Category Archives: Land Use

Oblivion awaits insects on which food crops rely

As the bees start to buzz off, everybody could go hungry. If oblivion awaits insects, the rest of us won’t last long.

LONDON, 19 August, 2021 − The world’s pollinators are in decline − and scientists now have a surer idea of why. The bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles, flies, bats and hummingbirds (yes, animals and birds too) that shift pollen from one flower to another and help three-fourths of the world’s food crops to fruit and reproduce are on the way out. Oblivion awaits insects and other pollinators because of the things humans have done, and go on doing.

And it will be humans that could pay the biggest price as the decline goes on. “What happens to pollinators could have huge knock-on effects for humanity,” said Lynn Dicks, of the University of Cambridge in the UK.

“These small creatures play central roles in the world’s ecosystems, including many that humans and other animals rely on for nutrition. If they go, we may be in serious trouble.”

Lost habitat

Dr Dicks and 20 of her colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution that they assembled all the evidence of pollinator decline so far and then tried to weigh the range of factors at work in the loss of the little flying things on which the rest of the living world depends.

The loss is real enough: one recent study recorded a 75% decline of flying insects in 30 years in one location. Another warned that by the century’s end, half of all insects could have gone.

The loss of insects cannot be separated from the plants on which they depend: many of these too are at increasing risk of extinction.

The biggest factor in this chronicle of loss is habitat destruction: that is, the clearance by farmers, developers and foresters of the natural wildernesses in which the pollinators evolved.

The second problem is posed by the way humans manage the land that has replaced those natural ecosystems: monoculture farming, intense grazing and fertiliser use leave many insects with nowhere to go and nothing to eat.

“Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

Widespread pesticide use actively eliminates many species, some of them yet to be identified. Climate change, with a shift in the conditions in which the insects evolved, and increasingly hostile temperatures, is only for the moment the fourth most powerful factor.

The challenge is compounded by a growing demand for food: in the last 50 years there has been a threefold increase in crops that depend on pollinators: the value of such crops could be as high as US$577 billion (£420bn) a year.

But across two-thirds of the planet, this buzz of insect activity could be at risk: crop yield could become increasingly unreliable. “Crops dependent on pollinators fluctuate more in yield than, for example, cereals,” Dr Dicks said.

“Increasingly unusual climatic phenomena, such as extreme rainfall and temperature, are already affecting crops. Pollinator loss adds further instability − it’s the last thing people need.”

Impact on trade

The continent with most to lose is South America, with cashew, soybean, coffee and cocoa providing both food and the basis of international trade. China and India too are heavily dependent on fruit and vegetable harvests that depend on pollination. And there are less substantial benefits delivered by insects that could be about to fly away for ever.

“Pollinators have been sources of inspiration for art, music, literature and technology since the dawn of human history. All the major world religions have sacred passages about bees,” Dr Dicks said.

“Pollinators are often the most immediate representatives of the natural world in our daily lives. These are the creatures that captivate us early in life. We notice and feel their loss. Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

“We are in the midst of a species extinction crisis, but for many people that is intangible. Perhaps pollinators are the bellwether of mass extinction.” − Climate News Network

As the bees start to buzz off, everybody could go hungry. If oblivion awaits insects, the rest of us won’t last long.

LONDON, 19 August, 2021 − The world’s pollinators are in decline − and scientists now have a surer idea of why. The bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles, flies, bats and hummingbirds (yes, animals and birds too) that shift pollen from one flower to another and help three-fourths of the world’s food crops to fruit and reproduce are on the way out. Oblivion awaits insects and other pollinators because of the things humans have done, and go on doing.

And it will be humans that could pay the biggest price as the decline goes on. “What happens to pollinators could have huge knock-on effects for humanity,” said Lynn Dicks, of the University of Cambridge in the UK.

“These small creatures play central roles in the world’s ecosystems, including many that humans and other animals rely on for nutrition. If they go, we may be in serious trouble.”

Lost habitat

Dr Dicks and 20 of her colleagues from around the world report in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution that they assembled all the evidence of pollinator decline so far and then tried to weigh the range of factors at work in the loss of the little flying things on which the rest of the living world depends.

The loss is real enough: one recent study recorded a 75% decline of flying insects in 30 years in one location. Another warned that by the century’s end, half of all insects could have gone.

The loss of insects cannot be separated from the plants on which they depend: many of these too are at increasing risk of extinction.

The biggest factor in this chronicle of loss is habitat destruction: that is, the clearance by farmers, developers and foresters of the natural wildernesses in which the pollinators evolved.

The second problem is posed by the way humans manage the land that has replaced those natural ecosystems: monoculture farming, intense grazing and fertiliser use leave many insects with nowhere to go and nothing to eat.

“Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

Widespread pesticide use actively eliminates many species, some of them yet to be identified. Climate change, with a shift in the conditions in which the insects evolved, and increasingly hostile temperatures, is only for the moment the fourth most powerful factor.

The challenge is compounded by a growing demand for food: in the last 50 years there has been a threefold increase in crops that depend on pollinators: the value of such crops could be as high as US$577 billion (£420bn) a year.

But across two-thirds of the planet, this buzz of insect activity could be at risk: crop yield could become increasingly unreliable. “Crops dependent on pollinators fluctuate more in yield than, for example, cereals,” Dr Dicks said.

“Increasingly unusual climatic phenomena, such as extreme rainfall and temperature, are already affecting crops. Pollinator loss adds further instability − it’s the last thing people need.”

Impact on trade

The continent with most to lose is South America, with cashew, soybean, coffee and cocoa providing both food and the basis of international trade. China and India too are heavily dependent on fruit and vegetable harvests that depend on pollination. And there are less substantial benefits delivered by insects that could be about to fly away for ever.

“Pollinators have been sources of inspiration for art, music, literature and technology since the dawn of human history. All the major world religions have sacred passages about bees,” Dr Dicks said.

“Pollinators are often the most immediate representatives of the natural world in our daily lives. These are the creatures that captivate us early in life. We notice and feel their loss. Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night?”

“We are in the midst of a species extinction crisis, but for many people that is intangible. Perhaps pollinators are the bellwether of mass extinction.” − Climate News Network

Amazonia’s forests leak carbon they once stored

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

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

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

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

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

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

East-West split

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding disturbance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East-West split

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding disturbance

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

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

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

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

Real cost of net zero carbon could be mass hunger

Governments and companies are happy to make net zero carbon pledges. Their real cost could be ruinous for the poor.

LONDON, 10 August, 2021 − Plans for removing carbon from the atmosphere, if they proved workable, could exact a lethal price from those least able to afford it: starvation for the world’s poorest people. Anti-poverty campaigners say implementing some net zero carbon schemes could devastate the prospects for global agriculture.

A report by Oxfam International, the global campaign to end poverty, says one of the favoured schemes, planting trees, is totally unrealistic, as it would require 1.6 billion hectares of new forests, an area five times the size of India, and greater than all the existing farmland on the planet.

To prevent irreversible damage to the climate and limit temperature rise to the internationally agreed target of 1.5°C above historic levels, governments need to be on track by 2030 to cut carbon emissions by 45% from their 2010 levels, according to the UNFCCC, the United Nations climate change convention.

It says countries’ current plans to cut emissions are inadequate to limit warning to the more lenient 2°C target agreed at its meeting in Paris in 2015, let alone to the 1.5°C that scientists say is necessary. Oxfam says the current plans will achieve only a 1% reduction in emissions, a long way from the 45% that is needed.

Risky gamble

The current lack of governmental action on climate is undermining the efforts of Oxfam and many others to tackle inequality and poverty around the world, while the climate crisis is worsening the humanitarian crisis, hunger and migration.

Nafkote Dabi, Oxfam International’s climate change lead, said: “‘Net zero’ should be based on ‘real zero’ targets that require drastic and genuine cuts in emissions, phasing out fossil fuels and investing in clean energy and supply chains. Instead, too many ‘net zero’ commitments provide a fig leaf for climate inaction. They are a dangerous gamble with our planet’s future.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way. Under current plans, there is simply not enough land in the world to realise them all. They could instead spark even more hunger, land grabs and human rights abuses.”

Separately Patricia Espinosa, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, also expressed concern at what she said was governments’ failure to be realistic on net zero carbon.

Every government is supposed to have submitted its “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) by 31July, stating the emissions it plans to make to contribute to the target of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Only 110 of the 197 governments that signed up in Paris to provide one had done so by the deadline.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way”

“Recent extreme heat waves, droughts and floods across the globe are a dire warning that much more needs to be done, and much more quickly, to change our current pathway. This can only be achieved through more ambitious NDCs”, Patricia Espinosa said.

The Oxfam report says the world’s three largest carbon emitters − China, the US and the EU − have pledged to reach net zero by mid-century, but that their plans are vague and unverifiable.

Some plans − Colombia’s, for example − require reforesting on a grand scale. Its forests are still disappearing alarmingly fast, but it pledges to reforest one billion hectares of land by 2030, although there is no sign of that happening.

One-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies now have net zero goals that depend on land-based carbon sinks. Four of the world’s largest oil companies − BP, Eni, Shell and TotalEnergies − would have to forest an area of land twice the size of the UK to achieve net zero by 2050.

Trusting technology

But unlikely pledges on forests are not the only weaknesses of government and corporation planning to make net zero carbon a possibility. For example the UK, host to November’s COP-26 climate talks, relies heavily on unproven technologies that will magically be developed and built in time to reach net zero by 2050.

These include a new generation of nuclear power stations that are still at the early development stage. The UK is also relying on large-scale carbon capture and storage – a long-promised technology, many of whose bids to succeed have been abandoned as too expensive and impractical. The government hopes as well to replace fossil fuel gas with green hydrogen produced from surplus renewable energy and nuclear power – a hugely ambitious idea.

Meanwhile job-producing and much-needed plans to insulate homes and improve building standards, promised both last year and this, have been postponed again.

Although this is the quickest and easiest way of reducing the UK’s largest source of emissions, the contribution from buildings, the government has met opposition from house builders, many of whom are large donors to the ruling Conservative party’s funds. − Climate News Network

Governments and companies are happy to make net zero carbon pledges. Their real cost could be ruinous for the poor.

LONDON, 10 August, 2021 − Plans for removing carbon from the atmosphere, if they proved workable, could exact a lethal price from those least able to afford it: starvation for the world’s poorest people. Anti-poverty campaigners say implementing some net zero carbon schemes could devastate the prospects for global agriculture.

A report by Oxfam International, the global campaign to end poverty, says one of the favoured schemes, planting trees, is totally unrealistic, as it would require 1.6 billion hectares of new forests, an area five times the size of India, and greater than all the existing farmland on the planet.

To prevent irreversible damage to the climate and limit temperature rise to the internationally agreed target of 1.5°C above historic levels, governments need to be on track by 2030 to cut carbon emissions by 45% from their 2010 levels, according to the UNFCCC, the United Nations climate change convention.

It says countries’ current plans to cut emissions are inadequate to limit warning to the more lenient 2°C target agreed at its meeting in Paris in 2015, let alone to the 1.5°C that scientists say is necessary. Oxfam says the current plans will achieve only a 1% reduction in emissions, a long way from the 45% that is needed.

Risky gamble

The current lack of governmental action on climate is undermining the efforts of Oxfam and many others to tackle inequality and poverty around the world, while the climate crisis is worsening the humanitarian crisis, hunger and migration.

Nafkote Dabi, Oxfam International’s climate change lead, said: “‘Net zero’ should be based on ‘real zero’ targets that require drastic and genuine cuts in emissions, phasing out fossil fuels and investing in clean energy and supply chains. Instead, too many ‘net zero’ commitments provide a fig leaf for climate inaction. They are a dangerous gamble with our planet’s future.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way. Under current plans, there is simply not enough land in the world to realise them all. They could instead spark even more hunger, land grabs and human rights abuses.”

Separately Patricia Espinosa, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, also expressed concern at what she said was governments’ failure to be realistic on net zero carbon.

Every government is supposed to have submitted its “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) by 31July, stating the emissions it plans to make to contribute to the target of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Only 110 of the 197 governments that signed up in Paris to provide one had done so by the deadline.

“Nature and land-based carbon removal schemes must be pursued in a much more cautious way”

“Recent extreme heat waves, droughts and floods across the globe are a dire warning that much more needs to be done, and much more quickly, to change our current pathway. This can only be achieved through more ambitious NDCs”, Patricia Espinosa said.

The Oxfam report says the world’s three largest carbon emitters − China, the US and the EU − have pledged to reach net zero by mid-century, but that their plans are vague and unverifiable.

Some plans − Colombia’s, for example − require reforesting on a grand scale. Its forests are still disappearing alarmingly fast, but it pledges to reforest one billion hectares of land by 2030, although there is no sign of that happening.

One-fifth of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies now have net zero goals that depend on land-based carbon sinks. Four of the world’s largest oil companies − BP, Eni, Shell and TotalEnergies − would have to forest an area of land twice the size of the UK to achieve net zero by 2050.

Trusting technology

But unlikely pledges on forests are not the only weaknesses of government and corporation planning to make net zero carbon a possibility. For example the UK, host to November’s COP-26 climate talks, relies heavily on unproven technologies that will magically be developed and built in time to reach net zero by 2050.

These include a new generation of nuclear power stations that are still at the early development stage. The UK is also relying on large-scale carbon capture and storage – a long-promised technology, many of whose bids to succeed have been abandoned as too expensive and impractical. The government hopes as well to replace fossil fuel gas with green hydrogen produced from surplus renewable energy and nuclear power – a hugely ambitious idea.

Meanwhile job-producing and much-needed plans to insulate homes and improve building standards, promised both last year and this, have been postponed again.

Although this is the quickest and easiest way of reducing the UK’s largest source of emissions, the contribution from buildings, the government has met opposition from house builders, many of whom are large donors to the ruling Conservative party’s funds. − Climate News Network

Livestock’s harmful climate impact is growing fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Republican support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Republican support

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

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

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

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

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

Climate heat’s tides may rise above safety levels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living with risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living with risk

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

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

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

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

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

As climate heat worsens, a hungrier world is likely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hesitant adapters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hesitant adapters

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

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

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

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

Falling harvests could soon follow growing deserts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very big If

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very big If

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asia’s cities are worst hit in warming world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clean Cairo?

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

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

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

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

Northern attraction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clean Cairo?

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

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

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

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

Northern attraction

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

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

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

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

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

Only intact forests can stave off climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Degradation costs more

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

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

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

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

Intact forests vital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Degradation costs more

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

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

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

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

Intact forests vital

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

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

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

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

Rich world’s demands fell poorer world’s forests

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

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

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

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

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

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

South American losses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

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

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

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

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

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

South American losses

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

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

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

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

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