In our Worldwatch column we keep a close eye on the developments that matter: from emerging global trends in energy and breaking geopolitical conflicts, to scientific discoveries in the world of conservation, biology and beyond.
The great energy divide: investigating the inequality of consumption
Publishing in Nature, a team of scientists brought together an unprecedented amount of data from the International Energy Agency and the World Bank to demonstrate how energy use across the globe is stratified by income. In 2011, the top ten per cent of global earners consumed 39 per cent of final energy. This was nearly equivalent to the total consumption by the bottom 80 per cent of earners. What’s more, the lowest ten per cent consumed almost 20 times less than the top ten per cent. The discovery called into question whether we can boost the living standards of poorer countries without sacrificing climate targets, and whether the answer to the conundrum will lie in bringing down the energy use of the wealthy.
Tracking marine predators highlights biodiversity hotspots in the Southern Ocean most in need of protection
One demonstrably successful approach to ocean conservation is the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs). Yet, just 3.6 per cent of the ocean today lies within MPAs. Scientists are calling for that coverage to grow in the coming years. The question is: where to set aside for protection?
An innovative solution from a team of scientists involved using tracking data from marine predators. The researchers found that predator movements correlate with regions with high ocean productivity where many species gather. Termed ‘Areas of Ecological Significance’ (AESs), these regions could be crucial.
Geopolitical hotspot: Xinjiang and the Uighur internment camps
Many people have now heard of China’s Uighur muslims and the fact that an estimated one million are currently detained in internment camps in Xinjiang. International condemnation is growing, fuelled by the recent news that Uighur people are being forced to pick cotton for global trade. The history of the Uighurs and the motivation behind China’s actions are less well known. Our geopolitical columnist Tim Marshall brought readers up to speed back in September.
Coronavirus: the death of tourism threatens wildlife in Africa and India’s parks
Scenes of lions stretching across the empty roads of South Africa, goats making their way into Welsh gardens and the abundance of birds in many UK gardens have all been used to promote the message that when humans stay away, wildlife wins. However, in many safari and national parks across the world, this is simplistic. Wildlife rangers and conservationists in nature hotspots around the world have expressed concerns that the economic hardships of Covid-19 will drive many community members into wildlife crime. The cessation of tourism in areas like Ranthambore National Park in India has placed strain on incomes, negatively impacting conservation funding that was used to compensate local land and livestock owners for wildlife-related damages.
Demand for products produced on the back of deforestation could drive malaria risk
The people who produce much of the world’s cash crops face several health burdens, many of these the result of deforestation. This year, researchers at the University of Sydney calculated the malaria risk attributable to deforestation. They crossed this with supply chain data to see how demand for products that lead to deforestation could be heightening malaria risk in individual countries. The researchers are now calling for the human health cost that comes with the growth of certain products to be better represented in their price.
Scientists use loudspeakers to attract fish to degraded coral reefs
We might think of the world beneath the ocean’s surface as a quiet, peaceful one, but it would be far from true. Fish are noisy, the coral reefs where they congregate particularly so. With this in mind, an international team of scientists working on the Great Barrier Reef (including members from the Universities of Bristol and Exeter and teams from Australia) are now using the sounds of healthy reefs to help bring degraded ones back to life.
The researchers have been able to identify the ways in which fish use sound to navigate and to locate coral reefs on which to settle. This is important from the perspective of conservation because while reefs are vital for many fish, the fish are also vital for the survival of coral. If they could be drawn back to degraded reefs via sound, they might help them recover in a number of ways, from cleaning away over-abundant seaweed to recycling and depositing nutrients.
Is the market for new antibiotics in need of reform?
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many doctors have prescribed antibiotics to contain the secondary infections that cause a large proportion of Covid–related deaths. But, as the world continues to grapple with the disease, many researchers are urging people not to lose sight of the ‘silent pandemic’ of antibiotic resistance.
Today, antibiotic resistance causes 900,000 deaths a year. The market for new antibiotics development, however, makes it incredibly difficult for pharmaceutical companies to justify the investment costs of new drugs that could help. With little return-on-demand compared to other drugs, is it time to reform the antibiotics market?
Geopolitical hotspot: The geopolitical landscape of a post coronavirus world
The pandemic has plunged the world into a crisis that is likely to remodel much of the pre-Covid-19 world. International relations, economic ties, trade and health institutions are all likely to experience significant change – many already have.
To Tim Marshall, our geopolitical columnist, a glimpse back into history can provide clues as to the geopolitical landscape that may emerge from the rubble. Back in June, he offered his predictions on the state of the post-coronavirus world. There will be some silver linings – scientific collaboration being one. However, ‘even before Covid-19 we were heading for bumpy times,’ says Marshall. ‘Russia will still slowly decline and be dangerous while so doing, Iran has not given up its bid to be the leading regional power, North Korea will continue to be a basket case, and the population of Africa is still expected to double within 50 years. Did we mention climate change? Nuclear proliferation? These issues require consensus, and with the re-emergence of a multi-polar world, that is increasingly harder to achieve.’