Tag Archives: Agriculture

Extreme heat is growing threat to harvests

A warmer world means more chance of extreme heat in more than one continent at the same time, and a rising threat to global food security.

LONDON, 17 April, 2019 − Ever-higher average global temperatures mean more intense extreme heat over ever-wider regions.

When the planet becomes on average 1.5°C warmer than it was for most of human history, then for two out of every three years, one-fourth of the northern hemisphere will experience the kind of blistering heat waves recorded in 2018.

And should planetary average temperatures creep up by 2°C – the maximum proposed by 195 nations at the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 – then the probability rises to 100%. That is, extreme heat over a large area of the hemisphere will be guaranteed every summer.

Heat extremes are all too often accompanied by devastating thunderstorms or extended drought and massive outbreaks of wildfire, with potentially disastrous consequences for harvests in the blighted regions.

“Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland”

In 2018, people died of heatstroke, roads and even rails started to melt, forests went up in flames, and power generation systems sometimes failed, not just in one region but in a number in the temperate zones and the Arctic at the same time.

Between May and July, 22% of agricultural land and crowded cities of the northern half of the globe were hit simultaneously by extended periods of extreme heat. In all, 17 countries were affected, from Canada and the US across the Atlantic and Pacific to Russia, Japan and South Korea. In Europe, temperatures in the rivers Rhine and Elbe reached such heights that fish suffocated; there were wildfires in Sweden, Latvia and Greece and record temperatures in Germany.

“Without climate change that can be explained by human activity, we wouldn’t have such a large area being simultaneously affected by heat as we did in 2018,” said Martha Vogel, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, who presented her findings at a press conference held by the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

Serious impacts

The reasoning and methodology have yet to be published, but the authors say their paper is in review for the journal Earth’s Future. “If in future more and more key agricultural regions and densely populated areas are affected by simultaneous heatwaves, this would have severe consequences.”

Other research teams have already warned that global warming could bring a repeat of the simultaneous drought and heat outbreaks across the world that triggered calamitous famines in Asia and Africa between 1875 and 1878.

They have repeatedly warned of potentially catastrophic levels of heat that could arrive with increasing frequency to claim greater numbers of lives especially when accompanied by extreme levels of humidity.

The Swiss scientists focussed on data from agricultural regions and busy urban areas above latitude 30° for the years 1958 to 2018 to find occasions of heat extremes in more than one region and then used computer modelling to simulate probabilities as average planetary temperatures continued to grow.

Poor are hardest-hit

The choice of agricultural areas was purposeful: in such scenarios where more than one region suffers harvest failures, food prices begin to soar. In the 2010 heatwave, Russia ended all its wheat exports and prices in Pakistan rose by 16%, with harsh consequences for the poorest. Governments, agriculture ministries and international aid agencies need to be prepared.

“Such incidents cannot be resolved by individual countries acting on their own. Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland,” said Sonia Seneviratne, an ETH climate scientist who has also shared in the study.

“We are already clearly feeling the effects just from the one degree that global average temperature has risen since the pre-industrial era.” − Climate News Network

A warmer world means more chance of extreme heat in more than one continent at the same time, and a rising threat to global food security.

LONDON, 17 April, 2019 − Ever-higher average global temperatures mean more intense extreme heat over ever-wider regions.

When the planet becomes on average 1.5°C warmer than it was for most of human history, then for two out of every three years, one-fourth of the northern hemisphere will experience the kind of blistering heat waves recorded in 2018.

And should planetary average temperatures creep up by 2°C – the maximum proposed by 195 nations at the global climate conference in Paris in 2015 – then the probability rises to 100%. That is, extreme heat over a large area of the hemisphere will be guaranteed every summer.

Heat extremes are all too often accompanied by devastating thunderstorms or extended drought and massive outbreaks of wildfire, with potentially disastrous consequences for harvests in the blighted regions.

“Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland”

In 2018, people died of heatstroke, roads and even rails started to melt, forests went up in flames, and power generation systems sometimes failed, not just in one region but in a number in the temperate zones and the Arctic at the same time.

Between May and July, 22% of agricultural land and crowded cities of the northern half of the globe were hit simultaneously by extended periods of extreme heat. In all, 17 countries were affected, from Canada and the US across the Atlantic and Pacific to Russia, Japan and South Korea. In Europe, temperatures in the rivers Rhine and Elbe reached such heights that fish suffocated; there were wildfires in Sweden, Latvia and Greece and record temperatures in Germany.

“Without climate change that can be explained by human activity, we wouldn’t have such a large area being simultaneously affected by heat as we did in 2018,” said Martha Vogel, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, known as ETH Zurich, who presented her findings at a press conference held by the European Geosciences Union in Vienna.

Serious impacts

The reasoning and methodology have yet to be published, but the authors say their paper is in review for the journal Earth’s Future. “If in future more and more key agricultural regions and densely populated areas are affected by simultaneous heatwaves, this would have severe consequences.”

Other research teams have already warned that global warming could bring a repeat of the simultaneous drought and heat outbreaks across the world that triggered calamitous famines in Asia and Africa between 1875 and 1878.

They have repeatedly warned of potentially catastrophic levels of heat that could arrive with increasing frequency to claim greater numbers of lives especially when accompanied by extreme levels of humidity.

The Swiss scientists focussed on data from agricultural regions and busy urban areas above latitude 30° for the years 1958 to 2018 to find occasions of heat extremes in more than one region and then used computer modelling to simulate probabilities as average planetary temperatures continued to grow.

Poor are hardest-hit

The choice of agricultural areas was purposeful: in such scenarios where more than one region suffers harvest failures, food prices begin to soar. In the 2010 heatwave, Russia ended all its wheat exports and prices in Pakistan rose by 16%, with harsh consequences for the poorest. Governments, agriculture ministries and international aid agencies need to be prepared.

“Such incidents cannot be resolved by individual countries acting on their own. Ultimately, extreme events affecting large areas of the planet could threaten food supply elsewhere, even in Switzerland,” said Sonia Seneviratne, an ETH climate scientist who has also shared in the study.

“We are already clearly feeling the effects just from the one degree that global average temperature has risen since the pre-industrial era.” − Climate News Network

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

Indian voters demand environmental clean-up

A huge exercise in democracy starts on 11 April as 900 million Indian voters turn out, many seeking a cleaner environment.

CHENNAI, 10 April, 2019 − Candidates promising to fight for clean drinking water and a halt to pollution are likely to gain the support of millions of Indian voters.

Environmental issues, particularly clean water and air, traffic congestion and better public transport, are among the top priorities of urban voters as they prepare to vote in the world’s largest general election.

In India it is no longer religion or caste that tops the poll of issues that concern voters, but policies that affect their daily lives, still blighted by some of the worst pollution in the world which is also contributing to climate change and the shortage of clean water.

Although for both rural and urban voters job opportunities and the need to make a living are the number one priority, a whole list of environmental issues are more important than terrorism or strong military defence, both of which appear to be of little concern to the electorate.

With air pollution a major cause of illness and death in both town and country, the voters are also demanding better hospitals and health care centres to help them with breathing difficulties.

The elections start on 11 April, and with 900 million people able to vote it will not be until 23 May that the result is finally declared in 29 states to elect the 543 members of the lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, which in turn elects the prime minister for a five-year term. Astonishingly, there will be 84 million new voters, those who have reached the age of 18 since the last general election.

“My daughter has sacrificed her life to save future generations from pollution . . . We won’t let go of her goal’’

In rural areas, where a majority of Indian voters still live, new jobs are still the main priority, but voters’ next five issues involve agriculture, especially the availability of water, and loans and subsidies to help farmers to buy seeds, fertiliser and electricity.

An enormous survey among nearly 300,000 voters conducted by ADR (Association for Democratic Reforms),  a non-government organisation which campaigns for election reforms, has found that Indian voters will opt for candidates who will bring in solutions for basic environmental needs rather than those addressing terrorism.

This trend has encouraged one current Lok Sabha candidate, environmentalist T. Arul Selvam, who says the culture of voting based on the performance of their candidate in battling environmental degradation will improve governance at the ground level.

“The ADR survey shows that there is a positive trend among voters who earlier considered religion and caste as important factors in casting their votes. The drinking water crisis remains unaddressed in scores of villages and urban areas across the country.

“Negligence in preserving water bodies is the origin of the water crisis in this nation. People were fed up with politicians who did not care enough to protect nature, which eventually added problems during calamities like floods and drought,’’ he said.

Smelter opponents shot

Arul Selvam recalled protests held by voluntary groups for more than 100 days in Tamil Nadu, a state in the southern part of India seeking the closure of nuclear power plants and the Sterlite copper smelter, the centre of recent controversy.

“These days people are ready to unite to save nature because their daily survival is becoming tough. People are forced to pay a heavy price for drinking water and food.

“Increasing medical bills for people living in industrial areas are a major cause of concern. These instances have brought a change in voting behaviour among the people’’.

Arul Selvam’s views were echoed when Climate News Network met families who had lost children who were fired on by police during the protest against the smelter in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district.

Thirteen protestors were killed by police in May 2018 when they sought the closure of the copper plant, accusing the owners of degrading land, air and water resources.  Now the families say that their relatives and many in the villages in Thoothukudi, a port city, have decided to vote for a party that promises permanent closure of the plant and action against pollution that has affected them for over two decades.

Permanent closure sought

“My daughter was shot in her throat. We fought against pollution caused by Sterlite. Now the plant has been closed down temporarily. We want to vote for a political party that will ensure permanent closure of this plant and save our town from pollution.

“My daughter has sacrificed her life to save future generations from pollution. She told me many died in our village due to cancer and also suffered severe asthma problems because of pollution. We won’t let go of her goal,’’ says Vanitha, mother of Snowlin, aged 19, who was killed during the shooting.

Some politicians welcome the new priorities of voters in these elections. J. Jayavardhan, India’s youngest member of parliament, elected by the South Chennai constituency, says he is happy to see the survey result with voters “going green.”

“It’s an emerging trend in India among people to go green in their lives and taking small steps for sustainable living. Though this seems to be a small number now, it will grow in a phased manner. Voters considering candidates based on environmental conservation show how pollution has affected their daily lives.

“I am campaigning for cloth bags and waste segregation at source and opened compost plants in my constituency. This has impacted residents here to cut down on usage of plastic bags and to use composting facilities in their neighbourhood.’’ − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Paul Brown wrote this report with our Chennal correspondent.

A huge exercise in democracy starts on 11 April as 900 million Indian voters turn out, many seeking a cleaner environment.

CHENNAI, 10 April, 2019 − Candidates promising to fight for clean drinking water and a halt to pollution are likely to gain the support of millions of Indian voters.

Environmental issues, particularly clean water and air, traffic congestion and better public transport, are among the top priorities of urban voters as they prepare to vote in the world’s largest general election.

In India it is no longer religion or caste that tops the poll of issues that concern voters, but policies that affect their daily lives, still blighted by some of the worst pollution in the world which is also contributing to climate change and the shortage of clean water.

Although for both rural and urban voters job opportunities and the need to make a living are the number one priority, a whole list of environmental issues are more important than terrorism or strong military defence, both of which appear to be of little concern to the electorate.

With air pollution a major cause of illness and death in both town and country, the voters are also demanding better hospitals and health care centres to help them with breathing difficulties.

The elections start on 11 April, and with 900 million people able to vote it will not be until 23 May that the result is finally declared in 29 states to elect the 543 members of the lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, which in turn elects the prime minister for a five-year term. Astonishingly, there will be 84 million new voters, those who have reached the age of 18 since the last general election.

“My daughter has sacrificed her life to save future generations from pollution . . . We won’t let go of her goal’’

In rural areas, where a majority of Indian voters still live, new jobs are still the main priority, but voters’ next five issues involve agriculture, especially the availability of water, and loans and subsidies to help farmers to buy seeds, fertiliser and electricity.

An enormous survey among nearly 300,000 voters conducted by ADR (Association for Democratic Reforms),  a non-government organisation which campaigns for election reforms, has found that Indian voters will opt for candidates who will bring in solutions for basic environmental needs rather than those addressing terrorism.

This trend has encouraged one current Lok Sabha candidate, environmentalist T. Arul Selvam, who says the culture of voting based on the performance of their candidate in battling environmental degradation will improve governance at the ground level.

“The ADR survey shows that there is a positive trend among voters who earlier considered religion and caste as important factors in casting their votes. The drinking water crisis remains unaddressed in scores of villages and urban areas across the country.

“Negligence in preserving water bodies is the origin of the water crisis in this nation. People were fed up with politicians who did not care enough to protect nature, which eventually added problems during calamities like floods and drought,’’ he said.

Smelter opponents shot

Arul Selvam recalled protests held by voluntary groups for more than 100 days in Tamil Nadu, a state in the southern part of India seeking the closure of nuclear power plants and the Sterlite copper smelter, the centre of recent controversy.

“These days people are ready to unite to save nature because their daily survival is becoming tough. People are forced to pay a heavy price for drinking water and food.

“Increasing medical bills for people living in industrial areas are a major cause of concern. These instances have brought a change in voting behaviour among the people’’.

Arul Selvam’s views were echoed when Climate News Network met families who had lost children who were fired on by police during the protest against the smelter in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district.

Thirteen protestors were killed by police in May 2018 when they sought the closure of the copper plant, accusing the owners of degrading land, air and water resources.  Now the families say that their relatives and many in the villages in Thoothukudi, a port city, have decided to vote for a party that promises permanent closure of the plant and action against pollution that has affected them for over two decades.

Permanent closure sought

“My daughter was shot in her throat. We fought against pollution caused by Sterlite. Now the plant has been closed down temporarily. We want to vote for a political party that will ensure permanent closure of this plant and save our town from pollution.

“My daughter has sacrificed her life to save future generations from pollution. She told me many died in our village due to cancer and also suffered severe asthma problems because of pollution. We won’t let go of her goal,’’ says Vanitha, mother of Snowlin, aged 19, who was killed during the shooting.

Some politicians welcome the new priorities of voters in these elections. J. Jayavardhan, India’s youngest member of parliament, elected by the South Chennai constituency, says he is happy to see the survey result with voters “going green.”

“It’s an emerging trend in India among people to go green in their lives and taking small steps for sustainable living. Though this seems to be a small number now, it will grow in a phased manner. Voters considering candidates based on environmental conservation show how pollution has affected their daily lives.

“I am campaigning for cloth bags and waste segregation at source and opened compost plants in my constituency. This has impacted residents here to cut down on usage of plastic bags and to use composting facilities in their neighbourhood.’’ − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Paul Brown wrote this report with our Chennal correspondent.

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

Rapidly rising heat will cut maize harvests

Soon the corn could roast on the cob long before the maize harvests are due. That could be far sooner than anyone expects.

LONDON, 3 April, 2019 − European scientists have bad news for the world’s farmers: within a decade, maize harvests will suffer as global temperatures will have reached a level that will turn the once-in-a-decade extremes of heat and drought into the new normal.

That will mean that the worst production losses ever felt by the maize farmers will happen with increasing frequency, if global planetary temperatures reach 1.5°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

The world is already 1°C hotter on average than it was before the Industrial Revolution and its increasing dependence on fossil fuels to power the global economies.

And if the temperature reaches 2°C, researchers warn, farmlands where maize once flourished will be hit by heat and drought events never before experienced. The big agribusiness giants will be hurt – and so will the small subsistence farmers who depend on their crop to keep their families alive.

“At the 2°C warning level . . . our projections suggest that global maize production will suffer from unprecedented losses”

Already the warming in the last few decades has begun to hit yields: the scientists reckon that maize yield within the 28 European member states is 290,000 tonnes a year lower than it would have been without global warming.

Significantly, 195 nations met in Paris in 2015 to agree to co-operate to keep average global warming down to if possible “well below” 2°C by 2100. Their target was a rise of no more than 1.5°C.

At the present rate of action – to switch to solar and wind power, to restore the world’s forests – the planet is on course to warm by 3°C by the close of the century.

But a new study by the European Union’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, published in the journal Earth’s Future, is not worried about the average, but about the extremes that, over the course of a year, make up that average, and drive up the loss of one particular crop: maize.

Vulnerabilities

Maize is now the world’s biggest single crop: the US is the most important producer but the EU ranks fourth in the world, producing an average of 65 million tonnes a year for food and cattle fodder. This warm climate crop is at certain points in its growing season vulnerable to heat stress and to drought. And heat stress seems increasingly  certain.

Researchers have warned, repeatedly, that higher average planetary or regional temperatures will mean increasingly intense, frequent, prolonged and potentially dangerous extremes of heat. And those areas already vulnerable to drought are likely to see much more of it, while other regions will become more at risk of catastrophic flood.

Agricultural scientists have already confirmed that untimely spells of heat and drought have started to slash cereal yields as measured across whole regions, or per field.

Hunger warning

And although the US has increased production, this too will be vulnerable to further warming. The World Meteorological Organisation has just warned of an already warmer, hungrier world.

The European researchers report that their analysis of past and future maize production surveys a range of outcomes: in one of these, the worst could start to happen as early as 2020. They suggest greater efforts to meet the goals set in Paris but even with those, farmers and agriculture ministries will need to find ways to adapt.

Their report ends bluntly. “We found that global warming will substantially increase the risk of maize production losses in most world regions, including the United States. The climatic events affecting historical global maize production once every 10 years will become normal at the 1.5°C global warming level, which is reached in the 2020s in most of the analysed climate model simulations,” they write.

“At the 2°C warning level (approximately late 2030s) our projections suggest that global maize production will suffer from unprecedented losses.” − Climate News Network

Soon the corn could roast on the cob long before the maize harvests are due. That could be far sooner than anyone expects.

LONDON, 3 April, 2019 − European scientists have bad news for the world’s farmers: within a decade, maize harvests will suffer as global temperatures will have reached a level that will turn the once-in-a-decade extremes of heat and drought into the new normal.

That will mean that the worst production losses ever felt by the maize farmers will happen with increasing frequency, if global planetary temperatures reach 1.5°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

The world is already 1°C hotter on average than it was before the Industrial Revolution and its increasing dependence on fossil fuels to power the global economies.

And if the temperature reaches 2°C, researchers warn, farmlands where maize once flourished will be hit by heat and drought events never before experienced. The big agribusiness giants will be hurt – and so will the small subsistence farmers who depend on their crop to keep their families alive.

“At the 2°C warning level . . . our projections suggest that global maize production will suffer from unprecedented losses”

Already the warming in the last few decades has begun to hit yields: the scientists reckon that maize yield within the 28 European member states is 290,000 tonnes a year lower than it would have been without global warming.

Significantly, 195 nations met in Paris in 2015 to agree to co-operate to keep average global warming down to if possible “well below” 2°C by 2100. Their target was a rise of no more than 1.5°C.

At the present rate of action – to switch to solar and wind power, to restore the world’s forests – the planet is on course to warm by 3°C by the close of the century.

But a new study by the European Union’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, published in the journal Earth’s Future, is not worried about the average, but about the extremes that, over the course of a year, make up that average, and drive up the loss of one particular crop: maize.

Vulnerabilities

Maize is now the world’s biggest single crop: the US is the most important producer but the EU ranks fourth in the world, producing an average of 65 million tonnes a year for food and cattle fodder. This warm climate crop is at certain points in its growing season vulnerable to heat stress and to drought. And heat stress seems increasingly  certain.

Researchers have warned, repeatedly, that higher average planetary or regional temperatures will mean increasingly intense, frequent, prolonged and potentially dangerous extremes of heat. And those areas already vulnerable to drought are likely to see much more of it, while other regions will become more at risk of catastrophic flood.

Agricultural scientists have already confirmed that untimely spells of heat and drought have started to slash cereal yields as measured across whole regions, or per field.

Hunger warning

And although the US has increased production, this too will be vulnerable to further warming. The World Meteorological Organisation has just warned of an already warmer, hungrier world.

The European researchers report that their analysis of past and future maize production surveys a range of outcomes: in one of these, the worst could start to happen as early as 2020. They suggest greater efforts to meet the goals set in Paris but even with those, farmers and agriculture ministries will need to find ways to adapt.

Their report ends bluntly. “We found that global warming will substantially increase the risk of maize production losses in most world regions, including the United States. The climatic events affecting historical global maize production once every 10 years will become normal at the 1.5°C global warming level, which is reached in the 2020s in most of the analysed climate model simulations,” they write.

“At the 2°C warning level (approximately late 2030s) our projections suggest that global maize production will suffer from unprecedented losses.” − Climate News Network

Hunger is growing as the world warms faster

Climate change is speeding up, and among its malign impacts is a setback for efforts to feed the world: hunger is growing again.

LONDON, 29 March, 2019 − The global threat of hunger is growing again after years of progress in reducing it, the United Nations says, because of the effects of climate change.

It says this is just one aspect of a wider acceleration in the pace of the changes wrought by the world’s unremitting consumption of fossil fuels and the consequential rise in global temperatures..

The evidence that hunger and malnutrition are once again on the rise is published in a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on the state of the global climate in 2018.

The report, drawing on material from scientists, UN agencies and countries’ own meteorological services, says the physical signs and the impacts of climate change are speeding up as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger after a prolonged decline . . . ”

Highlighting record sea level rise and exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years, the report warns that this warming trend has lasted since the start of this century and is expected to continue.

Carbon dioxide levels, which were at 357.0 parts per million when the first statement in the series was published in 1994, keep rising − to 405.5 ppm in 2017. Greenhouse gas concentrations for 2018 and 2019 are expected to show a further increase.

The start of 2019 has seen warm record daily winter temperatures in Europe, unusual cold in North America and searing heatwaves in Australia. Arctic and Antarctic ice extent is yet again well below average.

In a statement the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, writes that the data released in the report “give cause for great concern. The past four years were the warmest on record, with the global average surface temperature in 2018 approximately 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline … There is no longer any time for delay.”

Four warming years

The WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, says: “Key findings of this statement include the striking consecutive record warming recorded from 2015 through 2018, the continuous upward trend in the atmospheric concentrations of the major greenhouse gases, the increasing rate of sea level rise and the loss of sea ice in both northern and southern polar regions.”

One particular concern highlighted is food security. In the words of the report, “exposure of the agriculture sector to climate extremes is threatening to reverse gains made in ending malnutrition.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger  after a prolonged decline, according to data compiled by UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme.

“In 2017, the number of undernourished people was estimated to have increased to 821 million, partly due to severe droughts associated with the strong El Niño of 2015–2016.”

Climate refugees

The FAO says the absolute number of undernourished people − those facing chronic food deprivation − reached  nearly 821 m in 2017, from around 804 m in 2016.

The WMO report also singles out the plight of those forced by climate change to leave their homes and become refugees, either within their own countries or abroad. Out of 17.7 m people classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs) tracked by the International Organization for Migration, it says, by September 2018 over 2 m people had been displaced by disasters linked to weather and climate events.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s Protection and Return Monitoring Network, about 883,000 new internal displacements were recorded between January and December 2018, of which 32% were associated with flooding and 29% with drought.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees were affected by what the UN calls “secondary displacement”, caused by extreme events, heavy rain, flooding and landslides.

More acid seas

The WMO also expresses concern about a range of impacts of climate change on the global environment, including reduced levels of oxygen in the oceans. Since the middle of the last century there has been an estimated 1-2% decrease in the amount of oxygen in the world’s oceans, according to UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC).

In the past decade the oceans have absorbed around 30% of CO2 emissions of human origin. Absorbed CO2 reacts with seawater and changes the pH of the ocean. This process, known as ocean acidification, can affect the ability of marine organisms such as molluscs and reef-building corals, to build and maintain shells and skeletal material.

Observations in the open ocean over the last 30 years have shown a clear trend of decreasing pH. In line with previous reports and projections, ocean acidification is ongoing and the global pH levels continue to decrease, according to UNESCO-IOC. One recent report suggested possible alarming future impacts.

The State of the Climate report will be one of WMO’s contributions to the UN’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September. − Climate News Network

Climate change is speeding up, and among its malign impacts is a setback for efforts to feed the world: hunger is growing again.

LONDON, 29 March, 2019 − The global threat of hunger is growing again after years of progress in reducing it, the United Nations says, because of the effects of climate change.

It says this is just one aspect of a wider acceleration in the pace of the changes wrought by the world’s unremitting consumption of fossil fuels and the consequential rise in global temperatures..

The evidence that hunger and malnutrition are once again on the rise is published in a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on the state of the global climate in 2018.

The report, drawing on material from scientists, UN agencies and countries’ own meteorological services, says the physical signs and the impacts of climate change are speeding up as record greenhouse gas concentrations drive global temperatures towards increasingly dangerous levels.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger after a prolonged decline . . . ”

Highlighting record sea level rise and exceptionally high land and ocean temperatures over the past four years, the report warns that this warming trend has lasted since the start of this century and is expected to continue.

Carbon dioxide levels, which were at 357.0 parts per million when the first statement in the series was published in 1994, keep rising − to 405.5 ppm in 2017. Greenhouse gas concentrations for 2018 and 2019 are expected to show a further increase.

The start of 2019 has seen warm record daily winter temperatures in Europe, unusual cold in North America and searing heatwaves in Australia. Arctic and Antarctic ice extent is yet again well below average.

In a statement the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, writes that the data released in the report “give cause for great concern. The past four years were the warmest on record, with the global average surface temperature in 2018 approximately 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline … There is no longer any time for delay.”

Four warming years

The WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, says: “Key findings of this statement include the striking consecutive record warming recorded from 2015 through 2018, the continuous upward trend in the atmospheric concentrations of the major greenhouse gases, the increasing rate of sea level rise and the loss of sea ice in both northern and southern polar regions.”

One particular concern highlighted is food security. In the words of the report, “exposure of the agriculture sector to climate extremes is threatening to reverse gains made in ending malnutrition.

“New evidence shows a continuing rise in world hunger  after a prolonged decline, according to data compiled by UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme.

“In 2017, the number of undernourished people was estimated to have increased to 821 million, partly due to severe droughts associated with the strong El Niño of 2015–2016.”

Climate refugees

The FAO says the absolute number of undernourished people − those facing chronic food deprivation − reached  nearly 821 m in 2017, from around 804 m in 2016.

The WMO report also singles out the plight of those forced by climate change to leave their homes and become refugees, either within their own countries or abroad. Out of 17.7 m people classified as internally displaced persons (IDPs) tracked by the International Organization for Migration, it says, by September 2018 over 2 m people had been displaced by disasters linked to weather and climate events.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR’s Protection and Return Monitoring Network, about 883,000 new internal displacements were recorded between January and December 2018, of which 32% were associated with flooding and 29% with drought.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees were affected by what the UN calls “secondary displacement”, caused by extreme events, heavy rain, flooding and landslides.

More acid seas

The WMO also expresses concern about a range of impacts of climate change on the global environment, including reduced levels of oxygen in the oceans. Since the middle of the last century there has been an estimated 1-2% decrease in the amount of oxygen in the world’s oceans, according to UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC).

In the past decade the oceans have absorbed around 30% of CO2 emissions of human origin. Absorbed CO2 reacts with seawater and changes the pH of the ocean. This process, known as ocean acidification, can affect the ability of marine organisms such as molluscs and reef-building corals, to build and maintain shells and skeletal material.

Observations in the open ocean over the last 30 years have shown a clear trend of decreasing pH. In line with previous reports and projections, ocean acidification is ongoing and the global pH levels continue to decrease, according to UNESCO-IOC. One recent report suggested possible alarming future impacts.

The State of the Climate report will be one of WMO’s contributions to the UN’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September. − 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

The day the Earth’s climate went berserk

The day in 1815 when the world’s climate went berserk was only the start of months and years of global climate disruption and social unrest.

LONDON, 19 March, 2019 − If you had been in what were then called the Dutch East Indies on 10 April 1815, the day would have been etched indelibly on your memory: it was the day the global climate went berserk.

Many parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Island nations in the Pacific are seeing their lands eaten away by rising sea levels.

Whole communities of people in Arctic regions are threatened by rapidly expanding ice melt. The foundations of houses are being swept away. Traditional hunting grounds are being lost.

Wolfgang Behringer is a climate historian who seeks to draw parallels between what is going on now and events long ago. In particular Behringer, a professor of early modern history at Saarland University in Germany, looks at how changes in climate can influence and shape events – political, economic and social.

In a new book he focuses on the 1815 volcanic explosion of Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption still rates as the largest in human history; the cloud that burst from the volcano reached a height of 45 kilometres.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity suffice to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems”

Many thousands of people were killed on Sumbawa and adjoining islands, including Lombok and Bali. Dust clouds from Tambora were swept around the globe; the world’s climate went berserk, says Behringer.

“The dimensions of the Tambora crisis were so extraordinary because its roots lay in nature, in processes of geology, atmospheric physics and meteorology. These forces of nature respect no borders.”

The suspended particles from the volcano reduced solar radiation and led to global cooling. What scientists call a dry fog enveloped much of Asia. A blue sun appeared in Latin America. Snow that fell in Italy was red and yellow.

The winter of 1815/16 in much of the world was one of the coldest of the century. In Europe, 1816 became known as the year without summer. In North America what was described as the “Yankee chill” resulted in the worst harvest ever recorded.

Global upset

Torrential rains caused floods and thousands of deaths in China and India. Famine was widespread.

Behringer says the changes in climate provoked social unrest on a worldwide scale.

“The reactions to the crisis offer an example of how societies and individuals respond to climate change, what risks emerge and what opportunities may be associated with it”, he writes.

Epidemics broke out. In 1817 the cholera pathogen appeared for the first time. In India alone it’s believed 1.25 million died of the disease each year for more than a decade following the Tambora explosion. The suffering led to uprisings against British colonial rule in India and Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka.

Simmering revolution

In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people rioted as grain prices soared. In England the authorities became concerned at a rise in revolutionary activity. Prisons filled up.

The years following 1815 were a time of mass migration. Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, in an effort to escape hunger, travelled across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Within the US there was a movement westwards towards California, which had largely escaped the more severe effects of the eruption.

There were other, less dramatic consequences. Behringer says Tambora inspired a new-found preoccupation with weather and climate phenomena. Not surprisingly, it spurred the emergence of the science of volcanology.

Establishing the cause and effect of changes in climate – whether caused by volcanic eruptions or by the burning of fossil fuels and the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in consequence – is an extremely tricky business.

Temporary influence

Behringer makes the point that not all of the events of 1815 and subsequent years can be directly attributed to Tambora. But the explosion did act as a catalyst.

The eruption was a single event and its after-effects were not permanent though, for a limited period, the world’s ecological framework was altered.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity sufficed (and still suffice today) to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems.

“And without their daily bread, people can very quickly become angry. In such situations it is clear – even in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships – who the sovereign is.” − Climate News Network

* * *

Tambora and the Year without a Summer, Polity Books, £25.00: to be published on 26 April, 2019.

The day in 1815 when the world’s climate went berserk was only the start of months and years of global climate disruption and social unrest.

LONDON, 19 March, 2019 − If you had been in what were then called the Dutch East Indies on 10 April 1815, the day would have been etched indelibly on your memory: it was the day the global climate went berserk.

Many parts of the world are already feeling the effects of a changing climate. Island nations in the Pacific are seeing their lands eaten away by rising sea levels.

Whole communities of people in Arctic regions are threatened by rapidly expanding ice melt. The foundations of houses are being swept away. Traditional hunting grounds are being lost.

Wolfgang Behringer is a climate historian who seeks to draw parallels between what is going on now and events long ago. In particular Behringer, a professor of early modern history at Saarland University in Germany, looks at how changes in climate can influence and shape events – political, economic and social.

In a new book he focuses on the 1815 volcanic explosion of Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa in present-day Indonesia. The eruption still rates as the largest in human history; the cloud that burst from the volcano reached a height of 45 kilometres.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity suffice to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems”

Many thousands of people were killed on Sumbawa and adjoining islands, including Lombok and Bali. Dust clouds from Tambora were swept around the globe; the world’s climate went berserk, says Behringer.

“The dimensions of the Tambora crisis were so extraordinary because its roots lay in nature, in processes of geology, atmospheric physics and meteorology. These forces of nature respect no borders.”

The suspended particles from the volcano reduced solar radiation and led to global cooling. What scientists call a dry fog enveloped much of Asia. A blue sun appeared in Latin America. Snow that fell in Italy was red and yellow.

The winter of 1815/16 in much of the world was one of the coldest of the century. In Europe, 1816 became known as the year without summer. In North America what was described as the “Yankee chill” resulted in the worst harvest ever recorded.

Global upset

Torrential rains caused floods and thousands of deaths in China and India. Famine was widespread.

Behringer says the changes in climate provoked social unrest on a worldwide scale.

“The reactions to the crisis offer an example of how societies and individuals respond to climate change, what risks emerge and what opportunities may be associated with it”, he writes.

Epidemics broke out. In 1817 the cholera pathogen appeared for the first time. In India alone it’s believed 1.25 million died of the disease each year for more than a decade following the Tambora explosion. The suffering led to uprisings against British colonial rule in India and Ceylon, today’s Sri Lanka.

Simmering revolution

In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people rioted as grain prices soared. In England the authorities became concerned at a rise in revolutionary activity. Prisons filled up.

The years following 1815 were a time of mass migration. Hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, in an effort to escape hunger, travelled across the Atlantic to the US and Canada. Within the US there was a movement westwards towards California, which had largely escaped the more severe effects of the eruption.

There were other, less dramatic consequences. Behringer says Tambora inspired a new-found preoccupation with weather and climate phenomena. Not surprisingly, it spurred the emergence of the science of volcanology.

Establishing the cause and effect of changes in climate – whether caused by volcanic eruptions or by the burning of fossil fuels and the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in consequence – is an extremely tricky business.

Temporary influence

Behringer makes the point that not all of the events of 1815 and subsequent years can be directly attributed to Tambora. But the explosion did act as a catalyst.

The eruption was a single event and its after-effects were not permanent though, for a limited period, the world’s ecological framework was altered.

“Apparently minor changes in temperature and humidity sufficed (and still suffice today) to shake up entrenched ecosystems, but above all entrenched agricultural systems.

“And without their daily bread, people can very quickly become angry. In such situations it is clear – even in absolutist monarchies or dictatorships – who the sovereign is.” − Climate News Network

* * *

Tambora and the Year without a Summer, Polity Books, £25.00: to be published on 26 April, 2019.

Cocoa fuel combats climate change

If you like chocolate you’ll love this: the same tree that provides your indulgent treat is helping to slow climate change, thanks to cocoa fuel.

LONDON, 14 March, 2019 – Sometimes the best solutions to energy problems – and to the fight against climate change – are the simple ones, like cocoa fuel.

Ghana is one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa – the vital ingredient in the multi-billion dollar international chocolate industry.

Cocoa beans are extracted from inside the pod husks of the cocoa tree. Husks are usually discarded during the production process.

Now, in a project led by specialists at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the plan is to use the husks as feedstock in bio-fuel energy installations.

“Ghana is the second highest producer of cocoa in the world and every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”, says Jo Darkwa, professor of energy storage technologies at Nottingham and one of the people behind the Ghanaian project.

Filling the gap

“In the past, this waste material was under-utilised. However, feasibility studies indicate that cocoa pod husks could be converted into valuable bio-fuels and become an important energy supply for rural areas that have only 15% electricity coverage at present.”

The plan is to design, build and put into operation small-scale bio-power electricity generation units that would burn cocoa pod husks in a gasification system. Each unit, which would include a gasifier, a small generator and a solar drier and pelletiser, would cost an estimated US$50,000.

Not only would the units help deal with Ghana’s chronic energy problems but it would also assist in the battle against deforestation, a serious problem for cocoa farmers.

Ghana’s population, now 30 million, is growing fast; about 80% of households in the country use wood as the main source of fuel for cooking and heating water.

As a result, Ghana’s forests are under considerable pressure, with severe consequences not only for wildlife and ecosystems but also for the climate.

“Every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”

Forests are an essential element in the fight against climate change; trees absorb or sequester considerable amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases and help prevent global warming.

“Undoubtedly, provision of sustainable energy services through cocoa pod husks would go a long way towards improving the quality of lives and thus alleviate poverty in rural communities as well as fight against climate change”, Professor Darkwa told Climate News Network.

The aim is not only to build sources of sustainable energy; collection, treatment and processing of the pod husks would also create jobs and provide much-needed incomes in rural communities.

The specialists at Nottingham are collaborating on the project with the Ghana Cocoa Board and various other organisations in Ghana.

A prototype of the new bio-power unit is due to be installed and monitored at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology later this year. – Climate News Network

If you like chocolate you’ll love this: the same tree that provides your indulgent treat is helping to slow climate change, thanks to cocoa fuel.

LONDON, 14 March, 2019 – Sometimes the best solutions to energy problems – and to the fight against climate change – are the simple ones, like cocoa fuel.

Ghana is one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa – the vital ingredient in the multi-billion dollar international chocolate industry.

Cocoa beans are extracted from inside the pod husks of the cocoa tree. Husks are usually discarded during the production process.

Now, in a project led by specialists at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the plan is to use the husks as feedstock in bio-fuel energy installations.

“Ghana is the second highest producer of cocoa in the world and every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”, says Jo Darkwa, professor of energy storage technologies at Nottingham and one of the people behind the Ghanaian project.

Filling the gap

“In the past, this waste material was under-utilised. However, feasibility studies indicate that cocoa pod husks could be converted into valuable bio-fuels and become an important energy supply for rural areas that have only 15% electricity coverage at present.”

The plan is to design, build and put into operation small-scale bio-power electricity generation units that would burn cocoa pod husks in a gasification system. Each unit, which would include a gasifier, a small generator and a solar drier and pelletiser, would cost an estimated US$50,000.

Not only would the units help deal with Ghana’s chronic energy problems but it would also assist in the battle against deforestation, a serious problem for cocoa farmers.

Ghana’s population, now 30 million, is growing fast; about 80% of households in the country use wood as the main source of fuel for cooking and heating water.

As a result, Ghana’s forests are under considerable pressure, with severe consequences not only for wildlife and ecosystems but also for the climate.

“Every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”

Forests are an essential element in the fight against climate change; trees absorb or sequester considerable amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases and help prevent global warming.

“Undoubtedly, provision of sustainable energy services through cocoa pod husks would go a long way towards improving the quality of lives and thus alleviate poverty in rural communities as well as fight against climate change”, Professor Darkwa told Climate News Network.

The aim is not only to build sources of sustainable energy; collection, treatment and processing of the pod husks would also create jobs and provide much-needed incomes in rural communities.

The specialists at Nottingham are collaborating on the project with the Ghana Cocoa Board and various other organisations in Ghana.

A prototype of the new bio-power unit is due to be installed and monitored at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology later this year. – Climate News Network

Food security at risk as web of life unravels

Biodiversity, the web of life, is on the decline. That includes the natural ecosystems that directly and indirectly manage the catering for humanity’s supper table.

LONDON, 1 March, 2019 – The biggest agricultural authority in the world has warned that the web of life is coming apart as the loss of biodiversity increases.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says the wholesale destruction and degradation of natural ecosystems puts human food security at risk, and adds a warning that the same loss could also seriously affect human health and livelihoods.

Although conservationists and biologists have been warning for decades of the increasing threat of mass extinction of species, the FAO study focuses on what its authors call “associated biodiversity for food and agriculture” – that is the networks or ecosystems of living things that underwrite all human food, livestock feed, fuel and fibre, as well as many human medicines.

These ecosystems include all plants, animals and microorganisms – insects, bats, birds, fungi, bacteria, earthworms, mangroves, corals, seagrasses and so on – that create soil fertility, pollinate plants, purify air and water, feed and protect fish, and fight crop and livestock pests and diseases.

Fish in jeopardy

And entirely independently, a team of French scientists has modelled marine biological systems on which humanity’s annual 80 million metric ton haul of fish depends, and warned that climate change could be about to trigger what they call “unprecedented biological shifts” in the world’s oceans.

In a new, 576-page report the FAO concerns itself not just with the remorseless loss everywhere of the natural wilderness and the biological variety fine-tuned by three billion years of evolution, but also with the wild ancestors of crop plants and the myriad breeds, strains and variants selected and bred by generations of farmers and pastoralists during the past 10,000 years of settled agriculture.

There are more than 250,000 flowering plants. Around 6,000 are cultivated for food, but most of the global diet is based on fewer than 200 species, and 66% of all crop production is delivered by just nine crop plants.

All of them are dependent directly and indirectly on associated biodiversity. “Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of FAO.

Wild food problems

The FAO authors base their study on data from 91 of the 178 countries represented in the organisation. They find that 40 animal species comprise the world’s livestock, but the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs come from just a few species. The global count of breeds of livestock is put at 7,745. Of this huge variety, 26% are at risk of extinction.

Wild foods too – fruits, bulbs, tubers, grains, nuts, kernels, saps and gums, honey and insects and snails – matter hugely to many people in developing countries, but many of these report that 24% of the 4,000 species that provide wild food are in decline.

An estimated 87.5% of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. Crops pollinated at least partially by animals – bees, but also other insects, birds and bats – account for 35% of all global food but for more than 90% of available vitamin C and more than 70% of available vitamin A.

But the researchers also focus on other services provided by natural ecosystems. Coral reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests provide nursery space and food sources for fish, but they also protect coastal communities against floods and storms.

“The increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk”

Wetlands, forests and grassland regulate water flow. Grazing animals reduce the risk of grassland and woodland fire, but overgrazing is a major driver of soil erosion and soil compactions.

The report is a sharp reminder of human dependence on evolution’s generosity, but the warnings about biodiversity loss are hardly new. Researchers have repeatedly warned that the global warming driven by human exploitation of fossil fuels will accelerate the loss of wild things and that once-familiar species are vanishing from many habitats.

Others have already identified the danger of losing the wild ancestors of many crops that could in turn be harmed by climate change, and German scientists warned in 2017 of catastrophic falls in insect populations.

The impact of ever higher carbon dioxide ratios is predicted to harm the kelp forests that provide shelter for many commercial fish species., and warming itself can only impoverish ocean habitats.

Kind of war game

And support for this comes in the journal Nature Climate Change from a team of French researchers with colleagues from other European nations, the US and Japan.

Because monitoring of ocean biological systems is constrained in scale and fragmented in approach, the researchers turned to computer simulation: they designed a large number of pseudo-species of marine creatures, from zooplankton to fish, in 14 eco-regions, all with a range of responses to natural temperature variations, and then conducted a kind of war game of climate change in which local ocean temperature regimes change as the planet warms.

And they warn the world to expect what they call “abrupt community shifts” that could end in long-term change in the global catch, as well as in fish farms and even the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle.

They also point to a recent rise in the number of “climate surprises” that could be attributed to natural ocean warming events such as El Niño, as well as temperature shifts in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the warming of the Arctic Ocean. – Climate News Network

Biodiversity, the web of life, is on the decline. That includes the natural ecosystems that directly and indirectly manage the catering for humanity’s supper table.

LONDON, 1 March, 2019 – The biggest agricultural authority in the world has warned that the web of life is coming apart as the loss of biodiversity increases.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says the wholesale destruction and degradation of natural ecosystems puts human food security at risk, and adds a warning that the same loss could also seriously affect human health and livelihoods.

Although conservationists and biologists have been warning for decades of the increasing threat of mass extinction of species, the FAO study focuses on what its authors call “associated biodiversity for food and agriculture” – that is the networks or ecosystems of living things that underwrite all human food, livestock feed, fuel and fibre, as well as many human medicines.

These ecosystems include all plants, animals and microorganisms – insects, bats, birds, fungi, bacteria, earthworms, mangroves, corals, seagrasses and so on – that create soil fertility, pollinate plants, purify air and water, feed and protect fish, and fight crop and livestock pests and diseases.

Fish in jeopardy

And entirely independently, a team of French scientists has modelled marine biological systems on which humanity’s annual 80 million metric ton haul of fish depends, and warned that climate change could be about to trigger what they call “unprecedented biological shifts” in the world’s oceans.

In a new, 576-page report the FAO concerns itself not just with the remorseless loss everywhere of the natural wilderness and the biological variety fine-tuned by three billion years of evolution, but also with the wild ancestors of crop plants and the myriad breeds, strains and variants selected and bred by generations of farmers and pastoralists during the past 10,000 years of settled agriculture.

There are more than 250,000 flowering plants. Around 6,000 are cultivated for food, but most of the global diet is based on fewer than 200 species, and 66% of all crop production is delivered by just nine crop plants.

All of them are dependent directly and indirectly on associated biodiversity. “Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of FAO.

Wild food problems

The FAO authors base their study on data from 91 of the 178 countries represented in the organisation. They find that 40 animal species comprise the world’s livestock, but the vast majority of meat, milk and eggs come from just a few species. The global count of breeds of livestock is put at 7,745. Of this huge variety, 26% are at risk of extinction.

Wild foods too – fruits, bulbs, tubers, grains, nuts, kernels, saps and gums, honey and insects and snails – matter hugely to many people in developing countries, but many of these report that 24% of the 4,000 species that provide wild food are in decline.

An estimated 87.5% of all flowering plants are pollinated by animals. Crops pollinated at least partially by animals – bees, but also other insects, birds and bats – account for 35% of all global food but for more than 90% of available vitamin C and more than 70% of available vitamin A.

But the researchers also focus on other services provided by natural ecosystems. Coral reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests provide nursery space and food sources for fish, but they also protect coastal communities against floods and storms.

“The increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk”

Wetlands, forests and grassland regulate water flow. Grazing animals reduce the risk of grassland and woodland fire, but overgrazing is a major driver of soil erosion and soil compactions.

The report is a sharp reminder of human dependence on evolution’s generosity, but the warnings about biodiversity loss are hardly new. Researchers have repeatedly warned that the global warming driven by human exploitation of fossil fuels will accelerate the loss of wild things and that once-familiar species are vanishing from many habitats.

Others have already identified the danger of losing the wild ancestors of many crops that could in turn be harmed by climate change, and German scientists warned in 2017 of catastrophic falls in insect populations.

The impact of ever higher carbon dioxide ratios is predicted to harm the kelp forests that provide shelter for many commercial fish species., and warming itself can only impoverish ocean habitats.

Kind of war game

And support for this comes in the journal Nature Climate Change from a team of French researchers with colleagues from other European nations, the US and Japan.

Because monitoring of ocean biological systems is constrained in scale and fragmented in approach, the researchers turned to computer simulation: they designed a large number of pseudo-species of marine creatures, from zooplankton to fish, in 14 eco-regions, all with a range of responses to natural temperature variations, and then conducted a kind of war game of climate change in which local ocean temperature regimes change as the planet warms.

And they warn the world to expect what they call “abrupt community shifts” that could end in long-term change in the global catch, as well as in fish farms and even the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle.

They also point to a recent rise in the number of “climate surprises” that could be attributed to natural ocean warming events such as El Niño, as well as temperature shifts in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the warming of the Arctic Ocean. – Climate News Network