Tag Archives: Amazon

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

Humidity is the real heatwave threat

It’s not just the extreme temperature a heatwave brings that’s the problem, but the humidity from its burden of water vapour.

LONDON, 24 December, 2017 – When the mercury climbs to extreme levels, it’s the dangerous humidity produced by heat reacting with water-sodden air that can spell death, not just the heat alone.

US researchers have warned yet again of the need to beware the risks of this combination. With fierce heat waves expected to become more  common as the climate warms, they say humidity can greatly intensify the effects of the heat by itself.

They report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that during this century the drastic effects of high humidity in many areas will increase significantly. At times, they may overtake people’s ability to work outdoors or, in some cases, even to survive.

Health and economies would suffer, especially in regions where people work outside and have little access to air conditioning. Potentially affected regions include large swathes of the already muggy south-eastern United States; the Amazon; western and central Africa; southern areas of the Middle East, including the Arabian peninsula; northern India; and eastern China.

“The conditions we’re talking about basically never occur now – people in most places have never experienced them”, said lead author Ethan Coffel, a graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “But they’re projected to occur close to the end of the century.”

The warming climate is projected to make many now-dry areas dryer, in part by changing precipitation patterns. But, as global temperatures rise, the atmosphere can hold more water vapour. That means chronically humid areas may only get more humid.

“We move toward a world where heat stress is a vastly greater problem than it has been in the rest of human history”

Muggy heat is more oppressive than the “dry” kind, because humans and other mammals cool down by sweating; sweat evaporates off the skin into the air, taking the excess heat with it. That works well in a desert. But when the air is already laden with moisture, evaporation off the skin slows down, and eventually becomes impossible.

When this cooling process stops, a creature’s core body temperature rises beyond the narrow tolerable range. Without air conditioning, organs strain and then start to fail, leading to lethargy, sickness and possibly death.

Using global climate models, the researchers mapped current and projected future “wet-bulb” temperatures, which reflect the combined effects of heat and humidity (the measurement is made by draping a water-saturated cloth over the bulb of a conventional thermometer; it does not correspond directly to air temperature alone).

The study found that by the 2070s, high wet-bulb readings that now occur perhaps only once a year could stretch to 100 to 250 days annually in some parts of the tropics. In the south-east US, wet-bulb temperatures now sometimes reach 29 or 30°C; by the 2070s or 2080s, such weather could occur 25 to 40 days each year, say the researchers.

Laboratory experiments have shown wet-bulb readings of 32°C are the threshold beyond which many people would have trouble functioning outside. This level is rarely reached anywhere today.

Risk to India

But the study projects that in 50 or 60 years the limit could be reached one or two days a year in the US southeast, and three to five days in parts of South America, Africa, India and China. Worldwide, hundreds of millions of people would suffer.

The hardest-hit area in terms of human impact, the researchers say, will probably be densely populated north-eastern India.

“Lots of people would crumble well before you reach wet-bulb temperatures of 32°C, or anything close”, said co-author Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty. “They’d run into terrible problems.”

The study projects that some parts of the southern Middle East and northern India may even hit 35 wet-bulb degrees Celsius by late this century – equal to the human skin temperature, and the theoretical limit at which people will die within hours without artificial cooling.

Using a related combined heat/humidity measure, the so-called heat index, this would be the equivalent of nearly 170° Fahrenheit of “dry” heat. But the heat index, invented in the 1970s to measure the real feel of moist summer weather, actually ends at 136; anything above that is literally off the chart.

Avoiding the worst

On the bright side, the paper says that if nations can substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades, the worst effects could be avoided.

Only a few weather events like those projected have ever been recorded. The most recent was in Iran’s Bandar Mahshahr in July 2015. That day the “dry” air temperature alone was 115°; saturated with moisture, the air’s wet bulb reading neared the 35 °C fatal limit, translating to a heat index of 165°F.

Bandar Mahshahr’s infrastructure is good and electricity cheap, so residents adapted by staying in air-conditioned buildings and vehicles, and showering after brief excursions outside. But this is not an option in other vulnerable places, where many people cannot afford such remedies.

“It’s not just about the heat, or the number of people. It’s about how many people are poor, how many are old, who has to go outside to work, who has air conditioning”, said the study co-author Alex deSherbinin of Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN).

He said that even if the weather does not kill people outright or stop all activity, the necessity of working on farms or elsewhere outdoors in such conditions can bring chronic kidney problems and other damaging health effects.

Previous warnings

Other researchers have sounded the alarm about the risks dangerous humidity levels can pose. A 2015 study said parts of the Gulf region, where Bandar Mahshahr lies, could, on present trends, become uninhabitable for humans by 2100.

The following year another study extended the warning to include North Africa. Earlier this year sports chiefs even reported that humidity could affect the behaviour of cricket balls.

Climate scientist Steven Sherwood of the University of New South Wales, who proposed the 35°C survivability limit, said he was sceptical that this threshold could be reached as soon as the researchers say. All the same, he said, “the basic point stands.”

Unless greenhouse emissions are cut, “we move toward a world where heat stress is a vastly greater problem than it has been in the rest of human history. The effects will fall hardest on hot and humid regions.” – Climate News Network

It’s not just the extreme temperature a heatwave brings that’s the problem, but the humidity from its burden of water vapour.

LONDON, 24 December, 2017 – When the mercury climbs to extreme levels, it’s the dangerous humidity produced by heat reacting with water-sodden air that can spell death, not just the heat alone.

US researchers have warned yet again of the need to beware the risks of this combination. With fierce heat waves expected to become more  common as the climate warms, they say humidity can greatly intensify the effects of the heat by itself.

They report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that during this century the drastic effects of high humidity in many areas will increase significantly. At times, they may overtake people’s ability to work outdoors or, in some cases, even to survive.

Health and economies would suffer, especially in regions where people work outside and have little access to air conditioning. Potentially affected regions include large swathes of the already muggy south-eastern United States; the Amazon; western and central Africa; southern areas of the Middle East, including the Arabian peninsula; northern India; and eastern China.

“The conditions we’re talking about basically never occur now – people in most places have never experienced them”, said lead author Ethan Coffel, a graduate student at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “But they’re projected to occur close to the end of the century.”

The warming climate is projected to make many now-dry areas dryer, in part by changing precipitation patterns. But, as global temperatures rise, the atmosphere can hold more water vapour. That means chronically humid areas may only get more humid.

“We move toward a world where heat stress is a vastly greater problem than it has been in the rest of human history”

Muggy heat is more oppressive than the “dry” kind, because humans and other mammals cool down by sweating; sweat evaporates off the skin into the air, taking the excess heat with it. That works well in a desert. But when the air is already laden with moisture, evaporation off the skin slows down, and eventually becomes impossible.

When this cooling process stops, a creature’s core body temperature rises beyond the narrow tolerable range. Without air conditioning, organs strain and then start to fail, leading to lethargy, sickness and possibly death.

Using global climate models, the researchers mapped current and projected future “wet-bulb” temperatures, which reflect the combined effects of heat and humidity (the measurement is made by draping a water-saturated cloth over the bulb of a conventional thermometer; it does not correspond directly to air temperature alone).

The study found that by the 2070s, high wet-bulb readings that now occur perhaps only once a year could stretch to 100 to 250 days annually in some parts of the tropics. In the south-east US, wet-bulb temperatures now sometimes reach 29 or 30°C; by the 2070s or 2080s, such weather could occur 25 to 40 days each year, say the researchers.

Laboratory experiments have shown wet-bulb readings of 32°C are the threshold beyond which many people would have trouble functioning outside. This level is rarely reached anywhere today.

Risk to India

But the study projects that in 50 or 60 years the limit could be reached one or two days a year in the US southeast, and three to five days in parts of South America, Africa, India and China. Worldwide, hundreds of millions of people would suffer.

The hardest-hit area in terms of human impact, the researchers say, will probably be densely populated north-eastern India.

“Lots of people would crumble well before you reach wet-bulb temperatures of 32°C, or anything close”, said co-author Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty. “They’d run into terrible problems.”

The study projects that some parts of the southern Middle East and northern India may even hit 35 wet-bulb degrees Celsius by late this century – equal to the human skin temperature, and the theoretical limit at which people will die within hours without artificial cooling.

Using a related combined heat/humidity measure, the so-called heat index, this would be the equivalent of nearly 170° Fahrenheit of “dry” heat. But the heat index, invented in the 1970s to measure the real feel of moist summer weather, actually ends at 136; anything above that is literally off the chart.

Avoiding the worst

On the bright side, the paper says that if nations can substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades, the worst effects could be avoided.

Only a few weather events like those projected have ever been recorded. The most recent was in Iran’s Bandar Mahshahr in July 2015. That day the “dry” air temperature alone was 115°; saturated with moisture, the air’s wet bulb reading neared the 35 °C fatal limit, translating to a heat index of 165°F.

Bandar Mahshahr’s infrastructure is good and electricity cheap, so residents adapted by staying in air-conditioned buildings and vehicles, and showering after brief excursions outside. But this is not an option in other vulnerable places, where many people cannot afford such remedies.

“It’s not just about the heat, or the number of people. It’s about how many people are poor, how many are old, who has to go outside to work, who has air conditioning”, said the study co-author Alex deSherbinin of Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN).

He said that even if the weather does not kill people outright or stop all activity, the necessity of working on farms or elsewhere outdoors in such conditions can bring chronic kidney problems and other damaging health effects.

Previous warnings

Other researchers have sounded the alarm about the risks dangerous humidity levels can pose. A 2015 study said parts of the Gulf region, where Bandar Mahshahr lies, could, on present trends, become uninhabitable for humans by 2100.

The following year another study extended the warning to include North Africa. Earlier this year sports chiefs even reported that humidity could affect the behaviour of cricket balls.

Climate scientist Steven Sherwood of the University of New South Wales, who proposed the 35°C survivability limit, said he was sceptical that this threshold could be reached as soon as the researchers say. All the same, he said, “the basic point stands.”

Unless greenhouse emissions are cut, “we move toward a world where heat stress is a vastly greater problem than it has been in the rest of human history. The effects will fall hardest on hot and humid regions.” – Climate News Network

Brasilia pays UK to exploit Brazilian oil fields

British companies targeting Brazilian oil deposits stand to benefit from massive tax relief offered by Brazil itself, despite its own recession.

SÃO PAULO, 6 December, 2017 – Over 120 NGOs and indigenous organisations have protested at a US$300 billion tax relief offer to help UK companies seeking to drill for Brazilian oil in offshore deposits

In a letter to the speaker of the lower house of the Brazilian parliament just before it approved the first stage of the proposal, they said the drilling would “expose the world to unacceptable climate risks” and cause unacceptable costs to the Brazilian economy, which is already facing crisis and imposing austerity cuts in basic services.

The companies plan to drill in what is called the pre-salt region, an oil-bearing rock formation in deep water offshore. 

Its name derives from its antiquity; the region’s layers of rock were laid down about 160 million years ago and then covered by later layers which do contain salt. The Brazilian energy multi-national Petrobras describes the pre-salt product as “excellent quality, high commercial value light oil”.

The bill before parliament offers the oil companies tax relief until 2040. After heated debate, it was passed late at night, by 208 votes to 184. It is being rushed through congress at the very end of the parliamentary year; a vote on the final stage is due on 6 December.   

Targets flouted

If approved, the bill would wreck Brazil’s Paris Agreement targets to reduce carbon emissions. The known reserves of pre-salt oil are estimated at 176 billion barrels, which, if burned, would release 74.8 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. 

“This is equivalent to almost 18% of everything humanity can still release into the air to meet the most ambitious Paris target of stabilising warming at 1.5°C”, the NGOs write.

They point out that a temperature rise of more than 1.5°C will have dramatic consequences, not only for island nations which will be swamped by rising sea levels, but also for the drought-prone Brazilian north-east and for coastal cities like Rio de Janeiro.

British oil companies will be the main beneficiaries of this largesse with Brazilian taxpayers’ money – BP, Shell and Premier Oil, which successfully bid for licences to drill in the pre-salt area. 

“This is equivalent to almost 18% of everything humanity can still release into the air to meet the most ambitious Paris target of stabilising warming at 1.5°C”

Greenpeace says it has discovered information showing that the UK government actively lobbied on the companies’ behalf during a visit to Brazil by the British international trade minister Greg Hands in March, ostensibly to open a UK trade fair. 

After meeting the oil companies, it says, Hands put their concerns to Paulo Pedrosa, Brazil’s deputy minister for mining and energy.

Soon after, Shell and a consortium including BP were given three oil licences, and the Brazilian government decided to reduce its “local content requirements” – regulations that oblige companies to hire local workers and use local goods, to try to boost the economy of developing countries and regions.

Opposition congressman Carlos Zarattini said that, under pressure from the UK, the government of President Michel Temer had altered tax rules, environmental safeguards and the requirement for Brazilian content in equipment and labour. Zeroing taxes on the import of vessels, he said, could cause the collapse of Brazilian shipyards.

The NGOs suspect the Brazilian government’s intention is to exploit the countrys oil reserves as much as possible before the world moves inexorably to a low carbon economy. 

Precautionary principle

With the growing movement in favour of leaving-it-in-the-ground, they calculate there could be fierce  competition by oil-rich nations to sell off their reserves. By offering generous incentives to exploit the deep sea pre-salt reserves, Brazil hopes to get ahead of the game. 

And it is not only the pre-salt area which interests the oil companies. BP is also bidding to drill in the mouth of the Amazon, even after alerts that the blocks on offer are very near a coral reef and in a region with many species threatened by extinction, and with possibly several new species as well.

At recent public meetings in towns near the proposed exploration, a BP spokesman insisted the company had learned a lot from its experience in the Gulf of Mexico.

Greenpeace oil specialist Thiago Almeida, who was present at the meetings, suggested that in view of the scant knowledge available on the region, the precautionary principle should be applied, and BP should abandon its plans and stay away from the Amazon estuary. Climate News Network

British companies targeting Brazilian oil deposits stand to benefit from massive tax relief offered by Brazil itself, despite its own recession.

SÃO PAULO, 6 December, 2017 – Over 120 NGOs and indigenous organisations have protested at a US$300 billion tax relief offer to help UK companies seeking to drill for Brazilian oil in offshore deposits

In a letter to the speaker of the lower house of the Brazilian parliament just before it approved the first stage of the proposal, they said the drilling would “expose the world to unacceptable climate risks” and cause unacceptable costs to the Brazilian economy, which is already facing crisis and imposing austerity cuts in basic services.

The companies plan to drill in what is called the pre-salt region, an oil-bearing rock formation in deep water offshore. 

Its name derives from its antiquity; the region’s layers of rock were laid down about 160 million years ago and then covered by later layers which do contain salt. The Brazilian energy multi-national Petrobras describes the pre-salt product as “excellent quality, high commercial value light oil”.

The bill before parliament offers the oil companies tax relief until 2040. After heated debate, it was passed late at night, by 208 votes to 184. It is being rushed through congress at the very end of the parliamentary year; a vote on the final stage is due on 6 December.   

Targets flouted

If approved, the bill would wreck Brazil’s Paris Agreement targets to reduce carbon emissions. The known reserves of pre-salt oil are estimated at 176 billion barrels, which, if burned, would release 74.8 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. 

“This is equivalent to almost 18% of everything humanity can still release into the air to meet the most ambitious Paris target of stabilising warming at 1.5°C”, the NGOs write.

They point out that a temperature rise of more than 1.5°C will have dramatic consequences, not only for island nations which will be swamped by rising sea levels, but also for the drought-prone Brazilian north-east and for coastal cities like Rio de Janeiro.

British oil companies will be the main beneficiaries of this largesse with Brazilian taxpayers’ money – BP, Shell and Premier Oil, which successfully bid for licences to drill in the pre-salt area. 

“This is equivalent to almost 18% of everything humanity can still release into the air to meet the most ambitious Paris target of stabilising warming at 1.5°C”

Greenpeace says it has discovered information showing that the UK government actively lobbied on the companies’ behalf during a visit to Brazil by the British international trade minister Greg Hands in March, ostensibly to open a UK trade fair. 

After meeting the oil companies, it says, Hands put their concerns to Paulo Pedrosa, Brazil’s deputy minister for mining and energy.

Soon after, Shell and a consortium including BP were given three oil licences, and the Brazilian government decided to reduce its “local content requirements” – regulations that oblige companies to hire local workers and use local goods, to try to boost the economy of developing countries and regions.

Opposition congressman Carlos Zarattini said that, under pressure from the UK, the government of President Michel Temer had altered tax rules, environmental safeguards and the requirement for Brazilian content in equipment and labour. Zeroing taxes on the import of vessels, he said, could cause the collapse of Brazilian shipyards.

The NGOs suspect the Brazilian government’s intention is to exploit the countrys oil reserves as much as possible before the world moves inexorably to a low carbon economy. 

Precautionary principle

With the growing movement in favour of leaving-it-in-the-ground, they calculate there could be fierce  competition by oil-rich nations to sell off their reserves. By offering generous incentives to exploit the deep sea pre-salt reserves, Brazil hopes to get ahead of the game. 

And it is not only the pre-salt area which interests the oil companies. BP is also bidding to drill in the mouth of the Amazon, even after alerts that the blocks on offer are very near a coral reef and in a region with many species threatened by extinction, and with possibly several new species as well.

At recent public meetings in towns near the proposed exploration, a BP spokesman insisted the company had learned a lot from its experience in the Gulf of Mexico.

Greenpeace oil specialist Thiago Almeida, who was present at the meetings, suggested that in view of the scant knowledge available on the region, the precautionary principle should be applied, and BP should abandon its plans and stay away from the Amazon estuary. Climate News Network

New planetary epoch makes its mark

The Earth has entered a new planetary epoch. And another 25 million kilometres of road in a few decades will mean a human-dominated planet.

LONDON, 25 November, 2017 – Never mind the formalities: a new planetary epoch, the Anthropocene, has already begun.

One of the indicators is the global road programme. The latest evidence that humans have precipitated a new geological era could be that two-thousand-year-old marvel, the road.

Within the next 30 years, according to two scientists, there could be another 25 million kilometres of road worldwide – enough to encircle the planet 600 times.

And nine tenths of all the new infrastructure will be in the world’s developing nations, chiefly in the tropics and subtropics that are home to the greatest areas of biological diversity.

William Laurance of James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, and Irene Burgués Arrea from the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers (ALERT) in Costa Rica say  these new roads could open “a Pandora’s Box of environmental ills, such as land encroachment, wildlife poaching, forest fragmentation, exotic species invasions and illegal mining.”

Forest fragility

The new roads are likely to be built because, by 2030, there could be two billion vehicles on the planet.

From 1993 to 2009, the two scientists argue in the journal Sciencethe extent of global wilderness declined by about one tenth. Now, around 70% of the world’s forests occur within one kilometre of a forest edge, and once vital habitats are at risk.

In the Brazilian Amazon, 95% of all illegal deforestation now happens within 5.5 km of an illegal or legal road.

And, the scientists argue, the roads may not even be of value to the communities that build them. Few are adequately engineered, because road constructors cut corners on materials and cement while siphoning off construction funds.

They quote a World Bank study: 15 to 30% (and in some cases 60%) of road funding in developing nations is lost to cartels and corruption.

“The mid-20th century represents the most sensible level for the beginning of the Anthropocene – as it brought in large global changes to many of the Earth’s fundamental chemical cycles

But the world may be on the road to enduring environmental change anyway, according to a new study in the journal Anthropocene.

A research team known as the Anthropocene Working Group now believes that humans have already changed the course of Earth history.

Geologists have dubbed the present epoch – the warm spell after the Ice Ages –  the Holocene. For most of the Holocene it was possible to regard humankind as just another species.

But, since 2009, geologists and biologists have been arguing that the human alteration of the planetary economy and its natural functioning has been so profound that it might be time to change the label.

Less stable

“Our findings suggest that the Anthropocene should follow on from the Holocene Epoch that has seen 11.7 thousand years of relative environmental stability, since the retreat of the last Ice Age, as we enter a more unstable and rapidly evolving phase of our planet’s history,” said Jan Zalasiewicz of the school of geography, geology and the environment at the University of Leicester, UK, who led the study.

And his palaeobiologist colleague Mark Williams said: “Geologically, the mid-20th century represents the most sensible level for the beginning of the Anthropocene – as it brought in large global changes to many of the Earth’s fundamental chemical cycles, such as those of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, and also very large amounts of novel materials such as plastics, concrete and aluminium, which will help build the strata of the future.”

That doesn’t mean that the new name will stick: the final decision will be taken by the highest level of palaeontological bureaucracy, a body called the sub-commission on quaternary stratigraphy of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. But the Leicester scientists feel they have made the case.

Professor Colin Waters of the British Geological Survey said “There is no guarantee of the success of this process – the Geological Time Scale is meant to be stable, and is not easily changed. Whatever decision is ultimately made, the geological reality of the Anthropocene is now clear.” – Climate News Network

The Earth has entered a new planetary epoch. And another 25 million kilometres of road in a few decades will mean a human-dominated planet.

LONDON, 25 November, 2017 – Never mind the formalities: a new planetary epoch, the Anthropocene, has already begun.

One of the indicators is the global road programme. The latest evidence that humans have precipitated a new geological era could be that two-thousand-year-old marvel, the road.

Within the next 30 years, according to two scientists, there could be another 25 million kilometres of road worldwide – enough to encircle the planet 600 times.

And nine tenths of all the new infrastructure will be in the world’s developing nations, chiefly in the tropics and subtropics that are home to the greatest areas of biological diversity.

William Laurance of James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, and Irene Burgués Arrea from the Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers (ALERT) in Costa Rica say  these new roads could open “a Pandora’s Box of environmental ills, such as land encroachment, wildlife poaching, forest fragmentation, exotic species invasions and illegal mining.”

Forest fragility

The new roads are likely to be built because, by 2030, there could be two billion vehicles on the planet.

From 1993 to 2009, the two scientists argue in the journal Sciencethe extent of global wilderness declined by about one tenth. Now, around 70% of the world’s forests occur within one kilometre of a forest edge, and once vital habitats are at risk.

In the Brazilian Amazon, 95% of all illegal deforestation now happens within 5.5 km of an illegal or legal road.

And, the scientists argue, the roads may not even be of value to the communities that build them. Few are adequately engineered, because road constructors cut corners on materials and cement while siphoning off construction funds.

They quote a World Bank study: 15 to 30% (and in some cases 60%) of road funding in developing nations is lost to cartels and corruption.

“The mid-20th century represents the most sensible level for the beginning of the Anthropocene – as it brought in large global changes to many of the Earth’s fundamental chemical cycles

But the world may be on the road to enduring environmental change anyway, according to a new study in the journal Anthropocene.

A research team known as the Anthropocene Working Group now believes that humans have already changed the course of Earth history.

Geologists have dubbed the present epoch – the warm spell after the Ice Ages –  the Holocene. For most of the Holocene it was possible to regard humankind as just another species.

But, since 2009, geologists and biologists have been arguing that the human alteration of the planetary economy and its natural functioning has been so profound that it might be time to change the label.

Less stable

“Our findings suggest that the Anthropocene should follow on from the Holocene Epoch that has seen 11.7 thousand years of relative environmental stability, since the retreat of the last Ice Age, as we enter a more unstable and rapidly evolving phase of our planet’s history,” said Jan Zalasiewicz of the school of geography, geology and the environment at the University of Leicester, UK, who led the study.

And his palaeobiologist colleague Mark Williams said: “Geologically, the mid-20th century represents the most sensible level for the beginning of the Anthropocene – as it brought in large global changes to many of the Earth’s fundamental chemical cycles, such as those of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, and also very large amounts of novel materials such as plastics, concrete and aluminium, which will help build the strata of the future.”

That doesn’t mean that the new name will stick: the final decision will be taken by the highest level of palaeontological bureaucracy, a body called the sub-commission on quaternary stratigraphy of the International Commission on Stratigraphy. But the Leicester scientists feel they have made the case.

Professor Colin Waters of the British Geological Survey said “There is no guarantee of the success of this process – the Geological Time Scale is meant to be stable, and is not easily changed. Whatever decision is ultimately made, the geological reality of the Anthropocene is now clear.” – Climate News Network

Brazil’s recession grows as emissions rise

Uniquely among major economies, Brazil’s recession has left 13 million workers jobless while its carbon emissions continue to grow.

SANTAREM, 14 November, 2017 – Brazil’s recession has earned it an unhappy distinction: it is the only major country in the world where damage to the climate is growing while people are becoming poorer.

In 2016 Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions rose by almost 9%, reaching their highest level since 2008. This makes it the only large economy in the world whose emissions are growing while living standards for most of its population, far from rising, have fallen. The main causes of the rise in emissions are deforestation and farming practices.

The System for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals Estimates, SEEG, part of Brazil’s Climate Observatory, produces annual estimates of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. It says they rose from just over two billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2015, to nearly 2.3bn tons in 2016. 

“Uncontrolled deforestation, especially in the Amazon, has led to the emission of 218 million tons more CO2 in 2016 than in 2015. That’s twice what Belgium emits in a year”   

This means the total has already, five years early, reached the 2020 target for Brazil decided under the Paris Agreement, showing that only drastic measures will bring emissions down again. If the economy recovers, as the government hopes it will over the next few years, the task will be even more difficult.   

Yet the government remains upbeat. In his speech to the UN Assembly in September, President Michel Temer claimed that new data showed a drop of over 20% in deforestation in the Amazon in the period from September 2016 to July 2017 (a claim later reduced to 16%), saying: “We have rejoined the right road and we will persist on this road.” 

Environment minister José Sarney Filho spoke of the tendency being reversed, but environmentalists remain sceptical. One said the real reversal of the tendency was the increase of deforestation in 2015 and 2016, after the reduction seen between 2005 and 2012.

The biggest cause of the rise in emissions was agriculture, which accounted for 74% of Brazil’s emissions in 2016. Of this total, 51% was due to what is euphemistically called change in land use” – deforestation. 

Changing appetites

A 23% growth in the use of nitrogen fertilisers, which produce nitrous oxide, has also worsened the problem, as has the fall in beef consumption, caused by consumers turning to  cheaper meats like pork and chicken. 

Paradoxically, this has meant greater numbers of cattle grazing and producing methane, as fewer are sent to the slaughterhouse. Brazil has the largest herd in the world, with 198 million head of cattle.   

While the total of emissions from farming and deforestation rose, during the same period almost all other sectors of the economy saw theirs falling. The energy sector dropped by over 7%, because of lower demand and the growing contribution of renewables.

Ane Alencar, the researcher responsible for the SEEG calculations, who works at  IPAM, the Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon (Portuguese only), said: “Uncontrolled deforestation, especially in the Amazon, has led to the emission of 218 million tons more CO2 in 2016 than in 2015. That’s twice what Belgium emits in a year.” She said most of this deforestation was illegal, contributing nothing to Brazil’s GDP.

Budget halved

The government of President Temer is caught between the need to fulfil Brazil’s international obligations and the demands of the influential rural lobby, who want more deforestation, not less, and less enforcement, not more.   

The reduction achieved in the last few months was won in spite of government policy, not because of it. As part of the government’s austerity programme, Temer had actually halved the budget of the environment ministry in 2016, leading to a drastic fall in its ability to stop illegal deforestation and protect conservation efforts.

But a grant from the Amazon Fund, set up by Norway in 2008 to save the rainforest, with contributions from Germany and the Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras, has enabled Ibama (the Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, the environment enforcement agency – Portuguese only) to re-equip its posts in the Amazon region and hire more staff. 

Yet enforcing environment laws in Brazil is never straightforward. A few days ago there was a dramatic illustration of the problems faced by Ibama after it destroyed the dredgers being used illegally to find gold on the bed of the Madeira river, a large Amazon tributary.

General amnesty

An angry crowd of gold miners, deprived of their livelihood, attacked the agency’s offices in the nearby town of Humaitá and set them on fire, after looting hundreds of confiscated electric saws. All the agency’s vehicles, and a boat on the river used for its work, were torched.

In Brasilia, pressure against the country’s environmental laws is more sophisticated. In the national congress the powerful farmers’ lobby has just pushed through Law No. 13465, which  will amnesty everyone who illegally invaded public lands, including parks and conservation areas, between 2004 and 2011. 

Ignoring protests that the new law, dubbed “the landgrabbers’ charter, will encourage new invasions, signalling that crime pays, President Temer has sanctioned the law. He needs the farmers’ votes for his own political survival. Climate News Network

Uniquely among major economies, Brazil’s recession has left 13 million workers jobless while its carbon emissions continue to grow.

SANTAREM, 14 November, 2017 – Brazil’s recession has earned it an unhappy distinction: it is the only major country in the world where damage to the climate is growing while people are becoming poorer.

In 2016 Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions rose by almost 9%, reaching their highest level since 2008. This makes it the only large economy in the world whose emissions are growing while living standards for most of its population, far from rising, have fallen. The main causes of the rise in emissions are deforestation and farming practices.

The System for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals Estimates, SEEG, part of Brazil’s Climate Observatory, produces annual estimates of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. It says they rose from just over two billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2015, to nearly 2.3bn tons in 2016. 

“Uncontrolled deforestation, especially in the Amazon, has led to the emission of 218 million tons more CO2 in 2016 than in 2015. That’s twice what Belgium emits in a year”   

This means the total has already, five years early, reached the 2020 target for Brazil decided under the Paris Agreement, showing that only drastic measures will bring emissions down again. If the economy recovers, as the government hopes it will over the next few years, the task will be even more difficult.   

Yet the government remains upbeat. In his speech to the UN Assembly in September, President Michel Temer claimed that new data showed a drop of over 20% in deforestation in the Amazon in the period from September 2016 to July 2017 (a claim later reduced to 16%), saying: “We have rejoined the right road and we will persist on this road.” 

Environment minister José Sarney Filho spoke of the tendency being reversed, but environmentalists remain sceptical. One said the real reversal of the tendency was the increase of deforestation in 2015 and 2016, after the reduction seen between 2005 and 2012.

The biggest cause of the rise in emissions was agriculture, which accounted for 74% of Brazil’s emissions in 2016. Of this total, 51% was due to what is euphemistically called change in land use” – deforestation. 

Changing appetites

A 23% growth in the use of nitrogen fertilisers, which produce nitrous oxide, has also worsened the problem, as has the fall in beef consumption, caused by consumers turning to  cheaper meats like pork and chicken. 

Paradoxically, this has meant greater numbers of cattle grazing and producing methane, as fewer are sent to the slaughterhouse. Brazil has the largest herd in the world, with 198 million head of cattle.   

While the total of emissions from farming and deforestation rose, during the same period almost all other sectors of the economy saw theirs falling. The energy sector dropped by over 7%, because of lower demand and the growing contribution of renewables.

Ane Alencar, the researcher responsible for the SEEG calculations, who works at  IPAM, the Institute for Environmental Research in the Amazon (Portuguese only), said: “Uncontrolled deforestation, especially in the Amazon, has led to the emission of 218 million tons more CO2 in 2016 than in 2015. That’s twice what Belgium emits in a year.” She said most of this deforestation was illegal, contributing nothing to Brazil’s GDP.

Budget halved

The government of President Temer is caught between the need to fulfil Brazil’s international obligations and the demands of the influential rural lobby, who want more deforestation, not less, and less enforcement, not more.   

The reduction achieved in the last few months was won in spite of government policy, not because of it. As part of the government’s austerity programme, Temer had actually halved the budget of the environment ministry in 2016, leading to a drastic fall in its ability to stop illegal deforestation and protect conservation efforts.

But a grant from the Amazon Fund, set up by Norway in 2008 to save the rainforest, with contributions from Germany and the Brazilian state oil company, Petrobras, has enabled Ibama (the Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, the environment enforcement agency – Portuguese only) to re-equip its posts in the Amazon region and hire more staff. 

Yet enforcing environment laws in Brazil is never straightforward. A few days ago there was a dramatic illustration of the problems faced by Ibama after it destroyed the dredgers being used illegally to find gold on the bed of the Madeira river, a large Amazon tributary.

General amnesty

An angry crowd of gold miners, deprived of their livelihood, attacked the agency’s offices in the nearby town of Humaitá and set them on fire, after looting hundreds of confiscated electric saws. All the agency’s vehicles, and a boat on the river used for its work, were torched.

In Brasilia, pressure against the country’s environmental laws is more sophisticated. In the national congress the powerful farmers’ lobby has just pushed through Law No. 13465, which  will amnesty everyone who illegally invaded public lands, including parks and conservation areas, between 2004 and 2011. 

Ignoring protests that the new law, dubbed “the landgrabbers’ charter, will encourage new invasions, signalling that crime pays, President Temer has sanctioned the law. He needs the farmers’ votes for his own political survival. Climate News Network

Alarm at rise in forest carbon

Carbon forest Congo

Tropical forests release more carbon than they absorb, and the level of livestock emissions has been underestimated – new findings challenge climate assumptions.

LONDON, 4 October, 2017 – Climate’s auditors – those carbon accountants who calculate how much fossil fuel may be burned before the planet warms to dangerous levels – might have to go back to the books and start again.

One team of US scientists suggests that the assumptions about the role of the forests could be wrong: overall, tropical forests in this century have released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than they absorb, they conclude.

And a second, entirely separate, study backed by US data suggests that emissions of that other greenhouse gas, methane, are at least 11% higher than estimated in 2006. So calculations based on the balance between energy use by industry and society, and the role of the land in mitigating or enhancing climate change must be re-examined.

The news comes hard on the heels of a study that suggests that, in carbon budget terms, it could be possible to contain global warming to the level “well below 2°C” above pre-industrial levels, agreed at the Paris Summit by almost 200 nations in 2015, provided nations immediately start reducing fossil fuel use to zero within 40 years.

Uncertain science

All three studies are a reminder that climate science is necessarily uncertain, and forecasts of atmospheric conditions 30 or 80 years from now are even more tentative. But all three also point to the same bleak conclusion: human impacts on the atmosphere promise only the choice between a dangerous future, and a catastrophic one, as the planetary thermometer rises, glaciers and icecaps melt, the oceans become more acidic and more likely to flood coastal communities, hurricanes and typhoons become more intense and destructive, heatwaves become more lethal and droughts become more devastating.

And these things are happening because more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases go into the atmosphere than are taken out of it. The planet’s forests – and in particular the tropical forests – have played a huge role in the reckoning of the carbon budget. Trees grow by using photosynthesis to drawn carbon dioxide from the air, and they use the carbon to build wood, foliage and fruit, and return oxygen to the atmosphere. So the presumption has been that forests of Central America and the Amazon absorb at least some of the CO2 emitted from factory chimneys and car exhausts.

“If we’re to keep global temperatures from
rising to dangerous levels, we need to drastically
reduce emissions and greatly increase forests’
ability to absorb and store carbon”

But researchers report in Science journal that, using satellite imagery and field measurements, they analysed the carbon density of living, woody vegetation across tropical Africa, America and Asia for the decade between 2003 and 2014. On every continent, the “above ground” losses of carbon exceeded gains with the greatest losses occurring in the American tropics. Most of the losses were due to the felling and clearing of forests for plantation and ranching.

“These findings provide the world with a wakeup call on forests,” says Alessandro Baccini of the Woods Hole Research Centre in Massachusetts, who led the study. “If we’re to keep global temperatures from rising to dangerous levels, we need to drastically reduce emissions and greatly increase forests’ ability to absorb and store carbon. Forests are the only carbon capture and storage ‘technology’ we have in our grasp that is safe, proven, inexpensive, immediately available at scale, and capable of providing beneficial ripple effects – from regulating rainfall patterns to providing livelihoods to indigenous communities.”

Carbon emissions

A second team report in Carbon Balance and Management journal that estimates of the carbon emissions from livestock – mostly methane from enteric fermentation in dairy cows and other cattle – have been underestimated. They checked global livestock emissions for 2011 to find these were 11% higher than estimates available to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2006. The increase also comes from more extensive manure management on farmland.

“In many regions of the world, livestock numbers are changing, and breeding has resulted in larger animals with higher intakes of food. This, along with changes in livestock management, can lead to higher methane emissions,” says Julie Wolff of the US Department of Agriculture, the senior author.

“Methane is an important moderator of the Earth’s atmospheric temperature. It has about four times the atmospheric warming potential of carbon dioxide.”

Professor Bill Collins of the University of Reading, in the UK, commented: “If this study is right it will be harder to achieve the Paris climate goals. Agriculture is the biggest single source of methane human activity contributes to the atmosphere, making up more than a third of the total ‘manmade’ methane emissions.”
Climate News Network

Tropical forests release more carbon than they absorb, and the level of livestock emissions has been underestimated – new findings challenge climate assumptions.

LONDON, 4 October, 2017 – Climate’s auditors – those carbon accountants who calculate how much fossil fuel may be burned before the planet warms to dangerous levels – might have to go back to the books and start again.

One team of US scientists suggests that the assumptions about the role of the forests could be wrong: overall, tropical forests in this century have released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than they absorb, they conclude.

And a second, entirely separate, study backed by US data suggests that emissions of that other greenhouse gas, methane, are at least 11% higher than estimated in 2006. So calculations based on the balance between energy use by industry and society, and the role of the land in mitigating or enhancing climate change must be re-examined.

The news comes hard on the heels of a study that suggests that, in carbon budget terms, it could be possible to contain global warming to the level “well below 2°C” above pre-industrial levels, agreed at the Paris Summit by almost 200 nations in 2015, provided nations immediately start reducing fossil fuel use to zero within 40 years.

Uncertain science

All three studies are a reminder that climate science is necessarily uncertain, and forecasts of atmospheric conditions 30 or 80 years from now are even more tentative. But all three also point to the same bleak conclusion: human impacts on the atmosphere promise only the choice between a dangerous future, and a catastrophic one, as the planetary thermometer rises, glaciers and icecaps melt, the oceans become more acidic and more likely to flood coastal communities, hurricanes and typhoons become more intense and destructive, heatwaves become more lethal and droughts become more devastating.

And these things are happening because more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases go into the atmosphere than are taken out of it. The planet’s forests – and in particular the tropical forests – have played a huge role in the reckoning of the carbon budget. Trees grow by using photosynthesis to drawn carbon dioxide from the air, and they use the carbon to build wood, foliage and fruit, and return oxygen to the atmosphere. So the presumption has been that forests of Central America and the Amazon absorb at least some of the CO2 emitted from factory chimneys and car exhausts.

“If we’re to keep global temperatures from
rising to dangerous levels, we need to drastically
reduce emissions and greatly increase forests’
ability to absorb and store carbon”

But researchers report in Science journal that, using satellite imagery and field measurements, they analysed the carbon density of living, woody vegetation across tropical Africa, America and Asia for the decade between 2003 and 2014. On every continent, the “above ground” losses of carbon exceeded gains with the greatest losses occurring in the American tropics. Most of the losses were due to the felling and clearing of forests for plantation and ranching.

“These findings provide the world with a wakeup call on forests,” says Alessandro Baccini of the Woods Hole Research Centre in Massachusetts, who led the study. “If we’re to keep global temperatures from rising to dangerous levels, we need to drastically reduce emissions and greatly increase forests’ ability to absorb and store carbon. Forests are the only carbon capture and storage ‘technology’ we have in our grasp that is safe, proven, inexpensive, immediately available at scale, and capable of providing beneficial ripple effects – from regulating rainfall patterns to providing livelihoods to indigenous communities.”

Carbon emissions

A second team report in Carbon Balance and Management journal that estimates of the carbon emissions from livestock – mostly methane from enteric fermentation in dairy cows and other cattle – have been underestimated. They checked global livestock emissions for 2011 to find these were 11% higher than estimates available to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2006. The increase also comes from more extensive manure management on farmland.

“In many regions of the world, livestock numbers are changing, and breeding has resulted in larger animals with higher intakes of food. This, along with changes in livestock management, can lead to higher methane emissions,” says Julie Wolff of the US Department of Agriculture, the senior author.

“Methane is an important moderator of the Earth’s atmospheric temperature. It has about four times the atmospheric warming potential of carbon dioxide.”

Professor Bill Collins of the University of Reading, in the UK, commented: “If this study is right it will be harder to achieve the Paris climate goals. Agriculture is the biggest single source of methane human activity contributes to the atmosphere, making up more than a third of the total ‘manmade’ methane emissions.”
Climate News Network

Brazilian downpours oust familiar drizzle

Misty rain is giving way to fear of flash floods as Brazilian downpours cause chaos in the country’s biggest city.

SÃO PAULO, 19 August, 2017 – Climate change has put an end to the romantic garoa for which São Paulo, South America’s biggest city, was once famous, as fierce Brazilian downpours move in. The gentle misty rain has been replaced by flash floods and violent deluges, with human victims and economic costs.

Less than half a century ago São Paulo’s famous garoa was much used in song and verse to paint an enticing picture of the city. There was even a popular band called the Demons of the Garoa.

Now that gentle rain is just a memory: instead, people frequently run the risk of being trapped in streets suddenly turned into raging torrents; cars are flattened by falling trees; hillside shanty dwellings are swallowed up by mudslides. The city has also got much hotter.

A new study published in the August number of the International Journal of Climatology has confirmed that rainfall patterns in the southeast region of Brazil, where São Paulo is located, have changed substantially.

After analysing meteorological data for the region over the last 74 years, a group of scientists from São Paulo University (USP) found an increase both in the frequency of rainy days and in the volume of rain. Professor (retired) Maria Assunção Faus da Silva Dias, of the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at USP, said the aim of their research was to verify if the forecasts about changing rain patterns were becoming a reality.

“We discovered that where it rains a lot it will rain more, and where there is drought there will be more drought”

In previous studies, climatologists had foreseen that one of the main effects of climate change would be the exacerbation of extreme effects, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms and severe droughts.

The data they used was extracted from 36 meteorological stations in the southeast of Brazil. They checked the quantity of days without rain, with a small amount (less than 5 mm), or with extreme rain.

“Looking at the pattern of rain in the last decades, we can project tendencies. We discovered that where it rains a lot it will rain more, and where there is drought there will be more drought,” explained Professor Faus da Silva Dias, in further confirmation of a frequently predicted consequence of climate change. 

The team concluded that climate change has altered the rain pattern in the region, with an increase in rainfall in the state of São Paulo and a reduction in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo.

Strong storms

In these two states, located to the northeast of São Paulo on the Atlantic coast, they found a reduction in the frequency of rainy days and in the volume of rain, but a concentration of strong storms in fewer days. Days with light rain were less frequent.

The effects of the changing rain patterns have been felt more in highly urbanised regions, like São Paulo. In the metropolis, home to 20 million people, so-called heat islands have led to a substantial rise in temperatures. Over the last 70 years, the temperature in São Paulo’s urban region has increased by about 4°C (39°F) – equivalent to the forecast global rise for the next century.

Besides putting an end to the garoa, this has contributed to the increase in extreme downpours. The air from the colder regions around the city converges on this heat bubble, provoking intense storms.

According to Professor Faus da Silva Dias there is another factor that could be playing into the change in rainfall patterns. This is an alteration in the Zone of Convergence of the South Atlantic, a band of rainclouds that usually extends from the Amazon to the southeast, reaching the ocean. “One of the hypotheses is that, with climate change, this zone of rain has moved slightly further south”, she says. – Climate News Network

Misty rain is giving way to fear of flash floods as Brazilian downpours cause chaos in the country’s biggest city.

SÃO PAULO, 19 August, 2017 – Climate change has put an end to the romantic garoa for which São Paulo, South America’s biggest city, was once famous, as fierce Brazilian downpours move in. The gentle misty rain has been replaced by flash floods and violent deluges, with human victims and economic costs.

Less than half a century ago São Paulo’s famous garoa was much used in song and verse to paint an enticing picture of the city. There was even a popular band called the Demons of the Garoa.

Now that gentle rain is just a memory: instead, people frequently run the risk of being trapped in streets suddenly turned into raging torrents; cars are flattened by falling trees; hillside shanty dwellings are swallowed up by mudslides. The city has also got much hotter.

A new study published in the August number of the International Journal of Climatology has confirmed that rainfall patterns in the southeast region of Brazil, where São Paulo is located, have changed substantially.

After analysing meteorological data for the region over the last 74 years, a group of scientists from São Paulo University (USP) found an increase both in the frequency of rainy days and in the volume of rain. Professor (retired) Maria Assunção Faus da Silva Dias, of the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at USP, said the aim of their research was to verify if the forecasts about changing rain patterns were becoming a reality.

“We discovered that where it rains a lot it will rain more, and where there is drought there will be more drought”

In previous studies, climatologists had foreseen that one of the main effects of climate change would be the exacerbation of extreme effects, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms and severe droughts.

The data they used was extracted from 36 meteorological stations in the southeast of Brazil. They checked the quantity of days without rain, with a small amount (less than 5 mm), or with extreme rain.

“Looking at the pattern of rain in the last decades, we can project tendencies. We discovered that where it rains a lot it will rain more, and where there is drought there will be more drought,” explained Professor Faus da Silva Dias, in further confirmation of a frequently predicted consequence of climate change. 

The team concluded that climate change has altered the rain pattern in the region, with an increase in rainfall in the state of São Paulo and a reduction in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Espirito Santo.

Strong storms

In these two states, located to the northeast of São Paulo on the Atlantic coast, they found a reduction in the frequency of rainy days and in the volume of rain, but a concentration of strong storms in fewer days. Days with light rain were less frequent.

The effects of the changing rain patterns have been felt more in highly urbanised regions, like São Paulo. In the metropolis, home to 20 million people, so-called heat islands have led to a substantial rise in temperatures. Over the last 70 years, the temperature in São Paulo’s urban region has increased by about 4°C (39°F) – equivalent to the forecast global rise for the next century.

Besides putting an end to the garoa, this has contributed to the increase in extreme downpours. The air from the colder regions around the city converges on this heat bubble, provoking intense storms.

According to Professor Faus da Silva Dias there is another factor that could be playing into the change in rainfall patterns. This is an alteration in the Zone of Convergence of the South Atlantic, a band of rainclouds that usually extends from the Amazon to the southeast, reaching the ocean. “One of the hypotheses is that, with climate change, this zone of rain has moved slightly further south”, she says. – Climate News Network