Daily briefing: China’s COVID wave could kill one million people
Model predicts a wave of COVID-19 deaths as China reduces its strict health protections. Plus, a historic global agreement on biodiversity and how researchers can help to solve the energy crisis.

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NASA’s Perseverance rover will drop ten Martian rock samples that could be fetched and returned to Earth by another spacecraft. The test-tube-sized rock cores include sediments from an ancient river delta, which have the best chance of preserving evidence of past life on Mars. The cache is only a back-up — Perseverance will keep duplicate samples on board, so the retrieval mission can collect them directly from the rover in about ten years.

Nature | 4 min read

One million people in China could die from COVID-19 within the next few months as the country reduces its strict health protections, a preprint study predicts. However, a fourth vaccine dose, antiviral drugs for those at risk, mask mandates and temporary, targeted restrictions could reduce that number by up to 35%.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: medRxiv preprint (not peer reviewed)


The 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity, or COP15, came to a dramatic end early this morning, with a final agreement that will see 30% of Earth’s land and sea protected by 2030.

“We have 30 by 30,” said Canada’s minister of environment and climate change, Steven Guilbeault, a former climate protester. “Six months ago, who would have thought we could get 30 by 30 in Montreal? We have an agreement to halt and reverse biodiversity loss, to work on restoration, to reduce the use of pesticides. This is tremendous progress.”

China, which holds the presidency at this conference because it was originally scheduled to take place in Kunming in 2020, proved to be a forceful co-host at the event in Canada. The presidency pushed the agreement through despite protest from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) about the responsibility of rich nations to fund conservation in poorer countries. The DRC’s statements were judged to not be a ‘formal objection’, causing consternation among some negotiators. “Legally, it’s done. Morally, what can I say? It’s over,” said Lee White, Gabon’s environment minister.

The dispute highlights the gulf between good intentions and the hard work yet to come, says Natasha Gilbert, who is reporting at the conference for Nature. “Will this undermine the integrity of the framework?” she asks. “It's all very well pushing a document through, but what really matters is how it is implemented.”

Nevertheless, the feeling among scientists is optimistic. They welcome a historic agreement, which at times felt nigh-on impossible to achieve. It has created, for the first time, biodiversity targets on par with the momentous 2015 Paris climate agreement, which set a crucial goal to to limit global warming to 1.5–2 °C above pre-industrial levels.

Flora Graham, Senior Editor, Nature Briefing

Features & opinion

How will global energy supplies change following the market turmoil created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? And how will the energy crisis affect climate action? These are some of the questions researchers must help to answer in 2023, say Andreas Goldthau and Simone Tagliapietra. They lay out five areas in which scientists can make a difference, including assessing routes to decarbonization in the face of the sky-high energy prices, informing heavy industries’ business models, and shedding light on how energy poverty and inflation threaten political stability.

Nature | 11 min read

Conference organizers should start doing post-event COVID-19 surveys and disclose infection rates to attendees, argues environmental scientist James Kirchner. After he got a post-conference infection, he ran his own anonymous online survey of attendees. More than 80% responded, and 28% of them had COVID-19. “We had no idea that the risks were so high,” he writes. “The organizers could have made changes to better protect attendees, if they had known they had a problem in the first place. And they could have been aware of this issue simply by surveying recent attendees, as I did.” Event organizers say that they follow COVID-19 guidelines and that data-protection concerns hamper surveys.

Nature | 5 min read

Ant pupae aren’t the useless, immobile sacks scientists thought they were. The juveniles produce ‘milk’, a nutritious fluid that the adult ants drink and feed to the larvae. Without it, they remain stunted and die sooner, explains social-evolution and behaviour researcher Orli Snir. She thinks this discovery will help people to see ant colonies as interdependent networks rather than being led by only the adults.

Nature | 3 min video

Reference: Nature paper

Where I work

Conservationist Eileen Maher protects tidelands with giant, holey concrete spheres. Her team sank 360 of these reef balls in the San Diego Bay in 2021. The spheres contain sand and oyster shells, which encourages living oysters to settle on them. It creates an artificial reef that protects the shoreline from being eroded during storms and combats climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide.

(Nature | 3 min read) (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty)
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