Category Archives: Land Use

Water stress rises as more wells run dry

Soon, communities and even nations could be drawing water faster than the skies can replenish it. As the wells run dry, so will the rivers.

LONDON, 9 October, 2019 − Within three decades, almost 80% of the lands that depend on groundwater will start to reach their natural irrigation limits as the wells run dry.

In a world of increasing extremes of drought and rainfall, driven by rising global temperatures and potentially catastrophic climate change, the water will start to run out.

It is happening already: in 20% of those water catchments in which farmers and cities rely on pumped groundwater, the flow of streams and rivers has fallen and the surface flow has dwindled, changed direction or stopped altogether.

“The effects can be seen already in the Midwest of the United States and in the Indus Valley project between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Inge de Graaf, a hydrologist at the University of Freiburg.

Groundwater – the billions of tonnes locked in the soils and bedrock, held in vast chalk and limestone aquifers and silently flowing through cracks in other sediments – is the terrestrial planet’s biggest single store of the liquid that sustains all life.

“If we continue to pump as much groundwater in the coming decades as we have done so far, a critical point will be reached for regions in southern and central Europe as well as in North African countries”

Groundwater supplies the inland streams and rivers, and the flow from tributaries is an indicator of the levels of water already in the ground.

For thousands of years, communities have drawn water from wells in the dry season and relied on wet season rainfall to replenish it. But as human numbers have grown, as agriculture has commandeered more and more of the land, and as cities have burgeoned, demand has in some places begun to outstrip supply. The fear is that rising average temperatures will intensify the problem.

Dr de Graaf and colleagues from the Netherlands and Canada report in the journal Nature that they used computer simulations to establish the likely pattern of withdrawal and flow. The news is not good.

“We estimate that, by 2050, environmental flow limits will be reached for approximately 42% to 79% of the watershed in which there is groundwater pumping worldwide, and this will generally occur before substantial losses in groundwater storage are experienced,” they write.

That drylands – home to billions of people – will experience water stress with rising temperatures is not news. Climate scientists have been issuing warnings for years.

Ground level drops

And demand for groundwater has increased with the growth of the population and the worldwide growth of the cities: some US cities are at risk of coastal flooding just because so much groundwater has been extracted that the ground itself has been lowered.

The important thing about the latest research is that it sets – albeit broadly – a timetable and a map of where the water stress is likely to be experienced first.

In a hotter world, plants and animals will demand more water. But in a hotter world, the probability of extremes of drought increases.

“If we continue to pump as much groundwater in the coming decades as we have done so far, a critical point will be reached also for regions in southern and central Europe – such as Portugal, Spain and Italy – as well as in North African countries,” Dr de Graaf warned.

“Climate change may even accelerate this process, as we expect less precipitation, which will further increase the extraction of groundwater and cause dry areas to dry out completely.” − Climate News Network

Soon, communities and even nations could be drawing water faster than the skies can replenish it. As the wells run dry, so will the rivers.

LONDON, 9 October, 2019 − Within three decades, almost 80% of the lands that depend on groundwater will start to reach their natural irrigation limits as the wells run dry.

In a world of increasing extremes of drought and rainfall, driven by rising global temperatures and potentially catastrophic climate change, the water will start to run out.

It is happening already: in 20% of those water catchments in which farmers and cities rely on pumped groundwater, the flow of streams and rivers has fallen and the surface flow has dwindled, changed direction or stopped altogether.

“The effects can be seen already in the Midwest of the United States and in the Indus Valley project between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Inge de Graaf, a hydrologist at the University of Freiburg.

Groundwater – the billions of tonnes locked in the soils and bedrock, held in vast chalk and limestone aquifers and silently flowing through cracks in other sediments – is the terrestrial planet’s biggest single store of the liquid that sustains all life.

“If we continue to pump as much groundwater in the coming decades as we have done so far, a critical point will be reached for regions in southern and central Europe as well as in North African countries”

Groundwater supplies the inland streams and rivers, and the flow from tributaries is an indicator of the levels of water already in the ground.

For thousands of years, communities have drawn water from wells in the dry season and relied on wet season rainfall to replenish it. But as human numbers have grown, as agriculture has commandeered more and more of the land, and as cities have burgeoned, demand has in some places begun to outstrip supply. The fear is that rising average temperatures will intensify the problem.

Dr de Graaf and colleagues from the Netherlands and Canada report in the journal Nature that they used computer simulations to establish the likely pattern of withdrawal and flow. The news is not good.

“We estimate that, by 2050, environmental flow limits will be reached for approximately 42% to 79% of the watershed in which there is groundwater pumping worldwide, and this will generally occur before substantial losses in groundwater storage are experienced,” they write.

That drylands – home to billions of people – will experience water stress with rising temperatures is not news. Climate scientists have been issuing warnings for years.

Ground level drops

And demand for groundwater has increased with the growth of the population and the worldwide growth of the cities: some US cities are at risk of coastal flooding just because so much groundwater has been extracted that the ground itself has been lowered.

The important thing about the latest research is that it sets – albeit broadly – a timetable and a map of where the water stress is likely to be experienced first.

In a hotter world, plants and animals will demand more water. But in a hotter world, the probability of extremes of drought increases.

“If we continue to pump as much groundwater in the coming decades as we have done so far, a critical point will be reached also for regions in southern and central Europe – such as Portugal, Spain and Italy – as well as in North African countries,” Dr de Graaf warned.

“Climate change may even accelerate this process, as we expect less precipitation, which will further increase the extraction of groundwater and cause dry areas to dry out completely.” − Climate News Network

Starvation may force nations to war

Unless nations act now to halt the spread of deserts, they may face wars over food shortages and starvation by mid-century, the UN says.

DELHI, 26 September, 2019 − A stark warning that the exposure of more and more people to water scarcity, hunger and outright starvation may lead to the “failure of fragile states and regional conflicts” has been given by the United Nations as it attempts to galvanise governments into halting the spread of deserts before more cropland is lost.

The climate summit in New York was presented with a plan to try to halt the annual loss of 12 million hectares (30mn acres) of productive land caused by the nations which are parties to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which recently ended a high-level meeting here.

The plan was the list of actions nations agreed at the meeting of more than 190 countries to attempt to reverse the spread of land degradation that the UN estimates will displace 135 million people by 2045. The battle to halt the spread of deserts is seen by the UN as an integral part of the international effort to halt climate change.

How successful the new plans will be remains to be seen, as although  the Convention, like the Climate Change Convention, has been in existence since the last century, the problems continue to get worse. However, all the countries involved now have national plans to halt land degradation and restore croplands and forests.

One of the key new promises made at the Delhi meeting, which ended on 13 September, was to grant land tenure to groups to give them an incentive to protect soils and the ability of the land to grow crops.

“Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss”

Delegates also agreed to improve the rights of women, promote land restoration and reduce land-related carbon emissions, both from poor soil management and the destruction of trees. New ways of financing these schemes from government and private sources were proposed.

The scale of the problem is enormous. Close to a quarter of global land is almost unusable, and by the middle of the century humans will need to produce twice as much grain as they do today to keep up with global population growth, the UNCCD says.

At the closing session Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said: “Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss; land restoration makes business sense if we have regulations and incentives to reward investment.”

In addition, he said, preparing for the increasing number of droughts and coping with them are critical in the face of climate change. He emphasised the need to involve young people and women and to secure land rights.

However, despite the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration, in which ministers and delegates expressed support for new initiatives or coalitions aiming to improve human health and well-being and the health of ecosystems, and to advance peace and security, there were dissenting voices at the conference.

Dilution and omissions

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a statement: “The New Delhi Declaration has diluted the role of international funding bodies in combating desertification. It has also sidestepped the contentious issue of tenure rights to land.”

The CSE said the statement had removed any mention of the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund  from the Declaration and there were no mentions of specific measures that could be used for adaptation nor, in fact, the word “adaptation” itself. Countries were left to develop their own plans.

Local politics also plays an important part in creating the problem. For example, across South Asia severe drought areas are used for water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane, or for very large monoculture plantations for palm oil or rubber.

Some speakers felt it was going to be an uphill struggle for poorer countries to get funding for restoring degraded land.

Early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dry land agriculture, mangrove protection and investments in making water resources more resilient were all vital. Adapting to land degradation and climate change was in everyone’s strong economic self-interest, Thiaw said. − Climate News Network

Unless nations act now to halt the spread of deserts, they may face wars over food shortages and starvation by mid-century, the UN says.

DELHI, 26 September, 2019 − A stark warning that the exposure of more and more people to water scarcity, hunger and outright starvation may lead to the “failure of fragile states and regional conflicts” has been given by the United Nations as it attempts to galvanise governments into halting the spread of deserts before more cropland is lost.

The climate summit in New York was presented with a plan to try to halt the annual loss of 12 million hectares (30mn acres) of productive land caused by the nations which are parties to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which recently ended a high-level meeting here.

The plan was the list of actions nations agreed at the meeting of more than 190 countries to attempt to reverse the spread of land degradation that the UN estimates will displace 135 million people by 2045. The battle to halt the spread of deserts is seen by the UN as an integral part of the international effort to halt climate change.

How successful the new plans will be remains to be seen, as although  the Convention, like the Climate Change Convention, has been in existence since the last century, the problems continue to get worse. However, all the countries involved now have national plans to halt land degradation and restore croplands and forests.

One of the key new promises made at the Delhi meeting, which ended on 13 September, was to grant land tenure to groups to give them an incentive to protect soils and the ability of the land to grow crops.

“Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss”

Delegates also agreed to improve the rights of women, promote land restoration and reduce land-related carbon emissions, both from poor soil management and the destruction of trees. New ways of financing these schemes from government and private sources were proposed.

The scale of the problem is enormous. Close to a quarter of global land is almost unusable, and by the middle of the century humans will need to produce twice as much grain as they do today to keep up with global population growth, the UNCCD says.

At the closing session Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said: “Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss; land restoration makes business sense if we have regulations and incentives to reward investment.”

In addition, he said, preparing for the increasing number of droughts and coping with them are critical in the face of climate change. He emphasised the need to involve young people and women and to secure land rights.

However, despite the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration, in which ministers and delegates expressed support for new initiatives or coalitions aiming to improve human health and well-being and the health of ecosystems, and to advance peace and security, there were dissenting voices at the conference.

Dilution and omissions

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a statement: “The New Delhi Declaration has diluted the role of international funding bodies in combating desertification. It has also sidestepped the contentious issue of tenure rights to land.”

The CSE said the statement had removed any mention of the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund  from the Declaration and there were no mentions of specific measures that could be used for adaptation nor, in fact, the word “adaptation” itself. Countries were left to develop their own plans.

Local politics also plays an important part in creating the problem. For example, across South Asia severe drought areas are used for water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane, or for very large monoculture plantations for palm oil or rubber.

Some speakers felt it was going to be an uphill struggle for poorer countries to get funding for restoring degraded land.

Early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dry land agriculture, mangrove protection and investments in making water resources more resilient were all vital. Adapting to land degradation and climate change was in everyone’s strong economic self-interest, Thiaw said. − Climate News Network

Less meat for rich can cut heat and hunger

Eating less meat can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But if everyone tries it, starvation will continue to climb.

LONDON, 17 September, 2019 − Eating less meat is not the way everyone should aim to tackle the climate crisis, a new study says. It is an essential step for many of us, the researchers argue, but in a world racked by malnutrition and hunger it can be only part of the answer to rising temperatures.

But many people in high-income countries will need to make more ambitious cuts in the amount of meat, eggs and dairy products they consume. The reason? People who are under-nourished will need to eat more of these foods to have a hope of healthy lives.

Agriculture and food production produce significant quantities of global carbon emissions, which must fall if we are to meet the UN climate goal of no more than 1.5°C of warming. That means meat consumption must fall.

But US scientists warn that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the twin challenges of diet and climate. They do not argue against reductions in overall meat consumption. They simply suggest that those who are already well-fed could make the biggest cuts.

Many scientists have concluded that vegetable-rich diets are the healthy option for the planet, although some doubt that the world can provide enough vegetables to feed a growing global population.  A lively debate is the probable outcome.

“In high-income countries, where people generally have enough to eat, the shift towards more plant-forward diets and away from carbon- and water-intensive consumption patterns has to happen faster”

Martin Bloem is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and co-author of a study it has produced, published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

For any diet-related climate change solution to be sustainable, he says, it must also address the problems of under-nutrition, obesity, poverty, and economic development. Different countries have different priorities and are at different stages of development, meaning they have different imperatives.

“In many low-and-middle-income countries, the imperative is to ensure people have adequate nutrition”, he writes. “Today, more than 820m people around the world don’t have enough to eat, a number that has risen in recent years (in part due to climate change, as well as conflict).

“Meanwhile, more than a third of all children under five in low-income countries such as India and Malawi are stunted. This means their physical and mental development are impaired because of poor nutrition, with consequences that stretch far into adulthood.”

The World Bank has shown that poor nutrition directly affects countries’ development prospects, not least as a result of the reduced capabilities of working populations, known as “human capital”.

Emissions will rise

Obviously poor countries also need to develop policies to tackle the climate emergency. But, Professor Bloem writes, “a top-down diktat that recommends a plant-based diet without taking into account the nutritional needs of vulnerable populations or the availability of certain foodstuffs is neither helpful nor appropriate.

“The fact is that in low-income countries, some people, especially young children, will need to eat more animal products, particularly dairy and eggs, to get adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals. Consequently the diet-related emissions and use of freshwater in these places will have to rise.

“This means that in high-income countries, where people generally have enough to eat (although are not necessarily healthy) the shift towards more plant-forward diets and away from carbon- and water-intensive consumption patterns has to happen faster.”

The authors of the CLF report say that, even in high-income countries, a “one-size-fits all” approach is not necessary. They modelled the climate and freshwater impact of the “typical” diet in 140 countries, and compared it to what they describe as a “healthy baseline” diet and nine “plant-forward” diets, including vegan, vegetarian, and a meat-free day.

They found that a diet where the animal protein comes mainly from low down the food chain, such as insects, small fish and molluscs, has as low an environmental impact as a vegan diet, but generally has more easily digestible micronutrients and proteins.

No silver bullet

And eating animal products only once a day (being a “two-thirds vegan”) is in most cases less carbon-intensive than following a traditional vegetarian diet involving dairy products.

The authors say a food’s country of origin can have enormous consequences for climate. For example, one pound of beef produced in Paraguay contributes nearly 17 times more greenhouse gases than one pound of beef produced in Denmark. Often, this disparity is a consequence of the deforestation of land for grazing.

Nutrition and climate change are the subject of two of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals, which address the full spectrum of development challenges the world faces. Success in attaining these goals by 2030, Professor Bloem says, will require reconciling trade-offs, clashes and compromises.

“There is, sadly, no silver bullet, but our research gives policymakers a tool to address health, economic, and environmental challenges … for example, by setting national dietary guidelines that support efforts to tackle malnutrition, while also charting a sustainable course in terms of emissions and freshwater use.

“There will always be trade-offs. Environmental impact alone cannot be a guide for what people eat; countries need to consider the totality of the nutritional needs, access, and cultural preferences of their residents.” − Climate News Network

Eating less meat can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But if everyone tries it, starvation will continue to climb.

LONDON, 17 September, 2019 − Eating less meat is not the way everyone should aim to tackle the climate crisis, a new study says. It is an essential step for many of us, the researchers argue, but in a world racked by malnutrition and hunger it can be only part of the answer to rising temperatures.

But many people in high-income countries will need to make more ambitious cuts in the amount of meat, eggs and dairy products they consume. The reason? People who are under-nourished will need to eat more of these foods to have a hope of healthy lives.

Agriculture and food production produce significant quantities of global carbon emissions, which must fall if we are to meet the UN climate goal of no more than 1.5°C of warming. That means meat consumption must fall.

But US scientists warn that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the twin challenges of diet and climate. They do not argue against reductions in overall meat consumption. They simply suggest that those who are already well-fed could make the biggest cuts.

Many scientists have concluded that vegetable-rich diets are the healthy option for the planet, although some doubt that the world can provide enough vegetables to feed a growing global population.  A lively debate is the probable outcome.

“In high-income countries, where people generally have enough to eat, the shift towards more plant-forward diets and away from carbon- and water-intensive consumption patterns has to happen faster”

Martin Bloem is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and co-author of a study it has produced, published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

For any diet-related climate change solution to be sustainable, he says, it must also address the problems of under-nutrition, obesity, poverty, and economic development. Different countries have different priorities and are at different stages of development, meaning they have different imperatives.

“In many low-and-middle-income countries, the imperative is to ensure people have adequate nutrition”, he writes. “Today, more than 820m people around the world don’t have enough to eat, a number that has risen in recent years (in part due to climate change, as well as conflict).

“Meanwhile, more than a third of all children under five in low-income countries such as India and Malawi are stunted. This means their physical and mental development are impaired because of poor nutrition, with consequences that stretch far into adulthood.”

The World Bank has shown that poor nutrition directly affects countries’ development prospects, not least as a result of the reduced capabilities of working populations, known as “human capital”.

Emissions will rise

Obviously poor countries also need to develop policies to tackle the climate emergency. But, Professor Bloem writes, “a top-down diktat that recommends a plant-based diet without taking into account the nutritional needs of vulnerable populations or the availability of certain foodstuffs is neither helpful nor appropriate.

“The fact is that in low-income countries, some people, especially young children, will need to eat more animal products, particularly dairy and eggs, to get adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals. Consequently the diet-related emissions and use of freshwater in these places will have to rise.

“This means that in high-income countries, where people generally have enough to eat (although are not necessarily healthy) the shift towards more plant-forward diets and away from carbon- and water-intensive consumption patterns has to happen faster.”

The authors of the CLF report say that, even in high-income countries, a “one-size-fits all” approach is not necessary. They modelled the climate and freshwater impact of the “typical” diet in 140 countries, and compared it to what they describe as a “healthy baseline” diet and nine “plant-forward” diets, including vegan, vegetarian, and a meat-free day.

They found that a diet where the animal protein comes mainly from low down the food chain, such as insects, small fish and molluscs, has as low an environmental impact as a vegan diet, but generally has more easily digestible micronutrients and proteins.

No silver bullet

And eating animal products only once a day (being a “two-thirds vegan”) is in most cases less carbon-intensive than following a traditional vegetarian diet involving dairy products.

The authors say a food’s country of origin can have enormous consequences for climate. For example, one pound of beef produced in Paraguay contributes nearly 17 times more greenhouse gases than one pound of beef produced in Denmark. Often, this disparity is a consequence of the deforestation of land for grazing.

Nutrition and climate change are the subject of two of the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals, which address the full spectrum of development challenges the world faces. Success in attaining these goals by 2030, Professor Bloem says, will require reconciling trade-offs, clashes and compromises.

“There is, sadly, no silver bullet, but our research gives policymakers a tool to address health, economic, and environmental challenges … for example, by setting national dietary guidelines that support efforts to tackle malnutrition, while also charting a sustainable course in terms of emissions and freshwater use.

“There will always be trade-offs. Environmental impact alone cannot be a guide for what people eat; countries need to consider the totality of the nutritional needs, access, and cultural preferences of their residents.” − Climate News Network

Sand and dust storms pose global threat

The United Nations plans to tame lethal sand and dust storms with a mixture of modern technology and traditional knowledge.

DELHI, 12 September, 2019 − The standard bearer of the United Nations’ effort to combat desert spread and the threat from sand and dust storms, meeting here, is determined to be remembered as not just a global talking shop, but a launchpad for action.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has launched a coalition to energise the UN’s response to the problem.  One focus for the new body will be to develop the sand and dust storms (SDS) source base map to improve the monitoring of the storms.

Iran told the meeting that both traditional and modern knowledge on SDS hot spots could help to create a stronger knowledge base for regional initiatives. The coalition’s members include  the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO already has an established SDS warning advisory system (SDS-WAS) to research the problem and try to provide forecasts of dangerous storms. Countries are now being asked to explore ways of reducing man-made contributions to dust storms, for example by not denuding land of vegetation.

Climate change and extreme weather have made SDS a threat to more than 150 countries, causing economic damage and threatening health. The storms, once thought of as a local problem in desert or arid regions, are now recognised as a global hazard.

“There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics”

Huge quantities of sand and dust can be lifted into the air by high winds and distributed over hundreds of miles. The problem is worsening as droughts increase and land is degraded by deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Dust is also intensifying climate change, for example by discolouring ice so that it melts faster, and human health is affected by increased asthma and the spread of diseases such as valley fever and meningitis.

Aviation suffers when storms close airports or cause damage when dust is sucked into engines. Roads are lost under sand and electricity supplies disrupted. Even fisheries are damaged by sand settling in the oceans and affecting plankton growth.

The storms can be severe. In 2018 more than 125 people died and 200 were injured by a high-velocity dust storm in northern India. Even in Europe large areas can be covered in orange sand and dust from the Sahara.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of earth systems science and remote sensing at Chapman University in California, said: “There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics to assist mitigation of windblown dust consequences in many applications. These include human health, weather, solar and wind energy systems, aviation, highway safety and urban development.”

Higher cyclone intensity

The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019, released in August, suggests that the impacts of climate change differ by sub-region: “Temperature increase is likely to cause a rise in the number and duration of heat waves and droughts . . . Climate change is also expected to increase cyclone intensity, with serious threats along the coastal areas of countries in south-east Asia.”

A complex sequence of climate and weather disasters such as drought, SDS, desertification and floods is on the rise in arid and semi-arid sub-regions of south-west and central Asia, the report said. And, as indicated clearly in the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C, the decrease in soil moisture will increase the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in south, south-west and central Asia.

A recent example was the powerful dust storm that swept over parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2018. There was also a toxic salt storm from the Aral Sea that hit northern Turkmenistan and western Uzbekistan.

The storms then moved through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India and collided with the pre-monsoon weather, including thunderstorms and rain, affecting a wide area and causing the loss of hundreds of lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

The United Nations plans to tame lethal sand and dust storms with a mixture of modern technology and traditional knowledge.

DELHI, 12 September, 2019 − The standard bearer of the United Nations’ effort to combat desert spread and the threat from sand and dust storms, meeting here, is determined to be remembered as not just a global talking shop, but a launchpad for action.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has launched a coalition to energise the UN’s response to the problem.  One focus for the new body will be to develop the sand and dust storms (SDS) source base map to improve the monitoring of the storms.

Iran told the meeting that both traditional and modern knowledge on SDS hot spots could help to create a stronger knowledge base for regional initiatives. The coalition’s members include  the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO already has an established SDS warning advisory system (SDS-WAS) to research the problem and try to provide forecasts of dangerous storms. Countries are now being asked to explore ways of reducing man-made contributions to dust storms, for example by not denuding land of vegetation.

Climate change and extreme weather have made SDS a threat to more than 150 countries, causing economic damage and threatening health. The storms, once thought of as a local problem in desert or arid regions, are now recognised as a global hazard.

“There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics”

Huge quantities of sand and dust can be lifted into the air by high winds and distributed over hundreds of miles. The problem is worsening as droughts increase and land is degraded by deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Dust is also intensifying climate change, for example by discolouring ice so that it melts faster, and human health is affected by increased asthma and the spread of diseases such as valley fever and meningitis.

Aviation suffers when storms close airports or cause damage when dust is sucked into engines. Roads are lost under sand and electricity supplies disrupted. Even fisheries are damaged by sand settling in the oceans and affecting plankton growth.

The storms can be severe. In 2018 more than 125 people died and 200 were injured by a high-velocity dust storm in northern India. Even in Europe large areas can be covered in orange sand and dust from the Sahara.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of earth systems science and remote sensing at Chapman University in California, said: “There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics to assist mitigation of windblown dust consequences in many applications. These include human health, weather, solar and wind energy systems, aviation, highway safety and urban development.”

Higher cyclone intensity

The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019, released in August, suggests that the impacts of climate change differ by sub-region: “Temperature increase is likely to cause a rise in the number and duration of heat waves and droughts . . . Climate change is also expected to increase cyclone intensity, with serious threats along the coastal areas of countries in south-east Asia.”

A complex sequence of climate and weather disasters such as drought, SDS, desertification and floods is on the rise in arid and semi-arid sub-regions of south-west and central Asia, the report said. And, as indicated clearly in the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C, the decrease in soil moisture will increase the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in south, south-west and central Asia.

A recent example was the powerful dust storm that swept over parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2018. There was also a toxic salt storm from the Aral Sea that hit northern Turkmenistan and western Uzbekistan.

The storms then moved through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India and collided with the pre-monsoon weather, including thunderstorms and rain, affecting a wide area and causing the loss of hundreds of lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

Jakarta’s sea level prompts a move – at a price

For its people, Jakarta’s sea level is a nagging anxiety. But moving the Indonesian capital 1,000 kms to safety will be horribly costly.

LONDON, 9 September, 2019 – Spare a thought for the poorer residents of Jakarta, Indonesia’s sprawling capital city.

If your house on the Indonesian coast is threatened by the ocean because of climate change, then maybe – if you’re lucky and wealthy enough – a move to higher ground further inland may be possible.

But what happens when a whole city, with millions of people, is threatened by rising seas?

Jakarta has a population of more than 10 million. Established as the capital of what was the Dutch East Indies in the 17th century, the city is built on swamp land on the north-west coast of the island of Java.

But not only is Jakarta threatened by rising sea levels: rapid, largely unplanned expansion and building work has resulted in the city becoming, according to experts, one of the fastest-sinking urban areas in the world.

It’s estimated that up to 40% of the area of Jakarta is now below sea level. In northern districts of the city bordering the sea, rising sea levels are threatening many neighbourhoods, and flooding is common.

“This huge project will need to be done quickly to prevent Jakarta from sinking into the sea”

Attempts at tackling the issue have so far made little impact. A scheme designed to keep seawater out involving the construction of a 32 kilometre-long outer sea wall called the Great Garuda and 17 artificial islands straddling Jakarta Bay has been subject to long delays and finance problems.

“This huge project will need to be done quickly to prevent Jakarta from sinking into the sea”, says Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president.

Ongoing extraction of groundwater from beneath the city is another serious problem, leading to frequent land subsidence.

Parts of Jakarta are sinking by as much as 25 cms each year. Experts say that in some areas the land has sunk by 2.5 metres over the last 10 years.

Now the Indonesian government is taking radical action. It’s announced plans to move the country’s capital elsewhere – to more than 1,000 kms away in East Kalimantan, on the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo.

Five years to completion

Officials talk of creating a “smart and forest” city; the project, which has an initial price tag of US$33 billion (466,650 bn Rupiah), will involve the foundation of a new administrative capital, with up to 1.5 million civil servants being relocated.

Jakarta will retain its role as Indonesia’s commercial and financial hub. The government says work on the new city is due to begin in two years’ time and to be completed by 2024.

The construction of the new capital might go some way to settle one set of problems, but is likely to give birth to others.

The island of Borneo – shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and the small state of Brunei – contains one of the world’s largest remaining rain forests, a carbon sink which soaks up vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

In the early 1970s three quarters of Borneo was covered in rainforest. By 2010, the forests had shrunk by more than 30%, with huge areas logged or given over to palm oil plantations.

Orangutans killed

Large areas of peat – another vital repository for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of climate-changing carbon – have also been destroyed. Indonesia has undertaken several coal-mining projects in its part of the island.

As the forests have been chopped down, wildlife has suffered. Numbers of orangutan have dropped by an estimated 100,000 over the past 20 years.

Despite pledges by the Indonesian government to build a sustainable “green” city and carry out various environmental surveys, many are sceptical about the building of the new capital.

Experts point out that many environmentally important areas of Borneo have already been destroyed by haphazard, badly planned development projects. They say the new plans, including the construction of a whole city, are only going to make the situation worse.

The daunting prospect facing Jakarta is likely to confront many other countries within the next few decades. Last month US researchers said the rising threat of flooding caused by climate change meant Americans should prepare for managed retreat from their own coasts. – Climate News Network

For its people, Jakarta’s sea level is a nagging anxiety. But moving the Indonesian capital 1,000 kms to safety will be horribly costly.

LONDON, 9 September, 2019 – Spare a thought for the poorer residents of Jakarta, Indonesia’s sprawling capital city.

If your house on the Indonesian coast is threatened by the ocean because of climate change, then maybe – if you’re lucky and wealthy enough – a move to higher ground further inland may be possible.

But what happens when a whole city, with millions of people, is threatened by rising seas?

Jakarta has a population of more than 10 million. Established as the capital of what was the Dutch East Indies in the 17th century, the city is built on swamp land on the north-west coast of the island of Java.

But not only is Jakarta threatened by rising sea levels: rapid, largely unplanned expansion and building work has resulted in the city becoming, according to experts, one of the fastest-sinking urban areas in the world.

It’s estimated that up to 40% of the area of Jakarta is now below sea level. In northern districts of the city bordering the sea, rising sea levels are threatening many neighbourhoods, and flooding is common.

“This huge project will need to be done quickly to prevent Jakarta from sinking into the sea”

Attempts at tackling the issue have so far made little impact. A scheme designed to keep seawater out involving the construction of a 32 kilometre-long outer sea wall called the Great Garuda and 17 artificial islands straddling Jakarta Bay has been subject to long delays and finance problems.

“This huge project will need to be done quickly to prevent Jakarta from sinking into the sea”, says Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president.

Ongoing extraction of groundwater from beneath the city is another serious problem, leading to frequent land subsidence.

Parts of Jakarta are sinking by as much as 25 cms each year. Experts say that in some areas the land has sunk by 2.5 metres over the last 10 years.

Now the Indonesian government is taking radical action. It’s announced plans to move the country’s capital elsewhere – to more than 1,000 kms away in East Kalimantan, on the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo.

Five years to completion

Officials talk of creating a “smart and forest” city; the project, which has an initial price tag of US$33 billion (466,650 bn Rupiah), will involve the foundation of a new administrative capital, with up to 1.5 million civil servants being relocated.

Jakarta will retain its role as Indonesia’s commercial and financial hub. The government says work on the new city is due to begin in two years’ time and to be completed by 2024.

The construction of the new capital might go some way to settle one set of problems, but is likely to give birth to others.

The island of Borneo – shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and the small state of Brunei – contains one of the world’s largest remaining rain forests, a carbon sink which soaks up vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

In the early 1970s three quarters of Borneo was covered in rainforest. By 2010, the forests had shrunk by more than 30%, with huge areas logged or given over to palm oil plantations.

Orangutans killed

Large areas of peat – another vital repository for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of climate-changing carbon – have also been destroyed. Indonesia has undertaken several coal-mining projects in its part of the island.

As the forests have been chopped down, wildlife has suffered. Numbers of orangutan have dropped by an estimated 100,000 over the past 20 years.

Despite pledges by the Indonesian government to build a sustainable “green” city and carry out various environmental surveys, many are sceptical about the building of the new capital.

Experts point out that many environmentally important areas of Borneo have already been destroyed by haphazard, badly planned development projects. They say the new plans, including the construction of a whole city, are only going to make the situation worse.

The daunting prospect facing Jakarta is likely to confront many other countries within the next few decades. Last month US researchers said the rising threat of flooding caused by climate change meant Americans should prepare for managed retreat from their own coasts. – Climate News Network

Desert treaty steps up fight for degraded land

Degraded land − drought − the spread of the world’s deserts: that’s the challenge for a UN conference starting in Delhi.

DELHI, 2 September, 2019 − The battle to halt the march of deserts across the world and the spread of degraded land, which lead to mass migration, is the focus of 169 countries meeting in India from today.

The annual United Nations climate change convention, held every year,  receives massive media coverage. In contrast the UN Convention to Combat Desertification meets once every two years to combat the spread of deserts, land degradation and drought. Its success is vital for more than half the world’s population. But it gets little attention.

Four out of five hectares of land on the planet have been altered from their natural state by humans. Much of this alteration has been damaging, making the land less fertile and productive.

This degrading of land and the spread of deserts are already affecting 3.2 billion people, mostly in the poorer parts of the world. The UN says this degradation, together with climate change and biodiversity loss, may force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.

Four years ago the parties to the convention agreed to reverse the continuing loss of fertile land and to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN) by 2030. So far 120 of the 169 countries affected have come up with plans for how to reduce the risk of degradation and where to recover degrading land (known as LDN targets in the conference jargon).

“This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries”

Although Africa usually springs to mind as one of the continents worst affected, much of South Asia with its recurring floods, droughts and other extreme weather events is facing a range of problems related to land. Coastal areas right up to the Himalayas suffer land degradation, and the problem involves all the governments in the region.

India, host to this year’s conference, has a major problem, with 30% of its land affected. It has 2.5% of the Earth’s land area, yet supports 18% of its total human population and roughly 20% of its livestock. But 96.4 million hectares (almost 240m acres)of India’s land is classed as degraded, nearly 30% of its total geographical area.

A study published in 2018 by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) for the government of India put the cost of the country’s desertification and land degradation at 2.5% of India’s GDP (2014-15).

This year a robust response is planned. “To fight this menace, India will convert degraded land of nearly 50 lakh (5m) hectares to fertile land in the next 10 years; it will implement the provisions of the New Delhi Declaration which is to be adopted at the end of the conference,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change told the Climate News Network.

The land due for conversion is just 5.2% of India’s total degraded land, but the minister hinted that the target could go up before the conference’s final declaration is agreed on 13 September.

Demanding target

Another south-east Asian country, Sri Lanka, has arid parts which are drying out further, and wetter regions which are becoming wetter as erratic rains and high temperatures have made the soil vulnerable.

“Sri Lanka has about one-fifth of land which is either degraded or showing signs of degradation,” said Ajith Silva of the environment ministry. “We are carrying out various government schemes that have a focus on soil conservation in plains and watershed management in hill areas,” Silva told the Climate News Network.

Sri Lanka has set a target to restore and improve degraded forest: 80% in the dry zone and 20% in the wet zone. Just as in Sri Lanka and India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh also have targets and programmes aimed at land restoration.

While governments have targets, local people, realising the dangers to their way of life, are acting independently and taking their own actions to save their land. Dhrupad Choudhury, of ICIMOD, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, said: “Many good things are taking place across these countries. But apart from government efforts, those that happen at the community or village levels are not recognised.”

Across South Asia most government programmes are planned top-down, with almost no community partnership. Without ownership by the community, an important stakeholder, these remain poorly implemented. Many NGOs, on the other hand, do it right.

Rich world uninvolved

There is some resentment among the countries affected by desertification that their plight gets scant attention and very little finance from the richer states untroubled by deserts. An official of one of the South Asian nations commented: “This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries.”

Javadekar, the Indian minister, said he believed there should be public finance from the developed world for land restoration. But to help to plug the gap he announced plans for a Centre of Excellence for Capacity Building of Developing Countries, to be created in India to help developing countries to achieve land degradation neutrality, with India offering training to other countries on financing solutions.

To try to move things along, the convention has already adopted a gender action plan and is working on innovative financing opportunities and ways to improve communications.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, is likely to make an appearance at the 14th Conference of the Parties, as the Delhi meeting is formally known.

With the New Delhi Declaration due to be announced, India has already said it will, as the host of the conference and during its two years as the convention’s president, lead from the front to ensure its goals are achieved. − Climate News Network

Degraded land − drought − the spread of the world’s deserts: that’s the challenge for a UN conference starting in Delhi.

DELHI, 2 September, 2019 − The battle to halt the march of deserts across the world and the spread of degraded land, which lead to mass migration, is the focus of 169 countries meeting in India from today.

The annual United Nations climate change convention, held every year,  receives massive media coverage. In contrast the UN Convention to Combat Desertification meets once every two years to combat the spread of deserts, land degradation and drought. Its success is vital for more than half the world’s population. But it gets little attention.

Four out of five hectares of land on the planet have been altered from their natural state by humans. Much of this alteration has been damaging, making the land less fertile and productive.

This degrading of land and the spread of deserts are already affecting 3.2 billion people, mostly in the poorer parts of the world. The UN says this degradation, together with climate change and biodiversity loss, may force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.

Four years ago the parties to the convention agreed to reverse the continuing loss of fertile land and to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN) by 2030. So far 120 of the 169 countries affected have come up with plans for how to reduce the risk of degradation and where to recover degrading land (known as LDN targets in the conference jargon).

“This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries”

Although Africa usually springs to mind as one of the continents worst affected, much of South Asia with its recurring floods, droughts and other extreme weather events is facing a range of problems related to land. Coastal areas right up to the Himalayas suffer land degradation, and the problem involves all the governments in the region.

India, host to this year’s conference, has a major problem, with 30% of its land affected. It has 2.5% of the Earth’s land area, yet supports 18% of its total human population and roughly 20% of its livestock. But 96.4 million hectares (almost 240m acres)of India’s land is classed as degraded, nearly 30% of its total geographical area.

A study published in 2018 by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) for the government of India put the cost of the country’s desertification and land degradation at 2.5% of India’s GDP (2014-15).

This year a robust response is planned. “To fight this menace, India will convert degraded land of nearly 50 lakh (5m) hectares to fertile land in the next 10 years; it will implement the provisions of the New Delhi Declaration which is to be adopted at the end of the conference,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change told the Climate News Network.

The land due for conversion is just 5.2% of India’s total degraded land, but the minister hinted that the target could go up before the conference’s final declaration is agreed on 13 September.

Demanding target

Another south-east Asian country, Sri Lanka, has arid parts which are drying out further, and wetter regions which are becoming wetter as erratic rains and high temperatures have made the soil vulnerable.

“Sri Lanka has about one-fifth of land which is either degraded or showing signs of degradation,” said Ajith Silva of the environment ministry. “We are carrying out various government schemes that have a focus on soil conservation in plains and watershed management in hill areas,” Silva told the Climate News Network.

Sri Lanka has set a target to restore and improve degraded forest: 80% in the dry zone and 20% in the wet zone. Just as in Sri Lanka and India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh also have targets and programmes aimed at land restoration.

While governments have targets, local people, realising the dangers to their way of life, are acting independently and taking their own actions to save their land. Dhrupad Choudhury, of ICIMOD, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, said: “Many good things are taking place across these countries. But apart from government efforts, those that happen at the community or village levels are not recognised.”

Across South Asia most government programmes are planned top-down, with almost no community partnership. Without ownership by the community, an important stakeholder, these remain poorly implemented. Many NGOs, on the other hand, do it right.

Rich world uninvolved

There is some resentment among the countries affected by desertification that their plight gets scant attention and very little finance from the richer states untroubled by deserts. An official of one of the South Asian nations commented: “This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries.”

Javadekar, the Indian minister, said he believed there should be public finance from the developed world for land restoration. But to help to plug the gap he announced plans for a Centre of Excellence for Capacity Building of Developing Countries, to be created in India to help developing countries to achieve land degradation neutrality, with India offering training to other countries on financing solutions.

To try to move things along, the convention has already adopted a gender action plan and is working on innovative financing opportunities and ways to improve communications.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, is likely to make an appearance at the 14th Conference of the Parties, as the Delhi meeting is formally known.

With the New Delhi Declaration due to be announced, India has already said it will, as the host of the conference and during its two years as the convention’s president, lead from the front to ensure its goals are achieved. − Climate News Network

Plentiful renewable energy awaits the world

Cheap and plentiful renewable energy is possible: pure hydrogen power in the ground, enough wind in European skies to power the world.

LONDON, 29 August, 2019 − US and European researchers have shown the way to an era of cheap and plentiful renewable energy on a massive scale.

Canadian scientists have worked out how to extract pure, non-polluting fuel from spent or unexploited oil wells at a fraction of the cost of gasoline.

And British and Danish scholars have worked out that, in principle, Europe could generate enough onshore wind energy to supply the whole world until 2050.

Neither technology is likely to be exploited on a massive scale in the very near future. Wind energy development depends on national and local decisions, and the new study is a simple atlas of possible sites across the entire continent.

And although hydrogen is already driving trains, cars and buses in many nations, the technology is still essentially experimental and the infrastructure for a hydrogen economy has still to be built.

“The study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe”

But both are instances of the sustained ingenuity and imagination at work in research laboratories and institutions as scientists confront the challenge of a world no longer dependent on the fossil fuels that drive global heating and the climate emergency.

The technology that can take hydrogen straight from existing oil reserves was presented at an international geochemistry conference in Barcelona and depends on university-patented technology now being developed by a scientific start-up.

In essence, the bedrock becomes the reactor vessel for a high-temperature reaction involving hydrocarbon molecules and water: oxygen-enhanced air is pumped downwards at the wellhead and injected deep into a reservoir of tar, bitumen or oil to begin a process that raises subterranean temperatures.

At 500°C the hydrocarbons fracture, and a patented system intelligently locates the hydrogen and filters it: the carbon stays in the ground.

“What comes out of the ground is hydrogen gas, so we don’t have the huge, above-ground purification costs associated with oil refining: we use the ground as our reaction vessel.

Steep cost cut

“Just taking Alberta as an example, we have the potential to supply Canada’s entire electricity requirement for 330 years,” said Grant Strem, of Proton Technologies, which is to commercialise the process at – the technology’s begetters say – a cost per kilo of hydrogen of between 10 and 50 cents. This is a fraction of the cost of gasoline extraction.

Hydrogen is in theory the ideal fuel: the visible universe is made of it. The only product of its combustion with oxygen is water. It is already being exploited as a battery fuel: surplus solar and wind power could be used to split water and store hydrogen as a reserve for electricity generation.

Researchers have proposed a hydrogen-powered bicycle, engineers have calculated that hydrogen could replace the world’s natural gas supplies in the next 30 years, and designers have even proposed a safe global bulk carrier hydrogen delivery system by automaton airships more than 2kms long.

Wind power, by contrast, is now a highly developed technology that is already advanced in Europe and the US, and, like solar power, it could supply national grids almost anywhere in the world.

One of the bigger remaining questions is: what is the right place to put a battery of wind turbines? European scientists report in the journal Energy Policy that the ideal of a European grid powered entirely by renewables is now within the collective technological grasp.

Hundredfold increase

A new map based on wind atlases and geographic information identifies 46% of the land mass of the continent that would be suitable for wind turbine generation. If all such space were exploited, the turbines could amplify the existing onshore wind supply a hundredfold and could generate energy equivalent to roughly a megawatt for every 16 European citizens.

That adds up to more than 11 million additional turbines over 5 million square kilometres in large parts of western Europe, Turkey and Russia.

“Our study suggests the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector,” said Benjamin Sovacool, of the University of Sussex in the UK, one of the authors.

“Obviously, we are not saying that we should install wind turbines in all the identified sites, but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe.” − Climate News Network

Cheap and plentiful renewable energy is possible: pure hydrogen power in the ground, enough wind in European skies to power the world.

LONDON, 29 August, 2019 − US and European researchers have shown the way to an era of cheap and plentiful renewable energy on a massive scale.

Canadian scientists have worked out how to extract pure, non-polluting fuel from spent or unexploited oil wells at a fraction of the cost of gasoline.

And British and Danish scholars have worked out that, in principle, Europe could generate enough onshore wind energy to supply the whole world until 2050.

Neither technology is likely to be exploited on a massive scale in the very near future. Wind energy development depends on national and local decisions, and the new study is a simple atlas of possible sites across the entire continent.

And although hydrogen is already driving trains, cars and buses in many nations, the technology is still essentially experimental and the infrastructure for a hydrogen economy has still to be built.

“The study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe”

But both are instances of the sustained ingenuity and imagination at work in research laboratories and institutions as scientists confront the challenge of a world no longer dependent on the fossil fuels that drive global heating and the climate emergency.

The technology that can take hydrogen straight from existing oil reserves was presented at an international geochemistry conference in Barcelona and depends on university-patented technology now being developed by a scientific start-up.

In essence, the bedrock becomes the reactor vessel for a high-temperature reaction involving hydrocarbon molecules and water: oxygen-enhanced air is pumped downwards at the wellhead and injected deep into a reservoir of tar, bitumen or oil to begin a process that raises subterranean temperatures.

At 500°C the hydrocarbons fracture, and a patented system intelligently locates the hydrogen and filters it: the carbon stays in the ground.

“What comes out of the ground is hydrogen gas, so we don’t have the huge, above-ground purification costs associated with oil refining: we use the ground as our reaction vessel.

Steep cost cut

“Just taking Alberta as an example, we have the potential to supply Canada’s entire electricity requirement for 330 years,” said Grant Strem, of Proton Technologies, which is to commercialise the process at – the technology’s begetters say – a cost per kilo of hydrogen of between 10 and 50 cents. This is a fraction of the cost of gasoline extraction.

Hydrogen is in theory the ideal fuel: the visible universe is made of it. The only product of its combustion with oxygen is water. It is already being exploited as a battery fuel: surplus solar and wind power could be used to split water and store hydrogen as a reserve for electricity generation.

Researchers have proposed a hydrogen-powered bicycle, engineers have calculated that hydrogen could replace the world’s natural gas supplies in the next 30 years, and designers have even proposed a safe global bulk carrier hydrogen delivery system by automaton airships more than 2kms long.

Wind power, by contrast, is now a highly developed technology that is already advanced in Europe and the US, and, like solar power, it could supply national grids almost anywhere in the world.

One of the bigger remaining questions is: what is the right place to put a battery of wind turbines? European scientists report in the journal Energy Policy that the ideal of a European grid powered entirely by renewables is now within the collective technological grasp.

Hundredfold increase

A new map based on wind atlases and geographic information identifies 46% of the land mass of the continent that would be suitable for wind turbine generation. If all such space were exploited, the turbines could amplify the existing onshore wind supply a hundredfold and could generate energy equivalent to roughly a megawatt for every 16 European citizens.

That adds up to more than 11 million additional turbines over 5 million square kilometres in large parts of western Europe, Turkey and Russia.

“Our study suggests the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector,” said Benjamin Sovacool, of the University of Sussex in the UK, one of the authors.

“Obviously, we are not saying that we should install wind turbines in all the identified sites, but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe which needs to be harnessed if we’re to avert a climate catastrophe.” − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s legal bonfire fuels Amazon inferno

Brazil’s president has destroyed the protection enacted by his predecessors, leaving an Amazon inferno to torch the rainforest.

SÃO PAULO , 26 August, 2019 − The dry season in Brazil is only just beginning, but fires are raging throughout the rainforest, leaving an Amazon inferno, and heavy palls of sooty smoke engulfing towns and cities.

The images of huge patches of Earth’s largest tropical forest being reduced to charred ashes and blackened tree stumps have alarmed the world as the planet’s biggest carbon sink is transformed instead into a source of carbon emissions.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has deliberately weakened public policies which were in place to protect the rainforest and punish illegal loggers and farmers, tried to blame NGOs and indigenous peoples for the fires.
His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, decided it is all a leftwing plot to destroy Brazil.

The truth is less exotic. All the evidence points to the fires, many inside protected areas and national parks, being deliberately started by land grabbers, ranchers and farmers, to claim the land, once cleared of forest, as theirs.

“The Amazon is our common good”

Encouraged by the president’s openly pro-development, anti-environment agenda, they are so confident that they will not be punished that in one small Amazon town, Novo Progresso, the local paper published a call by local farmers for a “Day of Fire” with the declared aim of showing Bolsonaro they were ready to open up the land for agriculture.

The day chosen was 10 August. The following day INPE, the government’s institute for space research, which monitors the Amazon daily, recorded an explosion of fires, with over 200 in the immediate area, including some in the Jamanxim national forest and the Serra do Cachimbo nature reserve, both protected areas.

INPE recorded over 72,000 fires all over Brazil during the first seven months of this year. The INPE system of deforestation alerts in real time, Deter, showed an increase of 278% over the year before. From August 2018 to July 2019 it showed a total of 6,833 sq kms of cleared forest, up from 4,572 sq kms between August 2017 and July 2018.

When confronted with these statistics, instead of taking steps to halt the fires and the deforestation, Bolsonaro declared the numbers were “lies” and forced the director, Ricardo Galvão, a highly respected scientist, to resign.

Day becomes night

However, what caused the shockwaves that turned the fires into an international crisis was the huge black cloud of smog which descended on São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest metropolis, on Monday 19 August, turning day into night.

Scientists, with the aid of satellite images from Nasa, concluded that the cloud came from fires in Brazil’s mid-west and north, as well as from neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay.

INPE researcher Saulo Ribeiro de Freitas, quoted by FAPESP, São Paulo’s scientific research institute, said that the mass of polluted air generated by the fires in these areas was pushed to a height of 5,000m by the winds blowing from east to west, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, until they hit the Andes mountains.

Then the air was blown south by the anti-cyclone system. de Freitas explained that “the convergence of this mass of polluted air coming from the north with a cold front coming from the south” produced “a river of soot which mingled with other pollutants in the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and methane, to form a smog.”

For the first time, inhabitants of São Paulo were feeling the direct impact of the Amazon fires, over 2,000 miles away. Even so, it took the government several more days before it reacted, ordering Air Force planes into the air to spray water, and boosting local firefighting teams with units of the national guard.

Forest defences sabotaged

This belated action was triggered by the international repercussions, with the Amazon fires making their way onto the agenda of the G7 meeting in Biarritz, thanks to French president Emmanuel Macron, who said: “The Amazon is our common good.”

France has a physical stake in the Amazon region because of French Guiana, officially a regional department of France. Nine countries include a part of the Amazon basin in their territories.

It is not the first time that the G7 has put the Amazon and its role in global warming on its agenda. In 1991 it established a US$250 million Pilot Programme (PPG7) for the preservation of tropical forests in Brazil, which funded the demarcation of indigenous reserves and sustainable development projects.

More recently, Norway and Germany set up the Amazon Fund to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation through grants to local authorities and NGO projects. Due to interference by the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who tried to discredit the NGO projects, Norway and Germany have suspended some of their funding, leaving local authorities without the money for firefighting activities.

Through its own actions, the Bolsonaro government has not only encouraged the assault on the Amazon rainforest, but deliberately sabotaged the public policies put in place by previous governments and other countries to defend it. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s president has destroyed the protection enacted by his predecessors, leaving an Amazon inferno to torch the rainforest.

SÃO PAULO , 26 August, 2019 − The dry season in Brazil is only just beginning, but fires are raging throughout the rainforest, leaving an Amazon inferno, and heavy palls of sooty smoke engulfing towns and cities.

The images of huge patches of Earth’s largest tropical forest being reduced to charred ashes and blackened tree stumps have alarmed the world as the planet’s biggest carbon sink is transformed instead into a source of carbon emissions.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has deliberately weakened public policies which were in place to protect the rainforest and punish illegal loggers and farmers, tried to blame NGOs and indigenous peoples for the fires.
His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, decided it is all a leftwing plot to destroy Brazil.

The truth is less exotic. All the evidence points to the fires, many inside protected areas and national parks, being deliberately started by land grabbers, ranchers and farmers, to claim the land, once cleared of forest, as theirs.

“The Amazon is our common good”

Encouraged by the president’s openly pro-development, anti-environment agenda, they are so confident that they will not be punished that in one small Amazon town, Novo Progresso, the local paper published a call by local farmers for a “Day of Fire” with the declared aim of showing Bolsonaro they were ready to open up the land for agriculture.

The day chosen was 10 August. The following day INPE, the government’s institute for space research, which monitors the Amazon daily, recorded an explosion of fires, with over 200 in the immediate area, including some in the Jamanxim national forest and the Serra do Cachimbo nature reserve, both protected areas.

INPE recorded over 72,000 fires all over Brazil during the first seven months of this year. The INPE system of deforestation alerts in real time, Deter, showed an increase of 278% over the year before. From August 2018 to July 2019 it showed a total of 6,833 sq kms of cleared forest, up from 4,572 sq kms between August 2017 and July 2018.

When confronted with these statistics, instead of taking steps to halt the fires and the deforestation, Bolsonaro declared the numbers were “lies” and forced the director, Ricardo Galvão, a highly respected scientist, to resign.

Day becomes night

However, what caused the shockwaves that turned the fires into an international crisis was the huge black cloud of smog which descended on São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest metropolis, on Monday 19 August, turning day into night.

Scientists, with the aid of satellite images from Nasa, concluded that the cloud came from fires in Brazil’s mid-west and north, as well as from neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay.

INPE researcher Saulo Ribeiro de Freitas, quoted by FAPESP, São Paulo’s scientific research institute, said that the mass of polluted air generated by the fires in these areas was pushed to a height of 5,000m by the winds blowing from east to west, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, until they hit the Andes mountains.

Then the air was blown south by the anti-cyclone system. de Freitas explained that “the convergence of this mass of polluted air coming from the north with a cold front coming from the south” produced “a river of soot which mingled with other pollutants in the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and methane, to form a smog.”

For the first time, inhabitants of São Paulo were feeling the direct impact of the Amazon fires, over 2,000 miles away. Even so, it took the government several more days before it reacted, ordering Air Force planes into the air to spray water, and boosting local firefighting teams with units of the national guard.

Forest defences sabotaged

This belated action was triggered by the international repercussions, with the Amazon fires making their way onto the agenda of the G7 meeting in Biarritz, thanks to French president Emmanuel Macron, who said: “The Amazon is our common good.”

France has a physical stake in the Amazon region because of French Guiana, officially a regional department of France. Nine countries include a part of the Amazon basin in their territories.

It is not the first time that the G7 has put the Amazon and its role in global warming on its agenda. In 1991 it established a US$250 million Pilot Programme (PPG7) for the preservation of tropical forests in Brazil, which funded the demarcation of indigenous reserves and sustainable development projects.

More recently, Norway and Germany set up the Amazon Fund to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation through grants to local authorities and NGO projects. Due to interference by the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who tried to discredit the NGO projects, Norway and Germany have suspended some of their funding, leaving local authorities without the money for firefighting activities.

Through its own actions, the Bolsonaro government has not only encouraged the assault on the Amazon rainforest, but deliberately sabotaged the public policies put in place by previous governments and other countries to defend it. − Climate News Network

European Union helped to cool 2003 heatwave

Small local changes make a big difference as the temperature soars. And the European Union’s existence once cooled a vicious heatwave.

LONDON, 9 August, 2019 − Of all the political plaudits or economic brickbats hurled at the European Union, this might be the least expected: simply because it existed, it somehow ameliorated or damped down the worst of the 2003 heatwave.

This moment of extreme summer heat is believed to have caused an estimated 40,000 excess deaths and cost the European economy more than €13 billion in economic losses and infrastructure damage.

And yet it could have been worse. Had what is now a 28-nation political and economic behemoth not been formed in 1993, the way the member nations used their land would not have changed, and the heatwave might have been more intense, more severe and more destructive still.

The formation of the EU with its single market and customs union wasn’t the only political shift. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also played a role in determining how farmers, graziers, foresters, conservationists and ministerial managers used the terrain of the European continent.

And – without thinking much about future climate shifts – farmers and foresters collectively began a series of changes that meant that what had once been farmland was abandoned, in Portugal and Spain, in eastern Europe and in Italy, as intensive production shifted to other economic zones.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe”

As more than 8% of what had been ploughed land reverted to grassland and scrub, the shallow groundwater in the abandoned soil began to act in unexpected ways. There was more evapotranspiration, which meant more cloud, which meant more reflectivity, which meant that lower levels of radiation actually scorched the landscape.

And, in turn, temperatures, as torrid as they were in the unprecedented heat that August, were damped down.

Samuel Zipper, then of the University of Victoria in Canada, now at the University of Kansas, and colleagues from Belgium and Germany report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they used what they call “bedrock to atmosphere” computer models to simulate the way water and energy cycles shifted over western Europe between 1990 and 2010. They then made an estimate of what might have happened had there been no changes in the way the land was used.

“What we think is happening is that the agricultural abandonment led to an increase in the amount of water that plants transpired into the atmosphere, which caused increased cloud formation,” Dr Zipper said.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe.”

France spared

They found in addition that the changes in land use overall had some effect on local climate even in those places where land had not been abandoned.

They found that even France – the nation most harshly hit by the extremes of heat that summer – experienced less heat than it would have without shifts in land use further south and east.

And they confirmed that soil moisture, especially in the first metre or so of ground, played a powerful role in moderating atmospheric temperatures that in that region in that year, and in other places exposed to heat extremes since, put the very young, the elderly, the already ill and the poorly housed at ever greater risk of death in dangerous temperatures.

The scientists completed their research long before the unprecedented temperatures recorded in Western Europe this 2019 summer. Such what-if studies based on alternative histories arrive with inherent uncertainties. There is no way to conduct any convincing real life experiment that replicates the same heat wave under different landscape changes.

But the research confirms what climate scientists have been arguing for decades, and that is that the way land is used inevitably contributes to local shifts in temperature, and therefore to overall annual average warming, and inevitably to long-term, lethal and potentially catastrophic extremes. − Climate News Network

Small local changes make a big difference as the temperature soars. And the European Union’s existence once cooled a vicious heatwave.

LONDON, 9 August, 2019 − Of all the political plaudits or economic brickbats hurled at the European Union, this might be the least expected: simply because it existed, it somehow ameliorated or damped down the worst of the 2003 heatwave.

This moment of extreme summer heat is believed to have caused an estimated 40,000 excess deaths and cost the European economy more than €13 billion in economic losses and infrastructure damage.

And yet it could have been worse. Had what is now a 28-nation political and economic behemoth not been formed in 1993, the way the member nations used their land would not have changed, and the heatwave might have been more intense, more severe and more destructive still.

The formation of the EU with its single market and customs union wasn’t the only political shift. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 also played a role in determining how farmers, graziers, foresters, conservationists and ministerial managers used the terrain of the European continent.

And – without thinking much about future climate shifts – farmers and foresters collectively began a series of changes that meant that what had once been farmland was abandoned, in Portugal and Spain, in eastern Europe and in Italy, as intensive production shifted to other economic zones.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe”

As more than 8% of what had been ploughed land reverted to grassland and scrub, the shallow groundwater in the abandoned soil began to act in unexpected ways. There was more evapotranspiration, which meant more cloud, which meant more reflectivity, which meant that lower levels of radiation actually scorched the landscape.

And, in turn, temperatures, as torrid as they were in the unprecedented heat that August, were damped down.

Samuel Zipper, then of the University of Victoria in Canada, now at the University of Kansas, and colleagues from Belgium and Germany report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they used what they call “bedrock to atmosphere” computer models to simulate the way water and energy cycles shifted over western Europe between 1990 and 2010. They then made an estimate of what might have happened had there been no changes in the way the land was used.

“What we think is happening is that the agricultural abandonment led to an increase in the amount of water that plants transpired into the atmosphere, which caused increased cloud formation,” Dr Zipper said.

“Our results suggest that if this land use change had not occurred, the 2003 heatwave may have been more severe.”

France spared

They found in addition that the changes in land use overall had some effect on local climate even in those places where land had not been abandoned.

They found that even France – the nation most harshly hit by the extremes of heat that summer – experienced less heat than it would have without shifts in land use further south and east.

And they confirmed that soil moisture, especially in the first metre or so of ground, played a powerful role in moderating atmospheric temperatures that in that region in that year, and in other places exposed to heat extremes since, put the very young, the elderly, the already ill and the poorly housed at ever greater risk of death in dangerous temperatures.

The scientists completed their research long before the unprecedented temperatures recorded in Western Europe this 2019 summer. Such what-if studies based on alternative histories arrive with inherent uncertainties. There is no way to conduct any convincing real life experiment that replicates the same heat wave under different landscape changes.

But the research confirms what climate scientists have been arguing for decades, and that is that the way land is used inevitably contributes to local shifts in temperature, and therefore to overall annual average warming, and inevitably to long-term, lethal and potentially catastrophic extremes. − Climate News Network

Crop diversity keeps bees buzzing happily

Big business agriculture could be bad for pollinators, which need crop diversity. And that could mean very bad news for an ever-hungrier world.

LONDON, 26 July, 2019 − Tomorrow’s world could be a hungrier world. That is because as large-scale agribusiness gets busier crop diversity diminishes, and the pool of potential pollinators will become increasingly at risk.

Those crops that rely on pollination by the animal world can only deliver the reward of nourishment to bees and other insects for a very short time. As developing nations switch increasingly to massive plantations of soy, canola and palm oil, the creatures farmers rely on to set seed and begin the process of setting fruit will have a problem finding a food supply for the rest of the year.

The message of the latest research is simple: a sustainable world must be a diverse one. And that means a diversity of crops and crop varieties as well as a diversity of forest, grasslands and wildflowers to keep the honeybees buzzing.

Scientists from Argentina, Chile, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and Korea report in the journal Global Change Biology that without an increase in crop diversity, agricultural productivity worldwide could be put at risk by its increasing dependence on pollinators – and insects of all kinds could be on the decline, even as crop-devouring predator insects could be on the increase.

The researchers looked at data from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization on the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016. They found that more and more land is being colonised for agriculture, and the area cultivated for crops that rely on pollinators has increased by 137%. But crop diversity has increased only by 20%. And 16 of the 20 fastest-growing crops require pollination by insects or other animals.

Efficiency above all

The researchers paint a picture of a world in which vast tracts of landscape have been converted for maximum efficiency into plantations producing just one crop, while bees and other pollinators − already at hazard from climate change, pesticides and invasive infection – face a fall in the variety of their own potential food supply.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye of the University of Maryland in the US, one of the authors.

And a co-author, Robert Paxton of the Martin Luther University at Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, said: “Just a few months ago, the World Biodiversity Council (IPBES) revealed that up to one million plant and animal species are being threatened with extinction, including many pollinators.”

The researchers found that developing nations in South America, Africa and Asia had invested in vast monocultures grown for the global market: soy, for instance, exported to Europe as cattle feed, had risen by about 30% per decade globally, at great cost to natural and semi-natural tropical and subtropical forests and meadows that might otherwise have provided the blooms that pollinators could turn to once the cash crop seeds and nuts had set.

“Studying how this mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem”

“The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management,” said Professor Inouye.

In a world of potentially catastrophic climate change, global food security is already a worry. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat could slash yields and even precipitate global famine.

They have warned that rapid ecosystem change could affect global food supplies and that rapid warming will accelerate the spread of crop pests and diseases.

And even the shifts in the growing season – and in particular the earlier flowering each spring – may soon no longer be matched by the appearance of vital pollinators.

Bees avoid cold

Researchers in Japan report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society that they monitored the emergence of the flower Corydalis ambigua and its pollinator bumblebee in the forests of northern Japan for 19 years.

The earlier the snowmelt, the earlier the flowering. And the earlier the snowmelt, the more likely it was that the flowers would emerge before the bumblebees, which hibernate underground until the soil temperatures reach 6°C, could begin looking for food and, in the course of doing so, pollinate the flower and set seed for the next generation.

“Our study suggests the early arrival of spring increases the risk of disruption to the mutualism between plants and pollinators,” said Gaku Kudo, who led the research.

“Studying how this phenological mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to the larger question of how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem.” − Climate News Network

Big business agriculture could be bad for pollinators, which need crop diversity. And that could mean very bad news for an ever-hungrier world.

LONDON, 26 July, 2019 − Tomorrow’s world could be a hungrier world. That is because as large-scale agribusiness gets busier crop diversity diminishes, and the pool of potential pollinators will become increasingly at risk.

Those crops that rely on pollination by the animal world can only deliver the reward of nourishment to bees and other insects for a very short time. As developing nations switch increasingly to massive plantations of soy, canola and palm oil, the creatures farmers rely on to set seed and begin the process of setting fruit will have a problem finding a food supply for the rest of the year.

The message of the latest research is simple: a sustainable world must be a diverse one. And that means a diversity of crops and crop varieties as well as a diversity of forest, grasslands and wildflowers to keep the honeybees buzzing.

Scientists from Argentina, Chile, the US, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and Korea report in the journal Global Change Biology that without an increase in crop diversity, agricultural productivity worldwide could be put at risk by its increasing dependence on pollinators – and insects of all kinds could be on the decline, even as crop-devouring predator insects could be on the increase.

The researchers looked at data from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization on the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016. They found that more and more land is being colonised for agriculture, and the area cultivated for crops that rely on pollinators has increased by 137%. But crop diversity has increased only by 20%. And 16 of the 20 fastest-growing crops require pollination by insects or other animals.

Efficiency above all

The researchers paint a picture of a world in which vast tracts of landscape have been converted for maximum efficiency into plantations producing just one crop, while bees and other pollinators − already at hazard from climate change, pesticides and invasive infection – face a fall in the variety of their own potential food supply.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye of the University of Maryland in the US, one of the authors.

And a co-author, Robert Paxton of the Martin Luther University at Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, said: “Just a few months ago, the World Biodiversity Council (IPBES) revealed that up to one million plant and animal species are being threatened with extinction, including many pollinators.”

The researchers found that developing nations in South America, Africa and Asia had invested in vast monocultures grown for the global market: soy, for instance, exported to Europe as cattle feed, had risen by about 30% per decade globally, at great cost to natural and semi-natural tropical and subtropical forests and meadows that might otherwise have provided the blooms that pollinators could turn to once the cash crop seeds and nuts had set.

“Studying how this mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem”

“The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management,” said Professor Inouye.

In a world of potentially catastrophic climate change, global food security is already a worry. Researchers have repeatedly warned that extremes of heat could slash yields and even precipitate global famine.

They have warned that rapid ecosystem change could affect global food supplies and that rapid warming will accelerate the spread of crop pests and diseases.

And even the shifts in the growing season – and in particular the earlier flowering each spring – may soon no longer be matched by the appearance of vital pollinators.

Bees avoid cold

Researchers in Japan report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society that they monitored the emergence of the flower Corydalis ambigua and its pollinator bumblebee in the forests of northern Japan for 19 years.

The earlier the snowmelt, the earlier the flowering. And the earlier the snowmelt, the more likely it was that the flowers would emerge before the bumblebees, which hibernate underground until the soil temperatures reach 6°C, could begin looking for food and, in the course of doing so, pollinate the flower and set seed for the next generation.

“Our study suggests the early arrival of spring increases the risk of disruption to the mutualism between plants and pollinators,” said Gaku Kudo, who led the research.

“Studying how this phenological mismatch will affect the reproduction and survival of plants and insects could give us clues to the larger question of how global warming is affecting the overall ecosystem.” − Climate News Network