Tag Archives: Deforestation

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro puts Amazon at risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double disaster possible

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

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

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

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

Partial retreat

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

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

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

New risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double disaster possible

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

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

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

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

Partial retreat

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

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

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

New risk

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

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

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

Landslides are growing risk to poorest

Waterlogged hillsides are dangerous. For those who live on them, or further downhill, they can be deadly. The global risk from landslides is rising.

LONDON, 3 September, 2018 – Lethal landslides are on the increase. Between 2004 and 2016, sudden cascades of rock, rubble and mud have claimed at least 50,000 lives. And fatal slips down unstable hillside slopes have steadily increased this century, according to new research.

British geographers report in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences that they had amassed a database of 4,800 fatal landslides since 2004 and found that at least 700 of them had what they call a direct human fingerprint: they happened because people built on unstable soils, they mined, legally and illegally, they cut into hillsides, and they allowed pipes to leak.

In addition, heavy rainfall, earthquakes, explosions, dam collapses and freezing and thawing also set the earth moving at ever greater speeds, with deadly consequences.

The researchers also report that they found that other catalogues of natural disaster consistently under-estimated the toll exacted by landslides.

“It was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides … were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016”

One study found that the International Disaster Database, maintained by the international disaster community, under-estimated the number of fatal landslides by between 1400% and 2000%, often because the death tolls from such events were lumped in with other forms of disaster that might precipitate landslip: among them volcanic eruption, earthquake and flooding.

“We were aware that humans are placing increasing pressure on their local environment, but it was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides triggered by construction, illegal hill-cutting and illegal mining were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016,” said Melanie Froude, of the University of Sheffield, who led the study.

All the countries in the premier league for fatal landslides were in Asia: one in five of these happened in India, but Pakistan, Myanmar and the Philippines also suffered increasing losses.

Poorest in the shadows

Such findings are no surprise. First, there are more people on the planet, looking for new places to live and new ways of making a living, and the poorest are always more likely to be forced to the margins, to live on or in the shadow of dangerous, unstable slopes.

Second, the world is warming: for every extra degree Celsius the moisture-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by about 7%, so more rain is likely to fall with ever greater intensity to saturate more soil and dislodge more rock. The researchers found that 79% of all landslides could be linked to rainfall.

And, with greater warming, there is a greater hazard of devastating superstorms, along with hurricanes and tropical cyclones that deliver the conditions for catastrophic floods not just in Asia but in Europe and the US.

Paradoxically, extremes of heat and drought can also create dangerous slopes: dangerous wild fires can remove the tree cover that stops hillsides from slipping, and drive people from their homes to places that could later be just as hazardous.

Applying knowledge

Research like this is never just academic: the point of such studies is to draw attention to natural disasters that need never have happened, and identify the communities most at risk.

And these, the scientists say, are more frequently in poor countries, with the poorest of all disproportionately at risk. The point the scientists make is that there is nothing inevitable about a “natural” disaster. Human error, heedlessness and ignorance all contribute to loss, suffering and death.

“With appropriate regulation to guide engineering design, education and enforcement by regulation by specialist inspectors, landslides triggered by construction, mining and hill-cutting are entirely preventable,” Dr Froude said. – Climate News Network

Waterlogged hillsides are dangerous. For those who live on them, or further downhill, they can be deadly. The global risk from landslides is rising.

LONDON, 3 September, 2018 – Lethal landslides are on the increase. Between 2004 and 2016, sudden cascades of rock, rubble and mud have claimed at least 50,000 lives. And fatal slips down unstable hillside slopes have steadily increased this century, according to new research.

British geographers report in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences that they had amassed a database of 4,800 fatal landslides since 2004 and found that at least 700 of them had what they call a direct human fingerprint: they happened because people built on unstable soils, they mined, legally and illegally, they cut into hillsides, and they allowed pipes to leak.

In addition, heavy rainfall, earthquakes, explosions, dam collapses and freezing and thawing also set the earth moving at ever greater speeds, with deadly consequences.

The researchers also report that they found that other catalogues of natural disaster consistently under-estimated the toll exacted by landslides.

“It was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides … were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016”

One study found that the International Disaster Database, maintained by the international disaster community, under-estimated the number of fatal landslides by between 1400% and 2000%, often because the death tolls from such events were lumped in with other forms of disaster that might precipitate landslip: among them volcanic eruption, earthquake and flooding.

“We were aware that humans are placing increasing pressure on their local environment, but it was surprising to find clear trends within the database that fatal landslides triggered by construction, illegal hill-cutting and illegal mining were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016,” said Melanie Froude, of the University of Sheffield, who led the study.

All the countries in the premier league for fatal landslides were in Asia: one in five of these happened in India, but Pakistan, Myanmar and the Philippines also suffered increasing losses.

Poorest in the shadows

Such findings are no surprise. First, there are more people on the planet, looking for new places to live and new ways of making a living, and the poorest are always more likely to be forced to the margins, to live on or in the shadow of dangerous, unstable slopes.

Second, the world is warming: for every extra degree Celsius the moisture-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by about 7%, so more rain is likely to fall with ever greater intensity to saturate more soil and dislodge more rock. The researchers found that 79% of all landslides could be linked to rainfall.

And, with greater warming, there is a greater hazard of devastating superstorms, along with hurricanes and tropical cyclones that deliver the conditions for catastrophic floods not just in Asia but in Europe and the US.

Paradoxically, extremes of heat and drought can also create dangerous slopes: dangerous wild fires can remove the tree cover that stops hillsides from slipping, and drive people from their homes to places that could later be just as hazardous.

Applying knowledge

Research like this is never just academic: the point of such studies is to draw attention to natural disasters that need never have happened, and identify the communities most at risk.

And these, the scientists say, are more frequently in poor countries, with the poorest of all disproportionately at risk. The point the scientists make is that there is nothing inevitable about a “natural” disaster. Human error, heedlessness and ignorance all contribute to loss, suffering and death.

“With appropriate regulation to guide engineering design, education and enforcement by regulation by specialist inspectors, landslides triggered by construction, mining and hill-cutting are entirely preventable,” Dr Froude said. – Climate News Network

Tax havens threaten oceans and rainforests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Systematic approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dual identities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Systematic approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dual identities

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

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

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

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

British app traps Peru’s illegal goldminers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threats and beatings

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

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

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

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

Grave threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threats and beatings

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

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

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

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

Grave threat

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

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

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

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

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

Company averts climate chocolate threat


Fears that the supply of cocoa beans would dry up have led a confectionery giant to help farmers avert a climate chocolate threat.

LONDON, 20 April, 2018 – If you have a sweet tooth, a liking not only for sugar-rich sweets but especially for chocolate, you’ve cause for celebration: the prospect of a climate chocolate threat is a little less likely.

Keeping the world supplied with chocolate is becoming more difficult as deforestation and climate change make it harder for farmers in the tropics to grow the trees that produce the cocoa beans.

Paying producers more for beans under the banner of Fairtrade certainly improved the lot of poor farmers, most of them small-scale cultivators, but that did not solve the long-term problem of providing enough cocoa to supply the huge world market.

The cocoa tree’s natural habitat is the lower storey of the evergreen rainforest, but cocoa farmers do not always grow their trees in the best conditions.
The trees only thrive 10 degrees either side of the Equator, where they need sufficient warmth, rainfall, soil fertility and drainage if they are to flourish.

Clearing rainforest to make space for cocoa tree plantations is some farmers’ preferred practice, but it is not a sustainable way to maintain production.

“We pioneered Cocoa Life to address cocoa farm productivity alongside community development. We strive to not only empower cocoa farmers but also to help their communities thrive”

But, fearing that the supply of cocoa beans was in jeopardy and the price of their raw material would affect production, one of the world’s largest manufacturers is now to invest US$400m by 2022 to help 200,000 cocoa farmers secure a long-term future.

The scheme, called Cocoa Life, is helping farmers in six key cocoa-growing countries: Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, India, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

The company responsible, Mondelēz International, which owns brands like Cadbury, Suchard and Milka, believes many cocoa-growing regions could be wiped out unless action is taken.

Cathy Pieters, director of the Cocoa Life programme at Mondelēz, told the Climate News Network: “The challenges in cocoa are becoming more diverse and complex. In fact, some reports show current cocoa-producing regions may no longer be suitable for cocoa production in the next 30 years if we don’t take action.

Expecting change

“Our approach to climate change is deliberate because we expect a change to happen – a transformation. As one of the largest chocolate makers in the world, we are mobilising farmers and their communities to prioritise forest protection.”

Key to the programme is educating farmers, helping women by providing finance and stopping child labour, and also improving the environment. The company is helping farmers prevent further destruction of rainforest and planting trees around cocoa farms to protect them and recreate the habitat in which trees are most productive.

In this way farmers are producing far more cocoa beans from the same area of land. This year the programme has planted more than a million trees to restore the forest canopy.

Cocoa Life was launched in 2012 and to the end of last year had trained more than 68,000 members of the cocoa-farming community in best practice to ensure a sustainable industry. Cocoa saplings and shade trees needed to replicate rainforest conditions had been distributed to 9,600 farmers.

Industry example

The company says that by the end of 2017 it had increased the amount of its cocoa from sustainable sources by 14 percentage points to 35% and reached 120,000 farmers, 31% more than in 2016.

The potential crisis in the cocoa-growing industry and the threat of climate change have led other manufacturers to embark on similar schemes, and 11 companies have now joined together in a World Cocoa Foundation alliance to protect rainforest from further destruction by cocoa farmers looking for new land.

Although Mondelēz is protecting its own interests by ensuring its cocoa supply chain, Cathy Pieters is clear that the programme is much more than that alone: “We pioneered Cocoa Life to address cocoa farm productivity alongside community development. We strive to not only empower cocoa farmers but also to help their communities thrive.

“We help them find real solutions like diversifying their income beyond the farm, which in turn develops their capacity to stand strongly on their own feet. I believe when we involve farmers as part of the solution, we see lasting, positive change happen.” – Climate News Network


Fears that the supply of cocoa beans would dry up have led a confectionery giant to help farmers avert a climate chocolate threat.

LONDON, 20 April, 2018 – If you have a sweet tooth, a liking not only for sugar-rich sweets but especially for chocolate, you’ve cause for celebration: the prospect of a climate chocolate threat is a little less likely.

Keeping the world supplied with chocolate is becoming more difficult as deforestation and climate change make it harder for farmers in the tropics to grow the trees that produce the cocoa beans.

Paying producers more for beans under the banner of Fairtrade certainly improved the lot of poor farmers, most of them small-scale cultivators, but that did not solve the long-term problem of providing enough cocoa to supply the huge world market.

The cocoa tree’s natural habitat is the lower storey of the evergreen rainforest, but cocoa farmers do not always grow their trees in the best conditions.
The trees only thrive 10 degrees either side of the Equator, where they need sufficient warmth, rainfall, soil fertility and drainage if they are to flourish.

Clearing rainforest to make space for cocoa tree plantations is some farmers’ preferred practice, but it is not a sustainable way to maintain production.

“We pioneered Cocoa Life to address cocoa farm productivity alongside community development. We strive to not only empower cocoa farmers but also to help their communities thrive”

But, fearing that the supply of cocoa beans was in jeopardy and the price of their raw material would affect production, one of the world’s largest manufacturers is now to invest US$400m by 2022 to help 200,000 cocoa farmers secure a long-term future.

The scheme, called Cocoa Life, is helping farmers in six key cocoa-growing countries: Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, India, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

The company responsible, Mondelēz International, which owns brands like Cadbury, Suchard and Milka, believes many cocoa-growing regions could be wiped out unless action is taken.

Cathy Pieters, director of the Cocoa Life programme at Mondelēz, told the Climate News Network: “The challenges in cocoa are becoming more diverse and complex. In fact, some reports show current cocoa-producing regions may no longer be suitable for cocoa production in the next 30 years if we don’t take action.

Expecting change

“Our approach to climate change is deliberate because we expect a change to happen – a transformation. As one of the largest chocolate makers in the world, we are mobilising farmers and their communities to prioritise forest protection.”

Key to the programme is educating farmers, helping women by providing finance and stopping child labour, and also improving the environment. The company is helping farmers prevent further destruction of rainforest and planting trees around cocoa farms to protect them and recreate the habitat in which trees are most productive.

In this way farmers are producing far more cocoa beans from the same area of land. This year the programme has planted more than a million trees to restore the forest canopy.

Cocoa Life was launched in 2012 and to the end of last year had trained more than 68,000 members of the cocoa-farming community in best practice to ensure a sustainable industry. Cocoa saplings and shade trees needed to replicate rainforest conditions had been distributed to 9,600 farmers.

Industry example

The company says that by the end of 2017 it had increased the amount of its cocoa from sustainable sources by 14 percentage points to 35% and reached 120,000 farmers, 31% more than in 2016.

The potential crisis in the cocoa-growing industry and the threat of climate change have led other manufacturers to embark on similar schemes, and 11 companies have now joined together in a World Cocoa Foundation alliance to protect rainforest from further destruction by cocoa farmers looking for new land.

Although Mondelēz is protecting its own interests by ensuring its cocoa supply chain, Cathy Pieters is clear that the programme is much more than that alone: “We pioneered Cocoa Life to address cocoa farm productivity alongside community development. We strive to not only empower cocoa farmers but also to help their communities thrive.

“We help them find real solutions like diversifying their income beyond the farm, which in turn develops their capacity to stand strongly on their own feet. I believe when we involve farmers as part of the solution, we see lasting, positive change happen.” – Climate News Network

Loss of unregarded forests is at danger level

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooling effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winners all round

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

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

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

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

Vital stabilisers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooling effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winners all round

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

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

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

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

Vital stabilisers

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

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

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

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

New Zealand’s wildlife feels the heat

The impacts of climate change – including record heat and intense storms – are now hitting New Zealand’s wildlife. Humans are not the only species affected.

WELLINGTON, 13 March, 2018 – The southern summer’s storms have lashed not only people but also New Zealand’s wildlife, killing penguins and prions and damaging the habitats of countless other species.

On one island in the North Island’s Hauraki Gulf, an entire batch of little blue penguin chicks drowned in their burrows in the storm that hit in early January.

Sue Neureter has spent much of her life on and around the island and has never seen anything like it. Many of the penguins were nesting on a point that was inundated in the storm. All the gravel that protected the point they were on was washed down the beach, covering a blue mussel bed and leaving the clay banks exposed to further wind and rain.

Nesting variable oystercatchers also lost their chicks. Trees fell, and Sue now fears that the entire point will be washed away. She is surprised by the degree of damage the storm did on the island, as it’s covered in native forest, which should have given it the best chance possible of withstanding storm impacts.

But what Sue and others around the country are seeing is the reality of the changing climate. Thanks to us, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from about 280 parts per million at the start of the Industrial Revolution to around 410 ppm now. That means more heat is being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, meaning more energy. And more energy means more intense and frequent storms.

Extinction threat

Global average temperatures have risen 1°C since record-keeping began in 1909, and are likely on present trends to be at least 2°C warmer again by the end of the century – warmer than at any time since the start of human civilisation about 10,000 years ago. We’ve never lived in a world like this; our biology and our cultures have evolved to live in the world we’ve had up till now.

The same applies to other species. New Zealand has some of the rarest and most interesting species in the world, all perfectly adapted to the world they were in.

The arrival of humans changed that, through hunting, habitat destruction and the introduction of devastating predators like stoats and cats. New Zealand now has 900 species threatened with extinction, and another 2000 in danger of joining them. And now the changing climate is taking the threat to new levels.

The evidence that climate change is affecting our native wildlife is mounting. In the past year, we’ve seen kiwi in Northland dying of dehydration during droughts (they need the ground to be soft so they can get their beaks in to find insects, which is where they get most of their moisture from), dotterels on the West Coast and and at Ohiwa Harbour trying to move inland as the rising sea claims more of their traditional nesting grounds, and kokako chicks being washed out of their nests.

Volunteers at a wildlife rescue centre in Otago have been holding ice under the feet of over-heated yellow-eyed penguins

Myrtle rust, a disease that loves warm, wet conditions, has arrived, threatening our pohutukawa, rata and manuka, and in the Nelson district last summer there were so many wasps eating the honeydew from the beech forests that native birds were threatened with starvation.

Eels and other freshwater species are dying as warmer water and increased nutrients make toxic algal blooms more frequent, entire sand dunes and the plants and animals that lived on them were destroyed in the storm that hit the top of the South Island in early February, and in Dunedin, just 16 of 29 fertile royal albatross eggs have hatched, probably because of the effects of hot weather.

The deaths this summer of hundreds of fairy prions around Tasman and in Northland are likely to be linked to the fact that warm seas are affecting fish species, making it difficult for birds to find food.

Which brings us back to the penguins. As birds that nest on the shore and feed in the sea, they’re doubly vulnerable, to impacts on land and at sea. Volunteers at a wildlife rescue centre in Otago have been holding ice under the feet of over-heated yellow-eyed penguins, while bird rescue volunteers in the Hauraki Gulf are treating starving little blue penguins.

Keeping nature healthy

At least part of the problem for the little blues is likely to be caused by sediment from the land being washed into the Gulf during the big storms that keep on hitting us. Humans have removed most of the forests and wetlands that would have stopped this happening (and, in the north, want to destroy the mangrove forests that are the last line of defence), making it hard for penguins to fish because the water is too murky for them to see their prey.

The huge amount of carbon dioxide we are releasing into the atmosphere is also acidifying the ocean; it is already affecting shellfish, and will affect everything from plankton to blue whales.

We can help by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, urgently. We also need to do what we can to keep nature healthy, so it has the best chance of surviving and adapting. Pest control, weed control, extending native ecosystems so that species can move, and an end to habitat destruction and unsustainable farming and fishing practices are all critical.
.
Helping nature stay healthy will help us too, as our native forests are brilliant at taking the carbon dioxide that’s causing the problem out of the atmosphere and storing it, and forests, sand dunes, mangroves, shellfish beds and other ecosystems all help to absorb the impacts of storms and droughts. – Climate News Network

Adelia Hallett, a journalist, is climate advocate for Forest & Bird, the New Zealand Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society.

The impacts of climate change – including record heat and intense storms – are now hitting New Zealand’s wildlife. Humans are not the only species affected.

WELLINGTON, 13 March, 2018 – The southern summer’s storms have lashed not only people but also New Zealand’s wildlife, killing penguins and prions and damaging the habitats of countless other species.

On one island in the North Island’s Hauraki Gulf, an entire batch of little blue penguin chicks drowned in their burrows in the storm that hit in early January.

Sue Neureter has spent much of her life on and around the island and has never seen anything like it. Many of the penguins were nesting on a point that was inundated in the storm. All the gravel that protected the point they were on was washed down the beach, covering a blue mussel bed and leaving the clay banks exposed to further wind and rain.

Nesting variable oystercatchers also lost their chicks. Trees fell, and Sue now fears that the entire point will be washed away. She is surprised by the degree of damage the storm did on the island, as it’s covered in native forest, which should have given it the best chance possible of withstanding storm impacts.

But what Sue and others around the country are seeing is the reality of the changing climate. Thanks to us, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from about 280 parts per million at the start of the Industrial Revolution to around 410 ppm now. That means more heat is being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, meaning more energy. And more energy means more intense and frequent storms.

Extinction threat

Global average temperatures have risen 1°C since record-keeping began in 1909, and are likely on present trends to be at least 2°C warmer again by the end of the century – warmer than at any time since the start of human civilisation about 10,000 years ago. We’ve never lived in a world like this; our biology and our cultures have evolved to live in the world we’ve had up till now.

The same applies to other species. New Zealand has some of the rarest and most interesting species in the world, all perfectly adapted to the world they were in.

The arrival of humans changed that, through hunting, habitat destruction and the introduction of devastating predators like stoats and cats. New Zealand now has 900 species threatened with extinction, and another 2000 in danger of joining them. And now the changing climate is taking the threat to new levels.

The evidence that climate change is affecting our native wildlife is mounting. In the past year, we’ve seen kiwi in Northland dying of dehydration during droughts (they need the ground to be soft so they can get their beaks in to find insects, which is where they get most of their moisture from), dotterels on the West Coast and and at Ohiwa Harbour trying to move inland as the rising sea claims more of their traditional nesting grounds, and kokako chicks being washed out of their nests.

Volunteers at a wildlife rescue centre in Otago have been holding ice under the feet of over-heated yellow-eyed penguins

Myrtle rust, a disease that loves warm, wet conditions, has arrived, threatening our pohutukawa, rata and manuka, and in the Nelson district last summer there were so many wasps eating the honeydew from the beech forests that native birds were threatened with starvation.

Eels and other freshwater species are dying as warmer water and increased nutrients make toxic algal blooms more frequent, entire sand dunes and the plants and animals that lived on them were destroyed in the storm that hit the top of the South Island in early February, and in Dunedin, just 16 of 29 fertile royal albatross eggs have hatched, probably because of the effects of hot weather.

The deaths this summer of hundreds of fairy prions around Tasman and in Northland are likely to be linked to the fact that warm seas are affecting fish species, making it difficult for birds to find food.

Which brings us back to the penguins. As birds that nest on the shore and feed in the sea, they’re doubly vulnerable, to impacts on land and at sea. Volunteers at a wildlife rescue centre in Otago have been holding ice under the feet of over-heated yellow-eyed penguins, while bird rescue volunteers in the Hauraki Gulf are treating starving little blue penguins.

Keeping nature healthy

At least part of the problem for the little blues is likely to be caused by sediment from the land being washed into the Gulf during the big storms that keep on hitting us. Humans have removed most of the forests and wetlands that would have stopped this happening (and, in the north, want to destroy the mangrove forests that are the last line of defence), making it hard for penguins to fish because the water is too murky for them to see their prey.

The huge amount of carbon dioxide we are releasing into the atmosphere is also acidifying the ocean; it is already affecting shellfish, and will affect everything from plankton to blue whales.

We can help by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, urgently. We also need to do what we can to keep nature healthy, so it has the best chance of surviving and adapting. Pest control, weed control, extending native ecosystems so that species can move, and an end to habitat destruction and unsustainable farming and fishing practices are all critical.
.
Helping nature stay healthy will help us too, as our native forests are brilliant at taking the carbon dioxide that’s causing the problem out of the atmosphere and storing it, and forests, sand dunes, mangroves, shellfish beds and other ecosystems all help to absorb the impacts of storms and droughts. – Climate News Network

Adelia Hallett, a journalist, is climate advocate for Forest & Bird, the New Zealand Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society.

Brazil’s recession grows as emissions rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing appetites

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

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

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

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

Budget halved

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

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

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

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

General amnesty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing appetites

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

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

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

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

Budget halved

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

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

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

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

General amnesty

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

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

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

Computer census aids declining palm trees

Concerned that palm trees vital to his home country are vanishing in large numbers, a scientist has devised how to count them for conservation.

LONDON, 28 July, 2017 – A method of counting palm trees by using images on Google Earth is being used to plot the decline of valuable trees across large tracts of dry land in the tropics.

The project was initially launched to raise awareness of the decline of the Palmyra palmBorassus flabellifer, in northern Sri Lanka, but the method can be used to count any palm or coconut species for a census of tree numbers.

It is 93% accurate and will save both time and many hours of work, because the alternative is manual counting from the ground. The idea is to document the decline of trees and identify areas where new plantations can be introduced.

The Palmyra palm, a 100-ft (30 m) giant, has many uses, including as a roofing material for millions of people, and has been a vital resource for generations. There are as many as 40 million specimens in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu alone. Across the narrow strait in northern Sri Lanka, however, numbers have diminished substantially because of the country’s civil war, and human development.

Shade givers

Senthan Mathavan, a visiting research fellow of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment at Nottingham Trent University, UK, is from Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka. He has watched the decline of the species with sadness. He said: “Even two decades ago, every backyard used to have five to 10 trees, and these provided the much-needed shade in the hotter months. This has become a rarity now.”

Outside developed areas there were groves of the trees. All tree cover has a cooling effect on the climate, and here the summer heat is becoming an increasing problem. “For me this is about using the technology I know very well to solve a problem that is going to change the landscape of the region I was born in,” said Dr Mathavan.

The system can be adapted to count other tree species with similar characteristics and to help formulate conservation programmes. The counts are being done in collaboration with the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Pakistan, where the trees are also a valuable resource.

Co-investigator Dr Khurram Kamal of NUST said: “It’s important that we’re able to gather reliable data on the decline of these trees to help ensure that something is done to mitigate their decreasing numbers.”

The Palmyra palm is distinguished by its blue-green fronds, which grow in a circular pattern, and its impressive height, which casts a distinctive shadow. Because the trees grow on dry land and a distance apart, it is possible using freely available Google Earth maps to do an accurate count.

“It’s important that we’re able to gather reliable data on the decline of these trees to help ensure that something is done”

The Palmyra palm has never been planted traditionally because it regenerates itself from seed, and local people have allowed them to grow. The fruit is eaten raw and used as an additive for food. It can be boiled, beaten and made into a flour that is high in nutrients and is added to rice to made traditional dishes.

Palm shoots from the top of the tree are also used to make drinks, some of them alcoholic. A non-fermented drink is made into palm sugar, which is said to have medicinal properties.   The wood for building and the palm leaves make particularly good thatch and are used on millions of poor people’s homes.

However, in many places the trees have been cleared for development or replaced by coconut palms, which are used for a cash crop.

The Sri Lankan government-backed Palmyrah Development Board hopes the survey will help it to promote a tree-planting programme. – Climate News Network

Concerned that palm trees vital to his home country are vanishing in large numbers, a scientist has devised how to count them for conservation.

LONDON, 28 July, 2017 – A method of counting palm trees by using images on Google Earth is being used to plot the decline of valuable trees across large tracts of dry land in the tropics.

The project was initially launched to raise awareness of the decline of the Palmyra palmBorassus flabellifer, in northern Sri Lanka, but the method can be used to count any palm or coconut species for a census of tree numbers.

It is 93% accurate and will save both time and many hours of work, because the alternative is manual counting from the ground. The idea is to document the decline of trees and identify areas where new plantations can be introduced.

The Palmyra palm, a 100-ft (30 m) giant, has many uses, including as a roofing material for millions of people, and has been a vital resource for generations. There are as many as 40 million specimens in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu alone. Across the narrow strait in northern Sri Lanka, however, numbers have diminished substantially because of the country’s civil war, and human development.

Shade givers

Senthan Mathavan, a visiting research fellow of the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment at Nottingham Trent University, UK, is from Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka. He has watched the decline of the species with sadness. He said: “Even two decades ago, every backyard used to have five to 10 trees, and these provided the much-needed shade in the hotter months. This has become a rarity now.”

Outside developed areas there were groves of the trees. All tree cover has a cooling effect on the climate, and here the summer heat is becoming an increasing problem. “For me this is about using the technology I know very well to solve a problem that is going to change the landscape of the region I was born in,” said Dr Mathavan.

The system can be adapted to count other tree species with similar characteristics and to help formulate conservation programmes. The counts are being done in collaboration with the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Pakistan, where the trees are also a valuable resource.

Co-investigator Dr Khurram Kamal of NUST said: “It’s important that we’re able to gather reliable data on the decline of these trees to help ensure that something is done to mitigate their decreasing numbers.”

The Palmyra palm is distinguished by its blue-green fronds, which grow in a circular pattern, and its impressive height, which casts a distinctive shadow. Because the trees grow on dry land and a distance apart, it is possible using freely available Google Earth maps to do an accurate count.

“It’s important that we’re able to gather reliable data on the decline of these trees to help ensure that something is done”

The Palmyra palm has never been planted traditionally because it regenerates itself from seed, and local people have allowed them to grow. The fruit is eaten raw and used as an additive for food. It can be boiled, beaten and made into a flour that is high in nutrients and is added to rice to made traditional dishes.

Palm shoots from the top of the tree are also used to make drinks, some of them alcoholic. A non-fermented drink is made into palm sugar, which is said to have medicinal properties.   The wood for building and the palm leaves make particularly good thatch and are used on millions of poor people’s homes.

However, in many places the trees have been cleared for development or replaced by coconut palms, which are used for a cash crop.

The Sri Lankan government-backed Palmyrah Development Board hopes the survey will help it to promote a tree-planting programme. – Climate News Network

Small cost can keep African forests safe

Forests are more valuable standing than cleared. US economists have found how to subsidise protecting African forests at the village level.

LONDON, 26 July, 2017 – Economists have just shown that, at least sometimes, money does grow on the trees of African forests. By paying villagers in Uganda quite small sums not to clear the forest on their land, they changed collective behaviour and more than halved the expected tree loss.

And they demonstrated that the rewards of preserving forest were in cash terms more than 2.4 times greater than the monetary cost of saving the woodland, according to a new study in the journal Science

The study – a large-scale, randomised controlled experiment in human behaviour – addressed one of the great problems of conservation. It is this.

Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated the value of rainforests, cloud forests, dry forests and boreal forests to the sum of humanity – they absorb carbon dioxide, release oxygen, conserve water, provide a habitat for millions of still unidentified species, and deliver leaves, fruits, flowers, fibres and timber of potentially incalculable value to growers, pharmacists and foragers.

Rapid loss

But very little of this value finds its way to the people who have to make a living in or at the edge of the forests and who rely on the trees for fuel, building materials and a source of income.

Uganda’s forests have been dwindling by 2.7% per year, the third fastest rate in the world, and 70% of the tree cover is privately owned.

Scientists in the US and Belgium used satellite data to identify 121 villages in forest districts and then made a census of 1,099 private forest owners in these villages. Then they divided the villages into two groups of 60 and 61 settlements with 564 and 535 private forest owners respectively.

In their two-year experiment, they promised 70,000 Ugandan shillings – about $28 in 2012 – for each hectare of forest in which the trees were left undisturbed.

Doubled rate

At the end of two years, the average tree loss in the paid-to-protect group was 4%. In the control group, where landowners got no money at all, the loss of canopy was more than double that at 9%. The scientists found no evidence that those paid to protect their own trees increased their logging or clearing activities in nearby land.

And then they set off the cost of the experiment against the notional overall rewards to the planet in not felling the forests, in terms of delayed carbon emissions – an estimated 3,000 metric tons of CO2  – and found they had backed a winner: the payback for humanity was 2.4 times the actual cash cost of protection.

Forests are a vital part of the global effort to mitigate global warming as a consequence of the combustion of fossil fuels, and the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. A UN programme called REDD – it stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation – in effect rewards nations that try to conserve tree cover.

Forests absorb carbon dioxide and lower local and even regional temperatures, they protect and provide food for wild creatures, and international teams of scientists have gone to great lengths to identify both the sheer number of the world’s trees and the astonishing variety delivered by a hundred million years of evolution.

“Economists tend to be a cynical bunch. Many of our colleagues were sure that the landowners would find loopholes in the contract or just move their deforestation to other nearby land. But they didn’t”

But the same research has also confirmed that wild forest is being lost at an accelerating rate.

So the experiment in Uganda suggests a way of enlisting the people of the forests in a global effort, and sharing the benefits a bit more fairly.

“A major contribution of the study was to compare the benefit of reduced deforestation to the cost of the program. What’s that extra forest worth to society? We do that by applying what’s called the ‘social cost of carbon,’” said Seema Jayachandran, an economist at Northwestern University in the US, who led the research.

“This is an estimate that others have come up with for the economic damage to the world from each ton of CO2 that is emitted. We found that the benefit of the delayed CO2 emissions was over twice as large as the programme costs. For many other environmental policies, the value of the averted CO2 is in fact smaller than the programme costs.”

More effective

In fact, she and her colleagues found, the dollars spent in Uganda were between 10 and 50 times more effective than those invested in many energy efficiency programmes in the US.

“Small investments can go much further in poor countries. So we wanted to test if simply paying farmers not to cut down trees could be a win for them and a very cheap way to help manage greenhouse gas emissions,” Dr Jayachandran said.

And her research colleague Joost de Laat, also of Northwestern University, said:  “Economists tend to be a cynical bunch.

“Many of our colleagues were sure that the landowners would find loopholes in the contract or just move their deforestation to other nearby land. But they didn’t.” – Climate News Network

Forests are more valuable standing than cleared. US economists have found how to subsidise protecting African forests at the village level.

LONDON, 26 July, 2017 – Economists have just shown that, at least sometimes, money does grow on the trees of African forests. By paying villagers in Uganda quite small sums not to clear the forest on their land, they changed collective behaviour and more than halved the expected tree loss.

And they demonstrated that the rewards of preserving forest were in cash terms more than 2.4 times greater than the monetary cost of saving the woodland, according to a new study in the journal Science

The study – a large-scale, randomised controlled experiment in human behaviour – addressed one of the great problems of conservation. It is this.

Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated the value of rainforests, cloud forests, dry forests and boreal forests to the sum of humanity – they absorb carbon dioxide, release oxygen, conserve water, provide a habitat for millions of still unidentified species, and deliver leaves, fruits, flowers, fibres and timber of potentially incalculable value to growers, pharmacists and foragers.

Rapid loss

But very little of this value finds its way to the people who have to make a living in or at the edge of the forests and who rely on the trees for fuel, building materials and a source of income.

Uganda’s forests have been dwindling by 2.7% per year, the third fastest rate in the world, and 70% of the tree cover is privately owned.

Scientists in the US and Belgium used satellite data to identify 121 villages in forest districts and then made a census of 1,099 private forest owners in these villages. Then they divided the villages into two groups of 60 and 61 settlements with 564 and 535 private forest owners respectively.

In their two-year experiment, they promised 70,000 Ugandan shillings – about $28 in 2012 – for each hectare of forest in which the trees were left undisturbed.

Doubled rate

At the end of two years, the average tree loss in the paid-to-protect group was 4%. In the control group, where landowners got no money at all, the loss of canopy was more than double that at 9%. The scientists found no evidence that those paid to protect their own trees increased their logging or clearing activities in nearby land.

And then they set off the cost of the experiment against the notional overall rewards to the planet in not felling the forests, in terms of delayed carbon emissions – an estimated 3,000 metric tons of CO2  – and found they had backed a winner: the payback for humanity was 2.4 times the actual cash cost of protection.

Forests are a vital part of the global effort to mitigate global warming as a consequence of the combustion of fossil fuels, and the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. A UN programme called REDD – it stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation – in effect rewards nations that try to conserve tree cover.

Forests absorb carbon dioxide and lower local and even regional temperatures, they protect and provide food for wild creatures, and international teams of scientists have gone to great lengths to identify both the sheer number of the world’s trees and the astonishing variety delivered by a hundred million years of evolution.

“Economists tend to be a cynical bunch. Many of our colleagues were sure that the landowners would find loopholes in the contract or just move their deforestation to other nearby land. But they didn’t”

But the same research has also confirmed that wild forest is being lost at an accelerating rate.

So the experiment in Uganda suggests a way of enlisting the people of the forests in a global effort, and sharing the benefits a bit more fairly.

“A major contribution of the study was to compare the benefit of reduced deforestation to the cost of the program. What’s that extra forest worth to society? We do that by applying what’s called the ‘social cost of carbon,’” said Seema Jayachandran, an economist at Northwestern University in the US, who led the research.

“This is an estimate that others have come up with for the economic damage to the world from each ton of CO2 that is emitted. We found that the benefit of the delayed CO2 emissions was over twice as large as the programme costs. For many other environmental policies, the value of the averted CO2 is in fact smaller than the programme costs.”

More effective

In fact, she and her colleagues found, the dollars spent in Uganda were between 10 and 50 times more effective than those invested in many energy efficiency programmes in the US.

“Small investments can go much further in poor countries. So we wanted to test if simply paying farmers not to cut down trees could be a win for them and a very cheap way to help manage greenhouse gas emissions,” Dr Jayachandran said.

And her research colleague Joost de Laat, also of Northwestern University, said:  “Economists tend to be a cynical bunch.

“Many of our colleagues were sure that the landowners would find loopholes in the contract or just move their deforestation to other nearby land. But they didn’t.” – Climate News Network