Tag Archives: Biodiversity

Climate heat is changing Earth’s water cycle

Humans have begun to alter Earth’s water cycle, and not in a good way: expect later monsoon rains and thirstier farmlands.

LONDON, 29 June, 2021 − Prepare for a hotter, drier world, even in monsoon country. As global temperatures rise, in response to greenhouse gas emissions, the northern hemisphere rainy seasons are likely to arrive ever later as Earth’s water cycle reacts.

And even though more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more fertility and more moisture in the atmosphere, in the last 30 years the world’s green canopy has become more and more water-stressed, according to an entirely separate study.

US scientists report in Nature Climate Change that humankind has, in effect, begun to alter the planetary hydrological cycle. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and falling emissions of aerosols from car exhausts and factory chimneys have together combined to affect the tropical rainy season.

The Asian monsoons are arriving four days later, along with the rains over the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa. By the century’s end the monsoons could sweep over India five days, and over the Sahel eight days, later.

“For monsoon regions, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations”

A warmer world should be a wetter one: standing water evaporates more swiftly, and with every degree Celsius temperatures rise, the capacity of the air to hold moisture also rises significantly. But, paradoxically, this extra atmospheric moisture is also the problem: ever more energy is needed to warm up the atmosphere as spring becomes summer.

The problem is compounded by cleaner air; industrial pollution had the effect of reflecting sunlight and damping down the global warming trend. As nations enforce clean air legislation − and create conditions for healthier lives − more sunlight gets through, to escalate both warming and rainfall delays. Later rains will mean later crop harvests, more extreme heat waves, and more intense wildfires.

“For monsoon regions, like India, with an agrarian economy, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations, unless farmers recognise and adapt to the long-term changes amidst highly variable monsoon onset dates,” said Ruby Leung, of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the authors.

And in a second study, in the journal Nature Communications, another US research team warns that vegetation in the northern hemisphere has been becoming increasingly (as they put it) “water-limited” over the last 30 years.

Inflexible limits

In what they say is a first-of-its-kind large-scale study, scientists analysed satellite and weather data from 604,800 locations each year over the three decades from 1982 to 2015. They identified a kind of vegetable go-slow overall: those areas where water supplies for plant growth were constrained had expanded, while those places where there was plenty of water tended to shrink.

In recent decades, plants have responded to extra atmospheric carbon dioxide by growing more vigorously to “green” the planet a little more measurably and slow the rate of climate change. This, however, looks as though it cannot last, because ultimately growth is limited by water availability.

“Without water, living things struggle to survive. Changes in vegetation response to water availability can result in significant shifts of climate-carbon interaction,” said Lixin Wang, of the University of Indiana, one of the authors.

“The results emphasise the need for actions that could slow down CO2 emissions. Without that, water constraints impacting plant growth − and the weakening of vegetation’s ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere − are unlikely to slow.” − Climate News Network

Humans have begun to alter Earth’s water cycle, and not in a good way: expect later monsoon rains and thirstier farmlands.

LONDON, 29 June, 2021 − Prepare for a hotter, drier world, even in monsoon country. As global temperatures rise, in response to greenhouse gas emissions, the northern hemisphere rainy seasons are likely to arrive ever later as Earth’s water cycle reacts.

And even though more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more fertility and more moisture in the atmosphere, in the last 30 years the world’s green canopy has become more and more water-stressed, according to an entirely separate study.

US scientists report in Nature Climate Change that humankind has, in effect, begun to alter the planetary hydrological cycle. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and falling emissions of aerosols from car exhausts and factory chimneys have together combined to affect the tropical rainy season.

The Asian monsoons are arriving four days later, along with the rains over the Sahel in sub-Saharan Africa. By the century’s end the monsoons could sweep over India five days, and over the Sahel eight days, later.

“For monsoon regions, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations”

A warmer world should be a wetter one: standing water evaporates more swiftly, and with every degree Celsius temperatures rise, the capacity of the air to hold moisture also rises significantly. But, paradoxically, this extra atmospheric moisture is also the problem: ever more energy is needed to warm up the atmosphere as spring becomes summer.

The problem is compounded by cleaner air; industrial pollution had the effect of reflecting sunlight and damping down the global warming trend. As nations enforce clean air legislation − and create conditions for healthier lives − more sunlight gets through, to escalate both warming and rainfall delays. Later rains will mean later crop harvests, more extreme heat waves, and more intense wildfires.

“For monsoon regions, like India, with an agrarian economy, a delayed onset of summer rainfall could devastate crop production and jeopardise the livelihoods of large populations, unless farmers recognise and adapt to the long-term changes amidst highly variable monsoon onset dates,” said Ruby Leung, of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the authors.

And in a second study, in the journal Nature Communications, another US research team warns that vegetation in the northern hemisphere has been becoming increasingly (as they put it) “water-limited” over the last 30 years.

Inflexible limits

In what they say is a first-of-its-kind large-scale study, scientists analysed satellite and weather data from 604,800 locations each year over the three decades from 1982 to 2015. They identified a kind of vegetable go-slow overall: those areas where water supplies for plant growth were constrained had expanded, while those places where there was plenty of water tended to shrink.

In recent decades, plants have responded to extra atmospheric carbon dioxide by growing more vigorously to “green” the planet a little more measurably and slow the rate of climate change. This, however, looks as though it cannot last, because ultimately growth is limited by water availability.

“Without water, living things struggle to survive. Changes in vegetation response to water availability can result in significant shifts of climate-carbon interaction,” said Lixin Wang, of the University of Indiana, one of the authors.

“The results emphasise the need for actions that could slow down CO2 emissions. Without that, water constraints impacting plant growth − and the weakening of vegetation’s ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere − are unlikely to slow.” − Climate News Network

Let nature restore itself on its own for best results

Don’t meddle: let nature restore itself on its own. Old forest will spread over nearby farmland. It’s cheap, and often best.

LONDON, 22 June, 2021 − British scientists have just confirmed something that might have seemed obvious: to regenerate the natural world, the best way is often to let nature restore itself on its own.

That is: left to its own devices, and with help only from wild birds and mammals, bare agricultural land turned into dense native woodland in little more than half a human lifetime.

Nobody needed to plant trees and shield them with plastic tubing; nobody had to patrol the protected zone or fence it against rabbits and deer, or attempt to choose the ideal species for the terrain. It all happened anyway, with the help of the wind, the wild things and a species of crow called a jay.

The research offers lessons for governments that have committed to restoring natural forest as part of the arsenal against global heating and climate change: it need not cost much.

Fast work

“Biodiversity-rich woodland that is resilient to drought and reduces disease risk can be created without any input from us,” said Richard Broughton, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“Our study provides essential evidence that passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales.”

He and his colleagues tell the story in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One. They simply monitored the progress of two farmland fields over two periods of 24 and 59 years respectively: one had been abandoned in 1996, the other in 1961. Significantly, both fields − of 2.1 hectares and 3.9 hectares, and labelled New Wilderness and Old Wilderness − were close by a patch of ancient woodland.

This was the Monks Wood national nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, a tract of wildwood in eastern England that has been studied in fine detail for many decades and documented since 1279 AD.

“Passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales”

Of the two abandoned neighbouring fields, one had been grazing land, the other laid down to barley. Brambles and thornbushes colonised the neglected fields, to provide cover for seeds, nuts and acorns spread by wild mammals and birds.

After 23 years, 86% of the grassland had turned into shrub and sapling that had reached an average height of 2.9 metres, with a density of 132 trees per hectare: 57% of these were the oak Quercus robur. The Old Wilderness, after 53 years, had 100% cover averaging 13.1 metres in height, with a density of 390 trees per hectare, 52% of them oak.

Climate scientists have been urging the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems for four decades. Conservation scientists, alarmed at the potential rapid rise in rates of species extinction along with the damage to natural habitats, have been urging the same thing for even longer.

Both have made a case for restoring the wilderness: the debate has been about the best ways to make this happen. More trees should mean more carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. But more climate change might make such restoration, through for instance deliberate plantation, increasingly problematic.

Reheating the Arctic

So the next question is: could Nature restore itself? Rewilding is still at the experimental stage: a process backed by in some cases deliberate re-introductions, for instance of beavers and other wild species in Europe. There is even an argument that in the fastest-warming zone of the planet, the Arctic, the reintroduction of large herbivores could help slow climate change and contain global heating driven by ever-higher ratios of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The clear message of the latest study is that − at least if natural forest rich in wild birds and mammals is close by − then nature can be left to do what nature does best. There were no costs of planting, there was no risk of disease introduction from nursery-grown saplings, and no need for plastic tubes to protect the tender young tree trunks from predators.

Blackthorn and hawthorn helped screen the young trees from hares, rabbits and deer. Seeds were dispersed by helpful wild agents, among them squirrels and wood mice and a bird commonly regarded as a pest, the jay, Garrulus glandarius.

“The huge benefits that jays provide in natural colonisation by dispersing tree seeds, especially acorns, help create more woodland habitat for all wildlife and far outweigh any impact of predation,” Dr Broughton said. − Climate News Network

Don’t meddle: let nature restore itself on its own. Old forest will spread over nearby farmland. It’s cheap, and often best.

LONDON, 22 June, 2021 − British scientists have just confirmed something that might have seemed obvious: to regenerate the natural world, the best way is often to let nature restore itself on its own.

That is: left to its own devices, and with help only from wild birds and mammals, bare agricultural land turned into dense native woodland in little more than half a human lifetime.

Nobody needed to plant trees and shield them with plastic tubing; nobody had to patrol the protected zone or fence it against rabbits and deer, or attempt to choose the ideal species for the terrain. It all happened anyway, with the help of the wind, the wild things and a species of crow called a jay.

The research offers lessons for governments that have committed to restoring natural forest as part of the arsenal against global heating and climate change: it need not cost much.

Fast work

“Biodiversity-rich woodland that is resilient to drought and reduces disease risk can be created without any input from us,” said Richard Broughton, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“Our study provides essential evidence that passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales.”

He and his colleagues tell the story in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One. They simply monitored the progress of two farmland fields over two periods of 24 and 59 years respectively: one had been abandoned in 1996, the other in 1961. Significantly, both fields − of 2.1 hectares and 3.9 hectares, and labelled New Wilderness and Old Wilderness − were close by a patch of ancient woodland.

This was the Monks Wood national nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, a tract of wildwood in eastern England that has been studied in fine detail for many decades and documented since 1279 AD.

“Passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales”

Of the two abandoned neighbouring fields, one had been grazing land, the other laid down to barley. Brambles and thornbushes colonised the neglected fields, to provide cover for seeds, nuts and acorns spread by wild mammals and birds.

After 23 years, 86% of the grassland had turned into shrub and sapling that had reached an average height of 2.9 metres, with a density of 132 trees per hectare: 57% of these were the oak Quercus robur. The Old Wilderness, after 53 years, had 100% cover averaging 13.1 metres in height, with a density of 390 trees per hectare, 52% of them oak.

Climate scientists have been urging the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems for four decades. Conservation scientists, alarmed at the potential rapid rise in rates of species extinction along with the damage to natural habitats, have been urging the same thing for even longer.

Both have made a case for restoring the wilderness: the debate has been about the best ways to make this happen. More trees should mean more carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. But more climate change might make such restoration, through for instance deliberate plantation, increasingly problematic.

Reheating the Arctic

So the next question is: could Nature restore itself? Rewilding is still at the experimental stage: a process backed by in some cases deliberate re-introductions, for instance of beavers and other wild species in Europe. There is even an argument that in the fastest-warming zone of the planet, the Arctic, the reintroduction of large herbivores could help slow climate change and contain global heating driven by ever-higher ratios of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The clear message of the latest study is that − at least if natural forest rich in wild birds and mammals is close by − then nature can be left to do what nature does best. There were no costs of planting, there was no risk of disease introduction from nursery-grown saplings, and no need for plastic tubes to protect the tender young tree trunks from predators.

Blackthorn and hawthorn helped screen the young trees from hares, rabbits and deer. Seeds were dispersed by helpful wild agents, among them squirrels and wood mice and a bird commonly regarded as a pest, the jay, Garrulus glandarius.

“The huge benefits that jays provide in natural colonisation by dispersing tree seeds, especially acorns, help create more woodland habitat for all wildlife and far outweigh any impact of predation,” Dr Broughton said. − Climate News Network

Solve nature and climate together or not at all

Sink or swim as one, says science. Solve nature and climate together, or neither of the twin crises will be soluble.

LONDON, 11 June, 2021 − Two of the world’s leading scientific institutions have joined forces to arrive at a not very surprising conclusion: solve nature and climate together, or forget them both. If the world does not work to tackle the climate crisis and the extinction threat confronting millions of wild species together, it has little hope of solving either of them separately.

So says a report published by the snappily-titled Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), each respected for their commanding knowledge in their own fields.

The report, the IPBES/IPCC Workshop Report, which marks the first collaboration between the two bodies’ scientists, is not content simply to urge joint action on the intertwined problems threatening the world. It goes on to identify what it says are key options for solving them.

Both biodiversity loss and climate change are driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other, the report says.

While previous policies have largely tackled the twin crises independently of each other, addressing the synergies between the two simultaneously offers hope of maximising benefits and meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives”

“Human-caused climate change is increasingly threatening nature and its contributions to people, including its ability to help mitigate climate change. The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives, in many regions”, said Prof. Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the report’s scientific steering committee.

“Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, especially through impacts on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles,” he said. “The evidence is clear: a sustainable global future for people and nature is still achievable, but it requires transformative change with rapid and far-reaching actions of a type never before attempted, building on ambitious emissions reductions.

“Solving some of the strong and apparently unavoidable trade-offs between climate and biodiversity will entail a profound collective shift of individual and shared values concerning nature − such as moving away from the concept of economic progress based solely on GDP growth, to one that balances human development with multiple values of nature for a good quality of life, while not overshooting biophysical and social limits.”

The authors also warn that narrowly-focused action to combat climate change can directly and indirectly harm nature, and vice versa, but say there are many ways to benefit both areas.

Their suggestions include:

* Stopping the loss and degradation of carbon- and species-rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean and restoring them. The authors say reducing deforestation and forest degradation can help to lower human-caused greenhouse gas emissions by between 0.4 and 5.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year.

End damaging subsidies

* Increasing sustainable agriculture and forestry to improve the capacity to adapt to climate change, improve biodiversity, increase carbon storage and reduce emissions. The report estimates this improved management of cropland and grazing systems could offer annual climate change mitigation potential of 3 to 6 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent.

* Enhanced and better targeted conservation supported by strong climate adaptation and innovation. Protected areas currently represent about 15% of land and 7.5% of the ocean. Global estimates of what the world needs range from 30 to 50% of all ocean and land surface areas.

* Eliminating subsidies that support both local and national activities harmful to biodiversity, such as deforestation, excessive fertilisation and over-fishing, can also support climate change mitigation and adaptation. It can also help to change individual consumption patterns, reduce loss and waste and shift diets, especially in rich countries, towards more plant-based options.

The report also warns against climate mitigation and adaptation measures which it says can harm biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. These measures, it says, include increasing irrigation capacity, a common response to adapt agricultural systems to drought which it says often leads to water conflicts, dam building and long- term soil degradation from salinisation. − Climate News Network

Sink or swim as one, says science. Solve nature and climate together, or neither of the twin crises will be soluble.

LONDON, 11 June, 2021 − Two of the world’s leading scientific institutions have joined forces to arrive at a not very surprising conclusion: solve nature and climate together, or forget them both. If the world does not work to tackle the climate crisis and the extinction threat confronting millions of wild species together, it has little hope of solving either of them separately.

So says a report published by the snappily-titled Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), each respected for their commanding knowledge in their own fields.

The report, the IPBES/IPCC Workshop Report, which marks the first collaboration between the two bodies’ scientists, is not content simply to urge joint action on the intertwined problems threatening the world. It goes on to identify what it says are key options for solving them.

Both biodiversity loss and climate change are driven by human economic activities and mutually reinforce each other, the report says.

While previous policies have largely tackled the twin crises independently of each other, addressing the synergies between the two simultaneously offers hope of maximising benefits and meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives”

“Human-caused climate change is increasingly threatening nature and its contributions to people, including its ability to help mitigate climate change. The warmer the world gets, the less food, drinking water and other key contributions nature can make to our lives, in many regions”, said Prof. Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the report’s scientific steering committee.

“Changes in biodiversity, in turn, affect climate, especially through impacts on nitrogen, carbon and water cycles,” he said. “The evidence is clear: a sustainable global future for people and nature is still achievable, but it requires transformative change with rapid and far-reaching actions of a type never before attempted, building on ambitious emissions reductions.

“Solving some of the strong and apparently unavoidable trade-offs between climate and biodiversity will entail a profound collective shift of individual and shared values concerning nature − such as moving away from the concept of economic progress based solely on GDP growth, to one that balances human development with multiple values of nature for a good quality of life, while not overshooting biophysical and social limits.”

The authors also warn that narrowly-focused action to combat climate change can directly and indirectly harm nature, and vice versa, but say there are many ways to benefit both areas.

Their suggestions include:

* Stopping the loss and degradation of carbon- and species-rich ecosystems on land and in the ocean and restoring them. The authors say reducing deforestation and forest degradation can help to lower human-caused greenhouse gas emissions by between 0.4 and 5.8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year.

End damaging subsidies

* Increasing sustainable agriculture and forestry to improve the capacity to adapt to climate change, improve biodiversity, increase carbon storage and reduce emissions. The report estimates this improved management of cropland and grazing systems could offer annual climate change mitigation potential of 3 to 6 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent.

* Enhanced and better targeted conservation supported by strong climate adaptation and innovation. Protected areas currently represent about 15% of land and 7.5% of the ocean. Global estimates of what the world needs range from 30 to 50% of all ocean and land surface areas.

* Eliminating subsidies that support both local and national activities harmful to biodiversity, such as deforestation, excessive fertilisation and over-fishing, can also support climate change mitigation and adaptation. It can also help to change individual consumption patterns, reduce loss and waste and shift diets, especially in rich countries, towards more plant-based options.

The report also warns against climate mitigation and adaptation measures which it says can harm biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people. These measures, it says, include increasing irrigation capacity, a common response to adapt agricultural systems to drought which it says often leads to water conflicts, dam building and long- term soil degradation from salinisation. − Climate News Network

Ecosystem sentinels sound alarm for the oceans

Sea birds are known as ecosystem sentinels, warning of marine loss. As their numbers fall, so could the riches of the ocean.

LONDON, 7 June, 2021 − For a tern in the northern hemisphere, life may be about to take a turn for the worse. For murres or guillemots, as the temperature rises, the chance of survival takes a dive. Many of the world’s seabirds could be in trouble.

And for a mix of reasons, the birds of the southern hemisphere could also be heading into difficulties, but at a slower pace. A worldwide team of 40 
ornithologists has looked at 50 years of breeding records for 67 seabird species to find that as global temperatures notch up, breeding rates are down.

That may be just an indicator of deteriorating conditions on and below the surface of the oceans: the researchers call their seabird subjects “ecosystem sentinels”.

The scientists report in the journal Science that they used their data to test a proposition: that seabird productivity − the numbers that survive each breeding season − would track “hemispheric asymmetry” in ocean climate change and human use.

Put simply, because there is less land and fewer people south of the Equator, because the southern waters are less overfished and subjected to lower pollution levels, and because a bigger ocean space ought to absorb extremes of heat more effectively, seabird survival rates would be worse north of the line than to the south.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface”

And that is because the fish and plankton that seabirds eat can move with the climate, but the seabirds cannot: during the breeding season, they return to the same colonies. And hunt they must: the species Uria aalge, known as the murre or the guillemot, must eat half its bodyweight in fish each day to survive. When a long-term marine heatwave hit the north-east Pacific in 2015-2016, almost a million of them starved to death.

Breeding colonies also suffered. The pattern of change is not uniform: surface-feeding birds were more likely to be in decline; birds like puffins that plunged below the surface tended to fare a little better at rearing offspring to survival.

“Seabirds travel long distances − some going from one hemisphere to the other − chasing their food in the ocean. This makes them sensitive to changes in things like ocean productivity, often over a large area,” said P Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington in the US.

“They have to compete with us for food. They get caught in our fishing nets. They eat our plastic, which they think is food. All of these factors can kill off large numbers of long-lived seabirds.”

She and colleagues have monitored the breeding success of a colony of Magellanic penguins in southern Argentina for 35 years. These birds go back to the water each season to feed their chicks: the further they have to swim, the greater the chance of a starved penguin chick.

Competition for food

Stormier weather on land, too, can destroy nests. Female penguins find survival tougher, and are more likely to die at sea. So the proportion of male Magellanic penguins is rising. Today the breeding population at the research site is about half of its numbers 40 years ago.

William Sydeman of the Farallon Institute in Northern California, who led the study, warned that falling seabird numbers could be an indicator of worse things happening at sea.

“What’s also at stake is the health of fish populations such as salmon and cod, as well as marine mammals and large invertebrates, such as squid, that are eating the same small forage fish and plankton that seabirds eat,” he said.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface which is concerning, because we depend on healthy oceans for quality of life.” − Climate News Network

Sea birds are known as ecosystem sentinels, warning of marine loss. As their numbers fall, so could the riches of the ocean.

LONDON, 7 June, 2021 − For a tern in the northern hemisphere, life may be about to take a turn for the worse. For murres or guillemots, as the temperature rises, the chance of survival takes a dive. Many of the world’s seabirds could be in trouble.

And for a mix of reasons, the birds of the southern hemisphere could also be heading into difficulties, but at a slower pace. A worldwide team of 40 
ornithologists has looked at 50 years of breeding records for 67 seabird species to find that as global temperatures notch up, breeding rates are down.

That may be just an indicator of deteriorating conditions on and below the surface of the oceans: the researchers call their seabird subjects “ecosystem sentinels”.

The scientists report in the journal Science that they used their data to test a proposition: that seabird productivity − the numbers that survive each breeding season − would track “hemispheric asymmetry” in ocean climate change and human use.

Put simply, because there is less land and fewer people south of the Equator, because the southern waters are less overfished and subjected to lower pollution levels, and because a bigger ocean space ought to absorb extremes of heat more effectively, seabird survival rates would be worse north of the line than to the south.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface”

And that is because the fish and plankton that seabirds eat can move with the climate, but the seabirds cannot: during the breeding season, they return to the same colonies. And hunt they must: the species Uria aalge, known as the murre or the guillemot, must eat half its bodyweight in fish each day to survive. When a long-term marine heatwave hit the north-east Pacific in 2015-2016, almost a million of them starved to death.

Breeding colonies also suffered. The pattern of change is not uniform: surface-feeding birds were more likely to be in decline; birds like puffins that plunged below the surface tended to fare a little better at rearing offspring to survival.

“Seabirds travel long distances − some going from one hemisphere to the other − chasing their food in the ocean. This makes them sensitive to changes in things like ocean productivity, often over a large area,” said P Dee Boersma, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington in the US.

“They have to compete with us for food. They get caught in our fishing nets. They eat our plastic, which they think is food. All of these factors can kill off large numbers of long-lived seabirds.”

She and colleagues have monitored the breeding success of a colony of Magellanic penguins in southern Argentina for 35 years. These birds go back to the water each season to feed their chicks: the further they have to swim, the greater the chance of a starved penguin chick.

Competition for food

Stormier weather on land, too, can destroy nests. Female penguins find survival tougher, and are more likely to die at sea. So the proportion of male Magellanic penguins is rising. Today the breeding population at the research site is about half of its numbers 40 years ago.

William Sydeman of the Farallon Institute in Northern California, who led the study, warned that falling seabird numbers could be an indicator of worse things happening at sea.

“What’s also at stake is the health of fish populations such as salmon and cod, as well as marine mammals and large invertebrates, such as squid, that are eating the same small forage fish and plankton that seabirds eat,” he said.

“When seabirds aren’t doing well, this is a red flag that something bigger is happening below the ocean’s surface which is concerning, because we depend on healthy oceans for quality of life.” − Climate News Network

Buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive

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

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

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

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

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

Not so big

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neglected message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not so big

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neglected message

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

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

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

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

Polar cod face new threat from Arctic oil pollution

Already struggling to survive in warming Arctic seas, the polar cod are now at risk from rising oil pollution.

LONDON, 2 June, 2021 – They are small – on average around 25cm long. But polar cod (Boreogadus saida) are a vital part of the Arctic food chain, a major ingredient in the diet of seals, narwhals and a wide variety of seabirds.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other area on the planet, and a study published in 2020 found that declines in winter sea ice cover in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic, plus warmer sea temperatures, were causing declines in polar cod reproduction rates.

The latest research indicates that the polar cod is now under threat not only from warming Arctic seas, but because of oil pollution as well, as the region’s rapidly diminishing ice cover allows more shipping traffic and commercial activity.

Morgan Lizabeth Bender is a researcher in the department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the University of Tromsø (UiT) in northern Norway. Her research has found that when the polar cod is exposed to a combination of warmer waters and only very slight levels of oil pollution, its development is interrupted, with abnormalities common.

“Polar cod is a somewhat difficult species that hasn’t been researched that much,” Dr Bender told the Science Norway website. “The fish are a difficult species to find and to take care of in the lab. However, this species has a very important ecological role.”

“Increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure”

The fish, monitored during the breeding process, were sorted into aquariums – some at a current Arctic water temperature of 0.5°C, others at a warmer 2.8°C to mimic an Arctic affected by climate change.

The aquariums contained either pure water or water contaminated by minuscule amounts of crude oil. “The pollution level would be the equivalent of about five drops of oil in an Olympic-size swimming pool,” says Dr Bender.

Though the study found that polar cod eggs in the warmer water hatched much faster than those in the colder water, at first there was little difference between survival rates in the various aquariums.

But then something strange started happening to the fry – the young fish – that were exposed to oil.

“When they first hatched, there wasn’t much difference,” says Dr Bender. “But as their jaw, face and eyes started to develop, we saw very clearly that they weren’t forming properly.”

Lower survival rates

The research found that the fry were very sensitive to even the slightest amount of oil pollution: death rates were highest among fry exposed to both warmer water and oil.

When the fry became large enough to start feeding, only 8% survived in the contaminated warmer water and 23% in the contaminated cold water.

Marine scientists say that polar cod numbers have shown a downward trend since 2010, despite the fact that they are not a fished species.

Sonnich Meier, of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, has been examining the impact of both global warming and oil pollution on Arctic fish species for a number of years.

“Polar cod is one of the fish species that is hardest hit by climate change in the Arctic,” he says. “The study shows that increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure.” – Climate News Network

Already struggling to survive in warming Arctic seas, the polar cod are now at risk from rising oil pollution.

LONDON, 2 June, 2021 – They are small – on average around 25cm long. But polar cod (Boreogadus saida) are a vital part of the Arctic food chain, a major ingredient in the diet of seals, narwhals and a wide variety of seabirds.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other area on the planet, and a study published in 2020 found that declines in winter sea ice cover in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic, plus warmer sea temperatures, were causing declines in polar cod reproduction rates.

The latest research indicates that the polar cod is now under threat not only from warming Arctic seas, but because of oil pollution as well, as the region’s rapidly diminishing ice cover allows more shipping traffic and commercial activity.

Morgan Lizabeth Bender is a researcher in the department of Arctic and Marine Biology at the University of Tromsø (UiT) in northern Norway. Her research has found that when the polar cod is exposed to a combination of warmer waters and only very slight levels of oil pollution, its development is interrupted, with abnormalities common.

“Polar cod is a somewhat difficult species that hasn’t been researched that much,” Dr Bender told the Science Norway website. “The fish are a difficult species to find and to take care of in the lab. However, this species has a very important ecological role.”

“Increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure”

The fish, monitored during the breeding process, were sorted into aquariums – some at a current Arctic water temperature of 0.5°C, others at a warmer 2.8°C to mimic an Arctic affected by climate change.

The aquariums contained either pure water or water contaminated by minuscule amounts of crude oil. “The pollution level would be the equivalent of about five drops of oil in an Olympic-size swimming pool,” says Dr Bender.

Though the study found that polar cod eggs in the warmer water hatched much faster than those in the colder water, at first there was little difference between survival rates in the various aquariums.

But then something strange started happening to the fry – the young fish – that were exposed to oil.

“When they first hatched, there wasn’t much difference,” says Dr Bender. “But as their jaw, face and eyes started to develop, we saw very clearly that they weren’t forming properly.”

Lower survival rates

The research found that the fry were very sensitive to even the slightest amount of oil pollution: death rates were highest among fry exposed to both warmer water and oil.

When the fry became large enough to start feeding, only 8% survived in the contaminated warmer water and 23% in the contaminated cold water.

Marine scientists say that polar cod numbers have shown a downward trend since 2010, despite the fact that they are not a fished species.

Sonnich Meier, of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, has been examining the impact of both global warming and oil pollution on Arctic fish species for a number of years.

“Polar cod is one of the fish species that is hardest hit by climate change in the Arctic,” he says. “The study shows that increased water temperature can increase the harmful effects of oil exposure.” – Climate News Network

Fossils show oblivion’s malign impact on nature

We are obliterating other life: oblivion’s malign impact could bring extinction faster than at almost any time known so far.

LONDON, 28 May, 2021 − Evolutionary biologists have looked at the timetable of mass murder 66 million years ago in what is now called the Fifth Great Extinction. By looking at fossil snails and other freshwater citizens of what is now Europe, they traced oblivion’s malign impact over many millennia.

The grim news is that the loss of species began soon after a substantial comet or asteroid crashed into planet Earth, but it took another 12 million years for evolution to catch up again.

The even grimmer news is that the Sixth Great Extinction has already begun, and is proceeding at a rate 1,000 times faster than the massacre of the little creatures that perished alongside the dinosaurs.

The message − familiar for decades to conservationists, evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, but still to be appreciated by politicians − is that the impact of more than 7 billion humans on the rest of the living world is less immediate, but more devastating, than the celestial traffic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“We have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years”

And it looks set to continue. A century from today, a third of freshwater species living now may have vanished from the face of the planet. And it won’t stop there.

“Even if our impact on the world’s biota stops today, the extinction rate will likely stay high for an extended period of time,” said Thomas Neubauer, of Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“Considering that the current biodiversity crisis advances much faster than the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, the recovery period may be even longer. Despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years.”

Dr Neubauer and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment that they considered the fossils of 3,122 species of European freshwater gastropods unearthed in 24,759 instances, to calculate extinction rates over the last 200 million years.

They selected the snails because snails’ shells are distinctive, and preserved; and because freshwater ecosystems occupy only about 1% of the planet’s surface, but are home to perhaps 10% of all species.

Lessons from Europe

And they settled on European evidence because Europe has, they write, an “exceptionally rich and well-studied fossil record”. European biologists, too, have a more complete record of living species for comparison.

More importantly, they had enough data to work out the rates at which old species become extinct and new species evolve on a stable planet under normal conditions over hundreds of millions of years. From that, they could confirm that after the devastating impact that brought the Cretaceous era to a close − and wiped out the dinosaurs − conditions on Earth were harsh enough to force a greater rate of extinction for the next 5.4 million years.

In that time, 92.5% of all species were extinguished: the rate of extinction increased by an order of magnitude − that is, around tenfold. Although new species emerged, it was another 6.9 million years before recovery was complete.

“However, present extinction rates in European freshwater gastropods are three orders of magnitude higher than even these revised estimates for the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction,” the researchers write. That is, present extinction rates are already 1,000 times faster than one unpredictable moment of global devastation 66 million years ago. It follows that extinction rates must be four orders of magnitude − 10,000 times − faster than in a period of evolutionary stability.

Snails matter too

That life’s evolution has been marked by periodic extinction has been firmly settled for more than a century, and an overload of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been an agent of at least one of them, and perhaps an actor in all.

What alarms today’s biologists is that they can see it all happening again, as human numbers grow and human economies alter the planetary atmosphere. And they have said so, repeatedly.

In this study, they spell it out it again. “The current biodiversity crisis appears even more drastic, with species being lost at a much faster pace. Our analyses suggest that 75% of all European species may be lost within centuries. Our findings provide yet additional evidence that immediate and effective action is needed to protect biodiversity,” they write.

Just in case anybody thinks freshwater snails don’t matter to humans, they do. They are part of a functioning ecosystem on which terrestrial life depends.

“Losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects ecosystems,” said Dr Neubauer.“We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and freshwater supply.” − Climate News Network

We are obliterating other life: oblivion’s malign impact could bring extinction faster than at almost any time known so far.

LONDON, 28 May, 2021 − Evolutionary biologists have looked at the timetable of mass murder 66 million years ago in what is now called the Fifth Great Extinction. By looking at fossil snails and other freshwater citizens of what is now Europe, they traced oblivion’s malign impact over many millennia.

The grim news is that the loss of species began soon after a substantial comet or asteroid crashed into planet Earth, but it took another 12 million years for evolution to catch up again.

The even grimmer news is that the Sixth Great Extinction has already begun, and is proceeding at a rate 1,000 times faster than the massacre of the little creatures that perished alongside the dinosaurs.

The message − familiar for decades to conservationists, evolutionary biologists and palaeontologists, but still to be appreciated by politicians − is that the impact of more than 7 billion humans on the rest of the living world is less immediate, but more devastating, than the celestial traffic accident that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“We have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years”

And it looks set to continue. A century from today, a third of freshwater species living now may have vanished from the face of the planet. And it won’t stop there.

“Even if our impact on the world’s biota stops today, the extinction rate will likely stay high for an extended period of time,” said Thomas Neubauer, of Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany.

“Considering that the current biodiversity crisis advances much faster than the mass extinction event 66 million years ago, the recovery period may be even longer. Despite our short existence on Earth, we have assured that the effects of our actions will outlast us by millions of years.”

Dr Neubauer and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Communications Earth and Environment that they considered the fossils of 3,122 species of European freshwater gastropods unearthed in 24,759 instances, to calculate extinction rates over the last 200 million years.

They selected the snails because snails’ shells are distinctive, and preserved; and because freshwater ecosystems occupy only about 1% of the planet’s surface, but are home to perhaps 10% of all species.

Lessons from Europe

And they settled on European evidence because Europe has, they write, an “exceptionally rich and well-studied fossil record”. European biologists, too, have a more complete record of living species for comparison.

More importantly, they had enough data to work out the rates at which old species become extinct and new species evolve on a stable planet under normal conditions over hundreds of millions of years. From that, they could confirm that after the devastating impact that brought the Cretaceous era to a close − and wiped out the dinosaurs − conditions on Earth were harsh enough to force a greater rate of extinction for the next 5.4 million years.

In that time, 92.5% of all species were extinguished: the rate of extinction increased by an order of magnitude − that is, around tenfold. Although new species emerged, it was another 6.9 million years before recovery was complete.

“However, present extinction rates in European freshwater gastropods are three orders of magnitude higher than even these revised estimates for the Cretaceous-Palaeogene mass extinction,” the researchers write. That is, present extinction rates are already 1,000 times faster than one unpredictable moment of global devastation 66 million years ago. It follows that extinction rates must be four orders of magnitude − 10,000 times − faster than in a period of evolutionary stability.

Snails matter too

That life’s evolution has been marked by periodic extinction has been firmly settled for more than a century, and an overload of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been an agent of at least one of them, and perhaps an actor in all.

What alarms today’s biologists is that they can see it all happening again, as human numbers grow and human economies alter the planetary atmosphere. And they have said so, repeatedly.

In this study, they spell it out it again. “The current biodiversity crisis appears even more drastic, with species being lost at a much faster pace. Our analyses suggest that 75% of all European species may be lost within centuries. Our findings provide yet additional evidence that immediate and effective action is needed to protect biodiversity,” they write.

Just in case anybody thinks freshwater snails don’t matter to humans, they do. They are part of a functioning ecosystem on which terrestrial life depends.

“Losing species entails changes in species communities and, in the long run, this affects ecosystems,” said Dr Neubauer.“We rely on functioning freshwater environments to sustain human health, nutrition and freshwater supply.” − Climate News Network

Fossil fuel use leads to worse and longer droughts

Human reliance on fossil fuels is resulting in worse and longer droughts. It’s a familiar message across the world.

LONDON, 27 May, 2021 − Researchers have been busy trying to find out more about why many parts of the world are experiencing worse and longer droughts. Californian scientists had cleared up any confusion about Californian droughts. And about droughts in the rest of the Americas, the Mediterranean, western and southern Africa and east Asia.

Greenhouse gas emissions and other atmospheric pollution from human causes tend to increase the frequency of drought, the intensity of drought and the maximum duration of drought worldwide.

“There has always been natural variability in drought events around the world, but our research shows the clear human influence on drying, specifically from anthropogenic aerosols, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” said Felicia Chiang, of the University of California Irvine, and now at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

She and colleagues write in the journal Nature Communications that they used a computer simulation to explore drought characteristics, first with “natural” conditions, and then with extra help from atmospheric greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, along with tiny atmospheric particles from power plants, car exhausts and fire to clear land and burn waste.

The “natural-only” simulations showed no regional changes from the late 19th to the late 20th centuries. But once the researchers tested their simulation with more atmospheric carbon dioxide, sulphur particles and soot, they could see statistically significant increases in drought hotpots in southern Europe, Central and South America and other regions.

“Our research shows the clear human influence on drying, specifically from anthropogenic aerosols, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases”

Researchers have been warning for years of the danger of increasing drought with ever-higher global average temperatures. The eastern Mediterranean recently went through its worst drought in 900 years, while California has been afflicted by devastating heat, prolonged dry spells and dreadful forest fires.

Drought has been so frequent in the Amazon that one scientist has warned that the entire rainforest ecosystem might collapse. So the latest study is just another confirmation of a familiar story.

“Knowing where, how and why droughts have been worsening around the world is important, because these events directly and indirectly impact everything from wildlife habitats to agricultural production to our economy,” said Amir AghaKouchak, a co-author at UC Irvine.

And a third contributor, his colleague Omid Mazdiyasni, now with the Los Angeles county department of public works, added: “If droughts over the past century have been worsened by human-sourced pollution, then there is a strong possibility that the problem can be mitigated by limiting these emissions.” − Climate News Network

Human reliance on fossil fuels is resulting in worse and longer droughts. It’s a familiar message across the world.

LONDON, 27 May, 2021 − Researchers have been busy trying to find out more about why many parts of the world are experiencing worse and longer droughts. Californian scientists had cleared up any confusion about Californian droughts. And about droughts in the rest of the Americas, the Mediterranean, western and southern Africa and east Asia.

Greenhouse gas emissions and other atmospheric pollution from human causes tend to increase the frequency of drought, the intensity of drought and the maximum duration of drought worldwide.

“There has always been natural variability in drought events around the world, but our research shows the clear human influence on drying, specifically from anthropogenic aerosols, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” said Felicia Chiang, of the University of California Irvine, and now at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

She and colleagues write in the journal Nature Communications that they used a computer simulation to explore drought characteristics, first with “natural” conditions, and then with extra help from atmospheric greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, along with tiny atmospheric particles from power plants, car exhausts and fire to clear land and burn waste.

The “natural-only” simulations showed no regional changes from the late 19th to the late 20th centuries. But once the researchers tested their simulation with more atmospheric carbon dioxide, sulphur particles and soot, they could see statistically significant increases in drought hotpots in southern Europe, Central and South America and other regions.

“Our research shows the clear human influence on drying, specifically from anthropogenic aerosols, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases”

Researchers have been warning for years of the danger of increasing drought with ever-higher global average temperatures. The eastern Mediterranean recently went through its worst drought in 900 years, while California has been afflicted by devastating heat, prolonged dry spells and dreadful forest fires.

Drought has been so frequent in the Amazon that one scientist has warned that the entire rainforest ecosystem might collapse. So the latest study is just another confirmation of a familiar story.

“Knowing where, how and why droughts have been worsening around the world is important, because these events directly and indirectly impact everything from wildlife habitats to agricultural production to our economy,” said Amir AghaKouchak, a co-author at UC Irvine.

And a third contributor, his colleague Omid Mazdiyasni, now with the Los Angeles county department of public works, added: “If droughts over the past century have been worsened by human-sourced pollution, then there is a strong possibility that the problem can be mitigated by limiting these emissions.” − Climate News Network

There will be no silver bullet for climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daunting prospect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daunting prospect

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

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

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

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

Brazil’s environmental licences face near-abolition

President Bolsonaro wants to slash Brazil’s environmental licences, a move critics say will open a free-for-all in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, 19 May, 2021 − The pro-government majority in the lower house of the congress has rushed through a bill (PL3792) which will virtually eliminate the need for Brazil’s environmental licences for a wide range of economic activities, opening the way for widespread exploitation.

The activities which will be freed from licensing include agriculture, cattle raising, logging, dam and road building, sewage plants and water management. Their abolition will impact the Amazon and other biomes, including hundreds of indigenous and quilombo territories, areas occupied by descendants of runaway slaves, which have not yet been officially recognised.

Environmental organisations say the bill’s effects will be disastrous, leading not only to more deforestation, but also to possible repeats of the two mine tailings dam disasters in the state of Minas Gerais, which have killed almost 300 people in recent years.

Under the existing law, any enterprise or activity potentially harmful to the environment must obtain a licence before it can go ahead. IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources,  is responsible for licensing large infrastructure projects. It also consults anthropologists and archaeologists and conducts public hearings in communities that will be affected.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”

Environmental impact studies must be supplied by the project company, including compensation measures where necessary. The new law will replace this complex, often long drawn-out but thorough process with a “self declaration” filed online by the interested party, without any consultation, research or expert opinion. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is hoped the pressure of public opinion, if sufficiently strong, could lead to it being watered down.

Legislators who supported the bill, many themselves ranchers and landowners, claimed the existing licensing law blocked development, because the process was too slow. But public prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança pointed out that what caused the delays were badly prepared studies of environmental impact, and the environmental agencies that have been hollowed out and left without adequate staff.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”, she said.

For Carlos Bocuhy, president of Proam, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection, the bill “favours private interests in detriment to the public interest, and ignores constitutional guarantees for a balanced environment and the accumulated technical and scientific knowledge on licensing.”

International damage

He said its negative results reached far beyond Brazil’s frontiers, because Brazilian commodities would be associated with environmental deregulation.

Nine former environment ministers from right, left and centrist governments have published an open letter of protest at the bill. They claim it will negatively affect the trade agreement due to be signed between the EU and Mercosur, the bloc of four South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and will harm Brazil’s hope of joining the OECD as well.

The bill also makes a mockery of US climate envoy John Kerry’s optimistic declaration that Brazil can become a climate leader. Appearing before the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives, Kerry defended the need to negotiate climate agreements with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in spite of it having cut 24% from the environment ministry’s budget the day after the climate summit organised by President Joe Biden, saying: “If we don’t talk to them, you can be sure the Amazon forest will disappear.”

Among those already affected by the continuing destruction of the rainforest are Brazilian farmers. A study published in the journal Nature Communications on 10 May found that “the lack of rain and the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation in the south of the Amazon region is already causing a fall in productivity and income.”

Bolsonaro’s empty promises

The study, by scientists of the Centre for Remote Sensing at the Brazilian universities of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and Viçosa (UFV) and the University of Bonn in Germany, calculated that fewer trees lead to lower humidity in the air and less rainfall. Forest scientist Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho, the study coordinator, warned that deforestation is putting Brazil’s agricultural systems on the road to what he called agro-suicide.

And official figures indicate that Amazon deforestation will be higher than ever this year. Satellite images used by INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, have revealed that the equivalent of 58,000 football pitches was illegally cleared in April, a 42% increase on last year, and the highest figure since 2015.

If the licensing bill is ratified unchanged by the Senate, then another hurdle in the path of President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to turn the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes into free-for-all territories without oversight, enforcement or the rule of law will have been achieved, in flagrant contrast with his promises just a month ago at Joe Biden’s climate summit.

The door will be flung wide open for mining, farming and logging in areas now occupied by conservation units, indigenous and traditional populations. Brazil’s climate promises will have been reduced to a pile of ashes. − Climate News Network

President Bolsonaro wants to slash Brazil’s environmental licences, a move critics say will open a free-for-all in the Amazon.

SÃO PAULO, 19 May, 2021 − The pro-government majority in the lower house of the congress has rushed through a bill (PL3792) which will virtually eliminate the need for Brazil’s environmental licences for a wide range of economic activities, opening the way for widespread exploitation.

The activities which will be freed from licensing include agriculture, cattle raising, logging, dam and road building, sewage plants and water management. Their abolition will impact the Amazon and other biomes, including hundreds of indigenous and quilombo territories, areas occupied by descendants of runaway slaves, which have not yet been officially recognised.

Environmental organisations say the bill’s effects will be disastrous, leading not only to more deforestation, but also to possible repeats of the two mine tailings dam disasters in the state of Minas Gerais, which have killed almost 300 people in recent years.

Under the existing law, any enterprise or activity potentially harmful to the environment must obtain a licence before it can go ahead. IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources,  is responsible for licensing large infrastructure projects. It also consults anthropologists and archaeologists and conducts public hearings in communities that will be affected.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”

Environmental impact studies must be supplied by the project company, including compensation measures where necessary. The new law will replace this complex, often long drawn-out but thorough process with a “self declaration” filed online by the interested party, without any consultation, research or expert opinion. The bill will now go to the Senate, where it is hoped the pressure of public opinion, if sufficiently strong, could lead to it being watered down.

Legislators who supported the bill, many themselves ranchers and landowners, claimed the existing licensing law blocked development, because the process was too slow. But public prosecutor Ana Carolina Haliuc Bragança pointed out that what caused the delays were badly prepared studies of environmental impact, and the environmental agencies that have been hollowed out and left without adequate staff.

“Environmental licensing is an essential instrument for evaluating, mitigating and compensating environmental impacts. It doesn’t block anything”, she said.

For Carlos Bocuhy, president of Proam, the Brazilian Institute for Environmental Protection, the bill “favours private interests in detriment to the public interest, and ignores constitutional guarantees for a balanced environment and the accumulated technical and scientific knowledge on licensing.”

International damage

He said its negative results reached far beyond Brazil’s frontiers, because Brazilian commodities would be associated with environmental deregulation.

Nine former environment ministers from right, left and centrist governments have published an open letter of protest at the bill. They claim it will negatively affect the trade agreement due to be signed between the EU and Mercosur, the bloc of four South American countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay), and will harm Brazil’s hope of joining the OECD as well.

The bill also makes a mockery of US climate envoy John Kerry’s optimistic declaration that Brazil can become a climate leader. Appearing before the foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives, Kerry defended the need to negotiate climate agreements with the government of Jair Bolsonaro, in spite of it having cut 24% from the environment ministry’s budget the day after the climate summit organised by President Joe Biden, saying: “If we don’t talk to them, you can be sure the Amazon forest will disappear.”

Among those already affected by the continuing destruction of the rainforest are Brazilian farmers. A study published in the journal Nature Communications on 10 May found that “the lack of rain and the loss of biodiversity caused by deforestation in the south of the Amazon region is already causing a fall in productivity and income.”

Bolsonaro’s empty promises

The study, by scientists of the Centre for Remote Sensing at the Brazilian universities of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and Viçosa (UFV) and the University of Bonn in Germany, calculated that fewer trees lead to lower humidity in the air and less rainfall. Forest scientist Argemiro Teixeira Leite-Filho, the study coordinator, warned that deforestation is putting Brazil’s agricultural systems on the road to what he called agro-suicide.

And official figures indicate that Amazon deforestation will be higher than ever this year. Satellite images used by INPE, the National Institute for Space Research, have revealed that the equivalent of 58,000 football pitches was illegally cleared in April, a 42% increase on last year, and the highest figure since 2015.

If the licensing bill is ratified unchanged by the Senate, then another hurdle in the path of President Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to turn the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes into free-for-all territories without oversight, enforcement or the rule of law will have been achieved, in flagrant contrast with his promises just a month ago at Joe Biden’s climate summit.

The door will be flung wide open for mining, farming and logging in areas now occupied by conservation units, indigenous and traditional populations. Brazil’s climate promises will have been reduced to a pile of ashes. − Climate News Network