Category Archives: Land Use

Restoring forests rules out growing crops

Restoring forests is helpful, but planting crops to do so is not. Only one of these options soaks up enough atmospheric carbon.

LONDON, 15 April, 2019 − Nations of the world are committed to restoring forests covering an area the size of India to soak up carbon dioxide and combat climate change. But British scientists have identified a serious flaw in the plan.

“Two-thirds of the area committed to global reforestation for carbon storage is slated to grow crops,” they write in the journal Nature. “This raises serious concerns.”

Their argument is simple. To limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century requires both rapid cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and investment in efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Altogether 43 tropical and subtropical nations have pledged to restore 350 million hectares of forest to remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100.

Little natural forest

Many of them, including Brazil, China and India, have already committed to 292 million hectares of new canopy. But in their analysis of the plans published so far, the scientists say that only 34% of this accumulated area would go back to natural forest.

Another 45% would be covered by plantations of one species harvested for biomass or timber, and 21% would be devoted to agroforestry: a mix of crops sheltered by stands of woodland.

In their calculations, this altogether would remove only 16 bn tonnes of carbon. That is because natural forests restored and subsequently protected would hold 40 times the carbon of a monoculture plantation and six times more than any mix of trees and crops.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London, who led the analysis. “To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’”

Forests are only part of the answer to the challenge of containing climate change. To keep to the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, humankind has to find ways to remove 730 bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which translates to 199 bn tonnes of carbon.

If the world found ways to boost the total area of global forest, woodland and woody savannahs, this could absorb perhaps a quarter of the total needed to keep planetary warming to no more than 1.5°C. And many countries have signed up to convert degraded land to new tree canopy.

“But will this policy work?” the scientists ask. “We show that under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees.”

Their point is that plantations can support local economies, but are poorer at storing carbon. Natural forests require little or no disturbance from humans, whereas the regular clearing and harvesting of plantations releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere every 10 or 20 years, while natural forests go on sequestering the greenhouse gas for decades. Natural regeneration is the cheapest and easiest option.

Land use shift

Most of the monoculture commitments are in large countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scientists suggest such plans have been insufficiently thought through. Drastic increases in tropical plantation for commercial crops would mark a major shift in global land use and could be accompanied by a fall in prices, with potentially unsatisfactory economic consequences.

And, they argue, policymakers are in any case misinterpreting the term forest restoration: it should not include plantations of a single species, such as eucalypt or rubber, which would do little for carbon sequestration. If commercial plantations were planted across the whole 350 million hectares, the entire crop would soak up and store just one billion tonnes of carbon.

“Of course new natural forests alone are not sufficient to meet our climate goals,” said Charlotte Wheeler of the University of Edinburgh, another of the authors. “Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation must also stop.

“Other ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere are also needed. But no scenario has been produced that keeps climate change below dangerous levels without the large-scale restoration of natural forests.” − Climate News Network

Restoring forests is helpful, but planting crops to do so is not. Only one of these options soaks up enough atmospheric carbon.

LONDON, 15 April, 2019 − Nations of the world are committed to restoring forests covering an area the size of India to soak up carbon dioxide and combat climate change. But British scientists have identified a serious flaw in the plan.

“Two-thirds of the area committed to global reforestation for carbon storage is slated to grow crops,” they write in the journal Nature. “This raises serious concerns.”

Their argument is simple. To limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century requires both rapid cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and investment in efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Altogether 43 tropical and subtropical nations have pledged to restore 350 million hectares of forest to remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100.

Little natural forest

Many of them, including Brazil, China and India, have already committed to 292 million hectares of new canopy. But in their analysis of the plans published so far, the scientists say that only 34% of this accumulated area would go back to natural forest.

Another 45% would be covered by plantations of one species harvested for biomass or timber, and 21% would be devoted to agroforestry: a mix of crops sheltered by stands of woodland.

In their calculations, this altogether would remove only 16 bn tonnes of carbon. That is because natural forests restored and subsequently protected would hold 40 times the carbon of a monoculture plantation and six times more than any mix of trees and crops.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London, who led the analysis. “To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’”

Forests are only part of the answer to the challenge of containing climate change. To keep to the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, humankind has to find ways to remove 730 bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which translates to 199 bn tonnes of carbon.

If the world found ways to boost the total area of global forest, woodland and woody savannahs, this could absorb perhaps a quarter of the total needed to keep planetary warming to no more than 1.5°C. And many countries have signed up to convert degraded land to new tree canopy.

“But will this policy work?” the scientists ask. “We show that under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees.”

Their point is that plantations can support local economies, but are poorer at storing carbon. Natural forests require little or no disturbance from humans, whereas the regular clearing and harvesting of plantations releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere every 10 or 20 years, while natural forests go on sequestering the greenhouse gas for decades. Natural regeneration is the cheapest and easiest option.

Land use shift

Most of the monoculture commitments are in large countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scientists suggest such plans have been insufficiently thought through. Drastic increases in tropical plantation for commercial crops would mark a major shift in global land use and could be accompanied by a fall in prices, with potentially unsatisfactory economic consequences.

And, they argue, policymakers are in any case misinterpreting the term forest restoration: it should not include plantations of a single species, such as eucalypt or rubber, which would do little for carbon sequestration. If commercial plantations were planted across the whole 350 million hectares, the entire crop would soak up and store just one billion tonnes of carbon.

“Of course new natural forests alone are not sufficient to meet our climate goals,” said Charlotte Wheeler of the University of Edinburgh, another of the authors. “Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation must also stop.

“Other ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere are also needed. But no scenario has been produced that keeps climate change below dangerous levels without the large-scale restoration of natural forests.” − Climate News Network

Europe’s food imports devour rainforests

Human appetites drive global rainforest destruction. Now science has measured how Europe’s food imports leave scorched tropical soils and greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 5 April, 2019 − European scientists have worked out how European consumers can reduce tropical forest loss and cut down greenhouse emissions in other countries.

One: stop buying beef, especially from Brazil. And two: be sparing with the oil from tropical palms and soybean plantations.

In theory, this should be news to nobody. Forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and slow global warming. But forests that have been felled for cattle-grazing or burned and cleared for oil plantations are net emitters of carbon into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming and precipitate yet more dangerous climate change.

But in two related publications, researchers have looked beyond the theory to identify the responsibility of one geopolitical grouping for precise volumes of greenhouse gas emissions in faraway places.

First they report, in the journal Global Environmental Change, that they looked at the loss of tropical rainforests, and then at the ways in which the felled or scorched forests have been used, for food production.

“If you give tropical countries support . . . to protect the rainforest, as well as giving farmers alternatives to deforestation to increase production, it can have a big impact”

And then, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, they took the measure of carbon dioxide emissions that might be linked to food production from the destroyed rainforest, and then worked out from world trade data where that food went.

The European Union as a whole is a huge importer of food. And the conclusion is that one-sixth of the emissions from a typical EU diet can be traced directly back to deforestation in the tropics.

“In effect, you could say that the EU imports large amounts of deforestation every year. If the EU really wants to achieve climate goals, it must set harder environmental standards on those who export food to the EU,” said Martin Persson of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.

And his co-author Florence Pendrill, also at Chalmers, said: “We can see that more than half of deforestation is due to the production of food and animal feed, such as beef, soy beans and palm oil.

Food exports rising

“There is a big variation between different countries and goods, but overall, exports account for about a fourth of that deforestation which is connected to food production. And these figures have increased during the period we have looked at.”

The principles are clear: like the shift away from dependence on fossil fuels, the preservation and growth of the world’s forests is one of the priorities in slowing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting climate change.

Researchers have repeatedly stressed that a shift away from a meat diet could reduce emissions; a global switch to crops rather than cattle would mean greater output from existing farmland and help save forests everywhere.

In general, many developed countries have begun to enlarge the space covered by forest canopy. But the tropical rainforests remain at risk: from drought and wildfire linked to climate change, and from direct human invasion in pursuit of yet more space to exploit for cattle ranches and oil plantations. Greenhouse gas emissions from rainforests are on the increase.

Extending the rules

The European Union already has strict rules about the provision of timber and wood products from exporting countries: these have already helped protect some areas of the vulnerable tropical rainforests. The next challenge is to see whether such regulation can be effectively tailored to food imports.

The scientists found that between 2010 and 2014, around 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide escaped from ranches, croplands and plantations on cleared forest land. Of this, 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide came from cattle meat, much of it from Brazil, and 600 million from palm oil and soybean plantations, almost half of this from Indonesia.

“Now, as the connection between food production and deforestation is made clearer, we should start to discuss possibilities for the EU to adopt similar regulations for food imports. Quite simply, deforestation should end up costing the producer more,” said Dr Pendrill.

“If you give tropical countries support in their work to protect the rainforest, as well as giving farmers alternatives to deforestation to increase production, it can have a big impact.” − Climate News Network

Human appetites drive global rainforest destruction. Now science has measured how Europe’s food imports leave scorched tropical soils and greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 5 April, 2019 − European scientists have worked out how European consumers can reduce tropical forest loss and cut down greenhouse emissions in other countries.

One: stop buying beef, especially from Brazil. And two: be sparing with the oil from tropical palms and soybean plantations.

In theory, this should be news to nobody. Forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and slow global warming. But forests that have been felled for cattle-grazing or burned and cleared for oil plantations are net emitters of carbon into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming and precipitate yet more dangerous climate change.

But in two related publications, researchers have looked beyond the theory to identify the responsibility of one geopolitical grouping for precise volumes of greenhouse gas emissions in faraway places.

First they report, in the journal Global Environmental Change, that they looked at the loss of tropical rainforests, and then at the ways in which the felled or scorched forests have been used, for food production.

“If you give tropical countries support . . . to protect the rainforest, as well as giving farmers alternatives to deforestation to increase production, it can have a big impact”

And then, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, they took the measure of carbon dioxide emissions that might be linked to food production from the destroyed rainforest, and then worked out from world trade data where that food went.

The European Union as a whole is a huge importer of food. And the conclusion is that one-sixth of the emissions from a typical EU diet can be traced directly back to deforestation in the tropics.

“In effect, you could say that the EU imports large amounts of deforestation every year. If the EU really wants to achieve climate goals, it must set harder environmental standards on those who export food to the EU,” said Martin Persson of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.

And his co-author Florence Pendrill, also at Chalmers, said: “We can see that more than half of deforestation is due to the production of food and animal feed, such as beef, soy beans and palm oil.

Food exports rising

“There is a big variation between different countries and goods, but overall, exports account for about a fourth of that deforestation which is connected to food production. And these figures have increased during the period we have looked at.”

The principles are clear: like the shift away from dependence on fossil fuels, the preservation and growth of the world’s forests is one of the priorities in slowing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting climate change.

Researchers have repeatedly stressed that a shift away from a meat diet could reduce emissions; a global switch to crops rather than cattle would mean greater output from existing farmland and help save forests everywhere.

In general, many developed countries have begun to enlarge the space covered by forest canopy. But the tropical rainforests remain at risk: from drought and wildfire linked to climate change, and from direct human invasion in pursuit of yet more space to exploit for cattle ranches and oil plantations. Greenhouse gas emissions from rainforests are on the increase.

Extending the rules

The European Union already has strict rules about the provision of timber and wood products from exporting countries: these have already helped protect some areas of the vulnerable tropical rainforests. The next challenge is to see whether such regulation can be effectively tailored to food imports.

The scientists found that between 2010 and 2014, around 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide escaped from ranches, croplands and plantations on cleared forest land. Of this, 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide came from cattle meat, much of it from Brazil, and 600 million from palm oil and soybean plantations, almost half of this from Indonesia.

“Now, as the connection between food production and deforestation is made clearer, we should start to discuss possibilities for the EU to adopt similar regulations for food imports. Quite simply, deforestation should end up costing the producer more,” said Dr Pendrill.

“If you give tropical countries support in their work to protect the rainforest, as well as giving farmers alternatives to deforestation to increase production, it can have a big impact.” − Climate News Network

China and India are making a greener Earth

Human efforts are producing a greener Earth. But the news is not all good, because some of the greening comes from fertiliser pollution.

LONDON, 26 March, 2019 − Despite climate change, water scarcity and the many ills affecting the planet, this generation is living on an increasingly greener Earth.

Measurements from space show that some parts of the northern hemisphere, notably China and India, are a lot greener than they used to be, which is potentially very good news for the climate.

Growing vegetation takes up a great deal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the more that plants and trees can use, the greater the chance of slowing global warming.

The new findings appear especially positive in the light of earlier studies of global vegetation trends. Science has already found that climate change can affect the Earth’s vegetation pattern adversely.

There is also concern that the effort to grow crops to combat climate change will itself leave less space for other vegetation. And changes in Arctic vegetation are prompting concern that they could promote an increase in releases of greenhouse gases.

“A third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive”

Up to now scientists who have already noted the appearance of global greening thought it was because plants were responding to the fact there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which is needed for photosynthesis) and so were growing faster, in a process known as the fertiliser effect.

This turns out to be only partly true, because a new study reported in the online community Nature Research Sustainability has shown that it is more intensive agriculture and the use of much more artificial farm fertilisers that is one of the main contributors to greening.

This is causing its own environmental damage by polluting watercourses and damaging biodiversity.

But despite these reservations there is much good news in the latest research. Since the turn of the century China has shown a remarkable growth in its green areas because of the planting of new forests and the intensification of agriculture. Although the country contains only 6.6% of the global vegetated area, it alone accounts for 25% of the net increase in leaf area of the planet in that time.

Of this, 42% of the increase in green areas was from newly planted forest and 32% from croplands. The forests are designed to hold back the deserts, cut air pollution and reduce climate change.

Food production leaps

The 32% rise of greening in croplands was caused by intense agriculture, more irrigation with multiple cropping, and heavy fertiliser use, often causing damage to the local environment.

In India, also far greener than in 2000, larger forests account for only a 4.4% increase in greening, while 82% comes from croplands. In both countries food production has increased 35% in the same period as both governments have sought to feed their people.

The European Union also has experienced considerable greening over the same period, third behind China and India in the global league table. In this case 55% was due to increased cropland and 34% to more forests.

Sadly, despite the increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the greening this represents did not make up for the loss of leaf area in tropical forests.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia continued destroying their forests, and in doing so more than made up for the gains elsewhere, apart from the damage this did to ecosystems and biodiversity, the scientists note.

Brazil leads browners

They compiled a league table of greening and the reverse – browning – where satellites show countries have degraded or abandoned land and so reduced the vegetation cover.

Brazil, which has more green land than any other country on the planet, came top of the browning table, having degraded 11.6% of its green land since 2000. Indonesia came second in the browning table with 6.8%, Argentina a close third with 6.7%, and Canada fourth with 5.7%.

This does not tell the whole story, because while some land became browner other patches became greener, so in nearly all countries the browning was balanced out by greening. Altogether the Earth became a lot greener in this period, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

The Nature study concludes that a third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive, but this is not simply the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most of the greening is down to more intensive agricultural practices, as in China and India, and more planting of forests. This, rather than the fertiliser effect, is responsible for at least a third or probably more of the greening of the Earth this century. − Climate News Network

Human efforts are producing a greener Earth. But the news is not all good, because some of the greening comes from fertiliser pollution.

LONDON, 26 March, 2019 − Despite climate change, water scarcity and the many ills affecting the planet, this generation is living on an increasingly greener Earth.

Measurements from space show that some parts of the northern hemisphere, notably China and India, are a lot greener than they used to be, which is potentially very good news for the climate.

Growing vegetation takes up a great deal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the more that plants and trees can use, the greater the chance of slowing global warming.

The new findings appear especially positive in the light of earlier studies of global vegetation trends. Science has already found that climate change can affect the Earth’s vegetation pattern adversely.

There is also concern that the effort to grow crops to combat climate change will itself leave less space for other vegetation. And changes in Arctic vegetation are prompting concern that they could promote an increase in releases of greenhouse gases.

“A third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive”

Up to now scientists who have already noted the appearance of global greening thought it was because plants were responding to the fact there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which is needed for photosynthesis) and so were growing faster, in a process known as the fertiliser effect.

This turns out to be only partly true, because a new study reported in the online community Nature Research Sustainability has shown that it is more intensive agriculture and the use of much more artificial farm fertilisers that is one of the main contributors to greening.

This is causing its own environmental damage by polluting watercourses and damaging biodiversity.

But despite these reservations there is much good news in the latest research. Since the turn of the century China has shown a remarkable growth in its green areas because of the planting of new forests and the intensification of agriculture. Although the country contains only 6.6% of the global vegetated area, it alone accounts for 25% of the net increase in leaf area of the planet in that time.

Of this, 42% of the increase in green areas was from newly planted forest and 32% from croplands. The forests are designed to hold back the deserts, cut air pollution and reduce climate change.

Food production leaps

The 32% rise of greening in croplands was caused by intense agriculture, more irrigation with multiple cropping, and heavy fertiliser use, often causing damage to the local environment.

In India, also far greener than in 2000, larger forests account for only a 4.4% increase in greening, while 82% comes from croplands. In both countries food production has increased 35% in the same period as both governments have sought to feed their people.

The European Union also has experienced considerable greening over the same period, third behind China and India in the global league table. In this case 55% was due to increased cropland and 34% to more forests.

Sadly, despite the increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the greening this represents did not make up for the loss of leaf area in tropical forests.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia continued destroying their forests, and in doing so more than made up for the gains elsewhere, apart from the damage this did to ecosystems and biodiversity, the scientists note.

Brazil leads browners

They compiled a league table of greening and the reverse – browning – where satellites show countries have degraded or abandoned land and so reduced the vegetation cover.

Brazil, which has more green land than any other country on the planet, came top of the browning table, having degraded 11.6% of its green land since 2000. Indonesia came second in the browning table with 6.8%, Argentina a close third with 6.7%, and Canada fourth with 5.7%.

This does not tell the whole story, because while some land became browner other patches became greener, so in nearly all countries the browning was balanced out by greening. Altogether the Earth became a lot greener in this period, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

The Nature study concludes that a third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive, but this is not simply the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most of the greening is down to more intensive agricultural practices, as in China and India, and more planting of forests. This, rather than the fertiliser effect, is responsible for at least a third or probably more of the greening of the Earth this century. − Climate News Network