Category Archives: Land Use

Livestock’s harmful climate impact is growing fast

Lobbyists are trying to downplay livestock’s harmful climate impact, which adds large amounts of methane to the atmosphere.

DUBLIN, 13 July, 2021 − A summer’s day, the sky is blue and the cattle are quietly meandering about in the meadow, grazing on lush grass. But this idyllic country scene hides a serious problem: livestock’s harmful climate impact.

The flatulence of cattle results in enormous amounts of methane, one of the most potent climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs), being released into the atmosphere. And these emissions, which contribute to the danger of global warming on a catastrophic scale, are growing.

According to the latest report on the worldwide outlook for agriculture by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), global carbon emissions from the sector are set to rise by 4% over the next 10 years, mostly as a result of expanding livestock production.

Buoyed by rising meat and dairy demand from what are referred to as middle income countries such as China, farmers are increasing the size of their herds. Giant meat and dairy companies, which farm cattle on an industrial scale, are also upping production.

Livestock – a large proportion of them cattle – are responsible for an estimated 14% of the total annual amount of greenhouse gases discharged worldwide.

“The industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook”

Here in Ireland – a country which entices tourists with images of its green, pastoral environment – there are seven million cattle, with the country’s dairy herd increasing in size by almost 30% over the past six years.

The OECD says the adoption of new greener technologies across the world’s agricultural sector means that emissions per unit of output – the carbon intensity of production – will decrease significantly in coming years. But a big expansion in livestock production would wipe out those benefits.

“Thus, additional policy effort will be needed for the agricultural sector to effectively contribute to the global reduction in GHG emissions as set in the Paris Agreement,” says the OECD.

Bringing about changes in agricultural policies – whether in Ireland or elsewhere – is a tough task. Farming organisations and lobby groups wield considerable political and financial clout, particularly in countries such as Ireland where agriculture plays a big role in the economy.

Other powerful forces are at work. Jennifer Jacquet is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University who has studied the lobbying methods of the big US meat and dairy companies.

US Republican support

Writing in the Washington Post, Jacquet says the giants of the livestock industry have been seeking to call into question the dangers of global warming.

“Since at least 2006, when the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization  published a report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, cataloguing the sector’s global environmental impacts, the industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook,” says Jacquet.

“While meat and dairy producers have not claimed that climate change is a liberal hoax, as oil and gas producers did starting in the 1990s, companies have been downplaying the industry’s environmental footprint and undermining climate policy.”

The political and financial lobbying efforts of “big meat” in the US have been successful, particularly among Republican Party officials.

Calls to eat less meat were, said a Republican governor, “a direct attack on our way of life”. Another Republican official had a blunt warming for those seeking to downsize the livestock industry. “Stay out of my kitchen”, he said. − Climate News Network

Lobbyists are trying to downplay livestock’s harmful climate impact, which adds large amounts of methane to the atmosphere.

DUBLIN, 13 July, 2021 − A summer’s day, the sky is blue and the cattle are quietly meandering about in the meadow, grazing on lush grass. But this idyllic country scene hides a serious problem: livestock’s harmful climate impact.

The flatulence of cattle results in enormous amounts of methane, one of the most potent climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs), being released into the atmosphere. And these emissions, which contribute to the danger of global warming on a catastrophic scale, are growing.

According to the latest report on the worldwide outlook for agriculture by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), global carbon emissions from the sector are set to rise by 4% over the next 10 years, mostly as a result of expanding livestock production.

Buoyed by rising meat and dairy demand from what are referred to as middle income countries such as China, farmers are increasing the size of their herds. Giant meat and dairy companies, which farm cattle on an industrial scale, are also upping production.

Livestock – a large proportion of them cattle – are responsible for an estimated 14% of the total annual amount of greenhouse gases discharged worldwide.

“The industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook”

Here in Ireland – a country which entices tourists with images of its green, pastoral environment – there are seven million cattle, with the country’s dairy herd increasing in size by almost 30% over the past six years.

The OECD says the adoption of new greener technologies across the world’s agricultural sector means that emissions per unit of output – the carbon intensity of production – will decrease significantly in coming years. But a big expansion in livestock production would wipe out those benefits.

“Thus, additional policy effort will be needed for the agricultural sector to effectively contribute to the global reduction in GHG emissions as set in the Paris Agreement,” says the OECD.

Bringing about changes in agricultural policies – whether in Ireland or elsewhere – is a tough task. Farming organisations and lobby groups wield considerable political and financial clout, particularly in countries such as Ireland where agriculture plays a big role in the economy.

Other powerful forces are at work. Jennifer Jacquet is an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University who has studied the lobbying methods of the big US meat and dairy companies.

US Republican support

Writing in the Washington Post, Jacquet says the giants of the livestock industry have been seeking to call into question the dangers of global warming.

“Since at least 2006, when the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization  published a report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, cataloguing the sector’s global environmental impacts, the industry has been borrowing tactics from the fossil fuel playbook,” says Jacquet.

“While meat and dairy producers have not claimed that climate change is a liberal hoax, as oil and gas producers did starting in the 1990s, companies have been downplaying the industry’s environmental footprint and undermining climate policy.”

The political and financial lobbying efforts of “big meat” in the US have been successful, particularly among Republican Party officials.

Calls to eat less meat were, said a Republican governor, “a direct attack on our way of life”. Another Republican official had a blunt warming for those seeking to downsize the livestock industry. “Stay out of my kitchen”, he said. − Climate News Network

Climate heat’s tides may rise above safety levels

Millions will either have to flee from climate heat’s tides, or find new ways to stay above water.

LONDON, 21 June, 2021 − If global heating is not to be stopped − which seems the case − then governments, civil authorities and communities must start thinking of ways to live with it, including how to survive climate heat’s tides.

That could mean building floating cities that will bob up and down with the tides, or existing cities in which the streets have become canals and the parks have become lakes. It will also mean, as land is surrendered to the sea, that cities will have to become more compact, and more crowded, on higher ground.

It could also mean urban forests and vertical forests: skyscrapers with balcony gardens, orchards and micro-wildernesses all the way up. It could mean that farms convert to aquaculture: where saltmarsh lamb once grazed, farmers might raise shrimps and shellfish.

This is called managed retreat. As the polar icecaps melt, temperature extremes rise, droughts multiply and floods and superstorms become ever more intense, humans will have to adapt.

“Climate change is affecting people all over the world. One potential strategy, moving away from hazards, could be very effective, but it often gets overlooked”

By 2100, at the most conservative estimate, around 88 million people could be forced to relocate, as the high tides get ever higher, and the seas begin to erode or invade the world’s coasts. At the most alarming estimate, the numbers of displaced persons could rise to 1.4 billion.

“Climate change is affecting people all over the world, and everyone is trying to figure out what to do about it. One potential strategy, moving away from hazards, could be very effective, but it often gets overlooked,” said A R Siders, of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware in the US.

“We are looking at the different ways society can dream bigger when planning for climate change and how community values and priorities play a role in that.”

She and a colleague argue in the journal Science that in a small way managed retreat has already begun: in the US some 45,000 families have been helped to move out of flood-prone housing in the last 30 years, and “this represents a tiny fraction of the millions at risk and is fewer than the number of homes experiencing repeated damage and the number of new homes built in floodplains.”

The point is that much climate thinking is still short-term. “It’s hard to make decisions about climate change if we are thinking 5-10 years out. We are building infrastructure that lasts 50-100 years; our planning should be equally long,” Dr Siders said.

Living with risk

The researchers list the challenges ahead: communities that live near the wild lands must learn to live with the increasing threat of forest fires; city dwellers in the warmer climates could have to face potentially lethal extremes of heat; low-lying island nations in the Pacific may have to transfer whole populations to other countries.

Some low-lying coastal cities have already begun to adapt: Rotterdam in the Netherlands already has floating homes in Nassau Harbour that rise and fall with the tides. New York City, hard hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, is contemplating a floodwall in its East River.

Flooding on the US Atlantic coasts is expected to get worse: millions of Americans will probably have to migrate inland or become climate refugees. Dr Siders and colleagues began urging strategies of what she calls planned retreat two years ago.

At least one US Atlantic settlement could be be swept away or inundated by mid-century. For the people of Delaware, the problems are immediate.
“Communities, towns and cities are making decisions now that affect the future,” Dr Siders said.

“Locally, Delaware is building faster inside the floodplain than out of it. We are making plans for beach nourishment and where to build sea walls. We’re making these decisions now, so we should be considering all the options on the table, not just the ones that keep people in place.” − Climate News Network.

Millions will either have to flee from climate heat’s tides, or find new ways to stay above water.

LONDON, 21 June, 2021 − If global heating is not to be stopped − which seems the case − then governments, civil authorities and communities must start thinking of ways to live with it, including how to survive climate heat’s tides.

That could mean building floating cities that will bob up and down with the tides, or existing cities in which the streets have become canals and the parks have become lakes. It will also mean, as land is surrendered to the sea, that cities will have to become more compact, and more crowded, on higher ground.

It could also mean urban forests and vertical forests: skyscrapers with balcony gardens, orchards and micro-wildernesses all the way up. It could mean that farms convert to aquaculture: where saltmarsh lamb once grazed, farmers might raise shrimps and shellfish.

This is called managed retreat. As the polar icecaps melt, temperature extremes rise, droughts multiply and floods and superstorms become ever more intense, humans will have to adapt.

“Climate change is affecting people all over the world. One potential strategy, moving away from hazards, could be very effective, but it often gets overlooked”

By 2100, at the most conservative estimate, around 88 million people could be forced to relocate, as the high tides get ever higher, and the seas begin to erode or invade the world’s coasts. At the most alarming estimate, the numbers of displaced persons could rise to 1.4 billion.

“Climate change is affecting people all over the world, and everyone is trying to figure out what to do about it. One potential strategy, moving away from hazards, could be very effective, but it often gets overlooked,” said A R Siders, of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware in the US.

“We are looking at the different ways society can dream bigger when planning for climate change and how community values and priorities play a role in that.”

She and a colleague argue in the journal Science that in a small way managed retreat has already begun: in the US some 45,000 families have been helped to move out of flood-prone housing in the last 30 years, and “this represents a tiny fraction of the millions at risk and is fewer than the number of homes experiencing repeated damage and the number of new homes built in floodplains.”

The point is that much climate thinking is still short-term. “It’s hard to make decisions about climate change if we are thinking 5-10 years out. We are building infrastructure that lasts 50-100 years; our planning should be equally long,” Dr Siders said.

Living with risk

The researchers list the challenges ahead: communities that live near the wild lands must learn to live with the increasing threat of forest fires; city dwellers in the warmer climates could have to face potentially lethal extremes of heat; low-lying island nations in the Pacific may have to transfer whole populations to other countries.

Some low-lying coastal cities have already begun to adapt: Rotterdam in the Netherlands already has floating homes in Nassau Harbour that rise and fall with the tides. New York City, hard hit by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, is contemplating a floodwall in its East River.

Flooding on the US Atlantic coasts is expected to get worse: millions of Americans will probably have to migrate inland or become climate refugees. Dr Siders and colleagues began urging strategies of what she calls planned retreat two years ago.

At least one US Atlantic settlement could be be swept away or inundated by mid-century. For the people of Delaware, the problems are immediate.
“Communities, towns and cities are making decisions now that affect the future,” Dr Siders said.

“Locally, Delaware is building faster inside the floodplain than out of it. We are making plans for beach nourishment and where to build sea walls. We’re making these decisions now, so we should be considering all the options on the table, not just the ones that keep people in place.” − Climate News Network.

As climate heat worsens, a hungrier world is likely

A hotter world will mean a hungrier world. On the evidence so far, the world’s farmers cannot adapt fast enough.

LONDON, 18 June, 2021 − Researchers have once again warned that climate change is likely to mean a hungrier world with less food on the table: by 2050, global crop yield could have fallen by 10%. And by the century’s end − and with a much larger burden of human population − farmers might be producing 25% less than they do now.

The calculations come just a few weeks after a separate team of scientists predicted that uncontrolled global heating driven by continued profligate use of fossil fuels might change the global climate in ways that could cut harvests by as much as a third.

Food is not separable from climate change: modern agriculture and the global appetite for animal products is both a major contributor to ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions and, in very different ways, a potential answer to some of those challenges.

Demand for food for ever-greater numbers of increasingly wealthier people has driven the destruction of forests, savannahs and wetlands that nurse life’s variety, underwrite the planet’s economy, and buffer nations against climate change.

“If difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics?”

But researchers have also found, again and again, that with a different mindset and a shift of global appetite, it might be possible to feed 10 billion people and preserve the planet’s biodiversity.

That is based on an assumption that climate change fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t change the nature of farming. And, increasingly, researchers believe that it will.

There has been repeated evidence that higher temperatures and rainfall shifts can reduce not just total yields, but also nutritional value. And the pattern of heatwave and drought promised by ever-rising temperatures suggests the possibility not just of local but of global famine.

Scientists from the US and from Italy report in the journal Environmental Economics and Management that they matched their climate simulations with weather records from the past and applied them to 21 different forecasts of changes in temperature and rainfall, and the potential impact of these changes on just four staples: maize, rice, soybean and wheat. These four crops account for three-fourths of the world’s calorie supply.

Hesitant adapters

Farmers expect to be confronted by unwelcome weather, not least in an ever hotter and hungrier world. All the evidence is that heat waves, drought, windstorm and flooding are likely with time to become more extreme and more frequent. So how farmers have adapted in the recent past to shifts in the climate in the last few decades might provide an answer as to their preparedness to adapt to the new world.

The new study suggests they may not adapt fast enough or surely enough. The researchers find that three decades from now, the global harvest could be 3% less than it is now, or as much as 11%. By 2100, yields may have fallen by 11%, or as much as 25%.

“Globally, farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, even over longer periods, might be limited,” said Ian Sue Wing of Boston University in the US. “Even in the United States, the world’s agricultural technology frontier, farmers have been able only slightly to compensate for the adverse impacts of extreme heat on yields of maize and soybeans over time-frames of decades.”

And his co-author Enrica de Cian of Ca’Foscari University in Venice, Italy said: “We asked ourselves: if difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics, where 40% of the world’s population live and high temperature extremes are projected to rise more than in the major calorie crop-growing regions of the US?” − Climate News Network

A hotter world will mean a hungrier world. On the evidence so far, the world’s farmers cannot adapt fast enough.

LONDON, 18 June, 2021 − Researchers have once again warned that climate change is likely to mean a hungrier world with less food on the table: by 2050, global crop yield could have fallen by 10%. And by the century’s end − and with a much larger burden of human population − farmers might be producing 25% less than they do now.

The calculations come just a few weeks after a separate team of scientists predicted that uncontrolled global heating driven by continued profligate use of fossil fuels might change the global climate in ways that could cut harvests by as much as a third.

Food is not separable from climate change: modern agriculture and the global appetite for animal products is both a major contributor to ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions and, in very different ways, a potential answer to some of those challenges.

Demand for food for ever-greater numbers of increasingly wealthier people has driven the destruction of forests, savannahs and wetlands that nurse life’s variety, underwrite the planet’s economy, and buffer nations against climate change.

“If difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics?”

But researchers have also found, again and again, that with a different mindset and a shift of global appetite, it might be possible to feed 10 billion people and preserve the planet’s biodiversity.

That is based on an assumption that climate change fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t change the nature of farming. And, increasingly, researchers believe that it will.

There has been repeated evidence that higher temperatures and rainfall shifts can reduce not just total yields, but also nutritional value. And the pattern of heatwave and drought promised by ever-rising temperatures suggests the possibility not just of local but of global famine.

Scientists from the US and from Italy report in the journal Environmental Economics and Management that they matched their climate simulations with weather records from the past and applied them to 21 different forecasts of changes in temperature and rainfall, and the potential impact of these changes on just four staples: maize, rice, soybean and wheat. These four crops account for three-fourths of the world’s calorie supply.

Hesitant adapters

Farmers expect to be confronted by unwelcome weather, not least in an ever hotter and hungrier world. All the evidence is that heat waves, drought, windstorm and flooding are likely with time to become more extreme and more frequent. So how farmers have adapted in the recent past to shifts in the climate in the last few decades might provide an answer as to their preparedness to adapt to the new world.

The new study suggests they may not adapt fast enough or surely enough. The researchers find that three decades from now, the global harvest could be 3% less than it is now, or as much as 11%. By 2100, yields may have fallen by 11%, or as much as 25%.

“Globally, farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, even over longer periods, might be limited,” said Ian Sue Wing of Boston University in the US. “Even in the United States, the world’s agricultural technology frontier, farmers have been able only slightly to compensate for the adverse impacts of extreme heat on yields of maize and soybeans over time-frames of decades.”

And his co-author Enrica de Cian of Ca’Foscari University in Venice, Italy said: “We asked ourselves: if difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics, where 40% of the world’s population live and high temperature extremes are projected to rise more than in the major calorie crop-growing regions of the US?” − Climate News Network

Falling harvests could soon follow growing deserts

A hotter world will mean more deserts and falling harvests − bad news for food producers and for all of us.

LONDON, 18 May, 2021 − By the end of the century falling harvests could jeopardise as much as a third of present levels if greenhouse gas emissions continue uncontrolled.

That is because climatic regions that right now and for most of human history have been home to reliable crops of grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and safe grazing for cattle, sheep, goats and so on, could become too hot, too dry, or too wet.

And these things could happen too quickly for farmers either to adapt, or crops to evolve. Land that had for generations been considered “safe climatic space” for food production could be shifted into new regimes by runaway global heating, according to a new study in the journal One Earth.

“Our research shows that rapid, out-of-control growth of greenhouse emissions may, by the end of the century, lead to more than a third of current global food production falling into conditions in which no food is produced today − that is, out of safe climatic space,” said Matti Kummu, of Aalto University in Finland.

“The good news is that only a fraction of food production would face as-of-yet unseen conditions if we collectively reduce emissions, so that warming would be limited to 1.5° to 2°Celsius.”

Very big If

In 2015, almost all the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to act to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C above the average for most of human history by 2100.

Six years on, that promise now looks increasingly ambitious: despite declarations of good intent, the planet is heading for a temperature rise of 3°C or more by 2100. The Paris target of 1.5°C could be surpassed in the next two decades.

The One Earth study is yet another in a chain of findings that confirm that much of the worst possible consequences of global heating could be contained if − and only if − there is concerted and determined global co-operation to abandon fossil fuel use and to restore natural ecosystems.

Professor Kummu and his colleagues report that they examined ways of considering the complex problem of climate and food. Geographers have identified 38 zones marked by varying conditions of rainfall, temperature, frost, groundwater and other factors important in growing food or rearing livestock.

The researchers devised a standard of what they called “safe climatic space” and then considered the likely change in conditions for 27 plant crops and seven kinds of livestock by the years 2081to 2100, under two scenarios. In one of these, the world kept its promise and controlled warming to the Paris targets. In the other, it did not.

“The increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation”

And they found − an increasingly common finding − that climate change is likely to hit the poorest nations hardest: that is, those people who have contributed the least to global heating could once again become its first casualties.

Under the more ominous scenario, the areas of northern or boreal forests of Russia and North America would shrink, while the tropical dry forest zone would grow, along with the tropical and temperate desert zones. The Arctic tundra could all but disappear.

The areas hardest hit would be the Sahel in North Africa, and the Middle East, along with some of south and south-east Asia. Already-poor states such as Benin, Ghana and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, Cambodia in Asia and Guyana and Suriname in South America would be worst hit if warming is not contained: up to 95% of food production would lose its “safe climatic space.”

In 52 of the 177 countries under study − and that includes Finland and most of Europe − food production would continue. Altogether 31% of crops and 34% of livestock could be affected worldwide. And one fifth of the world’s crop production and 18% of its livestock would be most under threat in those nations with the lowest resilience and fewest resources to absorb such shock.

“If we let emissions grow, the increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation,” said Professor Kummu. “By the end of this century, we could see more than 4 million square kilometres [1.5m sq miles] of new desert around the globe.” − Climate News Network

A hotter world will mean more deserts and falling harvests − bad news for food producers and for all of us.

LONDON, 18 May, 2021 − By the end of the century falling harvests could jeopardise as much as a third of present levels if greenhouse gas emissions continue uncontrolled.

That is because climatic regions that right now and for most of human history have been home to reliable crops of grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and safe grazing for cattle, sheep, goats and so on, could become too hot, too dry, or too wet.

And these things could happen too quickly for farmers either to adapt, or crops to evolve. Land that had for generations been considered “safe climatic space” for food production could be shifted into new regimes by runaway global heating, according to a new study in the journal One Earth.

“Our research shows that rapid, out-of-control growth of greenhouse emissions may, by the end of the century, lead to more than a third of current global food production falling into conditions in which no food is produced today − that is, out of safe climatic space,” said Matti Kummu, of Aalto University in Finland.

“The good news is that only a fraction of food production would face as-of-yet unseen conditions if we collectively reduce emissions, so that warming would be limited to 1.5° to 2°Celsius.”

Very big If

In 2015, almost all the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to act to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C above the average for most of human history by 2100.

Six years on, that promise now looks increasingly ambitious: despite declarations of good intent, the planet is heading for a temperature rise of 3°C or more by 2100. The Paris target of 1.5°C could be surpassed in the next two decades.

The One Earth study is yet another in a chain of findings that confirm that much of the worst possible consequences of global heating could be contained if − and only if − there is concerted and determined global co-operation to abandon fossil fuel use and to restore natural ecosystems.

Professor Kummu and his colleagues report that they examined ways of considering the complex problem of climate and food. Geographers have identified 38 zones marked by varying conditions of rainfall, temperature, frost, groundwater and other factors important in growing food or rearing livestock.

The researchers devised a standard of what they called “safe climatic space” and then considered the likely change in conditions for 27 plant crops and seven kinds of livestock by the years 2081to 2100, under two scenarios. In one of these, the world kept its promise and controlled warming to the Paris targets. In the other, it did not.

“The increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation”

And they found − an increasingly common finding − that climate change is likely to hit the poorest nations hardest: that is, those people who have contributed the least to global heating could once again become its first casualties.

Under the more ominous scenario, the areas of northern or boreal forests of Russia and North America would shrink, while the tropical dry forest zone would grow, along with the tropical and temperate desert zones. The Arctic tundra could all but disappear.

The areas hardest hit would be the Sahel in North Africa, and the Middle East, along with some of south and south-east Asia. Already-poor states such as Benin, Ghana and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, Cambodia in Asia and Guyana and Suriname in South America would be worst hit if warming is not contained: up to 95% of food production would lose its “safe climatic space.”

In 52 of the 177 countries under study − and that includes Finland and most of Europe − food production would continue. Altogether 31% of crops and 34% of livestock could be affected worldwide. And one fifth of the world’s crop production and 18% of its livestock would be most under threat in those nations with the lowest resilience and fewest resources to absorb such shock.

“If we let emissions grow, the increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation,” said Professor Kummu. “By the end of this century, we could see more than 4 million square kilometres [1.5m sq miles] of new desert around the globe.” − Climate News Network

Asia’s cities are worst hit in warming world

Climate change, water shortage and pollution are worst for Asia’s cities, researchers say. The rest of us have a lucky escape.

LONDON, 17 May, 2021 – It’s bad news for residents of Jakarta. People living in Delhi, Chennai or Wuhan do not fare much better. A new study has found that a wide range of environmental and climate change threats are worst for Asia’s cities, with the rest of the planet getting off more lightly.

The study, by the analysis and forecasting group Verisk Maplecroft, looks primarily at the risks posed to businesses operating and investing in various urban centres.

Based on such factors as pollution, a lack of water, extreme heat and general vulnerability to climate change, 99 of the 100 most risk-prone cities in the world are in Asia, with the Indonesian capital Jakarta topping the list and cities in India close behind.

Jakarta, with a population of more than 10.5 million people, is sinking. Like many coastal cities round the world, it is vulnerable to sea level rise.
Built on what was once a swamp, the city has serious water supply problems as well, and the air is severely polluted.

“The reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”

Little can be done: the Indonesian government plans to shut up shop and move the capital to East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

Air and water pollution are particularly acute problems in India’s cities. In its risk index, the study ranks Delhi, Chennai, Agra and Kanpur in the top ten of the world’s cities most at risk of environmental disaster and climate change.

Several cities in China, along with Manila in the Philippines, Bangkok in Thailand and Karachi in Pakistan score badly. Nor are cities outside Asia immune from the growing environmental and climate crisis.

“Londoners might envisage warm days in the park and an Italian café culture, but the reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”, says the study.

Clean Cairo?

The business sector has to be aware of what’s happening and assess the risks of locating and investing in various urban centres. “How well global organisations manage the escalating environmental and climate crisis is now one of the most critical factors determining their long-term resilience”, says Verisk Maplecroft.

Legal issues have to be considered. “As the pace picks up on carbon regulations, legal liabilities related to climate are also becoming more mainstream”, the study says.

Cities in Canada and New Zealand generally perform well on the Verisk Maplecroft index. Many European cities also achieve a good rating.

Istanbul in Turkey and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia perform badly while, perhaps surprisingly, the Egyptian capital Cairo – a city of nearly 10 million – performs better, mainly due to its cleaner air and greater access to water supplies.

Northern attraction

Elsewhere In Africa, the teeming metropolises of Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo have a low rating. In South America, the desert city of Lima, the Peruvian capital, is facing severe water shortages and other environmental problems.

There is more and more evidence that fish and many other creatures are moving north as ocean and land temperatures rise. Plant life is also trying to adjust to global warming.

One of the overall messages of the study seems to be that, however grim the problems of Asia’s cities, when it comes to looking for cities to live in, we humans should also be moving northwards.

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, scores well on the study’s index. Vancouver and Ottawa in Canada would not be a bad bet. Krasnoyarsk in Siberia looks OK.

And there’s good news for those heading for Glasgow for the big COP-26 climate conference later this year. The Scottish city – not renowned for warm, moisture-free days – is among those in the world least exposed to the dangers of climate change, says the study. – Climate News Network

Climate change, water shortage and pollution are worst for Asia’s cities, researchers say. The rest of us have a lucky escape.

LONDON, 17 May, 2021 – It’s bad news for residents of Jakarta. People living in Delhi, Chennai or Wuhan do not fare much better. A new study has found that a wide range of environmental and climate change threats are worst for Asia’s cities, with the rest of the planet getting off more lightly.

The study, by the analysis and forecasting group Verisk Maplecroft, looks primarily at the risks posed to businesses operating and investing in various urban centres.

Based on such factors as pollution, a lack of water, extreme heat and general vulnerability to climate change, 99 of the 100 most risk-prone cities in the world are in Asia, with the Indonesian capital Jakarta topping the list and cities in India close behind.

Jakarta, with a population of more than 10.5 million people, is sinking. Like many coastal cities round the world, it is vulnerable to sea level rise.
Built on what was once a swamp, the city has serious water supply problems as well, and the air is severely polluted.

“The reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”

Little can be done: the Indonesian government plans to shut up shop and move the capital to East Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

Air and water pollution are particularly acute problems in India’s cities. In its risk index, the study ranks Delhi, Chennai, Agra and Kanpur in the top ten of the world’s cities most at risk of environmental disaster and climate change.

Several cities in China, along with Manila in the Philippines, Bangkok in Thailand and Karachi in Pakistan score badly. Nor are cities outside Asia immune from the growing environmental and climate crisis.

“Londoners might envisage warm days in the park and an Italian café culture, but the reality for most cities is of widespread productivity losses, skyrocketing cooling costs, and a grim toll of heat-related disease”, says the study.

Clean Cairo?

The business sector has to be aware of what’s happening and assess the risks of locating and investing in various urban centres. “How well global organisations manage the escalating environmental and climate crisis is now one of the most critical factors determining their long-term resilience”, says Verisk Maplecroft.

Legal issues have to be considered. “As the pace picks up on carbon regulations, legal liabilities related to climate are also becoming more mainstream”, the study says.

Cities in Canada and New Zealand generally perform well on the Verisk Maplecroft index. Many European cities also achieve a good rating.

Istanbul in Turkey and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia perform badly while, perhaps surprisingly, the Egyptian capital Cairo – a city of nearly 10 million – performs better, mainly due to its cleaner air and greater access to water supplies.

Northern attraction

Elsewhere In Africa, the teeming metropolises of Lagos in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo have a low rating. In South America, the desert city of Lima, the Peruvian capital, is facing severe water shortages and other environmental problems.

There is more and more evidence that fish and many other creatures are moving north as ocean and land temperatures rise. Plant life is also trying to adjust to global warming.

One of the overall messages of the study seems to be that, however grim the problems of Asia’s cities, when it comes to looking for cities to live in, we humans should also be moving northwards.

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, scores well on the study’s index. Vancouver and Ottawa in Canada would not be a bad bet. Krasnoyarsk in Siberia looks OK.

And there’s good news for those heading for Glasgow for the big COP-26 climate conference later this year. The Scottish city – not renowned for warm, moisture-free days – is among those in the world least exposed to the dangers of climate change, says the study. – Climate News Network

Only intact forests can stave off climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Degradation costs more

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

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

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

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

Intact forests vital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Degradation costs more

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

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

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

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

Intact forests vital

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

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

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

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

Rich world’s demands fell poorer world’s forests

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

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

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

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

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

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

South American losses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

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

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

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

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

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

South American losses

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

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

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

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

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

Declining English wetland ‘is poor advert for UK’

A declining English wetland will embarrass the UK government at November’s UN climate conference, campaigners say.

LONDON, 23 March, 2021− The area around Chichester Harbour on Britain’s south coast overlooks the English Channel. Famed as a beauty spot, it is a draw for holiday-makers from the crowded towns and cities of southern Britain. It is also one of the UK’s key habitats for many bird species and for endangered mammals such as water voles. But the condition of this declining English wetland is stirring concern.

Coastal wetlands are not only important for wildlife and tourism, conservationists argue. They are one of nature’s most efficient ecosystems for absorbing carbon dioxide, and among the best forms of coastal protection, increasingly recognised for making low-lying areas more resilient and adaptable to sea level rise.

A report by researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, spells out how the value of natural wetlands far exceeds that of managed or farmed land.

The low-lying coastal plain surrounding the ancient Roman city of Chichester is one of the UK areas most vulnerable to sea level rise, increased storminess and intense rainfall.

“The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference”

It has done pioneering work in climate change mitigation and adaptation, including protecting the Medmerry Reserve wetlands, Europe’s largest coastal realignment scheme  when it opened in 2013. The Harbour contains the largest salt marsh on the south coast, but nearly half of it has been lost since 1970.

But now local people charge the government with neglecting their efforts to increase the area’s resilience. Libby Alexander founded the Save our South Coast Alliance (SOSCA). She says: “The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference, due to be held this year in Glasgow in November.” Nor is the physical condition of the Harbour her only concern.

“The government continues to preach to us and the rest of the world about climate change and the environment”, she says, “but practices an entirely different agenda. It is driving forward a building programme which is endangering the future of some of the country’s most important wetlands.”

Unfavourable condition

A report in the Guardian newspaper described the fear of many local people at “the threat of ‘rural sprawl’ creating new landscapes … the ‘suburbanisation’ of the countryside”, resulting from the government’s plans for changes to England’s planning system.

SOSCA says the threats it faces from the government’s drive for more housebuilding in south-east England include 12,650 unnecessary new homes across the coastal plain with the strong possibility of many more − “the wrong houses in the wrong places” − which will inevitably lead to extensive and irreversible damage through pollution and flooding. It says Chichester is being forced by the government to build far more new houses than it can safely accommodate.

Residents say a real threat is the untreated sewage that is pumped into the harbour, for which the local water company, Southern Water, has been penalised. It was fined £126 million in 2019 for spills of waste water into the environment from its sewage plants and for deliberately misreporting its performance. A great number of these discharges went into Chichester Harbour. The Environment Agency is reported to have launched a criminal investigation into the case.

Chichester Harbour Trust says not enough is being done to improve water quality in the Harbour. Its chairman, John Nelson, said: “We all need to force the regulators to take immediate action before we have an environmental and public health catastrophe.”

In January this year the Chichester Observer reported that over the 2020 Christmas period there were uninterrupted sewage discharges into Chichester Harbour for six days. Mr Nelson said: “Given Southern Water’s record over the Christmas period the time has come to implement radical change. The Trust is calling on the regulatory body Ofwat to use its legislative powers to put Southern Water into special administration in order to avoid an environmental catastrophe.”

Natural England is the government’s official environment adviser. It has published a new and authoritative report which describes Chichester Harbour, globally important for migratory birds, as now being in an “unfavourable and declining” condition, because of increasing development and rising sea levels.

Serious climate change adaptation and mitigation needs to be factored into the planning process immediately, says SOSCA. “Ironically, the UK government is promoting global coastal wetland conservation through its Blue Forests Initiative but failing to support the efforts of its own citizens”, said Libby Alexander. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Carolyn Cobbold is a Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. A former journalist, she has been writing about climate change issues since the mid-1980s. Twitter: @DrCobbold

A declining English wetland will embarrass the UK government at November’s UN climate conference, campaigners say.

LONDON, 23 March, 2021− The area around Chichester Harbour on Britain’s south coast overlooks the English Channel. Famed as a beauty spot, it is a draw for holiday-makers from the crowded towns and cities of southern Britain. It is also one of the UK’s key habitats for many bird species and for endangered mammals such as water voles. But the condition of this declining English wetland is stirring concern.

Coastal wetlands are not only important for wildlife and tourism, conservationists argue. They are one of nature’s most efficient ecosystems for absorbing carbon dioxide, and among the best forms of coastal protection, increasingly recognised for making low-lying areas more resilient and adaptable to sea level rise.

A report by researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, spells out how the value of natural wetlands far exceeds that of managed or farmed land.

The low-lying coastal plain surrounding the ancient Roman city of Chichester is one of the UK areas most vulnerable to sea level rise, increased storminess and intense rainfall.

“The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference”

It has done pioneering work in climate change mitigation and adaptation, including protecting the Medmerry Reserve wetlands, Europe’s largest coastal realignment scheme  when it opened in 2013. The Harbour contains the largest salt marsh on the south coast, but nearly half of it has been lost since 1970.

But now local people charge the government with neglecting their efforts to increase the area’s resilience. Libby Alexander founded the Save our South Coast Alliance (SOSCA). She says: “The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference, due to be held this year in Glasgow in November.” Nor is the physical condition of the Harbour her only concern.

“The government continues to preach to us and the rest of the world about climate change and the environment”, she says, “but practices an entirely different agenda. It is driving forward a building programme which is endangering the future of some of the country’s most important wetlands.”

Unfavourable condition

A report in the Guardian newspaper described the fear of many local people at “the threat of ‘rural sprawl’ creating new landscapes … the ‘suburbanisation’ of the countryside”, resulting from the government’s plans for changes to England’s planning system.

SOSCA says the threats it faces from the government’s drive for more housebuilding in south-east England include 12,650 unnecessary new homes across the coastal plain with the strong possibility of many more − “the wrong houses in the wrong places” − which will inevitably lead to extensive and irreversible damage through pollution and flooding. It says Chichester is being forced by the government to build far more new houses than it can safely accommodate.

Residents say a real threat is the untreated sewage that is pumped into the harbour, for which the local water company, Southern Water, has been penalised. It was fined £126 million in 2019 for spills of waste water into the environment from its sewage plants and for deliberately misreporting its performance. A great number of these discharges went into Chichester Harbour. The Environment Agency is reported to have launched a criminal investigation into the case.

Chichester Harbour Trust says not enough is being done to improve water quality in the Harbour. Its chairman, John Nelson, said: “We all need to force the regulators to take immediate action before we have an environmental and public health catastrophe.”

In January this year the Chichester Observer reported that over the 2020 Christmas period there were uninterrupted sewage discharges into Chichester Harbour for six days. Mr Nelson said: “Given Southern Water’s record over the Christmas period the time has come to implement radical change. The Trust is calling on the regulatory body Ofwat to use its legislative powers to put Southern Water into special administration in order to avoid an environmental catastrophe.”

Natural England is the government’s official environment adviser. It has published a new and authoritative report which describes Chichester Harbour, globally important for migratory birds, as now being in an “unfavourable and declining” condition, because of increasing development and rising sea levels.

Serious climate change adaptation and mitigation needs to be factored into the planning process immediately, says SOSCA. “Ironically, the UK government is promoting global coastal wetland conservation through its Blue Forests Initiative but failing to support the efforts of its own citizens”, said Libby Alexander. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Carolyn Cobbold is a Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. A former journalist, she has been writing about climate change issues since the mid-1980s. Twitter: @DrCobbold

Nature left alone offers more than if we exploit it

Save nature, save money. It’s a simple argument. Wilderness cleared and ploughed offers us less than nature left alone.

LONDON, 19 March, 2021 − British scientists have once again made the commercial case for conserving wilderness. They have demonstrated that in its pristine state − mangrove swamps, wetlands, savannahs, forests and so on − nature left alone is of more value to humankind than as exploited real estate.

This argument has been made already, and more than once. But this time the researchers can provide the detail for their argument: they report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they had devised an accounting methodology to test such arguments, and then applied this in 24 selected sites around the planet.

Some of the value would be in intangibles such as providing a shelter for the wild things and wild plants; some of it would be measurable. For instance, if the damage inherent in carbon spilled into the atmosphere through habitat destruction or fossil fuel combustion presents an overall cost to society of $31 a tonne − and this is a conservative estimate − then almost three quarters of the sample sites have greater value simply as natural habitats.

And that includes 100% of all forests. If that greenhouse gas carbon was valued at a paltry $5 a tonne, almost two thirds of the sites would still be, over a 50-year period, a better investment left untouched.

“At current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity”

But what climate scientists now call “natural capital” − the invisible services  provided by nature in crop pollination, water filtration and planetary air conditioning − is of measurable commercial value even without the vital role of carbon sink. Of the 24 sites, 42% would still be worth more in their natural form than converted to cropland.

“Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing,” said Richard Bradbury, of the University of Cambridge. “We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”

And his Cambridge co-author Andrew Balmford said: “Current rates of habitat conversion are driving a species extinction crisis unlike anything in human history. Even if you are only interested in dollars and cents, we can see that conserving and restoring nature is now very often the best bet for human prosperity.”

In fact the researchers made their conclusions based on 62 sites, but concentrated on 24 simply because in these cases they had the most reliable information about the potential commercial value of their sample against which to measure the value of restoring it, or protecting it, or both.

Valuable saltmarsh

If Nepal’s Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park was turned from forest to farmland, investors would gain immediate capital from the value of the timber, and a longer-term income from crops. But the loss of carbon storage would be 60%, and the damage to water quality would be 88%, and Nepal would be $11m worse off.

Even a saltmarsh near Preston in the United Kingdom proved to be worth $2000 a hectare in terms of its value in mitigating carbon emissions: no income from crops or forage grazing could match that.

That left 38 sites for which the economic data was less certain: even in these cases, the “goods and services” delivered by the site in its natural state was, for two thirds of them, of more value to humankind as a whole than calculated exploitation by a few.

“Our findings indicate that, at current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity,” the authors say. − Climate News Network

Save nature, save money. It’s a simple argument. Wilderness cleared and ploughed offers us less than nature left alone.

LONDON, 19 March, 2021 − British scientists have once again made the commercial case for conserving wilderness. They have demonstrated that in its pristine state − mangrove swamps, wetlands, savannahs, forests and so on − nature left alone is of more value to humankind than as exploited real estate.

This argument has been made already, and more than once. But this time the researchers can provide the detail for their argument: they report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they had devised an accounting methodology to test such arguments, and then applied this in 24 selected sites around the planet.

Some of the value would be in intangibles such as providing a shelter for the wild things and wild plants; some of it would be measurable. For instance, if the damage inherent in carbon spilled into the atmosphere through habitat destruction or fossil fuel combustion presents an overall cost to society of $31 a tonne − and this is a conservative estimate − then almost three quarters of the sample sites have greater value simply as natural habitats.

And that includes 100% of all forests. If that greenhouse gas carbon was valued at a paltry $5 a tonne, almost two thirds of the sites would still be, over a 50-year period, a better investment left untouched.

“At current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity”

But what climate scientists now call “natural capital” − the invisible services  provided by nature in crop pollination, water filtration and planetary air conditioning − is of measurable commercial value even without the vital role of carbon sink. Of the 24 sites, 42% would still be worth more in their natural form than converted to cropland.

“Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing,” said Richard Bradbury, of the University of Cambridge. “We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”

And his Cambridge co-author Andrew Balmford said: “Current rates of habitat conversion are driving a species extinction crisis unlike anything in human history. Even if you are only interested in dollars and cents, we can see that conserving and restoring nature is now very often the best bet for human prosperity.”

In fact the researchers made their conclusions based on 62 sites, but concentrated on 24 simply because in these cases they had the most reliable information about the potential commercial value of their sample against which to measure the value of restoring it, or protecting it, or both.

Valuable saltmarsh

If Nepal’s Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park was turned from forest to farmland, investors would gain immediate capital from the value of the timber, and a longer-term income from crops. But the loss of carbon storage would be 60%, and the damage to water quality would be 88%, and Nepal would be $11m worse off.

Even a saltmarsh near Preston in the United Kingdom proved to be worth $2000 a hectare in terms of its value in mitigating carbon emissions: no income from crops or forage grazing could match that.

That left 38 sites for which the economic data was less certain: even in these cases, the “goods and services” delivered by the site in its natural state was, for two thirds of them, of more value to humankind as a whole than calculated exploitation by a few.

“Our findings indicate that, at current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity,” the authors say. − Climate News Network

Ireland’s peat is helping to fight climate chaos

A winning natural way to absorb greenhouse gases, Ireland’s peat is one route for the country to tackle the climate crisis.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

− From ‘Digging’, by Seamus Heaney

COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND, 2 February, 2021 − Ireland’s peat is offering the country a novel way to back the global effort to save the planet from overheating dangerously. It is helping to lock up the carbon emissions which are feeding the steady rise in the Earth’s temperature.

For generations its farmers have cut turf from the bog lands for fuel, and now their laborious, back-breaking work, seen as an integral part of Irish rural life, immortalised in songs, paintings – and picture postcard images − is earning them plaudits for protecting the atmosphere.

Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s most famous modern-day poet and winner of the Nobel prize in literature in 1995, wrote of turf-cutting rituals and the wild beauty of bog lands. In many rural areas the turf fire is still the centrepiece of home life. As part of the battle against climate chaos, though, old habits stretching back for centuries are having to change.

Carrownagappul is a 325-hectare area of bog land near the village of Mountbellew, in County Galway in the west of Ireland. Locals say the turf – also called peat – cut from the bog land is the best in Ireland.

Altogether, 100 families have what are called turbary rights to Carrownagappul, part of an old and complex system allowing certain people to cut and carry away turf from the area.

“There is no better, quicker or cheaper way for Ireland to reduce its carbon footprint than restoring peat lands”

Areas of peat or turf – formed by an accumulation of decayed vegetation – act as a vital carbon sink, soaking up and storing vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Peat lands around the world have been drained and destroyed at a great rate over the years: as a result large amounts of greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere. Drought and rising temperatures have caused fires in many regions, drying out peat deposits. Nearly 20% of Ireland’s land is bog land, storing an estimated one billion tonnes of carbon.

Under a programme called The Living Bog – backed up with €5.4 million (£4.7m) of funds from the European Union – Ireland is now seeking to restore dozens of its bogs and make them able, once again, to store large amounts of carbon.

At Carrownagappul drains have been blocked to raise water levels and so re-wet the bog land: this encourages the growth of sphagnum moss, one of the main constituents of peat.

Ronan Casey is a spokesman for The Living Bog project. In an interview with the Irish Times Casey says it’s hard to overstate the importance of restoring Ireland’s peat lands as the country battles against climate chaos.

Paid to stop

“There is no better, quicker or cheaper way for Ireland to reduce its carbon footprint than restoring peat lands”, Casey tells the newspaper. “Peat lands are Ireland’s biggest carbon store; one-fifth of our soil is peat soil.

“Locking CO2 in is just as good as trying to plant trees somewhere else. They (peat bogs) store far more carbon dioxide than forests. A 15cm-thick peat layer contains more carbon per hectare than a tropical forest.”

Many of those who once cut turf at Carrownagappul have been given cash payments to stop their activities. The aim is to turn the area into a centre for tourism with an educational facility explaining the history and ecological importance of the bog.

A board walk is being built across the bog. Peat land is rich in flora and fauna. Casey refers to Ireland’s peat lands as the country’s coral reef.

As part of a scheme to encourage the local community to participate in the restoration work at Carrownagappul, a series of lectures and talks at schools is being arranged.

Not so green

At one stage the Irish government promoted the use of turf in order to achieve greater energy self-sufficiency. In the 1960s 40% of the country’s electricity was generated by turf-fired power plants. Most of these plants – chronically inefficient and heavily subsidised – are now being phased out: the government says all will be shut down by 2030 or sooner.

Work to restore peat lands is going on in several parts of the country. Bord na Mona, the semi-state company that once specialised in developing the country’s peat resources and running turf-powered power plants, has diversified into renewable energy projects and recycling; it is now spending €126 million restoring 80,000 hectares of bog.

But there has been resistance to bringing an end to the old turf-cutting ways, with people in some areas insisting on their ancient rights and saying that turf is still an important heating fuel, particularly in rural areas. The government is accused of being half-hearted about fighting climate change by allowing turf cutting to continue in some regions.

Despite its green and pastoral image, per head of population Ireland is one of the main emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases in Europe, due in large part to activities in the agricultural sector.

The burping and flatulence of the country’s seven million-strong cattle herd results in the emission of large amounts of methane gas. Fertilisers add to the country’s emissions. − Climate News Network

A winning natural way to absorb greenhouse gases, Ireland’s peat is one route for the country to tackle the climate crisis.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

− From ‘Digging’, by Seamus Heaney

COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND, 2 February, 2021 − Ireland’s peat is offering the country a novel way to back the global effort to save the planet from overheating dangerously. It is helping to lock up the carbon emissions which are feeding the steady rise in the Earth’s temperature.

For generations its farmers have cut turf from the bog lands for fuel, and now their laborious, back-breaking work, seen as an integral part of Irish rural life, immortalised in songs, paintings – and picture postcard images − is earning them plaudits for protecting the atmosphere.

Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s most famous modern-day poet and winner of the Nobel prize in literature in 1995, wrote of turf-cutting rituals and the wild beauty of bog lands. In many rural areas the turf fire is still the centrepiece of home life. As part of the battle against climate chaos, though, old habits stretching back for centuries are having to change.

Carrownagappul is a 325-hectare area of bog land near the village of Mountbellew, in County Galway in the west of Ireland. Locals say the turf – also called peat – cut from the bog land is the best in Ireland.

Altogether, 100 families have what are called turbary rights to Carrownagappul, part of an old and complex system allowing certain people to cut and carry away turf from the area.

“There is no better, quicker or cheaper way for Ireland to reduce its carbon footprint than restoring peat lands”

Areas of peat or turf – formed by an accumulation of decayed vegetation – act as a vital carbon sink, soaking up and storing vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Peat lands around the world have been drained and destroyed at a great rate over the years: as a result large amounts of greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere. Drought and rising temperatures have caused fires in many regions, drying out peat deposits. Nearly 20% of Ireland’s land is bog land, storing an estimated one billion tonnes of carbon.

Under a programme called The Living Bog – backed up with €5.4 million (£4.7m) of funds from the European Union – Ireland is now seeking to restore dozens of its bogs and make them able, once again, to store large amounts of carbon.

At Carrownagappul drains have been blocked to raise water levels and so re-wet the bog land: this encourages the growth of sphagnum moss, one of the main constituents of peat.

Ronan Casey is a spokesman for The Living Bog project. In an interview with the Irish Times Casey says it’s hard to overstate the importance of restoring Ireland’s peat lands as the country battles against climate chaos.

Paid to stop

“There is no better, quicker or cheaper way for Ireland to reduce its carbon footprint than restoring peat lands”, Casey tells the newspaper. “Peat lands are Ireland’s biggest carbon store; one-fifth of our soil is peat soil.

“Locking CO2 in is just as good as trying to plant trees somewhere else. They (peat bogs) store far more carbon dioxide than forests. A 15cm-thick peat layer contains more carbon per hectare than a tropical forest.”

Many of those who once cut turf at Carrownagappul have been given cash payments to stop their activities. The aim is to turn the area into a centre for tourism with an educational facility explaining the history and ecological importance of the bog.

A board walk is being built across the bog. Peat land is rich in flora and fauna. Casey refers to Ireland’s peat lands as the country’s coral reef.

As part of a scheme to encourage the local community to participate in the restoration work at Carrownagappul, a series of lectures and talks at schools is being arranged.

Not so green

At one stage the Irish government promoted the use of turf in order to achieve greater energy self-sufficiency. In the 1960s 40% of the country’s electricity was generated by turf-fired power plants. Most of these plants – chronically inefficient and heavily subsidised – are now being phased out: the government says all will be shut down by 2030 or sooner.

Work to restore peat lands is going on in several parts of the country. Bord na Mona, the semi-state company that once specialised in developing the country’s peat resources and running turf-powered power plants, has diversified into renewable energy projects and recycling; it is now spending €126 million restoring 80,000 hectares of bog.

But there has been resistance to bringing an end to the old turf-cutting ways, with people in some areas insisting on their ancient rights and saying that turf is still an important heating fuel, particularly in rural areas. The government is accused of being half-hearted about fighting climate change by allowing turf cutting to continue in some regions.

Despite its green and pastoral image, per head of population Ireland is one of the main emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases in Europe, due in large part to activities in the agricultural sector.

The burping and flatulence of the country’s seven million-strong cattle herd results in the emission of large amounts of methane gas. Fertilisers add to the country’s emissions. − Climate News Network