Category Archives: Land Use

New water for old as glaciers vanish

Voids left as glaciers vanish could be used to store spring snowmelt and rainfall to save the valleys below from summer droughts.

LONDON, 4 December, 2019 – Building dams in high mountains to store water as glaciers vanish could produce much-needed hydropower as well as saving people in the valleys below from summer droughts.

Following an earlier study of their own crisis of retreating glaciers in the Alps, Swiss glaciologists have carried out a worldwide study of 185,000 retreating rivers of ice to assess whether the empty valleys they leave behind could usefully be turned into holding dams.

The issue is urgent, because even with an average climate change scenario about three-quarters of the storage potential of these valleys could become ice-free by 2050 – and all of them by the end of the century.

The retreating ice – apart from spelling the end for some magnificent natural monuments – will dramatically affect the water cycle, leaving large river systems with seriously low flows, and some perhaps drying up altogether in the summer. This would have serious consequences for hydro-electricity production, agriculture and even drinking water for cities downstream.

Although water shortage is a potential problem in many high mountain regions, it is already affecting cities like Peru’s capital, Lima, which lies below the Andes. It also has the potential to cause serious problems in India, Pakistan and China, all of them reliant on summer run-off from the Himalayas.

“This theoretical total potential corresponds to about one third of current hydropower production worldwide. But, in reality, only part of it would be realisable”

The idea of the dams would be to capture the water from winter rainfall and spring snowmelt and retain it for gradual release during the summer – so, at least partly, replicating the current summer glacier melt.

ETH Zurich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research report, in a study published in the journal Nature, that the scheme could be viable in many countries.

The team calculated that theoretically the storage potential of these glacier valleys was 875 cubic kilometres of water, providing enormous hydropower potential.

Daniel Farinotti, professor of glaciology at ETH Zurich, who led the team, said: “This theoretical total potential corresponds to about one third of current hydropower production worldwide. But in reality, only part of it would be realisable.”

Since it was neither realistic nor desirable to build a dam in each of the thousands of the valleys vacated by glaciers, the researchers carried out a suitability assessment for all sites.

Significant addition

They identified around 40% of the theoretical total as “potentially” suitable, equalling a storage volume of 355 cubic km and a hydropower potential of 533 TWh per year. The latter corresponds to around 13% of current global hydropower production, or nine times Switzerland’s annual electricity demand.

“Even this potentially suitable storage volume would be sufficient to store about half of the annual runoff from the studied glacierised basins,” Professor Farinotti said.

The results show that basins which have lost their glaciers could contribute significantly to energy supply and water storage in a number of countries, particularly in the high mountain countries of Asia.

Among those with the largest potentials are Tajikistan, where the calculated hydropower potential could account for up to 80% of current electricity consumption, Chile (40%) and Pakistan (35%).

In Canada, Iceland, Bolivia and Norway, the potential equals 10–25% of their current electricity consumption. For Switzerland, the study shows a potential of 10%. – Climate News Network

Voids left as glaciers vanish could be used to store spring snowmelt and rainfall to save the valleys below from summer droughts.

LONDON, 4 December, 2019 – Building dams in high mountains to store water as glaciers vanish could produce much-needed hydropower as well as saving people in the valleys below from summer droughts.

Following an earlier study of their own crisis of retreating glaciers in the Alps, Swiss glaciologists have carried out a worldwide study of 185,000 retreating rivers of ice to assess whether the empty valleys they leave behind could usefully be turned into holding dams.

The issue is urgent, because even with an average climate change scenario about three-quarters of the storage potential of these valleys could become ice-free by 2050 – and all of them by the end of the century.

The retreating ice – apart from spelling the end for some magnificent natural monuments – will dramatically affect the water cycle, leaving large river systems with seriously low flows, and some perhaps drying up altogether in the summer. This would have serious consequences for hydro-electricity production, agriculture and even drinking water for cities downstream.

Although water shortage is a potential problem in many high mountain regions, it is already affecting cities like Peru’s capital, Lima, which lies below the Andes. It also has the potential to cause serious problems in India, Pakistan and China, all of them reliant on summer run-off from the Himalayas.

“This theoretical total potential corresponds to about one third of current hydropower production worldwide. But, in reality, only part of it would be realisable”

The idea of the dams would be to capture the water from winter rainfall and spring snowmelt and retain it for gradual release during the summer – so, at least partly, replicating the current summer glacier melt.

ETH Zurich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research report, in a study published in the journal Nature, that the scheme could be viable in many countries.

The team calculated that theoretically the storage potential of these glacier valleys was 875 cubic kilometres of water, providing enormous hydropower potential.

Daniel Farinotti, professor of glaciology at ETH Zurich, who led the team, said: “This theoretical total potential corresponds to about one third of current hydropower production worldwide. But in reality, only part of it would be realisable.”

Since it was neither realistic nor desirable to build a dam in each of the thousands of the valleys vacated by glaciers, the researchers carried out a suitability assessment for all sites.

Significant addition

They identified around 40% of the theoretical total as “potentially” suitable, equalling a storage volume of 355 cubic km and a hydropower potential of 533 TWh per year. The latter corresponds to around 13% of current global hydropower production, or nine times Switzerland’s annual electricity demand.

“Even this potentially suitable storage volume would be sufficient to store about half of the annual runoff from the studied glacierised basins,” Professor Farinotti said.

The results show that basins which have lost their glaciers could contribute significantly to energy supply and water storage in a number of countries, particularly in the high mountain countries of Asia.

Among those with the largest potentials are Tajikistan, where the calculated hydropower potential could account for up to 80% of current electricity consumption, Chile (40%) and Pakistan (35%).

In Canada, Iceland, Bolivia and Norway, the potential equals 10–25% of their current electricity consumption. For Switzerland, the study shows a potential of 10%. – Climate News Network

Conservation pays its way handsomely

Money does grow on trees. The conservation of a native forest is natural capital, its cash value often reaching trillions of dollars.

LONDON, 2 December, 2019 – More than 400 scientists in Brazil have once again established that conservation pays: landscapes and people are richer for the native vegetation preserved on rural properties.

They calculate that 270 million hectares (667m acres) of natural forest, scrub, marsh and grassland contained in Brazil’s legal reserves are worth US$1.5 trillion (£1.7tn) a year to the nation.

Natural wilderness pays its way by providing a steady supply of natural crop pollinators and pest controls, by seamlessly managing rainfall and water run-off, and by maintaining soil quality, the researchers argue in a new study in the journal Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation.

“The paper is meant to show that preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil and diverges from what was done in Europe 500 years ago, when the level of environmental awareness was different”, said Jean Paul Metzger, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo, who leads the signatories.

“Brazil conserves a great deal, protecting over 60% of its vegetation cover, and has strict legislation. It’s ranked 30th by the World Bank, behind Sweden and Finland, which protect approximately 70%. However, we must call attention to the fact that conservation isn’t bad,” said Professor Metzger.

Protection maintained

Brazilian law requires rural landowners to leave forest cover untouched on a percentage of their property: in the Amazon region as much as 80%; in other regions as little as 20%. But these protected areas shelter a third of the nation’s natural vegetation.

A bill that proposed to weaken or eliminate the Legal Reserve requirement went before the Brazilian Senate in 2019. Had it passed, it could have led to the loss altogether of 270 million hectares of native vegetation.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but a small army of scientists – including 371 researchers in 79 Brazilian laboratories, universities and institutions – have responded with a study that attempts to set a cash value to simply maintaining the natural capital of the wilderness.

Brazil is home to one of the world’s great tropical rainforests, and to one of the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. The global climate crisis is already taking its toll of the forest canopy in the form of drought and fire. But under new national leadership there have been fears that even more forest could be at risk.

“Preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil”

The cash-value case for conservation has been made, and made repeatedly. Studies have confirmed that agribusiness monocultures – vast tracts devoted entirely to one crop and only one crop – are not sustainable: animal pollinators can make the best of the flowering season but then have no alternative sources of food for the rest of the year.

Other researchers have separately established that the loss of natural forest can be far more costly and economically damaging than anybody had expected; and that, conversely, conserved and undisturbed wilderness actually delivers wealth on a sustained basis for national and regional economies. But farmers concerned with immediate profits might not be so conscious of the long-term rewards of conservation.

“It’s an important paper because it presents sound information that can be used to refute the arguments of those who want to change the Brazilian Forest Code and do away with the legal reserve requirement”, said Carlos Joly of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one of the signatories.

And his colleague Paulo Artaxo said: “Farmers sometimes take a short-term view that focuses on three or four years of personal profit, but the nation is left with enormous losses. This mindset should go. The paper makes that very clear.” – Climate News Network

Money does grow on trees. The conservation of a native forest is natural capital, its cash value often reaching trillions of dollars.

LONDON, 2 December, 2019 – More than 400 scientists in Brazil have once again established that conservation pays: landscapes and people are richer for the native vegetation preserved on rural properties.

They calculate that 270 million hectares (667m acres) of natural forest, scrub, marsh and grassland contained in Brazil’s legal reserves are worth US$1.5 trillion (£1.7tn) a year to the nation.

Natural wilderness pays its way by providing a steady supply of natural crop pollinators and pest controls, by seamlessly managing rainfall and water run-off, and by maintaining soil quality, the researchers argue in a new study in the journal Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation.

“The paper is meant to show that preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil and diverges from what was done in Europe 500 years ago, when the level of environmental awareness was different”, said Jean Paul Metzger, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo, who leads the signatories.

“Brazil conserves a great deal, protecting over 60% of its vegetation cover, and has strict legislation. It’s ranked 30th by the World Bank, behind Sweden and Finland, which protect approximately 70%. However, we must call attention to the fact that conservation isn’t bad,” said Professor Metzger.

Protection maintained

Brazilian law requires rural landowners to leave forest cover untouched on a percentage of their property: in the Amazon region as much as 80%; in other regions as little as 20%. But these protected areas shelter a third of the nation’s natural vegetation.

A bill that proposed to weaken or eliminate the Legal Reserve requirement went before the Brazilian Senate in 2019. Had it passed, it could have led to the loss altogether of 270 million hectares of native vegetation.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but a small army of scientists – including 371 researchers in 79 Brazilian laboratories, universities and institutions – have responded with a study that attempts to set a cash value to simply maintaining the natural capital of the wilderness.

Brazil is home to one of the world’s great tropical rainforests, and to one of the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. The global climate crisis is already taking its toll of the forest canopy in the form of drought and fire. But under new national leadership there have been fears that even more forest could be at risk.

“Preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil”

The cash-value case for conservation has been made, and made repeatedly. Studies have confirmed that agribusiness monocultures – vast tracts devoted entirely to one crop and only one crop – are not sustainable: animal pollinators can make the best of the flowering season but then have no alternative sources of food for the rest of the year.

Other researchers have separately established that the loss of natural forest can be far more costly and economically damaging than anybody had expected; and that, conversely, conserved and undisturbed wilderness actually delivers wealth on a sustained basis for national and regional economies. But farmers concerned with immediate profits might not be so conscious of the long-term rewards of conservation.

“It’s an important paper because it presents sound information that can be used to refute the arguments of those who want to change the Brazilian Forest Code and do away with the legal reserve requirement”, said Carlos Joly of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one of the signatories.

And his colleague Paulo Artaxo said: “Farmers sometimes take a short-term view that focuses on three or four years of personal profit, but the nation is left with enormous losses. This mindset should go. The paper makes that very clear.” – Climate News Network

Forest damage costs far more than thought

Tropical forest damage is bad enough. New thinking suggests it could prove far more ruinous in terms of the climate crisis.

LONDON, 19 November, 2019 – We know already that human activities are causing devastating forest damage. Now a new study shows the loss we face could be much worse than we think.

Here, it says, is how to multiply your country’s contribution to solving the carbon problem sixfold. It’s simple. Do not do anything to your intact tropical forest. Don’t put roads around it, hunt in it, or select prize lumps of timber from it; don’t quarry, mine or plant oil palms in it. Just protect it.

Researchers have calculated that – compared with clearing it – the benefits of benign neglect are 626% higher than all previous accounting. And that’s just the calculation for the first 13 years of this century. Instead of an estimated 340 million tonnes of carbon spilled into the atmosphere, the figure from clearing forests now becomes 2.12 billion tonnes.

And a second team of scientists has identified a way to keep those conservation promises and carefully protect those forests and other habitats already declared protected areas. That too is simple: be a rich country in the northern hemisphere. That way, you might be able to count on the resources to back up the good intentions.

The role of the world’s forests in what climate scientists like to call the carbon budget – the annual traffic of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from all sources and back again into green plants, rocks and oceans – is a complicated one, and the play between human intrusion and the natural habitats makes it even more of a headache.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying”

Broadly, of the world’s tropical rainforests, only around 20% can be considered now intact. This by 2013 was an area of around 5.49 million square kilometres – an area much bigger than the European Union, yet smaller than Australia – but this green space concentrates 40% of all the carbon found in the trunks, branches and leaves of the world’s surviving natural tropical foliage, and gulps down carbon from the atmosphere at the rate of a billion tonnes a year.

So tropical forests play a vital role in worldwide national pledges, made in Paris in 2015, to contain global heating to “well below” a global average increase of 2°C by the end of the century. The planet has already warmed by 1°C in the last century, thanks to profligate human use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the planet’s natural forests.

And between 2000 and 2013, human growth and demand has reduced the area of intact forests by more than 7%. What the latest research has done is try to make a realistic estimate of the enduring cost to the planet.

“Usually, only ‘pulse’ emissions are considered – these are emissions released the instant intact forest is destroyed,” said Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland in Australia.

“Our analysis considers all impacts, such as the effects of selective logging, foregone carbon sequestration, expanding effects on the edges of forests, and species extinction.

Better funding needed

“We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”

Forest destruction has accelerated this century. Dr Maxwell and his co-authors report in the journal Science Advances that they considered all the carbon that was not sequestered by forest degradation between 2000 and 2013, along with the impacts of road clearance, mining, selective logging and overhunting of the animals that naturally disperse forest seeds, to arrive at their new estimate of the price in carbon emissions to be paid for destruction.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland, and a co-author.

“Humanity needs to better fund the conservation of intact forests, especially now we’ve shown their larger than realised role in stabilising the climate.”

And in the same week, British scientists confirmed that – around the globe – protected areas are not reducing human pressure on the natural wilderness. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at satellite evidence, together with census and crop data, to see what humans had so far done to 12,315 protected areas between 1995 and 2010.

Threat of protection

In every global region, there had been evidence of human encroachment. Overall, northern hemisphere nations and Australia had been more effective at keeping down human pressure in the areas set aside for conservation, compared to advances into unprotected areas.

But in those parts of the world where biodiversity is richest – South America, Southeast Asia and Africa south of the Sahara – human damage was significantly higher in protected grasslands, forests, mangrove swamps and other habitats than it was in unprotected areas. In parts of South America, clearance for agriculture in protected regions was 10% higher than in unprotected zones.

“Our study shows that agriculture is the driving force behind threats to protected areas, particularly in the tropics,” said Jonas Geldmann of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Our data does not reveal the causes, but we suspect factors that play a major role include rapid population growth, lack of funding, and higher levels of corruption. Additionally, most unprotected land suitable for agriculture is already farmed,” he said.

“We think that what we are seeing are the effects of establishing protected areas on paper, but not following through with the right funding, management and community engagement that is needed.” – Climate News Network

Tropical forest damage is bad enough. New thinking suggests it could prove far more ruinous in terms of the climate crisis.

LONDON, 19 November, 2019 – We know already that human activities are causing devastating forest damage. Now a new study shows the loss we face could be much worse than we think.

Here, it says, is how to multiply your country’s contribution to solving the carbon problem sixfold. It’s simple. Do not do anything to your intact tropical forest. Don’t put roads around it, hunt in it, or select prize lumps of timber from it; don’t quarry, mine or plant oil palms in it. Just protect it.

Researchers have calculated that – compared with clearing it – the benefits of benign neglect are 626% higher than all previous accounting. And that’s just the calculation for the first 13 years of this century. Instead of an estimated 340 million tonnes of carbon spilled into the atmosphere, the figure from clearing forests now becomes 2.12 billion tonnes.

And a second team of scientists has identified a way to keep those conservation promises and carefully protect those forests and other habitats already declared protected areas. That too is simple: be a rich country in the northern hemisphere. That way, you might be able to count on the resources to back up the good intentions.

The role of the world’s forests in what climate scientists like to call the carbon budget – the annual traffic of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from all sources and back again into green plants, rocks and oceans – is a complicated one, and the play between human intrusion and the natural habitats makes it even more of a headache.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying”

Broadly, of the world’s tropical rainforests, only around 20% can be considered now intact. This by 2013 was an area of around 5.49 million square kilometres – an area much bigger than the European Union, yet smaller than Australia – but this green space concentrates 40% of all the carbon found in the trunks, branches and leaves of the world’s surviving natural tropical foliage, and gulps down carbon from the atmosphere at the rate of a billion tonnes a year.

So tropical forests play a vital role in worldwide national pledges, made in Paris in 2015, to contain global heating to “well below” a global average increase of 2°C by the end of the century. The planet has already warmed by 1°C in the last century, thanks to profligate human use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the planet’s natural forests.

And between 2000 and 2013, human growth and demand has reduced the area of intact forests by more than 7%. What the latest research has done is try to make a realistic estimate of the enduring cost to the planet.

“Usually, only ‘pulse’ emissions are considered – these are emissions released the instant intact forest is destroyed,” said Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland in Australia.

“Our analysis considers all impacts, such as the effects of selective logging, foregone carbon sequestration, expanding effects on the edges of forests, and species extinction.

Better funding needed

“We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”

Forest destruction has accelerated this century. Dr Maxwell and his co-authors report in the journal Science Advances that they considered all the carbon that was not sequestered by forest degradation between 2000 and 2013, along with the impacts of road clearance, mining, selective logging and overhunting of the animals that naturally disperse forest seeds, to arrive at their new estimate of the price in carbon emissions to be paid for destruction.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland, and a co-author.

“Humanity needs to better fund the conservation of intact forests, especially now we’ve shown their larger than realised role in stabilising the climate.”

And in the same week, British scientists confirmed that – around the globe – protected areas are not reducing human pressure on the natural wilderness. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at satellite evidence, together with census and crop data, to see what humans had so far done to 12,315 protected areas between 1995 and 2010.

Threat of protection

In every global region, there had been evidence of human encroachment. Overall, northern hemisphere nations and Australia had been more effective at keeping down human pressure in the areas set aside for conservation, compared to advances into unprotected areas.

But in those parts of the world where biodiversity is richest – South America, Southeast Asia and Africa south of the Sahara – human damage was significantly higher in protected grasslands, forests, mangrove swamps and other habitats than it was in unprotected areas. In parts of South America, clearance for agriculture in protected regions was 10% higher than in unprotected zones.

“Our study shows that agriculture is the driving force behind threats to protected areas, particularly in the tropics,” said Jonas Geldmann of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Our data does not reveal the causes, but we suspect factors that play a major role include rapid population growth, lack of funding, and higher levels of corruption. Additionally, most unprotected land suitable for agriculture is already farmed,” he said.

“We think that what we are seeing are the effects of establishing protected areas on paper, but not following through with the right funding, management and community engagement that is needed.” – Climate News Network

Cuba’s urban farming shows way to avoid hunger

Urban farming, Cuban-style, is being hailed as an example of how to feed ourselves when climate change threatens serious food shortages.

LONDON, 11 November, 2019 − When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

That was the remedy Cuba seized with both hands 30 years ago when it was confronted with the dilemma of an end to its vital food imports. And what worked then for Cuba could have lessons today for the wider world, as it faces growing hunger in the face of the climate crisis.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, most of Cuba’s food supplies went with it. To stave off severe malnutrition the people of the capital, Havana, found an imaginative answer: urban gardening. That’s now seen as a possible blueprint for the survival of city populations in a warming world.

The Rapid Transition Alliance has published a longer account of Cuba’s very fast move towards self-sufficiency as part of its series Stories of Change, which describes cases of large-scale, rapid transformation that can seem difficult to achieve but which have often worked before.

The problem of hunger for the Cubans arose because during the Cold War they had stopped producing food of their own and turned over most of their farmland to sugarcane plantations to supply the Soviet Union. In return for these mountains of sugar Moscow provided Cuba with food, chemical fertilisers and fuel oil for its cars and tractors.

US sanctions

The Soviet collapse brought the breakdown of this trade, and food rationing for city dwellers. And Cuba lost its main food supply while it was still coping with strict US sanctions. Reverting to conventional farming would have taken time and was in any case difficult because the Soviet fertilisers, fuel and pesticides had also dried up.

So the highly-educated urban citizens, faced with rationing which reduced the average Cuban’s daily calorie intake from 2,600 in 1986 to 1,000-1,500 in 1993, organised themselves to grow their own food in improvised urban allotments.

At first, struggling with little know-how and without fertilisers, their yields were low, but by producing compost and other organic growing mediums, plus introducing drip-fed irrigation, they began to see improvements.

Short of chemicals, the gardeners resorted to biological controls like marigolds (where opinions today are mixed)  to deter harmful insects.

By 1995 Havana alone had 25,000 allotments tended by families and urban cooperatives. The government, realising the potential benefits, encouraged the movement.

“Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine”

Soil quality was improved with a mixture of crop residues, household wastes and animal manure to create more compost and soil conditioners. The extra fresh vegetables and fruit this provided quickly improved urban dwellers’ calorie intake and saved many from malnutrition.

In the Cuban climate, with irrigation changes and soils undergoing constant improvement from added organic matter, the allotments could produce vegetables all year round. Lettuce, chard, radish, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach and peppers were grown and traded.

There is evidence as well that the extra exercise which these urban gardeners got from tending their allotments, plus the time they spent outdoors in the open air, benefited their health.

Eventually, realising that self-sufficiency was the only way to feed the population, the government banned sugarcane growing altogether. Lacking fertiliser, many former plantations were turned over to organic agriculture. The shortage of oil for tractors meant oxen were used for ploughing.

Partial solution

Cuba’s experience of urban agriculture inspired many environmentalists to believe that this is at least part of the solution to the food shortages threatened by climate change. By 2008 food gardens, despite their small scale, made up 8% of the land in Havana, and 3.4% of all urban land in Cuba, producing 90% of all the fruit and vegetables consumed.

As a result the calorie intake of the average Cuban quickly rose to match that of Europeans, relying on a diet composed mainly of rice, beans, potatoes and other vegetables – a low-fat diet making obesity rare.

Because of the climate, though, wheat does not grow well in Cuba, and the island still has to import large quantities of grain for bread. Meat is in short supply and also has to be mainly imported.

Despite this, Cuba’s experience since the Cold War ended in the 1990s shows that large quantities of fresh food can be grown in cities and that urban agriculture is sustainable over decades.

For other countries vulnerable to sudden loss of food supplies, Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine when imports are restricted, expensive or simply unobtainable. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Urban farming, Cuban-style, is being hailed as an example of how to feed ourselves when climate change threatens serious food shortages.

LONDON, 11 November, 2019 − When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

That was the remedy Cuba seized with both hands 30 years ago when it was confronted with the dilemma of an end to its vital food imports. And what worked then for Cuba could have lessons today for the wider world, as it faces growing hunger in the face of the climate crisis.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, most of Cuba’s food supplies went with it. To stave off severe malnutrition the people of the capital, Havana, found an imaginative answer: urban gardening. That’s now seen as a possible blueprint for the survival of city populations in a warming world.

The Rapid Transition Alliance has published a longer account of Cuba’s very fast move towards self-sufficiency as part of its series Stories of Change, which describes cases of large-scale, rapid transformation that can seem difficult to achieve but which have often worked before.

The problem of hunger for the Cubans arose because during the Cold War they had stopped producing food of their own and turned over most of their farmland to sugarcane plantations to supply the Soviet Union. In return for these mountains of sugar Moscow provided Cuba with food, chemical fertilisers and fuel oil for its cars and tractors.

US sanctions

The Soviet collapse brought the breakdown of this trade, and food rationing for city dwellers. And Cuba lost its main food supply while it was still coping with strict US sanctions. Reverting to conventional farming would have taken time and was in any case difficult because the Soviet fertilisers, fuel and pesticides had also dried up.

So the highly-educated urban citizens, faced with rationing which reduced the average Cuban’s daily calorie intake from 2,600 in 1986 to 1,000-1,500 in 1993, organised themselves to grow their own food in improvised urban allotments.

At first, struggling with little know-how and without fertilisers, their yields were low, but by producing compost and other organic growing mediums, plus introducing drip-fed irrigation, they began to see improvements.

Short of chemicals, the gardeners resorted to biological controls like marigolds (where opinions today are mixed)  to deter harmful insects.

By 1995 Havana alone had 25,000 allotments tended by families and urban cooperatives. The government, realising the potential benefits, encouraged the movement.

“Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine”

Soil quality was improved with a mixture of crop residues, household wastes and animal manure to create more compost and soil conditioners. The extra fresh vegetables and fruit this provided quickly improved urban dwellers’ calorie intake and saved many from malnutrition.

In the Cuban climate, with irrigation changes and soils undergoing constant improvement from added organic matter, the allotments could produce vegetables all year round. Lettuce, chard, radish, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach and peppers were grown and traded.

There is evidence as well that the extra exercise which these urban gardeners got from tending their allotments, plus the time they spent outdoors in the open air, benefited their health.

Eventually, realising that self-sufficiency was the only way to feed the population, the government banned sugarcane growing altogether. Lacking fertiliser, many former plantations were turned over to organic agriculture. The shortage of oil for tractors meant oxen were used for ploughing.

Partial solution

Cuba’s experience of urban agriculture inspired many environmentalists to believe that this is at least part of the solution to the food shortages threatened by climate change. By 2008 food gardens, despite their small scale, made up 8% of the land in Havana, and 3.4% of all urban land in Cuba, producing 90% of all the fruit and vegetables consumed.

As a result the calorie intake of the average Cuban quickly rose to match that of Europeans, relying on a diet composed mainly of rice, beans, potatoes and other vegetables – a low-fat diet making obesity rare.

Because of the climate, though, wheat does not grow well in Cuba, and the island still has to import large quantities of grain for bread. Meat is in short supply and also has to be mainly imported.

Despite this, Cuba’s experience since the Cold War ended in the 1990s shows that large quantities of fresh food can be grown in cities and that urban agriculture is sustainable over decades.

For other countries vulnerable to sudden loss of food supplies, Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine when imports are restricted, expensive or simply unobtainable. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

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

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

Indigenous firefighters tackle Brazil’s blazes

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

New land height metric raises sea level rise risk

Millions of us now live in danger: we could be at risk from future high tides and winds, says a new approach to measuring land height.

 

LONDON, 4 November, 2019 – Researchers have taken a closer look at estimates of coastal land height – and found that the numbers of people already at risk from sea level rise driven by global heating have multiplied threefold.

More than 100 million people already live below the high tide line, and 250 million live on plains that are lower than the current annual flood heights. Previous estimates have put these numbers at 28 million, and 65 million.

And even if the world takes immediate drastic action and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century, at least 190 million people will find themselves below sea level.

If the world’s nations continue on the notorious business-as-usual track and go on burning ever greater volumes of fossil fuels, then around 630 million will, by the year 2100, find themselves on land that will be below the expected annual flood levels.

Protection in question

“These assessments show the potential of climate change to reshape cities, economies, coastlines and entire global regions within our lifetime,” said Scott Kulp of Climate Central, who led a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“As the tideline rises higher than the ground people call home, nations will increasingly confront questions about whether, how much, and how long coastal defences can protect them.”

At the heart of the new research is a revised estimate of what constitutes sea level, and how it should be measured. Individuals and communities find out the hard way how the highest tides can rise to poison their farmlands with salt and wash away the foundations of their homes.

But the big picture – across nations and regions worldwide – is harder to estimate: for decades researchers have relied on satellite readings, confirmed by flights over limited spaces with radar equipment.

“There is still a great need for . . . more accurate elevation data. Lives and livelihoods depend on it”

But space-based readings by Nasa’s radar topography programme tend to be over-estimates, the researchers argue. That is because the technology measures the height of the first reflecting surface the radar signal touches. In open country, this may not matter. But forests and high buildings in densely-peopled cities distort the picture.

In parts of coastal Australia, and using a new approach, the researchers found that satellite readings delivered over-estimates of 2.5 metres. So global averages in the past have over-estimated, by around 2 metres, the elevation of lands that are home to billions.

Research of this kind helps clarify the challenge that faces governments, civic authorities and private citizens: communities grow up along low-lying coasts and estuaries because these provide good land, reliable water supplies and easy transport. But the catch with flood plains is that, sooner or later, they flood.

The repeated evidence of a decade of climate science is that floods will become more devastating, more frequent and more prolonged for a mix of reasons.

Multiple risks

Soils will subside because of the growing demand for groundwater and for clays and stone for bricks and mortar; because global average temperatures will rise and oceans expand as they warm; glaciers will melt and tip more water into the sea to raise ocean levels; and tropical cyclones will become more intense to drive more destructive storm surges.

Researchers have already warned that sea level rise could be accelerating, to bring more flooding to, for instance, the great cities of the US coasts, while some cities can expect ever more battering from Atlantic storms.

Coastal flooding is likely to create millions of climate refugees even within the US, and the worldwide costs of coastal flooding could reach $1 trillion a year by the end of the century.

The latest study confirms that the hazards are real, and may have so far been under-estimated. The researchers calculated that, in parts of China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and Thailand, places now home to 237 million people could face coastal flooding every year by 2050 – a figure 183 million higher than previous estimates.

US coasts threatened

The same study highlights faulty estimates of ground elevation even in the richest and most advanced nations. In some parts of the crowded coastal cities of New York, Boston and Miami, for instance, the researchers believe satellite readings have over-estimated ground height by almost five metres. They say their new approach reduces the margin of error to 2.5 cms.

Right now, around a billion people live on lands less than 10 metres above high tide levels. Around 250 million live within one metre above high tide.

“For all of the critical research that’s been done on climate change and sea level projections, it turns out that for most of the global coast we didn’t know the height of the ground beneath our feet,” said Benjamin Strauss, president and chief scientist of Climate Central, and co-author.

“Our data improves the picture, but there is still a great need for governments and insurance companies to produce and release more accurate elevation data. Lives and livelihoods depend on it.” – Climate News Network

Millions of us now live in danger: we could be at risk from future high tides and winds, says a new approach to measuring land height.

 

LONDON, 4 November, 2019 – Researchers have taken a closer look at estimates of coastal land height – and found that the numbers of people already at risk from sea level rise driven by global heating have multiplied threefold.

More than 100 million people already live below the high tide line, and 250 million live on plains that are lower than the current annual flood heights. Previous estimates have put these numbers at 28 million, and 65 million.

And even if the world takes immediate drastic action and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century, at least 190 million people will find themselves below sea level.

If the world’s nations continue on the notorious business-as-usual track and go on burning ever greater volumes of fossil fuels, then around 630 million will, by the year 2100, find themselves on land that will be below the expected annual flood levels.

Protection in question

“These assessments show the potential of climate change to reshape cities, economies, coastlines and entire global regions within our lifetime,” said Scott Kulp of Climate Central, who led a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

“As the tideline rises higher than the ground people call home, nations will increasingly confront questions about whether, how much, and how long coastal defences can protect them.”

At the heart of the new research is a revised estimate of what constitutes sea level, and how it should be measured. Individuals and communities find out the hard way how the highest tides can rise to poison their farmlands with salt and wash away the foundations of their homes.

But the big picture – across nations and regions worldwide – is harder to estimate: for decades researchers have relied on satellite readings, confirmed by flights over limited spaces with radar equipment.

“There is still a great need for . . . more accurate elevation data. Lives and livelihoods depend on it”

But space-based readings by Nasa’s radar topography programme tend to be over-estimates, the researchers argue. That is because the technology measures the height of the first reflecting surface the radar signal touches. In open country, this may not matter. But forests and high buildings in densely-peopled cities distort the picture.

In parts of coastal Australia, and using a new approach, the researchers found that satellite readings delivered over-estimates of 2.5 metres. So global averages in the past have over-estimated, by around 2 metres, the elevation of lands that are home to billions.

Research of this kind helps clarify the challenge that faces governments, civic authorities and private citizens: communities grow up along low-lying coasts and estuaries because these provide good land, reliable water supplies and easy transport. But the catch with flood plains is that, sooner or later, they flood.

The repeated evidence of a decade of climate science is that floods will become more devastating, more frequent and more prolonged for a mix of reasons.

Multiple risks

Soils will subside because of the growing demand for groundwater and for clays and stone for bricks and mortar; because global average temperatures will rise and oceans expand as they warm; glaciers will melt and tip more water into the sea to raise ocean levels; and tropical cyclones will become more intense to drive more destructive storm surges.

Researchers have already warned that sea level rise could be accelerating, to bring more flooding to, for instance, the great cities of the US coasts, while some cities can expect ever more battering from Atlantic storms.

Coastal flooding is likely to create millions of climate refugees even within the US, and the worldwide costs of coastal flooding could reach $1 trillion a year by the end of the century.

The latest study confirms that the hazards are real, and may have so far been under-estimated. The researchers calculated that, in parts of China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and Thailand, places now home to 237 million people could face coastal flooding every year by 2050 – a figure 183 million higher than previous estimates.

US coasts threatened

The same study highlights faulty estimates of ground elevation even in the richest and most advanced nations. In some parts of the crowded coastal cities of New York, Boston and Miami, for instance, the researchers believe satellite readings have over-estimated ground height by almost five metres. They say their new approach reduces the margin of error to 2.5 cms.

Right now, around a billion people live on lands less than 10 metres above high tide levels. Around 250 million live within one metre above high tide.

“For all of the critical research that’s been done on climate change and sea level projections, it turns out that for most of the global coast we didn’t know the height of the ground beneath our feet,” said Benjamin Strauss, president and chief scientist of Climate Central, and co-author.

“Our data improves the picture, but there is still a great need for governments and insurance companies to produce and release more accurate elevation data. Lives and livelihoods depend on it.” – Climate News Network

Cocaine traffickers fuel climate change

cocaine

An ever-expanding US market for cocaine is leading to drug traffickers destroying swathes of tropical forest to create new transport routes.

LONDON, October 17, 2019 – Having a cocaine habit is bad for your health – and for the planet’s too, as it turns out that the growing use of the drug is also contributing to global warming.

A series of recent reports examining the cocaine trade in Central America say traffickers seeking out new smuggling routes are destroying large areas of tropical forest in order to build roads and landing strips to transport supplies of cocaine bound for an ever-expanding market in the US.

Forests are vital “carbon sinks”, soaking up large amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases. When they are destroyed, the stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere. And the smoke from forest fires adds to problem.

Drug convoys

Authors of the series of papers describe what’s going on as “narco-deforestation”. Jennifer Devine, an assistant professor of geography at Texas State University and co-author of two of the studies, says: “Narco-deforestation now affects large tropical forests in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and is beginning to affect Costa Rica as well.”

Drug traffickers are moving into national parks, forest reserves and special conservation areas in order to elude the authorities. Trees are being chopped down not only to build roads for drug convoys; the researchers found that vast areas of forest are being cleared for ranches and crop growing – through which the traffickers launder their drug money.

Earlier studies looking at drug-related activities on the Caribbean coast of Honduras found that the clearing of forests by the drug cartels has also caused extensive flooding in the region.

“Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological cost”

Bernardo Aguilar-González, a director of the Fundación Neotrópica NGO and a co-author of one of the reports, says: “Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological costs.”

The reports strongly criticise a long-running, US-backed “War on Drugs” being waged in Central America. They conclude that funds provided by the US for a heavily-militarised anti-drug campaign “have ultimately pushed drug trafficking and the laundering of spectacular profits into remote, biodiverse spaces, where they threaten both ecosystems and people, and undermine conservation goals and local livelihoods”.

Other studies say the campaign has resulted in people being forced off their lands, and this has contributed to a growth in migration – with people trying to cross the border into the US.

Indigenous land rights

The researchers say a key way of tackling deforestation by the traffickers is to give local communities more control over the forests; indigenous land rights must be recognised and enforced across the region.

Areas managed by local communities have very low forest losses say the reports.

“Investing in community land rights and participatory governance in protected areas is a key strategy to combat drug trafficking and climate change simultaneously,” Aguilar-González told the Reuters news agency.

“Taken together, these papers confirm just how vital it is to ensure that local forest communities have long-term control over their land and forest resources,” says David Wrathall, assistant professor of geography at Oregon State University and a report author.

“If we are to reduce the risk of emissions caused when forests are destroyed and to safeguard the carbon in forests, such rights will be key in order to avoid dangerous human interference in the atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

An ever-expanding US market for cocaine is leading to drug traffickers destroying swathes of tropical forest to create new transport routes.

LONDON, October 17, 2019 – Having a cocaine habit is bad for your health – and for the planet’s too, as it turns out that the growing use of the drug is also contributing to global warming.

A series of recent reports examining the cocaine trade in Central America say traffickers seeking out new smuggling routes are destroying large areas of tropical forest in order to build roads and landing strips to transport supplies of cocaine bound for an ever-expanding market in the US.

Forests are vital “carbon sinks”, soaking up large amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases. When they are destroyed, the stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere. And the smoke from forest fires adds to problem.

Drug convoys

Authors of the series of papers describe what’s going on as “narco-deforestation”. Jennifer Devine, an assistant professor of geography at Texas State University and co-author of two of the studies, says: “Narco-deforestation now affects large tropical forests in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and is beginning to affect Costa Rica as well.”

Drug traffickers are moving into national parks, forest reserves and special conservation areas in order to elude the authorities. Trees are being chopped down not only to build roads for drug convoys; the researchers found that vast areas of forest are being cleared for ranches and crop growing – through which the traffickers launder their drug money.

Earlier studies looking at drug-related activities on the Caribbean coast of Honduras found that the clearing of forests by the drug cartels has also caused extensive flooding in the region.

“Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological cost”

Bernardo Aguilar-González, a director of the Fundación Neotrópica NGO and a co-author of one of the reports, says: “Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological costs.”

The reports strongly criticise a long-running, US-backed “War on Drugs” being waged in Central America. They conclude that funds provided by the US for a heavily-militarised anti-drug campaign “have ultimately pushed drug trafficking and the laundering of spectacular profits into remote, biodiverse spaces, where they threaten both ecosystems and people, and undermine conservation goals and local livelihoods”.

Other studies say the campaign has resulted in people being forced off their lands, and this has contributed to a growth in migration – with people trying to cross the border into the US.

Indigenous land rights

The researchers say a key way of tackling deforestation by the traffickers is to give local communities more control over the forests; indigenous land rights must be recognised and enforced across the region.

Areas managed by local communities have very low forest losses say the reports.

“Investing in community land rights and participatory governance in protected areas is a key strategy to combat drug trafficking and climate change simultaneously,” Aguilar-González told the Reuters news agency.

“Taken together, these papers confirm just how vital it is to ensure that local forest communities have long-term control over their land and forest resources,” says David Wrathall, assistant professor of geography at Oregon State University and a report author.

“If we are to reduce the risk of emissions caused when forests are destroyed and to safeguard the carbon in forests, such rights will be key in order to avoid dangerous human interference in the atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

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