Category Archives: Deforestation

As big forests shrink, the carbon leaks and the heat rises

The world’s greatest forests are turning to patchwork. The patches get more frequent, the carbon leaks and the heat rises.

LONDON, 16 September, 2021 − The world’s tropical forests are getting smaller, and this process may be inexorable. That is because, in effect, the great rainforest canopies are being shredded into ever-smaller pieces. As this happens the carbon leaks, the heat rises.

In other words every year, a greater proportion of natural intact forest becomes a forest edge. And researchers have demonstrated, repeatedly, that canopy up to 100 metres from the edge of any forest becomes less effective at storing carbon, maintaining moisture and conserving biodiversity.

At the beginning of this century, researchers report in the journal Science Advances, they pored over high-resolution forest cover maps of the globe to count 131 million fragments of forest: that is forest subdivided by roads, or mining and quarrying works, or plantations, or clearance for logging, or for plantations or ranches. In just 10 years, this number had reached 152 million.

In Africa alone, the number of forest fragments increased from 45 million to 64 million: that is an increase of 42%. In the year 2000, the area of forest edge − the irrevocably degraded area − for the entire tropics had reached 27%. Ten years later, this proportion was 31%.

Increasing forest loss

“This situation has deteriorated so much that now almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest areas are in edge areas. If deforestation is not stopped, this trend will continue,” said Rico Fischer of UFZ, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.

“The edge, unlike the forest interior, is subject to direct sunlight. It is more exposed to the wind. Humidity also decreases in the edge areas. The altered microclimate particularly damages the large trees that depend on a good water supply.”

Forest conservation is a key component in the global efforts to limit climate change and slow global temperature rise. Across the entire tropics, the study found, the average size of these forest fragments had fallen, from 15 hectares in 2000 to 12 hectares in 2010. In those years, an area of 177 million hectares that had once been undisturbed, intact forest has been lost either through direct deforestation, or conversion to forest edge.

This is an area almost the size of Indonesia. By the century’s end, half of all tropical forest will be classified as forest edge. The loss of forest actively delivers extra carbon into the atmosphere to accelerate global heating even more alarmingly, and that could mean even more forest loss, as cycles of drought and fire become more probable in a warming world.

“Almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest areas are in edge areas. If deforestation is not stopped, this trend will continue”

The problem, of course, is the road: without new roads, miners, farmers, ranchers and loggers could not have made much impact on what were once vast intact forests in tropical Africa, the Amazon basin and south-east Asia.

And the problem will continue: within the next 30 years, there could be another 25 million kilometres of new road, enough to circle the globe 600 times, and most of these in the developing world, that is, the tropics.

Where these roads divide the forest they precipitate carbon loss: at the beginning of this century, forest edges surrendered around 420 million tonnes of carbon a year to the atmosphere. By 2010, this had gone up to 450 million.

Every year now in the tropics, the clearance, destruction or degradation of forest releases between 1,000 and 1,500 million tonnes of carbon. The loss of efficiency at the edge of the surviving forest could increase this figure by almost a third.

Halt to deforestation

And, of course, the gaps between surviving patches of tropical forest are getting bigger. This is good for neither the trees nor the creatures that live under the forest’s protection.

“This makes the long-term survival of animal species such as the jaguar, which depends on large, connected forest areas, more difficult,” said Franziska Taubert, a co-author, also at the UFZ Leipzig centre.

The scientists calculate that at the present rate of deforestation, half of all tropical forest by the end of this century will be classed as forest edge, and this forest edge will release 530 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year. If the rate of tropical deforestation is cut by half that proportion will still increase to 40%. If all deforestation is stopped by 2050, the proportion could be held to 30%.

“Only if deforestation of the rainforest is stopped from 2050 onwards can emissions be limited to a maximum of 480 million tonnes of carbon,” said Dr Fischer. − Climate News Network

The world’s greatest forests are turning to patchwork. The patches get more frequent, the carbon leaks and the heat rises.

LONDON, 16 September, 2021 − The world’s tropical forests are getting smaller, and this process may be inexorable. That is because, in effect, the great rainforest canopies are being shredded into ever-smaller pieces. As this happens the carbon leaks, the heat rises.

In other words every year, a greater proportion of natural intact forest becomes a forest edge. And researchers have demonstrated, repeatedly, that canopy up to 100 metres from the edge of any forest becomes less effective at storing carbon, maintaining moisture and conserving biodiversity.

At the beginning of this century, researchers report in the journal Science Advances, they pored over high-resolution forest cover maps of the globe to count 131 million fragments of forest: that is forest subdivided by roads, or mining and quarrying works, or plantations, or clearance for logging, or for plantations or ranches. In just 10 years, this number had reached 152 million.

In Africa alone, the number of forest fragments increased from 45 million to 64 million: that is an increase of 42%. In the year 2000, the area of forest edge − the irrevocably degraded area − for the entire tropics had reached 27%. Ten years later, this proportion was 31%.

Increasing forest loss

“This situation has deteriorated so much that now almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest areas are in edge areas. If deforestation is not stopped, this trend will continue,” said Rico Fischer of UFZ, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.

“The edge, unlike the forest interior, is subject to direct sunlight. It is more exposed to the wind. Humidity also decreases in the edge areas. The altered microclimate particularly damages the large trees that depend on a good water supply.”

Forest conservation is a key component in the global efforts to limit climate change and slow global temperature rise. Across the entire tropics, the study found, the average size of these forest fragments had fallen, from 15 hectares in 2000 to 12 hectares in 2010. In those years, an area of 177 million hectares that had once been undisturbed, intact forest has been lost either through direct deforestation, or conversion to forest edge.

This is an area almost the size of Indonesia. By the century’s end, half of all tropical forest will be classified as forest edge. The loss of forest actively delivers extra carbon into the atmosphere to accelerate global heating even more alarmingly, and that could mean even more forest loss, as cycles of drought and fire become more probable in a warming world.

“Almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest areas are in edge areas. If deforestation is not stopped, this trend will continue”

The problem, of course, is the road: without new roads, miners, farmers, ranchers and loggers could not have made much impact on what were once vast intact forests in tropical Africa, the Amazon basin and south-east Asia.

And the problem will continue: within the next 30 years, there could be another 25 million kilometres of new road, enough to circle the globe 600 times, and most of these in the developing world, that is, the tropics.

Where these roads divide the forest they precipitate carbon loss: at the beginning of this century, forest edges surrendered around 420 million tonnes of carbon a year to the atmosphere. By 2010, this had gone up to 450 million.

Every year now in the tropics, the clearance, destruction or degradation of forest releases between 1,000 and 1,500 million tonnes of carbon. The loss of efficiency at the edge of the surviving forest could increase this figure by almost a third.

Halt to deforestation

And, of course, the gaps between surviving patches of tropical forest are getting bigger. This is good for neither the trees nor the creatures that live under the forest’s protection.

“This makes the long-term survival of animal species such as the jaguar, which depends on large, connected forest areas, more difficult,” said Franziska Taubert, a co-author, also at the UFZ Leipzig centre.

The scientists calculate that at the present rate of deforestation, half of all tropical forest by the end of this century will be classed as forest edge, and this forest edge will release 530 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year. If the rate of tropical deforestation is cut by half that proportion will still increase to 40%. If all deforestation is stopped by 2050, the proportion could be held to 30%.

“Only if deforestation of the rainforest is stopped from 2050 onwards can emissions be limited to a maximum of 480 million tonnes of carbon,” said Dr Fischer. − Climate News Network

Amazon fires are rising threat to Brazil’s great rainforest

Brazil’s great rainforest is a reservoir of global richness. Its government has reduced that wealth and burned a resource.

LONDON, 9 September, 2021 − For at least 12,000 Amazon species, extinction has just got a little closer. In this century alone, more than 100,000 vital square kilometres of Brazil’s great rainforest have been damaged by fire.

In the course of that burning and degradation, up to 85% of all those Amazon plants and vertebrates already listed as threatened have lost precious habitat.

The Amazon basin is home to at least 40% of the planet’s remaining rainforest. It is a vital functioning part of the planetary climate machine. It is one of the world’s richest ecosystems: a tenth of all known species on the planet live under its canopy. In just one square kilometre of forest, there could be 1,000 species of tree.

And although Brazilian government policies since 2001 have slowed the rate at which forest habitat has been destroyed, since 2019 and a change of government this trend has been reversed, say 23 scientists in a new study for the journal Nature.

They generated maps of the region’s astonishing biodiversity and catalogued the ranges of 11,514 plant and 3,079 animal species. They then imposed on this map their satellite-based observations of fire and damage since 2001.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control”

They calculated that in the last two decades, somewhere between 103,079 and 189,755 sq kms of rainforest have caught fire or been harmed by it. This adds up to somewhere between 2.2% and 4.1% of the total. They calculated that for every 10,000 sq kms of forest torched, somewhere between 27 and 37 different plants and two or three vertebrates must have been affected.

That adds up to an estimated total of between 12,064 and 12,801 plants and animals that have lost range and become increasingly threatened.

Since 1960, around 20% of the Amazon forest has been scorched and cleared. By 2050, Brazil’s great rainforest could have lost 40%. And the point the researchers make is that what happens to the forest is a matter for the people, and for the government of Brazil which notoriously in 2019 started to dismantle some of the region’s protection.

“We show how policy has had a direct and enormous influence on the pace at which biodiversity across the entire Amazon has been affected. Even with policies in place, which you can think of as a brake slowing the rate of deforestation, it’s like a car that keeps moving forward, just at a slower speed. But in 2019 it’s like the foot was let off the brake, causing it to accelerate again,” said Brian Enquist of the University of Arizona in the US, one of the authors.

Spiral of decline

“This is important in light of the fact that biodiversity goes hand in hand with ecosystem functioning. Species can become virtually extinct even before they lose their entire range of habitat.”

Researchers have addressed these themes before and warned repeatedly of the potential calamity already facing one of the planet’s most important ecosystems, as forest destruction drives climate change and climate change in turn begins to dry up what was once rainforest, to make it even more vulnerable and intensify climate change even further.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control,” said Patrick Roehrdanz of Conservation International, another of the authors.

“One way is to recommit to strong anti-deforestation policies in Brazil, combined with incentives for a forest economy, and replicate them in other Amazonian countries.” − Climate News Network

Brazil’s great rainforest is a reservoir of global richness. Its government has reduced that wealth and burned a resource.

LONDON, 9 September, 2021 − For at least 12,000 Amazon species, extinction has just got a little closer. In this century alone, more than 100,000 vital square kilometres of Brazil’s great rainforest have been damaged by fire.

In the course of that burning and degradation, up to 85% of all those Amazon plants and vertebrates already listed as threatened have lost precious habitat.

The Amazon basin is home to at least 40% of the planet’s remaining rainforest. It is a vital functioning part of the planetary climate machine. It is one of the world’s richest ecosystems: a tenth of all known species on the planet live under its canopy. In just one square kilometre of forest, there could be 1,000 species of tree.

And although Brazilian government policies since 2001 have slowed the rate at which forest habitat has been destroyed, since 2019 and a change of government this trend has been reversed, say 23 scientists in a new study for the journal Nature.

They generated maps of the region’s astonishing biodiversity and catalogued the ranges of 11,514 plant and 3,079 animal species. They then imposed on this map their satellite-based observations of fire and damage since 2001.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control”

They calculated that in the last two decades, somewhere between 103,079 and 189,755 sq kms of rainforest have caught fire or been harmed by it. This adds up to somewhere between 2.2% and 4.1% of the total. They calculated that for every 10,000 sq kms of forest torched, somewhere between 27 and 37 different plants and two or three vertebrates must have been affected.

That adds up to an estimated total of between 12,064 and 12,801 plants and animals that have lost range and become increasingly threatened.

Since 1960, around 20% of the Amazon forest has been scorched and cleared. By 2050, Brazil’s great rainforest could have lost 40%. And the point the researchers make is that what happens to the forest is a matter for the people, and for the government of Brazil which notoriously in 2019 started to dismantle some of the region’s protection.

“We show how policy has had a direct and enormous influence on the pace at which biodiversity across the entire Amazon has been affected. Even with policies in place, which you can think of as a brake slowing the rate of deforestation, it’s like a car that keeps moving forward, just at a slower speed. But in 2019 it’s like the foot was let off the brake, causing it to accelerate again,” said Brian Enquist of the University of Arizona in the US, one of the authors.

Spiral of decline

“This is important in light of the fact that biodiversity goes hand in hand with ecosystem functioning. Species can become virtually extinct even before they lose their entire range of habitat.”

Researchers have addressed these themes before and warned repeatedly of the potential calamity already facing one of the planet’s most important ecosystems, as forest destruction drives climate change and climate change in turn begins to dry up what was once rainforest, to make it even more vulnerable and intensify climate change even further.

“Since the majority of fires in the Amazon are intentionally set by people, preventing them is largely within our control,” said Patrick Roehrdanz of Conservation International, another of the authors.

“One way is to recommit to strong anti-deforestation policies in Brazil, combined with incentives for a forest economy, and replicate them in other Amazonian countries.” − Climate News Network

Brazil’s Grain Railway alarms indigenous groups

Brazil’s Grain Railway will cut right through the Amazon forest. Indigenous people and ecologists are aghast at the plan.

SÃO PAULO, 26 August, 2021 − A controversial 933 km-long line planned to run through the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s Grain Railway, is one of a package of railway infrastructure projects which the UK-based Climate Bonds Initiative is considering for green certification.

The Ferrogrão, as it is known locally, will run north from Sinop in the heart of the soy- and maize-growing state of Mato Grosso to the port of Miritituba on the Tapajos river, an Amazon tributary.

The chosen route runs close to indigenous areas of the Munduruku, Kayapo and Kayabi peoples, and cuts through the Jamanxim national park, a protected area. To permit this route the Brazilian government introduced a law to reduce the park limits, but this has been suspended by the Supreme Court.

The government plans to auction the proposed railway, which will cost an estimated R$12.7 billion, or almost £2bn, in January 2022. To convince foreign investors that it is environmentally sustainable, in September 2019 it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Climate Bonds Initiative, a non-profit organisation which awards green certification to sustainable projects.

“They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish”

If the CBI awards the project its green seal of approval, this will enable the railway’s eventual concessionaire to access funding via green bonds on the international market, now worth an estimated US$1tn. A CBI spokesperson said it had not yet evaluated the certification request of the financial operations for the Ferrograõ’s construction.

Brazil’s infrastructure minister, Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, explained: “If I’m going to build a railway in the Amazon, I need to transmit security to investors, principally in terms of image. We want to be state-of-the-art in green structuring, environmental governance, monitoring of processes, recovery of degraded areas and crossings for wildlife.”

Freitas says the railway will remove one million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by providing a cheaper alternative to diesel-fuelled lorry traffic, reducing it by 90% on the existing road connection between Mato Grosso and Miritituba, known as the BR163 highway. Without the railway, the heavily used road, which runs through once dense forest, now extensively cleared, would have to be duplicated.

His Ministry’s site informs users that a “green barrier” will be created by tree planting along the railway route, to hold back the encroachment of farming land.

Exporters will benefit

But the idea that this “ecological barrier” will prevent invasions, especially since the Bolsonaro government has been steadily weakening environmental law enforcement in the Amazon, is strongly disputed by the indigenous peoples affected, who argue they have not been properly consulted about the route, as they have a right to be under Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation, of which Brazil is a signatory.

Munduruku leader Alessandra says the railway will accelerate the growth of more soy farms and urbanisation: “They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish.”

Indigenous leaders say they are not against the project per se, but against the way it is being executed, without consultation, violating their right to be heard. They and environmental NGOs dispute the idea that the railway will be ecologically sustainable, claiming that instead it will cause more deforestation, more clearings, deposits of waste, the suppression of vegetation, and the damming of streams.

Those who stand to benefit from the Grain Railway are the large international agribusiness companies who export to China and Europe, who will gain a cheaper route to the international ports on the Amazon river. At the moment 70% of Mato Grosso’s grain harvest is trucked 2000 kms south to ports like Santos.

More destruction ahead

The newly formed Forests and Finance Coalition, an international alliance of almost 50 groups, has just sent a letter to 80 Brazilian and overseas financial institutions, warning them of the risks of investing in Brazil when the national congress is debating laws which could bring irreversible consequences to critical ecosystems like the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Cerrado, and to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Record levels of deforestation and fires are destroying huge swathes of these biomes, aided by a major drought, said to be the worst in 90 years. Rivers are drying up, reservoirs are emptying and fires are raging all over Brazil. If the Grain Railway goes ahead it will inevitably lead to further rainforest destruction.

For the government of Jair Bolsonaro, which has cut funding for environmental protection, dismantled environmental agencies and encouraged the invasion of indigenous and protected areas, to gain the backing of a reputable organisation like Climate Bonds Initiative is a major asset.

For Climate Bonds Initiative, which says it wants to “place Brazil at the centre of the international market to access global capital flows from international investors who are actively looking for good financial products with climate and environmental credentials”, the advantage of linking itself to Brazil’s Grain Railway and to a government with such an openly anti-environment agenda is not clear. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s Grain Railway will cut right through the Amazon forest. Indigenous people and ecologists are aghast at the plan.

SÃO PAULO, 26 August, 2021 − A controversial 933 km-long line planned to run through the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s Grain Railway, is one of a package of railway infrastructure projects which the UK-based Climate Bonds Initiative is considering for green certification.

The Ferrogrão, as it is known locally, will run north from Sinop in the heart of the soy- and maize-growing state of Mato Grosso to the port of Miritituba on the Tapajos river, an Amazon tributary.

The chosen route runs close to indigenous areas of the Munduruku, Kayapo and Kayabi peoples, and cuts through the Jamanxim national park, a protected area. To permit this route the Brazilian government introduced a law to reduce the park limits, but this has been suspended by the Supreme Court.

The government plans to auction the proposed railway, which will cost an estimated R$12.7 billion, or almost £2bn, in January 2022. To convince foreign investors that it is environmentally sustainable, in September 2019 it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Climate Bonds Initiative, a non-profit organisation which awards green certification to sustainable projects.

“They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish”

If the CBI awards the project its green seal of approval, this will enable the railway’s eventual concessionaire to access funding via green bonds on the international market, now worth an estimated US$1tn. A CBI spokesperson said it had not yet evaluated the certification request of the financial operations for the Ferrograõ’s construction.

Brazil’s infrastructure minister, Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, explained: “If I’m going to build a railway in the Amazon, I need to transmit security to investors, principally in terms of image. We want to be state-of-the-art in green structuring, environmental governance, monitoring of processes, recovery of degraded areas and crossings for wildlife.”

Freitas says the railway will remove one million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by providing a cheaper alternative to diesel-fuelled lorry traffic, reducing it by 90% on the existing road connection between Mato Grosso and Miritituba, known as the BR163 highway. Without the railway, the heavily used road, which runs through once dense forest, now extensively cleared, would have to be duplicated.

His Ministry’s site informs users that a “green barrier” will be created by tree planting along the railway route, to hold back the encroachment of farming land.

Exporters will benefit

But the idea that this “ecological barrier” will prevent invasions, especially since the Bolsonaro government has been steadily weakening environmental law enforcement in the Amazon, is strongly disputed by the indigenous peoples affected, who argue they have not been properly consulted about the route, as they have a right to be under Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation, of which Brazil is a signatory.

Munduruku leader Alessandra says the railway will accelerate the growth of more soy farms and urbanisation: “They are squeezing us more all the time. Where I live, we now have to go a long way to be able to fish.”

Indigenous leaders say they are not against the project per se, but against the way it is being executed, without consultation, violating their right to be heard. They and environmental NGOs dispute the idea that the railway will be ecologically sustainable, claiming that instead it will cause more deforestation, more clearings, deposits of waste, the suppression of vegetation, and the damming of streams.

Those who stand to benefit from the Grain Railway are the large international agribusiness companies who export to China and Europe, who will gain a cheaper route to the international ports on the Amazon river. At the moment 70% of Mato Grosso’s grain harvest is trucked 2000 kms south to ports like Santos.

More destruction ahead

The newly formed Forests and Finance Coalition, an international alliance of almost 50 groups, has just sent a letter to 80 Brazilian and overseas financial institutions, warning them of the risks of investing in Brazil when the national congress is debating laws which could bring irreversible consequences to critical ecosystems like the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Cerrado, and to the rights of indigenous peoples.

Record levels of deforestation and fires are destroying huge swathes of these biomes, aided by a major drought, said to be the worst in 90 years. Rivers are drying up, reservoirs are emptying and fires are raging all over Brazil. If the Grain Railway goes ahead it will inevitably lead to further rainforest destruction.

For the government of Jair Bolsonaro, which has cut funding for environmental protection, dismantled environmental agencies and encouraged the invasion of indigenous and protected areas, to gain the backing of a reputable organisation like Climate Bonds Initiative is a major asset.

For Climate Bonds Initiative, which says it wants to “place Brazil at the centre of the international market to access global capital flows from international investors who are actively looking for good financial products with climate and environmental credentials”, the advantage of linking itself to Brazil’s Grain Railway and to a government with such an openly anti-environment agenda is not clear. − Climate News Network

Amazonia’s forests leak carbon they once stored

Once vital barriers to climate change, Amazonia’s forests now show how that and other human action can harm the rainforest.

LONDON, 11 August, 2021 − Part of Brazil − home to the world’s greatest rainforest − is becoming a source of greenhouse gases. What had once been a powerful machine in the climate system for absorbing carbon dioxide and cooling the planet is now playing a role in accelerating climate change. Much of Amazonia’s forests are no longer carbon sinks: now they are sources instead.

Why? Drought, and forest fires made increasingly likely by drought, have lately killed an estimated 2.5 billion trees and vines, to turn what had once been forest too wet to catch fire into a tinderbox.

And the process is not likely to stop as human numbers multiply and global temperatures soar. Yet another study has found that even those parts of the tropical forest worldwide that are defined as “intact” are at risk: mining, quarrying and extractive industries have concessions that overlap with at least a fifth of the world’s remaining tropical forest.

In the first 13 years of this century alone, an estimated 919,000 sq kms of forest − an area the size of Nigeria − was degraded, destroyed or converted. The area of surviving forest now identified as at risk is 975,000 sq kms, an area almost the size of Egypt.

The restoration and conservation of the world’s forests is a vital part of the global strategy to contain and limit climate change: all three studies confirm the worst fears of conservationists and climate scientists.

East-West split

Researchers have repeatedly warned that what had once been a vast, rich rainforest could − as global temperatures rise and human demands multiply − collapse to something more like dry savannah.

The latest study, in the journal Nature, is a progress report on an ecological catastrophe. Researchers flew 590 missions from four locations above the forest between 2010 and 2018 to make precise measurements of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide released from stressed and damaged vegetation below.

They found that eastern Amazonia on the whole surrendered more carbon than the forest to the west: over the past 40 years, this region has been more systematically invaded, felled, burned and baked by rising temperatures.

South-eastern Amazonia, in particular, now releases more carbon than it absorbs. Carbon that had once been stored in timber, foliage and soils is now escaping into the atmosphere to make climate change even more hazardous. Researchers estimate that the entire forest is home to 123 billion metric tons of carbon: as more escapes, so much the higher the planetary thermometer could rise.

“It is almost impossible to restore the myriad values of intact forests once they are lost”

And extreme drought and extended wildfires will be among the agents that do the damage, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers looked at a tract of forest about twice the size of Belgium in eastern Amazonia − it would amount to just 1.2% of the entire Brazilian Amazon rainforest − after the drought triggered by a largely natural climate phenomenon known as El Niño in 2015 and 2016.

They calculate that drought and fire accounted for 2.5 billion trees and shrubs, and the loss of these released 495 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air above them. Although, as the rains resumed, the vegetation started to recover, three years later only about a third of the emitted carbon dioxide had been re-absorbed.

But drought and wildfire are not the only agents of destruction: human intrusion is even more destructive, and tends to change the forest forever.

The Wildlife Conservation Society and the WorldWide Fund for Nature  report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that the extractive industries authorised by governments have gained concessions over huge areas of what conservationists define as tropical intact forested landscapes; that is, the jungles of the Amazon and the Congo, and South-east Asia.

Avoiding disturbance

These intact forests store around two-fifths of all tropical forest carbon, and at least a third of their area is home to − and is protected by − groups recognised as politically and economically marginalised indigenous people.

So undisturbed forest is important for the myriad as-yet-unidentified wild plants and animals that define an ecosystem; it is also an important part of the human mosaic.

The study is only a first measure of the risk to the remaining tropical wilderness. Although extractive industries are more interested in the oil, gas and minerals that lie beneath the forest floor, they depend on roads, pipelines and power lines, housing settlements and supply chains that divide and disturb what had once been wilderness.

That triggers a cascade of other consequences. Loss and disturbance become inevitable and may be permanent. As the researchers point out: “It is almost impossible to restore the myriad values of intact forests once they are lost.” − Climate News Network

Once vital barriers to climate change, Amazonia’s forests now show how that and other human action can harm the rainforest.

LONDON, 11 August, 2021 − Part of Brazil − home to the world’s greatest rainforest − is becoming a source of greenhouse gases. What had once been a powerful machine in the climate system for absorbing carbon dioxide and cooling the planet is now playing a role in accelerating climate change. Much of Amazonia’s forests are no longer carbon sinks: now they are sources instead.

Why? Drought, and forest fires made increasingly likely by drought, have lately killed an estimated 2.5 billion trees and vines, to turn what had once been forest too wet to catch fire into a tinderbox.

And the process is not likely to stop as human numbers multiply and global temperatures soar. Yet another study has found that even those parts of the tropical forest worldwide that are defined as “intact” are at risk: mining, quarrying and extractive industries have concessions that overlap with at least a fifth of the world’s remaining tropical forest.

In the first 13 years of this century alone, an estimated 919,000 sq kms of forest − an area the size of Nigeria − was degraded, destroyed or converted. The area of surviving forest now identified as at risk is 975,000 sq kms, an area almost the size of Egypt.

The restoration and conservation of the world’s forests is a vital part of the global strategy to contain and limit climate change: all three studies confirm the worst fears of conservationists and climate scientists.

East-West split

Researchers have repeatedly warned that what had once been a vast, rich rainforest could − as global temperatures rise and human demands multiply − collapse to something more like dry savannah.

The latest study, in the journal Nature, is a progress report on an ecological catastrophe. Researchers flew 590 missions from four locations above the forest between 2010 and 2018 to make precise measurements of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide released from stressed and damaged vegetation below.

They found that eastern Amazonia on the whole surrendered more carbon than the forest to the west: over the past 40 years, this region has been more systematically invaded, felled, burned and baked by rising temperatures.

South-eastern Amazonia, in particular, now releases more carbon than it absorbs. Carbon that had once been stored in timber, foliage and soils is now escaping into the atmosphere to make climate change even more hazardous. Researchers estimate that the entire forest is home to 123 billion metric tons of carbon: as more escapes, so much the higher the planetary thermometer could rise.

“It is almost impossible to restore the myriad values of intact forests once they are lost”

And extreme drought and extended wildfires will be among the agents that do the damage, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers looked at a tract of forest about twice the size of Belgium in eastern Amazonia − it would amount to just 1.2% of the entire Brazilian Amazon rainforest − after the drought triggered by a largely natural climate phenomenon known as El Niño in 2015 and 2016.

They calculate that drought and fire accounted for 2.5 billion trees and shrubs, and the loss of these released 495 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air above them. Although, as the rains resumed, the vegetation started to recover, three years later only about a third of the emitted carbon dioxide had been re-absorbed.

But drought and wildfire are not the only agents of destruction: human intrusion is even more destructive, and tends to change the forest forever.

The Wildlife Conservation Society and the WorldWide Fund for Nature  report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that the extractive industries authorised by governments have gained concessions over huge areas of what conservationists define as tropical intact forested landscapes; that is, the jungles of the Amazon and the Congo, and South-east Asia.

Avoiding disturbance

These intact forests store around two-fifths of all tropical forest carbon, and at least a third of their area is home to − and is protected by − groups recognised as politically and economically marginalised indigenous people.

So undisturbed forest is important for the myriad as-yet-unidentified wild plants and animals that define an ecosystem; it is also an important part of the human mosaic.

The study is only a first measure of the risk to the remaining tropical wilderness. Although extractive industries are more interested in the oil, gas and minerals that lie beneath the forest floor, they depend on roads, pipelines and power lines, housing settlements and supply chains that divide and disturb what had once been wilderness.

That triggers a cascade of other consequences. Loss and disturbance become inevitable and may be permanent. As the researchers point out: “It is almost impossible to restore the myriad values of intact forests once they are lost.” − Climate News Network

Brazil’s environmental licences face near-abolition

President Bolsonaro wants to slash Brazil’s environmental licences, a move critics say will open a free-for-all in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, 19 May, 2021 − The pro-government majority in the lower house of the congress has rushed through a bill (PL3792) which will virtually eliminate the need for Brazil’s environmental licences for a wide range of economic activities, opening the way for widespread exploitation.

The activities which will be freed from licensing include agriculture, cattle raising, logging, dam and road building, sewage plants and water management. Their abolition will impact the Amazon and other biomes, including hundreds of indigenous and quilombo territories, areas occupied by descendants of runaway slaves, which have not yet been officially recognised.

Environmental organisations say the bill’s effects will be disastrous, leading not only to more deforestation, but also to possible repeats of the two mine tailings dam disasters in the state of Minas Gerais, which have killed almost 300 people in recent years.

Under the existing law, any enterprise or activity potentially harmful to the environment must obtain a licence before it can go ahead. IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources,  is responsible for licensing large infrastructure projects. It also consults anthropologists and archaeologists and conducts public hearings in communities that will be affected.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”

Environmental impact studies must be supplied by the project company, including compensation measures where necessary. The new law will replace this complex, often long drawn-out but thorough process with a “self declaration” filed online by the interested party, without any consultation, research or expert opinion. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is hoped the pressure of public opinion, if sufficiently strong, could lead to it being watered down.

Legislators who supported the bill, many themselves ranchers and landowners, claimed the existing licensing law blocked development, because the process was too slow. But public prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança pointed out that what caused the delays were badly prepared studies of environmental impact, and the environmental agencies that have been hollowed out and left without adequate staff.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”, she said.

For Carlos Bocuhy, president of Proam, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection, the bill “favours private interests in detriment to the public interest, and ignores constitutional guarantees for a balanced environment and the accumulated technical and scientific knowledge on licensing.”

International damage

He said its negative results reached far beyond Brazil’s frontiers, because Brazilian commodities would be associated with environmental deregulation.

Nine former environment ministers from right, left and centrist governments have published an open letter of protest at the bill. They claim it will negatively affect the trade agreement due to be signed between the EU and Mercosur, the bloc of four South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and will harm Brazil’s hope of joining the OECD as well.

The bill also makes a mockery of US climate envoy John Kerry’s optimistic declaration that Brazil can become a climate leader. Appearing before the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives, Kerry defended the need to negotiate climate agreements with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in spite of it having cut 24% from the environment ministry’s budget the day after the climate summit organised by President Joe Biden, saying: “If we don’t talk to them, you can be sure the Amazon forest will disappear.”

Among those already affected by the continuing destruction of the rainforest are Brazilian farmers. A study published in the journal Nature Communications on 10 May found that “the lack of rain and the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation in the south of the Amazon region is already causing a fall in productivity and income.”

Bolsonaro’s empty promises

The study, by scientists of the Centre for Remote Sensing at the Brazilian universities of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and Viçosa (UFV) and the University of Bonn in Germany, calculated that fewer trees lead to lower humidity in the air and less rainfall. Forest scientist Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho, the study coordinator, warned that deforestation is putting Brazil’s agricultural systems on the road to what he called agro-suicide.

And official figures indicate that Amazon deforestation will be higher than ever this year. Satellite images used by INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, have revealed that the equivalent of 58,000 football pitches was illegally cleared in April, a 42% increase on last year, and the highest figure since 2015.

If the licensing bill is ratified unchanged by the Senate, then another hurdle in the path of President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to turn the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes into free-for-all territories without oversight, enforcement or the rule of law will have been achieved, in flagrant contrast with his promises just a month ago at Joe Biden’s climate summit.

The door will be flung wide open for mining, farming and logging in areas now occupied by conservation units, indigenous and traditional populations. Brazil’s climate promises will have been reduced to a pile of ashes. − Climate News Network

President Bolsonaro wants to slash Brazil’s environmental licences, a move critics say will open a free-for-all in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, 19 May, 2021 − The pro-government majority in the lower house of the congress has rushed through a bill (PL3792) which will virtually eliminate the need for Brazil’s environmental licences for a wide range of economic activities, opening the way for widespread exploitation.

The activities which will be freed from licensing include agriculture, cattle raising, logging, dam and road building, sewage plants and water management. Their abolition will impact the Amazon and other biomes, including hundreds of indigenous and quilombo territories, areas occupied by descendants of runaway slaves, which have not yet been officially recognised.

Environmental organisations say the bill’s effects will be disastrous, leading not only to more deforestation, but also to possible repeats of the two mine tailings dam disasters in the state of Minas Gerais, which have killed almost 300 people in recent years.

Under the existing law, any enterprise or activity potentially harmful to the environment must obtain a licence before it can go ahead. IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources,  is responsible for licensing large infrastructure projects. It also consults anthropologists and archaeologists and conducts public hearings in communities that will be affected.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”

Environmental impact studies must be supplied by the project company, including compensation measures where necessary. The new law will replace this complex, often long drawn-out but thorough process with a “self declaration” filed online by the interested party, without any consultation, research or expert opinion. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is hoped the pressure of public opinion, if sufficiently strong, could lead to it being watered down.

Legislators who supported the bill, many themselves ranchers and landowners, claimed the existing licensing law blocked development, because the process was too slow. But public prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança pointed out that what caused the delays were badly prepared studies of environmental impact, and the environmental agencies that have been hollowed out and left without adequate staff.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”, she said.

For Carlos Bocuhy, president of Proam, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection, the bill “favours private interests in detriment to the public interest, and ignores constitutional guarantees for a balanced environment and the accumulated technical and scientific knowledge on licensing.”

International damage

He said its negative results reached far beyond Brazil’s frontiers, because Brazilian commodities would be associated with environmental deregulation.

Nine former environment ministers from right, left and centrist governments have published an open letter of protest at the bill. They claim it will negatively affect the trade agreement due to be signed between the EU and Mercosur, the bloc of four South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and will harm Brazil’s hope of joining the OECD as well.

The bill also makes a mockery of US climate envoy John Kerry’s optimistic declaration that Brazil can become a climate leader. Appearing before the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives, Kerry defended the need to negotiate climate agreements with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in spite of it having cut 24% from the environment ministry’s budget the day after the climate summit organised by President Joe Biden, saying: “If we don’t talk to them, you can be sure the Amazon forest will disappear.”

Among those already affected by the continuing destruction of the rainforest are Brazilian farmers. A study published in the journal Nature Communications on 10 May found that “the lack of rain and the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation in the south of the Amazon region is already causing a fall in productivity and income.”

Bolsonaro’s empty promises

The study, by scientists of the Centre for Remote Sensing at the Brazilian universities of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and Viçosa (UFV) and the University of Bonn in Germany, calculated that fewer trees lead to lower humidity in the air and less rainfall. Forest scientist Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho, the study coordinator, warned that deforestation is putting Brazil’s agricultural systems on the road to what he called agro-suicide.

And official figures indicate that Amazon deforestation will be higher than ever this year. Satellite images used by INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, have revealed that the equivalent of 58,000 football pitches was illegally cleared in April, a 42% increase on last year, and the highest figure since 2015.

If the licensing bill is ratified unchanged by the Senate, then another hurdle in the path of President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to turn the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes into free-for-all territories without oversight, enforcement or the rule of law will have been achieved, in flagrant contrast with his promises just a month ago at Joe Biden’s climate summit.

The door will be flung wide open for mining, farming and logging in areas now occupied by conservation units, indigenous and traditional populations. Brazil’s climate promises will have been reduced to a pile of ashes. − Climate News Network

Only intact forests can stave off climate change

The world’s forests are supposed to stave off climate change. Left alone, perhaps they could. But they’re not being left alone.

LONDON, 3 May, 2021 − In the last decade, the Amazon forests of Brazil released more carbon into the atmosphere than they absorbed, thanks largely to human activities that cleared or degraded the canopy. Those activities make it impossible for affected forests to stave off climate change.

And a survey of the cooler forests of North America has revealed that these, too, could be surrendering more carbon than they soak up from the atmosphere, thanks to human-triggered climate change and the ever greater hazard of wildfire.

The world’s forests are a key part of the great carbon conundrum: what happens to all the greenhouse gases emitted from power stations, vehicle exhausts and factory chimneys? The assumption is that approaching one third of all the carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the forests, and the conservation of the planet’s forests has become part of the proposed arsenal of global defence against catastrophic climate change.

Researchers have repeatedly confirmed that, undisturbed, the world’s great natural forests are important reservoirs of atmospheric carbon. They have also confirmed that, even without taking carbon sequestration into account, the forests represent precious natural capital: they are worth more to humankind undisturbed than they could ever be as sawn timber or ranchland.

“Forest degradation has become the largest process driving forest loss”

But the world’s forests are not being left alone: one study found that even many of those ecosystems set aside by national law for protection are being destroyed or damaged.

And the simple equation that an area of tree canopy represents so much carbon drawn down from the atmosphere turns out not to be so simple. A warming climate − and the planet as a whole is more than 1°C on average warmer than it was a century ago − can disturb the calculations.

As the thermometer notches up, trees grow faster and die younger;  they also grow shorter and the extra fertility conferred by an atmosphere richer in carbon could result in a richer spring growth that is not sustained over a longer summer season. As the temperature rises, so the character of the forests could change: some species may one day find it too hot to reproduce.

And then there is the direct effect of climate change driven by rising temperatures: with heat comes drought, and the greater risk of fire. Forests that had once been reservoirs of carbon could start to surrender it to accelerate climate change even more. The marvel that is the Amazon rainforest could, one researcher has warned, collapse altogether and change irrevocably in one human lifetime.

Degradation costs more

Both of the latest studies deliver evidence that, over time, this could already be on the cards. Scientists from the US, France, Denmark, the UK and China report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they worked through a vast collection of satellite data to calculate the levels of what they call “above ground carbon” − the mass of the element incorporated in timber and foliage − in the Brazilian Amazon between the years 2010 and 2019.

They worked out that in that decade, the growing forest gained 3.79 billion tonnes of carbon, but degradation or destruction of the forest resulted in a gross loss of 4.45 billion tonnes. And degradation − basically disturbance by humans in the shape of roads, or plantations, or mining or quarrying − was three times more costly in carbon terms than actual forest clearance.

“Forest degradation has become the largest process driving forest loss and should become a higher policy priority,” the authors say.

A second study in the same journal confirms a parallel finding over 2.82 million square kilometres of Alaska and western Canada. Researchers from the US looked at three decades of satellite data, from 1984 to 2014, to calculate that over those 30 years this area of boreal forest gained 434 billion tonnes of mass in the form of timber and foliage above ground. But forest fires also surrendered 789 billion tonnes of mass over those years.

Intact forests vital

The forests recovered − that is, new growth replaced the lost − but in that time only by 642 billion tonnes. Timber millers took 74 billion tonnes, and new growth added 32 billion tonnes in return. Above-ground mass is not the same thing as above-ground carbon, but it doesn’t change the big picture.

And the big picture is that any disturbance alters the value of forests to the atmospheric traffic in carbon. Within that is a warning to those scientists who have to calculate the global carbon budget: humans may have been over-estimating the capacities of the forests.

“It’s not enough for a forest to absorb and store carbon in its wood and soils. For that to be a real benefit, the forest has to remain intact,” said Jonathan Wang, of the University of California at Irvine, who led the study.

“The far north is home to vast, dense stores of carbon that are very sensitive to climate change, and it will take a lot of monitoring and effort to make sure these forests and their carbon stores remain intact.” − Climate News Network

The world’s forests are supposed to stave off climate change. Left alone, perhaps they could. But they’re not being left alone.

LONDON, 3 May, 2021 − In the last decade, the Amazon forests of Brazil released more carbon into the atmosphere than they absorbed, thanks largely to human activities that cleared or degraded the canopy. Those activities make it impossible for affected forests to stave off climate change.

And a survey of the cooler forests of North America has revealed that these, too, could be surrendering more carbon than they soak up from the atmosphere, thanks to human-triggered climate change and the ever greater hazard of wildfire.

The world’s forests are a key part of the great carbon conundrum: what happens to all the greenhouse gases emitted from power stations, vehicle exhausts and factory chimneys? The assumption is that approaching one third of all the carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the forests, and the conservation of the planet’s forests has become part of the proposed arsenal of global defence against catastrophic climate change.

Researchers have repeatedly confirmed that, undisturbed, the world’s great natural forests are important reservoirs of atmospheric carbon. They have also confirmed that, even without taking carbon sequestration into account, the forests represent precious natural capital: they are worth more to humankind undisturbed than they could ever be as sawn timber or ranchland.

“Forest degradation has become the largest process driving forest loss”

But the world’s forests are not being left alone: one study found that even many of those ecosystems set aside by national law for protection are being destroyed or damaged.

And the simple equation that an area of tree canopy represents so much carbon drawn down from the atmosphere turns out not to be so simple. A warming climate − and the planet as a whole is more than 1°C on average warmer than it was a century ago − can disturb the calculations.

As the thermometer notches up, trees grow faster and die younger;  they also grow shorter and the extra fertility conferred by an atmosphere richer in carbon could result in a richer spring growth that is not sustained over a longer summer season. As the temperature rises, so the character of the forests could change: some species may one day find it too hot to reproduce.

And then there is the direct effect of climate change driven by rising temperatures: with heat comes drought, and the greater risk of fire. Forests that had once been reservoirs of carbon could start to surrender it to accelerate climate change even more. The marvel that is the Amazon rainforest could, one researcher has warned, collapse altogether and change irrevocably in one human lifetime.

Degradation costs more

Both of the latest studies deliver evidence that, over time, this could already be on the cards. Scientists from the US, France, Denmark, the UK and China report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they worked through a vast collection of satellite data to calculate the levels of what they call “above ground carbon” − the mass of the element incorporated in timber and foliage − in the Brazilian Amazon between the years 2010 and 2019.

They worked out that in that decade, the growing forest gained 3.79 billion tonnes of carbon, but degradation or destruction of the forest resulted in a gross loss of 4.45 billion tonnes. And degradation − basically disturbance by humans in the shape of roads, or plantations, or mining or quarrying − was three times more costly in carbon terms than actual forest clearance.

“Forest degradation has become the largest process driving forest loss and should become a higher policy priority,” the authors say.

A second study in the same journal confirms a parallel finding over 2.82 million square kilometres of Alaska and western Canada. Researchers from the US looked at three decades of satellite data, from 1984 to 2014, to calculate that over those 30 years this area of boreal forest gained 434 billion tonnes of mass in the form of timber and foliage above ground. But forest fires also surrendered 789 billion tonnes of mass over those years.

Intact forests vital

The forests recovered − that is, new growth replaced the lost − but in that time only by 642 billion tonnes. Timber millers took 74 billion tonnes, and new growth added 32 billion tonnes in return. Above-ground mass is not the same thing as above-ground carbon, but it doesn’t change the big picture.

And the big picture is that any disturbance alters the value of forests to the atmospheric traffic in carbon. Within that is a warning to those scientists who have to calculate the global carbon budget: humans may have been over-estimating the capacities of the forests.

“It’s not enough for a forest to absorb and store carbon in its wood and soils. For that to be a real benefit, the forest has to remain intact,” said Jonathan Wang, of the University of California at Irvine, who led the study.

“The far north is home to vast, dense stores of carbon that are very sensitive to climate change, and it will take a lot of monitoring and effort to make sure these forests and their carbon stores remain intact.” − Climate News Network

Biden’s climate summit faces challenge by Brazil

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

President Biden’s climate summit, starting tomorrow, will see him aiming to bring Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro into line.

SÃO PAULO, 21 April, 2021 − Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, is a climate change denier. What the US is demanding from him at Joe Biden’s climate summit, being held on April 22 and 23 with 40 world leaders invited, is a clear strategy to reduce Amazon deforestation this year.

Bolsonaro has paid lip service to the US demands, sending Biden a seven-page letter which includes figures and claims that Brazilian environmentalists say are distorted and even false.

But 15 US Democratic senators, apparently worried that Biden might be taken in by Bolsonaro’s message, have sent him a letter of their own,  asking him to link any support for Brazil to progressive reductions in deforestation.

This contrasts with the blatant demand by Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, for money now. A fresh scandal involving this controversial minister has not helped Bolsonaro’s case.

Salles is demanding one billion dollars from the US in exchange for a commitment to reduce deforestation. Of this billion, a third would go to law enforcement and the rest would go to “sustainable development” projects.

Accused of obstruction

Salles is the man who caused the suspension of the US$1bn Amazon Fund set up by Norway and Germany, because he disbanded its oversight committee and refused to work with NGOs.

John Kerry, the US climate envoy, Todd Chapman, the American ambassador in Brasilia, and other officials have been holding talks with Salles. In any serious government he would have been suspended, if not fired, after being accused last week by the federal police of obstructing their investigation into a group of Amazon loggers for illegally cutting down thousands of trees inside protected areas. Instead it was the police agent who accused him that was sacked.

During his presentation of the position Brazil will be adopting at this week’s summit Salles displayed a picture showing a dog sitting in front of spit-roasting chickens, entitled Payment Expectation − comparing Brazil, in other words, to a salivating cur.

Bolsonaro’s letter to Biden boasts of Brazil’s record in preserving the Amazon, its great biodiversity, and its largely renewable energy mix, four times cleaner than OECD countries.

“The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies”

He blames deforestation on poverty, although studies show that it is the big farmers, loggers and land grabbers – often seen frequenting the presidential palace – who are responsible for most of it, using machinery and labour that demand large-scale resources.

Ibama, the national environment agency, recently imposed a hefty fine on a man they identified as Brazil’s biggest land grabber, who has cleared an area equivalent to 21,000 football pitches. A newspaper named him as Bolsonaro supporter Jassonio Costa Leite.

Commenting on Bolsonaro’s letter, ISA, Brazil’s socio-environmental institute, one of Brazil’s most respected NGOs, said: “The Brazilian president is trying to sell his government as environmentalist … with an extensive list of distortions, omissions and lies on themes ranging from the protection of forests to supposed carbon credits.

“He claims the credit for the results obtained by previous administrations, omitting the dismantling of environmental protection mechanisms carried out by his minister Ricardo Salles and committing to a deforestation reduction target which his own government deleted from the promise made in the Paris treaty.”

In his letter Bolsonaro promises to achieve zero illegal deforestation by 2030. But the government’s official Amazon Plan for 2021/22 proposes that the rate of deforestation should be maintained at the average recorded between 2016 and 2020, when it was almost 9,000 square kilometres a year, or 61% higher than the average of the ten years before he took office in 2019.

Deforestation climbs

For 2020, the official deforestation estimate is that 11,080 square km were destroyed, almost 50% higher than in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro became president. In the two years of his government, over 21,000 sq km, an area almost the size of Israel, has been destroyed.

Global Forest Watch data show that in 2020 Brazil led the world’s destruction of primary forests, clearing 3.5 times more than the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second country on the list.

This year, unless serious measures are taken to reduce it, it could be even worse, because data just released show that last month Amazon deforestation reached a 10-year high for March.

The Amazon Plan, which seems to have been drawn up in a hurry to satisfy the Americans, without any sort of consultation or expert input, also makes no mention of indigenous lands and conservation units, which make up the largest contribution to Brazil’s carbon stock, but which have suffered a big increase in invasions and illegal logging since 2019. − Climate News Network

Rich world’s demands fell poorer world’s forests

The tropical forests maintain global climate and nurture the riches of nature. The rich world’s demands are destroying them.

LONDON, 9 April, 2021 − The world’s great ecosystems − moderators of climate, nurseries for evolution − are still being destroyed in the service of global trade, to meet the rich world’s demands. Once again, researchers have confirmed that the wealthy nations are in effect ploughing savanna and felling tropical forests at a distance.

In the first 15 years of this century, the growing demand from the well-heeled for chocolate, rubber, cotton, soy, beef and exotic timber has meant that poorer nations have actually increased their levels of deforestation.

In effect, every human in the G7 nations − Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US − is responsible for the loss of at least four trees a year, mostly in the developing world.

And in a separate study in another journal, another team of scientists has examined satellite data to confirm that between 1985 and 2018, humans cleared or altered 268 million hectares of natural ecosystem on the continent of South America. This is 2.68 million sq kilometres: an area almost the size of Argentina.

Two scientists in Japan report in Nature Ecology and Evolution that they matched levels of deforestation against trade with the world’s biggest economies, to find a clear correlation. They could even distinguish demand in one rich country and its impact on the forests of a poorer nation.

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

“While cocoa consumption in Germany poses the highest risk to the forests in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, deforestation in coastal Tanzania is dominated by Japanese consumers for some agricultural commodities, such as cotton and sesame seed,” they write.

“China shares the most significant responsibility for deforestation in Indochina − particularly in northern Laos for timber and rubber.”

Ironically, many of the richer nations have expanded the areas of forest on their own soil. More than 90% of the deforestation caused by five of the G7 nations was beyond their own borders. In effect, the rich were exporting the destruction of the natural world, and the cost to the planet was disproportionate. The loss of three trees in the Amazon might be more damaging than the loss of 14 trees in Norway, the scientists argue.

“Most forests are in poorer countries who are overwhelmed with economic incentives to cut them down. Our findings show that richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities,” said Keiichiro Kanemoto of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto.

“Policies that aim to preserve forests need to also alleviate poverty. With the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment poses more challenges to forest conservation in developing countries. We want our data to assist in the policy making.”

South American losses

And in the journal Science Advances, a team from the University of Maryland reports on a closer look at the impact of demand for pulpwood, sugar cane, beef, corn and other commodities on one continent: South America, home to some of the world’s most important ecosystems.

They found that human impact on the continent’s land surface just between the years 1985 and 2018 had expanded by 60%. In those years the natural tree cover had dwindled by 16%, and the scale of pasture increased by 23%, cropland by 160% and plantation by 288%.

The sum of all the altered land reached 268 million hectares, or 2.68m sq kms. Argentina, which coincidentally covers 2.73m sq kms, saw an increase of only 23% in human conversion of land use. Brazil tipped the scales with an expansion of 65% in those years.

And, say the researchers, of all this altered land cover on the continent, around 55 million hectares had been degraded − that is, it was no longer functioning as an ecosystem − while being employed for no commercial return. This is the equivalent of more than half a million square kilometres: an area slightly bigger than France.

“No region on Earth is likely to have experienced the scale of land conversion for the sake of agricultural commodity production that South America has,” the authors write. − Climate News Network

The tropical forests maintain global climate and nurture the riches of nature. The rich world’s demands are destroying them.

LONDON, 9 April, 2021 − The world’s great ecosystems − moderators of climate, nurseries for evolution − are still being destroyed in the service of global trade, to meet the rich world’s demands. Once again, researchers have confirmed that the wealthy nations are in effect ploughing savanna and felling tropical forests at a distance.

In the first 15 years of this century, the growing demand from the well-heeled for chocolate, rubber, cotton, soy, beef and exotic timber has meant that poorer nations have actually increased their levels of deforestation.

In effect, every human in the G7 nations − Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US − is responsible for the loss of at least four trees a year, mostly in the developing world.

And in a separate study in another journal, another team of scientists has examined satellite data to confirm that between 1985 and 2018, humans cleared or altered 268 million hectares of natural ecosystem on the continent of South America. This is 2.68 million sq kilometres: an area almost the size of Argentina.

Two scientists in Japan report in Nature Ecology and Evolution that they matched levels of deforestation against trade with the world’s biggest economies, to find a clear correlation. They could even distinguish demand in one rich country and its impact on the forests of a poorer nation.

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

“While cocoa consumption in Germany poses the highest risk to the forests in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, deforestation in coastal Tanzania is dominated by Japanese consumers for some agricultural commodities, such as cotton and sesame seed,” they write.

“China shares the most significant responsibility for deforestation in Indochina − particularly in northern Laos for timber and rubber.”

Ironically, many of the richer nations have expanded the areas of forest on their own soil. More than 90% of the deforestation caused by five of the G7 nations was beyond their own borders. In effect, the rich were exporting the destruction of the natural world, and the cost to the planet was disproportionate. The loss of three trees in the Amazon might be more damaging than the loss of 14 trees in Norway, the scientists argue.

“Most forests are in poorer countries who are overwhelmed with economic incentives to cut them down. Our findings show that richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities,” said Keiichiro Kanemoto of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto.

“Policies that aim to preserve forests need to also alleviate poverty. With the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment poses more challenges to forest conservation in developing countries. We want our data to assist in the policy making.”

South American losses

And in the journal Science Advances, a team from the University of Maryland reports on a closer look at the impact of demand for pulpwood, sugar cane, beef, corn and other commodities on one continent: South America, home to some of the world’s most important ecosystems.

They found that human impact on the continent’s land surface just between the years 1985 and 2018 had expanded by 60%. In those years the natural tree cover had dwindled by 16%, and the scale of pasture increased by 23%, cropland by 160% and plantation by 288%.

The sum of all the altered land reached 268 million hectares, or 2.68m sq kms. Argentina, which coincidentally covers 2.73m sq kms, saw an increase of only 23% in human conversion of land use. Brazil tipped the scales with an expansion of 65% in those years.

And, say the researchers, of all this altered land cover on the continent, around 55 million hectares had been degraded − that is, it was no longer functioning as an ecosystem − while being employed for no commercial return. This is the equivalent of more than half a million square kilometres: an area slightly bigger than France.

“No region on Earth is likely to have experienced the scale of land conversion for the sake of agricultural commodity production that South America has,” the authors write. − Climate News Network

Wales goes green with Welsh national forest plan

Wales has pledged to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. So it plans a Welsh national forest with thousands more trees.

CARDIFF, 12 March, 2021 − A year ago the first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, announced a big step forward towards a more verdant and accessible country: a scheme for a Welsh national forest.

Inspired by the Wales Coast Path, the idea is to create a woodland system that enables visitors to walk uninterrupted throughout the country.

As well as protecting and improving existing forest sites, the scheme will fund tree-planting across the nation by farmers and local communities.

Wales is part of a global movement. In Africa’s Sahel, the Great Green Wall programme has been running for a decade and is about 15% complete. Once finished, the 8,000 km-long wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

In east Africa the people of the Tanzanian island of Kokota have planted more than two million trees over a decade. The Borneo Nature Foundation is aiming to plant 1m trees in south-east Asia in the next five years.

“Through the National Forest we can restore, enhance and create woodlands and habitats across the length and breadth of Wales”

These schemes, and many others, are supported by millions of campaigners and small organisations who drive the demand for tree-planting. Trees have an undeniably positive effect on the planet, absorbing from the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other climate-heating emissions produced by humans.

But care is needed. An existing forest is more effective than a new one, as mature trees are better than young ones at absorbing emissions, and are more resilient to storms and drought.

Deforestation across the globe has accelerated in recent decades, with sites such as the Amazon rainforest destroyed by agriculture, mining and wildfires. There are worries that tree-planting programmes cannot withstand this damage.

Tree loss of this sort is happening in Africa too, putting pressure on already threatened ecosystems. Kevin Juma, one of the founders of the Africa Forest Carbon Catalyst, says: “Africa has one-fifth of the planet’s remaining forests but is losing them faster than anywhere else. Protecting and restoring these forest landscapes is not only critical for Africa, but for the entire world.

Better than planting

“This forest protection model is among the most cost-effective natural defences against climate change, in addition to helping maintain biodiversity, and providing economic opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people in the region.”

The World Resources Institute says protecting tropical tree cover alone could provide 23% of the climate mitigation needed to meet the goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Schemes which focus on tree protection and forest restoration are more likely to provide climate mitigation than tree-planting.

Initiative 20X20 aims to restore existing forests in Latin America and the Caribbean. So far, it has secured commitments from 17 countries to protect and restore 50 million hectares (124m acres) of degraded land by 2030.

The region contains some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, and restoring them will help their animal inhabitants, as well as contributing to a global effort to reduce emissions.

The Welsh government has been pledging a move towards a more sustainable future for some time. Since 2008 the Plant programme has planted a tree for every child born or adopted in Wales. For the last seven years, this has been matched by planting an additional tree in Uganda for every Welsh birth.

Carbon cuts too

The programme has led to 300,000 new trees being planted in Wales, with 140 hectares of new woodland created. In Uganda, the scheme has supported 1,600 families in 30 villages, and five Fairtrade coffee plantations. Through the Size of Wales programme, the Welsh government also funds projects in Kenya, Borneo, the DRC, Peru and Guyana.

The new National Forest scheme is a way of mirroring this climate action within Wales. It will be part of the nation’s legal commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Welsh wildlife broadcaster Iolo Williams said: “Through the National Forest we can restore, enhance and create woodlands and habitats in a connected way across the length and breadth of Wales, with the right species of tree planted in the right place.

“It will also inspire well-being through creating a love for the outdoors in future generations.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Emily Withers is a trainee journalist covering climate and environment news at Cardiff University and will complete her studies in August 2021. https://emily-withers.co.uk

Wales has pledged to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. So it plans a Welsh national forest with thousands more trees.

CARDIFF, 12 March, 2021 − A year ago the first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, announced a big step forward towards a more verdant and accessible country: a scheme for a Welsh national forest.

Inspired by the Wales Coast Path, the idea is to create a woodland system that enables visitors to walk uninterrupted throughout the country.

As well as protecting and improving existing forest sites, the scheme will fund tree-planting across the nation by farmers and local communities.

Wales is part of a global movement. In Africa’s Sahel, the Great Green Wall programme has been running for a decade and is about 15% complete. Once finished, the 8,000 km-long wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

In east Africa the people of the Tanzanian island of Kokota have planted more than two million trees over a decade. The Borneo Nature Foundation is aiming to plant 1m trees in south-east Asia in the next five years.

“Through the National Forest we can restore, enhance and create woodlands and habitats across the length and breadth of Wales”

These schemes, and many others, are supported by millions of campaigners and small organisations who drive the demand for tree-planting. Trees have an undeniably positive effect on the planet, absorbing from the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other climate-heating emissions produced by humans.

But care is needed. An existing forest is more effective than a new one, as mature trees are better than young ones at absorbing emissions, and are more resilient to storms and drought.

Deforestation across the globe has accelerated in recent decades, with sites such as the Amazon rainforest destroyed by agriculture, mining and wildfires. There are worries that tree-planting programmes cannot withstand this damage.

Tree loss of this sort is happening in Africa too, putting pressure on already threatened ecosystems. Kevin Juma, one of the founders of the Africa Forest Carbon Catalyst, says: “Africa has one-fifth of the planet’s remaining forests but is losing them faster than anywhere else. Protecting and restoring these forest landscapes is not only critical for Africa, but for the entire world.

Better than planting

“This forest protection model is among the most cost-effective natural defences against climate change, in addition to helping maintain biodiversity, and providing economic opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people in the region.”

The World Resources Institute says protecting tropical tree cover alone could provide 23% of the climate mitigation needed to meet the goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Schemes which focus on tree protection and forest restoration are more likely to provide climate mitigation than tree-planting.

Initiative 20X20 aims to restore existing forests in Latin America and the Caribbean. So far, it has secured commitments from 17 countries to protect and restore 50 million hectares (124m acres) of degraded land by 2030.

The region contains some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, and restoring them will help their animal inhabitants, as well as contributing to a global effort to reduce emissions.

The Welsh government has been pledging a move towards a more sustainable future for some time. Since 2008 the Plant programme has planted a tree for every child born or adopted in Wales. For the last seven years, this has been matched by planting an additional tree in Uganda for every Welsh birth.

Carbon cuts too

The programme has led to 300,000 new trees being planted in Wales, with 140 hectares of new woodland created. In Uganda, the scheme has supported 1,600 families in 30 villages, and five Fairtrade coffee plantations. Through the Size of Wales programme, the Welsh government also funds projects in Kenya, Borneo, the DRC, Peru and Guyana.

The new National Forest scheme is a way of mirroring this climate action within Wales. It will be part of the nation’s legal commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Welsh wildlife broadcaster Iolo Williams said: “Through the National Forest we can restore, enhance and create woodlands and habitats in a connected way across the length and breadth of Wales, with the right species of tree planted in the right place.

“It will also inspire well-being through creating a love for the outdoors in future generations.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Emily Withers is a trainee journalist covering climate and environment news at Cardiff University and will complete her studies in August 2021. https://emily-withers.co.uk

How to rebuild a forest in a growing climate crisis

A global energy company’s mistake renewed debate on how to slow the climate crisis. Trees can help − but where, and how?

LONDON, 19 February, 2021 – The oil company Shell recently miscalculated the extent of its reserves on a pretty massive scale. The mistake meant its new scenario for meeting the internationally agreed 1.5°C climate target would need a new forest about the size of Brazil. And that renewed a debate about just what trees can do to ease the climate crisis.

Tree-planting to tackle possibly irreversible climate change is one hopeful route. Trees not only breathe carbon dioxide in; they also breathe out oxygen. But tree-planting is more complex than it may seem.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says in its 2018 Special Report, that if the world wants to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2050, an extra one billion hectares (2.4bn acres) of trees will be needed. But what types of trees, and where? Many different initiatives across the world have tried to restore woodland, but what works best for people and the biosphere?

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) 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 more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement). It has several suggestions for understanding how trees might best help to cool the climate crisis, not least relying on natural forest regeneration rather than commercial plantations.

Over the last decade, several reforestation and afforestation schemes have sprung up under the programme of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“In India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign. Myanmar used drones to plant trees”

National and regional reforestation initiatives include China’s forest rehabilitation programme and Africa’s Great Green Wall scheme linking North Africa, the Sahel (the area south of the Sahara desert) and the Horn of Africa.

In 2019 the FAO launched a similar reforestation plan targeting cities – the Great Green Wall for Cities initiative. This is expected to remove from 0.5 to 5 Gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

In 2017, Pakistan met its target of planting a billion trees and  made a commitment to reach 10 billion trees within five years. In its neighbour India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign involving 1.5 million volunteers. Some countries have relied on equally novel methods; Myanmar used drones to plant trees.

Ambitious projects like these can sound attractive. But their ability to achieve their goals sometimes proves controversial.

Several climate and forest scientists favour what they call “natural forest regeneration” – essentially letting the forest grow back naturally – which often proves to be the most efficient and cheapest approach in achieving natural carbon sequestration.

Regeneration neglected

However, only 34% of the total area dedicated to forest restoration plans covered by the Bonn Challenge is earmarked for this approach.

A further 21% of land is reserved for agroforestry, a method promoting the production of multiple plants and crops side by side. The remaining 45% of the land area is given up to the monoculture production of trees.

Better ways of doing things are exemplified by Ghana and Malaysia, for example, where people restored their local forests after being granted ownership of the land.

In Ghana, the forest restoration projects found to be most successful were those which included a “rights-based approach”. Strengthening community rights contributed to the protection of forests from appropriation and privatisation and ensured greater accountability, the right to speak out, and provided safeguards against illegal practices.

In Malaysia, an NGO supported Penan indigenous communities in fighting for their legitimate entitlement to land rights in court. The Penan have strong ties with the land and forests, which play a strong role in maintaining local biodiversity.

Four pathways

Tree planting programmes have had very mixed results. Many failures occurred because the trees planted were not suitable for local climate conditions, and others depleted groundwater reserves, leaving nearby soils dried out and damaging local agricultural production.

Natural forest restoration is the most effective way to store carbon from the atmosphere, the RTA argues. These forests are 40 times more effective than plantations and six times better than agroforestry at retaining carbon. Their complex ecological systems are also better for biodiversity.

The RTA says there are four main ways for countries to encourage the successful restoration of natural forests so as to temper the effects of the climate crisis:

  • They should increase the proportion of their land allocated for regeneration to natural forest
  • Priority should be given to humid tropical areas, such as Amazonia, Borneo and the Congo Basin, which support high biomass forest. International climate adaptation and conservation funds could be used to support such action
  • Countries should focus on naturally regenerating existing carbon stocks such as degraded forests and partly wooded areas, using treeless regions for plantations or agroforestry
  • Restored forest must be protected, perhaps by giving title rights to indigenous peoples who protect forested land, changing the legal definition of land-use so that it cannot be converted to agriculture, and ensuring that commodities companies cannot clear restored forests.

Restoring natural forests, the Alliance concludes, is the most efficient, fast, safe and under-valued carbon sequestration tool. 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.

A global energy company’s mistake renewed debate on how to slow the climate crisis. Trees can help − but where, and how?

LONDON, 19 February, 2021 – The oil company Shell recently miscalculated the extent of its reserves on a pretty massive scale. The mistake meant its new scenario for meeting the internationally agreed 1.5°C climate target would need a new forest about the size of Brazil. And that renewed a debate about just what trees can do to ease the climate crisis.

Tree-planting to tackle possibly irreversible climate change is one hopeful route. Trees not only breathe carbon dioxide in; they also breathe out oxygen. But tree-planting is more complex than it may seem.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says in its 2018 Special Report, that if the world wants to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2050, an extra one billion hectares (2.4bn acres) of trees will be needed. But what types of trees, and where? Many different initiatives across the world have tried to restore woodland, but what works best for people and the biosphere?

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) 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 more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement). It has several suggestions for understanding how trees might best help to cool the climate crisis, not least relying on natural forest regeneration rather than commercial plantations.

Over the last decade, several reforestation and afforestation schemes have sprung up under the programme of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“In India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign. Myanmar used drones to plant trees”

National and regional reforestation initiatives include China’s forest rehabilitation programme and Africa’s Great Green Wall scheme linking North Africa, the Sahel (the area south of the Sahara desert) and the Horn of Africa.

In 2019 the FAO launched a similar reforestation plan targeting cities – the Great Green Wall for Cities initiative. This is expected to remove from 0.5 to 5 Gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

In 2017, Pakistan met its target of planting a billion trees and  made a commitment to reach 10 billion trees within five years. In its neighbour India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign involving 1.5 million volunteers. Some countries have relied on equally novel methods; Myanmar used drones to plant trees.

Ambitious projects like these can sound attractive. But their ability to achieve their goals sometimes proves controversial.

Several climate and forest scientists favour what they call “natural forest regeneration” – essentially letting the forest grow back naturally – which often proves to be the most efficient and cheapest approach in achieving natural carbon sequestration.

Regeneration neglected

However, only 34% of the total area dedicated to forest restoration plans covered by the Bonn Challenge is earmarked for this approach.

A further 21% of land is reserved for agroforestry, a method promoting the production of multiple plants and crops side by side. The remaining 45% of the land area is given up to the monoculture production of trees.

Better ways of doing things are exemplified by Ghana and Malaysia, for example, where people restored their local forests after being granted ownership of the land.

In Ghana, the forest restoration projects found to be most successful were those which included a “rights-based approach”. Strengthening community rights contributed to the protection of forests from appropriation and privatisation and ensured greater accountability, the right to speak out, and provided safeguards against illegal practices.

In Malaysia, an NGO supported Penan indigenous communities in fighting for their legitimate entitlement to land rights in court. The Penan have strong ties with the land and forests, which play a strong role in maintaining local biodiversity.

Four pathways

Tree planting programmes have had very mixed results. Many failures occurred because the trees planted were not suitable for local climate conditions, and others depleted groundwater reserves, leaving nearby soils dried out and damaging local agricultural production.

Natural forest restoration is the most effective way to store carbon from the atmosphere, the RTA argues. These forests are 40 times more effective than plantations and six times better than agroforestry at retaining carbon. Their complex ecological systems are also better for biodiversity.

The RTA says there are four main ways for countries to encourage the successful restoration of natural forests so as to temper the effects of the climate crisis:

  • They should increase the proportion of their land allocated for regeneration to natural forest
  • Priority should be given to humid tropical areas, such as Amazonia, Borneo and the Congo Basin, which support high biomass forest. International climate adaptation and conservation funds could be used to support such action
  • Countries should focus on naturally regenerating existing carbon stocks such as degraded forests and partly wooded areas, using treeless regions for plantations or agroforestry
  • Restored forest must be protected, perhaps by giving title rights to indigenous peoples who protect forested land, changing the legal definition of land-use so that it cannot be converted to agriculture, and ensuring that commodities companies cannot clear restored forests.

Restoring natural forests, the Alliance concludes, is the most efficient, fast, safe and under-valued carbon sequestration tool. 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.