In this week’s Nature News Round-up we look at how plastic pollution is rising up the global environmental agenda, with growing momentum for an international plastics treaty and increasing media attention on the serious risks posed by spillages of plastic pellets, or nurdles. There’s also an update on the post-COP26 climate agenda, a worrying development in the Amazon rainforest and some much-needed good news about an untouched natural wonder.


The scourge of plastic pollution, particularly on marine wildlife, is quickly rising up the policy priorities list this year. In the Sunday Times, Ben Spencer reports that the UK government will be backing calls for a world-first, global treaty on plastics at the United Nations Environment Assembly summit in Kenya in February. Meanwhile the Guardian has a piece on the continuing fallout of what the UN has called the single biggest plastic spill in history, last year’s Xpress Pearl disaster off the coast of Sri Lanka, which has seen millions, possibly billions, of plastic pellets – also known as nurdles – wash up across hundreds of miles of coastline. FFI’s Tanya Cox spoke to the paper late last year about this issue, which is quickly becoming one of the most prominent plastic threats facing wildlife worldwide.


A really striking story by Jenny Gonzales, who reports in Mongabay that pesticides are now regularly being dropped from planes and helicopters onto swathes of Amazon rainforest to gradually degrade the forest without catching the attention of environmental watchdogs using real-time satellite imagery. “The process is advantageous to criminals because chances of being caught are very low,” an official from the Brazilian environment agency IBAMA tells Gonzales. The practice, which clears the way for land grabs, was described as “horrific” by environmentalist George Monbiot, whose tweet on the story was reposted by Greta Thunberg to her five million followers; so at least it’s an issue that will no longer go under the radar.

Nature News Round-up: Why plastic pollution is rising up the agenda 1

Morning mist shrouds the Amazon rainforest canopy. Credit: Evan Bowen-Jones/FFI


COP26 President Alok Sharma has given a speech on his plans for the delivery phase of last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact (which feels like a long time ago already, doesn’t it…) In a speech at the Chatham House think tank on Monday, Sharma said that the COP26 agreement was still “just words on a page,” reports Ilona Amos in the Scotsman. “Unless we honour the promises made, to turn the commitments … into action, they will wither on the vine,” he said. “We will have mitigated no risks. We will have seized no opportunities.” It’s an important reminder that the UK’s COP presidency lasts for most of this year, during which it has responsibility for coordinating tangible work to turn words into action, before the baton is passed to Egypt, hosts of COP27. FFI will be continuing to do its bit, highlighting the links between the climate crisis and the crisis of biodiversity loss; and urging that neither can be solved in isolation.


Meanwhile, consulting firm McKinsey has said that getting to net zero by 2050, limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, will require $9.2 trillion of investment globally, every year for decades, Damian Carrington reports in the Guardian. That’s up 40% on current levels. It’s a “very big number” says McKinsey’s Jonathan Woetzel, “but it’s not an impossible number.”


Every week we try to find a dose of good news for you, and here’s today’s: the New York Times reports on deep sea explorers’ surprise and delight to encounter a previously unknown coral reef during an underwater mapping exercises off the coast of Tahiti. The reef stretches for nearly two miles, is described by some as “pristine” and resembles a bed of roses, reports NYT’s Neil Vigdor. “There is so much that we don’t know,” commented his colleague and environment reporter Catrin Einhorn.

Remote Pacific reefs harbour a stunning array of fish species. Credit: Zafer Kizilkaya

Remote Pacific reefs harbour a stunning array of fish species. Credit: Zafer Kizilkaya


Interesting long read from Chris Baraniuk for BBC Science Focus magazine, on the implications of last year’s UN Human Rights Council vote to recognise the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a human right. “In 2022 and beyond, you can expect more lawsuits in this to spring up in local, national and international courts of law,” Baranuik writes, as he takes a look at several international contexts where such processes are already in train – but not without inevitable complications.

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