Tag Archives: Biodiversity

Conservation pays its way handsomely

Money does grow on trees. The conservation of a native forest is natural capital, its cash value often reaching trillions of dollars.

LONDON, 2 December, 2019 – More than 400 scientists in Brazil have once again established that conservation pays: landscapes and people are richer for the native vegetation preserved on rural properties.

They calculate that 270 million hectares (667m acres) of natural forest, scrub, marsh and grassland contained in Brazil’s legal reserves are worth US$1.5 trillion (£1.7tn) a year to the nation.

Natural wilderness pays its way by providing a steady supply of natural crop pollinators and pest controls, by seamlessly managing rainfall and water run-off, and by maintaining soil quality, the researchers argue in a new study in the journal Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation.

“The paper is meant to show that preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil and diverges from what was done in Europe 500 years ago, when the level of environmental awareness was different”, said Jean Paul Metzger, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo, who leads the signatories.

“Brazil conserves a great deal, protecting over 60% of its vegetation cover, and has strict legislation. It’s ranked 30th by the World Bank, behind Sweden and Finland, which protect approximately 70%. However, we must call attention to the fact that conservation isn’t bad,” said Professor Metzger.

Protection maintained

Brazilian law requires rural landowners to leave forest cover untouched on a percentage of their property: in the Amazon region as much as 80%; in other regions as little as 20%. But these protected areas shelter a third of the nation’s natural vegetation.

A bill that proposed to weaken or eliminate the Legal Reserve requirement went before the Brazilian Senate in 2019. Had it passed, it could have led to the loss altogether of 270 million hectares of native vegetation.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but a small army of scientists – including 371 researchers in 79 Brazilian laboratories, universities and institutions – have responded with a study that attempts to set a cash value to simply maintaining the natural capital of the wilderness.

Brazil is home to one of the world’s great tropical rainforests, and to one of the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. The global climate crisis is already taking its toll of the forest canopy in the form of drought and fire. But under new national leadership there have been fears that even more forest could be at risk.

“Preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil”

The cash-value case for conservation has been made, and made repeatedly. Studies have confirmed that agribusiness monocultures – vast tracts devoted entirely to one crop and only one crop – are not sustainable: animal pollinators can make the best of the flowering season but then have no alternative sources of food for the rest of the year.

Other researchers have separately established that the loss of natural forest can be far more costly and economically damaging than anybody had expected; and that, conversely, conserved and undisturbed wilderness actually delivers wealth on a sustained basis for national and regional economies. But farmers concerned with immediate profits might not be so conscious of the long-term rewards of conservation.

“It’s an important paper because it presents sound information that can be used to refute the arguments of those who want to change the Brazilian Forest Code and do away with the legal reserve requirement”, said Carlos Joly of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one of the signatories.

And his colleague Paulo Artaxo said: “Farmers sometimes take a short-term view that focuses on three or four years of personal profit, but the nation is left with enormous losses. This mindset should go. The paper makes that very clear.” – Climate News Network

Money does grow on trees. The conservation of a native forest is natural capital, its cash value often reaching trillions of dollars.

LONDON, 2 December, 2019 – More than 400 scientists in Brazil have once again established that conservation pays: landscapes and people are richer for the native vegetation preserved on rural properties.

They calculate that 270 million hectares (667m acres) of natural forest, scrub, marsh and grassland contained in Brazil’s legal reserves are worth US$1.5 trillion (£1.7tn) a year to the nation.

Natural wilderness pays its way by providing a steady supply of natural crop pollinators and pest controls, by seamlessly managing rainfall and water run-off, and by maintaining soil quality, the researchers argue in a new study in the journal Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation.

“The paper is meant to show that preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil and diverges from what was done in Europe 500 years ago, when the level of environmental awareness was different”, said Jean Paul Metzger, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo, who leads the signatories.

“Brazil conserves a great deal, protecting over 60% of its vegetation cover, and has strict legislation. It’s ranked 30th by the World Bank, behind Sweden and Finland, which protect approximately 70%. However, we must call attention to the fact that conservation isn’t bad,” said Professor Metzger.

Protection maintained

Brazilian law requires rural landowners to leave forest cover untouched on a percentage of their property: in the Amazon region as much as 80%; in other regions as little as 20%. But these protected areas shelter a third of the nation’s natural vegetation.

A bill that proposed to weaken or eliminate the Legal Reserve requirement went before the Brazilian Senate in 2019. Had it passed, it could have led to the loss altogether of 270 million hectares of native vegetation.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but a small army of scientists – including 371 researchers in 79 Brazilian laboratories, universities and institutions – have responded with a study that attempts to set a cash value to simply maintaining the natural capital of the wilderness.

Brazil is home to one of the world’s great tropical rainforests, and to one of the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. The global climate crisis is already taking its toll of the forest canopy in the form of drought and fire. But under new national leadership there have been fears that even more forest could be at risk.

“Preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil”

The cash-value case for conservation has been made, and made repeatedly. Studies have confirmed that agribusiness monocultures – vast tracts devoted entirely to one crop and only one crop – are not sustainable: animal pollinators can make the best of the flowering season but then have no alternative sources of food for the rest of the year.

Other researchers have separately established that the loss of natural forest can be far more costly and economically damaging than anybody had expected; and that, conversely, conserved and undisturbed wilderness actually delivers wealth on a sustained basis for national and regional economies. But farmers concerned with immediate profits might not be so conscious of the long-term rewards of conservation.

“It’s an important paper because it presents sound information that can be used to refute the arguments of those who want to change the Brazilian Forest Code and do away with the legal reserve requirement”, said Carlos Joly of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one of the signatories.

And his colleague Paulo Artaxo said: “Farmers sometimes take a short-term view that focuses on three or four years of personal profit, but the nation is left with enormous losses. This mindset should go. The paper makes that very clear.” – Climate News Network

Earth nears irreversible tipping points

Changes afoot now in at least nine areas could drastically alter the Earth’s climate. There’s no time left to act on these tipping points.

LONDON, 28 November, 2019 – On the eve of a global climate summit in Madrid, seven distinguished climate scientists have issued an urgent warning of approaching planetary tipping points: within a few years, they say, humankind could enter a state of potentially catastrophic climate change on a new “hothouse” Earth.

They warn that dramatic changes to planetary stability may already be happening in nine vulnerable ecosystems. As these changes happen, they could reinforce each other and at the same time amplify planetary temperature rise, commit the oceans to inexorable sea level rise of around 10 metres, and threaten the existence of human civilisations.

Their warning is issued in a commentary in the journal Nature. Their conclusions are not – and perhaps cannot be – confirmed by direct evidence or the consensus of other scientists. They present an opinion, not a set of facts that can be scrutinised and challenged or endorsed by their peers.

And the seven researchers recognise that although such changes are happening at speed, some of the consequences of those changes will follow more slowly. Their point is that the risks of irreversible change are too great not to act – and to act now.

Happening now

But the fact that they have chosen to issue such an alarm at all is a measure of the concern raised by the rapid retreat of the Arctic ice, the steady loss of the Greenland ice cap, the damage to the boreal forests, the thaw of the polar permafrost, the slowing of a great ocean current, the loss of tropical corals and the collapse of ice sheets in East and West Antarctica.

Each of these happenings – and many more – was identified more than a decade ago as a potential “tipping point”: an irreversible change that would amplify global heating and trigger a cascade of other climate changes.

“Now we see evidence that over half of them have been activated,” said Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter, UK. “The growing threat of rapid, irreversible changes means it is no longer responsible to wait and see.”

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this”

The idea of a climate tipping point – a threshold beyond which dramatic climate change would be irreversible – is an old one. Two decades ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change examined the idea and proposed that, were the planet to warm by 5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then it could tip into a new climate regime.

But in the last few decades, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have gone from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have risen by more than 1°C. And the rate of change, driven by profligate use of fossil fuels that deposit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, has been alarming.

“It is not only human pressures on Earth that continue rising to unprecedented levels. It is also that, as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming. This is what we are seeing already at 1°C global warming,” said Johan Rockström, who directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and who is another signatory.

“Scientifically, this provides strong evidence for declaring a state of planetary emergency, to unleash world action that accelerates the path towards a world that can continue evolving on a stable planet.”

Inadequate pledges

In 2015, at a climate summit in Paris, 195 nations promised to contain planetary heating to “well below” 2°C, and ideally to 1.5°C, by 2100. But the Nature signatories point at that even if the pledges those nations made are implemented – a “big if”, they warn – then they will ensure only that the world is committed to at least 3°C warming.

The scientists believe there is still time to act – but their dangerous tipping points are now dangerously close.

The arguments go like this. In West Antarctica, ice may already be retreating beyond the “grounding line” where ice, ocean and bedrock meet. If so, then the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse, and sea levels could rise by three metres.

New evidence suggests the East Antarctic ice sheet could be similarly unstable, and precipitate further sea level rise of up to four metres. Hundreds of millions are already at risk from coastal flooding.

Timescale controlled

The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate, and once past a critical threshold could lose enough water to raise sea levels by seven metres. Even a 1.5°C warming might condemn Greenland to irreversible melting – and on present form the world could warm by 1.5°C by 2030.

“Thus we might have already committed future generations to living with sea level rises of around 10m over thousands of years. But the timescale is still under our control,” the authors warn.

They also warn that a “staggering 99% of tropical corals” could be lost if the planet heats by even 2°C – at a profound cost to both marine sea life and human economies.

They say 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost since 1970: a loss of somewhere between 20% and 40% could tip the entire rainforest into a destabilised state, increasingly at risk from drought and fire.

Risks multiply

In the boreal forests of northern Asia, Europe and Canada, insect outbreaks, fire and dieback could turn some regions into sources of more carbon, rather than sinks that soak up the extra carbon dioxide.

Permafrost thaw could release ever-greater volumes of stored methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent, over a century, than carbon dioxide, and so on. The dangers multiply, and each one amplifies planetary heating.

“If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping point cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilisation,” the authors warn.

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this.” – Climate News Network

Changes afoot now in at least nine areas could drastically alter the Earth’s climate. There’s no time left to act on these tipping points.

LONDON, 28 November, 2019 – On the eve of a global climate summit in Madrid, seven distinguished climate scientists have issued an urgent warning of approaching planetary tipping points: within a few years, they say, humankind could enter a state of potentially catastrophic climate change on a new “hothouse” Earth.

They warn that dramatic changes to planetary stability may already be happening in nine vulnerable ecosystems. As these changes happen, they could reinforce each other and at the same time amplify planetary temperature rise, commit the oceans to inexorable sea level rise of around 10 metres, and threaten the existence of human civilisations.

Their warning is issued in a commentary in the journal Nature. Their conclusions are not – and perhaps cannot be – confirmed by direct evidence or the consensus of other scientists. They present an opinion, not a set of facts that can be scrutinised and challenged or endorsed by their peers.

And the seven researchers recognise that although such changes are happening at speed, some of the consequences of those changes will follow more slowly. Their point is that the risks of irreversible change are too great not to act – and to act now.

Happening now

But the fact that they have chosen to issue such an alarm at all is a measure of the concern raised by the rapid retreat of the Arctic ice, the steady loss of the Greenland ice cap, the damage to the boreal forests, the thaw of the polar permafrost, the slowing of a great ocean current, the loss of tropical corals and the collapse of ice sheets in East and West Antarctica.

Each of these happenings – and many more – was identified more than a decade ago as a potential “tipping point”: an irreversible change that would amplify global heating and trigger a cascade of other climate changes.

“Now we see evidence that over half of them have been activated,” said Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter, UK. “The growing threat of rapid, irreversible changes means it is no longer responsible to wait and see.”

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this”

The idea of a climate tipping point – a threshold beyond which dramatic climate change would be irreversible – is an old one. Two decades ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change examined the idea and proposed that, were the planet to warm by 5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then it could tip into a new climate regime.

But in the last few decades, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have gone from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have risen by more than 1°C. And the rate of change, driven by profligate use of fossil fuels that deposit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, has been alarming.

“It is not only human pressures on Earth that continue rising to unprecedented levels. It is also that, as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming. This is what we are seeing already at 1°C global warming,” said Johan Rockström, who directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and who is another signatory.

“Scientifically, this provides strong evidence for declaring a state of planetary emergency, to unleash world action that accelerates the path towards a world that can continue evolving on a stable planet.”

Inadequate pledges

In 2015, at a climate summit in Paris, 195 nations promised to contain planetary heating to “well below” 2°C, and ideally to 1.5°C, by 2100. But the Nature signatories point at that even if the pledges those nations made are implemented – a “big if”, they warn – then they will ensure only that the world is committed to at least 3°C warming.

The scientists believe there is still time to act – but their dangerous tipping points are now dangerously close.

The arguments go like this. In West Antarctica, ice may already be retreating beyond the “grounding line” where ice, ocean and bedrock meet. If so, then the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse, and sea levels could rise by three metres.

New evidence suggests the East Antarctic ice sheet could be similarly unstable, and precipitate further sea level rise of up to four metres. Hundreds of millions are already at risk from coastal flooding.

Timescale controlled

The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate, and once past a critical threshold could lose enough water to raise sea levels by seven metres. Even a 1.5°C warming might condemn Greenland to irreversible melting – and on present form the world could warm by 1.5°C by 2030.

“Thus we might have already committed future generations to living with sea level rises of around 10m over thousands of years. But the timescale is still under our control,” the authors warn.

They also warn that a “staggering 99% of tropical corals” could be lost if the planet heats by even 2°C – at a profound cost to both marine sea life and human economies.

They say 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost since 1970: a loss of somewhere between 20% and 40% could tip the entire rainforest into a destabilised state, increasingly at risk from drought and fire.

Risks multiply

In the boreal forests of northern Asia, Europe and Canada, insect outbreaks, fire and dieback could turn some regions into sources of more carbon, rather than sinks that soak up the extra carbon dioxide.

Permafrost thaw could release ever-greater volumes of stored methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent, over a century, than carbon dioxide, and so on. The dangers multiply, and each one amplifies planetary heating.

“If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping point cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilisation,” the authors warn.

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this.” – Climate News Network

Arctic’s oldest ice shows signs of change

There’s change afoot even where scientists least expect it, among the Arctic’s oldest ice. If it goes, so does the wildlife.

LONDON, 21 November, 2019 – Stretches of the Arctic’s oldest ice, and its thickest – the last refuge ice that should survive even when the Arctic Ocean technically becomes ice-free in summers later this century – are now disappearing twice as fast as the rest of the Arctic icecap.

Although the north polar ice is vulnerable to global heating, and has been thinning and retreating at an accelerating rate for the last 40 summers, researchers have always expected some winter ice to survive: they define an “ice-free Arctic Ocean” as one with less than 1 million square kilometres of surviving ice pack.

But this supposedly ancient remnant of the polar winters, concentrated north of Greenland and the Canadian polar archipelago, is showing signs of change.

Researchers do not explicitly finger climate change driven by ever-greater human use of fossil fuels as the direct agent of this change: this is an area of polar ice difficult to observe and explore, is little known, and may always have been subject to change.

“This area will be a refuge where species can survive and hopefully expand their regions once the ice starts returning”

But scientists know why it is important. From submarine algae to polar bears, an entire Arctic ecosystem is dependent on the ice sheet. As the ice disappears, so will the seals, and their predators too.

Conservation-minded governments that want to establish protected areas need to know where protection will work best. “Eventually, the Last Ice Area will be the region that will repopulate the Arctic with wildlife,” said Kent Moore of the University of Toronto in Canada. “This area will be a refuge where species can survive and hopefully expand their regions once the ice starts returning.”

Dr Moore and his colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they used computer models and satellite observation data to build up a picture of what they call “spatiotemporal variability” in their Last Ice Area.

They found two distinct places where ice thickness fluctuated by up to 1.2 metres from year to year. In some patches, the ice was thinning by the decade: a loss of 1.5 metres since the late 1970s.

No monolith

Most north polar ice is youthful: seldom more than four years old. The Last Ice Area is certainly more than five years old, and has been measured at a thickness of four metres. It is not a static region: ice moves with the ocean beneath it.

And even the levels of melting are affected by natural cyclic ocean shifts as well as higher temperatures fuelled by greenhouse gas build-up in the atmosphere.

The race is on to understand the forces at work in what might be – one day – the only surviving ice in the polar summer.

“We can’t treat the Last Ice Area as a monolithic area of ice which is going to last a long time,” said Dr Moore. “There’s actually lots of regional variability.” – Climate News Network

There’s change afoot even where scientists least expect it, among the Arctic’s oldest ice. If it goes, so does the wildlife.

LONDON, 21 November, 2019 – Stretches of the Arctic’s oldest ice, and its thickest – the last refuge ice that should survive even when the Arctic Ocean technically becomes ice-free in summers later this century – are now disappearing twice as fast as the rest of the Arctic icecap.

Although the north polar ice is vulnerable to global heating, and has been thinning and retreating at an accelerating rate for the last 40 summers, researchers have always expected some winter ice to survive: they define an “ice-free Arctic Ocean” as one with less than 1 million square kilometres of surviving ice pack.

But this supposedly ancient remnant of the polar winters, concentrated north of Greenland and the Canadian polar archipelago, is showing signs of change.

Researchers do not explicitly finger climate change driven by ever-greater human use of fossil fuels as the direct agent of this change: this is an area of polar ice difficult to observe and explore, is little known, and may always have been subject to change.

“This area will be a refuge where species can survive and hopefully expand their regions once the ice starts returning”

But scientists know why it is important. From submarine algae to polar bears, an entire Arctic ecosystem is dependent on the ice sheet. As the ice disappears, so will the seals, and their predators too.

Conservation-minded governments that want to establish protected areas need to know where protection will work best. “Eventually, the Last Ice Area will be the region that will repopulate the Arctic with wildlife,” said Kent Moore of the University of Toronto in Canada. “This area will be a refuge where species can survive and hopefully expand their regions once the ice starts returning.”

Dr Moore and his colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they used computer models and satellite observation data to build up a picture of what they call “spatiotemporal variability” in their Last Ice Area.

They found two distinct places where ice thickness fluctuated by up to 1.2 metres from year to year. In some patches, the ice was thinning by the decade: a loss of 1.5 metres since the late 1970s.

No monolith

Most north polar ice is youthful: seldom more than four years old. The Last Ice Area is certainly more than five years old, and has been measured at a thickness of four metres. It is not a static region: ice moves with the ocean beneath it.

And even the levels of melting are affected by natural cyclic ocean shifts as well as higher temperatures fuelled by greenhouse gas build-up in the atmosphere.

The race is on to understand the forces at work in what might be – one day – the only surviving ice in the polar summer.

“We can’t treat the Last Ice Area as a monolithic area of ice which is going to last a long time,” said Dr Moore. “There’s actually lots of regional variability.” – Climate News Network

Forest damage costs far more than thought

Tropical forest damage is bad enough. New thinking suggests it could prove far more ruinous in terms of the climate crisis.

LONDON, 19 November, 2019 – We know already that human activities are causing devastating forest damage. Now a new study shows the loss we face could be much worse than we think.

Here, it says, is how to multiply your country’s contribution to solving the carbon problem sixfold. It’s simple. Do not do anything to your intact tropical forest. Don’t put roads around it, hunt in it, or select prize lumps of timber from it; don’t quarry, mine or plant oil palms in it. Just protect it.

Researchers have calculated that – compared with clearing it – the benefits of benign neglect are 626% higher than all previous accounting. And that’s just the calculation for the first 13 years of this century. Instead of an estimated 340 million tonnes of carbon spilled into the atmosphere, the figure from clearing forests now becomes 2.12 billion tonnes.

And a second team of scientists has identified a way to keep those conservation promises and carefully protect those forests and other habitats already declared protected areas. That too is simple: be a rich country in the northern hemisphere. That way, you might be able to count on the resources to back up the good intentions.

The role of the world’s forests in what climate scientists like to call the carbon budget – the annual traffic of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from all sources and back again into green plants, rocks and oceans – is a complicated one, and the play between human intrusion and the natural habitats makes it even more of a headache.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying”

Broadly, of the world’s tropical rainforests, only around 20% can be considered now intact. This by 2013 was an area of around 5.49 million square kilometres – an area much bigger than the European Union, yet smaller than Australia – but this green space concentrates 40% of all the carbon found in the trunks, branches and leaves of the world’s surviving natural tropical foliage, and gulps down carbon from the atmosphere at the rate of a billion tonnes a year.

So tropical forests play a vital role in worldwide national pledges, made in Paris in 2015, to contain global heating to “well below” a global average increase of 2°C by the end of the century. The planet has already warmed by 1°C in the last century, thanks to profligate human use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the planet’s natural forests.

And between 2000 and 2013, human growth and demand has reduced the area of intact forests by more than 7%. What the latest research has done is try to make a realistic estimate of the enduring cost to the planet.

“Usually, only ‘pulse’ emissions are considered – these are emissions released the instant intact forest is destroyed,” said Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland in Australia.

“Our analysis considers all impacts, such as the effects of selective logging, foregone carbon sequestration, expanding effects on the edges of forests, and species extinction.

Better funding needed

“We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”

Forest destruction has accelerated this century. Dr Maxwell and his co-authors report in the journal Science Advances that they considered all the carbon that was not sequestered by forest degradation between 2000 and 2013, along with the impacts of road clearance, mining, selective logging and overhunting of the animals that naturally disperse forest seeds, to arrive at their new estimate of the price in carbon emissions to be paid for destruction.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland, and a co-author.

“Humanity needs to better fund the conservation of intact forests, especially now we’ve shown their larger than realised role in stabilising the climate.”

And in the same week, British scientists confirmed that – around the globe – protected areas are not reducing human pressure on the natural wilderness. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at satellite evidence, together with census and crop data, to see what humans had so far done to 12,315 protected areas between 1995 and 2010.

Threat of protection

In every global region, there had been evidence of human encroachment. Overall, northern hemisphere nations and Australia had been more effective at keeping down human pressure in the areas set aside for conservation, compared to advances into unprotected areas.

But in those parts of the world where biodiversity is richest – South America, Southeast Asia and Africa south of the Sahara – human damage was significantly higher in protected grasslands, forests, mangrove swamps and other habitats than it was in unprotected areas. In parts of South America, clearance for agriculture in protected regions was 10% higher than in unprotected zones.

“Our study shows that agriculture is the driving force behind threats to protected areas, particularly in the tropics,” said Jonas Geldmann of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Our data does not reveal the causes, but we suspect factors that play a major role include rapid population growth, lack of funding, and higher levels of corruption. Additionally, most unprotected land suitable for agriculture is already farmed,” he said.

“We think that what we are seeing are the effects of establishing protected areas on paper, but not following through with the right funding, management and community engagement that is needed.” – Climate News Network

Tropical forest damage is bad enough. New thinking suggests it could prove far more ruinous in terms of the climate crisis.

LONDON, 19 November, 2019 – We know already that human activities are causing devastating forest damage. Now a new study shows the loss we face could be much worse than we think.

Here, it says, is how to multiply your country’s contribution to solving the carbon problem sixfold. It’s simple. Do not do anything to your intact tropical forest. Don’t put roads around it, hunt in it, or select prize lumps of timber from it; don’t quarry, mine or plant oil palms in it. Just protect it.

Researchers have calculated that – compared with clearing it – the benefits of benign neglect are 626% higher than all previous accounting. And that’s just the calculation for the first 13 years of this century. Instead of an estimated 340 million tonnes of carbon spilled into the atmosphere, the figure from clearing forests now becomes 2.12 billion tonnes.

And a second team of scientists has identified a way to keep those conservation promises and carefully protect those forests and other habitats already declared protected areas. That too is simple: be a rich country in the northern hemisphere. That way, you might be able to count on the resources to back up the good intentions.

The role of the world’s forests in what climate scientists like to call the carbon budget – the annual traffic of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from all sources and back again into green plants, rocks and oceans – is a complicated one, and the play between human intrusion and the natural habitats makes it even more of a headache.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying”

Broadly, of the world’s tropical rainforests, only around 20% can be considered now intact. This by 2013 was an area of around 5.49 million square kilometres – an area much bigger than the European Union, yet smaller than Australia – but this green space concentrates 40% of all the carbon found in the trunks, branches and leaves of the world’s surviving natural tropical foliage, and gulps down carbon from the atmosphere at the rate of a billion tonnes a year.

So tropical forests play a vital role in worldwide national pledges, made in Paris in 2015, to contain global heating to “well below” a global average increase of 2°C by the end of the century. The planet has already warmed by 1°C in the last century, thanks to profligate human use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the planet’s natural forests.

And between 2000 and 2013, human growth and demand has reduced the area of intact forests by more than 7%. What the latest research has done is try to make a realistic estimate of the enduring cost to the planet.

“Usually, only ‘pulse’ emissions are considered – these are emissions released the instant intact forest is destroyed,” said Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland in Australia.

“Our analysis considers all impacts, such as the effects of selective logging, foregone carbon sequestration, expanding effects on the edges of forests, and species extinction.

Better funding needed

“We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”

Forest destruction has accelerated this century. Dr Maxwell and his co-authors report in the journal Science Advances that they considered all the carbon that was not sequestered by forest degradation between 2000 and 2013, along with the impacts of road clearance, mining, selective logging and overhunting of the animals that naturally disperse forest seeds, to arrive at their new estimate of the price in carbon emissions to be paid for destruction.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland, and a co-author.

“Humanity needs to better fund the conservation of intact forests, especially now we’ve shown their larger than realised role in stabilising the climate.”

And in the same week, British scientists confirmed that – around the globe – protected areas are not reducing human pressure on the natural wilderness. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at satellite evidence, together with census and crop data, to see what humans had so far done to 12,315 protected areas between 1995 and 2010.

Threat of protection

In every global region, there had been evidence of human encroachment. Overall, northern hemisphere nations and Australia had been more effective at keeping down human pressure in the areas set aside for conservation, compared to advances into unprotected areas.

But in those parts of the world where biodiversity is richest – South America, Southeast Asia and Africa south of the Sahara – human damage was significantly higher in protected grasslands, forests, mangrove swamps and other habitats than it was in unprotected areas. In parts of South America, clearance for agriculture in protected regions was 10% higher than in unprotected zones.

“Our study shows that agriculture is the driving force behind threats to protected areas, particularly in the tropics,” said Jonas Geldmann of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Our data does not reveal the causes, but we suspect factors that play a major role include rapid population growth, lack of funding, and higher levels of corruption. Additionally, most unprotected land suitable for agriculture is already farmed,” he said.

“We think that what we are seeing are the effects of establishing protected areas on paper, but not following through with the right funding, management and community engagement that is needed.” – Climate News Network

‘Untold suffering’ lies ahead in hotter world

Global heating could bring “untold suffering” for humans. It could also mean less fresh water and less rice, though tasting more of arsenic.

LONDON, 11 November, 2019 – In an unprecedented step, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 nations have united to warn the world that, without deep and lasting change, the climate emergency promises  humankind unavoidable “untold suffering”.

And as if to underline that message, a US research group has predicted that – on the basis of experiments so far – global heating could reduce rice yields by 40% by the end of the century, and at the same time intensify levels of arsenic in the cereal that provides the staple food for almost half the planet.

And in the same few days a second US group has forecast that changes to the world’s vegetation in an atmosphere increasingly rich in carbon dioxide could mean that – even though rainfall might increase – there could be less fresh water on tap for many of the peoples of Europe, Asia and North America.

Warnings of climate hazard that could threaten political stability and precipitate mass starvation are not new: individuals, research groups, academies and intergovernmental agencies have been making the same point, and with increasing urgency, for more than two decades.

New analysis

The only argument has been about in what form, how badly, and just when the emergency will take its greatest toll.

But the 11,000 signatories to the statement in the journal BioScience report that their conclusions are based on the new analysis of 40 years of data covering energy use, surface temperature, population growth, land clearance, deforestation, polar ice melt, fertility rates, gross domestic product and carbon emissions.

The scientists list six steps that the world’s nations could take to avert the coming catastrophe: abandon fossil fuel use, reduce atmospheric pollution, restore natural ecosystems, shift from animal-based to plant diets, contain economic growth and the pursuit of affluence, and stabilise the human population.

Their warning appeared on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate congress, in Geneva in 1979.

Surprising rice impact

“Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis,” said William Ripple of Oregon State University, one of the leaders of the coalition. “Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

Both the warning of catastrophic climate change and the steps to avoid it are familiar. But researchers at Stanford University in the US say they really did not expect the impact of world temperature rise on the rice crop – the staple for two billion people now, and perhaps 5 bn by 2100 – to be so severe.

Other groups have already warned that changes in seasonal temperature and rainfall could reduce both the yields of wheat, fruit and vegetables, and the nutritional values of rice and other staples.

The Stanford group report in the journal Nature Communications that they looked more closely at what climate change could do to rice crops. Most soils contain some arsenic. Rice is grown in flooded paddy fields that tend to loosen the poison from the soil particles. But higher temperatures combined with more intense rainfall show that, in experiments, rice plants absorb more arsenic, which in turn inhibits nutrient absorption and reduces plant development. Not only did the grains contain twice the level of arsenic, the yield fell by two-fifths.

“We have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis. Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected”

“By the time we get to 2100, we’re estimated to have approximately 10bn people, so that would mean we have 5 billion people dependent on rice, and 2bn who would not have access to the calories they would normally need,” said Scott Fendorf, an earth system scientist at Stanford.

“I didn’t expect the magnitude of impact on rice yield we observed. What I missed was how much the soil biogeochemistry would respond to increased temperature, how that would amplify plant-available arsenic and then – coupled with temperature stress – how that would really impact the plant.”

And while the rice croplands expect heavier rains, great tracts of the northern hemisphere could see vegetation changes that could have paradoxical consequences. In a wetter, warmer world plants could grow more vigorously. The stomata on the leaves through which plants breathe are more likely to close in a world of higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, meaning less water loss through foliage.

And while this should mean more run-off and a moister tropical world, a team at Dartmouth College in the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that in the mid-latitudes plant response to climate change could actually make the land drier instead of wetter.

Water consumption rises

“Approximately 60% of the global water flux from the land to the atmosphere goes through plants, called transpiration. Plants are like the atmosphere’s straw, dominating how water flows from the land to the atmosphere. So vegetation is a massive determinant of what water is left on land for people,” said Justin Mankin, a geographer at Dartmouth.

“The question we’re asking here is, how do the combined effects of carbon dioxide and warming change the size of that straw?”

The calculations are complex. First, as temperatures soar, so will evaporation: more humidity means more rain – in some places. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels soar, driven by fossil fuel combustion, plants need less water to photosynthesise, so the land gets more water. As the planet warms, growing seasons become extended and warmer, so plants grow for a longer period and consume more water, and will grow more vigorously because of the fertility effect of higher carbon dioxide concentrations.

The calculations suggest that forests, grasslands and other ecosystems will consume more water for longer periods, thus drying the soil and reducing ground water, and the run-off to the rivers, in parts of Europe, Asia and the US.

Avoiding the worst

And that in turn would mean lower levels of water available for human consumption, agriculture, hydropower and industry.

Both studies are indicators of possible hazard, to be confirmed or challenged by other scientific groups. But both exemplify the complexity of the challenge presented by temperature rises of at least the 2°C set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 as the limit by the century’s end; or the 3°C that seems increasingly likely as those same nations fail to take the drastic action prescribed.

The world has already warmed by almost 1°C above the long-term average for most of human history. So both papers shore up the reasoning of the 11,000 signatories to the latest warning of planetary disaster. But that same warning contains some steps humankind could take to avert the worst.

“While things are bad, all is not hopeless,” said Thomas Newsome, of the University of Sydney, Australia, and one of the signatories. “We can take steps to address the climate emergency.” – Climate News Network

Global heating could bring “untold suffering” for humans. It could also mean less fresh water and less rice, though tasting more of arsenic.

LONDON, 11 November, 2019 – In an unprecedented step, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 nations have united to warn the world that, without deep and lasting change, the climate emergency promises  humankind unavoidable “untold suffering”.

And as if to underline that message, a US research group has predicted that – on the basis of experiments so far – global heating could reduce rice yields by 40% by the end of the century, and at the same time intensify levels of arsenic in the cereal that provides the staple food for almost half the planet.

And in the same few days a second US group has forecast that changes to the world’s vegetation in an atmosphere increasingly rich in carbon dioxide could mean that – even though rainfall might increase – there could be less fresh water on tap for many of the peoples of Europe, Asia and North America.

Warnings of climate hazard that could threaten political stability and precipitate mass starvation are not new: individuals, research groups, academies and intergovernmental agencies have been making the same point, and with increasing urgency, for more than two decades.

New analysis

The only argument has been about in what form, how badly, and just when the emergency will take its greatest toll.

But the 11,000 signatories to the statement in the journal BioScience report that their conclusions are based on the new analysis of 40 years of data covering energy use, surface temperature, population growth, land clearance, deforestation, polar ice melt, fertility rates, gross domestic product and carbon emissions.

The scientists list six steps that the world’s nations could take to avert the coming catastrophe: abandon fossil fuel use, reduce atmospheric pollution, restore natural ecosystems, shift from animal-based to plant diets, contain economic growth and the pursuit of affluence, and stabilise the human population.

Their warning appeared on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate congress, in Geneva in 1979.

Surprising rice impact

“Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis,” said William Ripple of Oregon State University, one of the leaders of the coalition. “Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

Both the warning of catastrophic climate change and the steps to avoid it are familiar. But researchers at Stanford University in the US say they really did not expect the impact of world temperature rise on the rice crop – the staple for two billion people now, and perhaps 5 bn by 2100 – to be so severe.

Other groups have already warned that changes in seasonal temperature and rainfall could reduce both the yields of wheat, fruit and vegetables, and the nutritional values of rice and other staples.

The Stanford group report in the journal Nature Communications that they looked more closely at what climate change could do to rice crops. Most soils contain some arsenic. Rice is grown in flooded paddy fields that tend to loosen the poison from the soil particles. But higher temperatures combined with more intense rainfall show that, in experiments, rice plants absorb more arsenic, which in turn inhibits nutrient absorption and reduces plant development. Not only did the grains contain twice the level of arsenic, the yield fell by two-fifths.

“We have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis. Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected”

“By the time we get to 2100, we’re estimated to have approximately 10bn people, so that would mean we have 5 billion people dependent on rice, and 2bn who would not have access to the calories they would normally need,” said Scott Fendorf, an earth system scientist at Stanford.

“I didn’t expect the magnitude of impact on rice yield we observed. What I missed was how much the soil biogeochemistry would respond to increased temperature, how that would amplify plant-available arsenic and then – coupled with temperature stress – how that would really impact the plant.”

And while the rice croplands expect heavier rains, great tracts of the northern hemisphere could see vegetation changes that could have paradoxical consequences. In a wetter, warmer world plants could grow more vigorously. The stomata on the leaves through which plants breathe are more likely to close in a world of higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, meaning less water loss through foliage.

And while this should mean more run-off and a moister tropical world, a team at Dartmouth College in the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that in the mid-latitudes plant response to climate change could actually make the land drier instead of wetter.

Water consumption rises

“Approximately 60% of the global water flux from the land to the atmosphere goes through plants, called transpiration. Plants are like the atmosphere’s straw, dominating how water flows from the land to the atmosphere. So vegetation is a massive determinant of what water is left on land for people,” said Justin Mankin, a geographer at Dartmouth.

“The question we’re asking here is, how do the combined effects of carbon dioxide and warming change the size of that straw?”

The calculations are complex. First, as temperatures soar, so will evaporation: more humidity means more rain – in some places. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels soar, driven by fossil fuel combustion, plants need less water to photosynthesise, so the land gets more water. As the planet warms, growing seasons become extended and warmer, so plants grow for a longer period and consume more water, and will grow more vigorously because of the fertility effect of higher carbon dioxide concentrations.

The calculations suggest that forests, grasslands and other ecosystems will consume more water for longer periods, thus drying the soil and reducing ground water, and the run-off to the rivers, in parts of Europe, Asia and the US.

Avoiding the worst

And that in turn would mean lower levels of water available for human consumption, agriculture, hydropower and industry.

Both studies are indicators of possible hazard, to be confirmed or challenged by other scientific groups. But both exemplify the complexity of the challenge presented by temperature rises of at least the 2°C set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 as the limit by the century’s end; or the 3°C that seems increasingly likely as those same nations fail to take the drastic action prescribed.

The world has already warmed by almost 1°C above the long-term average for most of human history. So both papers shore up the reasoning of the 11,000 signatories to the latest warning of planetary disaster. But that same warning contains some steps humankind could take to avert the worst.

“While things are bad, all is not hopeless,” said Thomas Newsome, of the University of Sydney, Australia, and one of the signatories. “We can take steps to address the climate emergency.” – Climate News Network

Indigenous firefighters tackle Brazil’s blazes

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

World’s species numbers stay much the same

Life is on the move. Everywhere, the mix of creatures is changing for better and worse. The world’s species remain diverse. But for how long?

LONDON, 30 October, 2019 – Biodiversity – that vital mix of the world’s species, insects, worms, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, microbes, plants and fungi that make up an ecosystem – is being reorganised. Change is happening almost everywhere on land and much faster in the seas that cover seven-tenths of the globe.

But when an international team of researchers looked at 239 studies that catalogued 50,000 changes in the living world over the decades, they arrived at a paradoxical puzzle.

The composition of an ecosystem is being altered, and altered sometimes at speed, by rising temperatures driven by human use of fossil fuels, by human colonisation of the grasslands, forests and wetlands, and by human disturbance of coral reefs, sea meadows, mangrove swamps and other submarine habitats.

But on average, the richness of life – the sheer numbers of species – in the world’s more closely studied ecosystems has remained much the same: that is, as some creatures or growths vanish from a cloud forest or an estuarine mudbank, the space they occupied is colonised by newcomers more comfortable with change.

Mixed picture

“Our study shows that biodiversity is changing everywhere, but we are not losing biodiversity everywhere. Some places are recovering and adapting,” says Maria Dornelas of the University of St Andrews in the UK.

“When biodiversity is in the news these days, it is often because the Amazon is on fire, or there is a global mass mortality event in coral reefs,  and rightly so, because this is terrifying news.

“However there is a lot of recovery taking place silently in the background, and many places where not much is happening. Our study puts these things on the map and shows they are not contradictory.”

The finding seems to question two decades of scientific orthodoxy: that because of human action, species are being extinguished at an accelerated rate. Extinction is a part of evolution, but biologists calculate that it is now happening at least a thousand times faster than the average rate for the past 500 million years.

“A sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change”

And humans are to blame for the “sixth mass extinction” which threatens perhaps a million species and is likely to be made worse by global heating and the climate emergency. Species are vanishing from ecosystems at the local level, and globally.

The latest study, in the journal Science, suggests that the big picture is more complicated: as environments change, so does the mix of local species. Some migrate, some adapt, some invade. Overall, the richness of the local population may not change a lot.

But this finding may not be inconsistent with global alarm about species loss on a massive scale as human numbers go on rising, and levels of greenhouse gas continue to soar. Change is happening faster in the tropics, those regions with the greatest variety of life. The dangers have not evaporated.

Philip Martin, an ecologist at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the research, tells Climate News Network that any finding that, on average, 28% of species were being replaced each decade should be a worry.

Excluding complacency

It might be that local species with narrow ranges were being replaced by more resilient plants or animals capable of surviving a much wider range of conditions: if so, the numbers of species in any local ecosystem might remain stable but the variety of life overall could still be diminished.

“As such, a sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change,” he warns.

And the paper’s authors make a parallel point: there is no case for complacency. “If these trends are maintained, this could lead to a dramatic restructuring of biodiversity, with potentially severe consequences for ecosystem functioning,” says Shane Blowes of the Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research at Halle-Jena-Leipzig in Germany.

And Andrew Gonzalez of McGill University in Canada says: “The Earth is going through a great geographic reorganisation of its biodiversity in response to human activities and climate change. Given what we know it is likely this will continue for decades to come.” – Climate News Network

Life is on the move. Everywhere, the mix of creatures is changing for better and worse. The world’s species remain diverse. But for how long?

LONDON, 30 October, 2019 – Biodiversity – that vital mix of the world’s species, insects, worms, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, microbes, plants and fungi that make up an ecosystem – is being reorganised. Change is happening almost everywhere on land and much faster in the seas that cover seven-tenths of the globe.

But when an international team of researchers looked at 239 studies that catalogued 50,000 changes in the living world over the decades, they arrived at a paradoxical puzzle.

The composition of an ecosystem is being altered, and altered sometimes at speed, by rising temperatures driven by human use of fossil fuels, by human colonisation of the grasslands, forests and wetlands, and by human disturbance of coral reefs, sea meadows, mangrove swamps and other submarine habitats.

But on average, the richness of life – the sheer numbers of species – in the world’s more closely studied ecosystems has remained much the same: that is, as some creatures or growths vanish from a cloud forest or an estuarine mudbank, the space they occupied is colonised by newcomers more comfortable with change.

Mixed picture

“Our study shows that biodiversity is changing everywhere, but we are not losing biodiversity everywhere. Some places are recovering and adapting,” says Maria Dornelas of the University of St Andrews in the UK.

“When biodiversity is in the news these days, it is often because the Amazon is on fire, or there is a global mass mortality event in coral reefs,  and rightly so, because this is terrifying news.

“However there is a lot of recovery taking place silently in the background, and many places where not much is happening. Our study puts these things on the map and shows they are not contradictory.”

The finding seems to question two decades of scientific orthodoxy: that because of human action, species are being extinguished at an accelerated rate. Extinction is a part of evolution, but biologists calculate that it is now happening at least a thousand times faster than the average rate for the past 500 million years.

“A sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change”

And humans are to blame for the “sixth mass extinction” which threatens perhaps a million species and is likely to be made worse by global heating and the climate emergency. Species are vanishing from ecosystems at the local level, and globally.

The latest study, in the journal Science, suggests that the big picture is more complicated: as environments change, so does the mix of local species. Some migrate, some adapt, some invade. Overall, the richness of the local population may not change a lot.

But this finding may not be inconsistent with global alarm about species loss on a massive scale as human numbers go on rising, and levels of greenhouse gas continue to soar. Change is happening faster in the tropics, those regions with the greatest variety of life. The dangers have not evaporated.

Philip Martin, an ecologist at the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the research, tells Climate News Network that any finding that, on average, 28% of species were being replaced each decade should be a worry.

Excluding complacency

It might be that local species with narrow ranges were being replaced by more resilient plants or animals capable of surviving a much wider range of conditions: if so, the numbers of species in any local ecosystem might remain stable but the variety of life overall could still be diminished.

“As such, a sixth mass extinction could still be happening while local scale richness shows little change,” he warns.

And the paper’s authors make a parallel point: there is no case for complacency. “If these trends are maintained, this could lead to a dramatic restructuring of biodiversity, with potentially severe consequences for ecosystem functioning,” says Shane Blowes of the Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research at Halle-Jena-Leipzig in Germany.

And Andrew Gonzalez of McGill University in Canada says: “The Earth is going through a great geographic reorganisation of its biodiversity in response to human activities and climate change. Given what we know it is likely this will continue for decades to come.” – Climate News Network

Penguins in peril as winds change and heat rises

New weather patterns in the warming Antarctic are leaving thousands of penguins in peril, prompting calls for them to be specially protected.

LONDON, 10 October, 2019 – A species that has come to symbolise Antarctica’s wealth of wildlife now faces mortal danger: climate change is putting emperor penguins in peril.

British scientists say the continent is warming with unparalleled speed, meaning the birds may soon have almost nowhere to breed. Some researchers think the number of emperors could be cut by more than half by 2100.

Philip Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, says: “The current rate of warming in parts of the Antarctic is greater than anything in the recent glaciological record.

“Though emperor penguins have experienced periods of warming and cooling over their evolutionary history, the current rates of warming are unprecedented.

“Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat – sea ice. They are not agile, and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult.

Numbers fluctuate

“For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat.”

It is not the first time scientists have sounded the alarm for the emperors. This time, though, they are urging potentially far-reaching action.

In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers, led by Dr Trathan, recommends new steps to protect and conserve the penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri).

Satellite images in 2012 suggested there were almost 600,000 of the birds in the Antarctic, roughly double the number estimated in 1992. The researchers involved in this latest report reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology.

“Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species”

Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will damage the sea ice on which the emperors breed, with some studies showing populations likely to fall by more than 50% over this century.

Before breeding, both males and females must build their body reserves so that females can lay their single egg, and for males to fast while undertaking the entire egg incubation during the Antarctic winter.

Emperors are unique amongst birds because they breed on seasonal Antarctic sea ice which they need while incubating their eggs and raising their chicks.

They also need stable sea ice after they have completed breeding, during the time when they undergo their annual moult. They cannot enter the water then as their feathers are no longer waterproof, leaving them unable to enter the sea.

So the researchers are recommending that the IUCN status for the species be raised from “near-threatened” to “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  They say improvements in climate change forecasting of impacts on Antarctic wildlife would help, and recommend that the emperors should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a specially protected species.

Wider appeal

Better protection will let scientists coordinate research into the penguins’ resilience to a range of different threats and stressors.

Dr Peter Fretwell, remote sensing specialist at BAS and a co-author of the study, says: “Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species to give them the best chance.”

The UK was one of the countries which notified the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting at its 2019 meeting in July that emperor penguins were threatened by the loss of their breeding habitat and that further protection was needed.

A similar paper has also been submitted to this year’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which meets in the Tasmanian capital, Hobart, later this month. – Climate News Network 

New weather patterns in the warming Antarctic are leaving thousands of penguins in peril, prompting calls for them to be specially protected.

LONDON, 10 October, 2019 – A species that has come to symbolise Antarctica’s wealth of wildlife now faces mortal danger: climate change is putting emperor penguins in peril.

British scientists say the continent is warming with unparalleled speed, meaning the birds may soon have almost nowhere to breed. Some researchers think the number of emperors could be cut by more than half by 2100.

Philip Trathan, head of conservation biology at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, says: “The current rate of warming in parts of the Antarctic is greater than anything in the recent glaciological record.

“Though emperor penguins have experienced periods of warming and cooling over their evolutionary history, the current rates of warming are unprecedented.

“Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat – sea ice. They are not agile, and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult.

Numbers fluctuate

“For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat.”

It is not the first time scientists have sounded the alarm for the emperors. This time, though, they are urging potentially far-reaching action.

In a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers, led by Dr Trathan, recommends new steps to protect and conserve the penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri).

Satellite images in 2012 suggested there were almost 600,000 of the birds in the Antarctic, roughly double the number estimated in 1992. The researchers involved in this latest report reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology.

“Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species”

Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will damage the sea ice on which the emperors breed, with some studies showing populations likely to fall by more than 50% over this century.

Before breeding, both males and females must build their body reserves so that females can lay their single egg, and for males to fast while undertaking the entire egg incubation during the Antarctic winter.

Emperors are unique amongst birds because they breed on seasonal Antarctic sea ice which they need while incubating their eggs and raising their chicks.

They also need stable sea ice after they have completed breeding, during the time when they undergo their annual moult. They cannot enter the water then as their feathers are no longer waterproof, leaving them unable to enter the sea.

So the researchers are recommending that the IUCN status for the species be raised from “near-threatened” to “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  They say improvements in climate change forecasting of impacts on Antarctic wildlife would help, and recommend that the emperors should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a specially protected species.

Wider appeal

Better protection will let scientists coordinate research into the penguins’ resilience to a range of different threats and stressors.

Dr Peter Fretwell, remote sensing specialist at BAS and a co-author of the study, says: “Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species to give them the best chance.”

The UK was one of the countries which notified the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting at its 2019 meeting in July that emperor penguins were threatened by the loss of their breeding habitat and that further protection was needed.

A similar paper has also been submitted to this year’s Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which meets in the Tasmanian capital, Hobart, later this month. – Climate News Network 

Rebellion grows against climate emergency

Global protestors disrupt traffic and target government buildings to protest at the lack of action to halt the climate emergency.

LONDON, 8 October, 2019 − This city yesterday re-echoed to the sound of dozens of drums beating outside Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, as thousands of protestors closed down London to warn the UK government it faces rebellion over the climate emergency and the plight of the natural world.

In 23 major cities across the planet the global movement known as Extinction Rebellion has begun two weeks of disruption intended to show governments that citizens are not satisfied with their actions to curb climate change and to protect wild species.

An extraordinary range of people with a variety of causes all linked to climate change crowded into London’s Trafalgar Square and other streets around Parliament.

Watched by bemused Chinese tourists attempting to take in London’s attractions, key road junctions and bridges were blockaded at 10 am by protestors sitting in the road. The Metropolitan Police arrested 280 demonstrators in the course of the day, although in most places they made no attempt to intervene.

With thousands of protestors trained in non-violent direct action and preparing to be arrested, the police clearly decided not to try to stop them. Instead they stood in front of the entrance to prime minister Boris Johnson’s house in Downing Street and protected the entrances to nearby government buildings.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored”

Handing out leaflets entitled: “It’s time to tell the truth”, the protestors stressed their key message: “We are in trouble. Sea levels are rising. Heatwaves are killing crops. The Arctic is melting, and Africa and the Amazon are on fire.”

Although the atmosphere was friendly there was no doubt about the determination of those taking part. There were young mothers with children. Italian Monia Salvini, in Trafalgar Square, was carrying her six-month-old daughter Delia.

She had travelled from her home in east London and said she was there because she feared for her daughter’s future − “but I am not doing it just for her, I am doing it for everybody.”

She had first learned about the climate crisis a year ago, and the more she read the more she realised how urgent it was and how little governments were doing about it. “I thought as soon as my pregnancy is over I must do something.”

There were many homemade placards: “Choose Extinction or Rebellion”, “We can’t eat money, we can’t drink oil”, “Mars for the Privileged, Earth for the Poor”, and “We must rise before the tides.”

Next generation

Sarah, who did not want to give her surname, had travelled overnight by train from Edinburgh with her eight-month-old son and carried a notice reading: “Failure to Grasp Science is not an argument against it.” She said that, while the US and Brazilian governments were a disgrace, the United Kingdom led by Boris Johnson was just as bad “because after his government declared a climate emergency he has taken no action to do anything about it.”

There was a hearse across the road blocking the entrance to Whitehall. It held a coffin covered in flowers, and protestors dressed as undertakers. Trained protestors, ready for arrest, lay in the road beside it, but rather than attempt to move them police directed traffic to turn round.

Most drivers were good-humoured about the disruption to their day even though some were caught in traffic jams for over an hour. More vocal were some taxi drivers who shouted expletives at both the protestors and the police.

Outside Downing Street was a large number of people demanding a Citizen’s Assembly, an idea already being tried in Ireland, France, and in some English cities like Oxford.

A key demand of Extinction Rebellion, the idea is to recruit a cross-section of the population, “ordinary people selected at random”, to learn about climate change from experts and then decide together what should be done about it.

Destined to grow

The assemblies, which would undertake to have “no party politics, no short-term election thinking and no hidden money”, would recommend to governments the best way to get out of the climate crisis.

Among the protestors was 66-year-old Steve Morton, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, “hardly a hotbed of the revolution.” A veteran environmental campaigner for Friends of the Earth for nearly 40 years, he said he had been trying “official channels” for all that time to get action on climate change.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored.” He was particularly pleased to see that the vast majority of protestors were young people.

So far the police have made no comment on how long they will stand by while central London traffic is halted by the protests. It is not known either whether they have enough cells to hold the hundreds of demonstrators said to be ready for arrest.

What is clear is that the demonstrations are larger than the last set of disruptions in London in April, and better organised and financed. Like the school strikes begun by the Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, they seem destined to grow. − Climate News Network

Global protestors disrupt traffic and target government buildings to protest at the lack of action to halt the climate emergency.

LONDON, 8 October, 2019 − This city yesterday re-echoed to the sound of dozens of drums beating outside Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, as thousands of protestors closed down London to warn the UK government it faces rebellion over the climate emergency and the plight of the natural world.

In 23 major cities across the planet the global movement known as Extinction Rebellion has begun two weeks of disruption intended to show governments that citizens are not satisfied with their actions to curb climate change and to protect wild species.

An extraordinary range of people with a variety of causes all linked to climate change crowded into London’s Trafalgar Square and other streets around Parliament.

Watched by bemused Chinese tourists attempting to take in London’s attractions, key road junctions and bridges were blockaded at 10 am by protestors sitting in the road. The Metropolitan Police arrested 280 demonstrators in the course of the day, although in most places they made no attempt to intervene.

With thousands of protestors trained in non-violent direct action and preparing to be arrested, the police clearly decided not to try to stop them. Instead they stood in front of the entrance to prime minister Boris Johnson’s house in Downing Street and protected the entrances to nearby government buildings.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored”

Handing out leaflets entitled: “It’s time to tell the truth”, the protestors stressed their key message: “We are in trouble. Sea levels are rising. Heatwaves are killing crops. The Arctic is melting, and Africa and the Amazon are on fire.”

Although the atmosphere was friendly there was no doubt about the determination of those taking part. There were young mothers with children. Italian Monia Salvini, in Trafalgar Square, was carrying her six-month-old daughter Delia.

She had travelled from her home in east London and said she was there because she feared for her daughter’s future − “but I am not doing it just for her, I am doing it for everybody.”

She had first learned about the climate crisis a year ago, and the more she read the more she realised how urgent it was and how little governments were doing about it. “I thought as soon as my pregnancy is over I must do something.”

There were many homemade placards: “Choose Extinction or Rebellion”, “We can’t eat money, we can’t drink oil”, “Mars for the Privileged, Earth for the Poor”, and “We must rise before the tides.”

Next generation

Sarah, who did not want to give her surname, had travelled overnight by train from Edinburgh with her eight-month-old son and carried a notice reading: “Failure to Grasp Science is not an argument against it.” She said that, while the US and Brazilian governments were a disgrace, the United Kingdom led by Boris Johnson was just as bad “because after his government declared a climate emergency he has taken no action to do anything about it.”

There was a hearse across the road blocking the entrance to Whitehall. It held a coffin covered in flowers, and protestors dressed as undertakers. Trained protestors, ready for arrest, lay in the road beside it, but rather than attempt to move them police directed traffic to turn round.

Most drivers were good-humoured about the disruption to their day even though some were caught in traffic jams for over an hour. More vocal were some taxi drivers who shouted expletives at both the protestors and the police.

Outside Downing Street was a large number of people demanding a Citizen’s Assembly, an idea already being tried in Ireland, France, and in some English cities like Oxford.

A key demand of Extinction Rebellion, the idea is to recruit a cross-section of the population, “ordinary people selected at random”, to learn about climate change from experts and then decide together what should be done about it.

Destined to grow

The assemblies, which would undertake to have “no party politics, no short-term election thinking and no hidden money”, would recommend to governments the best way to get out of the climate crisis.

Among the protestors was 66-year-old Steve Morton, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, “hardly a hotbed of the revolution.” A veteran environmental campaigner for Friends of the Earth for nearly 40 years, he said he had been trying “official channels” for all that time to get action on climate change.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored.” He was particularly pleased to see that the vast majority of protestors were young people.

So far the police have made no comment on how long they will stand by while central London traffic is halted by the protests. It is not known either whether they have enough cells to hold the hundreds of demonstrators said to be ready for arrest.

What is clear is that the demonstrations are larger than the last set of disruptions in London in April, and better organised and financed. Like the school strikes begun by the Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, they seem destined to grow. − Climate News Network

Starvation may force nations to war

Unless nations act now to halt the spread of deserts, they may face wars over food shortages and starvation by mid-century, the UN says.

DELHI, 26 September, 2019 − A stark warning that the exposure of more and more people to water scarcity, hunger and outright starvation may lead to the “failure of fragile states and regional conflicts” has been given by the United Nations as it attempts to galvanise governments into halting the spread of deserts before more cropland is lost.

The climate summit in New York was presented with a plan to try to halt the annual loss of 12 million hectares (30mn acres) of productive land caused by the nations which are parties to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which recently ended a high-level meeting here.

The plan was the list of actions nations agreed at the meeting of more than 190 countries to attempt to reverse the spread of land degradation that the UN estimates will displace 135 million people by 2045. The battle to halt the spread of deserts is seen by the UN as an integral part of the international effort to halt climate change.

How successful the new plans will be remains to be seen, as although  the Convention, like the Climate Change Convention, has been in existence since the last century, the problems continue to get worse. However, all the countries involved now have national plans to halt land degradation and restore croplands and forests.

One of the key new promises made at the Delhi meeting, which ended on 13 September, was to grant land tenure to groups to give them an incentive to protect soils and the ability of the land to grow crops.

“Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss”

Delegates also agreed to improve the rights of women, promote land restoration and reduce land-related carbon emissions, both from poor soil management and the destruction of trees. New ways of financing these schemes from government and private sources were proposed.

The scale of the problem is enormous. Close to a quarter of global land is almost unusable, and by the middle of the century humans will need to produce twice as much grain as they do today to keep up with global population growth, the UNCCD says.

At the closing session Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said: “Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss; land restoration makes business sense if we have regulations and incentives to reward investment.”

In addition, he said, preparing for the increasing number of droughts and coping with them are critical in the face of climate change. He emphasised the need to involve young people and women and to secure land rights.

However, despite the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration, in which ministers and delegates expressed support for new initiatives or coalitions aiming to improve human health and well-being and the health of ecosystems, and to advance peace and security, there were dissenting voices at the conference.

Dilution and omissions

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a statement: “The New Delhi Declaration has diluted the role of international funding bodies in combating desertification. It has also sidestepped the contentious issue of tenure rights to land.”

The CSE said the statement had removed any mention of the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund  from the Declaration and there were no mentions of specific measures that could be used for adaptation nor, in fact, the word “adaptation” itself. Countries were left to develop their own plans.

Local politics also plays an important part in creating the problem. For example, across South Asia severe drought areas are used for water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane, or for very large monoculture plantations for palm oil or rubber.

Some speakers felt it was going to be an uphill struggle for poorer countries to get funding for restoring degraded land.

Early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dry land agriculture, mangrove protection and investments in making water resources more resilient were all vital. Adapting to land degradation and climate change was in everyone’s strong economic self-interest, Thiaw said. − Climate News Network

Unless nations act now to halt the spread of deserts, they may face wars over food shortages and starvation by mid-century, the UN says.

DELHI, 26 September, 2019 − A stark warning that the exposure of more and more people to water scarcity, hunger and outright starvation may lead to the “failure of fragile states and regional conflicts” has been given by the United Nations as it attempts to galvanise governments into halting the spread of deserts before more cropland is lost.

The climate summit in New York was presented with a plan to try to halt the annual loss of 12 million hectares (30mn acres) of productive land caused by the nations which are parties to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which recently ended a high-level meeting here.

The plan was the list of actions nations agreed at the meeting of more than 190 countries to attempt to reverse the spread of land degradation that the UN estimates will displace 135 million people by 2045. The battle to halt the spread of deserts is seen by the UN as an integral part of the international effort to halt climate change.

How successful the new plans will be remains to be seen, as although  the Convention, like the Climate Change Convention, has been in existence since the last century, the problems continue to get worse. However, all the countries involved now have national plans to halt land degradation and restore croplands and forests.

One of the key new promises made at the Delhi meeting, which ended on 13 September, was to grant land tenure to groups to give them an incentive to protect soils and the ability of the land to grow crops.

“Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss”

Delegates also agreed to improve the rights of women, promote land restoration and reduce land-related carbon emissions, both from poor soil management and the destruction of trees. New ways of financing these schemes from government and private sources were proposed.

The scale of the problem is enormous. Close to a quarter of global land is almost unusable, and by the middle of the century humans will need to produce twice as much grain as they do today to keep up with global population growth, the UNCCD says.

At the closing session Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said: “Land restoration is the cheapest solution to climate change and biodiversity loss; land restoration makes business sense if we have regulations and incentives to reward investment.”

In addition, he said, preparing for the increasing number of droughts and coping with them are critical in the face of climate change. He emphasised the need to involve young people and women and to secure land rights.

However, despite the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration, in which ministers and delegates expressed support for new initiatives or coalitions aiming to improve human health and well-being and the health of ecosystems, and to advance peace and security, there were dissenting voices at the conference.

Dilution and omissions

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said in a statement: “The New Delhi Declaration has diluted the role of international funding bodies in combating desertification. It has also sidestepped the contentious issue of tenure rights to land.”

The CSE said the statement had removed any mention of the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund  from the Declaration and there were no mentions of specific measures that could be used for adaptation nor, in fact, the word “adaptation” itself. Countries were left to develop their own plans.

Local politics also plays an important part in creating the problem. For example, across South Asia severe drought areas are used for water-guzzling crops such as sugarcane, or for very large monoculture plantations for palm oil or rubber.

Some speakers felt it was going to be an uphill struggle for poorer countries to get funding for restoring degraded land.

Early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dry land agriculture, mangrove protection and investments in making water resources more resilient were all vital. Adapting to land degradation and climate change was in everyone’s strong economic self-interest, Thiaw said. − Climate News Network