Category Archives: Deforestation

Threatened mangrove forests won’t protect coasts

Rising tides driven by global heating could swamp the mangrove forests – bad news for the natural world, and for humans.

LONDON, 17 June, 2020 – If sea levels go on rising at ever higher rates, then by 2050 the world’s mangrove forests could be obliterated, drowned by rising tides.

Mangrove forests cover between 140,000 and 200,000 square kilometres of the intertidal zones that fringe more than 100 tropical and subtropical countries, and have become among the richest ecosystems of the planet.

They are estimated to store at least 30 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon each year, and a couple of sq kms of this saltwater forest can harbour nursery space for what could become 100 tonnes of commercial fish catch every year.

They also provide shelter for a huge range of creatures, including an estimated 500 Bengal tigers in the vast Sundarbans mangrove forests along the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta.

And while most of the 80 or so species of mangrove tree can keep up with an annual sea level rise of around 5mm a year, they seem unlikely, on evidence from the past, to be able to survive a 10mm rise. Right now, the world is heading for the higher end of the scale.

Sheltering people

A second and separate study finds that, importantly for humans, along with coral reefs, the mangrove forests provide vital natural protection from tropical storms for 31 million very vulnerable people in North and Central America and the crowded archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Researchers from Australia, China, Singapore and the US report in the journal Science that they looked at the evidence locked in the sediments in 78 locations from the last 10,000 years, to work out how mangrove forests have – through the millennia – responded to changes in sea level.

At the close of the last ice age, sea levels rose at 10mm a year and slowed to nearly stable conditions 4000 years ago.

In a high emissions scenario, by 2050 sea level rise would exceed 6mm: the scientists found a 90% probability that mangroves would not be able to grow fast enough to keep up. Nor – because of the development of coastal settlements worldwide – would the forests be able to shift inland.

“Simply put, it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall”

“This research therefore highlights yet another compelling reason why countries must take urgent action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Benjamin Horton of Nanyang Technical University in Singapore., one of the researchers.

“Mangroves are among the most valuable of natural ecosystems, supporting coastal fisheries and biodiversity, while protecting shorelines from wave and storm attack across the tropics.”

As so often happens in research, confirmatory evidence of the importance of mangroves had been published only days earlier, in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

US researchers found that – in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, off the coasts of east Africa and in the Indo-Pacific – a total of 30.9 million people lived in regions vulnerable to powerful tropical storms such as Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Harvey.

Of these, more than 8 million people were offered severe weather protection by shoreline mangrove forests and coral reefs, both of which absorb wave energy, reduce wave heights and keep coastal settlements safer.

Not enough protection

But only 38% of mangroves and 11% of coral reefs along the vulnerable coastlines are protected, they found.

A 100-metre screen of shoreline mangrove forest can reduce wave heights by as much as two-thirds. By 2100, coastal floods could be costing the world’s nations US$1 trillion a year in economic damage.

Geographers have argued for decades that natural protection is the most efficient way of saving lives and settlements from the storm surges and flooding associated with tropical cyclone extremes.

“Simply put”, said Holly Jones of Northern Illinois University, who led the research, “it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall.” – Climate News Network

Rising tides driven by global heating could swamp the mangrove forests – bad news for the natural world, and for humans.

LONDON, 17 June, 2020 – If sea levels go on rising at ever higher rates, then by 2050 the world’s mangrove forests could be obliterated, drowned by rising tides.

Mangrove forests cover between 140,000 and 200,000 square kilometres of the intertidal zones that fringe more than 100 tropical and subtropical countries, and have become among the richest ecosystems of the planet.

They are estimated to store at least 30 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon each year, and a couple of sq kms of this saltwater forest can harbour nursery space for what could become 100 tonnes of commercial fish catch every year.

They also provide shelter for a huge range of creatures, including an estimated 500 Bengal tigers in the vast Sundarbans mangrove forests along the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta.

And while most of the 80 or so species of mangrove tree can keep up with an annual sea level rise of around 5mm a year, they seem unlikely, on evidence from the past, to be able to survive a 10mm rise. Right now, the world is heading for the higher end of the scale.

Sheltering people

A second and separate study finds that, importantly for humans, along with coral reefs, the mangrove forests provide vital natural protection from tropical storms for 31 million very vulnerable people in North and Central America and the crowded archipelagos of Indonesia and the Philippines.

Researchers from Australia, China, Singapore and the US report in the journal Science that they looked at the evidence locked in the sediments in 78 locations from the last 10,000 years, to work out how mangrove forests have – through the millennia – responded to changes in sea level.

At the close of the last ice age, sea levels rose at 10mm a year and slowed to nearly stable conditions 4000 years ago.

In a high emissions scenario, by 2050 sea level rise would exceed 6mm: the scientists found a 90% probability that mangroves would not be able to grow fast enough to keep up. Nor – because of the development of coastal settlements worldwide – would the forests be able to shift inland.

“Simply put, it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall”

“This research therefore highlights yet another compelling reason why countries must take urgent action to reduce carbon emissions,” said Benjamin Horton of Nanyang Technical University in Singapore., one of the researchers.

“Mangroves are among the most valuable of natural ecosystems, supporting coastal fisheries and biodiversity, while protecting shorelines from wave and storm attack across the tropics.”

As so often happens in research, confirmatory evidence of the importance of mangroves had been published only days earlier, in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

US researchers found that – in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, off the coasts of east Africa and in the Indo-Pacific – a total of 30.9 million people lived in regions vulnerable to powerful tropical storms such as Typhoon Haiyan and Hurricane Harvey.

Of these, more than 8 million people were offered severe weather protection by shoreline mangrove forests and coral reefs, both of which absorb wave energy, reduce wave heights and keep coastal settlements safer.

Not enough protection

But only 38% of mangroves and 11% of coral reefs along the vulnerable coastlines are protected, they found.

A 100-metre screen of shoreline mangrove forest can reduce wave heights by as much as two-thirds. By 2100, coastal floods could be costing the world’s nations US$1 trillion a year in economic damage.

Geographers have argued for decades that natural protection is the most efficient way of saving lives and settlements from the storm surges and flooding associated with tropical cyclone extremes.

“Simply put”, said Holly Jones of Northern Illinois University, who led the research, “it’s much cheaper to conserve a mangrove than build a sea wall.” – Climate News Network

Forest trees are growing shorter and dying younger

Temperatures could get too high for tropical forests, and forest trees everywhere are changing in response to human action.

LONDON, 9 June, 2020 – There are limits to what forest trees will tolerate; many tropical forests, for instance, can cope with climate change – but only up to a point. Again, they will go on storing carbon from human greenhouse gas emissions – but only to a degree.

But at around the 32°C threshold, tree growth halts and trees start to die more frequently, putting carbon back into the atmosphere, to accelerate more global heating, according to a detailed study of trees in more than 800 tropical forests.

And a second, unrelated study of forests worldwide finds separate evidence of the impact of climate change. Thanks to human action, forest trees are now younger – and shorter.

The point of the first study is that, in their natural and undisturbed state, the world’s tropical forests can take the heat, but there may be a limit to their capacity for change, and that limit is a daytime maximum of 32.2°C.

A collective of 225 researchers in South America, Africa and Asia report in the journal Science that they made 2 million measurements of 10,000 tropical tree species in sample plots in 24 countries to examine the capacity of forests to absorb atmospheric carbon in a rapidly heating world.

Safety zone

“Our analysis reveals that up to a certain point of heating, tropical forests are surprisingly resistant to small temperature differences. If we limit climate change they can continue to store a large amount of carbon in a warmer world,” said Martin Sullivan, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and at Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the study.

“The 32-degree threshold highlights the critical importance of cutting our emissions to avoid pushing too many forests beyond the safety zone.

“For example, if we limit global average temperatures to a 2°C increase above pre-industrial levels, this pushes nearly three-quarters of tropical forests above the heat threshold we identified. Any further increases in temperature will lead to rapid losses of forest carbon.”

The finding suggests that overall, and independently of species of tree, tropical forest carbon declines with higher temperatures. In all forests, trees flourish and absorb carbon, die back and release it again. But at their best, forests on balance absorb and store away for centuries more carbon than they release – until the thermometer starts to rise and goes on rising.

“Reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen”

A co-author, Beatriz Marimon of the State University of Matto Grosso in Brazil, said: “Each degree increase above this 32-degree threshold releases four times as much carbon as would have been released below the threshold.”

The message is that tropical forests need to be protected from climate change, deforestation and wildlife exploitation: that way, they protect  biodiversity, protect themselves, and protect humankind, for future generations. They can adapt to warming temperatures, but this takes decades, perhaps centuries.

But according to another study, also in Science, forest trees the world over are now changing. They are responding to ever higher levels of atmospheric carbon – in effect, they are being fertilised – but also wildfire, drought, windstorm damage, insect attack and disease have become more frequent and more severe with climate change.

And then there has been the direct impact of human economic demand: clearance, disturbance and economic exploitation.

In consequence, US and European scientists conclude, from detailed satellite data and from reviews of more than 160 previous studies, that there has been a “pervasive shift” in forest dynamics, and a dramatic decrease in the age and stature of the forests. The world’s trees on average are younger, and shorter.

Drastic change

“This trend is likely to continue with global warming,” said Nate McDowell,  of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who led the research.

“A future planet with fewer large, old forests will be very different than what we have grown accustomed to. Older forests often host much higher biodiversity than young forests, and they store more carbon than young forests.”

So direct and indirect human action have – in the big picture – affected the way forests shelter new seedlings, the growth of all trees, and the rate of death of those trees. Mortality is going up, while recruitment and growth are faltering.

“Unfortunately, mortality drivers like rising temperature and disturbances are on the rise and are expected to continue increasing in frequency over the next century,” Dr McDowell said.

“So reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen.” – Climate News Network

Temperatures could get too high for tropical forests, and forest trees everywhere are changing in response to human action.

LONDON, 9 June, 2020 – There are limits to what forest trees will tolerate; many tropical forests, for instance, can cope with climate change – but only up to a point. Again, they will go on storing carbon from human greenhouse gas emissions – but only to a degree.

But at around the 32°C threshold, tree growth halts and trees start to die more frequently, putting carbon back into the atmosphere, to accelerate more global heating, according to a detailed study of trees in more than 800 tropical forests.

And a second, unrelated study of forests worldwide finds separate evidence of the impact of climate change. Thanks to human action, forest trees are now younger – and shorter.

The point of the first study is that, in their natural and undisturbed state, the world’s tropical forests can take the heat, but there may be a limit to their capacity for change, and that limit is a daytime maximum of 32.2°C.

A collective of 225 researchers in South America, Africa and Asia report in the journal Science that they made 2 million measurements of 10,000 tropical tree species in sample plots in 24 countries to examine the capacity of forests to absorb atmospheric carbon in a rapidly heating world.

Safety zone

“Our analysis reveals that up to a certain point of heating, tropical forests are surprisingly resistant to small temperature differences. If we limit climate change they can continue to store a large amount of carbon in a warmer world,” said Martin Sullivan, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and at Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the study.

“The 32-degree threshold highlights the critical importance of cutting our emissions to avoid pushing too many forests beyond the safety zone.

“For example, if we limit global average temperatures to a 2°C increase above pre-industrial levels, this pushes nearly three-quarters of tropical forests above the heat threshold we identified. Any further increases in temperature will lead to rapid losses of forest carbon.”

The finding suggests that overall, and independently of species of tree, tropical forest carbon declines with higher temperatures. In all forests, trees flourish and absorb carbon, die back and release it again. But at their best, forests on balance absorb and store away for centuries more carbon than they release – until the thermometer starts to rise and goes on rising.

“Reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen”

A co-author, Beatriz Marimon of the State University of Matto Grosso in Brazil, said: “Each degree increase above this 32-degree threshold releases four times as much carbon as would have been released below the threshold.”

The message is that tropical forests need to be protected from climate change, deforestation and wildlife exploitation: that way, they protect  biodiversity, protect themselves, and protect humankind, for future generations. They can adapt to warming temperatures, but this takes decades, perhaps centuries.

But according to another study, also in Science, forest trees the world over are now changing. They are responding to ever higher levels of atmospheric carbon – in effect, they are being fertilised – but also wildfire, drought, windstorm damage, insect attack and disease have become more frequent and more severe with climate change.

And then there has been the direct impact of human economic demand: clearance, disturbance and economic exploitation.

In consequence, US and European scientists conclude, from detailed satellite data and from reviews of more than 160 previous studies, that there has been a “pervasive shift” in forest dynamics, and a dramatic decrease in the age and stature of the forests. The world’s trees on average are younger, and shorter.

Drastic change

“This trend is likely to continue with global warming,” said Nate McDowell,  of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who led the research.

“A future planet with fewer large, old forests will be very different than what we have grown accustomed to. Older forests often host much higher biodiversity than young forests, and they store more carbon than young forests.”

So direct and indirect human action have – in the big picture – affected the way forests shelter new seedlings, the growth of all trees, and the rate of death of those trees. Mortality is going up, while recruitment and growth are faltering.

“Unfortunately, mortality drivers like rising temperature and disturbances are on the rise and are expected to continue increasing in frequency over the next century,” Dr McDowell said.

“So reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen.” – Climate News Network

UK food giants mull Brazil boycott to protect forests

UK supermarkets are considering a Brazil boycott, an end to purchases of its food to try to save its forests.

SÃO PAULO, 1 June, 2020 − The UK’s leading supermarkets are threatening a Brazil boycott in an attempt to protect the Amazon and slow the loss of its forests.

Their move has led the Brazilian Congress to postpone the reading of a bill supported by the president, Jair Bolsonaro, which is widely seen as a green light for more Amazon destruction.

Over 40 companies, including Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons, Lidl, Asda, and Marks & Spencer, signed the open letter containing the protest, as well as the Swedish pension fund AP7 and the Norwegian asset manager Storebrand.

The letter, published by the Retail Soy Group, says: “Should the measure pass, it would encourage further land grabbing and widespread deforestation which would jeopardise the survival of the Amazon and meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and undermine the rights of indigenous and traditional communities.

“We believe that it would also put at risk the ability of organisations such as ours to continue sourcing from Brazil in the future.

Climate regulation

“We urge the Brazilian government to reconsider its stance and hope to continue working with partners in Brazil to demonstrate that economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.”

The letter also outlines the importance of the Amazon for the environment, highlighting its role in regulating the global climate.

The Imazon Institute, a leading Brazilian NGO, estimates that, if passed, the bill would lead to an increase in deforestation of between 4000-6000 sq. miles (11 to 16,000 sq. kms).

The bill was originally presented to congress by President Bolsonaro as an executive order, Medida Provisoria No.910. Due to widespread protests in Brazil, its more outrageous provisions – which had led to it being dubbed “the landgrabbers’ charter” – were watered down, and it became a bill, No. 2633/5, due for reading two weeks ago.

“Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate”

After the speaker of the chamber of deputies, Rodrigo Maia, received the supermarkets’ letter, and letters from UK and European MPs, expressing concern about the preservation of the Amazon, he postponed the reading: a new date has yet to be set.

The European Parliament still has to approve a proposed trade deal between the European Union and the countries of the Mercosul block (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and the question of the Amazon could prove an obstacle here.

The government’s attempt to undo environmental protections and open up public lands to deforestation, and eventually to soy and cattle production, became clear when the video of a cabinet meeting held on 22 April was made public a few days ago, following a Supreme Court order to investigate allegations of presidential misconduct.

During the ministerial meeting the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, was recorded as saying: “Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate” – or, as he put it, “drive the herd through, while everyone’s looking the other way.”

Salles’ 16 months in charge of the environment have already proved disastrous for the Amazon. He has fired veteran staff, weakened enforcement and effectively encouraged illegal deforestation.

Fire season nears

Last year the fires in the Amazon alarmed the world. This year, even during the first four months when normally the rains keep it low, deforestation has remained high, boding ill for the traditional fire season, which begins in June.

The landowners’ lobby, which supports the bill, says that legally titling the land – “land regularisation” – is an essential step towards forcing owners to comply with environmental laws to limit deforestation in the Amazon.

But the bill’s opponents say the bill will reward land grabbers who have already invaded and deforested public lands, and who will now be able to “self-declare” the land and claim it as their own, instead of being fined and expelled. This will encourage more occupations and deforestation in the future.

Not only public forests are at stake, but also many indigenous areas whose formal recognition has not yet been sanctioned by the president. Instead Jair Bolsonaro has declared he will not sanction a single further indigenous area, leaving them vulnerable to invasion. − Climate News Network

UK supermarkets are considering a Brazil boycott, an end to purchases of its food to try to save its forests.

SÃO PAULO, 1 June, 2020 − The UK’s leading supermarkets are threatening a Brazil boycott in an attempt to protect the Amazon and slow the loss of its forests.

Their move has led the Brazilian Congress to postpone the reading of a bill supported by the president, Jair Bolsonaro, which is widely seen as a green light for more Amazon destruction.

Over 40 companies, including Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons, Lidl, Asda, and Marks & Spencer, signed the open letter containing the protest, as well as the Swedish pension fund AP7 and the Norwegian asset manager Storebrand.

The letter, published by the Retail Soy Group, says: “Should the measure pass, it would encourage further land grabbing and widespread deforestation which would jeopardise the survival of the Amazon and meeting the targets of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and undermine the rights of indigenous and traditional communities.

“We believe that it would also put at risk the ability of organisations such as ours to continue sourcing from Brazil in the future.

Climate regulation

“We urge the Brazilian government to reconsider its stance and hope to continue working with partners in Brazil to demonstrate that economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.”

The letter also outlines the importance of the Amazon for the environment, highlighting its role in regulating the global climate.

The Imazon Institute, a leading Brazilian NGO, estimates that, if passed, the bill would lead to an increase in deforestation of between 4000-6000 sq. miles (11 to 16,000 sq. kms).

The bill was originally presented to congress by President Bolsonaro as an executive order, Medida Provisoria No.910. Due to widespread protests in Brazil, its more outrageous provisions – which had led to it being dubbed “the landgrabbers’ charter” – were watered down, and it became a bill, No. 2633/5, due for reading two weeks ago.

“Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate”

After the speaker of the chamber of deputies, Rodrigo Maia, received the supermarkets’ letter, and letters from UK and European MPs, expressing concern about the preservation of the Amazon, he postponed the reading: a new date has yet to be set.

The European Parliament still has to approve a proposed trade deal between the European Union and the countries of the Mercosul block (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and the question of the Amazon could prove an obstacle here.

The government’s attempt to undo environmental protections and open up public lands to deforestation, and eventually to soy and cattle production, became clear when the video of a cabinet meeting held on 22 April was made public a few days ago, following a Supreme Court order to investigate allegations of presidential misconduct.

During the ministerial meeting the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, was recorded as saying: “Let’s take advantage of the press being focussed on Covid-19 to deregulate” – or, as he put it, “drive the herd through, while everyone’s looking the other way.”

Salles’ 16 months in charge of the environment have already proved disastrous for the Amazon. He has fired veteran staff, weakened enforcement and effectively encouraged illegal deforestation.

Fire season nears

Last year the fires in the Amazon alarmed the world. This year, even during the first four months when normally the rains keep it low, deforestation has remained high, boding ill for the traditional fire season, which begins in June.

The landowners’ lobby, which supports the bill, says that legally titling the land – “land regularisation” – is an essential step towards forcing owners to comply with environmental laws to limit deforestation in the Amazon.

But the bill’s opponents say the bill will reward land grabbers who have already invaded and deforested public lands, and who will now be able to “self-declare” the land and claim it as their own, instead of being fined and expelled. This will encourage more occupations and deforestation in the future.

Not only public forests are at stake, but also many indigenous areas whose formal recognition has not yet been sanctioned by the president. Instead Jair Bolsonaro has declared he will not sanction a single further indigenous area, leaving them vulnerable to invasion. − Climate News Network

Natural forests are best at storing carbon

Natural forests are a global good. Well conserved, they help combat climate change. But as new research confirms, it’s not that simple.

LONDON, 18 May, 2020 – Two new studies have freshly confirmed an argument unchallenged for more than three decades: the best way to absorb and permanently store carbon from the atmosphere is to restore and conserve existing natural forests.

This proposition – successively urged on governments around the world since the first studies of strategy to confront global warming and potentially catastrophic climate change – has more chance of sustained success than any attempts to offset carbon emissions by indiscriminate plantations of new canopy, or even systematic investment in public initiatives such as the Trillion Tree Campaign.

And the argument gets even more support from a closer look at disturbances to natural woodland: these demonstrate that even simple clearings in forests will create unfavourable local microclimates and disturb the species that flourish in stable forests.

Karen Holl is a restoration ecologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She and a colleague from São Paulo in Brazil argue in the journal Science that while planting trees can help protect biodiversity, assist in natural water management and increase local shade, the same act can actually also damage local native ecosystems, reduce water supply, dispossess local landholders and increase social inequity.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle. Planting trees is not a simple solution”

The point she makes is that the wrong kind of tree on the wrong sort of land helps nobody. Nor does a tree that, once planted, is neglected and left to die, or to change the nature of the land it occupies – not even if there are a trillion of them.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “Planting trees is not a simple solution. It’s complicated, and we need to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve.”

Her argument is that planting trees is not the same as increasing forest cover, and in any case will add up to only a fraction of the carbon reductions needed by 2100 to keep global temperatures from rising to 2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

And given that increasing drought and temperatures can lead to widespread tree death, some of the effort could be hopelessly wasted.

Leave well alone

“The first thing we can do is keep existing forests standing, and the second is to allow trees to regenerate in areas that were formerly forests,” she said.

“In many cases, trees will recover on their own – just look at the entire eastern United States that was deforested 200 years ago. Much of that has come back without actively planting trees.

“Yes, in some highly degraded lands we will need to plant trees, but that should be the last option since it is the most expensive and often is not successful. I’ve spent my life on this. We need to be thoughtful about how we bring the forest back.”

Just how thoughtful is illuminated by another study, also in Science. European scientists looked at temperatures in 100 forest interiors and matched this with 80 years of data from 2,955 locations in 56 regions to discover that the routine open space temperature measurements collected by climate scientists do not reflect conditions under a mature forest canopy.

Avoid clearings

The denser the leaf cover, the more effectively the forest buffers the wild things that live there from climate change. But as the cover becomes sparser, conditions change and the thermometer goes up by several degrees.

The implication – supported by other recent research – is that any kind of clearing in some way weakens the integrity of a forest, both as a refuge for otherwise threatened biodiversity, and as a potential store of atmospheric carbon.

Global warming is already increasing what researchers have labelled “thermophilisation” – that is, a tendency for warm climate species to flourish at the expense of those already at the limit of their preferred temperature.

The implication is that some species will not be able to adapt swiftly enough to ever more intense extremes of heat and drought, and the nature of forest cover is likely to change. – Climate News Network

Natural forests are a global good. Well conserved, they help combat climate change. But as new research confirms, it’s not that simple.

LONDON, 18 May, 2020 – Two new studies have freshly confirmed an argument unchallenged for more than three decades: the best way to absorb and permanently store carbon from the atmosphere is to restore and conserve existing natural forests.

This proposition – successively urged on governments around the world since the first studies of strategy to confront global warming and potentially catastrophic climate change – has more chance of sustained success than any attempts to offset carbon emissions by indiscriminate plantations of new canopy, or even systematic investment in public initiatives such as the Trillion Tree Campaign.

And the argument gets even more support from a closer look at disturbances to natural woodland: these demonstrate that even simple clearings in forests will create unfavourable local microclimates and disturb the species that flourish in stable forests.

Karen Holl is a restoration ecologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She and a colleague from São Paulo in Brazil argue in the journal Science that while planting trees can help protect biodiversity, assist in natural water management and increase local shade, the same act can actually also damage local native ecosystems, reduce water supply, dispossess local landholders and increase social inequity.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle. Planting trees is not a simple solution”

The point she makes is that the wrong kind of tree on the wrong sort of land helps nobody. Nor does a tree that, once planted, is neglected and left to die, or to change the nature of the land it occupies – not even if there are a trillion of them.

“We can’t plant our way out of climate change. It is only one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “Planting trees is not a simple solution. It’s complicated, and we need to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve.”

Her argument is that planting trees is not the same as increasing forest cover, and in any case will add up to only a fraction of the carbon reductions needed by 2100 to keep global temperatures from rising to 2°C above the long-term average for most of human history.

And given that increasing drought and temperatures can lead to widespread tree death, some of the effort could be hopelessly wasted.

Leave well alone

“The first thing we can do is keep existing forests standing, and the second is to allow trees to regenerate in areas that were formerly forests,” she said.

“In many cases, trees will recover on their own – just look at the entire eastern United States that was deforested 200 years ago. Much of that has come back without actively planting trees.

“Yes, in some highly degraded lands we will need to plant trees, but that should be the last option since it is the most expensive and often is not successful. I’ve spent my life on this. We need to be thoughtful about how we bring the forest back.”

Just how thoughtful is illuminated by another study, also in Science. European scientists looked at temperatures in 100 forest interiors and matched this with 80 years of data from 2,955 locations in 56 regions to discover that the routine open space temperature measurements collected by climate scientists do not reflect conditions under a mature forest canopy.

Avoid clearings

The denser the leaf cover, the more effectively the forest buffers the wild things that live there from climate change. But as the cover becomes sparser, conditions change and the thermometer goes up by several degrees.

The implication – supported by other recent research – is that any kind of clearing in some way weakens the integrity of a forest, both as a refuge for otherwise threatened biodiversity, and as a potential store of atmospheric carbon.

Global warming is already increasing what researchers have labelled “thermophilisation” – that is, a tendency for warm climate species to flourish at the expense of those already at the limit of their preferred temperature.

The implication is that some species will not be able to adapt swiftly enough to ever more intense extremes of heat and drought, and the nature of forest cover is likely to change. – Climate News Network

The great coronavirus toilet tissue panic buy-up

In the UK and elsewhere, many people were preoccupied last March with toilet tissue. Could it help to slow climate change?

LONDON, 13 May, 2020 – What was on your mind two months ago: might it have been toilet tissue? For many Britons the answer is yes. It was when the United Kingdom began to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you welcome or condemn the action your government took in those uncertain days, in many countries the response was very similar: broad approval for the speed of the official reaction.

That sheer speed has even prompted some people to ask whether modern societies could act as fast to protect themselves, not only against another pandemic, but against a possible comparable global threat. Climate change, perhaps?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

The Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

Taken for granted

So we can. But the introduction of lockdown and similar measures brought an example (and not only in the UK) of very quick changes in daily habits which suggested they might not help exactly as the RTA hopes in the case of the climate crisis. There was an outbreak of panic buying of supposedly staple goods – including toilet tissue.

What the run on loo rolls did achieve, as the RTA points out in its delicately-worded treatment of it, was to remind many people in relatively wealthy countries not to take for granted some familiar aspects of daily life. It illuminated the rapid but unfinished global progress towards universal access to safe water and sanitation.

In fact supplies of toilet paper hadn’t altered. It was an artificial shortage created by the suddenly changed behaviour of people buying far more than they really needed: anything from 50 to 100 rolls of paper are used in US toilets annually, without pandemic pressures.

But sewage systems, clean water and efficient drainage are constant  development priorities across the world, and today they are centre stage in climate emergency planning.

“For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and not places of privacy or sanctuary”

The future will include more flooding, heatwaves and heavier summer rainfall, which will hit hardest places that are already low-lying or on reclaimed land, or on coasts.

Diseases that thrive in these conditions – diarrhoea, malaria, leptospirosis, for example – are expected to worsen. In Mumbai slum dwellers ironically say during the monsoon: “There’s water everywhere, except in the taps.”

The profit-led colonial system left behind in India a patchwork of supply and disposal, with the city’s vast slum areas mostly unserved, and subject to flooding which in 2005 killed over 900 people.

There have been improvements to sanitation globally since 2000, thanks to the UN’s Millennium Goals. The numbers of people using safe sanitation increased from 28% in 2000 to 45% in 2017. During that time 2.1 billion people gained access to at least basic services and the number practising open-air defecation halved, from 1.3 billion to 673 million – still a huge number.

Many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed. But Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which began in rural Bangladesh in 2000, has worked by focusing on helping people to change their behaviour.

Making the links

By raising awareness of the links between open defecation and disease, CLTS encourages local people to analyse their situation and then act. Typically, its facilitators help communities to carry out their own appraisal  of community sanitation.

This usually leads them to recognise the volume of human waste they generate and how open defecation means they are likely to be ingesting one another’s faeces. In turn, this can prompt them to act by building latrines without waiting for external support.

For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and certainly not places of privacy or sanctuary.

In 2015 2.3bn people still lacked even a basic sanitation service. An estimated 4 in 10 households globally still do not have soap and water on the premises, and half of all schools lack hand-washing facilities. For a sizeable minority – and in particular for women – the daily trip to relieve themselves can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

The production of toilet tissue for use in the global North raises serious environmental issues, including destruction of woodland, the wasteful use of water and energy, and chemicals for processing.

Bamboo alternative

This is still a message unheard by most people. The Australian company Who Gives A Crap supplies recycled or bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the global South. But it is a rarity. Analysis from the UK’s Ethical Consumer magazine found in 2019 that major brands were using less recycled paper than they had in 2011.

Climate change? How’s that mixed up in toilet tissue? Does a sudden bout of panic buying help anyone to cut their carbon footprint? It sounds far-fetched.

There’s a gulf between the strains of social lockdown caused by a pandemic and the daring required for an economic change of direction demanded by impending climate catastrophe. And somehow we recognised the pandemic threat, but still fail to recognise the climate mayhem about to overtake us.

But if making the connection adds urgency to the quest for better sanitation, that will bring better health, less poverty and a world whose population stays within slimmer bounds.

And emptying the supermarket shelves of loo rolls two months ago showed how determined if misguided action could achieve very fast results. That could work wonders for slowing greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

In the UK and elsewhere, many people were preoccupied last March with toilet tissue. Could it help to slow climate change?

LONDON, 13 May, 2020 – What was on your mind two months ago: might it have been toilet tissue? For many Britons the answer is yes. It was when the United Kingdom began to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you welcome or condemn the action your government took in those uncertain days, in many countries the response was very similar: broad approval for the speed of the official reaction.

That sheer speed has even prompted some people to ask whether modern societies could act as fast to protect themselves, not only against another pandemic, but against a possible comparable global threat. Climate change, perhaps?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

The Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

Taken for granted

So we can. But the introduction of lockdown and similar measures brought an example (and not only in the UK) of very quick changes in daily habits which suggested they might not help exactly as the RTA hopes in the case of the climate crisis. There was an outbreak of panic buying of supposedly staple goods – including toilet tissue.

What the run on loo rolls did achieve, as the RTA points out in its delicately-worded treatment of it, was to remind many people in relatively wealthy countries not to take for granted some familiar aspects of daily life. It illuminated the rapid but unfinished global progress towards universal access to safe water and sanitation.

In fact supplies of toilet paper hadn’t altered. It was an artificial shortage created by the suddenly changed behaviour of people buying far more than they really needed: anything from 50 to 100 rolls of paper are used in US toilets annually, without pandemic pressures.

But sewage systems, clean water and efficient drainage are constant  development priorities across the world, and today they are centre stage in climate emergency planning.

“For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and not places of privacy or sanctuary”

The future will include more flooding, heatwaves and heavier summer rainfall, which will hit hardest places that are already low-lying or on reclaimed land, or on coasts.

Diseases that thrive in these conditions – diarrhoea, malaria, leptospirosis, for example – are expected to worsen. In Mumbai slum dwellers ironically say during the monsoon: “There’s water everywhere, except in the taps.”

The profit-led colonial system left behind in India a patchwork of supply and disposal, with the city’s vast slum areas mostly unserved, and subject to flooding which in 2005 killed over 900 people.

There have been improvements to sanitation globally since 2000, thanks to the UN’s Millennium Goals. The numbers of people using safe sanitation increased from 28% in 2000 to 45% in 2017. During that time 2.1 billion people gained access to at least basic services and the number practising open-air defecation halved, from 1.3 billion to 673 million – still a huge number.

Many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed. But Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which began in rural Bangladesh in 2000, has worked by focusing on helping people to change their behaviour.

Making the links

By raising awareness of the links between open defecation and disease, CLTS encourages local people to analyse their situation and then act. Typically, its facilitators help communities to carry out their own appraisal  of community sanitation.

This usually leads them to recognise the volume of human waste they generate and how open defecation means they are likely to be ingesting one another’s faeces. In turn, this can prompt them to act by building latrines without waiting for external support.

For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and certainly not places of privacy or sanctuary.

In 2015 2.3bn people still lacked even a basic sanitation service. An estimated 4 in 10 households globally still do not have soap and water on the premises, and half of all schools lack hand-washing facilities. For a sizeable minority – and in particular for women – the daily trip to relieve themselves can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

The production of toilet tissue for use in the global North raises serious environmental issues, including destruction of woodland, the wasteful use of water and energy, and chemicals for processing.

Bamboo alternative

This is still a message unheard by most people. The Australian company Who Gives A Crap supplies recycled or bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the global South. But it is a rarity. Analysis from the UK’s Ethical Consumer magazine found in 2019 that major brands were using less recycled paper than they had in 2011.

Climate change? How’s that mixed up in toilet tissue? Does a sudden bout of panic buying help anyone to cut their carbon footprint? It sounds far-fetched.

There’s a gulf between the strains of social lockdown caused by a pandemic and the daring required for an economic change of direction demanded by impending climate catastrophe. And somehow we recognised the pandemic threat, but still fail to recognise the climate mayhem about to overtake us.

But if making the connection adds urgency to the quest for better sanitation, that will bring better health, less poverty and a world whose population stays within slimmer bounds.

And emptying the supermarket shelves of loo rolls two months ago showed how determined if misguided action could achieve very fast results. That could work wonders for slowing greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Tropical deforestation releases deadly infections

Brazil’s burning forests are bad news for the global climate. Now scientists say the trees harbour deadly infections too.

SÃO PAULO, 29 April, 2020 − As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind.

There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.

As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria.

“The connection between deforestation and infectious diseases is just one more impact of deforestation, added to impacts of losing both Amazonia’s biodiversity and the forest’s vital climate functions in avoiding global warming and in recycling water.”

He is one of the co-authors of a paper by a team led by Joel Henrique Ellwanger on the impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health, which has just been published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy.

Dr Fearnside adds: “Many ‘new’ human diseases originate from pathogens transferred from wild animals, as occurred with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Amazonia contains a vast number of animal species and their associated pathogens with the potential to be transferred to humans.”

No surprise

The warnings are not new. Ana Lúcia Tourinho, with a Ph.D in ecology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), interviewed by Deutsche Welle, said: “For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms – up till then in equilibrium – migrating to humans and causing victims.

“That is why news of the propagation of the new coronavirus detected in China, which has spread throughout the world, was not a surprise.

“When a vírus which is not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and enters our body it brings chaos”, she said.

Isolated and in equilibrium with their habitats, like dense forests, this sort of vírus would not be a threat to humans. The problem comes when this natural reservoir is destroyed and occupied (by other species).

Scientific studies published years before the present pandemic already showed the connection between the loss of forest, proliferation of bats in the degraded areas, and the coronavirus.

One example is the study by Dr Aneta Afelt, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, who concluded that the high rates of forest destruction in the last 40 years in Asia were an indication that the next serious infectious disease could come from there.

“For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms migrating to humans”

To reach this conclusion, she followed the trail of previous pandemics triggered by other coronaviruses like Sars in 2002 and 2003, and Mers in 2012.

“Because it’s one of the regions where population growth is most intense, where sanitary conditions remain bad and where the rate of deforestation is high, south-east Asia has all the conditions for becoming the place where infectious diseases emerge or re-emerge”, she wrote in 2018.

If destruction of the Amazon continues at the present accelerated pace, Dr Tourinho says, and it is turned into an area of savannah, “we cannot imagine what might come out of there in terms of diseases.”

The relationship between deforestation and the increase of diseases in the Amazon has been studied by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

A 2015 survey in 773 Amazon towns showed that for each 1% of forest destroyed, malaria cases increased by 23%. The incidence of leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of sand flies, which causes skin sores, disfigurement and can kill, also increased.

Since Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing climate denier, became president of Brazil in January 2019, the rate of deforestation, followed by forest fires, has exploded.

Officially-sanctioned illegality

This year the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon)’s deforestation alert system (SAD) reports that an area of 254 sq km in the Amazon region was deforested in March, a increase of 279% over the same month last year.

This is even more alarming because traditionally deforestation begins in June, at the end of the rainy season. This year it has begun three months earlier.

The illegal clearing of the forest, much of it in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, by land grabbers, for cattle, soy, and logging projects, and by miners panning for gold, has been openly encouraged by Bolsonaro and his so-called Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.

The Amazon Council set up by the president to coordinate action in the region does not include a single scientist, environmentalist or Amazon researcher, or even any experts from the government agencies for the environment and indigenous affairs, Ibama and Funai.

Instead, all its members are officers of the armed forces or the police. The likelihood that it will do anything serious to stop deforestation is zero.

Yet the destruction of the Amazon is a disaster not only for the world’s climate but also for its health, and Brazil is set to become one of the worst-affected countries. Climate News Network

Brazil’s burning forests are bad news for the global climate. Now scientists say the trees harbour deadly infections too.

SÃO PAULO, 29 April, 2020 − As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind.

There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.

As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria.

“The connection between deforestation and infectious diseases is just one more impact of deforestation, added to impacts of losing both Amazonia’s biodiversity and the forest’s vital climate functions in avoiding global warming and in recycling water.”

He is one of the co-authors of a paper by a team led by Joel Henrique Ellwanger on the impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health, which has just been published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy.

Dr Fearnside adds: “Many ‘new’ human diseases originate from pathogens transferred from wild animals, as occurred with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Amazonia contains a vast number of animal species and their associated pathogens with the potential to be transferred to humans.”

No surprise

The warnings are not new. Ana Lúcia Tourinho, with a Ph.D in ecology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), interviewed by Deutsche Welle, said: “For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms – up till then in equilibrium – migrating to humans and causing victims.

“That is why news of the propagation of the new coronavirus detected in China, which has spread throughout the world, was not a surprise.

“When a vírus which is not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and enters our body it brings chaos”, she said.

Isolated and in equilibrium with their habitats, like dense forests, this sort of vírus would not be a threat to humans. The problem comes when this natural reservoir is destroyed and occupied (by other species).

Scientific studies published years before the present pandemic already showed the connection between the loss of forest, proliferation of bats in the degraded areas, and the coronavirus.

One example is the study by Dr Aneta Afelt, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, who concluded that the high rates of forest destruction in the last 40 years in Asia were an indication that the next serious infectious disease could come from there.

“For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms migrating to humans”

To reach this conclusion, she followed the trail of previous pandemics triggered by other coronaviruses like Sars in 2002 and 2003, and Mers in 2012.

“Because it’s one of the regions where population growth is most intense, where sanitary conditions remain bad and where the rate of deforestation is high, south-east Asia has all the conditions for becoming the place where infectious diseases emerge or re-emerge”, she wrote in 2018.

If destruction of the Amazon continues at the present accelerated pace, Dr Tourinho says, and it is turned into an area of savannah, “we cannot imagine what might come out of there in terms of diseases.”

The relationship between deforestation and the increase of diseases in the Amazon has been studied by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

A 2015 survey in 773 Amazon towns showed that for each 1% of forest destroyed, malaria cases increased by 23%. The incidence of leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of sand flies, which causes skin sores, disfigurement and can kill, also increased.

Since Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing climate denier, became president of Brazil in January 2019, the rate of deforestation, followed by forest fires, has exploded.

Officially-sanctioned illegality

This year the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon)’s deforestation alert system (SAD) reports that an area of 254 sq km in the Amazon region was deforested in March, a increase of 279% over the same month last year.

This is even more alarming because traditionally deforestation begins in June, at the end of the rainy season. This year it has begun three months earlier.

The illegal clearing of the forest, much of it in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, by land grabbers, for cattle, soy, and logging projects, and by miners panning for gold, has been openly encouraged by Bolsonaro and his so-called Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.

The Amazon Council set up by the president to coordinate action in the region does not include a single scientist, environmentalist or Amazon researcher, or even any experts from the government agencies for the environment and indigenous affairs, Ibama and Funai.

Instead, all its members are officers of the armed forces or the police. The likelihood that it will do anything serious to stop deforestation is zero.

Yet the destruction of the Amazon is a disaster not only for the world’s climate but also for its health, and Brazil is set to become one of the worst-affected countries. Climate News Network

Tropical forests’ damage spreads catastrophically

Human inroads into tropical forests stretch far beyond oil plantations or the edge of cattle ranches and are a wider threat to conservation.

LONDON, 7 April, 2020 – Tropical forests are vital in the campaign to limit global heating. Here’s how to blunt them as a force – just put a clearing, or a plantation, a road or a ranch in the pristine wilderness. And then, as absorbers of atmospheric carbon, the trees up to 100 metres deep into the jungle will lose their edge.

Along that 100 metre width, the canopy height, leaf mass and phosphorus levels per square metre will begin to change. All three are measures of a tree’s capacity to grow vigorously and store carbon.

Researchers call this the edge effect. It matters. The world now has 1.2bn hectares of remaining tropical forest. This is an area far bigger than Canada.

But invasion of what, just one lifetime ago, were still unmapped wildernesses is now so aggressive that almost one fifth of the area of the world’s tropical forest is within 100 metres of a non-forest edge.

And about half of all the forest is within 500 metres of a ranch, road, settlement or plantation.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion”

Scientists from the US report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they mapped change in the forests of Malaysian Borneo, looking closely at the sites where forest and commercial palm oil plantation co-exist.

They report that the levels of carbon stored “above ground” – that is, in the trunk and canopy – fell by an average of 22% along the forest edges, to a depth of 100 metres. The older this forest edge, the greater the fall in stored carbon.

There are already reports that degradation of the rainforest in the Amazon and Congo, amplified by the impact of climate change in the form of extreme heat and drought, is so advanced that within a decade or two these forests could cease to be “sinks” for atmospheric carbon, and instead start adding to the world’s burden of greenhouse gases that threaten to accelerate climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

The world’s forests are vital in the global plans to contain or limit climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Research has repeatedly confirmed that undisturbed forest is an efficient absorber and permanent store of atmospheric carbon and that almost any human transgression could damage the capacity of the rainforest to absorb carbon.

Road web spreads

And yet all the signs are ominous: humans will go on making inroads into natural wilderness, in the most literal sense: by 2050, there could be 25 million km new road lanes, most of them in the developing world, to carry timber trucks, livestock and minerals through the world’s forests.

There is an argument that “smart” roads can limit the damage to the environment and society caused by indiscriminate engineering: one group advocating this approach is the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS), based at James Cook University in Australia.

But the threat to the remaining forests is now so pronounced that many researchers simply point out, in the kind of understatement that comes naturally to scientists, that such changes have “far-reaching implications” for the conservation of forest biodiversity and carbon stocks.

They see their research as a potential guide to government and local authorities on the management of the remaining wild woodland.

“Not all forest-agriculture boundaries are created equal, and most remaining forests change for many years following the original land conversion that takes place nearby,” said Greg Asner of Arizona State University, one of the researchers.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion.” – Climate News Network

Human inroads into tropical forests stretch far beyond oil plantations or the edge of cattle ranches and are a wider threat to conservation.

LONDON, 7 April, 2020 – Tropical forests are vital in the campaign to limit global heating. Here’s how to blunt them as a force – just put a clearing, or a plantation, a road or a ranch in the pristine wilderness. And then, as absorbers of atmospheric carbon, the trees up to 100 metres deep into the jungle will lose their edge.

Along that 100 metre width, the canopy height, leaf mass and phosphorus levels per square metre will begin to change. All three are measures of a tree’s capacity to grow vigorously and store carbon.

Researchers call this the edge effect. It matters. The world now has 1.2bn hectares of remaining tropical forest. This is an area far bigger than Canada.

But invasion of what, just one lifetime ago, were still unmapped wildernesses is now so aggressive that almost one fifth of the area of the world’s tropical forest is within 100 metres of a non-forest edge.

And about half of all the forest is within 500 metres of a ranch, road, settlement or plantation.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion”

Scientists from the US report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they mapped change in the forests of Malaysian Borneo, looking closely at the sites where forest and commercial palm oil plantation co-exist.

They report that the levels of carbon stored “above ground” – that is, in the trunk and canopy – fell by an average of 22% along the forest edges, to a depth of 100 metres. The older this forest edge, the greater the fall in stored carbon.

There are already reports that degradation of the rainforest in the Amazon and Congo, amplified by the impact of climate change in the form of extreme heat and drought, is so advanced that within a decade or two these forests could cease to be “sinks” for atmospheric carbon, and instead start adding to the world’s burden of greenhouse gases that threaten to accelerate climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

The world’s forests are vital in the global plans to contain or limit climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Research has repeatedly confirmed that undisturbed forest is an efficient absorber and permanent store of atmospheric carbon and that almost any human transgression could damage the capacity of the rainforest to absorb carbon.

Road web spreads

And yet all the signs are ominous: humans will go on making inroads into natural wilderness, in the most literal sense: by 2050, there could be 25 million km new road lanes, most of them in the developing world, to carry timber trucks, livestock and minerals through the world’s forests.

There is an argument that “smart” roads can limit the damage to the environment and society caused by indiscriminate engineering: one group advocating this approach is the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS), based at James Cook University in Australia.

But the threat to the remaining forests is now so pronounced that many researchers simply point out, in the kind of understatement that comes naturally to scientists, that such changes have “far-reaching implications” for the conservation of forest biodiversity and carbon stocks.

They see their research as a potential guide to government and local authorities on the management of the remaining wild woodland.

“Not all forest-agriculture boundaries are created equal, and most remaining forests change for many years following the original land conversion that takes place nearby,” said Greg Asner of Arizona State University, one of the researchers.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion.” – Climate News Network

Rainforest and reef systems face collapse

rainforest

In less than a human lifetime, the world’s greatest rainforest could become parched grassland and scrub, and the Caribbean coral reef system could collapse completely.

LONDON, 17 March, 2020 – The entire Amazon rainforest could collapse into savannah – dry grassland with scrub and intermittent woodland – within 50 years as a result of human action.

And the study of what it takes to alter an enduring natural ecosystem confirms that, within as little as 15 years, the rich Caribbean coral reef system could be no more.

A new statistical examination of the vulnerability of what had once seemed the eternal forest and the glorious coral reefs confirms that once large ecosystems begin to change, they can reach a point at which the collapse becomes sudden and irreversible.

The research confirms an increasing fear that global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels could tip not just climate but also natural landscapes into a new and potentially catastrophic states.

Dramatic warning

More directly, as reported in an interview with Brazilian scientist Antonio Donato Nobre in Climate News Network yesterday, it confirms a dramatic warning delivered in December last year that the Amazon rainforest – a landscape almost as vast as the entire 48 contiguous states of the US – may already be teetering on the edge of functional disruption.

How this disruption could happen was recently outlined by two scientists, Thomas Lovejoy, professor of biology at George Mason University in Virginia, US, and Carlos Nobre, a leading expert on the Amazon and climate change, who is the brother of Antonio Donato Nobre and is senior researcher at the University of Saõ Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre point out that most of the rain that keeps the Amazon a rainforest is actually recycled from the dense canopy that covers the region. After rainfall, evapotranspiration from the foliage returns water vapour to the air above the forest and falls anew as rain, again and again.

“Over the whole basin, the air rises, cools and precipitates out close to 20% of the world’s river water in the Amazon river system,” they warn in a Science journal report.

“Current deforestation is substantial and frightening: 17% across the entire Amazon basin and approaching 20% in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Already there are ominous signals of it in nature. Dry seasons in the Amazon are already hotter and longer. Mortality rates of wet-climate species are increased, whereas dry-climate species are showing resilience. The increasing frequency of unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015/16 is signalling that the tipping point is at hand.”

By contrast, the latest study in Nature Communications zeroes in on the rates at which large ecosystems could, in principle, change once the climate has begun to shift and the natural habitat is in some way degraded.

“This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Three scientists in the UK used computer models to test data from four terrestrial landscapes, 25 marine habitats and 13 freshwater ecosystems. They found, not surprisingly, that larger ecosystems tend to undergo regime shifts more slowly than the smaller ones.

However, as the ecosystem gets bigger, the additional time taken for collapse to happen gets briefer, so big ecosystems fail relatively more quickly.

This would mean that it would take 15 years for 20,000 sq km of Caribbean reef system to collapse, once some fatal trigger point had been reached. And the 5.5 million sq km of the Amazon tropical moist forest, once it starts to go, could be gone in just 49 years.

“Unfortunately, what our paper reveals is that humanity needs to prepare for change far sooner than expected,” says Simon Willcock, senior lecturer in environmental geography at Bangor University in Wales.

And his colleague, Dr Gregory Cooper, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of London’s Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, says: “This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Atmospheric carbon

Other researchers have separately found that the Amazon rainforest could be about to become a source of yet more atmospheric carbon – rather than a green machine for absorbing surplus carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – as a result of climate change and environmental destruction.

The Amazon ecosystem took 58 million years to evolve. But the message is that it could unravel in a very short time.

Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, was not one of the researchers, but he describes the results of the study as “terrifying” and warns that the Amazon could pass the point of no return this year.

He says: “Nature is fragile. Just because an area is big or a species is common, it doesn’t mean they’ll last forever.

“The Sahel – an area south of the Sahara that is six times the size of Spain – went from being vegetated and bountiful to just a desert in a few hundred years.

“The American chestnut – one of the most important trees of eastern North America – almost faced extinction after a fungal disease caused some three to four billion trees to die in the early 1900s.

“Natural ecosystems are usually resilient to change when kept intact, but after decades of disruption, exploitation and climatic stress, it should come as no surprise that they are breaking down.

“In other words, you can’t simply remove huge chunks of a rainforest and hope everything will be fine – it won’t. Based on these results, 2020 is our very last opportunity to stop Amazonian deforestation.” – Climate News Network

In less than a human lifetime, the world’s greatest rainforest could become parched grassland and scrub, and the Caribbean coral reef system could collapse completely.

LONDON, 17 March, 2020 – The entire Amazon rainforest could collapse into savannah – dry grassland with scrub and intermittent woodland – within 50 years as a result of human action.

And the study of what it takes to alter an enduring natural ecosystem confirms that, within as little as 15 years, the rich Caribbean coral reef system could be no more.

A new statistical examination of the vulnerability of what had once seemed the eternal forest and the glorious coral reefs confirms that once large ecosystems begin to change, they can reach a point at which the collapse becomes sudden and irreversible.

The research confirms an increasing fear that global heating driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels could tip not just climate but also natural landscapes into a new and potentially catastrophic states.

Dramatic warning

More directly, as reported in an interview with Brazilian scientist Antonio Donato Nobre in Climate News Network yesterday, it confirms a dramatic warning delivered in December last year that the Amazon rainforest – a landscape almost as vast as the entire 48 contiguous states of the US – may already be teetering on the edge of functional disruption.

How this disruption could happen was recently outlined by two scientists, Thomas Lovejoy, professor of biology at George Mason University in Virginia, US, and Carlos Nobre, a leading expert on the Amazon and climate change, who is the brother of Antonio Donato Nobre and is senior researcher at the University of Saõ Paulo’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre point out that most of the rain that keeps the Amazon a rainforest is actually recycled from the dense canopy that covers the region. After rainfall, evapotranspiration from the foliage returns water vapour to the air above the forest and falls anew as rain, again and again.

“Over the whole basin, the air rises, cools and precipitates out close to 20% of the world’s river water in the Amazon river system,” they warn in a Science journal report.

“Current deforestation is substantial and frightening: 17% across the entire Amazon basin and approaching 20% in the Brazilian Amazon.

“Already there are ominous signals of it in nature. Dry seasons in the Amazon are already hotter and longer. Mortality rates of wet-climate species are increased, whereas dry-climate species are showing resilience. The increasing frequency of unprecedented droughts in 2005, 2010 and 2015/16 is signalling that the tipping point is at hand.”

By contrast, the latest study in Nature Communications zeroes in on the rates at which large ecosystems could, in principle, change once the climate has begun to shift and the natural habitat is in some way degraded.

“This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Three scientists in the UK used computer models to test data from four terrestrial landscapes, 25 marine habitats and 13 freshwater ecosystems. They found, not surprisingly, that larger ecosystems tend to undergo regime shifts more slowly than the smaller ones.

However, as the ecosystem gets bigger, the additional time taken for collapse to happen gets briefer, so big ecosystems fail relatively more quickly.

This would mean that it would take 15 years for 20,000 sq km of Caribbean reef system to collapse, once some fatal trigger point had been reached. And the 5.5 million sq km of the Amazon tropical moist forest, once it starts to go, could be gone in just 49 years.

“Unfortunately, what our paper reveals is that humanity needs to prepare for change far sooner than expected,” says Simon Willcock, senior lecturer in environmental geography at Bangor University in Wales.

And his colleague, Dr Gregory Cooper, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of London’s Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, says: “This is yet another strong argument to avoid degrading our planet’s ecosystems; we need to do more to conserve biodiversity.”

Atmospheric carbon

Other researchers have separately found that the Amazon rainforest could be about to become a source of yet more atmospheric carbon – rather than a green machine for absorbing surplus carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – as a result of climate change and environmental destruction.

The Amazon ecosystem took 58 million years to evolve. But the message is that it could unravel in a very short time.

Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, was not one of the researchers, but he describes the results of the study as “terrifying” and warns that the Amazon could pass the point of no return this year.

He says: “Nature is fragile. Just because an area is big or a species is common, it doesn’t mean they’ll last forever.

“The Sahel – an area south of the Sahara that is six times the size of Spain – went from being vegetated and bountiful to just a desert in a few hundred years.

“The American chestnut – one of the most important trees of eastern North America – almost faced extinction after a fungal disease caused some three to four billion trees to die in the early 1900s.

“Natural ecosystems are usually resilient to change when kept intact, but after decades of disruption, exploitation and climatic stress, it should come as no surprise that they are breaking down.

“In other words, you can’t simply remove huge chunks of a rainforest and hope everything will be fine – it won’t. Based on these results, 2020 is our very last opportunity to stop Amazonian deforestation.” – Climate News Network

Amazon rainforest reaches point of no return

rainforest

Brazilian rainforest expert warns that increased deforestation under President Bolsonaro’s regime is having a catastrophic effect on climate.

LONDON, 16 March, 2020 – Antonio Donato Nobre is passionate about the Amazon region and despairs about the level of deforestation taking place in what is the world’s biggest rainforest.

“Just when I thought the destruction couldn’t get any worse, it has,” says Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading scientists who has studied the Amazon – its unique flora and fauna, and its influence on both the local and global climate – for more than 40 years.

“In terms of the Earth’s climate, we have gone beyond the point of no return. There’s no doubt about this.”

For decades, he has fought against deforestation. There have been considerable ups and downs in that time, but he points out that Brazil was once a world-leader in controlling deforestation.

“We developed the system that’s now being used by other countries,” he told Climate News Network in an interview during his lecture tour of the UK.

“Using satellite data, we monitored and we controlled. From 2005 to 2012, Brazil managed to reduce up to 83% of deforestation.”

Dramatic increase

Then the law on land use was relaxed, and deforestation increased dramatically – by as much as 200% between 2017 and 2018.

It’s all become much worse since Jair Bolsonaro became Brazilian president at the beginning of last year, Nobre says.

“There are some dangerous people in office,” he says. “The Minister of Environment is a convicted criminal. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is a climate sceptic.”

Nobre argues that Bolsonaro doesn’t care about the Amazon and has contempt for environmentalists.

His administration is encouraging the land grabbers who illegally take over protected or indigenous tribal land, which they then sell on to cattle ranchers and soybean conglomerates.

For indigenous tribes, life has become more dangerous. “They are being murdered, their land is being invaded,” Nobre says.

In August last year, the world watched as large areas of the Amazon region – a vital carbon sink sucking up and recycling global greenhouse gases – went up in flames.

Nobre says the land grabbers had organised what they called a “day of fires” in August last year to honour Bolsonaro.

Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone . It’s losing
the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.”

“Thousands of people organized, through WhatsApp, to make something visible from space,” he says. “They hired people on motorbikes with gasoline jugs to set fire to any land they could.”

The impact on the Amazon is catastrophic, Nobre says. “Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone – it’s losing the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.

“When you clear land in a healthy system, it bounces back. But once you cross a certain threshold, a tipping point, it turns into a different kind of equilibrium. It becomes drier, there’s less rain. It’s no longer a forest.”

As well as storing and recycling vast amounts of greenhouse gas, the trees in the Amazon play a vital role in harvesting heat from the Earth’s surface and transforming water vapour into condensation above the forest. This acts like a giant sprinkler system in the sky, Nobre explains..

When the trees go and this system breaks down, the climate alters not only in the Amazon region but over a much wider area.

Time running out

“We used to say the Amazon had two seasons: the wet season and the wetter season,” Nobre says. “Now, you have many months without a drop of water.”

Nobre spent many years living and carrying out research in the rainforest and is now attached to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

The vast majority of Brazilians, he says, are against deforestation and are concerned about climate change – but while he believes that there is still hope for the rainforest, he says that time is fast running out.

Many leading figures in Brazil, including a group of powerful generals, have been shocked by the international reaction to the recent spate of fires in the Amazon and fear that the country is becoming a pariah on the global stage.

Nobre is angry with his own government, but also with what he describes as the massive conspiracy on climate change perpetrated over the years by the oil, gas and coal lobbies.

Ever since the late 1970s, the fossil fuel companies’ scientists have known about the consequences of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“They brought us to this situation knowingly,” Nobre says. “It’s not something they did out of irresponsible ignorance. They paid to bash the science.” – Climate News Network

  • Jessica Rawnsley is a UK-based environmental journalist. She has written stories on the Extinction Rebellion movement and police tactics connected with demonstrations. She has a particular interest in campaigning groups and their influence on government climate policies.
  • TOMORROW: Forest and coral reef systems in danger of collapse.

Brazilian rainforest expert warns that increased deforestation under President Bolsonaro’s regime is having a catastrophic effect on climate.

LONDON, 16 March, 2020 – Antonio Donato Nobre is passionate about the Amazon region and despairs about the level of deforestation taking place in what is the world’s biggest rainforest.

“Just when I thought the destruction couldn’t get any worse, it has,” says Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading scientists who has studied the Amazon – its unique flora and fauna, and its influence on both the local and global climate – for more than 40 years.

“In terms of the Earth’s climate, we have gone beyond the point of no return. There’s no doubt about this.”

For decades, he has fought against deforestation. There have been considerable ups and downs in that time, but he points out that Brazil was once a world-leader in controlling deforestation.

“We developed the system that’s now being used by other countries,” he told Climate News Network in an interview during his lecture tour of the UK.

“Using satellite data, we monitored and we controlled. From 2005 to 2012, Brazil managed to reduce up to 83% of deforestation.”

Dramatic increase

Then the law on land use was relaxed, and deforestation increased dramatically – by as much as 200% between 2017 and 2018.

It’s all become much worse since Jair Bolsonaro became Brazilian president at the beginning of last year, Nobre says.

“There are some dangerous people in office,” he says. “The Minister of Environment is a convicted criminal. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is a climate sceptic.”

Nobre argues that Bolsonaro doesn’t care about the Amazon and has contempt for environmentalists.

His administration is encouraging the land grabbers who illegally take over protected or indigenous tribal land, which they then sell on to cattle ranchers and soybean conglomerates.

For indigenous tribes, life has become more dangerous. “They are being murdered, their land is being invaded,” Nobre says.

In August last year, the world watched as large areas of the Amazon region – a vital carbon sink sucking up and recycling global greenhouse gases – went up in flames.

Nobre says the land grabbers had organised what they called a “day of fires” in August last year to honour Bolsonaro.

Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone . It’s losing
the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.”

“Thousands of people organized, through WhatsApp, to make something visible from space,” he says. “They hired people on motorbikes with gasoline jugs to set fire to any land they could.”

The impact on the Amazon is catastrophic, Nobre says. “Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone – it’s losing the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.

“When you clear land in a healthy system, it bounces back. But once you cross a certain threshold, a tipping point, it turns into a different kind of equilibrium. It becomes drier, there’s less rain. It’s no longer a forest.”

As well as storing and recycling vast amounts of greenhouse gas, the trees in the Amazon play a vital role in harvesting heat from the Earth’s surface and transforming water vapour into condensation above the forest. This acts like a giant sprinkler system in the sky, Nobre explains..

When the trees go and this system breaks down, the climate alters not only in the Amazon region but over a much wider area.

Time running out

“We used to say the Amazon had two seasons: the wet season and the wetter season,” Nobre says. “Now, you have many months without a drop of water.”

Nobre spent many years living and carrying out research in the rainforest and is now attached to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

The vast majority of Brazilians, he says, are against deforestation and are concerned about climate change – but while he believes that there is still hope for the rainforest, he says that time is fast running out.

Many leading figures in Brazil, including a group of powerful generals, have been shocked by the international reaction to the recent spate of fires in the Amazon and fear that the country is becoming a pariah on the global stage.

Nobre is angry with his own government, but also with what he describes as the massive conspiracy on climate change perpetrated over the years by the oil, gas and coal lobbies.

Ever since the late 1970s, the fossil fuel companies’ scientists have known about the consequences of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“They brought us to this situation knowingly,” Nobre says. “It’s not something they did out of irresponsible ignorance. They paid to bash the science.” – Climate News Network

  • Jessica Rawnsley is a UK-based environmental journalist. She has written stories on the Extinction Rebellion movement and police tactics connected with demonstrations. She has a particular interest in campaigning groups and their influence on government climate policies.
  • TOMORROW: Forest and coral reef systems in danger of collapse.