents do not fancy riding a bike, they can still hop on Madrid’s 78 electric-powered buses.

5. Canberra, Australia

Whether it is about renewable energies, pollution levels, traffic management, affordability of property, percentage of green space, or CO2 emissions, Canberra takes the top spot among the most sustainable cities around the world.  According to Uswitch, Canberra is the most sustainable city in the world due to its reliance on renewable energy and large amounts of green space. What’s more,  87% of Canberra’s transport infrastructure is greenThe country’s capital relies heavily on the use of solar power and nearby wind farms, while having ensured that 94% of its residents have access to the internet to make it a connected city. 

Through the 2020-21 budget, the government offered a number of initiatives to support Canberra residents through the transitions. For example, zero-interest loans will be available for eligible households to finance a range of products that would reduce household emissions such as installing solar panels on rooftops, household battery storage, and efficient electric appliances. To further encourage green transport, zero-emission vehicles acquired between 24 May 2021 and 30 June 2024 will receive two years of free registration.

Canberra is the first city outside of Europe to be powered by 100% renewable energy. The territory government also aims to have a net-zero carbon emission by 2045.  

You might also like: Top 7 Smart Cities in the World and How They Do It

Subscribe to our newsletter

Hand-picked stories once a fortnight. We promise, no spam!

SUBSCRIBE
Instagram @earthorg Follow Us