Tag Archives: Amazon

Changing rainfall poses dilemma on dams

A changing climate usually means changing rainfall patterns. And that means a headache for dam builders.

LONDON, 23 May, 2019 − For the builders of hydro-electric schemes – usually multi-billion dollar projects involving vast amounts of complex engineering work – changing rainfall is a serious problem.

With climate change either on the horizon or already happening in many regions of the world, rainfall patterns, on which hydro schemes ultimately depend, are becoming ever more unpredictable.

Christian Rynning-Tonnesen is CEO of Statkraft AS, Norway’s biggest power producer and a major player in the international hydro power business.

In an interview with the Bloomberg news agency, Rynning-Tonnesen says his company has had to double its spending over the last 10 years to reinforce dams in order to cope with heavier rains. He says climate change is hard to ignore when you’re in the hydro-electric business.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”

“The general trend all over the world is areas that are dry become more dry and areas that are wet become more wet.”

Norway has seen a 5% rise in rainfall over recent years, says Rynning-Tonnesen.

Others say planning processes behind dam building have to be revised in the face of climate change.

Emilio Moran, a visiting professor at the University of Campinas in São Paulo state in Brazil, says that in one of the world’s biggest hydro-electric building programmes, a total of 147 dams have been planned in the Amazon Basin, with 65 of them in Brazil.

Output fears

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, Moran and his co-authors say many of the dams in Brazil − either completed or still in the planning stages − are likely to produce far less power than anticipated, owing to climate variability.

The Amazon Basin is predicted to receive less rainfall and to be hit with higher temperatures in future.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”, says Moran.

“To reduce its vulnerability with regard to energy in the context of global climate change, Brazil must diversify its energy mix. It’s still too dependent on hydro-electricity. It needs to invest more in other renewable sources, such as solar, biomass and wind.”

Rainfall drops

Deforestation is expected to create further water shortage problems for hydro plants in the Amazon region. About half the area’s rainfall is due to recycling within the forest.

“Deforestation will, therefore, lead to less precipitation in the region aside from the expected decline due to global climate change”, say the study’s authors.

They say that if the building of large dams in developing countries is to continue, full consideration has to be given to their social impact, the overall cost to the environment and to climate change.

International tensions

In many cases, this doesn’t seem to be happening. Turkey is spending billions on ambitious dam building projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the south-east of the country. Climate change is predicted to alter the amounts of water available to drive the operation of these dams.

The rivers flow onwards into Syria and Iraq: already water flows downstream are severely reduced at certain times of the year, creating regional tensions and putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of millions dependent on the rivers for drinking water and for agricultural production.

One of the world’s biggest dam projects is in East Africa − the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile itself. Ethiopia wants to sell electricity generated by the dam to neighbouring countries.

Critics of the GERD project say climate change, including reduced rainfall in the Blue Nile’s catchment area, could seriously affect the dam’s generating capability. − Climate News Network

A changing climate usually means changing rainfall patterns. And that means a headache for dam builders.

LONDON, 23 May, 2019 − For the builders of hydro-electric schemes – usually multi-billion dollar projects involving vast amounts of complex engineering work – changing rainfall is a serious problem.

With climate change either on the horizon or already happening in many regions of the world, rainfall patterns, on which hydro schemes ultimately depend, are becoming ever more unpredictable.

Christian Rynning-Tonnesen is CEO of Statkraft AS, Norway’s biggest power producer and a major player in the international hydro power business.

In an interview with the Bloomberg news agency, Rynning-Tonnesen says his company has had to double its spending over the last 10 years to reinforce dams in order to cope with heavier rains. He says climate change is hard to ignore when you’re in the hydro-electric business.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”

“The general trend all over the world is areas that are dry become more dry and areas that are wet become more wet.”

Norway has seen a 5% rise in rainfall over recent years, says Rynning-Tonnesen.

Others say planning processes behind dam building have to be revised in the face of climate change.

Emilio Moran, a visiting professor at the University of Campinas in São Paulo state in Brazil, says that in one of the world’s biggest hydro-electric building programmes, a total of 147 dams have been planned in the Amazon Basin, with 65 of them in Brazil.

Output fears

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, Moran and his co-authors say many of the dams in Brazil − either completed or still in the planning stages − are likely to produce far less power than anticipated, owing to climate variability.

The Amazon Basin is predicted to receive less rainfall and to be hit with higher temperatures in future.

“Depending on water as the main source of power in future when we’ll have less of this natural resource looks like an unreliable strategy”, says Moran.

“To reduce its vulnerability with regard to energy in the context of global climate change, Brazil must diversify its energy mix. It’s still too dependent on hydro-electricity. It needs to invest more in other renewable sources, such as solar, biomass and wind.”

Rainfall drops

Deforestation is expected to create further water shortage problems for hydro plants in the Amazon region. About half the area’s rainfall is due to recycling within the forest.

“Deforestation will, therefore, lead to less precipitation in the region aside from the expected decline due to global climate change”, say the study’s authors.

They say that if the building of large dams in developing countries is to continue, full consideration has to be given to their social impact, the overall cost to the environment and to climate change.

International tensions

In many cases, this doesn’t seem to be happening. Turkey is spending billions on ambitious dam building projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the south-east of the country. Climate change is predicted to alter the amounts of water available to drive the operation of these dams.

The rivers flow onwards into Syria and Iraq: already water flows downstream are severely reduced at certain times of the year, creating regional tensions and putting in jeopardy the livelihoods of millions dependent on the rivers for drinking water and for agricultural production.

One of the world’s biggest dam projects is in East Africa − the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile itself. Ethiopia wants to sell electricity generated by the dam to neighbouring countries.

Critics of the GERD project say climate change, including reduced rainfall in the Blue Nile’s catchment area, could seriously affect the dam’s generating capability. − Climate News Network

Brazil spurns do-it-yourself solar power

Brazilian Customs imagine that parts for a do-it-yourself solar power scheme in remote communities are luxury goods and tax them accordingly.

SÃO PAULO, 16 May, 2019 − Cheap and simple do-it-yourself solar power sounds a good way to help poor communities. But try telling that to Brazil’s customs authority.

Since 2009, when the government of President Lula launched a national programme called Luz para Todos  (Light for All), Brazil has extended electricity to almost all corners of this vast country. The extra costs of extending the grid to more distant regions has been spread among all users.

But 47 localities, with a total population of 3 million people, still remain unconnected to the national grid, most of them in small, remote communities in the Amazon.

They include the 300,000 or so residents of Boa Vista, capital of the northernmost state of Roraima, which gets most of its energy from a hydro-electric dam across the border in Venezuela.

Long haul for oil

But with that country experiencing increasing chaos, with frequent blackouts, the supply has become unstable. When the power goes down, expensive thermo-electric plants running on diesel oil must be used, the oil brought by road from Manaus, 750 kms (465 miles) south.

Although Roraima enjoys even more hours of sunshine and strong winds than the rest of Brazil, these renewable alternatives have been largely ignored.

Boa Vista, though, is an exception. Most of those unconnected to the national grid live in small, isolated communities in the Amazon region. Some have diesel-powered generators, noisy, polluting and expensive, switched on for only 2 or 3 hours a day.

The disadvantages of living without a regular supply of energy are many – children cannot study at night, food cannot be preserved in fridges or freezers, fish catches cannot be sold, because without a freezer they will rot.

Health posts cannot stock medicines or vaccines. There is no TV, no access to the internet. Without a pump, people spend a lot of time on activities like carrying water.

“Inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items”

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has plans to “universalise” energy provision, linking even these remote communities to the national grid within the next ten years. In some places photovoltaic panels have been installed, but their maintenance depends on technical assistance from the nearest town, which can be several hours’ boat ride away.

The proposed privatisation of the national energy company Eletrobras could also see an end to the plan to provide universal access, because profit-making companies will not want to spread the costs through higher tariffs.

Villi Seilert, a solar energy researcher, believes this top-down solution is not the answer. Together with engineer Edson Kenji Kondo, of the Universidade Católica de Brasília, he has developed what they call a social solar factory, a system of mini-factories which can be based in low-income communities, making cheap solar panels.

The idea was born during a project for start-ups developing innovative projects in the context of climate change, which at the same time offered decent jobs to people on low incomes.

At first they made solar panels out of recycled cartons. Then they developed a wafer thin panel with 6 photovoltaic cells, just 4.55 mm thick and weighing only 1.75 kg., making it easy to transport and mount. This is called the i920W-Slim.

Meeting basic needs

A micro-system of these panels mounted on a roof generates 165 kilowatts of electricity a month, the average consumption of a low-income family in Brazil.

The idea is that local communities will easily be able to understand the technology, produce their own panels and generate their own electricity, without depending on outside companies or technicians.

Seilert reckons that 1,000 such mini-factories could be installed in 5 years – providing not only energy, but jobs as well.

He says two monitors could train up to 10 people in a six-day course, covering general principles, soldering techniques and mounting circuits.

The training venue and the factory can be set up in any available covered space. The kiln for firing the glass can be a pizza oven with a temperature regulator, transportable in the back of a car. Each panel will cost about US$40, $28 of it for components, including several that have to be imported from China.

Unfortunately, and inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items, not basic elements for a low-cost energy system.

Little help offered

The basic cost of setting up a social solar factory varies between $2,000 and $3,000, plus the cost of accumulators or storage batteries.

Seilert is hoping to persuade local authorities, NGOs and local communities to give his project a go. He is trying to persuade the customs authority to lower the import tariff on the imported components, which would reduce the overall cost.

But while solar energy is definitely gaining ground in Brazil, with projects springing up in different places, the government remains wedded to the fossil fuel economy, unwilling to offer to renewables even a fraction of the subsidies, incentives and tax holidays they give to that sector.

So it is left to pioneers like Seilert to battle for recognition, and to NGOs and enlightened local authorities to fund projects,.One of the few mini-factories to have been successfully installed is in a prison in the central state of Minas Gerais, where inmates near the end of their sentences learn to make the solar panels. − Climate News Network

Brazilian Customs imagine that parts for a do-it-yourself solar power scheme in remote communities are luxury goods and tax them accordingly.

SÃO PAULO, 16 May, 2019 − Cheap and simple do-it-yourself solar power sounds a good way to help poor communities. But try telling that to Brazil’s customs authority.

Since 2009, when the government of President Lula launched a national programme called Luz para Todos  (Light for All), Brazil has extended electricity to almost all corners of this vast country. The extra costs of extending the grid to more distant regions has been spread among all users.

But 47 localities, with a total population of 3 million people, still remain unconnected to the national grid, most of them in small, remote communities in the Amazon.

They include the 300,000 or so residents of Boa Vista, capital of the northernmost state of Roraima, which gets most of its energy from a hydro-electric dam across the border in Venezuela.

Long haul for oil

But with that country experiencing increasing chaos, with frequent blackouts, the supply has become unstable. When the power goes down, expensive thermo-electric plants running on diesel oil must be used, the oil brought by road from Manaus, 750 kms (465 miles) south.

Although Roraima enjoys even more hours of sunshine and strong winds than the rest of Brazil, these renewable alternatives have been largely ignored.

Boa Vista, though, is an exception. Most of those unconnected to the national grid live in small, isolated communities in the Amazon region. Some have diesel-powered generators, noisy, polluting and expensive, switched on for only 2 or 3 hours a day.

The disadvantages of living without a regular supply of energy are many – children cannot study at night, food cannot be preserved in fridges or freezers, fish catches cannot be sold, because without a freezer they will rot.

Health posts cannot stock medicines or vaccines. There is no TV, no access to the internet. Without a pump, people spend a lot of time on activities like carrying water.

“Inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items”

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has plans to “universalise” energy provision, linking even these remote communities to the national grid within the next ten years. In some places photovoltaic panels have been installed, but their maintenance depends on technical assistance from the nearest town, which can be several hours’ boat ride away.

The proposed privatisation of the national energy company Eletrobras could also see an end to the plan to provide universal access, because profit-making companies will not want to spread the costs through higher tariffs.

Villi Seilert, a solar energy researcher, believes this top-down solution is not the answer. Together with engineer Edson Kenji Kondo, of the Universidade Católica de Brasília, he has developed what they call a social solar factory, a system of mini-factories which can be based in low-income communities, making cheap solar panels.

The idea was born during a project for start-ups developing innovative projects in the context of climate change, which at the same time offered decent jobs to people on low incomes.

At first they made solar panels out of recycled cartons. Then they developed a wafer thin panel with 6 photovoltaic cells, just 4.55 mm thick and weighing only 1.75 kg., making it easy to transport and mount. This is called the i920W-Slim.

Meeting basic needs

A micro-system of these panels mounted on a roof generates 165 kilowatts of electricity a month, the average consumption of a low-income family in Brazil.

The idea is that local communities will easily be able to understand the technology, produce their own panels and generate their own electricity, without depending on outside companies or technicians.

Seilert reckons that 1,000 such mini-factories could be installed in 5 years – providing not only energy, but jobs as well.

He says two monitors could train up to 10 people in a six-day course, covering general principles, soldering techniques and mounting circuits.

The training venue and the factory can be set up in any available covered space. The kiln for firing the glass can be a pizza oven with a temperature regulator, transportable in the back of a car. Each panel will cost about US$40, $28 of it for components, including several that have to be imported from China.

Unfortunately, and inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items, not basic elements for a low-cost energy system.

Little help offered

The basic cost of setting up a social solar factory varies between $2,000 and $3,000, plus the cost of accumulators or storage batteries.

Seilert is hoping to persuade local authorities, NGOs and local communities to give his project a go. He is trying to persuade the customs authority to lower the import tariff on the imported components, which would reduce the overall cost.

But while solar energy is definitely gaining ground in Brazil, with projects springing up in different places, the government remains wedded to the fossil fuel economy, unwilling to offer to renewables even a fraction of the subsidies, incentives and tax holidays they give to that sector.

So it is left to pioneers like Seilert to battle for recognition, and to NGOs and enlightened local authorities to fund projects,.One of the few mini-factories to have been successfully installed is in a prison in the central state of Minas Gerais, where inmates near the end of their sentences learn to make the solar panels. − Climate News Network

Amazon in peril as Brazil cools on climate

The man who will become Brazil’s president next month is cold-shouldering moves to tame the pace of climate change, leaving the Amazon in peril.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2018 − The election of an extreme rightwing climate sceptic as president will leave the Amazon in peril, because it radically alters Brazil’s position on climate change.

That process has already begun, with the cancellation of the outgoing president’s invitation to the United Nations to hold its 2019 climate talks, COP-25, in Brasilia.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is also threatening to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, claiming that a plot exists to reduce Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon.

While he does not officially take office until 1 January, Bolsonaro has already significantly altered Brazil’s position by cancelling the present government’s offer to host COP-25 only days after it was officially made by the departing president, Michel Temer.

Due for confirmation

It was due to be confirmed at this year’s UN talks (COP-24) in the Polish city of Katowice. The COPs (meetings of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) are rotated between the world’s five regions, and 2019 was to be the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For André Nahur, a biologist and the coordinator of WWF Brazil’s programme for climate change and energy, it is a sign that under Bolsonaro Brazil will abdicate its role as a leader in environmental questions.

He said: “Brazil has been a protagonist in international climate talks, exercising an important role in diplomatic efforts to reduce greenhouse gases … in order to achieve world targets. Brazil’s participation is vital, because at the moment it is the seventh largest producer of greenhouse gases.”

He added that the withdrawal of Brazil’s offer for COP-25 will affect the country’s economic development: “All scenarios show that in countries concerned with climate change, GDP has grown and generated jobs.”

“I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement”

The Climate Observatory, a Brazilian NGO (Observatório do Clima) says Bolsonaro’s decision means that Brazil is abdicating its role in one of the few areas where the country is not just relevant but necessary.

“Ignoring the climate agenda, the government is also failing to protect the population affected by a growing number of extreme weather events. Unfortunately they do not stop happening just because some people doubt their causes,” it said.

To try to justify his stated intention to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement Bolsonaro has invoked the existence of a forgotten project once proposed by Gaia Colombia, known as the Triple A.

He said: “What is the ‘Triple A? It’s a big strip between the Andes, the Amazon and the Atlantic … The idea is to turn it into an ecological corridor.” This, says Bolsonaro, could result in Brazil losing its sovereignty over the area.

Doubtful explanation

The ambitious plan for the corridor, covering over 500,000 square miles of rainforest, surfaced several years ago, and is credited to Martín von Hildebrand, founder of the Gaia Amazonas NGO, but it has never been taken seriously, and it is certainly no part of the Paris Agreement.

While the president-elect evoked this non-existent problem to justify his dislike of the Paris deal, French president Emmanuel Macron hinted at the real consequences of leaving the treaty, declaring: “I say clearly that I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement.”

Brazil’s new position also leaves it out of step with the BRICS, the group of five big emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

They produced a statement at the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires affirming their commitment to the “full implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the importance and urgency of guaranteeing funds for the Green Climate Fund”, to increase the developing countries’ capacity for mitigation and adaptation.

Faith in Trump

Bolsonaro has chosen as his foreign minister a diplomat, Ernesto Araujo, who scoffs at what he calls “climatism” and believes that US president Donald Trump is the saviour of the Christian values of the Western world, while globalisation is a communist plot.

If Brazil were just a small banana republic this would not matter. But the South American giant, the fifth largest country in the world, in both size and population, and ninth largest economy, is too big to ignore, especially as it contains 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest.

But even before Bolsonaro officially takes office deforestation has soared, hitting its highest level for a decade as loggers and landgrabbers anticipate a loosening of monitoring and enforcement.

Environmentalists fear that Brazil’s change of government could have disastrous consequences for the world’s climate. − Climate News Network

The man who will become Brazil’s president next month is cold-shouldering moves to tame the pace of climate change, leaving the Amazon in peril.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2018 − The election of an extreme rightwing climate sceptic as president will leave the Amazon in peril, because it radically alters Brazil’s position on climate change.

That process has already begun, with the cancellation of the outgoing president’s invitation to the United Nations to hold its 2019 climate talks, COP-25, in Brasilia.

President-elect Jair Bolsonaro is also threatening to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, claiming that a plot exists to reduce Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon.

While he does not officially take office until 1 January, Bolsonaro has already significantly altered Brazil’s position by cancelling the present government’s offer to host COP-25 only days after it was officially made by the departing president, Michel Temer.

Due for confirmation

It was due to be confirmed at this year’s UN talks (COP-24) in the Polish city of Katowice. The COPs (meetings of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) are rotated between the world’s five regions, and 2019 was to be the turn of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For André Nahur, a biologist and the coordinator of WWF Brazil’s programme for climate change and energy, it is a sign that under Bolsonaro Brazil will abdicate its role as a leader in environmental questions.

He said: “Brazil has been a protagonist in international climate talks, exercising an important role in diplomatic efforts to reduce greenhouse gases … in order to achieve world targets. Brazil’s participation is vital, because at the moment it is the seventh largest producer of greenhouse gases.”

He added that the withdrawal of Brazil’s offer for COP-25 will affect the country’s economic development: “All scenarios show that in countries concerned with climate change, GDP has grown and generated jobs.”

“I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement”

The Climate Observatory, a Brazilian NGO (Observatório do Clima) says Bolsonaro’s decision means that Brazil is abdicating its role in one of the few areas where the country is not just relevant but necessary.

“Ignoring the climate agenda, the government is also failing to protect the population affected by a growing number of extreme weather events. Unfortunately they do not stop happening just because some people doubt their causes,” it said.

To try to justify his stated intention to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement Bolsonaro has invoked the existence of a forgotten project once proposed by Gaia Colombia, known as the Triple A.

He said: “What is the ‘Triple A? It’s a big strip between the Andes, the Amazon and the Atlantic … The idea is to turn it into an ecological corridor.” This, says Bolsonaro, could result in Brazil losing its sovereignty over the area.

Doubtful explanation

The ambitious plan for the corridor, covering over 500,000 square miles of rainforest, surfaced several years ago, and is credited to Martín von Hildebrand, founder of the Gaia Amazonas NGO, but it has never been taken seriously, and it is certainly no part of the Paris Agreement.

While the president-elect evoked this non-existent problem to justify his dislike of the Paris deal, French president Emmanuel Macron hinted at the real consequences of leaving the treaty, declaring: “I say clearly that I am not in favour of signing a trade deal with powers that do not respect the Paris agreement.”

Brazil’s new position also leaves it out of step with the BRICS, the group of five big emerging countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

They produced a statement at the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires affirming their commitment to the “full implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the importance and urgency of guaranteeing funds for the Green Climate Fund”, to increase the developing countries’ capacity for mitigation and adaptation.

Faith in Trump

Bolsonaro has chosen as his foreign minister a diplomat, Ernesto Araujo, who scoffs at what he calls “climatism” and believes that US president Donald Trump is the saviour of the Christian values of the Western world, while globalisation is a communist plot.

If Brazil were just a small banana republic this would not matter. But the South American giant, the fifth largest country in the world, in both size and population, and ninth largest economy, is too big to ignore, especially as it contains 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest.

But even before Bolsonaro officially takes office deforestation has soared, hitting its highest level for a decade as loggers and landgrabbers anticipate a loosening of monitoring and enforcement.

Environmentalists fear that Brazil’s change of government could have disastrous consequences for the world’s climate. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro puts Amazon at risk

If their new leader, Jair Bolsonaro, acts as many Brazilians expect him to, the Amazon forest is likely to suffer serious damage.

SÃO PAULO, 16 November, 2018 − The Amazon rainforest, the greatest remaining in the world, faces a new threat − from the policies espoused by Jair Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain who is now Brazil’s president-elect. The forest is globally vital for its ability to store atmospheric carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels.

Bolsonaro has caused alarm both in the country and abroad with his views on the environment. In anticipation of his victory, deforestation in the Amazon region increased by 50% in the three months before the poll.

The Real Time System for Detection of Deforestation in the Amazon region, Deter, which is administered by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and provides data for environmental inspectors, found that between August and October, the Amazon rainforest lost 1,674 square kilometres, an area bigger than Brazil’s largest metropolis, São Paulo. This was an increase of 48.8% compared to the same months in 2017.

Imazon, an NGO which also monitors deforestation, using a different system called SAD (Deforestation Alert System) registered an even bigger increase of 84% (in Portuguese) compared to 2017.

“Up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection”

In the area that showed the greatest increase in illegal deforestation, the border region between the states of Acre and Amazonas, the main cause was cattle ranching. It is the cattle ranchers, together with the soy farmers, who are among Bolsonaro’s most enthusiastic supporters.

But even they were alarmed when he announced, as one of his first measures, the merging of the Ministry of the Environment, one of whose main functions is to enforce environmental laws, with the powerful Ministry of Agriculture, more or less like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Brazil is one of the world’s top exporters of soy and beef, and farmers know they must adhere to the strict environmental and health conditions demanded by importers.

The president-elect’s radical plans also came under fire from eight former environment ministers. In an open letter to Bolsonaro, published in the newspaper Opinião do jornal Folha de São Paulo (in Portuguese), they urged him not to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which, as an enthusiastic fan of Donald Trump, he has said he wants to do.

They point out that Brazil, host to the first Earth Summit in 1992 and to the follow-up 20 years later, Rio+20, is a world leader in sustainable development and the use of renewable energy resources, and, because of the importance of the Amazon rainforest to the world’s climate, a leading player in global environmental policy.

Double disaster possible

To abolish the Environment Ministry and leave the Paris Agreement, they say, would also be disastrous politically and commercially: “We cannot run the risk of international political isolation or the closing of consumer markets to our exports. In the 21st century Brazil can’t get off the world”.

Especially as, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the next decade Brazil is expected to become the world’s biggest agricultural producer and food exporter, unless the reckless destruction of its natural resources prevents this.

Leaving the Paris Agreement, however, seems to be part of the anti-global mindset which predominates among Bolsonaro and his followers, very much influenced by the Steve Bannon playbook.

The president-elect has just announced the choice of an ultra-conservative diplomat to become Brazil’s new foreign minister. The new minister, Ernesto Araujo, sees globalisation as a Marxist plot, and wants Brazil, notable for its leadership of developing countries during previous governments and its active role in international organisations, to ally itself uncritically with the US, because “Donald Trump will save the Western world for Christianity.”

Partial retreat

However, under pressure from exporters, Bolsonaro has been forced to back down and maintain the Ministry of the Environment, although he is determined to weaken its monitoring and enforcement functions, and to water down environmental licensing laws.

He has also said that too much land in the Amazon is occupied by indigenous peoples and conservation units, and wants to open up these areas to economic exploitation. SAD figures show that while private properties account for the most deforested areas (58%), and even conservation units make up 24%, indigenous territories account for only 4% of the total. In other words, they are a barrier against deforestation.

Besides the ex-ministers, scientists and environmentalists have warned that if the president-elect carries out his promises, deforestation in the Amazon could explode. A group of researchers at INPE have used mathematical modelling to simulate possible changes in land use and calculated an increase of 268% in deforestation, rising from 6.9m km² in 2017 to 25.6m km² from 2020.

New risk

There is an added danger from another source, if individual Amazon states decide to invoke a clause in the Forest Code, which allows them to authorise a reduction in the 80% of land compulsorily set aside for conservation on private properties. A new study concludes that because of this potential reduction, “up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection.”

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and the University of São Paulo (in Portuguese) say this is equivalent to more than 4 times the entire forest area of the UK. As most of the newly elected state governors and members of state legislatures have declared support for Bolsonaro, the probability that they will enact the clause, leading to more deforestation, is high.

Unfortunately, many of them choose to ignore the warnings of scientists like Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) who said that “one of the ways to value this great forest is to recognise it as a great irrigation system . . . we can say that the food that is produced in Brazil, not only now but in the future, depends on this gigantic irrigation system which is the standing forest.” − Climate News Network

If their new leader, Jair Bolsonaro, acts as many Brazilians expect him to, the Amazon forest is likely to suffer serious damage.

SÃO PAULO, 16 November, 2018 − The Amazon rainforest, the greatest remaining in the world, faces a new threat − from the policies espoused by Jair Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain who is now Brazil’s president-elect. The forest is globally vital for its ability to store atmospheric carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels.

Bolsonaro has caused alarm both in the country and abroad with his views on the environment. In anticipation of his victory, deforestation in the Amazon region increased by 50% in the three months before the poll.

The Real Time System for Detection of Deforestation in the Amazon region, Deter, which is administered by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and provides data for environmental inspectors, found that between August and October, the Amazon rainforest lost 1,674 square kilometres, an area bigger than Brazil’s largest metropolis, São Paulo. This was an increase of 48.8% compared to the same months in 2017.

Imazon, an NGO which also monitors deforestation, using a different system called SAD (Deforestation Alert System) registered an even bigger increase of 84% (in Portuguese) compared to 2017.

“Up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection”

In the area that showed the greatest increase in illegal deforestation, the border region between the states of Acre and Amazonas, the main cause was cattle ranching. It is the cattle ranchers, together with the soy farmers, who are among Bolsonaro’s most enthusiastic supporters.

But even they were alarmed when he announced, as one of his first measures, the merging of the Ministry of the Environment, one of whose main functions is to enforce environmental laws, with the powerful Ministry of Agriculture, more or less like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Brazil is one of the world’s top exporters of soy and beef, and farmers know they must adhere to the strict environmental and health conditions demanded by importers.

The president-elect’s radical plans also came under fire from eight former environment ministers. In an open letter to Bolsonaro, published in the newspaper Opinião do jornal Folha de São Paulo (in Portuguese), they urged him not to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which, as an enthusiastic fan of Donald Trump, he has said he wants to do.

They point out that Brazil, host to the first Earth Summit in 1992 and to the follow-up 20 years later, Rio+20, is a world leader in sustainable development and the use of renewable energy resources, and, because of the importance of the Amazon rainforest to the world’s climate, a leading player in global environmental policy.

Double disaster possible

To abolish the Environment Ministry and leave the Paris Agreement, they say, would also be disastrous politically and commercially: “We cannot run the risk of international political isolation or the closing of consumer markets to our exports. In the 21st century Brazil can’t get off the world”.

Especially as, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the next decade Brazil is expected to become the world’s biggest agricultural producer and food exporter, unless the reckless destruction of its natural resources prevents this.

Leaving the Paris Agreement, however, seems to be part of the anti-global mindset which predominates among Bolsonaro and his followers, very much influenced by the Steve Bannon playbook.

The president-elect has just announced the choice of an ultra-conservative diplomat to become Brazil’s new foreign minister. The new minister, Ernesto Araujo, sees globalisation as a Marxist plot, and wants Brazil, notable for its leadership of developing countries during previous governments and its active role in international organisations, to ally itself uncritically with the US, because “Donald Trump will save the Western world for Christianity.”

Partial retreat

However, under pressure from exporters, Bolsonaro has been forced to back down and maintain the Ministry of the Environment, although he is determined to weaken its monitoring and enforcement functions, and to water down environmental licensing laws.

He has also said that too much land in the Amazon is occupied by indigenous peoples and conservation units, and wants to open up these areas to economic exploitation. SAD figures show that while private properties account for the most deforested areas (58%), and even conservation units make up 24%, indigenous territories account for only 4% of the total. In other words, they are a barrier against deforestation.

Besides the ex-ministers, scientists and environmentalists have warned that if the president-elect carries out his promises, deforestation in the Amazon could explode. A group of researchers at INPE have used mathematical modelling to simulate possible changes in land use and calculated an increase of 268% in deforestation, rising from 6.9m km² in 2017 to 25.6m km² from 2020.

New risk

There is an added danger from another source, if individual Amazon states decide to invoke a clause in the Forest Code, which allows them to authorise a reduction in the 80% of land compulsorily set aside for conservation on private properties. A new study concludes that because of this potential reduction, “up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection.”

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and the University of São Paulo (in Portuguese) say this is equivalent to more than 4 times the entire forest area of the UK. As most of the newly elected state governors and members of state legislatures have declared support for Bolsonaro, the probability that they will enact the clause, leading to more deforestation, is high.

Unfortunately, many of them choose to ignore the warnings of scientists like Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) who said that “one of the ways to value this great forest is to recognise it as a great irrigation system . . . we can say that the food that is produced in Brazil, not only now but in the future, depends on this gigantic irrigation system which is the standing forest.” − Climate News Network

Tax havens threaten oceans and rainforests

Most of the foreign money funding ocean plunder and the felling of the Amazon forest comes through tax havens, researchers say.

LONDON, 14 August, 2018 – Tax havens have provided more than two-thirds of the foreign capital known to be linked to Amazon deforestation and pirate fishing, a new study says.

The researchers say 70% of known vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are or have been flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction. On average, they report, 68% of all investigated foreign capital (US$18.4bn of a total $26.9bn) which went to sectors associated with Amazon  deforestation between 2000 and 2011 was transferred through tax havens.

The report is the work of a team of researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere programme (GEDB), who say it is the first study to show how tax havens are linked to economic sectors with the potential to cause serious global environmental damage.

They say the release of the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers exposed how multinationals, politicians and the rich use offshore tax havens to conceal their wealth and money flows, and to reduce their exposure to tax. Accepting that the term “tax haven” is contested, their report uses a definition proposed in a report prepared for the US Congress.

The study’s lead author, Victor Galaz, deputy director of the SRC, says: “Our analysis shows that the use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one. While the use of tax haven jurisdictions is not illegal in itself, financial secrecy hampers the ability to analyse how financial flows affect economic activities on the ground, and their environmental impacts.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is part of an on-going research project, Earth System Finance: New perspectives on financial markets and sustainability, led by GEDB and the Stockholm Resilience Centre in collaboration with Future Earth.

Systematic approach

The researchers say most previous analyses of the environmental impacts of tax havens are the work of investigative journalists focusing on a few locations. The new study, in contrast, takes a more systematic approach to analyse how the havens influence the sustainability of the ocean and the Amazon rainforest, two examples of the global environmental commons.

The Amazon forest is critical for stabilising the Earth’s climate system, and the oceans provide protein and income for millions of people worldwide, particularly in low-income food-deficit countries.

“The absence of a more systemic view is not surprising considering the chronic lack of data resulting from the financial opaqueness created by the use of these jurisdictions,” says co-author Beatrice Crona, GEDB’s executive director.

The study says lack of transparency hides how tax havens are linked to the degradation of environmental commons that are crucial for both people and planet at global scales.

“The use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one”

It includes the first calculation of the foreign capital that flows into the beef and soya sectors operating in the Brazilian Amazon, both linked to deforestation.

The Cayman Islands proved to be the largest governmental source of transfers for foreign capital to both sectors. Well-known as a tax haven, the Islands provide three benefits to investors: legal efficiency, tax minimisation, and secrecy.

The study also includes a systematic analysis of tax havens’ role in global IUU fishing. With 70% of the vessels found to carry out or support IUU fishing, and for which flag information is available, flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction now or in the past, Belize and Panama are frequently mentioned.

Many of these tax havens are also so-called flags of convenience states, countries with limited monitoring and enforcement capacity that do not penalise vessels sailing under their flag even if they are identified as operating in violation of international law.

Dual identities

This combination of tax havens and flags of convenience allows companies to operate fishing vessels with dual identities, one used for legal and the other for illegal fishing.

“The global nature of fisheries value chains, complex ownership structures and limited governance capacities of many coastal nations, make the sector susceptible to the use of tax havens,” says co-author Henrik Österblom, SRC  deputy science director.

Among issues which the researchers suggest should be central to future research and to the governance of tax havens is the loss of tax revenue the havens cause. This, they argue, should be seen as an indirect subsidy to economic activities which damage the global commons, and organisations like UN Environment should assess the environmental costs involved.

And they argue that the international community should view tax evasion and aggressive tax planning as not only a socio-political problem, but also an environmental one. Putting tax havens on the global sustainability agenda, they say, is key to protecting the environment and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. – Climate News Network

Most of the foreign money funding ocean plunder and the felling of the Amazon forest comes through tax havens, researchers say.

LONDON, 14 August, 2018 – Tax havens have provided more than two-thirds of the foreign capital known to be linked to Amazon deforestation and pirate fishing, a new study says.

The researchers say 70% of known vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are or have been flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction. On average, they report, 68% of all investigated foreign capital (US$18.4bn of a total $26.9bn) which went to sectors associated with Amazon  deforestation between 2000 and 2011 was transferred through tax havens.

The report is the work of a team of researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere programme (GEDB), who say it is the first study to show how tax havens are linked to economic sectors with the potential to cause serious global environmental damage.

They say the release of the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers exposed how multinationals, politicians and the rich use offshore tax havens to conceal their wealth and money flows, and to reduce their exposure to tax. Accepting that the term “tax haven” is contested, their report uses a definition proposed in a report prepared for the US Congress.

The study’s lead author, Victor Galaz, deputy director of the SRC, says: “Our analysis shows that the use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one. While the use of tax haven jurisdictions is not illegal in itself, financial secrecy hampers the ability to analyse how financial flows affect economic activities on the ground, and their environmental impacts.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is part of an on-going research project, Earth System Finance: New perspectives on financial markets and sustainability, led by GEDB and the Stockholm Resilience Centre in collaboration with Future Earth.

Systematic approach

The researchers say most previous analyses of the environmental impacts of tax havens are the work of investigative journalists focusing on a few locations. The new study, in contrast, takes a more systematic approach to analyse how the havens influence the sustainability of the ocean and the Amazon rainforest, two examples of the global environmental commons.

The Amazon forest is critical for stabilising the Earth’s climate system, and the oceans provide protein and income for millions of people worldwide, particularly in low-income food-deficit countries.

“The absence of a more systemic view is not surprising considering the chronic lack of data resulting from the financial opaqueness created by the use of these jurisdictions,” says co-author Beatrice Crona, GEDB’s executive director.

The study says lack of transparency hides how tax havens are linked to the degradation of environmental commons that are crucial for both people and planet at global scales.

“The use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one”

It includes the first calculation of the foreign capital that flows into the beef and soya sectors operating in the Brazilian Amazon, both linked to deforestation.

The Cayman Islands proved to be the largest governmental source of transfers for foreign capital to both sectors. Well-known as a tax haven, the Islands provide three benefits to investors: legal efficiency, tax minimisation, and secrecy.

The study also includes a systematic analysis of tax havens’ role in global IUU fishing. With 70% of the vessels found to carry out or support IUU fishing, and for which flag information is available, flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction now or in the past, Belize and Panama are frequently mentioned.

Many of these tax havens are also so-called flags of convenience states, countries with limited monitoring and enforcement capacity that do not penalise vessels sailing under their flag even if they are identified as operating in violation of international law.

Dual identities

This combination of tax havens and flags of convenience allows companies to operate fishing vessels with dual identities, one used for legal and the other for illegal fishing.

“The global nature of fisheries value chains, complex ownership structures and limited governance capacities of many coastal nations, make the sector susceptible to the use of tax havens,” says co-author Henrik Österblom, SRC  deputy science director.

Among issues which the researchers suggest should be central to future research and to the governance of tax havens is the loss of tax revenue the havens cause. This, they argue, should be seen as an indirect subsidy to economic activities which damage the global commons, and organisations like UN Environment should assess the environmental costs involved.

And they argue that the international community should view tax evasion and aggressive tax planning as not only a socio-political problem, but also an environmental one. Putting tax havens on the global sustainability agenda, they say, is key to protecting the environment and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. – Climate News Network

Soil microbes speed up global warming

They’re microscopic, but soil microbes play a massive role in the climate machinery. New research suggests they may be warming the world more than ever.

LONDON, 9 August, 2018 – As the world warms so does much of the planet’s basic matter, thanks to its subterranean citizens, the soil microbes, intent on putting more energy into the important business of decay and recycling.

As a consequence, everywhere, more carbon dioxide escapes into the atmosphere, according to a new study. And since there is at least twice as much carbon in the soil – mostly in the form of plant detritus – as there is in the atmosphere, the discovery is ominous.

With more of the greenhouse gas escaping from soil to air, so the rate at which the world warms picks up speed, to accelerate yet further soil respiration.

US researchers report in the journal Nature that they looked at results from more than 1,500 studies and data from more than 500 monitoring towers around the world that measure temperature, rainfall and other evidence, to conclude that between 1990 and 2014 the rate of soil respiration has increased by 1.2%.

“It’s important to note that this is a finding based on observations in the real world. This is not a tightly controlled lab experiment,” said first author Ben Bond-Lamberty of the Joint Global Change Research Institute, partnered by the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland.

“With rising soil respiration rates, you won’t have an intact land carbon sink forever”

“Soils around the globe are responding to a warming climate, which in turn can convert more carbon into carbon dioxide which enters the atmosphere. Depending on how other components of the carbon cycle might respond due to climate warming, these soil changes can potentially contribute to even higher temperatures due to a feedback loop.”

The role of soil microbes remains one of the great unknowns in the climate conundrum. A microbe – bacterium or fungus – is tiny but vital. Single-celled creatures managed the living world for two billion years before the first complex animals and plants, turning carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen, and then converting dead lifeforms back into new raw materials for life.

And their numbers are huge: so vast that terrestrial bacteria add up to 70 billion tons of living carbon, and fungi another 12 billion tons, according to a recent estimate. Together these microbes weigh 40 times as much as all the animals on the planet.

And for years climate scientists have puzzled about the impact of warming on the silent living things under foot and out of sight. They identified the microbial world as key to the puzzle of the carbon budget and wondered about the rate at which soils could absorb carbon and store it. They have also warned that, in a warmer world, soil microbes might become more active.

Research vindicated

The latest study seems to suggest that they are right. Carbon dioxide is being exhaled back into the atmosphere at a faster rate. Around 25 years ago, microbes accounted for 54% of soil respiration. Now they account for 63%.

If correct, this is a case of what engineers call positive feedback: humans burn fossil fuels, emit carbon stored deep underground 100 million years ago, and raise planetary temperatures. And as this happens, carbon once buried in the shallow soils – some that might otherwise in many millions of years become fossilised as coal – escapes to the surface as greenhouse gas, to create even more warming.

“We know with high precision that global temperatures have risen,” Dr Bond-Lamberty said. “We’d expect that to stimulate microbes to be more active. And that is precisely what we’ve detected.

“Land is thought to be a robust sink of carbon overall, but with rising soil respiration rates, you won’t have an intact land carbon sink forever.” – Climate News Network

They’re microscopic, but soil microbes play a massive role in the climate machinery. New research suggests they may be warming the world more than ever.

LONDON, 9 August, 2018 – As the world warms so does much of the planet’s basic matter, thanks to its subterranean citizens, the soil microbes, intent on putting more energy into the important business of decay and recycling.

As a consequence, everywhere, more carbon dioxide escapes into the atmosphere, according to a new study. And since there is at least twice as much carbon in the soil – mostly in the form of plant detritus – as there is in the atmosphere, the discovery is ominous.

With more of the greenhouse gas escaping from soil to air, so the rate at which the world warms picks up speed, to accelerate yet further soil respiration.

US researchers report in the journal Nature that they looked at results from more than 1,500 studies and data from more than 500 monitoring towers around the world that measure temperature, rainfall and other evidence, to conclude that between 1990 and 2014 the rate of soil respiration has increased by 1.2%.

“It’s important to note that this is a finding based on observations in the real world. This is not a tightly controlled lab experiment,” said first author Ben Bond-Lamberty of the Joint Global Change Research Institute, partnered by the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland.

“With rising soil respiration rates, you won’t have an intact land carbon sink forever”

“Soils around the globe are responding to a warming climate, which in turn can convert more carbon into carbon dioxide which enters the atmosphere. Depending on how other components of the carbon cycle might respond due to climate warming, these soil changes can potentially contribute to even higher temperatures due to a feedback loop.”

The role of soil microbes remains one of the great unknowns in the climate conundrum. A microbe – bacterium or fungus – is tiny but vital. Single-celled creatures managed the living world for two billion years before the first complex animals and plants, turning carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen, and then converting dead lifeforms back into new raw materials for life.

And their numbers are huge: so vast that terrestrial bacteria add up to 70 billion tons of living carbon, and fungi another 12 billion tons, according to a recent estimate. Together these microbes weigh 40 times as much as all the animals on the planet.

And for years climate scientists have puzzled about the impact of warming on the silent living things under foot and out of sight. They identified the microbial world as key to the puzzle of the carbon budget and wondered about the rate at which soils could absorb carbon and store it. They have also warned that, in a warmer world, soil microbes might become more active.

Research vindicated

The latest study seems to suggest that they are right. Carbon dioxide is being exhaled back into the atmosphere at a faster rate. Around 25 years ago, microbes accounted for 54% of soil respiration. Now they account for 63%.

If correct, this is a case of what engineers call positive feedback: humans burn fossil fuels, emit carbon stored deep underground 100 million years ago, and raise planetary temperatures. And as this happens, carbon once buried in the shallow soils – some that might otherwise in many millions of years become fossilised as coal – escapes to the surface as greenhouse gas, to create even more warming.

“We know with high precision that global temperatures have risen,” Dr Bond-Lamberty said. “We’d expect that to stimulate microbes to be more active. And that is precisely what we’ve detected.

“Land is thought to be a robust sink of carbon overall, but with rising soil respiration rates, you won’t have an intact land carbon sink forever.” – Climate News Network

British app traps Peru’s illegal goldminers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threats and beatings

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

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

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

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

Grave threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threats and beatings

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

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

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

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

Grave threat

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

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

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

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

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

More variable climate means a less just world

A more variable climate spells another injustice in a warming world, with the poorest people likely yet again to feel the heat most intensely.

LONDON, 8 May, 2018 – Climate change threatens the world’s poorest people with greater injustice as a more variable climate compounds the effect of the warming itself.

Dramatic variations in temperature – that is, extremes of heat, or cold snaps – will hit the poorest nations hardest. The variability won’t hurt just because in relative terms the poorest are the most vulnerable. The thermometer will swing most wildly where the gross domestic product is lowest.

That is: the people who emitted the lowest levels of greenhouse gases because they could not afford the fossil fuels that powered the developed economies will once again be hardest hit by climate change as a consequence of global warming, which will follow the build-up of carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere.

For every degree of global warming, new research from European scientists suggests that temperature variability will increase by 15% in southern Africa and Amazonia, and up to 10% in the Sahel, India and south-east Asia. Those countries not in the tropics, many of them wealthy and highly developed, may see a decrease in temperature variability.

“We are highlighting these injustices of climate change to trigger action to avoid the worst and to redress those injustices that cannot be avoided”

The scientists put their conclusion with more than usual clarity in the journal Science Advances: “The countries that have contributed least to climate change, and are most vulnerable to extreme events, are projected to experience the strongest increase in vulnerability.

“These changes would therefore amplify the inequality associated with the impacts of a changing climate.”

The researchers analysed 37 different climate models to pinpoint those “hotspots” where the temperature variations would be the most pronounced, as ever more carbon dioxide reaches the atmosphere and continues to push global average temperatures ever higher.

They then matched their maps of temperature anomalies and soil moisture change against maps of gross domestic product per head of population, and greenhouse gas emissions. Once again, the least developed nations would be the hardest hit.

Intensifying hardship

It has been a commonplace of climate science that the injustice is built-in: the poorest will pay most dearly, as sea levels rise and low-lying atolls and river deltas flood, as increasingly violent windstorms batter the shantytowns and jerry-built housing of the rapidly expanding cities in the developing world, and as poorer farmers are forced off marginal land that will become either increasingly parched as the thermometer goes up, or more vulnerable to flooding as the moisture-carrying capacity of the atmosphere increases with temperature.

The issue of climate justice has been repeatedly raised at international level by campaigners, by religious leaders and by academics.

But the latest study goes beyond the familiar generalities to identify the more precise locations of future tragedy. Climate extremes – droughts, floods, heatwaves and ice storms – can destroy harvests, claim lives and sweep away livelihoods, and the poorest economies take the longest to recover.

“It is not only the fact that they are poor that makes these countries vulnerable, but also the relatively large change in climate variability. This issue of variability is different from the problem of mean warming which is actually much larger in high latitudes than in the tropics,” Sebastian Bathiany, of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, who led the study, told Climate News Network.

Drying forest

One instance is Amazonia, terrain characterised by rainforest. “The Amazon is predicted to become substantially drier as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, and this is the main reason for the increased temperature variability predicted for that region. In the last years we observed developments that also point in that direction – for example there were strong droughts in 2005 and 2010.”

And on the other side of the Atlantic, the injustice continues. “More intense heatwaves in Africa will mean more direct deaths for people and livestock, will promote the spread of key diseases, and will hammer agricultural production,” Tim Lenton, from the University of Exeter in the UK, a co-author, told the Network.

“The general trend of urbanisation is not going to help either, as urban heat islands can exacerbate the problem, and when people are concentrated social tensions can escalate. There’s a very lively academic debate going on over whether hot extremes trigger human conflict at all scales from individual to civil wars – my reading of the evidence is that the effect is real,” he said.

“It’s a pretty bleak story – I want readers in the countries affected to know that we stand with them – we are highlighting these injustices of climate change to trigger action to avoid the worst and to redress those injustices that cannot be avoided.” – Climate News Network

A more variable climate spells another injustice in a warming world, with the poorest people likely yet again to feel the heat most intensely.

LONDON, 8 May, 2018 – Climate change threatens the world’s poorest people with greater injustice as a more variable climate compounds the effect of the warming itself.

Dramatic variations in temperature – that is, extremes of heat, or cold snaps – will hit the poorest nations hardest. The variability won’t hurt just because in relative terms the poorest are the most vulnerable. The thermometer will swing most wildly where the gross domestic product is lowest.

That is: the people who emitted the lowest levels of greenhouse gases because they could not afford the fossil fuels that powered the developed economies will once again be hardest hit by climate change as a consequence of global warming, which will follow the build-up of carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere.

For every degree of global warming, new research from European scientists suggests that temperature variability will increase by 15% in southern Africa and Amazonia, and up to 10% in the Sahel, India and south-east Asia. Those countries not in the tropics, many of them wealthy and highly developed, may see a decrease in temperature variability.

“We are highlighting these injustices of climate change to trigger action to avoid the worst and to redress those injustices that cannot be avoided”

The scientists put their conclusion with more than usual clarity in the journal Science Advances: “The countries that have contributed least to climate change, and are most vulnerable to extreme events, are projected to experience the strongest increase in vulnerability.

“These changes would therefore amplify the inequality associated with the impacts of a changing climate.”

The researchers analysed 37 different climate models to pinpoint those “hotspots” where the temperature variations would be the most pronounced, as ever more carbon dioxide reaches the atmosphere and continues to push global average temperatures ever higher.

They then matched their maps of temperature anomalies and soil moisture change against maps of gross domestic product per head of population, and greenhouse gas emissions. Once again, the least developed nations would be the hardest hit.

Intensifying hardship

It has been a commonplace of climate science that the injustice is built-in: the poorest will pay most dearly, as sea levels rise and low-lying atolls and river deltas flood, as increasingly violent windstorms batter the shantytowns and jerry-built housing of the rapidly expanding cities in the developing world, and as poorer farmers are forced off marginal land that will become either increasingly parched as the thermometer goes up, or more vulnerable to flooding as the moisture-carrying capacity of the atmosphere increases with temperature.

The issue of climate justice has been repeatedly raised at international level by campaigners, by religious leaders and by academics.

But the latest study goes beyond the familiar generalities to identify the more precise locations of future tragedy. Climate extremes – droughts, floods, heatwaves and ice storms – can destroy harvests, claim lives and sweep away livelihoods, and the poorest economies take the longest to recover.

“It is not only the fact that they are poor that makes these countries vulnerable, but also the relatively large change in climate variability. This issue of variability is different from the problem of mean warming which is actually much larger in high latitudes than in the tropics,” Sebastian Bathiany, of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, who led the study, told Climate News Network.

Drying forest

One instance is Amazonia, terrain characterised by rainforest. “The Amazon is predicted to become substantially drier as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, and this is the main reason for the increased temperature variability predicted for that region. In the last years we observed developments that also point in that direction – for example there were strong droughts in 2005 and 2010.”

And on the other side of the Atlantic, the injustice continues. “More intense heatwaves in Africa will mean more direct deaths for people and livestock, will promote the spread of key diseases, and will hammer agricultural production,” Tim Lenton, from the University of Exeter in the UK, a co-author, told the Network.

“The general trend of urbanisation is not going to help either, as urban heat islands can exacerbate the problem, and when people are concentrated social tensions can escalate. There’s a very lively academic debate going on over whether hot extremes trigger human conflict at all scales from individual to civil wars – my reading of the evidence is that the effect is real,” he said.

“It’s a pretty bleak story – I want readers in the countries affected to know that we stand with them – we are highlighting these injustices of climate change to trigger action to avoid the worst and to redress those injustices that cannot be avoided.” – Climate News Network

Loss of unregarded forests is at danger level

Three new studies highlight the value of the world’s unregarded forests – and the dangers they face as the climate changes.

LONDON, 19 March, 2018 – The world’s unregarded forests are at risk. Intact forest is now being destroyed at an annual rate  that threatens to cancel out any attempts to contain global warming by controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

Trees in the tropical regions are dying twice as fast as they did 35 years ago – and human-induced climate change is a factor.

And a third study has highlighted the value to humanity of intact forests, while estimating that four-fifths of the Earth’s remaining woodlands are now in some way degraded by human activities. “This figure,” researchers warn, “is probably an underestimate.”

All three studies confirm the value of forests to the planet – and underline the increasingly dangerous rate of loss.

An international team of researchers report in Nature Communications that they made a computer model of the planet’s atmospheric conditions: they included natural and human-triggered aerosols, volatile organic compounds, greenhouse gases and other factors that influence temperature, one of which is albedo: the scientist’s word for the capacity of terrain to absorb or reflect solar radiation.

Cooling effect

They tested their model against the Earth’s temperature records since 1850 – and then ran it again, this time with a hypothetical forest-free world.

“The result was a significant rise of 0.8°C in mean temperature. In other words, today the planet would be almost 1°C warmer on average if there were no more forests,” said Paulo Artaxo, of the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

“If we go on destroying forests at the current pace – some 7,000 square kilometres per year in the case of Amazonia – in three to four decades, we’ll have a massive accumulated loss. This will intensify global warming regardless of all efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The second study, in the journal New Phytologist, is a reminder of just how complex the challenge of forest conservation can be. Foresters and botanists from around the planet concentrated on the special case of the tropical rainforest, home to so much of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, and analysed the hazards.

“Earth’s remaining forests are the crown jewels, ones that global climate and biodiversity policies must now emphasise”

These include rising temperatures, increasing carbon dioxide levels, fires, more destructive storms, insect infestation and the impact of woody vines known as lianas.

They found that trees in some areas were dying at about twice the rate they were 35 years ago.

“No matter how you look at it, trees in the moist tropics wil l likely die at elevated rates through the end of the century relative to their mortality rates in the past,” said Nate McDowell, of the US government’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“There is a host of factors that appear to be driving mortality, and the likelihood of those factors occurring is increasing.”

Such studies deliver no great surprises: they add levels of detail to a big picture that has been clearly outlined and repeatedly confirmed. Humans do not need to fell forests to find new farmland, and when they do so they damage the natural diversity on which they and other creatures depend.

Winners all round

Healthy forests absorb carbon dioxide from human fossil fuel combustion and at the same time reduce regional temperatures.

Forests are being destroyed at a disconcerting rate, but if humans conserved them, there would be a greater chance of containing global warming to targets set by a global climate summit in Paris in 2015.

And repeated studies have confirmed that conserved forests deliver many benefits.  Everybody wins.

Just how humans benefit has been spelled out yet again in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. Forests cover about 25% of the planet’s land surface, but over the past three centuries Earth has lost at least a third of its natural tree cover, due to human expansion. More than 80% of what remains has been affected by human action.

Vital stabilisers

But these same forests absorb around 25% of carbon emissions from factory chimneys, power stations and car exhausts; they play a vital role in stabilising local and regional weather, and they reduce the risk of drought.

Intact forests are home to higher numbers of other species; they sustain many indigenous cultures; their conservation delivers medically-beneficial plants and their degradation drives the spread of infectious diseases.

“It is well-known that forest protection is essential for any environmental solution – yet not all forests are equal,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland in Australia and the World Conservation Society.

“Forest conservation must be prioritised based on their relative values, and Earth’s remaining forests are the crown jewels, ones that global climate and biodiversity policies must now emphasise.” – Climate News Network

Three new studies highlight the value of the world’s unregarded forests – and the dangers they face as the climate changes.

LONDON, 19 March, 2018 – The world’s unregarded forests are at risk. Intact forest is now being destroyed at an annual rate  that threatens to cancel out any attempts to contain global warming by controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

Trees in the tropical regions are dying twice as fast as they did 35 years ago – and human-induced climate change is a factor.

And a third study has highlighted the value to humanity of intact forests, while estimating that four-fifths of the Earth’s remaining woodlands are now in some way degraded by human activities. “This figure,” researchers warn, “is probably an underestimate.”

All three studies confirm the value of forests to the planet – and underline the increasingly dangerous rate of loss.

An international team of researchers report in Nature Communications that they made a computer model of the planet’s atmospheric conditions: they included natural and human-triggered aerosols, volatile organic compounds, greenhouse gases and other factors that influence temperature, one of which is albedo: the scientist’s word for the capacity of terrain to absorb or reflect solar radiation.

Cooling effect

They tested their model against the Earth’s temperature records since 1850 – and then ran it again, this time with a hypothetical forest-free world.

“The result was a significant rise of 0.8°C in mean temperature. In other words, today the planet would be almost 1°C warmer on average if there were no more forests,” said Paulo Artaxo, of the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

“If we go on destroying forests at the current pace – some 7,000 square kilometres per year in the case of Amazonia – in three to four decades, we’ll have a massive accumulated loss. This will intensify global warming regardless of all efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The second study, in the journal New Phytologist, is a reminder of just how complex the challenge of forest conservation can be. Foresters and botanists from around the planet concentrated on the special case of the tropical rainforest, home to so much of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, and analysed the hazards.

“Earth’s remaining forests are the crown jewels, ones that global climate and biodiversity policies must now emphasise”

These include rising temperatures, increasing carbon dioxide levels, fires, more destructive storms, insect infestation and the impact of woody vines known as lianas.

They found that trees in some areas were dying at about twice the rate they were 35 years ago.

“No matter how you look at it, trees in the moist tropics wil l likely die at elevated rates through the end of the century relative to their mortality rates in the past,” said Nate McDowell, of the US government’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“There is a host of factors that appear to be driving mortality, and the likelihood of those factors occurring is increasing.”

Such studies deliver no great surprises: they add levels of detail to a big picture that has been clearly outlined and repeatedly confirmed. Humans do not need to fell forests to find new farmland, and when they do so they damage the natural diversity on which they and other creatures depend.

Winners all round

Healthy forests absorb carbon dioxide from human fossil fuel combustion and at the same time reduce regional temperatures.

Forests are being destroyed at a disconcerting rate, but if humans conserved them, there would be a greater chance of containing global warming to targets set by a global climate summit in Paris in 2015.

And repeated studies have confirmed that conserved forests deliver many benefits.  Everybody wins.

Just how humans benefit has been spelled out yet again in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. Forests cover about 25% of the planet’s land surface, but over the past three centuries Earth has lost at least a third of its natural tree cover, due to human expansion. More than 80% of what remains has been affected by human action.

Vital stabilisers

But these same forests absorb around 25% of carbon emissions from factory chimneys, power stations and car exhausts; they play a vital role in stabilising local and regional weather, and they reduce the risk of drought.

Intact forests are home to higher numbers of other species; they sustain many indigenous cultures; their conservation delivers medically-beneficial plants and their degradation drives the spread of infectious diseases.

“It is well-known that forest protection is essential for any environmental solution – yet not all forests are equal,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland in Australia and the World Conservation Society.

“Forest conservation must be prioritised based on their relative values, and Earth’s remaining forests are the crown jewels, ones that global climate and biodiversity policies must now emphasise.” – Climate News Network

Brazil forgets its solar power potential

Here’s a paradox: in one of the world’s sunniest countries, the Brazilian government remains lukewarm about its solar power potential, despite its plummeting costs.

SÃO PAULO, 27 December, 2017 – There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, as the song has it – and an awful lot of sunshine too, offering huge solar power potential. But the government seems reluctant to develop it.

Brazil’s official energy policy, outlined in its recently published Ten Year Energy Plan 2026, still gives priority to hydropower and fossil fuels. Renewables are expected to provide about 160 GW by 2026, with solar accounting for just short of 10 GW. In 2016 a promised auction, planned to invite bids from solar companies to supply energy, was cancelled.

The government’s explanation for neglecting solar in this way is the high cost of implementing projects. Yet new studies show that in many countries solar energy is now cheaper than other renewables and, in some, cheaper than coal and oil. In some it is even the cheapest source of energy.

So while the government rushed through a bill to provide multi-billion dollar tax relief for oil companies, no incentives are contemplated for renewables. To make up the expected shortfall in energy once the economy, now in recession, kicks off again, more coal-fired generating plants are seen as the answer, even though that would mean an increase in CO2 emissions.

Prtivate interest

In spite of this lack of government enthusiasm, the year-round high levels of sunlight in Brazil’s north-east region are beginning to attract private companies. In the dry, sunbaked state of Piauí the largest solar energy farm in Latin America has just been opened.

Built by an Italian multinational, Enel Green Power, at a cost of US$300 million, the Nova Olinda farm has 930,000 PV panels covering an area of 690 hectares. With an installed capacity of 292MW, it has the potential to produce 600MW, enough to power 300,000 homes.

Enel, launched in 2008 to produce renewable energy, has projects in nine other Latin American countries, as well as the USA, Canada, India, South Africa and six European countries.

Piaui is one of Brazil’s poorest states, and the project also offers jobs, training and recycling workshops to the local community. It is providing the PV panels for the first solar-powered itinerant cinema, CineSolar, packed into a van which travels around rural communities, where many homes are still lit by oil lamps, to stage open-air shows.

The age of solar power is dawning, but there are still battles to be fought against the entrenched interests of the fossil fuel industry

Brazil boasts one of the cleanest energy mixes in the world, with 76% coming from renewable sources. But 66% of this is from hydropower, mainly from a network of giant dams, many of them in the Amazon.

The devastating droughts of recent years, which dramatically reduced river levels and left reservoirs so low they could not power the turbines, showed the danger of depending so heavily on a single source.

The government’s reluctance to invest in solar energy flies in the face of mounting evidence of its rapidly plunging cost. A review at the end of 2016 for Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that solar power was “efficient, viable and profitable”.

It found that investment in sustainable sources is steadily increasing, in both developed and emerging countries, with investment in the southern hemisphere beginning to outstrip that in the north – in 2016 it was US$154 billion against US$153 $billion in OECD countries. China accounted for the biggest investment.

Improved technology

The growth in solar is happening largely because of this fall in cost and the development of new, more accessible technologies. The 2015 Paris Agreement also encouraged signatories to seek cleaner sources of energy and so reduce their CO2 emissions.

Yet it is not all plain sailing for solar energy. The Bloomberg study warned that some countries now face difficulties in integrating solar energy produced by the new plants into the electricity distribution network.

In some cases the companies which control the grid give priority to the energy generated by fossil fuels over renewables.

The age of solar power is dawning, but there are still battles to be fought against the entrenched interests of the fossil fuel industry. – Climate News Network

Here’s a paradox: in one of the world’s sunniest countries, the Brazilian government remains lukewarm about its solar power potential, despite its plummeting costs.

SÃO PAULO, 27 December, 2017 – There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, as the song has it – and an awful lot of sunshine too, offering huge solar power potential. But the government seems reluctant to develop it.

Brazil’s official energy policy, outlined in its recently published Ten Year Energy Plan 2026, still gives priority to hydropower and fossil fuels. Renewables are expected to provide about 160 GW by 2026, with solar accounting for just short of 10 GW. In 2016 a promised auction, planned to invite bids from solar companies to supply energy, was cancelled.

The government’s explanation for neglecting solar in this way is the high cost of implementing projects. Yet new studies show that in many countries solar energy is now cheaper than other renewables and, in some, cheaper than coal and oil. In some it is even the cheapest source of energy.

So while the government rushed through a bill to provide multi-billion dollar tax relief for oil companies, no incentives are contemplated for renewables. To make up the expected shortfall in energy once the economy, now in recession, kicks off again, more coal-fired generating plants are seen as the answer, even though that would mean an increase in CO2 emissions.

Prtivate interest

In spite of this lack of government enthusiasm, the year-round high levels of sunlight in Brazil’s north-east region are beginning to attract private companies. In the dry, sunbaked state of Piauí the largest solar energy farm in Latin America has just been opened.

Built by an Italian multinational, Enel Green Power, at a cost of US$300 million, the Nova Olinda farm has 930,000 PV panels covering an area of 690 hectares. With an installed capacity of 292MW, it has the potential to produce 600MW, enough to power 300,000 homes.

Enel, launched in 2008 to produce renewable energy, has projects in nine other Latin American countries, as well as the USA, Canada, India, South Africa and six European countries.

Piaui is one of Brazil’s poorest states, and the project also offers jobs, training and recycling workshops to the local community. It is providing the PV panels for the first solar-powered itinerant cinema, CineSolar, packed into a van which travels around rural communities, where many homes are still lit by oil lamps, to stage open-air shows.

The age of solar power is dawning, but there are still battles to be fought against the entrenched interests of the fossil fuel industry

Brazil boasts one of the cleanest energy mixes in the world, with 76% coming from renewable sources. But 66% of this is from hydropower, mainly from a network of giant dams, many of them in the Amazon.

The devastating droughts of recent years, which dramatically reduced river levels and left reservoirs so low they could not power the turbines, showed the danger of depending so heavily on a single source.

The government’s reluctance to invest in solar energy flies in the face of mounting evidence of its rapidly plunging cost. A review at the end of 2016 for Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that solar power was “efficient, viable and profitable”.

It found that investment in sustainable sources is steadily increasing, in both developed and emerging countries, with investment in the southern hemisphere beginning to outstrip that in the north – in 2016 it was US$154 billion against US$153 $billion in OECD countries. China accounted for the biggest investment.

Improved technology

The growth in solar is happening largely because of this fall in cost and the development of new, more accessible technologies. The 2015 Paris Agreement also encouraged signatories to seek cleaner sources of energy and so reduce their CO2 emissions.

Yet it is not all plain sailing for solar energy. The Bloomberg study warned that some countries now face difficulties in integrating solar energy produced by the new plants into the electricity distribution network.

In some cases the companies which control the grid give priority to the energy generated by fossil fuels over renewables.

The age of solar power is dawning, but there are still battles to be fought against the entrenched interests of the fossil fuel industry. – Climate News Network