Tag Archives: Biodiversity

Alpine plants face risk from growing climate heat

Like many mountainous regions, the European Alps are warming fast. Alpine plants will suffer – and life below ground as well.

LONDON, 1 March, 2021 – The early melting of snow in the Alps is not just bad news for ardent skiers and for those who are dependent on the money they earn during the winter sports season: Alpine plants are in danger too.

Rising temperatures due to climate change are also having a negative impact deep below the surface of the ground.

New research by scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK demonstrates that warming in the area is threatening microbes which live in the Alpine soils.

The microbes play a critical role in supporting life forms above ground, recycling key nutrients upon which animals, plants – and humans – depend.

“More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century”

The microbes also control the amount of carbon stored in the soil: if the cycle of microbial activity is disrupted, then more carbon is released into the atmosphere, resulting in further global warming.

Arthur Broadbent, lead author of a research paper in the ISME Journal,  says climate change is having an alarming impact on microbial communities in Alpine soils.

“Using a high-alpine experiment in the Austrian Alps, we discovered that spring snowmelt triggers an abrupt seasonal transition in soil microbial communities, which is closely linked to rapid shifts in carbon and nitrogen cycling”, he said.

During the winter, microbes in the Alpine soils depend on snow to act as an insulating blanket, allowing them to continue to work throughout the cold months.

Himalayan disaster

The researchers say that climate change in the Alps is taking place at double the rate of the global average. Separate research indicates that profound changes are happening in the Alps and in many other mountainous regions around the world.

In February a flash flood in Uttarakhand in northern India killed nearly 70 people, with 136 more missing and now presumed dead. Most scientists believe the warming climate was the cause of the glacier melt which triggered the disaster.

There are predictions that over the next 80 years more than 90% of glacier ice in the Alpine region will be lost due to ever-rising temperatures.

“Snowmelt is predicted to occur 50 to 130 days earlier in alpine regions due to climate change by the end of the century”, says Dr Broadbent.

Increased warming

“Using experimental manipulations, we demonstrated that earlier snowmelt, of even just 10 days, leads to an earlier seasonal transition in microbial communities and biogeochemical cycling.”

The research paper says that changes in the microbial cycle caused by snow melt will result in less carbon being retained in the soil and so have a negative impact on the growth and productivity of plants.

“This would negatively affect agricultural production and disrupt natural ecosystems. It will also alter annual carbon fluxes in these ecosystems with the potential to cause further climate warming.”

The authors conclude with a clear warning: “More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century.” – Climate News Network

Like many mountainous regions, the European Alps are warming fast. Alpine plants will suffer – and life below ground as well.

LONDON, 1 March, 2021 – The early melting of snow in the Alps is not just bad news for ardent skiers and for those who are dependent on the money they earn during the winter sports season: Alpine plants are in danger too.

Rising temperatures due to climate change are also having a negative impact deep below the surface of the ground.

New research by scientists at the University of Manchester in the UK demonstrates that warming in the area is threatening microbes which live in the Alpine soils.

The microbes play a critical role in supporting life forms above ground, recycling key nutrients upon which animals, plants – and humans – depend.

“More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century”

The microbes also control the amount of carbon stored in the soil: if the cycle of microbial activity is disrupted, then more carbon is released into the atmosphere, resulting in further global warming.

Arthur Broadbent, lead author of a research paper in the ISME Journal,  says climate change is having an alarming impact on microbial communities in Alpine soils.

“Using a high-alpine experiment in the Austrian Alps, we discovered that spring snowmelt triggers an abrupt seasonal transition in soil microbial communities, which is closely linked to rapid shifts in carbon and nitrogen cycling”, he said.

During the winter, microbes in the Alpine soils depend on snow to act as an insulating blanket, allowing them to continue to work throughout the cold months.

Himalayan disaster

The researchers say that climate change in the Alps is taking place at double the rate of the global average. Separate research indicates that profound changes are happening in the Alps and in many other mountainous regions around the world.

In February a flash flood in Uttarakhand in northern India killed nearly 70 people, with 136 more missing and now presumed dead. Most scientists believe the warming climate was the cause of the glacier melt which triggered the disaster.

There are predictions that over the next 80 years more than 90% of glacier ice in the Alpine region will be lost due to ever-rising temperatures.

“Snowmelt is predicted to occur 50 to 130 days earlier in alpine regions due to climate change by the end of the century”, says Dr Broadbent.

Increased warming

“Using experimental manipulations, we demonstrated that earlier snowmelt, of even just 10 days, leads to an earlier seasonal transition in microbial communities and biogeochemical cycling.”

The research paper says that changes in the microbial cycle caused by snow melt will result in less carbon being retained in the soil and so have a negative impact on the growth and productivity of plants.

“This would negatively affect agricultural production and disrupt natural ecosystems. It will also alter annual carbon fluxes in these ecosystems with the potential to cause further climate warming.”

The authors conclude with a clear warning: “More extreme advances in snowmelt timing are forecast for the end of the century.” – Climate News Network

UN survival plan offers new hope for the planet

A bold UN survival plan could put nature back in charge of the Earth − and researchers explain why that should happen.

LONDON, 26 February, 2021 − UN chiefs want to transform the world by putting nature back at the heart of global decision-making, arguing that the global economic shutdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change the planet for the better: for a stable climate, for cleaner air and water, and for a richer natural environment, thanks to the UN survival plan.

The goal? A more sustainable and more equitable world by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050, a curb on global pollution and waste and a halt to ever-accelerating rates of wildlife extinction worldwide.

The methods? One of the first, in Making Peace With Nature, the new United Nations Environment Programme report, will be to incorporate what conservationists call “natural capital” into measures of national economic performance.

That is because forests, savannahs, wetlands and other natural habitats represent wealth, and their loss accelerates poverty. If nations and regions can reverse environmental decline then they can at the same time advance the alleviation of poverty, and secure reliable food and water, and good health, for all.

And to reinforce such arguments, new and entirely separate research continues to underline the UN vision of natural capital as real investment in the services on which all humankind depends.

Vital sanitation need

In 48 cities around the globe, nature provides at least 18% of the sanitation services: creatures in the soils filter and clean around 2.2 million cubic metres of human excrement in the form of pit latrines before it can reach the groundwater table.

Since, in 2017, around one fourth of the global population had no access to sanitation facilities, and 14% used toilets that disposed of waste on site, this is not just an important service but a vital one: vital to human health.

The same research team reports in the journal One Earth that − since more than 892 million people worldwide in effect release excrement into holes in the ground − then nature must sanitise more than 41 million tonnes of human waste every year before it gets into the groundwater. So that’s a service worth US$4.4 billion (£3.14bn) a year, British researchers calculate.

Around 70% of the world’s crops depend on insect pollination, and the range and abundance of insect pollinators is vulnerable to shifts in climate. Importantly, many crops rely on wild pollinators − that is, commercial honey bee colonies cannot always do the trick of turning flowers into fruit, or grain − so what happens to wild insect populations affects what is available for supper.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it guides us by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”

US researchers report in the journal Ecological Applications that they took the case of wild bees and open field tomato crops: these depend on insects that release pollen by vibration, among them bumble bees.

They matched distribution of 15 species and climate data now against predictions for climate change across North America to find that − in the eastern US alone − within the next three to four decades, 11 species of pollinator could be in decline. The implications for food security are inescapable.

And a third study simply looked at what climate change, human population expansion, pollution and demand for freshwater had done to the planet’s rivers and lakes.

French and Chinese scientists report in the journal Science that they had identified what they call “marked changes” in the biodiversity of more than half the world’s rivers and lakes, thanks to human impact.

Of more than 1,000 fish species, 170 were extinct in their natural river basins, at a very conservative estimate. Out of 2,456 river basins, found everywhere except the deserts and the poles, 1,296 of them, covering more than 40% of the planet’s continental surface, and accounting for 37% of the length of the world’s rivers, revealed “deep and spatially distributed anthropogenic impacts.” That is science-speak for loss and defilement.

Lethal heat prospect

Such research − published on an almost daily basis − provides the context in which the latest UNEP report makes its argument. The report identifies a threefold planetary emergency and calls for advances in science and bold policy-making to make lives better both for the poorest in the world, and for nature itself.

It warns that the planet is heading for a warming of at least 3°C by the century’s end; that more than one million species could be heading for extinction; and that pollution-triggered diseases right now deliver an estimated nine million premature deaths each year.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safe place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme,” says António Guterres, UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.

“By recognising nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” − Climate News Network

A bold UN survival plan could put nature back in charge of the Earth − and researchers explain why that should happen.

LONDON, 26 February, 2021 − UN chiefs want to transform the world by putting nature back at the heart of global decision-making, arguing that the global economic shutdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic is an opportunity to change the planet for the better: for a stable climate, for cleaner air and water, and for a richer natural environment, thanks to the UN survival plan.

The goal? A more sustainable and more equitable world by 2030, a carbon-neutral world by 2050, a curb on global pollution and waste and a halt to ever-accelerating rates of wildlife extinction worldwide.

The methods? One of the first, in Making Peace With Nature, the new United Nations Environment Programme report, will be to incorporate what conservationists call “natural capital” into measures of national economic performance.

That is because forests, savannahs, wetlands and other natural habitats represent wealth, and their loss accelerates poverty. If nations and regions can reverse environmental decline then they can at the same time advance the alleviation of poverty, and secure reliable food and water, and good health, for all.

And to reinforce such arguments, new and entirely separate research continues to underline the UN vision of natural capital as real investment in the services on which all humankind depends.

Vital sanitation need

In 48 cities around the globe, nature provides at least 18% of the sanitation services: creatures in the soils filter and clean around 2.2 million cubic metres of human excrement in the form of pit latrines before it can reach the groundwater table.

Since, in 2017, around one fourth of the global population had no access to sanitation facilities, and 14% used toilets that disposed of waste on site, this is not just an important service but a vital one: vital to human health.

The same research team reports in the journal One Earth that − since more than 892 million people worldwide in effect release excrement into holes in the ground − then nature must sanitise more than 41 million tonnes of human waste every year before it gets into the groundwater. So that’s a service worth US$4.4 billion (£3.14bn) a year, British researchers calculate.

Around 70% of the world’s crops depend on insect pollination, and the range and abundance of insect pollinators is vulnerable to shifts in climate. Importantly, many crops rely on wild pollinators − that is, commercial honey bee colonies cannot always do the trick of turning flowers into fruit, or grain − so what happens to wild insect populations affects what is available for supper.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it guides us by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme”

US researchers report in the journal Ecological Applications that they took the case of wild bees and open field tomato crops: these depend on insects that release pollen by vibration, among them bumble bees.

They matched distribution of 15 species and climate data now against predictions for climate change across North America to find that − in the eastern US alone − within the next three to four decades, 11 species of pollinator could be in decline. The implications for food security are inescapable.

And a third study simply looked at what climate change, human population expansion, pollution and demand for freshwater had done to the planet’s rivers and lakes.

French and Chinese scientists report in the journal Science that they had identified what they call “marked changes” in the biodiversity of more than half the world’s rivers and lakes, thanks to human impact.

Of more than 1,000 fish species, 170 were extinct in their natural river basins, at a very conservative estimate. Out of 2,456 river basins, found everywhere except the deserts and the poles, 1,296 of them, covering more than 40% of the planet’s continental surface, and accounting for 37% of the length of the world’s rivers, revealed “deep and spatially distributed anthropogenic impacts.” That is science-speak for loss and defilement.

Lethal heat prospect

Such research − published on an almost daily basis − provides the context in which the latest UNEP report makes its argument. The report identifies a threefold planetary emergency and calls for advances in science and bold policy-making to make lives better both for the poorest in the world, and for nature itself.

It warns that the planet is heading for a warming of at least 3°C by the century’s end; that more than one million species could be heading for extinction; and that pollution-triggered diseases right now deliver an estimated nine million premature deaths each year.

“The war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safe place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme,” says António Guterres, UN secretary general, in the report’s foreword.

“By transforming how we view nature, we can recognise its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it.

“By recognising nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” − Climate News Network

Hope springs eternal for species facing extinction

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

Extinction is for ever, but not inevitable. Some threatened species are now surprising survivors. Can others follow suit?

LONDON, 22 February, 2021 − Scientists continue to issue strident warnings that the Earth faces a sixth mass extinction, and the evidence suggests they’re right.

There are some standout survivors, though − birds and mammals which not long ago appeared doomed but are now recovering. There is even a flickering hope that their resurgence could show the way to survival for some other species among the teeming millions at risk.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle, UK, and BirdLife International report in the journal Conservation Letters that different initiatives have prevented up to 32 bird and 16 mammal extinctions since 1993, the year the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.

As 10 bird and five mammal species are known to have become extinct in that time, the researchers think extinction rates would have been up to four times higher if humans had not acted to help the survivors.

“I think that’s a positive message. It’s not all bad news, always,” said Rike Bolam of the University of Newcastle, the study’s lead author. “It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well.”

Success achieved

Stuart Butchart, chief scientist at BirdLife and an honorary research fellow in the zoology department of the University of Cambridge, said: “These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved.

“It would be easy to feel conservation was a pointless exercise and there’s nothing we can do to slow the juggernaut down. Broadly speaking, we have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will.”

Many of the most successful conservation efforts involve what science knows as the charismatic megafauna, crowdpuller species such as the tiger, which may attract attention and funding relatively easily in their struggle to escape extinction. Most species do not.

But Bolam and Butchart’s team identified a number of recurring and widely applicable themes in trying to stem the catastrophic race towards oblivion: the removal of invasive species, for example, the management of hunting and protection of important habitats.

“We have the tools, we just need much greater resource and political will”

Saving the web of life intact to hand on to future generations the richness of species on which humanity depends won’t be easy. Adam Vaughan, chief reporter at the magazine New Scientist, writes: “Targeted actions won’t turn the tide alone. Stemming biodiversity loss will also require more fundamental changes to how we value nature – and whether those will be forthcoming is the trillion-dollar question.”

To give some idea of what works − and why − the magazine lists 10 survival success stories from around the world. It includes some obvious candidates, creatures which would be at the top of any keen zoologist’s bucket list − and probably most other people’s too. There’s the blue whale, obviously, its Antarctic sub-species reduced by hunters from an estimated 239,000 before industrial whaling started early in the last century to 360 by the early 1970s..

Yet by 2016 there were thought to be 4,500 in the southern ocean − something Jennifer Jackson at the British Antarctic Survey says has a wider lesson for conservation: “The blue whale recovery is symbolic of what humans can do if they just leave things alone.” Now, though, climate change is affecting the krill which are the whales’ main source of food. The possibility of extinction is returning.

China’s giant pandas declined fast in the 20th century. Political will and protected areas improved their prospects from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” The government has created 67 giant panda reserves since the 1960s, and in 1988 banned logging entirely in their habitats. “The determination and investment of the Chinese government is the key,” says Qiang Xu of WWF-China. But the pandas still need much more time before they’re safe.

Mountain gorilla numbers have risen from about 250 in 1981 to 1,063 today. Things were looking hopeful until last month, when a gorilla in a US zoo was found to have contracted Covid-19. Poaching and forest clearance for agriculture remain potent threats.

People matter

Indus river dolphins were once found along the entire 3,000 kms (1,860 miles) of the Indus, but their range fell to 1,300 kms (800 m). By 2001, their numbers had dropped to 1,200, largely because they become stranded and die in irrigation canals.

Acoustic devices help to deter the dolphins from entering the canals, but educating fishing communities and recruiting local people for ecotourism and monitoring has been the key to saving about 1,800 animals, says Uzma Khan of WWF-Pakistan. “I learned you cannot do anything without communities.”

Not every species on the New Scientist’s list will avoid extinction, let alone the countless others which will live and die unremarked. Not all of those listed is even a poster girl (or boy) for conservation.

The world’s most endangered primate, the Hainan gibbon, is endemic to the Chinese island of the same name, and probably not very widely-known. By 1980 its population had fallen from 2,000 to a total barely able to ensure survival − just nine animals. There are now thought to be around a slightly more secure 33 altogether. Wish them luck. − Climate New Network

How to rebuild a forest in a growing climate crisis

A global energy company’s mistake renewed debate on how to slow the climate crisis. Trees can help − but where, and how?

LONDON, 19 February, 2021 – The oil company Shell recently miscalculated the extent of its reserves on a pretty massive scale. The mistake meant its new scenario for meeting the internationally agreed 1.5°C climate target would need a new forest about the size of Brazil. And that renewed a debate about just what trees can do to ease the climate crisis.

Tree-planting to tackle possibly irreversible climate change is one hopeful route. Trees not only breathe carbon dioxide in; they also breathe out oxygen. But tree-planting is more complex than it may seem.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says in its 2018 Special Report, that if the world wants to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2050, an extra one billion hectares (2.4bn acres) of trees will be needed. But what types of trees, and where? Many different initiatives across the world have tried to restore woodland, but what works best for people and the biosphere?

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement). It has several suggestions for understanding how trees might best help to cool the climate crisis, not least relying on natural forest regeneration rather than commercial plantations.

Over the last decade, several reforestation and afforestation schemes have sprung up under the programme of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“In India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign. Myanmar used drones to plant trees”

National and regional reforestation initiatives include China’s forest rehabilitation programme and Africa’s Great Green Wall scheme linking North Africa, the Sahel (the area south of the Sahara desert) and the Horn of Africa.

In 2019 the FAO launched a similar reforestation plan targeting cities – the Great Green Wall for Cities initiative. This is expected to remove from 0.5 to 5 Gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

In 2017, Pakistan met its target of planting a billion trees and  made a commitment to reach 10 billion trees within five years. In its neighbour India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign involving 1.5 million volunteers. Some countries have relied on equally novel methods; Myanmar used drones to plant trees.

Ambitious projects like these can sound attractive. But their ability to achieve their goals sometimes proves controversial.

Several climate and forest scientists favour what they call “natural forest regeneration” – essentially letting the forest grow back naturally – which often proves to be the most efficient and cheapest approach in achieving natural carbon sequestration.

Regeneration neglected

However, only 34% of the total area dedicated to forest restoration plans covered by the Bonn Challenge is earmarked for this approach.

A further 21% of land is reserved for agroforestry, a method promoting the production of multiple plants and crops side by side. The remaining 45% of the land area is given up to the monoculture production of trees.

Better ways of doing things are exemplified by Ghana and Malaysia, for example, where people restored their local forests after being granted ownership of the land.

In Ghana, the forest restoration projects found to be most successful were those which included a “rights-based approach”. Strengthening community rights contributed to the protection of forests from appropriation and privatisation and ensured greater accountability, the right to speak out, and provided safeguards against illegal practices.

In Malaysia, an NGO supported Penan indigenous communities in fighting for their legitimate entitlement to land rights in court. The Penan have strong ties with the land and forests, which play a strong role in maintaining local biodiversity.

Four pathways

Tree planting programmes have had very mixed results. Many failures occurred because the trees planted were not suitable for local climate conditions, and others depleted groundwater reserves, leaving nearby soils dried out and damaging local agricultural production.

Natural forest restoration is the most effective way to store carbon from the atmosphere, the RTA argues. These forests are 40 times more effective than plantations and six times better than agroforestry at retaining carbon. Their complex ecological systems are also better for biodiversity.

The RTA says there are four main ways for countries to encourage the successful restoration of natural forests so as to temper the effects of the climate crisis:

  • They should increase the proportion of their land allocated for regeneration to natural forest
  • Priority should be given to humid tropical areas, such as Amazonia, Borneo and the Congo Basin, which support high biomass forest. International climate adaptation and conservation funds could be used to support such action
  • Countries should focus on naturally regenerating existing carbon stocks such as degraded forests and partly wooded areas, using treeless regions for plantations or agroforestry
  • Restored forest must be protected, perhaps by giving title rights to indigenous peoples who protect forested land, changing the legal definition of land-use so that it cannot be converted to agriculture, and ensuring that commodities companies cannot clear restored forests.

Restoring natural forests, the Alliance concludes, is the most efficient, fast, safe and under-valued carbon sequestration tool. Climate News Network

*********

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

A global energy company’s mistake renewed debate on how to slow the climate crisis. Trees can help − but where, and how?

LONDON, 19 February, 2021 – The oil company Shell recently miscalculated the extent of its reserves on a pretty massive scale. The mistake meant its new scenario for meeting the internationally agreed 1.5°C climate target would need a new forest about the size of Brazil. And that renewed a debate about just what trees can do to ease the climate crisis.

Tree-planting to tackle possibly irreversible climate change is one hopeful route. Trees not only breathe carbon dioxide in; they also breathe out oxygen. But tree-planting is more complex than it may seem.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says in its 2018 Special Report, that if the world wants to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2050, an extra one billion hectares (2.4bn acres) of trees will be needed. But what types of trees, and where? Many different initiatives across the world have tried to restore woodland, but what works best for people and the biosphere?

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement). It has several suggestions for understanding how trees might best help to cool the climate crisis, not least relying on natural forest regeneration rather than commercial plantations.

Over the last decade, several reforestation and afforestation schemes have sprung up under the programme of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“In India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign. Myanmar used drones to plant trees”

National and regional reforestation initiatives include China’s forest rehabilitation programme and Africa’s Great Green Wall scheme linking North Africa, the Sahel (the area south of the Sahara desert) and the Horn of Africa.

In 2019 the FAO launched a similar reforestation plan targeting cities – the Great Green Wall for Cities initiative. This is expected to remove from 0.5 to 5 Gigatonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.

In 2017, Pakistan met its target of planting a billion trees and  made a commitment to reach 10 billion trees within five years. In its neighbour India, 66 million trees were planted in a 12-hour record-breaking campaign involving 1.5 million volunteers. Some countries have relied on equally novel methods; Myanmar used drones to plant trees.

Ambitious projects like these can sound attractive. But their ability to achieve their goals sometimes proves controversial.

Several climate and forest scientists favour what they call “natural forest regeneration” – essentially letting the forest grow back naturally – which often proves to be the most efficient and cheapest approach in achieving natural carbon sequestration.

Regeneration neglected

However, only 34% of the total area dedicated to forest restoration plans covered by the Bonn Challenge is earmarked for this approach.

A further 21% of land is reserved for agroforestry, a method promoting the production of multiple plants and crops side by side. The remaining 45% of the land area is given up to the monoculture production of trees.

Better ways of doing things are exemplified by Ghana and Malaysia, for example, where people restored their local forests after being granted ownership of the land.

In Ghana, the forest restoration projects found to be most successful were those which included a “rights-based approach”. Strengthening community rights contributed to the protection of forests from appropriation and privatisation and ensured greater accountability, the right to speak out, and provided safeguards against illegal practices.

In Malaysia, an NGO supported Penan indigenous communities in fighting for their legitimate entitlement to land rights in court. The Penan have strong ties with the land and forests, which play a strong role in maintaining local biodiversity.

Four pathways

Tree planting programmes have had very mixed results. Many failures occurred because the trees planted were not suitable for local climate conditions, and others depleted groundwater reserves, leaving nearby soils dried out and damaging local agricultural production.

Natural forest restoration is the most effective way to store carbon from the atmosphere, the RTA argues. These forests are 40 times more effective than plantations and six times better than agroforestry at retaining carbon. Their complex ecological systems are also better for biodiversity.

The RTA says there are four main ways for countries to encourage the successful restoration of natural forests so as to temper the effects of the climate crisis:

  • They should increase the proportion of their land allocated for regeneration to natural forest
  • Priority should be given to humid tropical areas, such as Amazonia, Borneo and the Congo Basin, which support high biomass forest. International climate adaptation and conservation funds could be used to support such action
  • Countries should focus on naturally regenerating existing carbon stocks such as degraded forests and partly wooded areas, using treeless regions for plantations or agroforestry
  • Restored forest must be protected, perhaps by giving title rights to indigenous peoples who protect forested land, changing the legal definition of land-use so that it cannot be converted to agriculture, and ensuring that commodities companies cannot clear restored forests.

Restoring natural forests, the Alliance concludes, is the most efficient, fast, safe and under-valued carbon sequestration tool. Climate News Network

*********

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Bill Gates: A stark and simple message for the world

His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.

LONDON, 15 February, 2021 − Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

Not for dummies

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates write as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The second is zero”

Crude oil, he calculates, “is cheaper than a soft drink”. By mid-century “climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly”.

And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world’s building stock will double. “That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years.”

I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an “absurdly high” carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he’s always trying to learn more.

And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there’s no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It’s going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.

Simple message

He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.

He touches on biofuels, nuclear power (“this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company”), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.

That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change,” he writes in his opening sentences. “The first is 51 billion. The second is zero.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need: Allen Lane, £20. By Bill Gates

His new book affirms what climate scientists have been saying for decades. But Bill Gates says it well, all the same.

LONDON, 15 February, 2021 − Bill Gates − yes, that Bill Gates − has for years been financing studies in geo-engineering: he calls it a “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” kind of tool.

But he also says, in a new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, that he has put much more money into the challenge of adapting to and mitigating climate change driven by global heating powered by greenhouse emissions that are a consequence of our dependence on fossil fuels.

The founder of Microsoft, now a philanthropist, says all geo-engineering approaches − to dim the sunlight, perhaps, or make clouds brighter − turn out to be relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problems ahead for the world. All the effects are relatively short-lived, so there might be no long-term impacts.

But the third thing they have in common is that the technical challenges to implementing them would be as nothing compared with the political hurdles such ambitions must face.

Not for dummies

There are some very encouraging things about this disarming book, and one of them is that on every page it addresses the messy uncertainties of the real world, rather than an ideal set of solutions.

People who have already thought a lot about the hazards and complexities of global temperature rise might be tempted to dismiss it as Climate Change for Dummies. They’d be wrong.

First, Gates addresses a global audience that includes (for instance) US Republican voters, fewer than one in four of whom understand that climate change is a consequence of what humans have done.

Then Gates write as an engineer. He starts from the basics and arrives swiftly and by the shortest route at a series of firm conclusions: sophisticated, but still outlined with considerable clarity and a happy trick of pinning big answers to down-to-earth analogies.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The second is zero”

Crude oil, he calculates, “is cheaper than a soft drink”. By mid-century “climate change could be just as deadly as Covid-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly”.

And population growth creates prodigious demands: by 2060, the world’s building stock will double. “That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years.”

I call it a disarming book: yes, he concedes that the world is not lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do; yes, he flew a private plane to the Paris Conference in 2015. He doesn’t deny being a rich guy with an opinion and an “absurdly high” carbon footprint. But he believes it is an informed opinion, and he’s always trying to learn more.

And then he gets on with clarifying the big challenges. Yes, there’s no choice: the world has to get to zero-carbon. It’s going to be difficult to achieve the technologies, the political will, the international consensus. Humans have to accomplish something gigantic, much faster than anything ever done before.

Simple message

He turns to the details: the questions that need to be addressed; the separate problems of electrical energy, of manufacture, of diet and agriculture, of transport, of adaptation; government policy, citizen choice and so on.

He touches on biofuels, nuclear power (“this might sound self-serving, given that I own an advanced nuclear company”), global development, global health, international co-operation and individual choices, all with the same brisk clarity. There already exists a huge literature of climate change: this is a useful addition.

That may be because he keeps the message simple from the start. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. To avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none.

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change,” he writes in his opening sentences. “The first is 51 billion. The second is zero.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: the Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need: Allen Lane, £20. By Bill Gates

Wild flowers and bees contend with climate heat

Many alpine flowers could soon fade out. Some bees may be buzzing off. The wild things are victims of climate heat.

LONDON, 9 February, 2021 − Thanks to climate heat, this could be the last farewell to mossy saxifrage, to alpine wormwood and mignonette-leafed bittercress. With them could go plants most people could hardly name: dwarf cudweed, alpine stonecrop, mossy cyphel, cobweb houseleek and two kinds of hawkweed. All of them are mountain-dwellers, hardy little plants that depend for their existence on alpine glaciers.

And almost everywhere in the world, high-altitude rivers of ice are in retreat. Global heating, climate change and human disturbance alter both the conditions for growth and the rich variety of life.

In the same week that one team of researchers listed the alpine flowers threatened with extinction, another team of scientists assembled an inventory of observations of wild bees, to find that a quarter of the world’s 20,000 bee species have not been recorded in the last 25 years.

Bees and flowers are interdependent: they evolved together and would perish together. But climate change threatens to take a selective toll on a range of alpine plants − beloved of gardeners but also important in liqueurs and medicines − as glaciers retreat in the mountainous regions.

These little flowers are to be found variously in the Sierra Nevada in Spain, the Apennines in Italy, along the spine of the Alps in Switzerland and Austria, and even in the highlands of Scotland.

And one day, according to a new study in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, many or all of them could be locally extinct.

“Something is happening to the bees, and something needs to be done … The next step is prodding policymakers into action while we still have time. The bees cannot wait”

The wildflowers listed in the first two sentences − Saxifraga bryoides, Artemisia genipi, Cardamine resedifolia, Leucanthemopsis alpina, Gnaphalium supinum, Sedum alpestre, Minuartia sedoides, Sempervivum arachnoideum, Hieracium staticifolium and H. glanduliferum − could all go, and another suite of alpine opportunists could take advantage of their living space.

Californian researchers report that they looked at 117 plant species and matched them with geological evidence from four glaciers in the Italian Alps, and then used computational systems to calculate how plant communities have changed over the last five thousand years, and what might happen as the glaciers continue to retreat.

They found that as the glaciers disappear, more than one in five of their sample alpines could also vanish. The loss of that 22% however could be to the benefit of around 29% of the surveyed species, among them the snow gentian, Gentiana nivalis and the dwarf yellow cinquefoil Potentialla aurea. Some alpines would probably not be affected: among them alpine lovage or Ligusticum mutellina and Pedicularis kerneri, a variety of lousewort.

The authors make no mention of one alpine almost everybody in the world could name: Leontopodium nivale or edelweiss. But what happens to even the most insignificant wild plants matters to everybody.

“Plants are the primary producers at the basis of the food web that sustained our lives and economies, and biodiversity is the key to healthy ecosystems − biodiversity also represents an inestimable cultural value that needs to be properly supported,” said Gianalberto Losapio, a biologist at Stanford University in the US.

Growing interest

Meanwhile in Argentina researchers decided to take advantage of citizen science to check on some of the flower world’s biggest fans, the wild bees. There has been huge concern about observed decline in insect abundance, as wild ecosystems are colonised by humans and global average temperatures rise to change the world’s weather systems.

But over the same decades, there has also been a dramatic increase in informed interest in the wild things, among gardeners, bird-watchers and butterfly lovers, and an exponential rise in records available to an international network of databases called the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

And, say researchers in the journal One Earth, as global records soar, the number of bee species listed in those records has gone down. Around 25% fewer species were recorded between 2006 and 2015 than were listed in the 1990s.

Wild bees have a role in the pollination of about 85% of the world’s food crops. Without the bees, many wild flowers could not replicate.

“It’s not exactly a bee cataclysm yet, but what we can say is that wild bees are not exactly thriving,” said Eduardo Zattara, a biodiversity researcher at CONICET-Universidad Nacional del Comahue.

“Something is happening to the bees, and something needs to be done. We cannot wait until we have absolute certainty because we rarely get there in the natural sciences. The next step is prodding policymakers into action while we still have time. The bees cannot wait.” − Climate News Network

Many alpine flowers could soon fade out. Some bees may be buzzing off. The wild things are victims of climate heat.

LONDON, 9 February, 2021 − Thanks to climate heat, this could be the last farewell to mossy saxifrage, to alpine wormwood and mignonette-leafed bittercress. With them could go plants most people could hardly name: dwarf cudweed, alpine stonecrop, mossy cyphel, cobweb houseleek and two kinds of hawkweed. All of them are mountain-dwellers, hardy little plants that depend for their existence on alpine glaciers.

And almost everywhere in the world, high-altitude rivers of ice are in retreat. Global heating, climate change and human disturbance alter both the conditions for growth and the rich variety of life.

In the same week that one team of researchers listed the alpine flowers threatened with extinction, another team of scientists assembled an inventory of observations of wild bees, to find that a quarter of the world’s 20,000 bee species have not been recorded in the last 25 years.

Bees and flowers are interdependent: they evolved together and would perish together. But climate change threatens to take a selective toll on a range of alpine plants − beloved of gardeners but also important in liqueurs and medicines − as glaciers retreat in the mountainous regions.

These little flowers are to be found variously in the Sierra Nevada in Spain, the Apennines in Italy, along the spine of the Alps in Switzerland and Austria, and even in the highlands of Scotland.

And one day, according to a new study in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, many or all of them could be locally extinct.

“Something is happening to the bees, and something needs to be done … The next step is prodding policymakers into action while we still have time. The bees cannot wait”

The wildflowers listed in the first two sentences − Saxifraga bryoides, Artemisia genipi, Cardamine resedifolia, Leucanthemopsis alpina, Gnaphalium supinum, Sedum alpestre, Minuartia sedoides, Sempervivum arachnoideum, Hieracium staticifolium and H. glanduliferum − could all go, and another suite of alpine opportunists could take advantage of their living space.

Californian researchers report that they looked at 117 plant species and matched them with geological evidence from four glaciers in the Italian Alps, and then used computational systems to calculate how plant communities have changed over the last five thousand years, and what might happen as the glaciers continue to retreat.

They found that as the glaciers disappear, more than one in five of their sample alpines could also vanish. The loss of that 22% however could be to the benefit of around 29% of the surveyed species, among them the snow gentian, Gentiana nivalis and the dwarf yellow cinquefoil Potentialla aurea. Some alpines would probably not be affected: among them alpine lovage or Ligusticum mutellina and Pedicularis kerneri, a variety of lousewort.

The authors make no mention of one alpine almost everybody in the world could name: Leontopodium nivale or edelweiss. But what happens to even the most insignificant wild plants matters to everybody.

“Plants are the primary producers at the basis of the food web that sustained our lives and economies, and biodiversity is the key to healthy ecosystems − biodiversity also represents an inestimable cultural value that needs to be properly supported,” said Gianalberto Losapio, a biologist at Stanford University in the US.

Growing interest

Meanwhile in Argentina researchers decided to take advantage of citizen science to check on some of the flower world’s biggest fans, the wild bees. There has been huge concern about observed decline in insect abundance, as wild ecosystems are colonised by humans and global average temperatures rise to change the world’s weather systems.

But over the same decades, there has also been a dramatic increase in informed interest in the wild things, among gardeners, bird-watchers and butterfly lovers, and an exponential rise in records available to an international network of databases called the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

And, say researchers in the journal One Earth, as global records soar, the number of bee species listed in those records has gone down. Around 25% fewer species were recorded between 2006 and 2015 than were listed in the 1990s.

Wild bees have a role in the pollination of about 85% of the world’s food crops. Without the bees, many wild flowers could not replicate.

“It’s not exactly a bee cataclysm yet, but what we can say is that wild bees are not exactly thriving,” said Eduardo Zattara, a biodiversity researcher at CONICET-Universidad Nacional del Comahue.

“Something is happening to the bees, and something needs to be done. We cannot wait until we have absolute certainty because we rarely get there in the natural sciences. The next step is prodding policymakers into action while we still have time. The bees cannot wait.” − Climate News Network

UNESCO link ‘helps to greenwash gas exporters’

EXCLUSIVE: A leading UN agency, UNESCO, is harming action on the climate crisis by partnering with natural gas exporters, critics say.

OTTAWA, 8 February, 2021− UNESCO, a prominent United Nations agency, is undercutting global action on the climate emergency, analysts and campaigners warn, by forming a partnership with a global forum dedicated to promoting and greenwashing natural gas exports.

UN Secretary General António Guterres has repeatedly warned that humanity’s “utterly inadequate” response to the climate emergency is already producing extreme weather and dramatic consequences around the world.

“We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” he said during COP-25, the (ultimately “disgraceful”) 2019 UN climate conference in Madrid.

In 2018 Guterres called the 1.5°C pathways report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change an “ear-splitting wake-up call” for action.

But none of that has stopped another key member of the UN family, the Paris-based UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), from agreeing a partnership with the Doha, Qatar-based Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), a 20-member organisation formed in 2008 to promote “coordination and collaboration” among the world’s leading gas-producing countries.

The GECF’s latest mid-century Global Gas Outlook sees gas increasing from 23% to between 27 and 29% of global energy demand by 2050.

That’s the same year countries are intent on hitting net-zero emissions in a bid to hold average global warming to below 1.5°C. Fossil gas is composed 70% to 90% of climate-busting methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the 20-year span in which humanity will be scrambling to get climate change under control.

The GECF outlook report foresaw natural gas as “the highest in the primary energy mix” at 27%, with fossil fuels as a whole accounting for 71% of global energy consumption in 2050. (They’re in good company.)

“When the leaders of UNESCO and gas exporters are comfortably retired, Africans will still be living with the climate legacy of the fossil fuel industry”

It projected gas production by member countries growing nearly 50% by mid-century, and production from “unconventional resources” a term for fracked gas increasing from 25 to 38% of the total, with a rising share of the demand supplied by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the gas sector soaking up US$9.7 trillion (£7tn) in investment.

“Along the way, natural gas is expected to play a vital role in decarbonisation options including natural gas-based hydrogen, also known as blue hydrogen, with carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies,” the GECF-UNESCO release stated. Late last month, Italian utility giant Enel said it would shut all its gas plants by 2050 and became the latest potential buyer to declare carbon capture technology a non-starter.

In separate releases in December 2020, the GECF touted the “environmental advantage of natural gas” and what it sees as the potential of blue hydrogen − with its reliance on CCUS − to usher in a “new era of decarbonisation”. On 9 December, its secretary general, Yury Sentyurin,  told a virtual event that blue hydrogen coupled with CCUS “will play a significant role in the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future”.

The forum’s latest expert commentary, released last week, touts “carbon-neutral or green LNG” as a pathway to energy transition.

In an email to The Energy Mix, Sentyurin said the partnership with UNESCO “is expected to harness the shared values of both entities in the realm of sustainable development, natural resources management, international cooperation in education, sciences and culture, and contributing to progress across the globe.”

He and Anna Paolini, director of UNESCO’s Doha office, both cast the partnership as an opportunity to address climate change, protect biodiversity, safeguard natural heritage, “maintain a conducive environment of scientific inquiry in the field of natural science”, and promote interdisciplinary climate knowledge.

The two organisations also agreed to work together on a “Rigs-to-Reefs approach” aimed at protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems. The term refers to an emerging response to obsolete, abandoned ocean oil platforms that involves stripping them of equipment and hydrocarbon residues, then sinking them as artificial reefs, rather than incurring the cost of full removal.

Some of the world’s leading climate analysts and campaigners are decidedly unimpressed with UNESCO’s choice of strategic partners. “It’s shocking to see the UN body responsible for the preservation of science and culture getting into bed with global fossil fuel interests like this,” Power Shift Africa director Mohamed Adow told The Energy Mix in an email. “UN bodies, especially ones with ‘science’ in their title, should be holding fossil fuel producers to account, not being a useful prop in the global greenwashing of the gas industry.”

Leapfrog fossil fuels

The United Nations “is where climate change is being tackled at the international level, through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement,” he added. “This move from a sister UN body shows ignorance and a lack of strategic thinking from people who should know better.”

Adow, named last week as a recipient of the prestigious Climate Breakthrough Award, said it was “particularly offensive” of UNESCO and the GECF to “cite Africa as the location where they are most interested in working together,” at a time when a massive LNG project led by colossal fossil Total is “destroying the natural heritage of Mozambique”, with hundreds of families evicted and thousands of people losing their fishing grounds.

“Oil and gas pipelines are being fought across the continent by local people defending their cultural heritage,” he said. “They need the support of organisations like UNESCO, not to watch them side with their persecutors.”

Sentyurin, named last year as one of the top 25 influencers in Africa’s energy sector, said the forum’s members include six African countries that hold more than 90% of the continent’s proven gas reserves. He called Africa “a very important continent to the GECF”, the “next booming region in the world”, and a “game-changer for economic development”, and highlighted the “crucial role natural gas will play in reducing energy poverty in Africa”.

Not so much, Adow said, in an email written about two weeks before Sentyurin’s.

“Gas is not the answer to the climate crisis gripping Africa,” he told The Mix. “Africa has an abundance of clean energy, including wind and solar energy. Leapfrogging fossil fuels like gas to renewables is Africa’s route to sustainable, long-term prosperity, not getting shackled to gas infrastructure which will soon be obsolete.

“When the leaders of UNESCO and gas exporters are comfortably retired, Africans will still be living with the climate legacy of the fossil fuel industry and the environmental and cultural destruction it has caused.”

UK-based climate policy consultant Alison Doig cast the partnership as a bid by the GECF to boost its own legitimacy “while promoting a strategy that is incompatible with keeping global temperature rise within safe limits.”

Survival target

By accepting the GECF’s premise that gas consumption will continue to rise, she said UNESCO “completely undermines its responsibility as guardian of our global heritage,” compromising its own central role in science education by being “tied to messages which are not aligned with a climate-safe energy transition.”

Doig said UNESCO “should rightly be creating alliances to enhance action on climate change,” at a time when “many World Heritage sites are already exposed to the impacts of climate change, with floods, storms, and drought threatening the very fabric of the buildings, monuments, and locations” at the core of the agency’s mandate.

With the UNFCCC presenting pathways to keep average global warming below 1.5°, she added, “other UN agencies including UNESCO should be part of this scientific discussion, and focus climate science education on that goal.”

Climate Action Network-International senior advisor Stephan Singer said it was “very upsetting” to see UNESCO enter a partnership deal with the majority of the world’s fossil gas producers and exporters that contains no reference to the 1.5°C target under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

That goal is a “survival target for many vulnerable developing countries,” he added, and “the full phase-out of fossil fuels and phase-in of renewables is imperative to meet the climate challenge.”

UNESCO’s Paolini said the agency “works to build the widest coalition possible to tackle climate change and achieve the global goals”. The agency “engaged with the GECF in order to bring its member states’ attention to our reports and articles on today’s environmental challenges, the issue of climate change, and its impact on all aspects of our lives, including our fixed, natural, and living heritage,” she explained.

“By sharing information, leveraging opportunities from within, we believe we can promote our agenda to an audience that we would not readily reach and initiate a debate and dialogue with industry professionals, researchers, governmental officials, and diplomats. It would be a strategic mistake not to seize this opportunity.”

Asked how UNESCO sees the future development of gas exports, given the industry’s prime role as a producer of methane, she replied: “We can shout from the sidelines or we can engage, point to the science, and attempt to change attitudes and the industry.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Republished by permission from The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions.

EXCLUSIVE: A leading UN agency, UNESCO, is harming action on the climate crisis by partnering with natural gas exporters, critics say.

OTTAWA, 8 February, 2021− UNESCO, a prominent United Nations agency, is undercutting global action on the climate emergency, analysts and campaigners warn, by forming a partnership with a global forum dedicated to promoting and greenwashing natural gas exports.

UN Secretary General António Guterres has repeatedly warned that humanity’s “utterly inadequate” response to the climate emergency is already producing extreme weather and dramatic consequences around the world.

“We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions,” he said during COP-25, the (ultimately “disgraceful”) 2019 UN climate conference in Madrid.

In 2018 Guterres called the 1.5°C pathways report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change an “ear-splitting wake-up call” for action.

But none of that has stopped another key member of the UN family, the Paris-based UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), from agreeing a partnership with the Doha, Qatar-based Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), a 20-member organisation formed in 2008 to promote “coordination and collaboration” among the world’s leading gas-producing countries.

The GECF’s latest mid-century Global Gas Outlook sees gas increasing from 23% to between 27 and 29% of global energy demand by 2050.

That’s the same year countries are intent on hitting net-zero emissions in a bid to hold average global warming to below 1.5°C. Fossil gas is composed 70% to 90% of climate-busting methane, a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over the 20-year span in which humanity will be scrambling to get climate change under control.

The GECF outlook report foresaw natural gas as “the highest in the primary energy mix” at 27%, with fossil fuels as a whole accounting for 71% of global energy consumption in 2050. (They’re in good company.)

“When the leaders of UNESCO and gas exporters are comfortably retired, Africans will still be living with the climate legacy of the fossil fuel industry”

It projected gas production by member countries growing nearly 50% by mid-century, and production from “unconventional resources” a term for fracked gas increasing from 25 to 38% of the total, with a rising share of the demand supplied by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the gas sector soaking up US$9.7 trillion (£7tn) in investment.

“Along the way, natural gas is expected to play a vital role in decarbonisation options including natural gas-based hydrogen, also known as blue hydrogen, with carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technologies,” the GECF-UNESCO release stated. Late last month, Italian utility giant Enel said it would shut all its gas plants by 2050 and became the latest potential buyer to declare carbon capture technology a non-starter.

In separate releases in December 2020, the GECF touted the “environmental advantage of natural gas” and what it sees as the potential of blue hydrogen − with its reliance on CCUS − to usher in a “new era of decarbonisation”. On 9 December, its secretary general, Yury Sentyurin,  told a virtual event that blue hydrogen coupled with CCUS “will play a significant role in the world’s transition to a sustainable energy future”.

The forum’s latest expert commentary, released last week, touts “carbon-neutral or green LNG” as a pathway to energy transition.

In an email to The Energy Mix, Sentyurin said the partnership with UNESCO “is expected to harness the shared values of both entities in the realm of sustainable development, natural resources management, international cooperation in education, sciences and culture, and contributing to progress across the globe.”

He and Anna Paolini, director of UNESCO’s Doha office, both cast the partnership as an opportunity to address climate change, protect biodiversity, safeguard natural heritage, “maintain a conducive environment of scientific inquiry in the field of natural science”, and promote interdisciplinary climate knowledge.

The two organisations also agreed to work together on a “Rigs-to-Reefs approach” aimed at protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems. The term refers to an emerging response to obsolete, abandoned ocean oil platforms that involves stripping them of equipment and hydrocarbon residues, then sinking them as artificial reefs, rather than incurring the cost of full removal.

Some of the world’s leading climate analysts and campaigners are decidedly unimpressed with UNESCO’s choice of strategic partners. “It’s shocking to see the UN body responsible for the preservation of science and culture getting into bed with global fossil fuel interests like this,” Power Shift Africa director Mohamed Adow told The Energy Mix in an email. “UN bodies, especially ones with ‘science’ in their title, should be holding fossil fuel producers to account, not being a useful prop in the global greenwashing of the gas industry.”

Leapfrog fossil fuels

The United Nations “is where climate change is being tackled at the international level, through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement,” he added. “This move from a sister UN body shows ignorance and a lack of strategic thinking from people who should know better.”

Adow, named last week as a recipient of the prestigious Climate Breakthrough Award, said it was “particularly offensive” of UNESCO and the GECF to “cite Africa as the location where they are most interested in working together,” at a time when a massive LNG project led by colossal fossil Total is “destroying the natural heritage of Mozambique”, with hundreds of families evicted and thousands of people losing their fishing grounds.

“Oil and gas pipelines are being fought across the continent by local people defending their cultural heritage,” he said. “They need the support of organisations like UNESCO, not to watch them side with their persecutors.”

Sentyurin, named last year as one of the top 25 influencers in Africa’s energy sector, said the forum’s members include six African countries that hold more than 90% of the continent’s proven gas reserves. He called Africa “a very important continent to the GECF”, the “next booming region in the world”, and a “game-changer for economic development”, and highlighted the “crucial role natural gas will play in reducing energy poverty in Africa”.

Not so much, Adow said, in an email written about two weeks before Sentyurin’s.

“Gas is not the answer to the climate crisis gripping Africa,” he told The Mix. “Africa has an abundance of clean energy, including wind and solar energy. Leapfrogging fossil fuels like gas to renewables is Africa’s route to sustainable, long-term prosperity, not getting shackled to gas infrastructure which will soon be obsolete.

“When the leaders of UNESCO and gas exporters are comfortably retired, Africans will still be living with the climate legacy of the fossil fuel industry and the environmental and cultural destruction it has caused.”

UK-based climate policy consultant Alison Doig cast the partnership as a bid by the GECF to boost its own legitimacy “while promoting a strategy that is incompatible with keeping global temperature rise within safe limits.”

Survival target

By accepting the GECF’s premise that gas consumption will continue to rise, she said UNESCO “completely undermines its responsibility as guardian of our global heritage,” compromising its own central role in science education by being “tied to messages which are not aligned with a climate-safe energy transition.”

Doig said UNESCO “should rightly be creating alliances to enhance action on climate change,” at a time when “many World Heritage sites are already exposed to the impacts of climate change, with floods, storms, and drought threatening the very fabric of the buildings, monuments, and locations” at the core of the agency’s mandate.

With the UNFCCC presenting pathways to keep average global warming below 1.5°, she added, “other UN agencies including UNESCO should be part of this scientific discussion, and focus climate science education on that goal.”

Climate Action Network-International senior advisor Stephan Singer said it was “very upsetting” to see UNESCO enter a partnership deal with the majority of the world’s fossil gas producers and exporters that contains no reference to the 1.5°C target under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

That goal is a “survival target for many vulnerable developing countries,” he added, and “the full phase-out of fossil fuels and phase-in of renewables is imperative to meet the climate challenge.”

UNESCO’s Paolini said the agency “works to build the widest coalition possible to tackle climate change and achieve the global goals”. The agency “engaged with the GECF in order to bring its member states’ attention to our reports and articles on today’s environmental challenges, the issue of climate change, and its impact on all aspects of our lives, including our fixed, natural, and living heritage,” she explained.

“By sharing information, leveraging opportunities from within, we believe we can promote our agenda to an audience that we would not readily reach and initiate a debate and dialogue with industry professionals, researchers, governmental officials, and diplomats. It would be a strategic mistake not to seize this opportunity.”

Asked how UNESCO sees the future development of gas exports, given the industry’s prime role as a producer of methane, she replied: “We can shout from the sidelines or we can engage, point to the science, and attempt to change attitudes and the industry.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Republished by permission from The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions.

Human rubbish is smothering the planet’s oceans

In a throwaway world garbage may be unseen, but not gone. Human rubbish is everywhere, from ocean abyss to coastal mud.

LONDON, 29 January, 2021 − In the next 30 years, an estimated three billion metric tonnes of human rubbish − everything from abandoned trawl nets to plastic bottles, from broken teacups to tins of toxin − could find its way into the sea, to defile the ocean floor.

One recent survey in the Strait of Messina, the seaway that separates Italy and Sicily, measured this detritus at concentrations of between 121,000 and 1.3 million items per square kilometre trapped in submarine canyons.

In seabed fissures off Portugal, bits of human litter large enough to identify have been counted at rates of 11,000 per sq km. Off the Ryukyu Islands far from mainland Japan, divers and remotely operated vehicles have made estimates of up to 71,000 items per sq km.

There is more and worse lying on other parts of the seabed. An estimated one million tonnes of chemical weaponry could be scattered about the planet’s oceans. The North Sea floor could be host to 1.3 million tonnes of conventional and chemical weapons; the Baltic enfolds and flows over 385,00 tonnes of dropped bombs, grenades, torpedoes, landmines and other weaponry.

“As humans, we have little or no care at all to prevent litter from accumulating everywhere”

And, says a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters, this conversion of sea floor to careless landfill site creates problems for at least 693 marine species that so far have been observed to “interact” with marine debris: eat it, get caught in it, grow on it. Of these species, around one in six are in some degree endangered.

This list of sea creatures includes 93 kinds of invertebrate, 89 fish, 83 birds, 38 mammals and all species of sea turtle. So many fish now become ensnared in abandoned and derelict fishing gear that they are known as “ghost catches.”

Across the Asia-Pacific region, an estimated 11.1 billion bits of plastic bigger than 25mm could be entangled in the coral reefs. This problem of marine pollution goes far beyond the concern over plastic pollution of the planet’s seas and shores, from pole to pole, and is now found even in marine tissues.

Much of the previous concern has been about the presence of microfibres and small particles of polymer material now found everywhere. But the new study by European scientists tries to address the more obvious problem of these larger items − generally larger than 25mms − of all kinds of detritus, including plastic denser than water and ultimately destined to reach the seabed.

Poor management

The researchers want to try to find standard ways to measure the levels of waste, map its concentrations accurately, identify all the sources of refuse and classify the most problematic kinds: the toxic waste, the heavy metals and radioactive substances, the pharmaceuticals. They also urge international co-operation, and policies designed to discourage marine discharges and to clear up stretches of the sea floor.

“Marine litter has reached the most remote places in the ocean, even the least − or never − frequented by our species and not yet mapped by science,” said Miquel Canals of the University of Barcelona, who led the study.

“In order to correct something bad, we must attack its cause. And the cause of the accumulation of waste on the coasts, seas and oceans , and all over the planet, is the excess waste generation and spillage in the environment, and poor or insufficient management practices.

“As humans, we have little or no care at all to prevent litter from accumulating everywhere.” − Climate News Network

In a throwaway world garbage may be unseen, but not gone. Human rubbish is everywhere, from ocean abyss to coastal mud.

LONDON, 29 January, 2021 − In the next 30 years, an estimated three billion metric tonnes of human rubbish − everything from abandoned trawl nets to plastic bottles, from broken teacups to tins of toxin − could find its way into the sea, to defile the ocean floor.

One recent survey in the Strait of Messina, the seaway that separates Italy and Sicily, measured this detritus at concentrations of between 121,000 and 1.3 million items per square kilometre trapped in submarine canyons.

In seabed fissures off Portugal, bits of human litter large enough to identify have been counted at rates of 11,000 per sq km. Off the Ryukyu Islands far from mainland Japan, divers and remotely operated vehicles have made estimates of up to 71,000 items per sq km.

There is more and worse lying on other parts of the seabed. An estimated one million tonnes of chemical weaponry could be scattered about the planet’s oceans. The North Sea floor could be host to 1.3 million tonnes of conventional and chemical weapons; the Baltic enfolds and flows over 385,00 tonnes of dropped bombs, grenades, torpedoes, landmines and other weaponry.

“As humans, we have little or no care at all to prevent litter from accumulating everywhere”

And, says a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters, this conversion of sea floor to careless landfill site creates problems for at least 693 marine species that so far have been observed to “interact” with marine debris: eat it, get caught in it, grow on it. Of these species, around one in six are in some degree endangered.

This list of sea creatures includes 93 kinds of invertebrate, 89 fish, 83 birds, 38 mammals and all species of sea turtle. So many fish now become ensnared in abandoned and derelict fishing gear that they are known as “ghost catches.”

Across the Asia-Pacific region, an estimated 11.1 billion bits of plastic bigger than 25mm could be entangled in the coral reefs. This problem of marine pollution goes far beyond the concern over plastic pollution of the planet’s seas and shores, from pole to pole, and is now found even in marine tissues.

Much of the previous concern has been about the presence of microfibres and small particles of polymer material now found everywhere. But the new study by European scientists tries to address the more obvious problem of these larger items − generally larger than 25mms − of all kinds of detritus, including plastic denser than water and ultimately destined to reach the seabed.

Poor management

The researchers want to try to find standard ways to measure the levels of waste, map its concentrations accurately, identify all the sources of refuse and classify the most problematic kinds: the toxic waste, the heavy metals and radioactive substances, the pharmaceuticals. They also urge international co-operation, and policies designed to discourage marine discharges and to clear up stretches of the sea floor.

“Marine litter has reached the most remote places in the ocean, even the least − or never − frequented by our species and not yet mapped by science,” said Miquel Canals of the University of Barcelona, who led the study.

“In order to correct something bad, we must attack its cause. And the cause of the accumulation of waste on the coasts, seas and oceans , and all over the planet, is the excess waste generation and spillage in the environment, and poor or insufficient management practices.

“As humans, we have little or no care at all to prevent litter from accumulating everywhere.” − Climate News Network

Extreme drought and fire risk may double by 2060

Climate change may soon double the impact of extreme drought and fire. And it’s a two-way traffic.

LONDON, 25 January, 2021 − As climate change threatens a doubling of the impact of extreme drought and fire within a generation, researchers are uncovering the influence of human activity on both these growing risks.

One study has found that human numbers exposed to the hazard of extreme drought are likely to double in the decades to come, as global heating bakes away the groundwater and limits annual snowfall.

Another team of researchers says the risks of extreme wildfire could also rise twofold in the next 40 years in the Mediterranean, southern Africa, eastern North America and the Amazon. In those places already severely scorched by frequent fire − western North America, equatorial Africa, south-east Asia and Australia − hazards could rise by 50%.

And a third, separate study warns that global temperature rise will shift the patterns of rainfall around the tropics − with the consequent risks to tropical crop harvests and to equatorial ecosystems such as rainforest and savannah.

All three studies are reminders of the intricacies of the planetary climate system and the impact of human action in the last hundred years.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

An international research team reports in the journal Nature Climate Change that it looked at the simple problem of global terrestrial water storage: all the moisture in the canopies of forest trees, in the mountain snows and ice, in the lakes, rivers, wetlands, and in the soil itself.

This wealth of stored water is a big player in the patterns of global flooding and drought in the monsoon climates and the arid lands alike. But, the researchers say, there has so far been no study of the potential impact of global climate change on global terrestrial water storage overall.

So researchers from the US, China, Japan and Europe began modelling tomorrow’s world. And they found that, while 3% of the planet’s people were vulnerable to extreme drought in the timespan from 1976 to 2005, later in the century this proportion could increase to 7% or even 8%.

“More and more people will suffer from extreme droughts if a medium-to-high level of global warming continues and water management is maintained in its present state,” warned Yadu Pokhrel, an engineer at Michigan State University, who led the research.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this increase in water scarcity will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

Fire chances increased

Australia is a southern hemisphere country that knows about water scarcity: its wildfires in 2019 broke all records and sent a vast cloud of smoke to an altitude of 35 kms.

And, on the evidence of a new study in the journal Nature Communications, it won’t be the last such extreme event. Californian scientists, struck by the scale and intensity of Californian wildfires in 2017 and 2018, report that they took a closer look at the way greenhouse gas emissions and human land use change have played into the risks of extreme fire weather.

The simple act of setting forests afire to clear land for farm use has amplified the risk of extreme blazes in the Amazon and North America by 30% in the last century. Fires create aerosols that could, by absorbing sunlight, help cool the terrain beneath them − in some zones. But they could also affect rainfall levels and raise the chances of fire. The nature of such impacts varies from place to place.

“South-east Asia relies on the monsoon, but aerosols cause so much cooling on land that they can actually suppress a monsoon,” said Danielle Touma of the University of California at Santa Barbara. “It’s not just whether you have aerosols or not, it’s the way the regional climate interacts with aerosols.”

Aerosols − with other forces − cannot just suppress a monsoon, they can shift rain patterns permanently. The tropics, too, have begun to feel the heat of the moment.

Drought stress rises

The footprint of extreme drought and fire is massive. Californian researchers report in Nature Climate Change that, across two thirds of the globe, the tropical rainbelt is likely to shift north over eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean to cause more drought stress in south-eastern Africa and Madagascar and intensified flooding in south Asia.

In the western hemisphere, however, as the Gulf Stream current and the North Atlantic deep water formation weaken, the rain belt could move south to bring greater drought stress to Central America.

And once again, climate change driven by global heating is at work with other human influences to alter what had for most of human history been a stable pattern of climate.

“In Asia, projected reductions in aerosol emissions, glacier melting in the Himalayas and loss of snow cover in northern areas brought on by climate change will cause the atmosphere to heat up faster than in other regions,” said James Randerson of the University of California, Irvine, one of the authors.

“We know the rainbelt shifts towards this heating, and that its northward movement in the eastern hemisphere is consistent with these expected impacts of climate change.” − Climate News Network

Climate change may soon double the impact of extreme drought and fire. And it’s a two-way traffic.

LONDON, 25 January, 2021 − As climate change threatens a doubling of the impact of extreme drought and fire within a generation, researchers are uncovering the influence of human activity on both these growing risks.

One study has found that human numbers exposed to the hazard of extreme drought are likely to double in the decades to come, as global heating bakes away the groundwater and limits annual snowfall.

Another team of researchers says the risks of extreme wildfire could also rise twofold in the next 40 years in the Mediterranean, southern Africa, eastern North America and the Amazon. In those places already severely scorched by frequent fire − western North America, equatorial Africa, south-east Asia and Australia − hazards could rise by 50%.

And a third, separate study warns that global temperature rise will shift the patterns of rainfall around the tropics − with the consequent risks to tropical crop harvests and to equatorial ecosystems such as rainforest and savannah.

All three studies are reminders of the intricacies of the planetary climate system and the impact of human action in the last hundred years.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

An international research team reports in the journal Nature Climate Change that it looked at the simple problem of global terrestrial water storage: all the moisture in the canopies of forest trees, in the mountain snows and ice, in the lakes, rivers, wetlands, and in the soil itself.

This wealth of stored water is a big player in the patterns of global flooding and drought in the monsoon climates and the arid lands alike. But, the researchers say, there has so far been no study of the potential impact of global climate change on global terrestrial water storage overall.

So researchers from the US, China, Japan and Europe began modelling tomorrow’s world. And they found that, while 3% of the planet’s people were vulnerable to extreme drought in the timespan from 1976 to 2005, later in the century this proportion could increase to 7% or even 8%.

“More and more people will suffer from extreme droughts if a medium-to-high level of global warming continues and water management is maintained in its present state,” warned Yadu Pokhrel, an engineer at Michigan State University, who led the research.

“Areas of the southern hemisphere, where water scarcity is already a problem, will be disproportionately affected. We predict this increase in water scarcity will affect food security and escalate human migration and conflict.”

Fire chances increased

Australia is a southern hemisphere country that knows about water scarcity: its wildfires in 2019 broke all records and sent a vast cloud of smoke to an altitude of 35 kms.

And, on the evidence of a new study in the journal Nature Communications, it won’t be the last such extreme event. Californian scientists, struck by the scale and intensity of Californian wildfires in 2017 and 2018, report that they took a closer look at the way greenhouse gas emissions and human land use change have played into the risks of extreme fire weather.

The simple act of setting forests afire to clear land for farm use has amplified the risk of extreme blazes in the Amazon and North America by 30% in the last century. Fires create aerosols that could, by absorbing sunlight, help cool the terrain beneath them − in some zones. But they could also affect rainfall levels and raise the chances of fire. The nature of such impacts varies from place to place.

“South-east Asia relies on the monsoon, but aerosols cause so much cooling on land that they can actually suppress a monsoon,” said Danielle Touma of the University of California at Santa Barbara. “It’s not just whether you have aerosols or not, it’s the way the regional climate interacts with aerosols.”

Aerosols − with other forces − cannot just suppress a monsoon, they can shift rain patterns permanently. The tropics, too, have begun to feel the heat of the moment.

Drought stress rises

The footprint of extreme drought and fire is massive. Californian researchers report in Nature Climate Change that, across two thirds of the globe, the tropical rainbelt is likely to shift north over eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean to cause more drought stress in south-eastern Africa and Madagascar and intensified flooding in south Asia.

In the western hemisphere, however, as the Gulf Stream current and the North Atlantic deep water formation weaken, the rain belt could move south to bring greater drought stress to Central America.

And once again, climate change driven by global heating is at work with other human influences to alter what had for most of human history been a stable pattern of climate.

“In Asia, projected reductions in aerosol emissions, glacier melting in the Himalayas and loss of snow cover in northern areas brought on by climate change will cause the atmosphere to heat up faster than in other regions,” said James Randerson of the University of California, Irvine, one of the authors.

“We know the rainbelt shifts towards this heating, and that its northward movement in the eastern hemisphere is consistent with these expected impacts of climate change.” − Climate News Network

Science warns world of ‘ghastly’ future ahead

Take all the dire warnings and assessments that scientists have made. Add them up. Their answer? A ghastly future ahead.

LONDON, 19 January, 2021 − Humankind faces what 17 scientists have called “a ghastly future” − a threat to the Earth’s living things “so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

The dangers they pinpoint are the destruction and loss of the world’s plants and animals on an unprecedented scale; the overwhelming growth of the human population and the demand upon the world’s resources; and finally, climate disruption driven by human environmental change and fossil fuel dependence.

“This dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business and the public,” they write in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

“We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future.”

The scientists from Australia, the US and Mexico warn that as many as a million species could soon disappear from the face of the Earth in what is widely recognised as the planet’s sixth mass extinction.

“The mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation”

Because the planetary burden of humans has doubled in just 50 years and could reach 10 bn by 2050, the world faces a future of hunger, malnutrition, mass unemployment, a refugee crisis and ever more devastating pandemics.

And human-triggered climate change will mean more fires, more frequent and intense flooding, poorer water and air quality, and worsening human health.

The authors base their portrait of an already beleaguered planet on more than 150 scientific studies, many of them on the dangerous loss of biodiversity, triggered by the human-wrought changes to 70% of the planet’s land surface. With this loss goes the Earth’s ability to support complex life.

“But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation,” said Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia, the lead author.

“The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymying the action that is crucial for survival.”

Familiar litany

Most of the world’s economies, the authors argue, are predicated on the political belief that meaningful counter-action would be too costly to be politically palatable. “Combined with financed disinformation campaigns in a bid to protect short-term profits, it is doubtful that any needed shift in economic investments of sufficient scale will be made in time.”

Importantly, the scientists who have signed the paper bring no new information: they simply attempt to put into perspective a series of findings that have been confirmed repeatedly.

Two-fifths of the world’s plant species are endangered; the collective mass of wild mammals worldwide has fallen by 25%; and 68% of vertebrate species have declined; much of this in the last century or so.

Humans and their domestic animals now add up to 95% of the mass of all vertebrates: the wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians constitute just 5% of surviving creation.

And the structures that humans have fashioned − roads, buildings and so on − now outweigh the animals and plants on Earth.

With the loss of wilderness comes the loss of what researchers call natural capital and ecosystem services: the reduced pollination of crops, the degradation of soils, poorer air and water supplies, and so on.

Summons to act

In 1960, humans had already requisitioned around 73% of the planet’s regenerative capacity: that is, what humans demanded was still within the limits of the sustainable. In 2016, this demand had grown to an unsustainable 170%.

Around 700 to 800 million people are starving, and between one and two billion are malnourished. Population growth sparks both internal and international conflict and is in turn exacerbated by climate change driven by ever-higher global average temperatures.

The potential count of what researchers call environmental refugees − people driven from their homes by drought, poverty, civil war, flooding or heat extremes − has been set at anywhere between 25 million and 1bn by 2050.

And the scientists warn of political impotence: what nations and national leaders are doing to address any of these issues is ineffective in the face of what they call humanity’s “ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term.”

They write: “Ours is not a call to surrender − we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.” − Climate News Network

Take all the dire warnings and assessments that scientists have made. Add them up. Their answer? A ghastly future ahead.

LONDON, 19 January, 2021 − Humankind faces what 17 scientists have called “a ghastly future” − a threat to the Earth’s living things “so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

The dangers they pinpoint are the destruction and loss of the world’s plants and animals on an unprecedented scale; the overwhelming growth of the human population and the demand upon the world’s resources; and finally, climate disruption driven by human environmental change and fossil fuel dependence.

“This dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business and the public,” they write in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science.

“We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future.”

The scientists from Australia, the US and Mexico warn that as many as a million species could soon disappear from the face of the Earth in what is widely recognised as the planet’s sixth mass extinction.

“The mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation”

Because the planetary burden of humans has doubled in just 50 years and could reach 10 bn by 2050, the world faces a future of hunger, malnutrition, mass unemployment, a refugee crisis and ever more devastating pandemics.

And human-triggered climate change will mean more fires, more frequent and intense flooding, poorer water and air quality, and worsening human health.

The authors base their portrait of an already beleaguered planet on more than 150 scientific studies, many of them on the dangerous loss of biodiversity, triggered by the human-wrought changes to 70% of the planet’s land surface. With this loss goes the Earth’s ability to support complex life.

“But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation,” said Corey Bradshaw of Flinders University in Australia, the lead author.

“The problem is compounded by ignorance and short-term self-interest, with the pursuit of wealth and political interests stymying the action that is crucial for survival.”

Familiar litany

Most of the world’s economies, the authors argue, are predicated on the political belief that meaningful counter-action would be too costly to be politically palatable. “Combined with financed disinformation campaigns in a bid to protect short-term profits, it is doubtful that any needed shift in economic investments of sufficient scale will be made in time.”

Importantly, the scientists who have signed the paper bring no new information: they simply attempt to put into perspective a series of findings that have been confirmed repeatedly.

Two-fifths of the world’s plant species are endangered; the collective mass of wild mammals worldwide has fallen by 25%; and 68% of vertebrate species have declined; much of this in the last century or so.

Humans and their domestic animals now add up to 95% of the mass of all vertebrates: the wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians constitute just 5% of surviving creation.

And the structures that humans have fashioned − roads, buildings and so on − now outweigh the animals and plants on Earth.

With the loss of wilderness comes the loss of what researchers call natural capital and ecosystem services: the reduced pollination of crops, the degradation of soils, poorer air and water supplies, and so on.

Summons to act

In 1960, humans had already requisitioned around 73% of the planet’s regenerative capacity: that is, what humans demanded was still within the limits of the sustainable. In 2016, this demand had grown to an unsustainable 170%.

Around 700 to 800 million people are starving, and between one and two billion are malnourished. Population growth sparks both internal and international conflict and is in turn exacerbated by climate change driven by ever-higher global average temperatures.

The potential count of what researchers call environmental refugees − people driven from their homes by drought, poverty, civil war, flooding or heat extremes − has been set at anywhere between 25 million and 1bn by 2050.

And the scientists warn of political impotence: what nations and national leaders are doing to address any of these issues is ineffective in the face of what they call humanity’s “ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term.”

They write: “Ours is not a call to surrender − we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.” − Climate News Network