Tag Archives: Agriculture

As climate heat worsens, a hungrier world is likely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hesitant adapters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hesitant adapters

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

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

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

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

Buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive

All win by protecting nature, not exploiting it. That needs huge sums: buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive today.

LONDON, 4 June, 2021 − In the next 30 years, to save the planet, nations will have to spend a total of $8.1 trillion dollars. We could buy forest rescue at $25 a year if everyone on Earth paid up.

Only big money can now address the interconnected challenges of potential climate catastrophe, the devastation of the planet’s wildlife and the degradation of the ecosystems on which humans and all other living things depend.

This is the message from a new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum and an organisation called the Economics of Land Degradation: by 2030, investment in what will be called “nature-based solutions” must treble, and by 2050 have increased fourfold.

The ambition is that by 2050, the world’s public and private agencies will be spending $536 billion each year − based on 2020 figures − on direct economic investment into restoring the planet, rather than destroying any more of it.

Not so big

That sum sounds enormous. It is however precisely what the global print market was thought to be worth in 2015; it is what the Saudi Arabian stock exchange was valued at in 2019; it is what a new medical field called digital therapeutics could be worth in 2025.

It is exactly the estimate of sums raised for the sustainable bond market − investment in the “green economy” − on the London Stock Exchange in 2020.

The new report urges a re-examination of priorities, by “repurposing” agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies that now actively harm the planet: that is, harm the forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves and other ecosystems that underwrite all economic activity in myriad ways.

Living things soak up greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, restore water supplies, pollinate crops and provide the genetic material for new discoveries.

“We need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature”

But − as researchers have repeatedly warned − human activity has triggered an episode of mass extinction as great as any in the planet’s history.

“Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10% of its output each year. If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress in other vital areas such as education, health and employment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “If we do not save nature now, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development.”

The report’s authors think the planet will have to spend $203 bn a year from now on just to manage, conserve and restore the world’s forests: that works out at $25 a year from everybody on the planet in 2021. The pay-off would be an extra 300 million hectares, or three million square kilometres, of forest and agro-forestry plantations by 2050. This is an area of land slightly bigger than India.

Right now, the world loses 100,000 sq kms of forest − this is about the area of South Korea − every year: demand for beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and wood fibre account for a quarter of that loss.

Neglected message

Right now, the world spends $133 bn a year on conservation and nature-based solutions: this is just 0.1% of global gross domestic product or GDP, the UNEP report says.

And yet, over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that the world’s forests and natural wildernesses are worth more, in strict economic terms, and to the whole world, rather than to individuals, than any profit to be gained from their destruction. The message has yet to get through.

“Our livelihoods depend on nature. Our collective failure to date to understand that nature underpins our global economic system will increasingly lead to financial losses. More than half of the world’ s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature,” the report says.

“In order to ensure that humanity does not breach the safety limits of the planetary boundaries, we need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature.” − Climate News Network

All win by protecting nature, not exploiting it. That needs huge sums: buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive today.

LONDON, 4 June, 2021 − In the next 30 years, to save the planet, nations will have to spend a total of $8.1 trillion dollars. We could buy forest rescue at $25 a year if everyone on Earth paid up.

Only big money can now address the interconnected challenges of potential climate catastrophe, the devastation of the planet’s wildlife and the degradation of the ecosystems on which humans and all other living things depend.

This is the message from a new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum and an organisation called the Economics of Land Degradation: by 2030, investment in what will be called “nature-based solutions” must treble, and by 2050 have increased fourfold.

The ambition is that by 2050, the world’s public and private agencies will be spending $536 billion each year − based on 2020 figures − on direct economic investment into restoring the planet, rather than destroying any more of it.

Not so big

That sum sounds enormous. It is however precisely what the global print market was thought to be worth in 2015; it is what the Saudi Arabian stock exchange was valued at in 2019; it is what a new medical field called digital therapeutics could be worth in 2025.

It is exactly the estimate of sums raised for the sustainable bond market − investment in the “green economy” − on the London Stock Exchange in 2020.

The new report urges a re-examination of priorities, by “repurposing” agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies that now actively harm the planet: that is, harm the forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves and other ecosystems that underwrite all economic activity in myriad ways.

Living things soak up greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, restore water supplies, pollinate crops and provide the genetic material for new discoveries.

“We need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature”

But − as researchers have repeatedly warned − human activity has triggered an episode of mass extinction as great as any in the planet’s history.

“Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10% of its output each year. If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress in other vital areas such as education, health and employment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “If we do not save nature now, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development.”

The report’s authors think the planet will have to spend $203 bn a year from now on just to manage, conserve and restore the world’s forests: that works out at $25 a year from everybody on the planet in 2021. The pay-off would be an extra 300 million hectares, or three million square kilometres, of forest and agro-forestry plantations by 2050. This is an area of land slightly bigger than India.

Right now, the world loses 100,000 sq kms of forest − this is about the area of South Korea − every year: demand for beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and wood fibre account for a quarter of that loss.

Neglected message

Right now, the world spends $133 bn a year on conservation and nature-based solutions: this is just 0.1% of global gross domestic product or GDP, the UNEP report says.

And yet, over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that the world’s forests and natural wildernesses are worth more, in strict economic terms, and to the whole world, rather than to individuals, than any profit to be gained from their destruction. The message has yet to get through.

“Our livelihoods depend on nature. Our collective failure to date to understand that nature underpins our global economic system will increasingly lead to financial losses. More than half of the world’ s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature,” the report says.

“In order to ensure that humanity does not breach the safety limits of the planetary boundaries, we need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature.” − Climate News Network

There will be no silver bullet for climate change

There is no silver bullet for climate change, no one answer. To save civilisation, nations must co-operate on five fronts.

LONDON, 20 May, 2021 − The world could meet a global commitment made six years ago to limit climate heating to no more than 1.5°C by the century’s end − but only by taking urgent and challenging action on five separate fronts, by doing so at speed, and ceasing to dream of a silver bullet for climate change.

In 2015, the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to try to contain the inexorable rise in planetary temperatures by the century’s end, to “well below” 2°C above the historic average before the emergence of coal, oil and gas as fuel to power population growth, technological advance and the global economy.

But by 2021, the planet was already 1.2°C warmer than the historic levels, and research has repeatedly confirmed that so far all the commitments made at Paris will leave the world 3°C or more warmer. And this extra degree or more Celsius could have catastrophic consequences.

These include devastating sea level rise, murderous levels of heat extremes for 500 million people or more, and premature loss of life on huge scales, along with loss of health for even greater numbers.

Now an international team of distinguished climate scientists reports in the journal Environmental Research Letters that its members looked in detail at the action necessary to keep the promises made in Paris.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution”

And they have bleak news for the advocates of gradual change: there is no silver bullet, no engineering solution, no single answer that can address the challenge.

The researchers combed through 414 scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions, and found only 50 that had a chance of restraining temperature rise to 1.5°C in the next eight decades. They also looked at five different kinds of global action that could reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, to find that no single one of them meets the Paris target.

So the world will have to drastically reduce fossil fuel use to almost zero. It will have to restore and protect the natural wilderness − forests, wetlands, grasslands, mangrove forests and so on. Researchers will have to find how to draw down carbon from the atmosphere in ever-greater quantities and then identify ways of storing it for aeons.

Humankind will have to switch to a sustainable plant-based diet on international scales to help reduce emissions of  methane, nitrous oxide and other potent greenhouse gases. Industry, too, will have look for new efficiencies.

Daunting prospect

The switch away from carbon-based fuels is by far the most urgent step to be taken. “Yet we can’t do away with the other strategies,” said Lila Warszawski of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

“Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for instance storing it underground also proves to be almost indispensable. Land use must become a net carbon sink, for instance by re-wetting peatlands or afforestation. Finally, emissions of the powerful gas methane must be cut from animal production, but also from leaks in oil and gas extraction. This is quite a list.”

And Tim Lenton, of the University of Exeter in the UK, reinforced the message. “This calls for an immediate acceleration of worldwide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all available means,” he said.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution. Otherwise those most vulnerable to climate change are going to bear the brunt of missing the 1.5°C target. This is a system-wide challenge − piecemeal actions and rhetorical commitments are not going to be enough.” − Climate News Network

There is no silver bullet for climate change, no one answer. To save civilisation, nations must co-operate on five fronts.

LONDON, 20 May, 2021 − The world could meet a global commitment made six years ago to limit climate heating to no more than 1.5°C by the century’s end − but only by taking urgent and challenging action on five separate fronts, by doing so at speed, and ceasing to dream of a silver bullet for climate change.

In 2015, the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to try to contain the inexorable rise in planetary temperatures by the century’s end, to “well below” 2°C above the historic average before the emergence of coal, oil and gas as fuel to power population growth, technological advance and the global economy.

But by 2021, the planet was already 1.2°C warmer than the historic levels, and research has repeatedly confirmed that so far all the commitments made at Paris will leave the world 3°C or more warmer. And this extra degree or more Celsius could have catastrophic consequences.

These include devastating sea level rise, murderous levels of heat extremes for 500 million people or more, and premature loss of life on huge scales, along with loss of health for even greater numbers.

Now an international team of distinguished climate scientists reports in the journal Environmental Research Letters that its members looked in detail at the action necessary to keep the promises made in Paris.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution”

And they have bleak news for the advocates of gradual change: there is no silver bullet, no engineering solution, no single answer that can address the challenge.

The researchers combed through 414 scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions, and found only 50 that had a chance of restraining temperature rise to 1.5°C in the next eight decades. They also looked at five different kinds of global action that could reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, to find that no single one of them meets the Paris target.

So the world will have to drastically reduce fossil fuel use to almost zero. It will have to restore and protect the natural wilderness − forests, wetlands, grasslands, mangrove forests and so on. Researchers will have to find how to draw down carbon from the atmosphere in ever-greater quantities and then identify ways of storing it for aeons.

Humankind will have to switch to a sustainable plant-based diet on international scales to help reduce emissions of  methane, nitrous oxide and other potent greenhouse gases. Industry, too, will have look for new efficiencies.

Daunting prospect

The switch away from carbon-based fuels is by far the most urgent step to be taken. “Yet we can’t do away with the other strategies,” said Lila Warszawski of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

“Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for instance storing it underground also proves to be almost indispensable. Land use must become a net carbon sink, for instance by re-wetting peatlands or afforestation. Finally, emissions of the powerful gas methane must be cut from animal production, but also from leaks in oil and gas extraction. This is quite a list.”

And Tim Lenton, of the University of Exeter in the UK, reinforced the message. “This calls for an immediate acceleration of worldwide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all available means,” he said.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution. Otherwise those most vulnerable to climate change are going to bear the brunt of missing the 1.5°C target. This is a system-wide challenge − piecemeal actions and rhetorical commitments are not going to be enough.” − Climate News Network

Falling harvests could soon follow growing deserts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very big If

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very big If

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drastic methane cuts are both urgent and possible

It’s a very potent greenhouse gas, and very short-lived. So drastic methane cuts should be a priority for rapid action.

LONDON, 13 May, 2021 − UN experts have found a new way to limit climate change, save lives, save the economy and reduce crop losses. It’s simple: start reducing emissions of the natural gas methane and bring them down by 45% in one generation. Drastic methane cuts can work wonders for the global climate.

Methane − also known as marsh gas − is a potent greenhouse gas and a dangerous air pollutant. According to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment, a cut of approaching half of emissions by 2045 would prevent an estimated 260,000 premature deaths, save 775,000 asthma-related visits to hospital, and prevent 73 billion hours of labour lost because of extreme temperatures and annual crop losses of 25 million tonnes.

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.

“The benefits to society, economies and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”

The proposal is unlikely to meet with any argument from the world’s climate scientists, who have welcomed the report and its conclusions. “Seldom in the world of climate change action is there a solution so stuffed with win-wins,” said Dave Reay of the University of Edinburgh’s climate change institute.

“Methane not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths”

“This blunt report makes clear that slashing emissions of methane − a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas − will deliver large and rapid benefits for the climate, air quality, human health, agriculture, and the economy too.”

And Joeri Rogelj, who directs research at the Grantham Institute of Imperial College London, said: “Methane occupies a special place in the land of climate pollutants.

“It’s the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide; its emissions can be reduced rapidly with readily available measures and this can impact temperature over the next decades; and finally, it not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and crop harvest losses. Together, this costs the economy billions.”

Methane accounts for almost one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions: about 30% of the warming in the last 200 years can be attributed to methane, escaping from oil fields and refineries; from the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants; from burning peatlands and thawing permafrost.

And prompt and determined action to reduce methane would, UNEP argues, deliver swift results. Molecule for molecule, it is many times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide, but much shorter-lived. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for 100 years or more; methane has a lifetime of about 10 years.

Atmospheric methane is a key component in the formation of low-level ozone in polluted cities: ozone pollution or smog is blamed for around half a million premature deaths per year. It also diminishes growth and reduces crop productivity. And best of all, the researchers agree, is that industries, researchers and conservationists all know ways of effectively stopping its release into the atmosphere: it could be reduced by a third just in the next 10 years.

Top-priority pollutant

That is because the oil and gas sector releases, through leaks and escapes, almost 23%. Around 12% escapes from decomposing waste in landfill sites; 32% escapes from livestock and 8% from rice cultivation.

Almost two thirds of the action the report recommends could be undertaken at low cost but − as the researchers keep saying − high rewards in health, agriculture and global temperature control. The pay-off could be measurable: with global action on a sufficient and determined scale, the world could reduce potential global average warming by 0.3C by 2025.

In the last century, the world has already warmed in response to greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1°C, and is on course to rise by 2100 by more than 3°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

But global agreement in Paris in 2015 set a target by 2100 of “well below” 2°C − shorthand for an ideal limit of 1.5°C. Right now, this target looks increasingly optimistic. Drastic methane cuts could help. The US, the European Union, Russia and many of the world’s oil-producing nations have already announced plans to act.

“It is by far the top-priority short-lived climate pollutant that we need to tackle to keep 1.5°C within reach,” said Rick Duke, once a climate adviser to US President Obama and now part of President Joe Biden’s climate team. “The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally.” − Climate News Network

It’s a very potent greenhouse gas, and very short-lived. So drastic methane cuts should be a priority for rapid action.

LONDON, 13 May, 2021 − UN experts have found a new way to limit climate change, save lives, save the economy and reduce crop losses. It’s simple: start reducing emissions of the natural gas methane and bring them down by 45% in one generation. Drastic methane cuts can work wonders for the global climate.

Methane − also known as marsh gas − is a potent greenhouse gas and a dangerous air pollutant. According to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment, a cut of approaching half of emissions by 2045 would prevent an estimated 260,000 premature deaths, save 775,000 asthma-related visits to hospital, and prevent 73 billion hours of labour lost because of extreme temperatures and annual crop losses of 25 million tonnes.

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.

“The benefits to society, economies and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”

The proposal is unlikely to meet with any argument from the world’s climate scientists, who have welcomed the report and its conclusions. “Seldom in the world of climate change action is there a solution so stuffed with win-wins,” said Dave Reay of the University of Edinburgh’s climate change institute.

“Methane not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths”

“This blunt report makes clear that slashing emissions of methane − a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas − will deliver large and rapid benefits for the climate, air quality, human health, agriculture, and the economy too.”

And Joeri Rogelj, who directs research at the Grantham Institute of Imperial College London, said: “Methane occupies a special place in the land of climate pollutants.

“It’s the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide; its emissions can be reduced rapidly with readily available measures and this can impact temperature over the next decades; and finally, it not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and crop harvest losses. Together, this costs the economy billions.”

Methane accounts for almost one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions: about 30% of the warming in the last 200 years can be attributed to methane, escaping from oil fields and refineries; from the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants; from burning peatlands and thawing permafrost.

And prompt and determined action to reduce methane would, UNEP argues, deliver swift results. Molecule for molecule, it is many times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide, but much shorter-lived. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for 100 years or more; methane has a lifetime of about 10 years.

Atmospheric methane is a key component in the formation of low-level ozone in polluted cities: ozone pollution or smog is blamed for around half a million premature deaths per year. It also diminishes growth and reduces crop productivity. And best of all, the researchers agree, is that industries, researchers and conservationists all know ways of effectively stopping its release into the atmosphere: it could be reduced by a third just in the next 10 years.

Top-priority pollutant

That is because the oil and gas sector releases, through leaks and escapes, almost 23%. Around 12% escapes from decomposing waste in landfill sites; 32% escapes from livestock and 8% from rice cultivation.

Almost two thirds of the action the report recommends could be undertaken at low cost but − as the researchers keep saying − high rewards in health, agriculture and global temperature control. The pay-off could be measurable: with global action on a sufficient and determined scale, the world could reduce potential global average warming by 0.3C by 2025.

In the last century, the world has already warmed in response to greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1°C, and is on course to rise by 2100 by more than 3°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

But global agreement in Paris in 2015 set a target by 2100 of “well below” 2°C − shorthand for an ideal limit of 1.5°C. Right now, this target looks increasingly optimistic. Drastic methane cuts could help. The US, the European Union, Russia and many of the world’s oil-producing nations have already announced plans to act.

“It is by far the top-priority short-lived climate pollutant that we need to tackle to keep 1.5°C within reach,” said Rick Duke, once a climate adviser to US President Obama and now part of President Joe Biden’s climate team. “The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally.” − Climate News Network

Only intact forests can stave off climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Degradation costs more

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

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

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

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

Intact forests vital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Degradation costs more

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

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

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

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

Intact forests vital

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

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

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

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

Loss of Arctic sea ice can spoil French wine harvest

What happens in the Arctic may not stay there. Loss of Arctic sea ice can dump the polar blizzards elsewhere.

LONDON, 19 April, 2021 − Once again, scientists have linked a weather-related catastrophe directly to human-induced climate change. Extreme frost and springtime snowfalls in Western Europe can be pinned to the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice.

So, paradoxically, global heating may have had the unexpected effect of wiping out around one third of the French wine harvest for this coming year, after temperatures so low that growers were forced to light bonfires in their vineyards to save the first buds from the chill.

“Climate change doesn’t always manifest in the most obvious ways,” said Alun Hubbard, of the Arctic University of Norway. “It’s easy to extrapolate models to show that winters are getting warmer and to forecast a virtually snow-free future in Europe, but our most recent study shows that is too simplistic. We should be beware of making broad, sweeping statements about the impacts of climate change.”

Professor Hubbard and colleagues report in the journal Nature Geoscience that they measured telltale isotope signatures in water vapour from Finland in February 2018 during an episode of freezing snow in Europe, in an anticyclone dubbed “the Beast from the East” by meteorologists and the media.

“The abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now really are affecting the entire planet”

They found that the Barents Sea north of Scandinavia was anomalously warm. And 60% of the sea’s surface was free of ice, and the same sea lost 140 billion tonnes of water to evaporation during this too-warm February. This enormous atmospheric burden of water vapour provided, they calculate, 88% of the snow that was to fall over northern Europe that month.

Then they looked at the pattern over the years from 1979 to 2020, to find that, for every square metre of ice that vanished in the month of March − itself part of a pattern of Arctic temperature rise − evaporation across the Barents Sea increased by 70 kg, and this could be matched with increases in Europe’s maximum snowfall.

“Our analysis directly links Arctic sea ice loss with increased evaporation and extreme snow fall,” they write, and warn that by 2080 an ice-free Barents Sea “will be a major source of winter moisture for continental Europe.”

The Beast from the East brought much of Europe to a halt, at an economic cost of an estimated $1bn (£0.72bn) a day. It is still rare for researchers to directly link any particular weather event with climate change driven by profligate use of fossil fuels − that is because climate is what forecasters can reasonably expect, but weather is what actually happens − but some scientists have begun to do so with increasing confidence. And this time, they can explain why.

Natural complexity

The ice cover over the Barents Sea has fallen by 54% since 1979, at the rate of 11,200 sq kms a year, and snow mass across Eurasia has increased. The latest study confirms the link: the isotope signature of Barents water was repeated in the European snows that arrived with the Beast from the East.

“What we’re finding is that sea ice is effectively a lid on the ocean. And with its long term reduction across the Arctic, we’re seeing increasing amounts of moisture enter the atmosphere during winter, which directly impacts our weather further south, causing extremely heavy snowfalls,” said Hannah Bailey of the University of Oulu in Finland, who led the research.

“It might seem counter-intuitive, but nature is complex and what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

And Professor Hubbard said: “This study illustrates that the abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now really are affecting the entire planet.” − Climate News Network

What happens in the Arctic may not stay there. Loss of Arctic sea ice can dump the polar blizzards elsewhere.

LONDON, 19 April, 2021 − Once again, scientists have linked a weather-related catastrophe directly to human-induced climate change. Extreme frost and springtime snowfalls in Western Europe can be pinned to the dramatic loss of Arctic sea ice.

So, paradoxically, global heating may have had the unexpected effect of wiping out around one third of the French wine harvest for this coming year, after temperatures so low that growers were forced to light bonfires in their vineyards to save the first buds from the chill.

“Climate change doesn’t always manifest in the most obvious ways,” said Alun Hubbard, of the Arctic University of Norway. “It’s easy to extrapolate models to show that winters are getting warmer and to forecast a virtually snow-free future in Europe, but our most recent study shows that is too simplistic. We should be beware of making broad, sweeping statements about the impacts of climate change.”

Professor Hubbard and colleagues report in the journal Nature Geoscience that they measured telltale isotope signatures in water vapour from Finland in February 2018 during an episode of freezing snow in Europe, in an anticyclone dubbed “the Beast from the East” by meteorologists and the media.

“The abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now really are affecting the entire planet”

They found that the Barents Sea north of Scandinavia was anomalously warm. And 60% of the sea’s surface was free of ice, and the same sea lost 140 billion tonnes of water to evaporation during this too-warm February. This enormous atmospheric burden of water vapour provided, they calculate, 88% of the snow that was to fall over northern Europe that month.

Then they looked at the pattern over the years from 1979 to 2020, to find that, for every square metre of ice that vanished in the month of March − itself part of a pattern of Arctic temperature rise − evaporation across the Barents Sea increased by 70 kg, and this could be matched with increases in Europe’s maximum snowfall.

“Our analysis directly links Arctic sea ice loss with increased evaporation and extreme snow fall,” they write, and warn that by 2080 an ice-free Barents Sea “will be a major source of winter moisture for continental Europe.”

The Beast from the East brought much of Europe to a halt, at an economic cost of an estimated $1bn (£0.72bn) a day. It is still rare for researchers to directly link any particular weather event with climate change driven by profligate use of fossil fuels − that is because climate is what forecasters can reasonably expect, but weather is what actually happens − but some scientists have begun to do so with increasing confidence. And this time, they can explain why.

Natural complexity

The ice cover over the Barents Sea has fallen by 54% since 1979, at the rate of 11,200 sq kms a year, and snow mass across Eurasia has increased. The latest study confirms the link: the isotope signature of Barents water was repeated in the European snows that arrived with the Beast from the East.

“What we’re finding is that sea ice is effectively a lid on the ocean. And with its long term reduction across the Arctic, we’re seeing increasing amounts of moisture enter the atmosphere during winter, which directly impacts our weather further south, causing extremely heavy snowfalls,” said Hannah Bailey of the University of Oulu in Finland, who led the research.

“It might seem counter-intuitive, but nature is complex and what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.”

And Professor Hubbard said: “This study illustrates that the abrupt changes being witnessed across the Arctic now really are affecting the entire planet.” − Climate News Network

Monsoon changes threaten Asia and warn the world

For generations India’s farmers have relied on its arrival, but monsoon changes suggest a hotter and less predictable world.

LONDON, 16 April, 2021 − As the world warms, monsoon changes are set to cause havoc across a huge and densely populated swathe of the planet. The great South Asian summer monsoon will become both stronger and less reliable.

German scientists predict a pattern of extremely wet years in the future, but the arrival of these will be chaotic. Even a late monsoon can be devastating for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the rainy season. A failure can be catastrophic.

And yet too much rain can also have calamitous consequences: it can flood ripening grain fields, wash away topsoils and even − by reducing the storage of carbon in the soil − help accelerate further warming of the planet.

Around one billion people depend on the monsoon for their well-being, for trade and manufacture, and for food systems and agriculture. And the years ahead could become more chaotic, as a consequence of global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems worldwide.

“For every degree Celsius of warming, monsoon rainfalls will likely increase by about 5%,” said Anja Katzenberger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the region and should be a wake-up call to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide”

“We were also able to confirm previous studies, but find that global warming is increasing monsoon rainfall in India even more than previously thought. It is dominating monsoon dynamics in the 21st century.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they analysed 32 advanced climate simulations to look for a pattern of change in the region’s weather.

About four-fifths of all the region’s rainfall happens in the summer: crop yields − especially rice − are highly sensitive to the monsoon’s coming. Agriculture makes up at least one-fifth of the Indian gross domestic product or GDP, so rainfall is vital to the economic and social well-being of hundreds of millions of people.

During the second half of the 20th century, the trend seemed to be towards a gradual drying of the rains. In the first decades of this century, the pattern seems reversed: monsoons are getting stronger. Quite how tiny annual rises in global average temperatures affect the winds that bring the summer rains has still to be ascertained, but ocean warming driven by human changes to greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere is almost certainly involved.

Rice at risk

And this is not good news for the farmers who, for generations, have placed their bets on the regular arrival of the rains. There is even evidence that in the deep past, a succession of monsoon failures may have toppled an early civilisation.

“Crops need water especially in the initial growing period, but too much rainfall during other growing states can harm plants − including rice, on which the majority of India’s population is depending for sustenance,” said Julia Pongratz from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, another of the authors.

“This makes the Indian economy and food system highly sensitive to volatile monsoon patterns.”

And Anders Levermann, also from the Potsdam Institute, said: “We see more and more that climate change is about unpredictable weather extremes and their serious consequences, because what is really on the line is the socio-economic well-being of the Indian subcontinent.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the agriculture and economy in the region and should be a wake-up call for policymakers to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” − Climate News Network

For generations India’s farmers have relied on its arrival, but monsoon changes suggest a hotter and less predictable world.

LONDON, 16 April, 2021 − As the world warms, monsoon changes are set to cause havoc across a huge and densely populated swathe of the planet. The great South Asian summer monsoon will become both stronger and less reliable.

German scientists predict a pattern of extremely wet years in the future, but the arrival of these will be chaotic. Even a late monsoon can be devastating for those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the rainy season. A failure can be catastrophic.

And yet too much rain can also have calamitous consequences: it can flood ripening grain fields, wash away topsoils and even − by reducing the storage of carbon in the soil − help accelerate further warming of the planet.

Around one billion people depend on the monsoon for their well-being, for trade and manufacture, and for food systems and agriculture. And the years ahead could become more chaotic, as a consequence of global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and the destruction of natural ecosystems worldwide.

“For every degree Celsius of warming, monsoon rainfalls will likely increase by about 5%,” said Anja Katzenberger of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the region and should be a wake-up call to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide”

“We were also able to confirm previous studies, but find that global warming is increasing monsoon rainfall in India even more than previously thought. It is dominating monsoon dynamics in the 21st century.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they analysed 32 advanced climate simulations to look for a pattern of change in the region’s weather.

About four-fifths of all the region’s rainfall happens in the summer: crop yields − especially rice − are highly sensitive to the monsoon’s coming. Agriculture makes up at least one-fifth of the Indian gross domestic product or GDP, so rainfall is vital to the economic and social well-being of hundreds of millions of people.

During the second half of the 20th century, the trend seemed to be towards a gradual drying of the rains. In the first decades of this century, the pattern seems reversed: monsoons are getting stronger. Quite how tiny annual rises in global average temperatures affect the winds that bring the summer rains has still to be ascertained, but ocean warming driven by human changes to greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere is almost certainly involved.

Rice at risk

And this is not good news for the farmers who, for generations, have placed their bets on the regular arrival of the rains. There is even evidence that in the deep past, a succession of monsoon failures may have toppled an early civilisation.

“Crops need water especially in the initial growing period, but too much rainfall during other growing states can harm plants − including rice, on which the majority of India’s population is depending for sustenance,” said Julia Pongratz from the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, another of the authors.

“This makes the Indian economy and food system highly sensitive to volatile monsoon patterns.”

And Anders Levermann, also from the Potsdam Institute, said: “We see more and more that climate change is about unpredictable weather extremes and their serious consequences, because what is really on the line is the socio-economic well-being of the Indian subcontinent.

“A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the agriculture and economy in the region and should be a wake-up call for policymakers to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.” − Climate News Network

Global farming feels the impacts of global heating

Global heating has already set back farming around the world, and wiped out seven years of steady advance.

LONDON, 12 April, 2021 − Climate change has begun to harm the world’s farmers. Compared with a notional world in which global heating is not being driven ever higher by fossil fuel use, a new study finds that the riches to be gleaned from the soil have fallen by 21%.

This, the researchers say, is as if the steady advance in agricultural productivity worldwide − in crop breeding, in farming technologies and in fertiliser use − has been eroded everywhere by more extreme temperatures, more prolonged droughts and more intense rainfall.

“We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years,” said Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, an economist at Cornell University in the US.

“It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013, and experiencing no improvements since then. Anthropogenic climate change is already slowing us down.”

He and colleagues from Maryland and California report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they developed new ways of looking at farm costs and yields that could account for climate- and weather-related factors. The findings are potentially alarming.

Productivity drops

In the last century, the planet has warmed by at least 1°C above the long term average for most of human history, and is heading for 3°C or more by the end of this century.

By 2050, the total global population could have risen to 10bn: more than two billion extra mouths to be fed. But during the last 60 years, growth in agricultural productivity in the US has been slowed by somewhere between 5 and 15%. In Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean, growth has slowed by between 26 and 34%.

A study of this kind − comparing the present world with one that might have been − is always open to challenge, and farmers have always had to gamble on good weather and cope with bad harvests.

But over the last seven years, researchers have repeatedly confirmed that a hotter world promises to be a hungrier one. Studies have found that yields of wheat, maize and rice are all vulnerable to climate change.

They have warned that higher temperatures and more atmospheric greenhouse gases could actually affect the nutritional values of legumes, fruit and vegetables, and that changes in weather patterns − in droughts, rainfall and heat waves − will hit harvests.

“Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect”

And since the higher temperatures that global heating brings  inevitably threaten more intense, more prolonged and more extensive heat extremes and droughts, the chances of calamitous harvest failure in more than one continent at the same time will be much greater: global famine could follow.

So the latest study simply provides another way of confirming anxieties already expressed. This time there is a new perspective: the attrition of climate change began decades ago. In the constant race to keep up with demand and compensate for possible loss, the farmers may be falling behind. Technological progress has yet to deliver climate resilience.

“It is not what we can do, but where we are headed,” said Robert Chambers, of the University of Maryland, a co-author. “This gives us an idea of trends to help see what to do in the future with new changes in the climate that are beyond what we’ve previously seen.

“We are projected to have almost 10 billion people to feed by 2050, so making sure our productivity is stable but growing faster than ever before is a serious concern.”

And Dr Otiz-Bobea said: “Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect. We have to address climate change now so that we can avoid further damage for future generations.” − Climate News Network

Global heating has already set back farming around the world, and wiped out seven years of steady advance.

LONDON, 12 April, 2021 − Climate change has begun to harm the world’s farmers. Compared with a notional world in which global heating is not being driven ever higher by fossil fuel use, a new study finds that the riches to be gleaned from the soil have fallen by 21%.

This, the researchers say, is as if the steady advance in agricultural productivity worldwide − in crop breeding, in farming technologies and in fertiliser use − has been eroded everywhere by more extreme temperatures, more prolonged droughts and more intense rainfall.

“We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years,” said Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, an economist at Cornell University in the US.

“It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013, and experiencing no improvements since then. Anthropogenic climate change is already slowing us down.”

He and colleagues from Maryland and California report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they developed new ways of looking at farm costs and yields that could account for climate- and weather-related factors. The findings are potentially alarming.

Productivity drops

In the last century, the planet has warmed by at least 1°C above the long term average for most of human history, and is heading for 3°C or more by the end of this century.

By 2050, the total global population could have risen to 10bn: more than two billion extra mouths to be fed. But during the last 60 years, growth in agricultural productivity in the US has been slowed by somewhere between 5 and 15%. In Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean, growth has slowed by between 26 and 34%.

A study of this kind − comparing the present world with one that might have been − is always open to challenge, and farmers have always had to gamble on good weather and cope with bad harvests.

But over the last seven years, researchers have repeatedly confirmed that a hotter world promises to be a hungrier one. Studies have found that yields of wheat, maize and rice are all vulnerable to climate change.

They have warned that higher temperatures and more atmospheric greenhouse gases could actually affect the nutritional values of legumes, fruit and vegetables, and that changes in weather patterns − in droughts, rainfall and heat waves − will hit harvests.

“Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect”

And since the higher temperatures that global heating brings  inevitably threaten more intense, more prolonged and more extensive heat extremes and droughts, the chances of calamitous harvest failure in more than one continent at the same time will be much greater: global famine could follow.

So the latest study simply provides another way of confirming anxieties already expressed. This time there is a new perspective: the attrition of climate change began decades ago. In the constant race to keep up with demand and compensate for possible loss, the farmers may be falling behind. Technological progress has yet to deliver climate resilience.

“It is not what we can do, but where we are headed,” said Robert Chambers, of the University of Maryland, a co-author. “This gives us an idea of trends to help see what to do in the future with new changes in the climate that are beyond what we’ve previously seen.

“We are projected to have almost 10 billion people to feed by 2050, so making sure our productivity is stable but growing faster than ever before is a serious concern.”

And Dr Otiz-Bobea said: “Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect. We have to address climate change now so that we can avoid further damage for future generations.” − Climate News Network

Rich world’s demands fell poorer world’s forests

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

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

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

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

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

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

South American losses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

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

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

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

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

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

South American losses

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

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

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

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

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