Monthly Archives: July 2013

Earthquakes 'may add to methane leaks'

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas which in the short term is a much greater threat to global temperatures than carbon dioxide. Now researchers think it can be released by earthquakes.

LONDON, 31 July – And here’s another shuddering twist to the horror story that is climate change: even earthquakes may play a role. Large quantities of methane may have escaped during a violent earthquake that shook the floor of the Arabian Sea in 1945, according to German and Swiss researchers.

David Fischer of the University of Bremen and colleagues from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven and the ETH in Zurich explored the region in a research ship in 2007, and began to examine cores of sediment from the seabed.

One core, from just 1.6 metres below the seabed, contained methane hydrate – an ice-like mixture of methane and water –  and the other did not. But, the researchers report in Nature Geoscience, both cores carried subtle chemical evidence that at some point in the past dramatic quantities of methane or natural gas had actually flowed through the sediments beneath the Arabian Sea.

Since the methane would move as a gas, there is only one direction it could go: bubbling upwards through the sea into the atmosphere. And since methane is a potent greenhouse gas – at least 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide – such escapes could be significant.

“We started going through the literature and found that a major earthquake had occurred close by in 1945”, said Dr Fischer. “Based on several indicators, we postulated that the earthquake led to the fracturing of the sediments, releasing the gas that had been trapped below the hydrates into the ocean.”

The tremor was recorded at magnitude 8.1 – magnitude 9 is about as bad as an earthquake can be – and seismic waves would have raced through the seabed at colossal speeds, quite enough to shake loose any brittle chemical structures in the seabed.

The researchers estimate that the release of methane from that location since that one event could be conservatively estimated at 7.4 million cubic metres: this is roughly the capacity of 10 large gas tankers.

“…hydrocarbon seepage triggered by earthquakes needs to be considered in local and global carbon budgets at active continental margins…”

This calculation does not take into account how much escaped during the quake itself, and it holds for only one location. “There are probably even more sites in the area that had been affected by the earthquake”, said Dr Fischer.

Such research is another reminder of the complexity of the planet’s climate system. Methane hydrates can be considered as a form of fossil fuel: decayed plant material from millions of years ago, trapped in the mud under the pressing weight of the sea.

Climate scientists have for decades worried about the fragility of these hydrates – as the world warms, they are likely to be released in huge quantities from the Arctic seabed, for instance – but this is the first evidence that natural rather than human-triggered cataclysms could make a serious difference to the global carbon budget.

The lesson is that scientists now have to take such processes into account as they try to calculate the carbon budget for the planet – the quantities of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, the volumes subsequently absorbed by plants and then incorporated into sediments.

“We now provide a new mechanism of carbon export that had not been considered before”, said Dr Fischer, and with his co-authors he pushes the message home in the research paper. “We therefore suggest that hydrocarbon seepage triggered by earthquakes needs to be considered in local and global carbon budgets at active continental margins.” – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas which in the short term is a much greater threat to global temperatures than carbon dioxide. Now researchers think it can be released by earthquakes.

LONDON, 31 July – And here’s another shuddering twist to the horror story that is climate change: even earthquakes may play a role. Large quantities of methane may have escaped during a violent earthquake that shook the floor of the Arabian Sea in 1945, according to German and Swiss researchers.

David Fischer of the University of Bremen and colleagues from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven and the ETH in Zurich explored the region in a research ship in 2007, and began to examine cores of sediment from the seabed.

One core, from just 1.6 metres below the seabed, contained methane hydrate – an ice-like mixture of methane and water –  and the other did not. But, the researchers report in Nature Geoscience, both cores carried subtle chemical evidence that at some point in the past dramatic quantities of methane or natural gas had actually flowed through the sediments beneath the Arabian Sea.

Since the methane would move as a gas, there is only one direction it could go: bubbling upwards through the sea into the atmosphere. And since methane is a potent greenhouse gas – at least 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide – such escapes could be significant.

“We started going through the literature and found that a major earthquake had occurred close by in 1945”, said Dr Fischer. “Based on several indicators, we postulated that the earthquake led to the fracturing of the sediments, releasing the gas that had been trapped below the hydrates into the ocean.”

The tremor was recorded at magnitude 8.1 – magnitude 9 is about as bad as an earthquake can be – and seismic waves would have raced through the seabed at colossal speeds, quite enough to shake loose any brittle chemical structures in the seabed.

The researchers estimate that the release of methane from that location since that one event could be conservatively estimated at 7.4 million cubic metres: this is roughly the capacity of 10 large gas tankers.

“…hydrocarbon seepage triggered by earthquakes needs to be considered in local and global carbon budgets at active continental margins…”

This calculation does not take into account how much escaped during the quake itself, and it holds for only one location. “There are probably even more sites in the area that had been affected by the earthquake”, said Dr Fischer.

Such research is another reminder of the complexity of the planet’s climate system. Methane hydrates can be considered as a form of fossil fuel: decayed plant material from millions of years ago, trapped in the mud under the pressing weight of the sea.

Climate scientists have for decades worried about the fragility of these hydrates – as the world warms, they are likely to be released in huge quantities from the Arctic seabed, for instance – but this is the first evidence that natural rather than human-triggered cataclysms could make a serious difference to the global carbon budget.

The lesson is that scientists now have to take such processes into account as they try to calculate the carbon budget for the planet – the quantities of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, the volumes subsequently absorbed by plants and then incorporated into sediments.

“We now provide a new mechanism of carbon export that had not been considered before”, said Dr Fischer, and with his co-authors he pushes the message home in the research paper. “We therefore suggest that hydrocarbon seepage triggered by earthquakes needs to be considered in local and global carbon budgets at active continental margins.” – Climate News Network

Earthquakes ‘may add to methane leaks’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Methane is a potent greenhouse gas which in the short term is a much greater threat to global temperatures than carbon dioxide. Now researchers think it can be released by earthquakes. LONDON, 31 July – And here’s another shuddering twist to the horror story that is climate change: even earthquakes may play a role. Large quantities of methane may have escaped during a violent earthquake that shook the floor of the Arabian Sea in 1945, according to German and Swiss researchers. David Fischer of the University of Bremen and colleagues from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven and the ETH in Zurich explored the region in a research ship in 2007, and began to examine cores of sediment from the seabed. One core, from just 1.6 metres below the seabed, contained methane hydrate – an ice-like mixture of methane and water –  and the other did not. But, the researchers report in Nature Geoscience, both cores carried subtle chemical evidence that at some point in the past dramatic quantities of methane or natural gas had actually flowed through the sediments beneath the Arabian Sea. Since the methane would move as a gas, there is only one direction it could go: bubbling upwards through the sea into the atmosphere. And since methane is a potent greenhouse gas – at least 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide – such escapes could be significant. “We started going through the literature and found that a major earthquake had occurred close by in 1945”, said Dr Fischer. “Based on several indicators, we postulated that the earthquake led to the fracturing of the sediments, releasing the gas that had been trapped below the hydrates into the ocean.” The tremor was recorded at magnitude 8.1 – magnitude 9 is about as bad as an earthquake can be – and seismic waves would have raced through the seabed at colossal speeds, quite enough to shake loose any brittle chemical structures in the seabed. The researchers estimate that the release of methane from that location since that one event could be conservatively estimated at 7.4 million cubic metres: this is roughly the capacity of 10 large gas tankers.

“…hydrocarbon seepage triggered by earthquakes needs to be considered in local and global carbon budgets at active continental margins…”

This calculation does not take into account how much escaped during the quake itself, and it holds for only one location. “There are probably even more sites in the area that had been affected by the earthquake”, said Dr Fischer. Such research is another reminder of the complexity of the planet’s climate system. Methane hydrates can be considered as a form of fossil fuel: decayed plant material from millions of years ago, trapped in the mud under the pressing weight of the sea. Climate scientists have for decades worried about the fragility of these hydrates – as the world warms, they are likely to be released in huge quantities from the Arctic seabed, for instance – but this is the first evidence that natural rather than human-triggered cataclysms could make a serious difference to the global carbon budget. The lesson is that scientists now have to take such processes into account as they try to calculate the carbon budget for the planet – the quantities of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, the volumes subsequently absorbed by plants and then incorporated into sediments. “We now provide a new mechanism of carbon export that had not been considered before”, said Dr Fischer, and with his co-authors he pushes the message home in the research paper. “We therefore suggest that hydrocarbon seepage triggered by earthquakes needs to be considered in local and global carbon budgets at active continental margins.” – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Methane is a potent greenhouse gas which in the short term is a much greater threat to global temperatures than carbon dioxide. Now researchers think it can be released by earthquakes. LONDON, 31 July – And here’s another shuddering twist to the horror story that is climate change: even earthquakes may play a role. Large quantities of methane may have escaped during a violent earthquake that shook the floor of the Arabian Sea in 1945, according to German and Swiss researchers. David Fischer of the University of Bremen and colleagues from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven and the ETH in Zurich explored the region in a research ship in 2007, and began to examine cores of sediment from the seabed. One core, from just 1.6 metres below the seabed, contained methane hydrate – an ice-like mixture of methane and water –  and the other did not. But, the researchers report in Nature Geoscience, both cores carried subtle chemical evidence that at some point in the past dramatic quantities of methane or natural gas had actually flowed through the sediments beneath the Arabian Sea. Since the methane would move as a gas, there is only one direction it could go: bubbling upwards through the sea into the atmosphere. And since methane is a potent greenhouse gas – at least 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide – such escapes could be significant. “We started going through the literature and found that a major earthquake had occurred close by in 1945”, said Dr Fischer. “Based on several indicators, we postulated that the earthquake led to the fracturing of the sediments, releasing the gas that had been trapped below the hydrates into the ocean.” The tremor was recorded at magnitude 8.1 – magnitude 9 is about as bad as an earthquake can be – and seismic waves would have raced through the seabed at colossal speeds, quite enough to shake loose any brittle chemical structures in the seabed. The researchers estimate that the release of methane from that location since that one event could be conservatively estimated at 7.4 million cubic metres: this is roughly the capacity of 10 large gas tankers.

“…hydrocarbon seepage triggered by earthquakes needs to be considered in local and global carbon budgets at active continental margins…”

This calculation does not take into account how much escaped during the quake itself, and it holds for only one location. “There are probably even more sites in the area that had been affected by the earthquake”, said Dr Fischer. Such research is another reminder of the complexity of the planet’s climate system. Methane hydrates can be considered as a form of fossil fuel: decayed plant material from millions of years ago, trapped in the mud under the pressing weight of the sea. Climate scientists have for decades worried about the fragility of these hydrates – as the world warms, they are likely to be released in huge quantities from the Arctic seabed, for instance – but this is the first evidence that natural rather than human-triggered cataclysms could make a serious difference to the global carbon budget. The lesson is that scientists now have to take such processes into account as they try to calculate the carbon budget for the planet – the quantities of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, the volumes subsequently absorbed by plants and then incorporated into sediments. “We now provide a new mechanism of carbon export that had not been considered before”, said Dr Fischer, and with his co-authors he pushes the message home in the research paper. “We therefore suggest that hydrocarbon seepage triggered by earthquakes needs to be considered in local and global carbon budgets at active continental margins.” – Climate News Network

Bank curbs won't slow coal's comeback

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Several big banks have said they will apply much more stringent conditions to funding for coal-burning plants, but despite that coal use is rising in many parts of the world.

LONDON, 30 July – For those concerned about the impact of coal-burning power plants on the world’s environment, the good news seems to have been arriving thick and fast lately.

Coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels and, according to the International Energy Agency, accounts for about 45% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

In mid-July, the World Bank announced it was significantly scaling back funding for coal-fired power stations due to concerns about emissions and global warming. In future, said the Bank, it would limit such financial assistance to “only rare circumstances.” Then the US Export-Import Bank announced it had decided not to support funding for a multi-million dollar coal-fired power plant in Vietnam.

A few days later the European Investment Bank (EIB) – the world’s biggest public bank – followed the World Bank’s lead, introducing new lending criteria which, if properly implemented, would rule out future financial support for lignite and so-called “dirty coal” power plants. There were also indications the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) could be bringing in coal-lending restrictions.

But, as a pessimist might say, every silver lining has a dark cloud attached to it.

A big test of the World Bank’s resolve will likely be made early next year when it will decide whether to give funding guarantees to a highly controversial power plant using “dirty” coal in Kosovo.

Burgeoning growth

The EIB’s new criteria on coal lending – tied to specified limits on fossil fuel power plant emissions – have been criticised as being too generous to polluters, while the US Ex-Im Bank continues to back coal-fired power stations in many parts of the world.

And then there’s the bigger picture: the world is using coal for energy generation like never before, and projections are for consumption to grow by at least a third by 2040, possibly by a half if the worst case scenarios are fulfilled.

The US Federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) has just released its comprehensive International Energy Outlook 2013.

The EIA says world energy consumption is likely to grow by more than 50% over the period 2010 to 2040, with fossil fuels supplying 80% of the total, despite a growth in renewables and nuclear power.

It sees coal as remaining dominant in the electricity generation sector: global consumption will rise by 1.3% a year  – from 147 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy in 2010 to 180 quadrillion Btu in 2020 to 220 quadrillion Btu in 2040.

While much of that growth will come from the rapidly growing economies of China and India, coal consumption is at present rising rapidly in other parts of the world.

Coal makes a comeback

The shale gas boom in the US means record amounts of relatively cheap US coal are now available for export. The EIA says US coal exports were more than 115 million tons in 2012, more than double the 2009 figure.

The EU is by far the biggest customer for US coal, with exports to the UK alone going up by about 70% in 2012.  A big jump in UK coal use is deemed to be largely responsible for a 4% rise in UK CO2 emissions last year.

Meanwhile Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse and a country often regarded as a leader in cutting CO2 emissions, is gradually upping its coal use.

It all makes grim reading for those hoping to limit CO2 emissions and prevent runaway global warming. Even in the US – where much has been made of the switch away from coal to less carbon-intensive gas – coal is making a comeback.

With coal prices falling and natural gas prices rising, the EIA says coal’s share of US power generation in the first four months of 2013 averaged 39.5%, compared with 35.4% in the same period last year.

US greenhouse gas emissions have been falling over the past four years: watch out for a rise this year. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Several big banks have said they will apply much more stringent conditions to funding for coal-burning plants, but despite that coal use is rising in many parts of the world.

LONDON, 30 July – For those concerned about the impact of coal-burning power plants on the world’s environment, the good news seems to have been arriving thick and fast lately.

Coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels and, according to the International Energy Agency, accounts for about 45% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

In mid-July, the World Bank announced it was significantly scaling back funding for coal-fired power stations due to concerns about emissions and global warming. In future, said the Bank, it would limit such financial assistance to “only rare circumstances.” Then the US Export-Import Bank announced it had decided not to support funding for a multi-million dollar coal-fired power plant in Vietnam.

A few days later the European Investment Bank (EIB) – the world’s biggest public bank – followed the World Bank’s lead, introducing new lending criteria which, if properly implemented, would rule out future financial support for lignite and so-called “dirty coal” power plants. There were also indications the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) could be bringing in coal-lending restrictions.

But, as a pessimist might say, every silver lining has a dark cloud attached to it.

A big test of the World Bank’s resolve will likely be made early next year when it will decide whether to give funding guarantees to a highly controversial power plant using “dirty” coal in Kosovo.

Burgeoning growth

The EIB’s new criteria on coal lending – tied to specified limits on fossil fuel power plant emissions – have been criticised as being too generous to polluters, while the US Ex-Im Bank continues to back coal-fired power stations in many parts of the world.

And then there’s the bigger picture: the world is using coal for energy generation like never before, and projections are for consumption to grow by at least a third by 2040, possibly by a half if the worst case scenarios are fulfilled.

The US Federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) has just released its comprehensive International Energy Outlook 2013.

The EIA says world energy consumption is likely to grow by more than 50% over the period 2010 to 2040, with fossil fuels supplying 80% of the total, despite a growth in renewables and nuclear power.

It sees coal as remaining dominant in the electricity generation sector: global consumption will rise by 1.3% a year  – from 147 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy in 2010 to 180 quadrillion Btu in 2020 to 220 quadrillion Btu in 2040.

While much of that growth will come from the rapidly growing economies of China and India, coal consumption is at present rising rapidly in other parts of the world.

Coal makes a comeback

The shale gas boom in the US means record amounts of relatively cheap US coal are now available for export. The EIA says US coal exports were more than 115 million tons in 2012, more than double the 2009 figure.

The EU is by far the biggest customer for US coal, with exports to the UK alone going up by about 70% in 2012.  A big jump in UK coal use is deemed to be largely responsible for a 4% rise in UK CO2 emissions last year.

Meanwhile Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse and a country often regarded as a leader in cutting CO2 emissions, is gradually upping its coal use.

It all makes grim reading for those hoping to limit CO2 emissions and prevent runaway global warming. Even in the US – where much has been made of the switch away from coal to less carbon-intensive gas – coal is making a comeback.

With coal prices falling and natural gas prices rising, the EIA says coal’s share of US power generation in the first four months of 2013 averaged 39.5%, compared with 35.4% in the same period last year.

US greenhouse gas emissions have been falling over the past four years: watch out for a rise this year. – Climate News Network

Bank curbs won’t slow coal’s comeback

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Several big banks have said they will apply much more stringent conditions to funding for coal-burning plants, but despite that coal use is rising in many parts of the world. LONDON, 30 July – For those concerned about the impact of coal-burning power plants on the world’s environment, the good news seems to have been arriving thick and fast lately. Coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels and, according to the International Energy Agency, accounts for about 45% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. In mid-July, the World Bank announced it was significantly scaling back funding for coal-fired power stations due to concerns about emissions and global warming. In future, said the Bank, it would limit such financial assistance to “only rare circumstances.” Then the US Export-Import Bank announced it had decided not to support funding for a multi-million dollar coal-fired power plant in Vietnam. A few days later the European Investment Bank (EIB) – the world’s biggest public bank – followed the World Bank’s lead, introducing new lending criteria which, if properly implemented, would rule out future financial support for lignite and so-called “dirty coal” power plants. There were also indications the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) could be bringing in coal-lending restrictions. But, as a pessimist might say, every silver lining has a dark cloud attached to it. A big test of the World Bank’s resolve will likely be made early next year when it will decide whether to give funding guarantees to a highly controversial power plant using “dirty” coal in Kosovo.

Burgeoning growth

The EIB’s new criteria on coal lending – tied to specified limits on fossil fuel power plant emissions – have been criticised as being too generous to polluters, while the US Ex-Im Bank continues to back coal-fired power stations in many parts of the world. And then there’s the bigger picture: the world is using coal for energy generation like never before, and projections are for consumption to grow by at least a third by 2040, possibly by a half if the worst case scenarios are fulfilled. The US Federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) has just released its comprehensive International Energy Outlook 2013. The EIA says world energy consumption is likely to grow by more than 50% over the period 2010 to 2040, with fossil fuels supplying 80% of the total, despite a growth in renewables and nuclear power. It sees coal as remaining dominant in the electricity generation sector: global consumption will rise by 1.3% a year  – from 147 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy in 2010 to 180 quadrillion Btu in 2020 to 220 quadrillion Btu in 2040. While much of that growth will come from the rapidly growing economies of China and India, coal consumption is at present rising rapidly in other parts of the world.

Coal makes a comeback

The shale gas boom in the US means record amounts of relatively cheap US coal are now available for export. The EIA says US coal exports were more than 115 million tons in 2012, more than double the 2009 figure. The EU is by far the biggest customer for US coal, with exports to the UK alone going up by about 70% in 2012.  A big jump in UK coal use is deemed to be largely responsible for a 4% rise in UK CO2 emissions last year. Meanwhile Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse and a country often regarded as a leader in cutting CO2 emissions, is gradually upping its coal use. It all makes grim reading for those hoping to limit CO2 emissions and prevent runaway global warming. Even in the US – where much has been made of the switch away from coal to less carbon-intensive gas – coal is making a comeback. With coal prices falling and natural gas prices rising, the EIA says coal’s share of US power generation in the first four months of 2013 averaged 39.5%, compared with 35.4% in the same period last year. US greenhouse gas emissions have been falling over the past four years: watch out for a rise this year. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Several big banks have said they will apply much more stringent conditions to funding for coal-burning plants, but despite that coal use is rising in many parts of the world. LONDON, 30 July – For those concerned about the impact of coal-burning power plants on the world’s environment, the good news seems to have been arriving thick and fast lately. Coal is the most polluting of fossil fuels and, according to the International Energy Agency, accounts for about 45% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. In mid-July, the World Bank announced it was significantly scaling back funding for coal-fired power stations due to concerns about emissions and global warming. In future, said the Bank, it would limit such financial assistance to “only rare circumstances.” Then the US Export-Import Bank announced it had decided not to support funding for a multi-million dollar coal-fired power plant in Vietnam. A few days later the European Investment Bank (EIB) – the world’s biggest public bank – followed the World Bank’s lead, introducing new lending criteria which, if properly implemented, would rule out future financial support for lignite and so-called “dirty coal” power plants. There were also indications the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) could be bringing in coal-lending restrictions. But, as a pessimist might say, every silver lining has a dark cloud attached to it. A big test of the World Bank’s resolve will likely be made early next year when it will decide whether to give funding guarantees to a highly controversial power plant using “dirty” coal in Kosovo.

Burgeoning growth

The EIB’s new criteria on coal lending – tied to specified limits on fossil fuel power plant emissions – have been criticised as being too generous to polluters, while the US Ex-Im Bank continues to back coal-fired power stations in many parts of the world. And then there’s the bigger picture: the world is using coal for energy generation like never before, and projections are for consumption to grow by at least a third by 2040, possibly by a half if the worst case scenarios are fulfilled. The US Federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) has just released its comprehensive International Energy Outlook 2013. The EIA says world energy consumption is likely to grow by more than 50% over the period 2010 to 2040, with fossil fuels supplying 80% of the total, despite a growth in renewables and nuclear power. It sees coal as remaining dominant in the electricity generation sector: global consumption will rise by 1.3% a year  – from 147 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy in 2010 to 180 quadrillion Btu in 2020 to 220 quadrillion Btu in 2040. While much of that growth will come from the rapidly growing economies of China and India, coal consumption is at present rising rapidly in other parts of the world.

Coal makes a comeback

The shale gas boom in the US means record amounts of relatively cheap US coal are now available for export. The EIA says US coal exports were more than 115 million tons in 2012, more than double the 2009 figure. The EU is by far the biggest customer for US coal, with exports to the UK alone going up by about 70% in 2012.  A big jump in UK coal use is deemed to be largely responsible for a 4% rise in UK CO2 emissions last year. Meanwhile Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse and a country often regarded as a leader in cutting CO2 emissions, is gradually upping its coal use. It all makes grim reading for those hoping to limit CO2 emissions and prevent runaway global warming. Even in the US – where much has been made of the switch away from coal to less carbon-intensive gas – coal is making a comeback. With coal prices falling and natural gas prices rising, the EIA says coal’s share of US power generation in the first four months of 2013 averaged 39.5%, compared with 35.4% in the same period last year. US greenhouse gas emissions have been falling over the past four years: watch out for a rise this year. – Climate News Network

The week that's gone: 28 July 2013

This is a summary of the stories we published in the week ending Sunday 28 July.

Climate leaves Iberian lynx at last gasp

22 July – Climate change could be about to extinguish the world’s most endangered cat. As rabbit populations dwindle in the wilder parts of the Iberian peninsula, so do the chances of survival for their predator, the Iberian lynx. Most of the world’s wild felines are in trouble, but Lynx pardinus earned its unwelcome distinction in 2008 when – despite decades of conservation effort – its population fell to about 160 animals, in two locations, when only a decade before there had been at least nine surviving populations. Miguel Araújo of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, Spain and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they took a model of predator-prey numbers specially designed for the lynx and ran it through a series of climate model simulations to see how the creature fared. The answer is it fared badly. Eighty per cent of the lynx’s natural diet is rabbit, and although rabbits are widely considered to be prolific pests in many parts of Europe, the combination of overhunting, introduced and natural infection has left the rabbit population in the peninsula impoverished.

More US insurers to reveal climate risks

23 July – The US insurance industry has been reluctant to recognise the dangers posed to its customers – and its revenues – by a warming climate. Now there are signs that attitudes in the multi-billion dollar sector are slowly beginning to change. In the last week the states of Connecticut and Minnesota announced they would be adopting regulations applying in California, New York and Washington states which require insurance companies to fully disclose their readiness to deal with climate change-related risks. “As insurance regulators, it is important that we identify those climate-related factors that can affect the marketplace and in particular the availability and cost of insurance”, says Thomas B. Leonardi, Connecticut’s Insurance Commissioner. Elsewhere in the US, insurers seem unwilling to contemplate the implications for their businesses of changes in climate. While some states, particularly California, have been pressing insurers to be more aware of the dangers posed by climate change, the remaining 45 states have so far refused to adopt the disclosure requirements.

Climate warming slows: no surprise yet

23 July – Here is an interim update on the uncertain future of climate change: it remains uncertain and all forecasts are, for the time being, interim. British scientists say that global warming has slowed down. Their climate models predicted periods in which warming would slow before speeding up again, and this slowing down is within their calculated limits of uncertainty: they had not, however, expected the slowdown to happen for a decade or more. But it is happening now. Between 1970 and 1998, the planet warmed at an average of 0.17°C per decade because of human impact on the atmosphere in the form of fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activity. Between 1998 and 2012, it warmed at an average rate of 0.04°C per decade. This slowdown is not easily explained: greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere have continued to rise at 3.1% per year, and are now 30% higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.

Worse floods ahead as climate warms

24 July – Heavy and prolonged rainfall will cause both more frequent and more severe flooding across the United Kingdom and the rest of north-west Europe as the atmosphere continues to warm, say British and American scientists. A study in IOP Publishing’s Environmental Research Letters of what are known as atmospheric rivers pins the blame for the increasing flood risk firmly on man-made climate change and says the same problem will afflict other parts of the planet. Researchers at the University of Reading near London, and the US University of Iowa, describe how atmospheric rivers carry vast amounts of water vapour around the Earth, delivering heavy and prolonged rainfall, particularly to mountainous areas. They were responsible for the protracted winter and summer floods in the UK in 2012, which caused an estimated $1.6 billion (£1 bn) in damage. In a warming world the atmosphere can carry more water and the research showed that the rivers, typically running a kilometer above the earth, 300 kilometres wide and thousands of kilometres long, would become larger and capable of delivering even bigger quantities of prolonged rainfall.

Arctic methane melt ‘could cost $60 tn’

24 July – The true cost of an ice-free Arctic summer could be counted in lives lost, communities flooded and economies ruined, three scientists warn. Methane in the submarine permafrost could be released on such a scale that the cost to the world’s economy could reach $60 trillion. The value of the entire world economy in 2012 was $70 trillion. Gail Whiteman is at the school of management at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Peter Wadhams is a professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge and Chris Hope is at the Judge Business School in Cambridge. All three argue, in the journal Nature, that while businesses consider the benefits of Arctic warming in terms of shorter sea routes and easier access to fossil fuel reserves, the potentially catastrophic consequences are being ignored. The problem they foresee is relatively straightforward and has been of concern to climate scientists for years. For all human history, the Arctic Ocean has been capped by ice. Beneath the ice is sunless ocean, and beneath the ocean is permanently frozen seabed, and within the seabed are billions of tonnes of marsh gas or natural gas stored as frozen methane hydrate.

Warmer climate will hit Volta river levels

25 July – Plans to boost food and energy production in one of West Africa’s most rapidly populating regions are likely to be put in jeopardy by water shortages brought about by rising temperatures, falling rainfall and increased evaporation, says a new report. The Volta River is one of Africa’s main waterways. More than 24 million people in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali and Togo depend on the river and its tributaries for water.  The output of hydro-electric plants on the river is also a key element in providing power for irrigation systems and for driving the region’s industrial growth. The study, The Water Resource Implications of Changing Climate in the Volta River Basin by the International Water Management Institute and partner organisations, says there are indications that temperatures will rise by up to 3.6°C in the Volta River Basin over the next century – leading to significant water loss due to evaporation – while rainfall in the region could drop by 20%. As a result water flows in the Volta and its tributaries could fall by 45%, “depriving the basin of water that countries are counting on to drive turbines and feed farms”, says the study.

Alaska’s forest fires burn more fiercely

26 July – There have always been fires in the cold forests of Alaska. Periods of burning are part of the ecological regime, and fires return to black spruce stands of the Yukon Flats at intervals of tens to hundreds of years. But recent evidence suggests that fire is about to come back with a vengeance – or, in the language of science, “a transition to a unique regime of unprecedented fire activity”. Ryan Kelly and Feng Sheng Hu, two biologists at the University of Illinois, Urbana, have examined charcoal records from 14 lakes in Yukon Flats to reconstruct the history of burning for the last 10,000 years. They and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that during the Medieval Climate Anomaly – the warm period that brought monastery vineyards to Britain a thousand years ago – the dry conditions favoured what they call “peak biomass burning”. But this apparent limit has, they report, been surpassed during recent decades, characterised by “exceptionally high fire frequency and biomass burning.”

Traditional knowledge ‘vital to science’

23 July – Climate change often seems to be seen as the preserve of scientists and environmental journalists. But what about the accumulated wisdom of traditional and indigenous peoples? A Brazilian anthropologist says they have an important contribution to make to knowledge about climate change, and it is about time they were heard. Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, emeritus professor of the Department of Anthropology at Chicago University and the University of São Paulo, says scientists should listen to traditional and indigenous peoples because they are very well informed about their local climate as well as the natural world around them, and they can share this knowledge with scientists. This knowledge, she says, is not a “treasure” of data to be stored and used when wanted, but a living and evolving process: “It is important to understand that traditional wisdom is not something simply transmitted from generation to generation. It is alive, and traditional and indigenous peoples are continually producing new knowledge”.

Scientists mull Arctic’s slow CO2 loss

28 July – The levels of Arctic permafrost that thaw each year and freeze again are growing at depths of 1cm a year, but the carbon locked away in the soils is – so far – not being released at an accelerating rate. This is good news for climate change worriers, but only for the time being. Bo Elberling of the Centre for Permafrost at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that the soggy summer soils of Greenland, Svalbard and Canada where they have taken samples are not releasing carbon dioxide at the rate some had feared. But the results are based on preliminary research and they still have to work out why carbon release is so slow – and whether it will remain slow. The “active permafrost” is a natural feature of sub-Arctic life: there is a shallow thaw each summer, plants flower, insects arrive, migrating birds follow the insects, grazing animals forage, predators seize a chance to fatten, and then winter returns with the shorter days. But of all the climate zones, the Arctic is responding fastest to global warming, with a startling loss of sea ice; the glaciers, too, are in retreat almost everywhere.

This is a summary of the stories we published in the week ending Sunday 28 July.

Climate leaves Iberian lynx at last gasp

22 July – Climate change could be about to extinguish the world’s most endangered cat. As rabbit populations dwindle in the wilder parts of the Iberian peninsula, so do the chances of survival for their predator, the Iberian lynx. Most of the world’s wild felines are in trouble, but Lynx pardinus earned its unwelcome distinction in 2008 when – despite decades of conservation effort – its population fell to about 160 animals, in two locations, when only a decade before there had been at least nine surviving populations. Miguel Araújo of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, Spain and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they took a model of predator-prey numbers specially designed for the lynx and ran it through a series of climate model simulations to see how the creature fared. The answer is it fared badly. Eighty per cent of the lynx’s natural diet is rabbit, and although rabbits are widely considered to be prolific pests in many parts of Europe, the combination of overhunting, introduced and natural infection has left the rabbit population in the peninsula impoverished.

More US insurers to reveal climate risks

23 July – The US insurance industry has been reluctant to recognise the dangers posed to its customers – and its revenues – by a warming climate. Now there are signs that attitudes in the multi-billion dollar sector are slowly beginning to change. In the last week the states of Connecticut and Minnesota announced they would be adopting regulations applying in California, New York and Washington states which require insurance companies to fully disclose their readiness to deal with climate change-related risks. “As insurance regulators, it is important that we identify those climate-related factors that can affect the marketplace and in particular the availability and cost of insurance”, says Thomas B. Leonardi, Connecticut’s Insurance Commissioner. Elsewhere in the US, insurers seem unwilling to contemplate the implications for their businesses of changes in climate. While some states, particularly California, have been pressing insurers to be more aware of the dangers posed by climate change, the remaining 45 states have so far refused to adopt the disclosure requirements.

Climate warming slows: no surprise yet

23 July – Here is an interim update on the uncertain future of climate change: it remains uncertain and all forecasts are, for the time being, interim. British scientists say that global warming has slowed down. Their climate models predicted periods in which warming would slow before speeding up again, and this slowing down is within their calculated limits of uncertainty: they had not, however, expected the slowdown to happen for a decade or more. But it is happening now. Between 1970 and 1998, the planet warmed at an average of 0.17°C per decade because of human impact on the atmosphere in the form of fossil fuel burning, forest destruction and other human activity. Between 1998 and 2012, it warmed at an average rate of 0.04°C per decade. This slowdown is not easily explained: greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere have continued to rise at 3.1% per year, and are now 30% higher than at any time in the last 800,000 years.

Worse floods ahead as climate warms

24 July – Heavy and prolonged rainfall will cause both more frequent and more severe flooding across the United Kingdom and the rest of north-west Europe as the atmosphere continues to warm, say British and American scientists. A study in IOP Publishing’s Environmental Research Letters of what are known as atmospheric rivers pins the blame for the increasing flood risk firmly on man-made climate change and says the same problem will afflict other parts of the planet. Researchers at the University of Reading near London, and the US University of Iowa, describe how atmospheric rivers carry vast amounts of water vapour around the Earth, delivering heavy and prolonged rainfall, particularly to mountainous areas. They were responsible for the protracted winter and summer floods in the UK in 2012, which caused an estimated $1.6 billion (£1 bn) in damage. In a warming world the atmosphere can carry more water and the research showed that the rivers, typically running a kilometer above the earth, 300 kilometres wide and thousands of kilometres long, would become larger and capable of delivering even bigger quantities of prolonged rainfall.

Arctic methane melt ‘could cost $60 tn’

24 July – The true cost of an ice-free Arctic summer could be counted in lives lost, communities flooded and economies ruined, three scientists warn. Methane in the submarine permafrost could be released on such a scale that the cost to the world’s economy could reach $60 trillion. The value of the entire world economy in 2012 was $70 trillion. Gail Whiteman is at the school of management at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Peter Wadhams is a professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge and Chris Hope is at the Judge Business School in Cambridge. All three argue, in the journal Nature, that while businesses consider the benefits of Arctic warming in terms of shorter sea routes and easier access to fossil fuel reserves, the potentially catastrophic consequences are being ignored. The problem they foresee is relatively straightforward and has been of concern to climate scientists for years. For all human history, the Arctic Ocean has been capped by ice. Beneath the ice is sunless ocean, and beneath the ocean is permanently frozen seabed, and within the seabed are billions of tonnes of marsh gas or natural gas stored as frozen methane hydrate.

Warmer climate will hit Volta river levels

25 July – Plans to boost food and energy production in one of West Africa’s most rapidly populating regions are likely to be put in jeopardy by water shortages brought about by rising temperatures, falling rainfall and increased evaporation, says a new report. The Volta River is one of Africa’s main waterways. More than 24 million people in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali and Togo depend on the river and its tributaries for water.  The output of hydro-electric plants on the river is also a key element in providing power for irrigation systems and for driving the region’s industrial growth. The study, The Water Resource Implications of Changing Climate in the Volta River Basin by the International Water Management Institute and partner organisations, says there are indications that temperatures will rise by up to 3.6°C in the Volta River Basin over the next century – leading to significant water loss due to evaporation – while rainfall in the region could drop by 20%. As a result water flows in the Volta and its tributaries could fall by 45%, “depriving the basin of water that countries are counting on to drive turbines and feed farms”, says the study.

Alaska’s forest fires burn more fiercely

26 July – There have always been fires in the cold forests of Alaska. Periods of burning are part of the ecological regime, and fires return to black spruce stands of the Yukon Flats at intervals of tens to hundreds of years. But recent evidence suggests that fire is about to come back with a vengeance – or, in the language of science, “a transition to a unique regime of unprecedented fire activity”. Ryan Kelly and Feng Sheng Hu, two biologists at the University of Illinois, Urbana, have examined charcoal records from 14 lakes in Yukon Flats to reconstruct the history of burning for the last 10,000 years. They and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that during the Medieval Climate Anomaly – the warm period that brought monastery vineyards to Britain a thousand years ago – the dry conditions favoured what they call “peak biomass burning”. But this apparent limit has, they report, been surpassed during recent decades, characterised by “exceptionally high fire frequency and biomass burning.”

Traditional knowledge ‘vital to science’

23 July – Climate change often seems to be seen as the preserve of scientists and environmental journalists. But what about the accumulated wisdom of traditional and indigenous peoples? A Brazilian anthropologist says they have an important contribution to make to knowledge about climate change, and it is about time they were heard. Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, emeritus professor of the Department of Anthropology at Chicago University and the University of São Paulo, says scientists should listen to traditional and indigenous peoples because they are very well informed about their local climate as well as the natural world around them, and they can share this knowledge with scientists. This knowledge, she says, is not a “treasure” of data to be stored and used when wanted, but a living and evolving process: “It is important to understand that traditional wisdom is not something simply transmitted from generation to generation. It is alive, and traditional and indigenous peoples are continually producing new knowledge”.

Scientists mull Arctic’s slow CO2 loss

28 July – The levels of Arctic permafrost that thaw each year and freeze again are growing at depths of 1cm a year, but the carbon locked away in the soils is – so far – not being released at an accelerating rate. This is good news for climate change worriers, but only for the time being. Bo Elberling of the Centre for Permafrost at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that the soggy summer soils of Greenland, Svalbard and Canada where they have taken samples are not releasing carbon dioxide at the rate some had feared. But the results are based on preliminary research and they still have to work out why carbon release is so slow – and whether it will remain slow. The “active permafrost” is a natural feature of sub-Arctic life: there is a shallow thaw each summer, plants flower, insects arrive, migrating birds follow the insects, grazing animals forage, predators seize a chance to fatten, and then winter returns with the shorter days. But of all the climate zones, the Arctic is responding fastest to global warming, with a startling loss of sea ice; the glaciers, too, are in retreat almost everywhere.

US investors show climate clout

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE American business and industry is coming under closer scrutiny from shareholders concerned to see how prepared companies are to respond to the financial pressures of a warming world. LONDON, 29 July – Shareholders in the US are showing growing concern about their investments in companies exposed to climate change-related risks, according to new data released by Ceres, a US organisation that promotes more sustainable business practices. The annual round of corporate shareholder meetings – referred to in the US as the proxy season – has recently ended. Ceres says that at those meetings a total of 110 shareholder climate change and environmental sustainability-related resolutions were filed with 94 US-based companies: issues covered by the resolutions included concerns about hydraulic fracturing, flaring and both the environmental and financial risks of further exploitation of fossil fuel reserves. Some of the US’s largest public pension funds were among those filing resolutions, including the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the New York State and New York City Comptrollers’ Offices.  Ceres estimates that along with other large institutional investors these groups manage funds worth in excess of $500 bn in assets. “The strength of this year’s proxy season shows unwavering investor concern about how companies, especially energy companies, are managing the profound climate-related risks of fossil fuel production, including traditional and unconventional oil and gas extraction,” says Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres. “Investors saw especially important progress in tackling flaring, hydraulic fracturing and methane emission impacts, all key contributors to climate change.” A resolution questioning the activities of Continental Resources, a large oil producer, was withdrawn after the company agreed to reduce or eliminate flaring at its well sites. Similar resolutions filed with three companies involved in the booming hydraulic fracturing industry – EOG Resources, Ultra Petroleum and Cabot Oil & Gas – were also withdrawn after managements agreed to increase disclosure of their activities, including steps being taken to reduce the environmental risks of “fracking”.

Mounting concern

“Companies are responding to the growing calls for transparency and accountability,” says the head of a major investment fund. “Without qualitative reporting, shareholders cannot be assured that a company is taking real steps to minimize these risks and protect shareholder value.” According to Ceres data, the number of investor resolutions relating to climate change and environmental sustainability has increased significantly in recent years – from around 30 a decade ago to more than 100 last year. While some companies are responding to investor concerns on climate change and the environment, others are more hesitant. Shareholder resolutions asking two of the US’s biggest coal companies – CONSOL Energy and Alpha Natural Resources – to disclose how their extensive coal reserves might be affected by proposed new carbon regulations were defeated. Recent analyses have indicated that if targets to limit the rise in global temperature are to be met, then vast amounts of proven fossil fuel reserves need to remain unexploited. Such reserves can account for between 50 and 80% of the market value of coal, oil and gas companies: if regulations are brought in to support meeting targets on limiting global temperatures, those reserves could become “stranded” underground – having the knock-on effect of exposing companies and investors to significant financial risk. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE American business and industry is coming under closer scrutiny from shareholders concerned to see how prepared companies are to respond to the financial pressures of a warming world. LONDON, 29 July – Shareholders in the US are showing growing concern about their investments in companies exposed to climate change-related risks, according to new data released by Ceres, a US organisation that promotes more sustainable business practices. The annual round of corporate shareholder meetings – referred to in the US as the proxy season – has recently ended. Ceres says that at those meetings a total of 110 shareholder climate change and environmental sustainability-related resolutions were filed with 94 US-based companies: issues covered by the resolutions included concerns about hydraulic fracturing, flaring and both the environmental and financial risks of further exploitation of fossil fuel reserves. Some of the US’s largest public pension funds were among those filing resolutions, including the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the New York State and New York City Comptrollers’ Offices.  Ceres estimates that along with other large institutional investors these groups manage funds worth in excess of $500 bn in assets. “The strength of this year’s proxy season shows unwavering investor concern about how companies, especially energy companies, are managing the profound climate-related risks of fossil fuel production, including traditional and unconventional oil and gas extraction,” says Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres. “Investors saw especially important progress in tackling flaring, hydraulic fracturing and methane emission impacts, all key contributors to climate change.” A resolution questioning the activities of Continental Resources, a large oil producer, was withdrawn after the company agreed to reduce or eliminate flaring at its well sites. Similar resolutions filed with three companies involved in the booming hydraulic fracturing industry – EOG Resources, Ultra Petroleum and Cabot Oil & Gas – were also withdrawn after managements agreed to increase disclosure of their activities, including steps being taken to reduce the environmental risks of “fracking”.

Mounting concern

“Companies are responding to the growing calls for transparency and accountability,” says the head of a major investment fund. “Without qualitative reporting, shareholders cannot be assured that a company is taking real steps to minimize these risks and protect shareholder value.” According to Ceres data, the number of investor resolutions relating to climate change and environmental sustainability has increased significantly in recent years – from around 30 a decade ago to more than 100 last year. While some companies are responding to investor concerns on climate change and the environment, others are more hesitant. Shareholder resolutions asking two of the US’s biggest coal companies – CONSOL Energy and Alpha Natural Resources – to disclose how their extensive coal reserves might be affected by proposed new carbon regulations were defeated. Recent analyses have indicated that if targets to limit the rise in global temperature are to be met, then vast amounts of proven fossil fuel reserves need to remain unexploited. Such reserves can account for between 50 and 80% of the market value of coal, oil and gas companies: if regulations are brought in to support meeting targets on limiting global temperatures, those reserves could become “stranded” underground – having the knock-on effect of exposing companies and investors to significant financial risk. – Climate News Network

Scientists mull Arctic's slow CO2 loss

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Arctic permafrost thaws each year, but – to the surprise of scientists from Denmark – in some areas it is not releasing the carbon dioxide it contains nearly as fast as they had expected.

LONDON, 28 July – Think of permafrost as a slush fund of so-far uncertain value. The levels of Arctic permafrost that thaw each year and freeze again are growing at depths of 1cm a year, but the carbon locked away in the soils is – so far – not being released at an accelerating rate.

This is good news for climate change worriers, but only for the time being. Bo Elberling of the Centre for Permafrost at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that the soggy summer soils of Greenland, Svalbard and Canada where they have taken samples are not releasing carbon dioxide at the rate some had feared.

But the results are based on preliminary research and they still have to work out why carbon release is so slow – and whether it will remain slow.

The “active permafrost” is a natural feature of sub-Arctic life: there is a shallow thaw each summer, plants flower, insects arrive, migrating birds follow the insects, grazing animals forage, predators seize a chance to fatten, and then winter returns with the shorter days.

But of all the climate zones, the Arctic is responding fastest to global warming, with a startling loss of sea ice; the glaciers, too, are in retreat almost everywhere.

Professor Elberling and colleagues have been taking measurements over the three or four months of the thaw for the last 12 years; they have also modelled changing conditions in the laboratory.

Slow decay rate

There they could change the drainage and control the temperature, and they found that a layer of thawing permafrost could lose significant quantities of carbon, as the microbes resumed the business of decay: in 70 years of such annual thaw and freeze, up to 77% of the soil carbon could turn into carbon dioxide, with serious consequences for yet further global warming.

But, they report in Nature Climate Change, that does not seem to be happening at any of the sites under test: if the water content of the thawing soils remains high, then carbon decay is very slow, and the eventual release of this carbon could take hundreds of years.

So anyone who wants to model this release will have to think about whether there is enough oxygen to speed up the release, or whether cold water will dampen the process and slow it down.

“It is thought-provoking that micro-organisms are behind the entire problem – micro-organisms which break down the carbon pool and which are apparently already present in the permafrost. One of the critical decisive factors – the water content – is in the same way linked to the original high content of ice in most permafrost samples.

“Yes, the temperature is increasing, and the permafrost is thawing, but it is, still, the characteristics of the permafrost which determine the long-term release of carbon dioxide,” says Elberling. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Arctic permafrost thaws each year, but – to the surprise of scientists from Denmark – in some areas it is not releasing the carbon dioxide it contains nearly as fast as they had expected.

LONDON, 28 July – Think of permafrost as a slush fund of so-far uncertain value. The levels of Arctic permafrost that thaw each year and freeze again are growing at depths of 1cm a year, but the carbon locked away in the soils is – so far – not being released at an accelerating rate.

This is good news for climate change worriers, but only for the time being. Bo Elberling of the Centre for Permafrost at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that the soggy summer soils of Greenland, Svalbard and Canada where they have taken samples are not releasing carbon dioxide at the rate some had feared.

But the results are based on preliminary research and they still have to work out why carbon release is so slow – and whether it will remain slow.

The “active permafrost” is a natural feature of sub-Arctic life: there is a shallow thaw each summer, plants flower, insects arrive, migrating birds follow the insects, grazing animals forage, predators seize a chance to fatten, and then winter returns with the shorter days.

But of all the climate zones, the Arctic is responding fastest to global warming, with a startling loss of sea ice; the glaciers, too, are in retreat almost everywhere.

Professor Elberling and colleagues have been taking measurements over the three or four months of the thaw for the last 12 years; they have also modelled changing conditions in the laboratory.

Slow decay rate

There they could change the drainage and control the temperature, and they found that a layer of thawing permafrost could lose significant quantities of carbon, as the microbes resumed the business of decay: in 70 years of such annual thaw and freeze, up to 77% of the soil carbon could turn into carbon dioxide, with serious consequences for yet further global warming.

But, they report in Nature Climate Change, that does not seem to be happening at any of the sites under test: if the water content of the thawing soils remains high, then carbon decay is very slow, and the eventual release of this carbon could take hundreds of years.

So anyone who wants to model this release will have to think about whether there is enough oxygen to speed up the release, or whether cold water will dampen the process and slow it down.

“It is thought-provoking that micro-organisms are behind the entire problem – micro-organisms which break down the carbon pool and which are apparently already present in the permafrost. One of the critical decisive factors – the water content – is in the same way linked to the original high content of ice in most permafrost samples.

“Yes, the temperature is increasing, and the permafrost is thawing, but it is, still, the characteristics of the permafrost which determine the long-term release of carbon dioxide,” says Elberling. – Climate News Network

Scientists mull Arctic’s slow CO2 loss

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Arctic permafrost thaws each year, but – to the surprise of scientists from Denmark – in some areas it is not releasing the carbon dioxide it contains nearly as fast as they had expected. LONDON, 28 July – Think of permafrost as a slush fund of so-far uncertain value. The levels of Arctic permafrost that thaw each year and freeze again are growing at depths of 1cm a year, but the carbon locked away in the soils is – so far – not being released at an accelerating rate. This is good news for climate change worriers, but only for the time being. Bo Elberling of the Centre for Permafrost at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that the soggy summer soils of Greenland, Svalbard and Canada where they have taken samples are not releasing carbon dioxide at the rate some had feared. But the results are based on preliminary research and they still have to work out why carbon release is so slow – and whether it will remain slow. The “active permafrost” is a natural feature of sub-Arctic life: there is a shallow thaw each summer, plants flower, insects arrive, migrating birds follow the insects, grazing animals forage, predators seize a chance to fatten, and then winter returns with the shorter days. But of all the climate zones, the Arctic is responding fastest to global warming, with a startling loss of sea ice; the glaciers, too, are in retreat almost everywhere. Professor Elberling and colleagues have been taking measurements over the three or four months of the thaw for the last 12 years; they have also modelled changing conditions in the laboratory.

Slow decay rate

There they could change the drainage and control the temperature, and they found that a layer of thawing permafrost could lose significant quantities of carbon, as the microbes resumed the business of decay: in 70 years of such annual thaw and freeze, up to 77% of the soil carbon could turn into carbon dioxide, with serious consequences for yet further global warming. But, they report in Nature Climate Change, that does not seem to be happening at any of the sites under test: if the water content of the thawing soils remains high, then carbon decay is very slow, and the eventual release of this carbon could take hundreds of years. So anyone who wants to model this release will have to think about whether there is enough oxygen to speed up the release, or whether cold water will dampen the process and slow it down. “It is thought-provoking that micro-organisms are behind the entire problem – micro-organisms which break down the carbon pool and which are apparently already present in the permafrost. One of the critical decisive factors – the water content – is in the same way linked to the original high content of ice in most permafrost samples. “Yes, the temperature is increasing, and the permafrost is thawing, but it is, still, the characteristics of the permafrost which determine the long-term release of carbon dioxide,” says Elberling. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE The Arctic permafrost thaws each year, but – to the surprise of scientists from Denmark – in some areas it is not releasing the carbon dioxide it contains nearly as fast as they had expected. LONDON, 28 July – Think of permafrost as a slush fund of so-far uncertain value. The levels of Arctic permafrost that thaw each year and freeze again are growing at depths of 1cm a year, but the carbon locked away in the soils is – so far – not being released at an accelerating rate. This is good news for climate change worriers, but only for the time being. Bo Elberling of the Centre for Permafrost at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that the soggy summer soils of Greenland, Svalbard and Canada where they have taken samples are not releasing carbon dioxide at the rate some had feared. But the results are based on preliminary research and they still have to work out why carbon release is so slow – and whether it will remain slow. The “active permafrost” is a natural feature of sub-Arctic life: there is a shallow thaw each summer, plants flower, insects arrive, migrating birds follow the insects, grazing animals forage, predators seize a chance to fatten, and then winter returns with the shorter days. But of all the climate zones, the Arctic is responding fastest to global warming, with a startling loss of sea ice; the glaciers, too, are in retreat almost everywhere. Professor Elberling and colleagues have been taking measurements over the three or four months of the thaw for the last 12 years; they have also modelled changing conditions in the laboratory.

Slow decay rate

There they could change the drainage and control the temperature, and they found that a layer of thawing permafrost could lose significant quantities of carbon, as the microbes resumed the business of decay: in 70 years of such annual thaw and freeze, up to 77% of the soil carbon could turn into carbon dioxide, with serious consequences for yet further global warming. But, they report in Nature Climate Change, that does not seem to be happening at any of the sites under test: if the water content of the thawing soils remains high, then carbon decay is very slow, and the eventual release of this carbon could take hundreds of years. So anyone who wants to model this release will have to think about whether there is enough oxygen to speed up the release, or whether cold water will dampen the process and slow it down. “It is thought-provoking that micro-organisms are behind the entire problem – micro-organisms which break down the carbon pool and which are apparently already present in the permafrost. One of the critical decisive factors – the water content – is in the same way linked to the original high content of ice in most permafrost samples. “Yes, the temperature is increasing, and the permafrost is thawing, but it is, still, the characteristics of the permafrost which determine the long-term release of carbon dioxide,” says Elberling. – Climate News Network

The week that's gone: 21 July 2013

This is a summary of the stories we published in the week ending Sunday 21 July.

Sea levels ‘are set for continuing rise’

15 July – Sea-level rise may be slow to show its hand but once it really starts, researchers say, it will keep going for centuries, with baleful effects. For each degree by which the Earth warms, they believe, sea levels will probably rise by over two metres. Some recent research has suggested that the future rate of sea-level rise may not be as fast as scientists had expected. But a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The multi-millennial sea-level commitment of global warming, paints a different picture. Today’s greenhouse gas emissions will cause sea levels to rise for centuries to come. “CO2, once emitted by burning fossil fuels, stays an awful long time in the atmosphere”, says Anders Levermann, lead author of the study and research domain co-chair at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany. “Consequently, the warming it causes also persists.”

Britons ‘want fair, clean energy system’

16 July – The public may be more prepared for the demanding logic of climate change than many politicians. New research in the UK confirms that most people in Britain would like to see an energy system that is clean, safe, fair and efficient. Four out of five people are concerned about becoming too dependent on energy supplies from other nations; three out of four are concerned or very concerned about climate change, and four out of five questioned would like to reduce their overall energy use. The UK Energy Research Centre’s report, Transforming the UK Energy System – Public Values, Attitudes and Acceptability, is based on 30 months of study and is to be debated at the Royal Society (16 July). It is the first of its kind to examine in detail public attitudes to all the wider aspects of energy sources, energy use, pollution, new technologies, carbon dioxide emissions and planetary change. “Our participants saw the bigger picture of energy system transformation and they were overwhelmingly committed to moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable forms of energy production, and to lowering energy demand”, said Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University, who led the research.

Antarctic ice loss alters ocean ecology

17 July – Climate change could literally throw new light on the dark submarine world. In the 20 years since the tempestuous break-up of the Larsen A ice shelf, off the Antarctic peninsula, the sea floor beneath has been colonised by a new set of citizens: glass sponges or Hexactinellida. The vast, floating glacier collapsed in a violent storm in 1995, and is no longer a consistent sheet of year-round ice. What has changed is not the temperature of the sea floor beneath, but the light that reaches it. The deep southern ocean waters flow at a pretty steady -2°C. But waters once completely masked by ice are now exposed to sunlight for more than six months of the year. German researchers report that a static, filter-feeding animal once believed to grow only very slowly has appeared in great numbers and with surprising speed. Laura Fillinger and Claudio Richter of the Alfred Wegener Institute and colleagues write in the journal Current Biology that where there were once mostly ascidians, or sea squirts, there were now none: they had been replaced by glass sponges that have taken advantage of the phytoplankton growth in the surface waters, which has led in turn to a steady supply of fresh food to the sea bed 140 metres below.

Natural barriers protect coasts best

18 July – The best thing to protect your property from the sea is a sand dune – or a mangrove swamp, or a coral reef, kelp forest or sea grass meadow. Nature, which has been doing the job for three billion years, has had time to work out the surest and most enduring sea defences, according to US researchers. Katie Arkema of the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University in California and colleagues found that the conservation of natural habitat could reduce by half the people and property at risk from coastal storms. As planetary temperatures rise and the ice caps retreat, sea levels are expected to rise: more frequent or more intense storms and flooding are also forecast. In total, 23 of the 25 most populous counties in the US are on the coasts. Coastal engineering is expensive, and anyway may not be the best solution.

Ocean iron study means climate rethink

19 July – British scientists say estimates of the amount of iron dissolving into seawater around some of the world’s coasts may be drastically wrong. They say there is no standard, one-size-fits-all way to measure how much iron enters the water in different parts of the globe. Instead, they say, the amounts may vary by up to ten thousand times between one area and another, with profound implications for the impact of the iron on the oceanic carbon cycle. This uncertainty, they say, has probably led to iron’s impact being both exaggerated and underplayed. It is compounded by another discovery: that the iron enters the water by two mechanisms, not the one thought so far to be solely responsible. Iron is key to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it promotes the growth of microscopic marine plants (phytoplankton), which mop up the greenhouse gas and lock it away in the oceans.

Plants wilt as heat increases ozone

20 July – Rising temperatures could be bad news for people with bad lungs. Two new lines of research are bleak reminders of the link between air quality and human health. A study from the University of York in the UK reports that ozone levels soar during heat waves – perhaps because the capacity of plants to absorb ozone is curtailed as the mercury goes up. When the ground is dry and the temperatures rise, plants become stressed: they shut their stomata – those tiny pores in their leaves – to conserve moisture. It means they can survive the high ozone levels that tend to follow traffic fumes and factory exhausts in hot weather.  But it also means they cannot react to the ozone. “Vegetation can absorb as much as 20% of the global atmospheric ozone production, so the potential impact on air quality is substantial”, said Dr Lisa Emberson of the university’s Stockholm Environment Institute… Worldwide, according to a report in Environmental Research Letters, more than two million people die because of human-caused outdoor air pollution. Researchers report that, so far, climate change has had only a minimal effect on death rates.

Ice-free Arctic pinpointed 40 years ahead

21 July– People have been warning about an ice-free Arctic ocean for years. But Jiping Liu, an atmospheric scientist at the State University of New York in Albany in the US and colleagues have gone one better. They predict that the Arctic Ocean will be effectively free of ice for the first time in the month of September between 2054 and 2058. Once again, the prediction depends on climate models, and inevitably on the decisions governments take to control greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade. But the fact that a team of scientists can spread their bets over a span of four specific years is an indicator of how fast and how inexorable the Arctic melting has become. The polar icecap has been dwindling in area and losing its thickness for decades: the observations by satellite have been confirmed by submarine measurements and icebreaker journeys. An icecap that was, historically, impassable even in summer has for years given way each autumn to ever greater stretches of open water.

This is a summary of the stories we published in the week ending Sunday 21 July.

Sea levels ‘are set for continuing rise’

15 July – Sea-level rise may be slow to show its hand but once it really starts, researchers say, it will keep going for centuries, with baleful effects. For each degree by which the Earth warms, they believe, sea levels will probably rise by over two metres. Some recent research has suggested that the future rate of sea-level rise may not be as fast as scientists had expected. But a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The multi-millennial sea-level commitment of global warming, paints a different picture. Today’s greenhouse gas emissions will cause sea levels to rise for centuries to come. “CO2, once emitted by burning fossil fuels, stays an awful long time in the atmosphere”, says Anders Levermann, lead author of the study and research domain co-chair at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany. “Consequently, the warming it causes also persists.”

Britons ‘want fair, clean energy system’

16 July – The public may be more prepared for the demanding logic of climate change than many politicians. New research in the UK confirms that most people in Britain would like to see an energy system that is clean, safe, fair and efficient. Four out of five people are concerned about becoming too dependent on energy supplies from other nations; three out of four are concerned or very concerned about climate change, and four out of five questioned would like to reduce their overall energy use. The UK Energy Research Centre’s report, Transforming the UK Energy System – Public Values, Attitudes and Acceptability, is based on 30 months of study and is to be debated at the Royal Society (16 July). It is the first of its kind to examine in detail public attitudes to all the wider aspects of energy sources, energy use, pollution, new technologies, carbon dioxide emissions and planetary change. “Our participants saw the bigger picture of energy system transformation and they were overwhelmingly committed to moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable forms of energy production, and to lowering energy demand”, said Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University, who led the research.

Antarctic ice loss alters ocean ecology

17 July – Climate change could literally throw new light on the dark submarine world. In the 20 years since the tempestuous break-up of the Larsen A ice shelf, off the Antarctic peninsula, the sea floor beneath has been colonised by a new set of citizens: glass sponges or Hexactinellida. The vast, floating glacier collapsed in a violent storm in 1995, and is no longer a consistent sheet of year-round ice. What has changed is not the temperature of the sea floor beneath, but the light that reaches it. The deep southern ocean waters flow at a pretty steady -2°C. But waters once completely masked by ice are now exposed to sunlight for more than six months of the year. German researchers report that a static, filter-feeding animal once believed to grow only very slowly has appeared in great numbers and with surprising speed. Laura Fillinger and Claudio Richter of the Alfred Wegener Institute and colleagues write in the journal Current Biology that where there were once mostly ascidians, or sea squirts, there were now none: they had been replaced by glass sponges that have taken advantage of the phytoplankton growth in the surface waters, which has led in turn to a steady supply of fresh food to the sea bed 140 metres below.

Natural barriers protect coasts best

18 July – The best thing to protect your property from the sea is a sand dune – or a mangrove swamp, or a coral reef, kelp forest or sea grass meadow. Nature, which has been doing the job for three billion years, has had time to work out the surest and most enduring sea defences, according to US researchers. Katie Arkema of the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University in California and colleagues found that the conservation of natural habitat could reduce by half the people and property at risk from coastal storms. As planetary temperatures rise and the ice caps retreat, sea levels are expected to rise: more frequent or more intense storms and flooding are also forecast. In total, 23 of the 25 most populous counties in the US are on the coasts. Coastal engineering is expensive, and anyway may not be the best solution.

Ocean iron study means climate rethink

19 July – British scientists say estimates of the amount of iron dissolving into seawater around some of the world’s coasts may be drastically wrong. They say there is no standard, one-size-fits-all way to measure how much iron enters the water in different parts of the globe. Instead, they say, the amounts may vary by up to ten thousand times between one area and another, with profound implications for the impact of the iron on the oceanic carbon cycle. This uncertainty, they say, has probably led to iron’s impact being both exaggerated and underplayed. It is compounded by another discovery: that the iron enters the water by two mechanisms, not the one thought so far to be solely responsible. Iron is key to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it promotes the growth of microscopic marine plants (phytoplankton), which mop up the greenhouse gas and lock it away in the oceans.

Plants wilt as heat increases ozone

20 July – Rising temperatures could be bad news for people with bad lungs. Two new lines of research are bleak reminders of the link between air quality and human health. A study from the University of York in the UK reports that ozone levels soar during heat waves – perhaps because the capacity of plants to absorb ozone is curtailed as the mercury goes up. When the ground is dry and the temperatures rise, plants become stressed: they shut their stomata – those tiny pores in their leaves – to conserve moisture. It means they can survive the high ozone levels that tend to follow traffic fumes and factory exhausts in hot weather.  But it also means they cannot react to the ozone. “Vegetation can absorb as much as 20% of the global atmospheric ozone production, so the potential impact on air quality is substantial”, said Dr Lisa Emberson of the university’s Stockholm Environment Institute… Worldwide, according to a report in Environmental Research Letters, more than two million people die because of human-caused outdoor air pollution. Researchers report that, so far, climate change has had only a minimal effect on death rates.

Ice-free Arctic pinpointed 40 years ahead

21 July– People have been warning about an ice-free Arctic ocean for years. But Jiping Liu, an atmospheric scientist at the State University of New York in Albany in the US and colleagues have gone one better. They predict that the Arctic Ocean will be effectively free of ice for the first time in the month of September between 2054 and 2058. Once again, the prediction depends on climate models, and inevitably on the decisions governments take to control greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade. But the fact that a team of scientists can spread their bets over a span of four specific years is an indicator of how fast and how inexorable the Arctic melting has become. The polar icecap has been dwindling in area and losing its thickness for decades: the observations by satellite have been confirmed by submarine measurements and icebreaker journeys. An icecap that was, historically, impassable even in summer has for years given way each autumn to ever greater stretches of open water.

Traditional knowledge 'vital to science'

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Peoples who have lived in the same place for countless generations – the Amazon, perhaps, or the Arctic – possess invaluable knowledge about living with climate change, and it is evolving all the time.

SAO PAULO, 23 July – Climate change often seems to be seen as the preserve of scientists and environmental journalists. But what about the accumulated wisdom of traditional and indigenous peoples?

A Brazilian anthropologist says they have an important contribution to make to knowledge about climate change, and it is about time they were heard.

Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, emeritus professor of the Department of Anthropology at Chicago University and the University of São Paulo, says scientists should listen to traditional and indigenous peoples because they are very well informed about their local climate as well as the natural world around them, and they can share this knowledge with scientists.

This knowledge, she says, is not a “treasure” of data to be stored and used when wanted, but a living and evolving process: “It is important to understand that traditional wisdom is not something simply transmitted from generation to generation. It is alive, and traditional and indigenous peoples are continually producing new knowledge”.

She points out that indigenous people often inhabit areas which are very vulnerable to climate and environmental change, and depend on the natural resources around them.

Yet despite this vast amount of accumulated wisdom it was only in 2007, after the publication of its fourth report, and nineteen years after it was set up, that the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) began asking them to help to develop ways to diminish global climate impacts.

Professor Cunha said confidence must be established between scientists and traditional peoples.  One of the best ways to do this was when a traditional community sought solutions for a problem which also interested the scientists.

An example, she said, was the Arctic Council – an intergovernmental forum of eight countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Russia, Canada and the US) and 16 traditional and indigenous populations, mostly reindeer herders – which takes strategic decisions about the North Pole.

With the herders who move their animals seasonally to other Arctic regions in search of better grazing, a group of researchers studied the impacts of climate change on the ecosystems, the economy and society in the region. NASA, universities and research institutes were also involved, and the result was the Arctic Resilience Report, produced in 2004.

This was perhaps the most successful experiment in collaboration between science and traditional and local knowledge, said Professor Cunha. It is important that each group knows what the other is doing, she said.

Local knowledge is not only vital: it is constantly developing to cope with new realities Image: RIA Novosti archive, image £501303/Mikhail Kuhtarev/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Local knowledge is not only vital: it is constantly developing to cope with new realities
Image: RIA Novosti archive, image £501303/Mikhail Kuhtarev/CC-BY-SA 3.0

She was speaking at the annual regional meeting of IPBES – the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – held in São Paulo earlier in July

The aim of  IPBES is to organise knowledge about the Earth’s biodiversity in order to offer information for political decisions at a world level, like the work carried out over the last 25 years by the IPCC.

Professor Cunha suggested that IPBES should involve local and indigenous populations from the beginning of the programme, calling on them to be involved in planning studies, identifying themes of common interest for study, and sharing the results.

“Their detailed knowledge is of fundamental importance. One of the limitations facing panels like the IPCC or the IPBES is how to identify problems and solutions for dealing with global climate change at the local level.

“This is something that only those who for generations have lived in these regions are able to perceive. They know in minute detail what directly affects their lives and are able to detect changes in the climate, in crop productivity and any reduction in the number of plant and animal species”.

On biodiversity loss, Professor Cunha and IBPES president Zakri Abdul Hamid presented data showing that, of roughly 30,000 species of plants cultivated worldwide, just 30 species account for 95% of the food eaten by humans. Within those 30, just five – rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum – account for 60%.

Why Ireland starved

The danger of relying on fewer and fewer species was cruelly demonstrated in 1845 when potato blight wiped out the crop and caused widespread famine in Ireland. Over a thousand potato varieties existed in South America, but only two were grown in Ireland. When blight struck, there were no other varieties to plant.

More recently the Green Revolution of the 1970s selected the most productive and genetically uniform varieties in preference to plants more adapted to the specific conditions of the world’s different regions. Differences of soil and climate were then corrected with chemicals. This led to the global spread of homogenous plants and the loss of many local varieties.

This is an enormous risk for food security because plants are vulnerable to attack by pests, for example, and each local variety of a plant had developed special defences for the type of environment in which it was cultivated.

Professor Cunha described how, far from the Green Revolution, in the Upper and Mid-River Negro in the Amazon, women of the indigenous communities who live there cultivate over 100 types of manioc, sharing their planting experiences with each other, experimenting with dozens of varieties simultaneously in their small plots.

Aware that these cultural practices create a diversity which is very important for food security, the Brazilian Government’s agricultural research company, Embrapa, has developed a pilot project with the indigenous organisations in the region, coordinated by Professor Cunha herself.

Whether it is with manioc growers in the Amazon, or reindeer herders in the Arctic, collaboration between scientists and these owners of traditional and local knowledge can only benefit the planet. – Climate News Network

 

The information in this article is drawn from one by Elton Alisson, published in the newsletter of FAPESP, the São Paulo Research Foundation, on 22 July 2013.

Editor’s note: IPBES will hold a series of meetings with scientists from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Europe in the next two months, producing regional diagnoses for a report on the planet’s biodiversity. Besides scientific knowledge, they will include the accumulated wisdom of the traditional and indigenous peoples of these regions to help develop conservation actions.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Peoples who have lived in the same place for countless generations – the Amazon, perhaps, or the Arctic – possess invaluable knowledge about living with climate change, and it is evolving all the time.

SAO PAULO, 23 July – Climate change often seems to be seen as the preserve of scientists and environmental journalists. But what about the accumulated wisdom of traditional and indigenous peoples?

A Brazilian anthropologist says they have an important contribution to make to knowledge about climate change, and it is about time they were heard.

Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, emeritus professor of the Department of Anthropology at Chicago University and the University of São Paulo, says scientists should listen to traditional and indigenous peoples because they are very well informed about their local climate as well as the natural world around them, and they can share this knowledge with scientists.

This knowledge, she says, is not a “treasure” of data to be stored and used when wanted, but a living and evolving process: “It is important to understand that traditional wisdom is not something simply transmitted from generation to generation. It is alive, and traditional and indigenous peoples are continually producing new knowledge”.

She points out that indigenous people often inhabit areas which are very vulnerable to climate and environmental change, and depend on the natural resources around them.

Yet despite this vast amount of accumulated wisdom it was only in 2007, after the publication of its fourth report, and nineteen years after it was set up, that the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) began asking them to help to develop ways to diminish global climate impacts.

Professor Cunha said confidence must be established between scientists and traditional peoples.  One of the best ways to do this was when a traditional community sought solutions for a problem which also interested the scientists.

An example, she said, was the Arctic Council – an intergovernmental forum of eight countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Russia, Canada and the US) and 16 traditional and indigenous populations, mostly reindeer herders – which takes strategic decisions about the North Pole.

With the herders who move their animals seasonally to other Arctic regions in search of better grazing, a group of researchers studied the impacts of climate change on the ecosystems, the economy and society in the region. NASA, universities and research institutes were also involved, and the result was the Arctic Resilience Report, produced in 2004.

This was perhaps the most successful experiment in collaboration between science and traditional and local knowledge, said Professor Cunha. It is important that each group knows what the other is doing, she said.

Local knowledge is not only vital: it is constantly developing to cope with new realities Image: RIA Novosti archive, image £501303/Mikhail Kuhtarev/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Local knowledge is not only vital: it is constantly developing to cope with new realities
Image: RIA Novosti archive, image £501303/Mikhail Kuhtarev/CC-BY-SA 3.0

She was speaking at the annual regional meeting of IPBES – the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – held in São Paulo earlier in July

The aim of  IPBES is to organise knowledge about the Earth’s biodiversity in order to offer information for political decisions at a world level, like the work carried out over the last 25 years by the IPCC.

Professor Cunha suggested that IPBES should involve local and indigenous populations from the beginning of the programme, calling on them to be involved in planning studies, identifying themes of common interest for study, and sharing the results.

“Their detailed knowledge is of fundamental importance. One of the limitations facing panels like the IPCC or the IPBES is how to identify problems and solutions for dealing with global climate change at the local level.

“This is something that only those who for generations have lived in these regions are able to perceive. They know in minute detail what directly affects their lives and are able to detect changes in the climate, in crop productivity and any reduction in the number of plant and animal species”.

On biodiversity loss, Professor Cunha and IBPES president Zakri Abdul Hamid presented data showing that, of roughly 30,000 species of plants cultivated worldwide, just 30 species account for 95% of the food eaten by humans. Within those 30, just five – rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum – account for 60%.

Why Ireland starved

The danger of relying on fewer and fewer species was cruelly demonstrated in 1845 when potato blight wiped out the crop and caused widespread famine in Ireland. Over a thousand potato varieties existed in South America, but only two were grown in Ireland. When blight struck, there were no other varieties to plant.

More recently the Green Revolution of the 1970s selected the most productive and genetically uniform varieties in preference to plants more adapted to the specific conditions of the world’s different regions. Differences of soil and climate were then corrected with chemicals. This led to the global spread of homogenous plants and the loss of many local varieties.

This is an enormous risk for food security because plants are vulnerable to attack by pests, for example, and each local variety of a plant had developed special defences for the type of environment in which it was cultivated.

Professor Cunha described how, far from the Green Revolution, in the Upper and Mid-River Negro in the Amazon, women of the indigenous communities who live there cultivate over 100 types of manioc, sharing their planting experiences with each other, experimenting with dozens of varieties simultaneously in their small plots.

Aware that these cultural practices create a diversity which is very important for food security, the Brazilian Government’s agricultural research company, Embrapa, has developed a pilot project with the indigenous organisations in the region, coordinated by Professor Cunha herself.

Whether it is with manioc growers in the Amazon, or reindeer herders in the Arctic, collaboration between scientists and these owners of traditional and local knowledge can only benefit the planet. – Climate News Network

 

The information in this article is drawn from one by Elton Alisson, published in the newsletter of FAPESP, the São Paulo Research Foundation, on 22 July 2013.

Editor’s note: IPBES will hold a series of meetings with scientists from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Europe in the next two months, producing regional diagnoses for a report on the planet’s biodiversity. Besides scientific knowledge, they will include the accumulated wisdom of the traditional and indigenous peoples of these regions to help develop conservation actions.