Category Archives: General

Savage heat engulfs temperate Tasmania

One Australian state hit severely this ferocious summer is normally temperate Tasmania. A resident with vivid experience describes its ordeal.

TASMANIA, 14 February, 2019 − Australia has been going through one of its hottest and stormiest summers on record and usually temperate Tasmania, its island state, has taken a battering..

Climate change-related weather events have brought cyclones and raging floods to the north-east of the country, while drought and temperatures exceeding 40°C have resulted in parched lands and rivers drying up in areas of New South Wales.

Summer on the island of Tasmania, Australia’s most southerly state, with a generally temperate climate, is usually a time for BBQs and beach swimming. This summer has been very different.

A prolonged drought and record high temperatures have caused a series of devastating fires, destroying unique forests and vegetation and forcing people to leave their homes.

Critics of the Australian government say it’s clear climate change is wreaking havoc; meanwhile politicians continue to pander to the interests of the country’s powerful mining and fossil fuel industries.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse”

Mike Willson is a Tasmania resident, a fire equipment specialist and a volunteer with the Tasmania Fire Service. Here he tells Climate News Network what life has been like on the island over recent weeks.

“There is menace in the air. Days full of thick brown smoke. The clouds of smoke have even been swept across 2,500 kilometres of ocean to as far away as New Zealand – itself trying to cope with its own forest fires.

“A new phenomenon has arrived in Tasmania – lightning storms without rain. In one day in mid-January there were over 2,000 dry lightning strikes over the south-west and central highlands here, starting up to 70 bush fires.

““ Even with water bombing by planes and helicopters, the fires – which have already burned out 3% of the area of the island – are virtually impossible to control.

Leaping ahead

“Dealing with these fires is like fighting a snarling dragon. Small flakes of grey ash fall everywhere. Embers can trigger spot fires several kilometres ahead of the main fire.

“The fire can seem to disappear but still burns in logs and stumps. You have to always be on the lookout for tell-tale wisps of smoke. Walking across with a hose line to investigate, it’s a moonscape, the soil collapsing under your feet.

““ It’s like trudging through powder snow, sinking up to mid-calf in places, with the earth under your feet turning to hot dust. Aiming at a puff of smoke, the ground erupts and hisses like a volcano when we spray water.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse. If conditions are right, a controlled back burn can effectively starve the fire of fuel, but then the wind might whip up and the fire can jump – even across large rivers and bays – and rampage on.

Disaster avoided

“Luckily, so far there have been no casualties, and few homes have been lost. At least the drought and high temperatures have not come with very high winds – a cocktail for disaster.

“Firefighter and helicopter crews are being constantly rotated – it all takes a considerable physical and mental toll.”

*

In recent days rainfall over much of Tasmania has eased the fire risk, though the authorities are warning people that there is still a danger of further fire outbreaks.

Among the areas threatened or partially destroyed by fire are the world’s largest remaining forest of thousand-year-old King Billy pines. − Climate News Network

One Australian state hit severely this ferocious summer is normally temperate Tasmania. A resident with vivid experience describes its ordeal.

TASMANIA, 14 February, 2019 − Australia has been going through one of its hottest and stormiest summers on record and usually temperate Tasmania, its island state, has taken a battering..

Climate change-related weather events have brought cyclones and raging floods to the north-east of the country, while drought and temperatures exceeding 40°C have resulted in parched lands and rivers drying up in areas of New South Wales.

Summer on the island of Tasmania, Australia’s most southerly state, with a generally temperate climate, is usually a time for BBQs and beach swimming. This summer has been very different.

A prolonged drought and record high temperatures have caused a series of devastating fires, destroying unique forests and vegetation and forcing people to leave their homes.

Critics of the Australian government say it’s clear climate change is wreaking havoc; meanwhile politicians continue to pander to the interests of the country’s powerful mining and fossil fuel industries.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse”

Mike Willson is a Tasmania resident, a fire equipment specialist and a volunteer with the Tasmania Fire Service. Here he tells Climate News Network what life has been like on the island over recent weeks.

“There is menace in the air. Days full of thick brown smoke. The clouds of smoke have even been swept across 2,500 kilometres of ocean to as far away as New Zealand – itself trying to cope with its own forest fires.

“A new phenomenon has arrived in Tasmania – lightning storms without rain. In one day in mid-January there were over 2,000 dry lightning strikes over the south-west and central highlands here, starting up to 70 bush fires.

““ Even with water bombing by planes and helicopters, the fires – which have already burned out 3% of the area of the island – are virtually impossible to control.

Leaping ahead

“Dealing with these fires is like fighting a snarling dragon. Small flakes of grey ash fall everywhere. Embers can trigger spot fires several kilometres ahead of the main fire.

“The fire can seem to disappear but still burns in logs and stumps. You have to always be on the lookout for tell-tale wisps of smoke. Walking across with a hose line to investigate, it’s a moonscape, the soil collapsing under your feet.

““ It’s like trudging through powder snow, sinking up to mid-calf in places, with the earth under your feet turning to hot dust. Aiming at a puff of smoke, the ground erupts and hisses like a volcano when we spray water.

“It’s a giant, macabre game of cat and mouse. If conditions are right, a controlled back burn can effectively starve the fire of fuel, but then the wind might whip up and the fire can jump – even across large rivers and bays – and rampage on.

Disaster avoided

“Luckily, so far there have been no casualties, and few homes have been lost. At least the drought and high temperatures have not come with very high winds – a cocktail for disaster.

“Firefighter and helicopter crews are being constantly rotated – it all takes a considerable physical and mental toll.”

*

In recent days rainfall over much of Tasmania has eased the fire risk, though the authorities are warning people that there is still a danger of further fire outbreaks.

Among the areas threatened or partially destroyed by fire are the world’s largest remaining forest of thousand-year-old King Billy pines. − Climate News Network

UN calls lethal Brazil dam burst a crime

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Several hundred people were buried alive after a Brazil dam burst released toxic waste in the town of Brumadinho, a disaster the UN calls a crime.

SÃO PAULO, 4 February, 2019 − The latest Brazil dam burst, in the central state of Minas Gerais, happened less than a month after the country’s new climate-sceptic government came to office promising a relaxation of environmental laws and inspections to “take the yoke off producers”.

So sudden was the calamity that alarm sirens were submerged by the tidal wave of waste before they could sound. The avalanche of sludge then engulfed hundreds of people in its path aboard buses and lorries or in buildings.

The dam was built in the 1970s, using the “upstream construction” method since banned in other countries. It facilitated the rapid flow of the dam’s contents downhill when the walls collapsed.

The mine is owned by Vale, a Brazilian company which is the world’s largest iron ore producer, and its second largest mining company.

“Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams”

As the death toll rose, so did questions about the failure to prevent Brazil’s second big mining disaster in three years. In November 2015, an iron ore tailings mine owned by Samarco, a Vale joint venture with the Anglo-Australian BHP, had burst its banks, causing Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, contaminating hundreds of miles of rivers with toxic waste, killing fish and other wildlife.

Yet instead of tightening up environmental laws, politicians, many of them funded by the mining companies, have worked instead to relax them.

In the national congress there are a dozen bills designed to loosen the rules for environmental licences. The same politicians also supported the election of a president who appointed climate sceptics to key ministries.

Climate change deleted

The issue of climate change was removed from the government’s agenda, and departments which addressed it have been abolished or downgraded. A determination to dismantle environmental safeguards and relax legislation seen as restrictive to business was openly expressed and was a key part of the new president’s platform.

On his first day in office, President Jair Bolsonaro signed an executive order creating a special secretariat for environmental licensing, a function previously performed by Ibama, the official environment agency (in Portuguese), which has a staff of experienced inspectors. The idea was to fast-track the process

Environment minister Ricardo Salles even suggested self-evaluation by companies or producers considered low-risk − the classification given to the dam at Brumadinho.

The disaster has also revealed that even before Bolsonaro’s election, mine inspections were being neglected. Brazil has 790 dams holding mine waste, but only 35 inspectors. In 2017 only 211 of these mines were inspected.

Inspections missed

Of the budget allocated for dam inspections, less than a quarter was actually spent, according to the Report on Dam Safety in 2017 produced by the National Water Agency, ANA (in Portuguese).

Baskut Tuncak, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and the disposal of hazardous substances, whose requests to visit Brazil after the previous disaster have been systematically ignored, said: “Brazil should have implemented measures to prevent the collapse of these mortal and catastrophic dams after the Samarco disaster in 2015”.

Monitoring of the dam, including the toxicity of the reject material, and the installation of early warning systems to prevent the loss of life and contamination of rivers should have been ensured, he said.

Tuncak, who is championing environmentally sound technologies that adapt to and mitigate climate change, called the dam burst at Brumadinho a crime.

Warnings ignored

He revealed that the Brazilian authorities had ignored UN warnings to improve environmental control. “Neither the government nor the Vale company seem to have learned from their errors and taken the necessary preventive measures after the Samarco disaster”.

For Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s most influential environmental NGOs, the blame lies with “a continuous process of disinvestment in the environmental agencies at both the national and the local level, leaving them unable to carry out their legal attributions.

“Besides imposing unacceptable risks on the environment and the population, this is bad for the companies themselves, because of the time taken to obtain licences.” (in Portuguese).

The way to prevent new tragedies, says ISA, is to strengthen these agencies, not dismantle them. Maybe the terrible tragedy of Brumadinho, with almost 350 dead, will persuade President Bolsonaro to listen to what the environmentalists are saying. − Climate News Network

Salt-free drinkable water comes at a cost

Two thirds of the world worries about water for at least a month annually. One successful source of salt-free drinkable water leaves a bitter aftertaste.

LONDON, 15 January, 2019 – Around the arid world, some 16,000 desalination plants are now purifying seawater and brackish aquifers, producing 95 million cubic metres of fresh, salt-free drinkable water daily. This is almost half the daily flow over Niagara Falls.

But there is a potentially-polluting price to pay: for every litre of fresh water, the same desalination plants produce around 1.5 litres of toxic brine. That adds up to enough in the course of a year to cover the whole of the US state of Florida to a depth of more than 30 cms.

A new study urges nations to explore better solutions – and new ways to exploit the minerals in the wastewater and support efforts to advance the declared UN sustainable development goal of reliable, safe water on tap for everybody in the world.

A second study confirms that the sustainable development goal of clean water and sanitation for everybody by 2030 is likely to cost around $1 trillion a year – and up to 8% more if the advances are matched by efforts to contain climate change and limit global warming to the agreed UN target of well below 2°C above historic levels by 2100.

“Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300%”

Four out of ten of the world’s people face severe water scarcity. More than six out of ten experience at least one month a year in conditions of water scarcity. There are now desalination technologies at work in 177 countries: two thirds of them in nations with high incomes.

Researchers from the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), and from the Netherlands and Korea, report in the journal Science of the Total Environment that they found that 55% of all the hypersaline brine was produced by just four Middle Eastern nations. China, the USA and Spain produce most of the rest.

Small island nations depend on desalination technology for their survival, and eight countries could meet all their freshwater needs by evaporating sea water.

The waste tended to be directly discharged into the oceans, surface water or sewers, injected into deep wells or left to evaporate in ponds. Untreated, it was a threat to marine ecosystems. On land, it enhanced the increasing hazard of soil salination.

Exploitation possible

But such brines could be used effectively in aquaculture, or to nourish salt-tolerant crops. They were rich in sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, strontium, lithium, rubidium and even uranium: they could be exploited for industry and in agriculture. There aren’t the technologies yet to extract such elements economically, but the scientists make the case for trying.

“There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar,” said Manzoor Qadir, of UNU-INWEH, one of the authors.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains. Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinisation).”

Integrated policies

And researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria also believe in a twofold approach to the looming world water crisis: they report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they want to see the provision of water and sanitation – from any source – and action on climate in an integrated approach.

Both are among the 17 goals of sustainable development adopted by UN agencies and 93 nations. The IIASA researchers think, for example, that water pumping and treatment plants could also work with a nation’s electricity grids to make the most efficient use of both.

“The results of our analysis show that combining clean water and climate policies can increase implementation costs, but these increases are relatively small in comparison to the cost for implementing each policy on its own,” said Simon Parkinson, a researcher from IIASA and the University of Victoria, who led the study.

“Finding and improving synergies between decarbonisation and water efficiency is crucial for minimising joint policy implementation costs and uncertainties.” – Climate News Network

Two thirds of the world worries about water for at least a month annually. One successful source of salt-free drinkable water leaves a bitter aftertaste.

LONDON, 15 January, 2019 – Around the arid world, some 16,000 desalination plants are now purifying seawater and brackish aquifers, producing 95 million cubic metres of fresh, salt-free drinkable water daily. This is almost half the daily flow over Niagara Falls.

But there is a potentially-polluting price to pay: for every litre of fresh water, the same desalination plants produce around 1.5 litres of toxic brine. That adds up to enough in the course of a year to cover the whole of the US state of Florida to a depth of more than 30 cms.

A new study urges nations to explore better solutions – and new ways to exploit the minerals in the wastewater and support efforts to advance the declared UN sustainable development goal of reliable, safe water on tap for everybody in the world.

A second study confirms that the sustainable development goal of clean water and sanitation for everybody by 2030 is likely to cost around $1 trillion a year – and up to 8% more if the advances are matched by efforts to contain climate change and limit global warming to the agreed UN target of well below 2°C above historic levels by 2100.

“Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300%”

Four out of ten of the world’s people face severe water scarcity. More than six out of ten experience at least one month a year in conditions of water scarcity. There are now desalination technologies at work in 177 countries: two thirds of them in nations with high incomes.

Researchers from the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), and from the Netherlands and Korea, report in the journal Science of the Total Environment that they found that 55% of all the hypersaline brine was produced by just four Middle Eastern nations. China, the USA and Spain produce most of the rest.

Small island nations depend on desalination technology for their survival, and eight countries could meet all their freshwater needs by evaporating sea water.

The waste tended to be directly discharged into the oceans, surface water or sewers, injected into deep wells or left to evaporate in ponds. Untreated, it was a threat to marine ecosystems. On land, it enhanced the increasing hazard of soil salination.

Exploitation possible

But such brines could be used effectively in aquaculture, or to nourish salt-tolerant crops. They were rich in sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, strontium, lithium, rubidium and even uranium: they could be exploited for industry and in agriculture. There aren’t the technologies yet to extract such elements economically, but the scientists make the case for trying.

“There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar,” said Manzoor Qadir, of UNU-INWEH, one of the authors.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains. Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinisation).”

Integrated policies

And researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria also believe in a twofold approach to the looming world water crisis: they report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they want to see the provision of water and sanitation – from any source – and action on climate in an integrated approach.

Both are among the 17 goals of sustainable development adopted by UN agencies and 93 nations. The IIASA researchers think, for example, that water pumping and treatment plants could also work with a nation’s electricity grids to make the most efficient use of both.

“The results of our analysis show that combining clean water and climate policies can increase implementation costs, but these increases are relatively small in comparison to the cost for implementing each policy on its own,” said Simon Parkinson, a researcher from IIASA and the University of Victoria, who led the study.

“Finding and improving synergies between decarbonisation and water efficiency is crucial for minimising joint policy implementation costs and uncertainties.” – Climate News Network

Tell us more on palm oil sources, say buyers

A British study says consumers must be able to make sustainable choices more easily on products containing palm oil.

LONDON, 4 January, 2019 − Companies selling products which contain palm oil need to be upfront about where it comes from, so as to relieve consumers of the burden of making sustainable choices, a UK study says.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say companies should not rely simply on purchasers’ own awareness of the need to make environmentally responsible decisions, but should publicly disclose the identities of their palm oil suppliers.

Palm oil production causes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from peatland conversion, and biodiversity loss, and the oil is found in many products, often without consumers’ knowledge. It is a common ingredient in foods, body products, detergents and biofuels.

Dr Rosemary Ostfeld is the study’s lead author. She said: “The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has made efforts to improve the sustainability of palm oil production by creating an environmental certification system for palm oil.

Low uptake

“But currently only 19% of palm oil is RSPO-certified. This means the majority that finds its way into products people buy daily is still produced using conventional practices.

“We wanted to find out if consumers were actively seeking to make a sustainable choice about palm oil. We also explored what extra efforts governments could make to ensure sustainable palm oil consumption.”

The researchers, whose study is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, surveyed 1,695 British consumers through the market research company YouGov.

Respondents were asked about their awareness of palm oil and its environmental impact; their recognition of “ecolabels” such as Fairtrade, the Soil Association and RSPO; and which ecolabelled products they included in their weekly household shopping.

“Relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations”

The study found that UK consumer awareness of palm oil was high (77%), with 41% of those aware of it viewing it as “environmentally unfriendly”. Yet almost no consumers were aware of the RSPO label that showed a product contained sustainably-produced palm oil.

“In terms of label recognition versus action, 82% of people recognised the Fairtrade label, but only 29% actively buy Fairtrade products,” said Dr Ostfeld.

“Only five per cent recognised the RSPO label – the same as a fictional label we put into the survey as a control. Of that small number, only one per cent said they actively include products with the label in their shopping.”

The low recognition of the RSPO label could be caused by the scarcity of its use by consumer goods companies and retailers.

Action not guaranteed

Dr Ostfeld said: “This may be due in part to reluctance to draw attention to their use of palm oil, or it may be because they fall short of the 95% physical certified palm oil content that used to be needed to use the label.

“Either way, we found that relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations. Our results show that even when consumer awareness of an ecolabel is high, action is not guaranteed.”

To address this problem, the researchers put forward several policy recommendations. Dr Ostfeld explained: “Palm oil is more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils and plays a vital role in the livelihoods of millions of people, so banning it is not plausible. Instead, the goal should be to encourage sustainable palm oil production.

“We recommend governments require consumer goods companies and retailers to buy identity-preserved certified palm oil, which can be traced back to the individual plantation. If national targets must be met with identity-preserved certified palm oil, demand for it will increase. It will also enable unsustainable practices to be uncovered more easily.

Disclosure needed

“Companies should also publicly disclose their palm oil suppliers. This will help consumers know if they’re sourcing their palm oil from growers who use best practices.

“We believe these measures could promote a more rapid move towards sustainable palm oil consumption, and higher levels of accountability throughout the supply chain.”

Some campaigners argue that sustainability standards, including certification schemes, can have a wider effect by, for example, helping to shape governments’ policies and to steer investment into research.

A year ago one major US financial company, Dimensional, said it had divested two of its portfolios of all palm oil plantation companies. − Climate News Network

A British study says consumers must be able to make sustainable choices more easily on products containing palm oil.

LONDON, 4 January, 2019 − Companies selling products which contain palm oil need to be upfront about where it comes from, so as to relieve consumers of the burden of making sustainable choices, a UK study says.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say companies should not rely simply on purchasers’ own awareness of the need to make environmentally responsible decisions, but should publicly disclose the identities of their palm oil suppliers.

Palm oil production causes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from peatland conversion, and biodiversity loss, and the oil is found in many products, often without consumers’ knowledge. It is a common ingredient in foods, body products, detergents and biofuels.

Dr Rosemary Ostfeld is the study’s lead author. She said: “The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has made efforts to improve the sustainability of palm oil production by creating an environmental certification system for palm oil.

Low uptake

“But currently only 19% of palm oil is RSPO-certified. This means the majority that finds its way into products people buy daily is still produced using conventional practices.

“We wanted to find out if consumers were actively seeking to make a sustainable choice about palm oil. We also explored what extra efforts governments could make to ensure sustainable palm oil consumption.”

The researchers, whose study is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, surveyed 1,695 British consumers through the market research company YouGov.

Respondents were asked about their awareness of palm oil and its environmental impact; their recognition of “ecolabels” such as Fairtrade, the Soil Association and RSPO; and which ecolabelled products they included in their weekly household shopping.

“Relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations”

The study found that UK consumer awareness of palm oil was high (77%), with 41% of those aware of it viewing it as “environmentally unfriendly”. Yet almost no consumers were aware of the RSPO label that showed a product contained sustainably-produced palm oil.

“In terms of label recognition versus action, 82% of people recognised the Fairtrade label, but only 29% actively buy Fairtrade products,” said Dr Ostfeld.

“Only five per cent recognised the RSPO label – the same as a fictional label we put into the survey as a control. Of that small number, only one per cent said they actively include products with the label in their shopping.”

The low recognition of the RSPO label could be caused by the scarcity of its use by consumer goods companies and retailers.

Action not guaranteed

Dr Ostfeld said: “This may be due in part to reluctance to draw attention to their use of palm oil, or it may be because they fall short of the 95% physical certified palm oil content that used to be needed to use the label.

“Either way, we found that relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations. Our results show that even when consumer awareness of an ecolabel is high, action is not guaranteed.”

To address this problem, the researchers put forward several policy recommendations. Dr Ostfeld explained: “Palm oil is more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils and plays a vital role in the livelihoods of millions of people, so banning it is not plausible. Instead, the goal should be to encourage sustainable palm oil production.

“We recommend governments require consumer goods companies and retailers to buy identity-preserved certified palm oil, which can be traced back to the individual plantation. If national targets must be met with identity-preserved certified palm oil, demand for it will increase. It will also enable unsustainable practices to be uncovered more easily.

Disclosure needed

“Companies should also publicly disclose their palm oil suppliers. This will help consumers know if they’re sourcing their palm oil from growers who use best practices.

“We believe these measures could promote a more rapid move towards sustainable palm oil consumption, and higher levels of accountability throughout the supply chain.”

Some campaigners argue that sustainability standards, including certification schemes, can have a wider effect by, for example, helping to shape governments’ policies and to steer investment into research.

A year ago one major US financial company, Dimensional, said it had divested two of its portfolios of all palm oil plantation companies. − Climate News Network

Shutdown . . . Back Soon

LONDON, 24 December 2018


The Climate News Network is taking a short break: we shall not be publishing anything more from today until next Monday, 31 December.  Whether you’re celebrating a religious festival or just having a rest from the daily round, we wish you a happy break. Thank you for supporting us this year. We wish you the very best for 2019.

The Editors

LONDON, 24 December 2018


The Climate News Network is taking a short break: we shall not be publishing anything more from today until next Monday, 31 December.  Whether you’re celebrating a religious festival or just having a rest from the daily round, we wish you a happy break. Thank you for supporting us this year. We wish you the very best for 2019.

The Editors

Permian era die-off may be warning for today

The mass annihilation that was the Permian era die-off has lessons for climate science today. They’re not encouraging.

LONDON, 24 December, 2018 – Forensic geologists have revisited the scene of one of the world’s great massacres to identify the means of death. The victims of the Permian era die-off found themselves increasingly in hot water, to die of overheating or suffocation.

That is, in a rapidly warming globe, marine animals simply could not gasp fast enough to take in the increasingly limited dissolved oxygen. So they died in their billions.

It happened at the close of the Permian era 252 million years ago: the planet’s worst single mass extinction event so far, in which up to 90% of marine species perished and 70% of land animals succumbed.

And if the scientists who have reconstructed this epic event are right, then the prime cause of mass death and destruction was a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide which raised tropical ocean temperatures by about 10°C.

Tropical species could move away from the equatorial zones to find cooler waters and a breathing space. Species adapted to cooler waters had nowhere to go.

Flee or perish

“Very few marine organisms stayed in the same habitats they were living in,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanographer at the University of Washington. “It was either flee or perish.”

And his co-author and colleague Justin Penn sees a warning for today – in which temperatures have begun to rise in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels – in a desperate moment long ago. He said:

“Under a business-as-usual emissions scenario, by 2100, warming in the upper ocean will have approached 20% of warming in the late Permian, and by the year 2300 will reach between 35% and 50%. This study highlights the potential for a mass extinction arising from a similar mechanism under anthropogenic climate change.”

This latest study is unlikely to close the case: carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere has been proposed before, but other teams have suggested dramatic ozone loss in the upper atmosphere as a prime cause of death. Other candidate killers include increasingly acidic oceans, the mass release of metal and sulphide toxins, or the complete lack of oxygen.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian”

Geologists work on the principle that the present is key to the past: it follows that what happened in the past could also be a guide to what might happen in the future, which is why climate scientists, in particular, attach huge importance to research into ancient atmospheres.

So to build up a picture of what may have happened, Penn and his colleagues report in the journal Science that they matched computer models of animal metabolisms and ocean conditions with the fossil evidence from the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods. And they claim the first computer-based prediction that could be directly tested against the evidence from the shells and bones of creatures preserved in strata laid down 252 million years ago.

From that, they were able to reconstruct the pattern of obliteration. Massive volcanic lava flows in what is now Siberia deposited colossal volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As ocean temperatures rose, the seas began to lose up to 80% of their dissolved oxygen. About half of the deep ocean seafloor became completely anoxic (without oxygen). What is now known as “the Great Dying” began.

The researchers checked their temperature and oxygen readings on what they knew of 61 modern marine species – sharks, crustaceans, corals, molluscs and bony fish – all classes of creature that evolved under conditions similar to the Permian.

No certain parallel

Those hit the hardest were the most sensitive to oxygen that lived far from the tropics. Tropical species were already adapted to high temperatures and low oxygen, and had somewhere to move to: they fared better.

It is not at all certain that conditions at the close of the Permian period provide a parallel to the planet today. Most of the land surface then was one huge supercontinent, there were no mammals, grasses or flowering plants, and the forests – and thus the traffic between atmosphere and life – would have been very different.

“But even if it represents an extreme case, the lesson is clear,” writes Lee Kump, an earth scientist at Penn State University in the US, in a commentary in Science.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian.” – Climate News Network

The mass annihilation that was the Permian era die-off has lessons for climate science today. They’re not encouraging.

LONDON, 24 December, 2018 – Forensic geologists have revisited the scene of one of the world’s great massacres to identify the means of death. The victims of the Permian era die-off found themselves increasingly in hot water, to die of overheating or suffocation.

That is, in a rapidly warming globe, marine animals simply could not gasp fast enough to take in the increasingly limited dissolved oxygen. So they died in their billions.

It happened at the close of the Permian era 252 million years ago: the planet’s worst single mass extinction event so far, in which up to 90% of marine species perished and 70% of land animals succumbed.

And if the scientists who have reconstructed this epic event are right, then the prime cause of mass death and destruction was a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide which raised tropical ocean temperatures by about 10°C.

Tropical species could move away from the equatorial zones to find cooler waters and a breathing space. Species adapted to cooler waters had nowhere to go.

Flee or perish

“Very few marine organisms stayed in the same habitats they were living in,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanographer at the University of Washington. “It was either flee or perish.”

And his co-author and colleague Justin Penn sees a warning for today – in which temperatures have begun to rise in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels – in a desperate moment long ago. He said:

“Under a business-as-usual emissions scenario, by 2100, warming in the upper ocean will have approached 20% of warming in the late Permian, and by the year 2300 will reach between 35% and 50%. This study highlights the potential for a mass extinction arising from a similar mechanism under anthropogenic climate change.”

This latest study is unlikely to close the case: carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere has been proposed before, but other teams have suggested dramatic ozone loss in the upper atmosphere as a prime cause of death. Other candidate killers include increasingly acidic oceans, the mass release of metal and sulphide toxins, or the complete lack of oxygen.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian”

Geologists work on the principle that the present is key to the past: it follows that what happened in the past could also be a guide to what might happen in the future, which is why climate scientists, in particular, attach huge importance to research into ancient atmospheres.

So to build up a picture of what may have happened, Penn and his colleagues report in the journal Science that they matched computer models of animal metabolisms and ocean conditions with the fossil evidence from the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods. And they claim the first computer-based prediction that could be directly tested against the evidence from the shells and bones of creatures preserved in strata laid down 252 million years ago.

From that, they were able to reconstruct the pattern of obliteration. Massive volcanic lava flows in what is now Siberia deposited colossal volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As ocean temperatures rose, the seas began to lose up to 80% of their dissolved oxygen. About half of the deep ocean seafloor became completely anoxic (without oxygen). What is now known as “the Great Dying” began.

The researchers checked their temperature and oxygen readings on what they knew of 61 modern marine species – sharks, crustaceans, corals, molluscs and bony fish – all classes of creature that evolved under conditions similar to the Permian.

No certain parallel

Those hit the hardest were the most sensitive to oxygen that lived far from the tropics. Tropical species were already adapted to high temperatures and low oxygen, and had somewhere to move to: they fared better.

It is not at all certain that conditions at the close of the Permian period provide a parallel to the planet today. Most of the land surface then was one huge supercontinent, there were no mammals, grasses or flowering plants, and the forests – and thus the traffic between atmosphere and life – would have been very different.

“But even if it represents an extreme case, the lesson is clear,” writes Lee Kump, an earth scientist at Penn State University in the US, in a commentary in Science.

“Continued or accelerated fossil fuel burning presents a risk that must be reversed or mitigated so that we can avoid a fate anything like the end-Permian.” – Climate News Network

Ultra-deep life may be ultimate survivor

It is life, but not as we know it. Ultra-deep life forms seem to exist on a colossal scale, invisible, silent and at great depth.

LONDON, 21 December, 2018 – Microbiologists have good news for those who fear that runaway global warming could disrupt human civilisation, trigger a sixth great extinction of animal and plant species or even start to wipe out most of life on Earth. Even in the worst case, ultra-deep life forms may ensure that is not the end of life as we now know it.

New research confirms that far below the continental surface, at depths of 5km or more, and 10kms below the highest ocean waves, there is a huge and diverse community of living things, seemingly isolated from any climatic disruption and oblivious to catastrophic drought or flood, global thermonuclear war or even asteroid impact.

This community of deep-dwelling single-celled creatures is enormous: bulky and crowded enough to outweigh the mass of the seven billion human beings on the planet by a factor of at least 245, and perhaps as much as 385 times. They have immensely slow life-cycles: they have even been called “zombie” microbes.

Altogether, the mass of archaea, bacteria and eukarya – the three main stems of the tree of life – to be found in the deep Earth adds up to at least 15 billion and possibly 23 billion tonnes.

Rock colonists

Carbon-based life forms that, 20 years ago, no-one could be sure existed, are thought to have colonised porous rock and buried sediments in a separate biosphere space of 2 billion cubic kilometres: a volume far greater than the world’s oceans.

Researchers involved in a co-operative called the Deep Carbon Observatory revealed these astonishing figures at the American Geophysical Union’s autumn conference in Washington DC.

“Exploring the deep subsurface is akin to exploring the Amazon rainforest,” said Mitch Sogin of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole in Massachusetts, who chairs the Deep Life community of more than 300 scientists in 34 countries.

“There is life everywhere, and everywhere there’s an awe-inspiring abundance of unexpected and unusual organisms.”

“Scientists do not yet know all the ways in which deep subsurface life affects surface life and vice versa

Estimates of carbon-based life are important in climate calculations: researchers are still trying to calculate with a degree of accuracy the seasonal traffic of carbon between living things, rocks, ocean and atmosphere.

But the same estimates are vital in simply understanding life’s complexity: earlier this year, US and Israeli researchers published a comprehensive assessment of the distribution of carbon between living things on the planet’s surface: trees, herbs, grasses, fungi, microbes, vertebrates and so on.

But all surface creatures breathe air, consume rainwater and absorb energy that comes primarily from the sun, via photosynthesis. It was only in the last years of the last century that researchers began to confirm a strange, unexpected but rich biosphere far below the surface: composed of microscopic creatures that gain their energy from the heat of the deep crustal rocks, live on nutrients from the chemistry of the planet’s minerals, and flourish in conditions of almost unimaginable temperature and pressure.

Researchers have found microbial communities in deep submarine coal mines off the coast of Japan, in slabs of submarine basalt, below oilfields, in the deepest hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the deepest oceans.

Just surviving

Microbes have been found surviving at temperatures of 121°C and at atmospheric pressures 400 times greater than those at sea level. And, like life on the surface, these creatures exhibit diversity: they may be as various or even more diverse than lifeforms that dwell in the sunlight and air.

“Ten years ago, we knew far less about the physiologies of the bacteria and microbes that dominate the subsurface biosphere. Today we know that in many places, they invest most of their energy in simply maintaining their existence and little into growth, which is a fascinating way to live,” said Karen Lloyd of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

“Today, too, we know that subsurface life is common. Ten years ago, we had sampled only a few sites – the kinds of places we’d expect to find life. Now, thanks to ultra-deep sampling, we know we can find them pretty much everywhere.”

The discovery raises new questions about the nature of life, and how it may have begun. It suggests that even in the worst climate catastrophe precipitated by human exploitation of fossil carbon, life would continue.

Our neighbours?

It also suggests that Earthlings may not be alone, even in the solar system: if microbes can survive deep in planet Earth, then perhaps they cling on to life under the seemingly sterile surface of Mars, or Saturn’s moon Titan, or in the ice-sealed ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

There are other questions. Is life on the surface a consequence of subterranean beginnings? Or is the traffic the other way – did the deep Earth biosphere evolve from surface creatures? If their primary energy source is not solar radiation, what is it that powers them? Hydrogen? Methane? Uranium?

“Our studies of deep biosphere microbes have produced much new knowledge, but also a realisation and far greater appreciation of how much we have yet to learn about subsurface life,” said Rick Colwell of Oregon State University.

“For example, scientists do not yet know all the ways in which deep subsurface life affects surface life and vice versa. And for now, we can only marvel at the nature of the metabolisms that allow life to survive under extremely impoverished and forbidding conditions for life in deep Earth.” – Climate News Network

It is life, but not as we know it. Ultra-deep life forms seem to exist on a colossal scale, invisible, silent and at great depth.

LONDON, 21 December, 2018 – Microbiologists have good news for those who fear that runaway global warming could disrupt human civilisation, trigger a sixth great extinction of animal and plant species or even start to wipe out most of life on Earth. Even in the worst case, ultra-deep life forms may ensure that is not the end of life as we now know it.

New research confirms that far below the continental surface, at depths of 5km or more, and 10kms below the highest ocean waves, there is a huge and diverse community of living things, seemingly isolated from any climatic disruption and oblivious to catastrophic drought or flood, global thermonuclear war or even asteroid impact.

This community of deep-dwelling single-celled creatures is enormous: bulky and crowded enough to outweigh the mass of the seven billion human beings on the planet by a factor of at least 245, and perhaps as much as 385 times. They have immensely slow life-cycles: they have even been called “zombie” microbes.

Altogether, the mass of archaea, bacteria and eukarya – the three main stems of the tree of life – to be found in the deep Earth adds up to at least 15 billion and possibly 23 billion tonnes.

Rock colonists

Carbon-based life forms that, 20 years ago, no-one could be sure existed, are thought to have colonised porous rock and buried sediments in a separate biosphere space of 2 billion cubic kilometres: a volume far greater than the world’s oceans.

Researchers involved in a co-operative called the Deep Carbon Observatory revealed these astonishing figures at the American Geophysical Union’s autumn conference in Washington DC.

“Exploring the deep subsurface is akin to exploring the Amazon rainforest,” said Mitch Sogin of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole in Massachusetts, who chairs the Deep Life community of more than 300 scientists in 34 countries.

“There is life everywhere, and everywhere there’s an awe-inspiring abundance of unexpected and unusual organisms.”

“Scientists do not yet know all the ways in which deep subsurface life affects surface life and vice versa

Estimates of carbon-based life are important in climate calculations: researchers are still trying to calculate with a degree of accuracy the seasonal traffic of carbon between living things, rocks, ocean and atmosphere.

But the same estimates are vital in simply understanding life’s complexity: earlier this year, US and Israeli researchers published a comprehensive assessment of the distribution of carbon between living things on the planet’s surface: trees, herbs, grasses, fungi, microbes, vertebrates and so on.

But all surface creatures breathe air, consume rainwater and absorb energy that comes primarily from the sun, via photosynthesis. It was only in the last years of the last century that researchers began to confirm a strange, unexpected but rich biosphere far below the surface: composed of microscopic creatures that gain their energy from the heat of the deep crustal rocks, live on nutrients from the chemistry of the planet’s minerals, and flourish in conditions of almost unimaginable temperature and pressure.

Researchers have found microbial communities in deep submarine coal mines off the coast of Japan, in slabs of submarine basalt, below oilfields, in the deepest hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the deepest oceans.

Just surviving

Microbes have been found surviving at temperatures of 121°C and at atmospheric pressures 400 times greater than those at sea level. And, like life on the surface, these creatures exhibit diversity: they may be as various or even more diverse than lifeforms that dwell in the sunlight and air.

“Ten years ago, we knew far less about the physiologies of the bacteria and microbes that dominate the subsurface biosphere. Today we know that in many places, they invest most of their energy in simply maintaining their existence and little into growth, which is a fascinating way to live,” said Karen Lloyd of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

“Today, too, we know that subsurface life is common. Ten years ago, we had sampled only a few sites – the kinds of places we’d expect to find life. Now, thanks to ultra-deep sampling, we know we can find them pretty much everywhere.”

The discovery raises new questions about the nature of life, and how it may have begun. It suggests that even in the worst climate catastrophe precipitated by human exploitation of fossil carbon, life would continue.

Our neighbours?

It also suggests that Earthlings may not be alone, even in the solar system: if microbes can survive deep in planet Earth, then perhaps they cling on to life under the seemingly sterile surface of Mars, or Saturn’s moon Titan, or in the ice-sealed ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

There are other questions. Is life on the surface a consequence of subterranean beginnings? Or is the traffic the other way – did the deep Earth biosphere evolve from surface creatures? If their primary energy source is not solar radiation, what is it that powers them? Hydrogen? Methane? Uranium?

“Our studies of deep biosphere microbes have produced much new knowledge, but also a realisation and far greater appreciation of how much we have yet to learn about subsurface life,” said Rick Colwell of Oregon State University.

“For example, scientists do not yet know all the ways in which deep subsurface life affects surface life and vice versa. And for now, we can only marvel at the nature of the metabolisms that allow life to survive under extremely impoverished and forbidding conditions for life in deep Earth.” – Climate News Network

Farmers face double trouble as world warms

At risk from heat and drought in a warming world, farmers face double trouble in two or more great farming regions at once.

LONDON, 30 November, 2018 – US researchers have confirmed that continued global warming means farmers face double trouble: a heightened possibility of a suddenly hungrier world, as ever-higher average global temperatures increase the probability of devastating heat and drought in two great agricultural regions of the world simultaneously.

This is not the first such warning. In October, a separate team of researchers used a different approach to find that continued climate change could increase the possibility of a return of the conditions that triggered the global drought and famine of 1875-78, which may have claimed 50 million lives.

Also in October, researchers at the University of Washington focused on the possible recurrence of three shifts in regional climate that combined to cause colossal harvest failure in India, China and Brazil.

This time, Californian scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they simply looked at the record of temperature change and the mathematical probabilities associated with it.

In the last century, thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the consequent increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world has warmed on average by around 1°C.

“The default is to use historical probabilities. But … assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk”

“If it’s getting warmer everywhere, then it’s more likely to be hot in two places at once, and it’s probably also more likely to be hot when it’s also dry in two places at once,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, of Stanford’s school of earth, energy and environmental sciences.

“When we look in the historical data at the key crop and pasture regions, we find that before anthropogenic climate change, there were very low odds that any two regions would experience those really severe conditions simultaneously,” he said.

“The global marketplace provides a hedge against localised extremes, but we’re already seeing an erosion of that climate buffer as extremes have increased in response to global warming.”

For most of human history harvest failure has been a hazard, but losses in one region have usually been balanced by gains in another. The global famine that began with the Asian monsoon failure of 1875 was a rare event, made more damaging by imperial mismanagement by the European powers.

Lengthening odds

But climate change brings with it the double jeopardy of low crop yields in two great zones of agricultural production at the same time. The odds of both low rainfall and high temperatures in the same year in both China and India – two great farming nations, with the two biggest populations – were, in 1980, just one in 20. These have now increased to more than one in seven.

“So what used to be a rare occurrence can now be expected to occur with some regularity, and we have very strong evidence that global warming is the cause,” said Professor Diffenbaugh.

The researchers found that, if the world continued burning fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, the chances that average temperatures would rise well beyond the range normally experienced in the mid-20th century would, in many regions, increase by 75%.

The researchers also found that – were the world to honour the promise of the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – the risk of double trouble for two separate regions simultaneously is curbed.

Extremes increase

Extremes of heat by themselves pose a risk to crop yields and, increasingly, more parts of the world are more at risk  of harvest losses.

The Californian scientists looked at multiple risks in one region at the same time – high winds, storm surges, calamitous tropical cyclones, and also low humidity, high temperatures, high winds and lethal wild fires – and then the probability that similar or slightly different multiple hazards could overtake another region in the same year.

The implication is that with increasing average global temperatures, the kinds of hazards farmers and communities expect to confront could be about to change. For centuries, societies made decisions based on the probabilities they already understood.

“The default is to use historical probabilities,” said Professor Diffenbaugh. “But our research shows that assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk.” – Climate News Network

At risk from heat and drought in a warming world, farmers face double trouble in two or more great farming regions at once.

LONDON, 30 November, 2018 – US researchers have confirmed that continued global warming means farmers face double trouble: a heightened possibility of a suddenly hungrier world, as ever-higher average global temperatures increase the probability of devastating heat and drought in two great agricultural regions of the world simultaneously.

This is not the first such warning. In October, a separate team of researchers used a different approach to find that continued climate change could increase the possibility of a return of the conditions that triggered the global drought and famine of 1875-78, which may have claimed 50 million lives.

Also in October, researchers at the University of Washington focused on the possible recurrence of three shifts in regional climate that combined to cause colossal harvest failure in India, China and Brazil.

This time, Californian scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they simply looked at the record of temperature change and the mathematical probabilities associated with it.

In the last century, thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the consequent increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world has warmed on average by around 1°C.

“The default is to use historical probabilities. But … assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk”

“If it’s getting warmer everywhere, then it’s more likely to be hot in two places at once, and it’s probably also more likely to be hot when it’s also dry in two places at once,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, of Stanford’s school of earth, energy and environmental sciences.

“When we look in the historical data at the key crop and pasture regions, we find that before anthropogenic climate change, there were very low odds that any two regions would experience those really severe conditions simultaneously,” he said.

“The global marketplace provides a hedge against localised extremes, but we’re already seeing an erosion of that climate buffer as extremes have increased in response to global warming.”

For most of human history harvest failure has been a hazard, but losses in one region have usually been balanced by gains in another. The global famine that began with the Asian monsoon failure of 1875 was a rare event, made more damaging by imperial mismanagement by the European powers.

Lengthening odds

But climate change brings with it the double jeopardy of low crop yields in two great zones of agricultural production at the same time. The odds of both low rainfall and high temperatures in the same year in both China and India – two great farming nations, with the two biggest populations – were, in 1980, just one in 20. These have now increased to more than one in seven.

“So what used to be a rare occurrence can now be expected to occur with some regularity, and we have very strong evidence that global warming is the cause,” said Professor Diffenbaugh.

The researchers found that, if the world continued burning fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, the chances that average temperatures would rise well beyond the range normally experienced in the mid-20th century would, in many regions, increase by 75%.

The researchers also found that – were the world to honour the promise of the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – the risk of double trouble for two separate regions simultaneously is curbed.

Extremes increase

Extremes of heat by themselves pose a risk to crop yields and, increasingly, more parts of the world are more at risk  of harvest losses.

The Californian scientists looked at multiple risks in one region at the same time – high winds, storm surges, calamitous tropical cyclones, and also low humidity, high temperatures, high winds and lethal wild fires – and then the probability that similar or slightly different multiple hazards could overtake another region in the same year.

The implication is that with increasing average global temperatures, the kinds of hazards farmers and communities expect to confront could be about to change. For centuries, societies made decisions based on the probabilities they already understood.

“The default is to use historical probabilities,” said Professor Diffenbaugh. “But our research shows that assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk.” – Climate News Network

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro puts Amazon at risk

If their new leader, Jair Bolsonaro, acts as many Brazilians expect him to, the Amazon forest is likely to suffer serious damage.

SÃO PAULO, 16 November, 2018 − The Amazon rainforest, the greatest remaining in the world, faces a new threat − from the policies espoused by Jair Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain who is now Brazil’s president-elect. The forest is globally vital for its ability to store atmospheric carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels.

Bolsonaro has caused alarm both in the country and abroad with his views on the environment. In anticipation of his victory, deforestation in the Amazon region increased by 50% in the three months before the poll.

The Real Time System for Detection of Deforestation in the Amazon region, Deter, which is administered by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and provides data for environmental inspectors, found that between August and October, the Amazon rainforest lost 1,674 square kilometres, an area bigger than Brazil’s largest metropolis, São Paulo. This was an increase of 48.8% compared to the same months in 2017.

Imazon, an NGO which also monitors deforestation, using a different system called SAD (Deforestation Alert System) registered an even bigger increase of 84% (in Portuguese) compared to 2017.

“Up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection”

In the area that showed the greatest increase in illegal deforestation, the border region between the states of Acre and Amazonas, the main cause was cattle ranching. It is the cattle ranchers, together with the soy farmers, who are among Bolsonaro’s most enthusiastic supporters.

But even they were alarmed when he announced, as one of his first measures, the merging of the Ministry of the Environment, one of whose main functions is to enforce environmental laws, with the powerful Ministry of Agriculture, more or less like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Brazil is one of the world’s top exporters of soy and beef, and farmers know they must adhere to the strict environmental and health conditions demanded by importers.

The president-elect’s radical plans also came under fire from eight former environment ministers. In an open letter to Bolsonaro, published in the newspaper Opinião do jornal Folha de São Paulo (in Portuguese), they urged him not to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which, as an enthusiastic fan of Donald Trump, he has said he wants to do.

They point out that Brazil, host to the first Earth Summit in 1992 and to the follow-up 20 years later, Rio+20, is a world leader in sustainable development and the use of renewable energy resources, and, because of the importance of the Amazon rainforest to the world’s climate, a leading player in global environmental policy.

Double disaster possible

To abolish the Environment Ministry and leave the Paris Agreement, they say, would also be disastrous politically and commercially: “We cannot run the risk of international political isolation or the closing of consumer markets to our exports. In the 21st century Brazil can’t get off the world”.

Especially as, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the next decade Brazil is expected to become the world’s biggest agricultural producer and food exporter, unless the reckless destruction of its natural resources prevents this.

Leaving the Paris Agreement, however, seems to be part of the anti-global mindset which predominates among Bolsonaro and his followers, very much influenced by the Steve Bannon playbook.

The president-elect has just announced the choice of an ultra-conservative diplomat to become Brazil’s new foreign minister. The new minister, Ernesto Araujo, sees globalisation as a Marxist plot, and wants Brazil, notable for its leadership of developing countries during previous governments and its active role in international organisations, to ally itself uncritically with the US, because “Donald Trump will save the Western world for Christianity.”

Partial retreat

However, under pressure from exporters, Bolsonaro has been forced to back down and maintain the Ministry of the Environment, although he is determined to weaken its monitoring and enforcement functions, and to water down environmental licensing laws.

He has also said that too much land in the Amazon is occupied by indigenous peoples and conservation units, and wants to open up these areas to economic exploitation. SAD figures show that while private properties account for the most deforested areas (58%), and even conservation units make up 24%, indigenous territories account for only 4% of the total. In other words, they are a barrier against deforestation.

Besides the ex-ministers, scientists and environmentalists have warned that if the president-elect carries out his promises, deforestation in the Amazon could explode. A group of researchers at INPE have used mathematical modelling to simulate possible changes in land use and calculated an increase of 268% in deforestation, rising from 6.9m km² in 2017 to 25.6m km² from 2020.

New risk

There is an added danger from another source, if individual Amazon states decide to invoke a clause in the Forest Code, which allows them to authorise a reduction in the 80% of land compulsorily set aside for conservation on private properties. A new study concludes that because of this potential reduction, “up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection.”

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and the University of São Paulo (in Portuguese) say this is equivalent to more than 4 times the entire forest area of the UK. As most of the newly elected state governors and members of state legislatures have declared support for Bolsonaro, the probability that they will enact the clause, leading to more deforestation, is high.

Unfortunately, many of them choose to ignore the warnings of scientists like Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) who said that “one of the ways to value this great forest is to recognise it as a great irrigation system . . . we can say that the food that is produced in Brazil, not only now but in the future, depends on this gigantic irrigation system which is the standing forest.” − Climate News Network

If their new leader, Jair Bolsonaro, acts as many Brazilians expect him to, the Amazon forest is likely to suffer serious damage.

SÃO PAULO, 16 November, 2018 − The Amazon rainforest, the greatest remaining in the world, faces a new threat − from the policies espoused by Jair Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain who is now Brazil’s president-elect. The forest is globally vital for its ability to store atmospheric carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels.

Bolsonaro has caused alarm both in the country and abroad with his views on the environment. In anticipation of his victory, deforestation in the Amazon region increased by 50% in the three months before the poll.

The Real Time System for Detection of Deforestation in the Amazon region, Deter, which is administered by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and provides data for environmental inspectors, found that between August and October, the Amazon rainforest lost 1,674 square kilometres, an area bigger than Brazil’s largest metropolis, São Paulo. This was an increase of 48.8% compared to the same months in 2017.

Imazon, an NGO which also monitors deforestation, using a different system called SAD (Deforestation Alert System) registered an even bigger increase of 84% (in Portuguese) compared to 2017.

“Up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection”

In the area that showed the greatest increase in illegal deforestation, the border region between the states of Acre and Amazonas, the main cause was cattle ranching. It is the cattle ranchers, together with the soy farmers, who are among Bolsonaro’s most enthusiastic supporters.

But even they were alarmed when he announced, as one of his first measures, the merging of the Ministry of the Environment, one of whose main functions is to enforce environmental laws, with the powerful Ministry of Agriculture, more or less like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Brazil is one of the world’s top exporters of soy and beef, and farmers know they must adhere to the strict environmental and health conditions demanded by importers.

The president-elect’s radical plans also came under fire from eight former environment ministers. In an open letter to Bolsonaro, published in the newspaper Opinião do jornal Folha de São Paulo (in Portuguese), they urged him not to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which, as an enthusiastic fan of Donald Trump, he has said he wants to do.

They point out that Brazil, host to the first Earth Summit in 1992 and to the follow-up 20 years later, Rio+20, is a world leader in sustainable development and the use of renewable energy resources, and, because of the importance of the Amazon rainforest to the world’s climate, a leading player in global environmental policy.

Double disaster possible

To abolish the Environment Ministry and leave the Paris Agreement, they say, would also be disastrous politically and commercially: “We cannot run the risk of international political isolation or the closing of consumer markets to our exports. In the 21st century Brazil can’t get off the world”.

Especially as, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the next decade Brazil is expected to become the world’s biggest agricultural producer and food exporter, unless the reckless destruction of its natural resources prevents this.

Leaving the Paris Agreement, however, seems to be part of the anti-global mindset which predominates among Bolsonaro and his followers, very much influenced by the Steve Bannon playbook.

The president-elect has just announced the choice of an ultra-conservative diplomat to become Brazil’s new foreign minister. The new minister, Ernesto Araujo, sees globalisation as a Marxist plot, and wants Brazil, notable for its leadership of developing countries during previous governments and its active role in international organisations, to ally itself uncritically with the US, because “Donald Trump will save the Western world for Christianity.”

Partial retreat

However, under pressure from exporters, Bolsonaro has been forced to back down and maintain the Ministry of the Environment, although he is determined to weaken its monitoring and enforcement functions, and to water down environmental licensing laws.

He has also said that too much land in the Amazon is occupied by indigenous peoples and conservation units, and wants to open up these areas to economic exploitation. SAD figures show that while private properties account for the most deforested areas (58%), and even conservation units make up 24%, indigenous territories account for only 4% of the total. In other words, they are a barrier against deforestation.

Besides the ex-ministers, scientists and environmentalists have warned that if the president-elect carries out his promises, deforestation in the Amazon could explode. A group of researchers at INPE have used mathematical modelling to simulate possible changes in land use and calculated an increase of 268% in deforestation, rising from 6.9m km² in 2017 to 25.6m km² from 2020.

New risk

There is an added danger from another source, if individual Amazon states decide to invoke a clause in the Forest Code, which allows them to authorise a reduction in the 80% of land compulsorily set aside for conservation on private properties. A new study concludes that because of this potential reduction, “up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection.”

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and the University of São Paulo (in Portuguese) say this is equivalent to more than 4 times the entire forest area of the UK. As most of the newly elected state governors and members of state legislatures have declared support for Bolsonaro, the probability that they will enact the clause, leading to more deforestation, is high.

Unfortunately, many of them choose to ignore the warnings of scientists like Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) who said that “one of the ways to value this great forest is to recognise it as a great irrigation system . . . we can say that the food that is produced in Brazil, not only now but in the future, depends on this gigantic irrigation system which is the standing forest.” − Climate News Network

Historic sites face risk from rising seas

Venice has been at hazard from rising seas for years. But so now are almost all historic sites near Mediterranean coasts, a survey finds.

LONDON, 25 October, 2018 − Some of the planet’s most historic sites could by 2100 face damage or outright destruction in a warming world. Scientists who surveyed 49 World Heritage Sites in the Mediterranean report that 47 of them are at some degree of risk from future sea level rise.

As ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide enter the atmosphere to warm the planet, so global sea levels creep ever higher. And this constant threat of attrition by ever-higher tides and storm surges poses an ever-higher risk to a suite of cities, sites and ruins declared by UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, to be of global importance, and in need of careful preservation.

The locations most at risk include the city of Venice, the medieval city of Rhodes, the old city of Dubrovnik, and the ruins of Carthage in Tunisia.

The researchers considered the hazard of what is now a once-in-a-century storm surge occurring, as the seas rise by almost 1.5 metres by 2100. By then, they found, storm surges that now occur once a century could be happening several times every year.

“Many of these heritage sites will slowly disappear with sea level rise, even though these sites are important parts of human history”

Increasingly, coastal flooding and erosion could damage, deface or completely obliterate landmarks that played a pivotal role in world history. All the sites have important intangible value as icons of civilisation; many of them are popular tourist destinations, and their disappearance could only mean huge economic losses as well.

Such studies are launched to alert governments, civic authorities and communities to the need for action. Venice, in particular, has been a subject of national and international concern for decades. The surprise in the latest research, in the journal Nature Communications, is that of the 49 sites investigated, 37 are vulnerable to storm surge, 42 to coastal erosion − and many of them to both.

“In the Mediterranean, the risk posed by storm surges, which are 100-year storm surges under today’s conditions, may increase by up to 50% on average, and that from coastal erosions by up to 13% − and all this by the end of the 21st century under high sea level rise,” said Lena Reimann of Kiel University in Germany, who led the study.

“Individual World Heritage Sites could even be affected much more, due to their exposed location.”

Low-lying coastal sites

The researchers started with a database of all the low-lying UNESCO coastal sites: they noted the distance of each site from the coast, whether the terrain was rocky or sandy, and the chance that a build-up of silts from the Nile, the Rhone or the Po rivers might offer protection. They took as their danger baseline a predicted 1.46 metre rise in the level of the Mediterranean by the century’s end.

A rise as high as this has a low probability, but cannot be ruled out. And since the stakes are high − a city like Venice cannot be relocated, and the engineering challenge of protecting its lagoon from flooding is huge − even a one-in-20 hazard is taken seriously.

Other research studies have warned that just a 50 centimetre rise in sea levels places vast tracts of European coastline at risk from storm surge − the dangerous combination of very high tide and very strong winds − and could impose colossal costs on cities from Rotterdam to Istanbul.

Already at risk

The latest study warns that by the end of the century, only two of the 49 sites would be at risk from neither erosion nor flooding. And more than 90% of the sites identified are, the researchers say, already at risk under current conditions, “which stresses the urgency of adaptation in these locations.”

And, they say, action and adaptation should start now. There are plenty of other historic sites to think about.

“Cultural heritage not inscribed in the World Heritage list will receive much less attention and many of these heritage sites will slowly disappear with sea level rise, even though these sites are important parts of human history as well,” they conclude. − Climate News Network

Venice has been at hazard from rising seas for years. But so now are almost all historic sites near Mediterranean coasts, a survey finds.

LONDON, 25 October, 2018 − Some of the planet’s most historic sites could by 2100 face damage or outright destruction in a warming world. Scientists who surveyed 49 World Heritage Sites in the Mediterranean report that 47 of them are at some degree of risk from future sea level rise.

As ever-higher levels of carbon dioxide enter the atmosphere to warm the planet, so global sea levels creep ever higher. And this constant threat of attrition by ever-higher tides and storm surges poses an ever-higher risk to a suite of cities, sites and ruins declared by UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, to be of global importance, and in need of careful preservation.

The locations most at risk include the city of Venice, the medieval city of Rhodes, the old city of Dubrovnik, and the ruins of Carthage in Tunisia.

The researchers considered the hazard of what is now a once-in-a-century storm surge occurring, as the seas rise by almost 1.5 metres by 2100. By then, they found, storm surges that now occur once a century could be happening several times every year.

“Many of these heritage sites will slowly disappear with sea level rise, even though these sites are important parts of human history”

Increasingly, coastal flooding and erosion could damage, deface or completely obliterate landmarks that played a pivotal role in world history. All the sites have important intangible value as icons of civilisation; many of them are popular tourist destinations, and their disappearance could only mean huge economic losses as well.

Such studies are launched to alert governments, civic authorities and communities to the need for action. Venice, in particular, has been a subject of national and international concern for decades. The surprise in the latest research, in the journal Nature Communications, is that of the 49 sites investigated, 37 are vulnerable to storm surge, 42 to coastal erosion − and many of them to both.

“In the Mediterranean, the risk posed by storm surges, which are 100-year storm surges under today’s conditions, may increase by up to 50% on average, and that from coastal erosions by up to 13% − and all this by the end of the 21st century under high sea level rise,” said Lena Reimann of Kiel University in Germany, who led the study.

“Individual World Heritage Sites could even be affected much more, due to their exposed location.”

Low-lying coastal sites

The researchers started with a database of all the low-lying UNESCO coastal sites: they noted the distance of each site from the coast, whether the terrain was rocky or sandy, and the chance that a build-up of silts from the Nile, the Rhone or the Po rivers might offer protection. They took as their danger baseline a predicted 1.46 metre rise in the level of the Mediterranean by the century’s end.

A rise as high as this has a low probability, but cannot be ruled out. And since the stakes are high − a city like Venice cannot be relocated, and the engineering challenge of protecting its lagoon from flooding is huge − even a one-in-20 hazard is taken seriously.

Other research studies have warned that just a 50 centimetre rise in sea levels places vast tracts of European coastline at risk from storm surge − the dangerous combination of very high tide and very strong winds − and could impose colossal costs on cities from Rotterdam to Istanbul.

Already at risk

The latest study warns that by the end of the century, only two of the 49 sites would be at risk from neither erosion nor flooding. And more than 90% of the sites identified are, the researchers say, already at risk under current conditions, “which stresses the urgency of adaptation in these locations.”

And, they say, action and adaptation should start now. There are plenty of other historic sites to think about.

“Cultural heritage not inscribed in the World Heritage list will receive much less attention and many of these heritage sites will slowly disappear with sea level rise, even though these sites are important parts of human history as well,” they conclude. − Climate News Network