Tag Archives: Africa

Global water supply shrinks in rainier world

The global water supply is dwindling, even though rainfall is heavier. Once again, climate change is to blame.

LONDON, 20 December, 2018 – Even in a world with more intense rain, communities could begin to run short of water. New research has confirmed that, in a warming world, extremes of drought have begun to diminish the world’s groundwater – and ever more intense rainstorms will do little to make up the loss in the global water supply.

And a second, separate study delivers support for this seeming paradox: worldwide, there is evidence that rainfall patterns are, increasingly, being disturbed. The number of record-dry months has increased overall. And so has the number of record-breaking rainy months.

Both studies match predictions in a world of climate change driven by ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels. But, unlike many climate studies, neither of these is based on computer simulation of predicted change.

Each is instead based on the meticulous analysis of huge quantities of on-the-ground data. Together they provide substance to a 40-year-old prediction of climate change research: that in a warming world, those regions already wet will get ever more rain, while the drylands will tend to become increasingly more arid.

As global temperatures creep up – and they have already risen by 1°C in the past century, and could be set to reach 3°C by 2100 – so does the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb more moisture. It follows that more rain must fall. But at the same time more groundwater evaporates, and the risk of damaging drought increases.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out”

Australian scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they studied readings from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries. And they confirm that even in a world of more intense rain, drought could become the new normal in those regions already at risk.

“This is something that has been missed. We expected rainfall to increase, since warmer air stores more moisture – and that is what climate models predicted too,” said Ashish Sharma, an environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out. We believe the cause is the drying of soils in our catchments. Where once these were moist before a storm event – allowing excess rainfall to run off into rivers – they are now drier and soak up more rain, so less water makes it as flow.”

The study matches predictions. Just in the last few months, climate scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change could be on the way, and that the double hazard of heat waves and sustained drought could devastate harvests in more than one climatic zone in the same season; and that those landlocked rainfall catchment areas that are already dry are becoming increasingly more parched.

But over the same few months, researchers have established repeatedly that tomorrow’s storms will be worse and that more devastating flash floods can be expected even in one of the world’s driest continents, Australia itself.

Less water available

Of all rainfall, only 36% gets into aquifers, streams and lakes. The remaining two thirds seeps into the soils, grasslands and woodlands. But more soil evaporation means less water is available from river supplies for cities and farms.

US researchers have already confirmed that if soils are moist before a storm, 62% of rainfall leads to floods that fill catchments. If soils are dry, only 13% of the rain leads to flooding.

“It’s a double whammy. Less water is ending up where we can’t store it for later use. At the same time, more rain is overwhelming drainage infrastructure in towns and cities, leading to more urban flooding,” said Professor Sharma.

“Small floods are very important for water supply, because they refill dams and form the basis of our water supply. But they’re happening less often, because the soils are sucking up extra rain. Even when a major storm dumps a lot of rain, the soils are so dry they absorb more water than before, and less reaches the rivers and reservoirs”, he said. “We need to adapt to this emerging reality.”

In the second close look at change so far, researchers based in Germany report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters  that they analysed data from 50,000 weather stations worldwide to measure rainfall on a monthly basis.

Climate drives aridity

The US has seen a more than 25% increase of record wet months in the eastern and central regions between 1980 and 2013. Argentina has seen a 32% increase. In central and northern Europe the increase is between 19% and 37%; in Asian Russia, it has been about 20%.

But in Africa south of the Sahara the incidence of very dry months has increased by 50%. “This implies that approximately one out of three record dry months in this region would not have occurred without long-term climate change,” said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Generally, land regions in the tropics and sub-tropics have seen more dry records, and the northern mid- to high-latitudes more wet records. This largely fits the patterns that scientists expect from human-caused climate change.”

His colleague and lead author Jascha Lehmann said: “Normally, record weather events occur by chance and we know how many would happen in a climate without warning. It’s like throwing a dice: on average one out of six times you get a six.

“But by injecting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humankind has loaded the dice. In many regions, we throw sixes much more often, with severe impacts for society and the environment.

“It is worrying that we see significant increases of such extremes with just one degree of global warming.” – Climate News Network

The global water supply is dwindling, even though rainfall is heavier. Once again, climate change is to blame.

LONDON, 20 December, 2018 – Even in a world with more intense rain, communities could begin to run short of water. New research has confirmed that, in a warming world, extremes of drought have begun to diminish the world’s groundwater – and ever more intense rainstorms will do little to make up the loss in the global water supply.

And a second, separate study delivers support for this seeming paradox: worldwide, there is evidence that rainfall patterns are, increasingly, being disturbed. The number of record-dry months has increased overall. And so has the number of record-breaking rainy months.

Both studies match predictions in a world of climate change driven by ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels. But, unlike many climate studies, neither of these is based on computer simulation of predicted change.

Each is instead based on the meticulous analysis of huge quantities of on-the-ground data. Together they provide substance to a 40-year-old prediction of climate change research: that in a warming world, those regions already wet will get ever more rain, while the drylands will tend to become increasingly more arid.

As global temperatures creep up – and they have already risen by 1°C in the past century, and could be set to reach 3°C by 2100 – so does the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb more moisture. It follows that more rain must fall. But at the same time more groundwater evaporates, and the risk of damaging drought increases.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out”

Australian scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they studied readings from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries. And they confirm that even in a world of more intense rain, drought could become the new normal in those regions already at risk.

“This is something that has been missed. We expected rainfall to increase, since warmer air stores more moisture – and that is what climate models predicted too,” said Ashish Sharma, an environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out. We believe the cause is the drying of soils in our catchments. Where once these were moist before a storm event – allowing excess rainfall to run off into rivers – they are now drier and soak up more rain, so less water makes it as flow.”

The study matches predictions. Just in the last few months, climate scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change could be on the way, and that the double hazard of heat waves and sustained drought could devastate harvests in more than one climatic zone in the same season; and that those landlocked rainfall catchment areas that are already dry are becoming increasingly more parched.

But over the same few months, researchers have established repeatedly that tomorrow’s storms will be worse and that more devastating flash floods can be expected even in one of the world’s driest continents, Australia itself.

Less water available

Of all rainfall, only 36% gets into aquifers, streams and lakes. The remaining two thirds seeps into the soils, grasslands and woodlands. But more soil evaporation means less water is available from river supplies for cities and farms.

US researchers have already confirmed that if soils are moist before a storm, 62% of rainfall leads to floods that fill catchments. If soils are dry, only 13% of the rain leads to flooding.

“It’s a double whammy. Less water is ending up where we can’t store it for later use. At the same time, more rain is overwhelming drainage infrastructure in towns and cities, leading to more urban flooding,” said Professor Sharma.

“Small floods are very important for water supply, because they refill dams and form the basis of our water supply. But they’re happening less often, because the soils are sucking up extra rain. Even when a major storm dumps a lot of rain, the soils are so dry they absorb more water than before, and less reaches the rivers and reservoirs”, he said. “We need to adapt to this emerging reality.”

In the second close look at change so far, researchers based in Germany report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters  that they analysed data from 50,000 weather stations worldwide to measure rainfall on a monthly basis.

Climate drives aridity

The US has seen a more than 25% increase of record wet months in the eastern and central regions between 1980 and 2013. Argentina has seen a 32% increase. In central and northern Europe the increase is between 19% and 37%; in Asian Russia, it has been about 20%.

But in Africa south of the Sahara the incidence of very dry months has increased by 50%. “This implies that approximately one out of three record dry months in this region would not have occurred without long-term climate change,” said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Generally, land regions in the tropics and sub-tropics have seen more dry records, and the northern mid- to high-latitudes more wet records. This largely fits the patterns that scientists expect from human-caused climate change.”

His colleague and lead author Jascha Lehmann said: “Normally, record weather events occur by chance and we know how many would happen in a climate without warning. It’s like throwing a dice: on average one out of six times you get a six.

“But by injecting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humankind has loaded the dice. In many regions, we throw sixes much more often, with severe impacts for society and the environment.

“It is worrying that we see significant increases of such extremes with just one degree of global warming.” – Climate News Network

Tsetse flies wilt in Africa’s growing heat

tsetse

Parts of Africa may grow too hot for tsetse flies, farmers’ scourge and carriers of disease. But will they simply move to higher, cooler terrain?

LONDON, 2 November, 2018 – Global warming may have done one good thing for the Zambezi Valley: it may have done for  the tsetse flies, with conditions soon too hot for them to breed there any longer.

That means that a blood-sucking insect responsible for perhaps a million cattle deaths a year – and that carries the parasite behind the devastating disease of human African trypanosomiasis, commonly known as sleeping sickness – could disappear from the lowlands it has plagued for centuries.

That is the good news. The bigger concern is that the same warming in tropical Africa could turn the highlands of Zimbabwe and its neighbours into a suitable breeding zone for both the disease and the creature that carries it.

For the moment, a new study in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Medicine claims only to have established the first clear link between disease hazard and temperature.

“Tsetse disappeared from these areas and have never established
themselves again. But if temperatures continue to increase,
there is a danger that they may re-emerge”

For 27 years, scientists have kept count of tsetse fly numbers in the c in Zimbabwe. The insect feeds on wild animals, as well as domestic cattle and humans. Millions of years of evolution mean that African pests and prey have found ways to live with each other, but humans and their introduced farm animals are still vulnerable.

The researchers report that, in the last three decades, temperatures in the region have risen by 0.9°C, and the hottest month, November, is now 2°C hotter on average than in the past. The insect can reproduce and multiply only in temperatures that lie between 16°C and 32°C.

And in those same three decades, fly numbers have fallen dramatically  Once, researchers could expect to go out in the afternoon in the Mana Pools National Park and find 50 flies per elephant or buffalo examined. Now, they write, they might find one tsetse fly every 10 catching sessions.

Since the vegetation and the wild animal population of the park have remained much the same, it seems likely that ambient temperature is the factor that limits tsetse fly numbers.

“If the effect at Mana Pools extends across the whole Zambezi Valley, then transmission of the trypanosomes is likely to have been greatly reduced in this warm, low-lying region”, says Dr Jennifer Lord, postdoctoral research associate at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who led the research and modelled the link between temperature and insect numbers.

Unwelcome reappearance?

But co-author John Hargrove, senior research fellow at the South African Centre of Excellence for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis at Stellenbosch University, warns that, if so, other African parks could once again play host to the pest, including the world-famous Kruger National Park in South Africa.

The fly is now an annual hazard for an estimated 55 million cattle in sub-Saharan Africa, and is thought to cost African economies US$1 billion a year or more just in losses of meat and milk.

“Tsetse flies did occur in these areas in the 19th century, but they were always marginal because the winters there were rather too cold,” Professor Hargrove says.

“With the massive  rinderpest outbreak of the middle 1890s, tsetse disappeared from these areas and have never established themselves again. But if temperatures continue to increase, there is a danger that they may re-emerge.” – Climate News Network

Parts of Africa may grow too hot for tsetse flies, farmers’ scourge and carriers of disease. But will they simply move to higher, cooler terrain?

LONDON, 2 November, 2018 – Global warming may have done one good thing for the Zambezi Valley: it may have done for  the tsetse flies, with conditions soon too hot for them to breed there any longer.

That means that a blood-sucking insect responsible for perhaps a million cattle deaths a year – and that carries the parasite behind the devastating disease of human African trypanosomiasis, commonly known as sleeping sickness – could disappear from the lowlands it has plagued for centuries.

That is the good news. The bigger concern is that the same warming in tropical Africa could turn the highlands of Zimbabwe and its neighbours into a suitable breeding zone for both the disease and the creature that carries it.

For the moment, a new study in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Medicine claims only to have established the first clear link between disease hazard and temperature.

“Tsetse disappeared from these areas and have never established
themselves again. But if temperatures continue to increase,
there is a danger that they may re-emerge”

For 27 years, scientists have kept count of tsetse fly numbers in the c in Zimbabwe. The insect feeds on wild animals, as well as domestic cattle and humans. Millions of years of evolution mean that African pests and prey have found ways to live with each other, but humans and their introduced farm animals are still vulnerable.

The researchers report that, in the last three decades, temperatures in the region have risen by 0.9°C, and the hottest month, November, is now 2°C hotter on average than in the past. The insect can reproduce and multiply only in temperatures that lie between 16°C and 32°C.

And in those same three decades, fly numbers have fallen dramatically  Once, researchers could expect to go out in the afternoon in the Mana Pools National Park and find 50 flies per elephant or buffalo examined. Now, they write, they might find one tsetse fly every 10 catching sessions.

Since the vegetation and the wild animal population of the park have remained much the same, it seems likely that ambient temperature is the factor that limits tsetse fly numbers.

“If the effect at Mana Pools extends across the whole Zambezi Valley, then transmission of the trypanosomes is likely to have been greatly reduced in this warm, low-lying region”, says Dr Jennifer Lord, postdoctoral research associate at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who led the research and modelled the link between temperature and insect numbers.

Unwelcome reappearance?

But co-author John Hargrove, senior research fellow at the South African Centre of Excellence for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis at Stellenbosch University, warns that, if so, other African parks could once again play host to the pest, including the world-famous Kruger National Park in South Africa.

The fly is now an annual hazard for an estimated 55 million cattle in sub-Saharan Africa, and is thought to cost African economies US$1 billion a year or more just in losses of meat and milk.

“Tsetse flies did occur in these areas in the 19th century, but they were always marginal because the winters there were rather too cold,” Professor Hargrove says.

“With the massive  rinderpest outbreak of the middle 1890s, tsetse disappeared from these areas and have never established themselves again. But if temperatures continue to increase, there is a danger that they may re-emerge.” – Climate News Network

Wind and solar power can green the desert

Cover enough ground with wind turbines and solar panels, and you change the local climate, green the desert and could even boost the Sahara’s rainfall.

LONDON, 19 September, 2018 – Wind and solar energy could deliver more than just renewable, low-carbon electricity: they could green the desert, increasing the Sahara’s rainfall and helping it to bloom.

A sufficiently large network of wind turbines and solar panels arrayed across the dusty wastes of North Africa could change the local climate in ways that could double rainfall, stimulate vegetation growth and set up a feedback loop that could go on increasing moisture in the world’s greatest desert region.

The array of wind turbines and solar panels so far remains hypothetical: to green the Sahara even a little, it would have to extend over 9 million square kilometres – an area bigger than Brazil.

The combined power output from this entirely imaginary infrastructure however would be enormous, at more than 80 terawatts of electrical power. Global consumption in 2017 was only 18 terawatts.

“Large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change on continental scales”

The study is an exercise in climate modelling: were investors to exploit the Sahara desert and the Sahel, what would all that hardware do to the land on which it stood?

Researchers have already established that wind turbines actually do change the prevailing winds: they convert high winds to a mix of electrical energy and lower wind speeds.

Similarly, light-absorbing photovoltaic cells on the ground would change the reflectivity of the surface on which they stood, and there is a demonstrable link between what climate scientists call albedo, and local climate.

Researchers chose to model the impact of renewable energy infrastructure on the Sahara because it is relatively empty, sunlit and windy. They matched the results with experiment.

Benefits for Sahel

They report in the journal Science that they found that wind farms mix warmer air from above, to raise minimum temperatures and create a feedback loop that drives greater evaporation, precipitation and plant growth.

Over the Sahara proper, rainfall increased by 150%, but since the desert is very dry the increase is relatively small. In the Sahel region to the south, a dry landscape of scrub, savannah and woodland, stretching from the Atlantic to the Nile, the simulated wind farms stepped up rainfall by 1.12 millimetres a day.

This is more than double the average observed in a control experiment, and what could amount to an extra 500mm a year could have “major ecological, environmental and societal impacts,” the scientists say.

“Previous modelling studies have shown that large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change on continental scales,” said Yan Li, an environmental scientist at the University of Illinois, one of the chief authors.

Big rain boost

Solar arrays had very little effect on wind speed, but these too triggered a change in local conditions. The solar panels – and the wind turbines – together created a darker, more broken surface, a change that once again favoured around 50% more rainfall, and more vegetation growth, which in turn could promote even more rain.

Two centuries of exploitation of fossil fuels has driven economic growth everywhere, but at a cost in ever greater ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The planet is warming, and increasing extremes of heat, drought and storm threaten to change climates with catastrophic consequences, drying up water supplies, advancing the desert regions and creating millions of climate refugees.

So the case for renewable energy is easily made, and five years ago researchers began looking to the North African countries as potential providers of renewable power. And the latest study makes the point that such investment could actually be beneficial in unexpected ways.

“The increase in rainfall and vegetation, combined with clean electricity as a result of solar and wind energy, could help agriculture, economic development and social well-being in the Sahara, Sahel, Middle East and other nearby regions,” said Safa Mottesharrei of the University of Maryland, another of the authors. – Climate News Network

Cover enough ground with wind turbines and solar panels, and you change the local climate, green the desert and could even boost the Sahara’s rainfall.

LONDON, 19 September, 2018 – Wind and solar energy could deliver more than just renewable, low-carbon electricity: they could green the desert, increasing the Sahara’s rainfall and helping it to bloom.

A sufficiently large network of wind turbines and solar panels arrayed across the dusty wastes of North Africa could change the local climate in ways that could double rainfall, stimulate vegetation growth and set up a feedback loop that could go on increasing moisture in the world’s greatest desert region.

The array of wind turbines and solar panels so far remains hypothetical: to green the Sahara even a little, it would have to extend over 9 million square kilometres – an area bigger than Brazil.

The combined power output from this entirely imaginary infrastructure however would be enormous, at more than 80 terawatts of electrical power. Global consumption in 2017 was only 18 terawatts.

“Large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change on continental scales”

The study is an exercise in climate modelling: were investors to exploit the Sahara desert and the Sahel, what would all that hardware do to the land on which it stood?

Researchers have already established that wind turbines actually do change the prevailing winds: they convert high winds to a mix of electrical energy and lower wind speeds.

Similarly, light-absorbing photovoltaic cells on the ground would change the reflectivity of the surface on which they stood, and there is a demonstrable link between what climate scientists call albedo, and local climate.

Researchers chose to model the impact of renewable energy infrastructure on the Sahara because it is relatively empty, sunlit and windy. They matched the results with experiment.

Benefits for Sahel

They report in the journal Science that they found that wind farms mix warmer air from above, to raise minimum temperatures and create a feedback loop that drives greater evaporation, precipitation and plant growth.

Over the Sahara proper, rainfall increased by 150%, but since the desert is very dry the increase is relatively small. In the Sahel region to the south, a dry landscape of scrub, savannah and woodland, stretching from the Atlantic to the Nile, the simulated wind farms stepped up rainfall by 1.12 millimetres a day.

This is more than double the average observed in a control experiment, and what could amount to an extra 500mm a year could have “major ecological, environmental and societal impacts,” the scientists say.

“Previous modelling studies have shown that large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change on continental scales,” said Yan Li, an environmental scientist at the University of Illinois, one of the chief authors.

Big rain boost

Solar arrays had very little effect on wind speed, but these too triggered a change in local conditions. The solar panels – and the wind turbines – together created a darker, more broken surface, a change that once again favoured around 50% more rainfall, and more vegetation growth, which in turn could promote even more rain.

Two centuries of exploitation of fossil fuels has driven economic growth everywhere, but at a cost in ever greater ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The planet is warming, and increasing extremes of heat, drought and storm threaten to change climates with catastrophic consequences, drying up water supplies, advancing the desert regions and creating millions of climate refugees.

So the case for renewable energy is easily made, and five years ago researchers began looking to the North African countries as potential providers of renewable power. And the latest study makes the point that such investment could actually be beneficial in unexpected ways.

“The increase in rainfall and vegetation, combined with clean electricity as a result of solar and wind energy, could help agriculture, economic development and social well-being in the Sahara, Sahel, Middle East and other nearby regions,” said Safa Mottesharrei of the University of Maryland, another of the authors. – Climate News Network

Airborne potable water can banish thirst

Airborne potable water straight from the atmosphere could provide a lifeline for arid regions, with the use of commonly available chemicals.

LONDON, 6 September, 2018 – A new technology, harvesting airborne potable water from the air using salts and sunlight, is set to offer new hope to many communities desperate for water to drink and to grow their crops.

An existing technology, which collects water from mist and clouds in mountain or coastal regions, is now established as a useful source of water in many countries. But where there is no fog it can achieve little. The new technology, harvesting water vapour from the air with the use of abundant salts and virtually unlimited sunlight, has now become a possibility, meaning even places without fog are not condemned to continued thirst.

Using sheets of various materials that harvest vapour from fog and allow the water to drip into collectors for later use already sustains many dry region communities, and a Canadian charity, Fogquest, works to help people in countries able to benefit. Countries using these established fog collectors include Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Namibia, Eritrea, Oman and Nepal.

In California, where coastal fog is normal even in the driest seasons because of the closeness of the sea to the dry coast, much of the vegetation could not survive without harvesting fog. A large number of water-collecting devices is being tried in a quest to improve efficiency.

“These salts not only work when the sunlight is strongest, at noon or early afternoon, but also … during other times of the day”

But in some desert regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, there is no fog, so the existing technology is no help. What there is, though, even in the driest regions, is water vapour in the atmosphere. And that offers hope.

Until now extracting water from this vapour so people and animals could make use of it has defeated human ingenuity. But Renyuan Li, a Ph.D student from KAUST, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia, has shown that using commonly available salts which absorb water from the atmosphere at night makes it possible to obtain fresh water during the day – by exposing the salts to sunlight.

With his tutor Peng Wang he experimented with a range of common salts and came up with three that readily absorb water from the atmosphere and release it again in drinkable form when daylight arrives.

Nothing but water

The three salts are copper chloride, copper sulphate and magnesium sulphate. They are effective in capturing water from the air with relative humidity as low as 15%. Still better, when exposed to even weakened sunlight, they release all the water they hold: just fresh, clean water.

“We found that these salts not only work when the sunlight is strongest, at noon or early afternoon, but that they also perform well during other times of the day, such as morning and late afternoon,” Li says. “This is important, because the extended operating hours could broaden the range of conditions in which the process can be used.”

With the problem of water shortages growing ever more acute in parts of Africa badly affected by climate change, many human settlements face extinction if they cannot find a reliable water source. The discovery at KAUST could provide a solution, because even in the most arid regions there is plenty of water in the atmosphere. It has been calculated that at any given moment the atmosphere contains as much as six times the water in all the rivers on Earth..

Professor Wang says their work could be useful in many poor, dry regions. “We are now working on salt-based composite materials with significantly enhanced water-uptake capacity, which we consider to be the second generation of our atmospheric water generator,” he said. – Climate News Network

Airborne potable water straight from the atmosphere could provide a lifeline for arid regions, with the use of commonly available chemicals.

LONDON, 6 September, 2018 – A new technology, harvesting airborne potable water from the air using salts and sunlight, is set to offer new hope to many communities desperate for water to drink and to grow their crops.

An existing technology, which collects water from mist and clouds in mountain or coastal regions, is now established as a useful source of water in many countries. But where there is no fog it can achieve little. The new technology, harvesting water vapour from the air with the use of abundant salts and virtually unlimited sunlight, has now become a possibility, meaning even places without fog are not condemned to continued thirst.

Using sheets of various materials that harvest vapour from fog and allow the water to drip into collectors for later use already sustains many dry region communities, and a Canadian charity, Fogquest, works to help people in countries able to benefit. Countries using these established fog collectors include Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Namibia, Eritrea, Oman and Nepal.

In California, where coastal fog is normal even in the driest seasons because of the closeness of the sea to the dry coast, much of the vegetation could not survive without harvesting fog. A large number of water-collecting devices is being tried in a quest to improve efficiency.

“These salts not only work when the sunlight is strongest, at noon or early afternoon, but also … during other times of the day”

But in some desert regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, there is no fog, so the existing technology is no help. What there is, though, even in the driest regions, is water vapour in the atmosphere. And that offers hope.

Until now extracting water from this vapour so people and animals could make use of it has defeated human ingenuity. But Renyuan Li, a Ph.D student from KAUST, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia, has shown that using commonly available salts which absorb water from the atmosphere at night makes it possible to obtain fresh water during the day – by exposing the salts to sunlight.

With his tutor Peng Wang he experimented with a range of common salts and came up with three that readily absorb water from the atmosphere and release it again in drinkable form when daylight arrives.

Nothing but water

The three salts are copper chloride, copper sulphate and magnesium sulphate. They are effective in capturing water from the air with relative humidity as low as 15%. Still better, when exposed to even weakened sunlight, they release all the water they hold: just fresh, clean water.

“We found that these salts not only work when the sunlight is strongest, at noon or early afternoon, but that they also perform well during other times of the day, such as morning and late afternoon,” Li says. “This is important, because the extended operating hours could broaden the range of conditions in which the process can be used.”

With the problem of water shortages growing ever more acute in parts of Africa badly affected by climate change, many human settlements face extinction if they cannot find a reliable water source. The discovery at KAUST could provide a solution, because even in the most arid regions there is plenty of water in the atmosphere. It has been calculated that at any given moment the atmosphere contains as much as six times the water in all the rivers on Earth..

Professor Wang says their work could be useful in many poor, dry regions. “We are now working on salt-based composite materials with significantly enhanced water-uptake capacity, which we consider to be the second generation of our atmospheric water generator,” he said. – Climate News Network

Rising carbon will mean shrunken harvests

Higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere don’t just mean a warmer world: they could also mean both shrunken harvests and a less nourishing diet.

LONDON, 5 September, 2018 – A greenhouse world could be a more malnourished one, trying to survive on shrunken harvests. Researchers have confirmed that as carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere double later this century, the protein, iron and zinc content of many of the world’s staple crops could dwindle by between 3% and 17%.

Since an estimated two billion people are already affected in some way by hunger or malnutrition, the consequences are alarming. An extra 175 million people could become deficient in dietary zinc – a vital trace element in plant foods. An additional 122 million people will no longer get enough protein.

And 1.4 billion children below the age of 5 and women of child-bearing age already live in regions where the prevalence of anaemia reaches 20%, and stand to lose 4% of their dietary iron intake.

Almost two thirds of all the world’s dietary protein is provided by plants, along with four-fifths of its dietary iron and more than two thirds of the dietary zinc.

“Decisions we are making every day – how we heat our homes, what we eat, how we move around, what we choose to purchase – are making our food less nutritious”

Human civilisation and human food staples – wheat, rice, maize, potatoes, fruit, brassicas, beans and nuts – evolved together, and for most of human history carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere hovered around 280 parts per million. But since the start of the Industrial Revolution, these have reached 400ppm.

Two US scientists report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they used computer simulations to look at the effect of extra carbon dioxide – the consequence of ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels over the past 200 years – on the nutritional value of 225 different foods in the population of 151 countries around the planet. They settled on an upper limit of 550ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2050 as their test case.

And they found that the prevalence and severity of nutritional deficiency would be increased worldwide, particularly in Africa, south and south-east Asia and the Middle East.

Risk to millions

In just one country, India, an additional 50 million will start to suffer from zinc deficiency, 38 million will go short of protein and more than 500 million women and children will be at greater risk of anaemia and other diseases linked to insufficient dietary iron.

Other researchers have already made the same case using different approaches: they have repeatedly raised the alarm about the nutritional content of humanity’s favourite staples in a greenhouse world, made direct connections between carbon dioxide levels and plant protein productivity, and tested the hypothesis with common varieties of humanity’s most important food plant, rice.

More ominously, higher ratios of the greenhouse gas also mean a warmer world with greater extremes of heat, drought and rainfall: under such conditions plant toxins could become more dangerous, and yields for both fruit and vegetables and for staples such as wheat and maize could begin to fall.

Smaller harvests are likely to mean higher food prices: once again, those already poorest and most at risk of hunger and malnutrition will suffer.

Different future possible

It doesn’t have to happen this way: drastic and concerted efforts to limit global warming by switching to sun and wind power, and to accelerate development in the poorest parts of the world, could reduce the risk.

“Our research makes it clear that decisions we are making every day – how we heat our homes, what we eat, how we move around, what we choose to purchase – are making our food less nutritious and imperilling the health of other populations and future generations,” said Samuel Myers, principal research scientist in planetary health at the Harvard TH Chan school of public health in Boston, who led the research.

“We cannot disrupt most of the biophysical conditions to which we have adapted over millions of years without unanticipated impacts on our health and wellbeing.” – Climate News Network

Higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere don’t just mean a warmer world: they could also mean both shrunken harvests and a less nourishing diet.

LONDON, 5 September, 2018 – A greenhouse world could be a more malnourished one, trying to survive on shrunken harvests. Researchers have confirmed that as carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere double later this century, the protein, iron and zinc content of many of the world’s staple crops could dwindle by between 3% and 17%.

Since an estimated two billion people are already affected in some way by hunger or malnutrition, the consequences are alarming. An extra 175 million people could become deficient in dietary zinc – a vital trace element in plant foods. An additional 122 million people will no longer get enough protein.

And 1.4 billion children below the age of 5 and women of child-bearing age already live in regions where the prevalence of anaemia reaches 20%, and stand to lose 4% of their dietary iron intake.

Almost two thirds of all the world’s dietary protein is provided by plants, along with four-fifths of its dietary iron and more than two thirds of the dietary zinc.

“Decisions we are making every day – how we heat our homes, what we eat, how we move around, what we choose to purchase – are making our food less nutritious”

Human civilisation and human food staples – wheat, rice, maize, potatoes, fruit, brassicas, beans and nuts – evolved together, and for most of human history carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere hovered around 280 parts per million. But since the start of the Industrial Revolution, these have reached 400ppm.

Two US scientists report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they used computer simulations to look at the effect of extra carbon dioxide – the consequence of ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels over the past 200 years – on the nutritional value of 225 different foods in the population of 151 countries around the planet. They settled on an upper limit of 550ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2050 as their test case.

And they found that the prevalence and severity of nutritional deficiency would be increased worldwide, particularly in Africa, south and south-east Asia and the Middle East.

Risk to millions

In just one country, India, an additional 50 million will start to suffer from zinc deficiency, 38 million will go short of protein and more than 500 million women and children will be at greater risk of anaemia and other diseases linked to insufficient dietary iron.

Other researchers have already made the same case using different approaches: they have repeatedly raised the alarm about the nutritional content of humanity’s favourite staples in a greenhouse world, made direct connections between carbon dioxide levels and plant protein productivity, and tested the hypothesis with common varieties of humanity’s most important food plant, rice.

More ominously, higher ratios of the greenhouse gas also mean a warmer world with greater extremes of heat, drought and rainfall: under such conditions plant toxins could become more dangerous, and yields for both fruit and vegetables and for staples such as wheat and maize could begin to fall.

Smaller harvests are likely to mean higher food prices: once again, those already poorest and most at risk of hunger and malnutrition will suffer.

Different future possible

It doesn’t have to happen this way: drastic and concerted efforts to limit global warming by switching to sun and wind power, and to accelerate development in the poorest parts of the world, could reduce the risk.

“Our research makes it clear that decisions we are making every day – how we heat our homes, what we eat, how we move around, what we choose to purchase – are making our food less nutritious and imperilling the health of other populations and future generations,” said Samuel Myers, principal research scientist in planetary health at the Harvard TH Chan school of public health in Boston, who led the research.

“We cannot disrupt most of the biophysical conditions to which we have adapted over millions of years without unanticipated impacts on our health and wellbeing.” – Climate News Network

British app traps Peru’s illegal goldminers

A smartphone app devised by a British campaign group has brought to justice illegal goldminers in Peru, and is also being tested in African forests.

LONDON, 3 July, 2018 – An indigenous community in the Peruvian Amazon has helped to catch illegal goldminers red-handed using a smartphone app developed by a London-based environmental group, the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK).

The app employs smartphones linked to satellites, and by involving communities in monitoring provides a tool which connects local people with national law enforcement, in an attempt to stop deforestation.

Rachel Agnew, the Foundation’s head of communications, says: “The beauty of it is that it’s adaptable to a wide range of contexts. The tech actually evolved from a large mapping project when we discovered that it was possible to transmit small pockets of data from remote parts of the forest, via satellite, in real time.”

Using RFUK’s specially designed ForestLink system,  remote communities can send alerts and evidence of threats to the forest, including illegal mining and oil spills, to law enforcement agencies, even from areas with no mobile or internet connectivity.

“Local people . . . are on the frontlines of the fight against deforestation”

The forest group involved in the miners’ detention, the Masenawa community in Peru’s Madre de Dios region, has been working with RFUK and another local organisation, Federación Nativa del Rio Madre de Dios y Afluentes  (Fenamad), since 2016 to monitor illegal activity, using ForestLink.

The miners were caught in June just a few kilometres from the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. They had set up a temporary camp as they searched for gold using heavy machinery, which attracted the attention of the Masenawa, who were on a monitoring mission.

Using a satellite uplink-fitted smartphone, the monitors promptly sent evidence of the mining to Fenamad, which reported it to the Peruvian authorities. The government’s environmental police force then intervened, destroying the miners’ machines, vehicles and other equipment in a series of controlled explosions. Five suspects were detained, and charges are now pending.

“Communities are the natural guardians of the Amazon. Technologies like ForestLink are helping indigenous peoples to protect the rainforest from illegal mining, even in areas outside their titled lands,” explained Fenamad’s real-time monitoring coordinator, Rosa Baca, in a statement.

Threats and beatings

The president of the Masenawa community, Carmen Irey Cameno, is a vocal opponent of goldmining. Since denouncing the illegal activity several members of the community have been threatened and two members of Cameno’s own family have been beaten up in retaliation.

“It’s alarming to see environmental defenders threatened and intimidated in this way”, said RFUK’s Peru and Andean Amazon coordinator, Aldo Soto. “At the same time, the determination of Carmen and her people in protecting their environment is truly inspiring.

“What this intervention shows is the power of harnessing technology for social good and putting it in the hands of local people, who are on the frontlines of the fight against deforestation.”

Madre de Dios is considered the capital of biodiversity in Peru, home to several natural reserves as well as the Manu National Park. In recent years illegal goldmining has become one of the leading drivers of deforestation in the region.

Grave threat

Goldmining, whether legal or not, has also become one of the most serious environmental and human rights problems across Peru, with an estimated US$15 billion-worth produced illegally between 2003 and 2014.

Research elsewhere in Latin America, published in 2017, has shown that when the price of gold rises, deforestation increases, while a price drop reduces the threat to the trees. Other researchers have found evidence showing a link between metals mined in Peru and Colombia and smelters in the European Union.

By 2015, there were an estimated 30,000 artisanal goldminers (all of whom needed a permit, RFUK says) operating in Madre de Dios alone.

The RFUK Real-Time Monitoring project is in use not only in Peru, but also in three African states: Ghana, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In one of the most recent reprisal attacks on environmental protection groups reported worldwide, five wildlife rangers and a driver involved in safeguarding the gorillas of the Virunga national park in the DRC were killed in an ambush in April 2018. More than 170 rangers have been killed in the park while protecting animals in the last 20 years. – Climate News Network

A smartphone app devised by a British campaign group has brought to justice illegal goldminers in Peru, and is also being tested in African forests.

LONDON, 3 July, 2018 – An indigenous community in the Peruvian Amazon has helped to catch illegal goldminers red-handed using a smartphone app developed by a London-based environmental group, the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK).

The app employs smartphones linked to satellites, and by involving communities in monitoring provides a tool which connects local people with national law enforcement, in an attempt to stop deforestation.

Rachel Agnew, the Foundation’s head of communications, says: “The beauty of it is that it’s adaptable to a wide range of contexts. The tech actually evolved from a large mapping project when we discovered that it was possible to transmit small pockets of data from remote parts of the forest, via satellite, in real time.”

Using RFUK’s specially designed ForestLink system,  remote communities can send alerts and evidence of threats to the forest, including illegal mining and oil spills, to law enforcement agencies, even from areas with no mobile or internet connectivity.

“Local people . . . are on the frontlines of the fight against deforestation”

The forest group involved in the miners’ detention, the Masenawa community in Peru’s Madre de Dios region, has been working with RFUK and another local organisation, Federación Nativa del Rio Madre de Dios y Afluentes  (Fenamad), since 2016 to monitor illegal activity, using ForestLink.

The miners were caught in June just a few kilometres from the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. They had set up a temporary camp as they searched for gold using heavy machinery, which attracted the attention of the Masenawa, who were on a monitoring mission.

Using a satellite uplink-fitted smartphone, the monitors promptly sent evidence of the mining to Fenamad, which reported it to the Peruvian authorities. The government’s environmental police force then intervened, destroying the miners’ machines, vehicles and other equipment in a series of controlled explosions. Five suspects were detained, and charges are now pending.

“Communities are the natural guardians of the Amazon. Technologies like ForestLink are helping indigenous peoples to protect the rainforest from illegal mining, even in areas outside their titled lands,” explained Fenamad’s real-time monitoring coordinator, Rosa Baca, in a statement.

Threats and beatings

The president of the Masenawa community, Carmen Irey Cameno, is a vocal opponent of goldmining. Since denouncing the illegal activity several members of the community have been threatened and two members of Cameno’s own family have been beaten up in retaliation.

“It’s alarming to see environmental defenders threatened and intimidated in this way”, said RFUK’s Peru and Andean Amazon coordinator, Aldo Soto. “At the same time, the determination of Carmen and her people in protecting their environment is truly inspiring.

“What this intervention shows is the power of harnessing technology for social good and putting it in the hands of local people, who are on the frontlines of the fight against deforestation.”

Madre de Dios is considered the capital of biodiversity in Peru, home to several natural reserves as well as the Manu National Park. In recent years illegal goldmining has become one of the leading drivers of deforestation in the region.

Grave threat

Goldmining, whether legal or not, has also become one of the most serious environmental and human rights problems across Peru, with an estimated US$15 billion-worth produced illegally between 2003 and 2014.

Research elsewhere in Latin America, published in 2017, has shown that when the price of gold rises, deforestation increases, while a price drop reduces the threat to the trees. Other researchers have found evidence showing a link between metals mined in Peru and Colombia and smelters in the European Union.

By 2015, there were an estimated 30,000 artisanal goldminers (all of whom needed a permit, RFUK says) operating in Madre de Dios alone.

The RFUK Real-Time Monitoring project is in use not only in Peru, but also in three African states: Ghana, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In one of the most recent reprisal attacks on environmental protection groups reported worldwide, five wildlife rangers and a driver involved in safeguarding the gorillas of the Virunga national park in the DRC were killed in an ambush in April 2018. More than 170 rangers have been killed in the park while protecting animals in the last 20 years. – Climate News Network

Humans put conservation reserves at risk

In theory conservation reserves are set aside to preserve wild creatures. But then the humans move in. Land almost twice the area of India is threatened.

LONDON, 8 June, 2018 – Many of the world’s conservation reserves, intended to safeguard species at risk of survival, are increasingly unable to provide effective refuge.

At least one third of all the forests, grasslands, wetlands and mangroves notionally protected by laws to safeguard the wild things that evolved with them are under intense human pressure, according to the first detailed study for 25 years.

Major road systems criss-cross African wildlife reserves, cities have grown up in national park areas, and farmland and buildings blight landscapes supposedly reserved for endemic species at hazard from extinction. Altogether 6 million square kilometres (2.3m square miles) of protected land, researchers say, are “under intense human pressure.”

Since the global Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was agreed in 1992, the area of the world declared as protected has doubled in size, and more than 202,000 patches of conservation area and national park cover 14.7% of the Earth’s land surface.

“A well-run protected area network is essential in saving species. If we allow our protected area network to be degraded there is no doubt biodiversity losses will be exacerbated”

Some of these areas are strictly for conservation of biodiversity; some permit limited human exploitation but are still intended mainly to provide habitat for the wild creatures.

Australian and Canadian scientists report in the journal Science that they examined what they call “human footprint” maps of the globe to make their assessment. The human footprint metric incorporates built environments, intensive agriculture, pasture lands, human population density, night-time lights, roads, railways and navigable waterways.

The scientists found that only 42% of these lands were free of measurable human pressure. But 32.8%, an area of more than 6m sq km – almost twice the size of India – counted as under intense pressure.

What worried the scientists most was what happened to some landscapes that were intact and in a natural state when declared as protected: since 1993, around 280,000 square kilometres of such wilderness had shifted from low disturbance to intense human pressure: this is an area almost as large as Italy.

Complete human dependence

Almost three fourths of the world’s nations – that is, 137 countries – have 50% of their protected land under intense human pressure. “If one assumes that protected land under intense human pressure does not contribute towards conservation targets,” the scientists write, “we show that 74 of 111 nations that have reached a level of 17% protected coverage would drop out of that list.”

Almost all human resources – including food and drink, fabrics and medicines – are derived from the planet’s biodiversity: even the coal, natural gas and petrol that drives the human economy was once wild forest and reed bed. Researchers have repeatedly stressed the importance of biodiversity to all human economic activity – they call it natural capital – and warned that continued loss of wild native plants and animals could have catastrophic consequences. The authors of the Science study warn that if human pressure increases, the goals of the CBD will be severely undermined.

“A well-run protected area network is essential in saving species,” said Kendall Jones of the University of Queensland. “If we allow our protected area network to be degraded there is no doubt biodiversity losses will be exacerbated.”

And his co-author James Watson of the World Conservation Society said: “Most importantly, we’ve got to recognise that these jewels in the crown need support – there are some protected areas that are safeguarding nature and that still haven’t got any evidence of human encroachment in them. We must ensure these values are maintained.” – Climate News Network

In theory conservation reserves are set aside to preserve wild creatures. But then the humans move in. Land almost twice the area of India is threatened.

LONDON, 8 June, 2018 – Many of the world’s conservation reserves, intended to safeguard species at risk of survival, are increasingly unable to provide effective refuge.

At least one third of all the forests, grasslands, wetlands and mangroves notionally protected by laws to safeguard the wild things that evolved with them are under intense human pressure, according to the first detailed study for 25 years.

Major road systems criss-cross African wildlife reserves, cities have grown up in national park areas, and farmland and buildings blight landscapes supposedly reserved for endemic species at hazard from extinction. Altogether 6 million square kilometres (2.3m square miles) of protected land, researchers say, are “under intense human pressure.”

Since the global Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was agreed in 1992, the area of the world declared as protected has doubled in size, and more than 202,000 patches of conservation area and national park cover 14.7% of the Earth’s land surface.

“A well-run protected area network is essential in saving species. If we allow our protected area network to be degraded there is no doubt biodiversity losses will be exacerbated”

Some of these areas are strictly for conservation of biodiversity; some permit limited human exploitation but are still intended mainly to provide habitat for the wild creatures.

Australian and Canadian scientists report in the journal Science that they examined what they call “human footprint” maps of the globe to make their assessment. The human footprint metric incorporates built environments, intensive agriculture, pasture lands, human population density, night-time lights, roads, railways and navigable waterways.

The scientists found that only 42% of these lands were free of measurable human pressure. But 32.8%, an area of more than 6m sq km – almost twice the size of India – counted as under intense pressure.

What worried the scientists most was what happened to some landscapes that were intact and in a natural state when declared as protected: since 1993, around 280,000 square kilometres of such wilderness had shifted from low disturbance to intense human pressure: this is an area almost as large as Italy.

Complete human dependence

Almost three fourths of the world’s nations – that is, 137 countries – have 50% of their protected land under intense human pressure. “If one assumes that protected land under intense human pressure does not contribute towards conservation targets,” the scientists write, “we show that 74 of 111 nations that have reached a level of 17% protected coverage would drop out of that list.”

Almost all human resources – including food and drink, fabrics and medicines – are derived from the planet’s biodiversity: even the coal, natural gas and petrol that drives the human economy was once wild forest and reed bed. Researchers have repeatedly stressed the importance of biodiversity to all human economic activity – they call it natural capital – and warned that continued loss of wild native plants and animals could have catastrophic consequences. The authors of the Science study warn that if human pressure increases, the goals of the CBD will be severely undermined.

“A well-run protected area network is essential in saving species,” said Kendall Jones of the University of Queensland. “If we allow our protected area network to be degraded there is no doubt biodiversity losses will be exacerbated.”

And his co-author James Watson of the World Conservation Society said: “Most importantly, we’ve got to recognise that these jewels in the crown need support – there are some protected areas that are safeguarding nature and that still haven’t got any evidence of human encroachment in them. We must ensure these values are maintained.” – Climate News Network

China’s trade plan may cause lasting harm

China’s trade plan could cause  environmental catastrophe, scientists warn, because of its voracious appetite for natural resources and its climate impact.

LONDON, 1 June, 2018 – Possibly the most ambitious and far-reaching development scheme ever launched, China’s trade plan, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), may pose an unacceptable risk to the environment, scientists say.

Launched in 2013, the BRI plans a huge expansion of trade routes linking Asia, Africa and Europe, involving China itself and 64 other countries, and affecting about two thirds of the world’s people and one third of its economy. There will be new ports on the Pacific and Indian Ocean coasts, new roads, and a rail network linking China to north-west Europe.

But an international group of scientists, writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, expresses serious doubts about the possibility of completing the scheme without causing permanent environmental damage.

Economy vs. environment

The scientists write: “Economic development aspirations under the BRI may clash with environmental sustainability goals, given the expansion and upgrading of transportation infrastructure in environmentally sensitive areas, and the large amounts of raw material needed to support that expansion…

“If not properly addressed, the negative environmental impacts of the BRI are likely to disproportionately affect the world’s poor, hence putting at risk the wellbeing of the very people it aims to help.”

Some of the scientists’ comments are positive. They say, for instance, that the BRI includes “examples of well-planned road developments” with negligible impacts on wildlife and protected areas.

They cite the proposed Serengeti Highway in Tanzania, which would go round the national park, not through it. An alternative route for Nigeria’s planned Cross River Superhighway will cause far less environmental harm than the original scheme, and the Bangladesh Railway is improving the protection of elephants by building five overpasses across the tracks for them at well-used crossing points.

“In biodiversity and environmental terms, it’s the worst thing we’ve seen anywhere  –  and in the past forty years, I and my colleagues have seen some pretty horrific stuff”

To improve the BRI’s research and monitoring, Beijing has announced its intention to build a Digital Silk Road with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a potential boost to environmental research elsewhere in Asia.

But despite these expected benefits from the BRI, doubts remain. The scientists say a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund found “a clear risk of severe negative environmental impacts from infrastructure developments”.

These include the scheme’s gargantuan appetite for natural resources, including sand and limestone for making the immense quantities of concrete and cement that it will demand. Global sand extraction, the scientists say, has already passed its natural renewal rate, causing severe damage to deltas and coastal ecosystems.

And with China already responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, the vast pipeline network planned under the BRI, and the infrastructure construction involved, will mean further and faster exploitation of fossil fuel reserves.

Riskiest scheme ever

One of the authors of the commentary in Nature Sustainability is Bill Laurance, of James Cook University, Australia. In an interview with Nexus Media he had more to say about his concerns – and he didn’t pull his punches.

Professor Laurance thinks the BRI “environmentally, the riskiest venture ever undertaken”, which “simply blows out of the water anything else that’s been attempted in human history…In biodiversity and environmental terms, it’s the worst thing we’ve seen anywhere  –  and in the past forty years, I and my colleagues have seen some pretty horrific stuff in the Amazon, Africa, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.”

On climate change, he holds out little hope that the Initiative can offer anything much: “If you also consider everything China is doing or promoting overseas in terms of extractive industries and large-scale infrastructure, they utterly overwhelm any other nation as climate changers.

“In real terms – digging through a great deal of greenwashing – I don’t see anything in the BRI that squares with China’s stated climate goals.” – Climate News Network

China’s trade plan could cause  environmental catastrophe, scientists warn, because of its voracious appetite for natural resources and its climate impact.

LONDON, 1 June, 2018 – Possibly the most ambitious and far-reaching development scheme ever launched, China’s trade plan, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), may pose an unacceptable risk to the environment, scientists say.

Launched in 2013, the BRI plans a huge expansion of trade routes linking Asia, Africa and Europe, involving China itself and 64 other countries, and affecting about two thirds of the world’s people and one third of its economy. There will be new ports on the Pacific and Indian Ocean coasts, new roads, and a rail network linking China to north-west Europe.

But an international group of scientists, writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, expresses serious doubts about the possibility of completing the scheme without causing permanent environmental damage.

Economy vs. environment

The scientists write: “Economic development aspirations under the BRI may clash with environmental sustainability goals, given the expansion and upgrading of transportation infrastructure in environmentally sensitive areas, and the large amounts of raw material needed to support that expansion…

“If not properly addressed, the negative environmental impacts of the BRI are likely to disproportionately affect the world’s poor, hence putting at risk the wellbeing of the very people it aims to help.”

Some of the scientists’ comments are positive. They say, for instance, that the BRI includes “examples of well-planned road developments” with negligible impacts on wildlife and protected areas.

They cite the proposed Serengeti Highway in Tanzania, which would go round the national park, not through it. An alternative route for Nigeria’s planned Cross River Superhighway will cause far less environmental harm than the original scheme, and the Bangladesh Railway is improving the protection of elephants by building five overpasses across the tracks for them at well-used crossing points.

“In biodiversity and environmental terms, it’s the worst thing we’ve seen anywhere  –  and in the past forty years, I and my colleagues have seen some pretty horrific stuff”

To improve the BRI’s research and monitoring, Beijing has announced its intention to build a Digital Silk Road with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a potential boost to environmental research elsewhere in Asia.

But despite these expected benefits from the BRI, doubts remain. The scientists say a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund found “a clear risk of severe negative environmental impacts from infrastructure developments”.

These include the scheme’s gargantuan appetite for natural resources, including sand and limestone for making the immense quantities of concrete and cement that it will demand. Global sand extraction, the scientists say, has already passed its natural renewal rate, causing severe damage to deltas and coastal ecosystems.

And with China already responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, the vast pipeline network planned under the BRI, and the infrastructure construction involved, will mean further and faster exploitation of fossil fuel reserves.

Riskiest scheme ever

One of the authors of the commentary in Nature Sustainability is Bill Laurance, of James Cook University, Australia. In an interview with Nexus Media he had more to say about his concerns – and he didn’t pull his punches.

Professor Laurance thinks the BRI “environmentally, the riskiest venture ever undertaken”, which “simply blows out of the water anything else that’s been attempted in human history…In biodiversity and environmental terms, it’s the worst thing we’ve seen anywhere  –  and in the past forty years, I and my colleagues have seen some pretty horrific stuff in the Amazon, Africa, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.”

On climate change, he holds out little hope that the Initiative can offer anything much: “If you also consider everything China is doing or promoting overseas in terms of extractive industries and large-scale infrastructure, they utterly overwhelm any other nation as climate changers.

“In real terms – digging through a great deal of greenwashing – I don’t see anything in the BRI that squares with China’s stated climate goals.” – Climate News Network

World temperature rise nears danger level

If world temperature rises more than another 0.5°C, the consequences will be catastrophic for millions of the poorest people.

LONDON, 22 May, 2018 – With world temperature rise already 1°C above pre-industrial levels, new research shows that there is only a 0.5°C safety margin left in the system before the most vulnerable groups of people suffer severely.

The current political target, agreed in Paris more than two years ago, of aiming to prevent temperature from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and certainly stopping a rise beyond 2°C, disguises the fact that we are already more than halfway to the danger point.

And scientists have now shown that there is a huge difference in the consequences to the human race if the 1.5°C limit is exceeded and temperatures allowed to reach 2°C.

Research to identify climate vulnerability hotspots has found that if the global temperature does rise by 2°C, then the number of people affected by multiple climate change risks could double the number affected by a rise of 1.5°C.

Because people living in poverty are much more vulnerable to climate change impacts, knowing where and how many of them are at high risk matters for developing policies to improve their lives.

“Few studies have consistently investigated so many overlapping climate and development challenges”

The researchers investigated the overlap between socio-economic development and a range of climate change risks, to try to identify the vulnerability hotspots if the global mean temperature should rise by 1.5°C, 2°C or 3°C by 2050, compared with the pre-industrial baseline.

The researchers are from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the universities of Oxford (UK) and Washington (US).

They report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they developed 14 impact indicators in three main sectors – water, energy, and food and environment. These indicators include a water stress index, water supply seasonality, clean cooking access, heat stress events, habitat degradation, and crop yield changes.

The team compared the potential risks at the three selected temperatures and in a range of socio-economic pathways, to let them compare more equitable and sustainable development with pathways marked by development failures and high inequality.

Intolerable risk

In 2011, an estimated 767 million people were living on less than US$1.90 per day, classed as extreme poverty, and the researchers estimated that 3.5 billion more people were “vulnerable to poverty”, living on less than US$10 per day.

The research was led by Edward Byers of IIASA’s energy programe. He said: “Few studies have consistently investigated so many overlapping climate and development challenges.”

The multi-sector risk he and his colleagues studied is one where the risk goes beyond tolerable in at least two of the three main sectors. At lower temperatures, hotspots occur primarily in south and east Asia, but with higher global temperatures hotspots spread further to Central America, west and east Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

At 1.5°C of warming, 16% of the probable population of the world in 2050, 1.5bn people, will have moderate-to-high levels of multi-sector risk. At 2°C this almost doubles to 29% of the global population, 2.7bn people. And at 3°C, that figure almost doubles again, to 50% of the global population: 4.6bn human beings.

Sustainability hopes

Depending on the scenario, 91-98% of the exposed and vulnerable population live in Asia and Africa. Around half of these live in south Asia alone, but Africa is likely to face greater risks as the least developed region with high social inequality.

The researchers say sustainable development in hotspot areas could reduce the number of people who are exposed and vulnerable by an order of magnitude, from 1.5bn to 100m, compared with the high inequality scenario.

“The research will be most relevant to policymakers and others looking to understand the benefits of keeping the average global temperature rise to 1.5°C rather than 2°C, as well as providing insights into the regions most at risk across different sectors”, said Astrid Hillers, senior environmental specialist at GEF.

Keywan Riahi, IIASA’s energy programme director, said: “The research indicates locations where meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is not only important but also very challenging, and shows the substantial importance of targeted poverty reduction that is required in some regions to reduce vulnerability.” – Climate News Network

If world temperature rises more than another 0.5°C, the consequences will be catastrophic for millions of the poorest people.

LONDON, 22 May, 2018 – With world temperature rise already 1°C above pre-industrial levels, new research shows that there is only a 0.5°C safety margin left in the system before the most vulnerable groups of people suffer severely.

The current political target, agreed in Paris more than two years ago, of aiming to prevent temperature from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and certainly stopping a rise beyond 2°C, disguises the fact that we are already more than halfway to the danger point.

And scientists have now shown that there is a huge difference in the consequences to the human race if the 1.5°C limit is exceeded and temperatures allowed to reach 2°C.

Research to identify climate vulnerability hotspots has found that if the global temperature does rise by 2°C, then the number of people affected by multiple climate change risks could double the number affected by a rise of 1.5°C.

Because people living in poverty are much more vulnerable to climate change impacts, knowing where and how many of them are at high risk matters for developing policies to improve their lives.

“Few studies have consistently investigated so many overlapping climate and development challenges”

The researchers investigated the overlap between socio-economic development and a range of climate change risks, to try to identify the vulnerability hotspots if the global mean temperature should rise by 1.5°C, 2°C or 3°C by 2050, compared with the pre-industrial baseline.

The researchers are from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the universities of Oxford (UK) and Washington (US).

They report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they developed 14 impact indicators in three main sectors – water, energy, and food and environment. These indicators include a water stress index, water supply seasonality, clean cooking access, heat stress events, habitat degradation, and crop yield changes.

The team compared the potential risks at the three selected temperatures and in a range of socio-economic pathways, to let them compare more equitable and sustainable development with pathways marked by development failures and high inequality.

Intolerable risk

In 2011, an estimated 767 million people were living on less than US$1.90 per day, classed as extreme poverty, and the researchers estimated that 3.5 billion more people were “vulnerable to poverty”, living on less than US$10 per day.

The research was led by Edward Byers of IIASA’s energy programe. He said: “Few studies have consistently investigated so many overlapping climate and development challenges.”

The multi-sector risk he and his colleagues studied is one where the risk goes beyond tolerable in at least two of the three main sectors. At lower temperatures, hotspots occur primarily in south and east Asia, but with higher global temperatures hotspots spread further to Central America, west and east Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

At 1.5°C of warming, 16% of the probable population of the world in 2050, 1.5bn people, will have moderate-to-high levels of multi-sector risk. At 2°C this almost doubles to 29% of the global population, 2.7bn people. And at 3°C, that figure almost doubles again, to 50% of the global population: 4.6bn human beings.

Sustainability hopes

Depending on the scenario, 91-98% of the exposed and vulnerable population live in Asia and Africa. Around half of these live in south Asia alone, but Africa is likely to face greater risks as the least developed region with high social inequality.

The researchers say sustainable development in hotspot areas could reduce the number of people who are exposed and vulnerable by an order of magnitude, from 1.5bn to 100m, compared with the high inequality scenario.

“The research will be most relevant to policymakers and others looking to understand the benefits of keeping the average global temperature rise to 1.5°C rather than 2°C, as well as providing insights into the regions most at risk across different sectors”, said Astrid Hillers, senior environmental specialist at GEF.

Keywan Riahi, IIASA’s energy programme director, said: “The research indicates locations where meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is not only important but also very challenging, and shows the substantial importance of targeted poverty reduction that is required in some regions to reduce vulnerability.” – Climate News Network

Warming climate increases Sahara’s spread

Climate change means the Sahara’s spread is growing. And North Africa’s pattern of atmospheric change could affect other regions.

LONDON, 5 April, 2018 – The Sahara’s spread is now established. Its sands are on the march. The desert is growing, thanks to climate change.

In the last century the region of the Sahara technically defined as desert has increased by at least 10%. And the area that becomes technically desert – with less than 100mm of rain a year – has increased in summer, the wet season, over the same period by 16%.

And if climate change is at work in northern Africa, the same may hold true for some of the world’s other deserts as well, researchers warn.

US meteorologists report in the Journal of Climate that they looked at data from the years 1920 to 2013, to explore the annual trends.

Deserts are natural geographical features with no fixed boundaries: parts of them can bloom in rainier years, and support crops and even foraging animals, only to become extreme arid zones a year or two later.

“The Chad Basin falls in the region where the Sahara has crept southward. And the lake is drying out. It’s a very visible footprint of reduced rainfall not just locally, but across the whole region”

Deserts exist because of the natural circulation of the atmosphere: air rises at the equator and descends in the subtropics to flow back to the equator nearer ground level to establish a pattern of low precipitation: weather experts call this phenomenon the Hadley circulation, after the 18th century British natural philosopher George Hadley.

“Climate change is likely to widen the Hadley circulation causing northward advance of the subtropical deserts,” said Sumant Nigam, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Maryland, one of the authors of the study. “The southward creep of the Sahara however suggests that additional mechanisms are at work as well.”

The other factors probably linked to the shifts in the Sahara sands include a natural climate cycle known to oceanographers and meteorologists as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.

Overlapping patterns

The headache for climate scientists is to distinguish one natural pattern of change from another, more alarming trend as a consequence of climate change, triggered by global warming as a consequence of the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels by human economies.

And such dissections are not simple: the Sahara expands in the arid winter and shrinks a little with the summer rains. Between the shifting dunes of the Sahara and the fertile savannas of tropical Africa lies the Sahel, a region that straddles 14 nations, from Senegal on the Atlantic coast, through Mali and Chad, to Ethiopia on the Red Sea.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change could bring more famine to this precarious region. But other scientists have detected a trend towards increased rainfall that could make parts of the Sahel flourish again with climate change.

The latest study suggests that on the evidence of water levels in Lake Chad, overall conditions could become harsher for the meagre grasslands and impoverished communities of the Sahel.

Century-long trend

“The Chad Basin falls in the region where the Sahara has crept southward. And the lake is drying out. It’s a very visible footprint of reduced rainfall not just locally, but across the whole region,” said Professor Nigam. The scientists attribute about a third of the shift in the desert’s regime to human-induced climate change, the rest to other cyclic weather patterns.

Researchers have been examining desertification for decades, but this paper is claimed as the first to establish a trend over most of a century, according to Natalie Thomas of the University of Maryland, who led the study.

“Our priority was to document the long-term trends in rainfall and temperature in the Sahara. Our next step is to look at what is driving these trends, for the Sahara and elsewhere,” she said.

“We have already started looking at seasonal temperature trends over North America, for example. Here, winters are getting warmer but summers are about the same. In Africa, it’s the opposite – winters are holding steady but summers are getting warmer. So the stresses in Africa are already more severe.” – Climate News Network

Climate change means the Sahara’s spread is growing. And North Africa’s pattern of atmospheric change could affect other regions.

LONDON, 5 April, 2018 – The Sahara’s spread is now established. Its sands are on the march. The desert is growing, thanks to climate change.

In the last century the region of the Sahara technically defined as desert has increased by at least 10%. And the area that becomes technically desert – with less than 100mm of rain a year – has increased in summer, the wet season, over the same period by 16%.

And if climate change is at work in northern Africa, the same may hold true for some of the world’s other deserts as well, researchers warn.

US meteorologists report in the Journal of Climate that they looked at data from the years 1920 to 2013, to explore the annual trends.

Deserts are natural geographical features with no fixed boundaries: parts of them can bloom in rainier years, and support crops and even foraging animals, only to become extreme arid zones a year or two later.

“The Chad Basin falls in the region where the Sahara has crept southward. And the lake is drying out. It’s a very visible footprint of reduced rainfall not just locally, but across the whole region”

Deserts exist because of the natural circulation of the atmosphere: air rises at the equator and descends in the subtropics to flow back to the equator nearer ground level to establish a pattern of low precipitation: weather experts call this phenomenon the Hadley circulation, after the 18th century British natural philosopher George Hadley.

“Climate change is likely to widen the Hadley circulation causing northward advance of the subtropical deserts,” said Sumant Nigam, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic science at the University of Maryland, one of the authors of the study. “The southward creep of the Sahara however suggests that additional mechanisms are at work as well.”

The other factors probably linked to the shifts in the Sahara sands include a natural climate cycle known to oceanographers and meteorologists as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation.

Overlapping patterns

The headache for climate scientists is to distinguish one natural pattern of change from another, more alarming trend as a consequence of climate change, triggered by global warming as a consequence of the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels by human economies.

And such dissections are not simple: the Sahara expands in the arid winter and shrinks a little with the summer rains. Between the shifting dunes of the Sahara and the fertile savannas of tropical Africa lies the Sahel, a region that straddles 14 nations, from Senegal on the Atlantic coast, through Mali and Chad, to Ethiopia on the Red Sea.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change could bring more famine to this precarious region. But other scientists have detected a trend towards increased rainfall that could make parts of the Sahel flourish again with climate change.

The latest study suggests that on the evidence of water levels in Lake Chad, overall conditions could become harsher for the meagre grasslands and impoverished communities of the Sahel.

Century-long trend

“The Chad Basin falls in the region where the Sahara has crept southward. And the lake is drying out. It’s a very visible footprint of reduced rainfall not just locally, but across the whole region,” said Professor Nigam. The scientists attribute about a third of the shift in the desert’s regime to human-induced climate change, the rest to other cyclic weather patterns.

Researchers have been examining desertification for decades, but this paper is claimed as the first to establish a trend over most of a century, according to Natalie Thomas of the University of Maryland, who led the study.

“Our priority was to document the long-term trends in rainfall and temperature in the Sahara. Our next step is to look at what is driving these trends, for the Sahara and elsewhere,” she said.

“We have already started looking at seasonal temperature trends over North America, for example. Here, winters are getting warmer but summers are about the same. In Africa, it’s the opposite – winters are holding steady but summers are getting warmer. So the stresses in Africa are already more severe.” – Climate News Network