Tag Archives: Deserts

Starvation may force nations to war

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dilution and omissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dilution and omissions

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

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

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

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

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

Sand and dust storms pose global threat

The United Nations plans to tame lethal sand and dust storms with a mixture of modern technology and traditional knowledge.

DELHI, 12 September, 2019 − The standard bearer of the United Nations’ effort to combat desert spread and the threat from sand and dust storms, meeting here, is determined to be remembered as not just a global talking shop, but a launchpad for action.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has launched a coalition to energise the UN’s response to the problem.  One focus for the new body will be to develop the sand and dust storms (SDS) source base map to improve the monitoring of the storms.

Iran told the meeting that both traditional and modern knowledge on SDS hot spots could help to create a stronger knowledge base for regional initiatives. The coalition’s members include  the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO already has an established SDS warning advisory system (SDS-WAS) to research the problem and try to provide forecasts of dangerous storms. Countries are now being asked to explore ways of reducing man-made contributions to dust storms, for example by not denuding land of vegetation.

Climate change and extreme weather have made SDS a threat to more than 150 countries, causing economic damage and threatening health. The storms, once thought of as a local problem in desert or arid regions, are now recognised as a global hazard.

“There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics”

Huge quantities of sand and dust can be lifted into the air by high winds and distributed over hundreds of miles. The problem is worsening as droughts increase and land is degraded by deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Dust is also intensifying climate change, for example by discolouring ice so that it melts faster, and human health is affected by increased asthma and the spread of diseases such as valley fever and meningitis.

Aviation suffers when storms close airports or cause damage when dust is sucked into engines. Roads are lost under sand and electricity supplies disrupted. Even fisheries are damaged by sand settling in the oceans and affecting plankton growth.

The storms can be severe. In 2018 more than 125 people died and 200 were injured by a high-velocity dust storm in northern India. Even in Europe large areas can be covered in orange sand and dust from the Sahara.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of earth systems science and remote sensing at Chapman University in California, said: “There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics to assist mitigation of windblown dust consequences in many applications. These include human health, weather, solar and wind energy systems, aviation, highway safety and urban development.”

Higher cyclone intensity

The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019, released in August, suggests that the impacts of climate change differ by sub-region: “Temperature increase is likely to cause a rise in the number and duration of heat waves and droughts . . . Climate change is also expected to increase cyclone intensity, with serious threats along the coastal areas of countries in south-east Asia.”

A complex sequence of climate and weather disasters such as drought, SDS, desertification and floods is on the rise in arid and semi-arid sub-regions of south-west and central Asia, the report said. And, as indicated clearly in the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C, the decrease in soil moisture will increase the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in south, south-west and central Asia.

A recent example was the powerful dust storm that swept over parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2018. There was also a toxic salt storm from the Aral Sea that hit northern Turkmenistan and western Uzbekistan.

The storms then moved through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India and collided with the pre-monsoon weather, including thunderstorms and rain, affecting a wide area and causing the loss of hundreds of lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

The United Nations plans to tame lethal sand and dust storms with a mixture of modern technology and traditional knowledge.

DELHI, 12 September, 2019 − The standard bearer of the United Nations’ effort to combat desert spread and the threat from sand and dust storms, meeting here, is determined to be remembered as not just a global talking shop, but a launchpad for action.

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has launched a coalition to energise the UN’s response to the problem.  One focus for the new body will be to develop the sand and dust storms (SDS) source base map to improve the monitoring of the storms.

Iran told the meeting that both traditional and modern knowledge on SDS hot spots could help to create a stronger knowledge base for regional initiatives. The coalition’s members include  the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The WMO already has an established SDS warning advisory system (SDS-WAS) to research the problem and try to provide forecasts of dangerous storms. Countries are now being asked to explore ways of reducing man-made contributions to dust storms, for example by not denuding land of vegetation.

Climate change and extreme weather have made SDS a threat to more than 150 countries, causing economic damage and threatening health. The storms, once thought of as a local problem in desert or arid regions, are now recognised as a global hazard.

“There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics”

Huge quantities of sand and dust can be lifted into the air by high winds and distributed over hundreds of miles. The problem is worsening as droughts increase and land is degraded by deforestation and poor agricultural practices.

Dust is also intensifying climate change, for example by discolouring ice so that it melts faster, and human health is affected by increased asthma and the spread of diseases such as valley fever and meningitis.

Aviation suffers when storms close airports or cause damage when dust is sucked into engines. Roads are lost under sand and electricity supplies disrupted. Even fisheries are damaged by sand settling in the oceans and affecting plankton growth.

The storms can be severe. In 2018 more than 125 people died and 200 were injured by a high-velocity dust storm in northern India. Even in Europe large areas can be covered in orange sand and dust from the Sahara.

Hesham El-Askary, professor of earth systems science and remote sensing at Chapman University in California, said: “There is a need for more accurate real-time observations of dust properties and for understanding dust triggering mechanisms, seasonal variabilities, and transport dynamics to assist mitigation of windblown dust consequences in many applications. These include human health, weather, solar and wind energy systems, aviation, highway safety and urban development.”

Higher cyclone intensity

The Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2019, released in August, suggests that the impacts of climate change differ by sub-region: “Temperature increase is likely to cause a rise in the number and duration of heat waves and droughts . . . Climate change is also expected to increase cyclone intensity, with serious threats along the coastal areas of countries in south-east Asia.”

A complex sequence of climate and weather disasters such as drought, SDS, desertification and floods is on the rise in arid and semi-arid sub-regions of south-west and central Asia, the report said. And, as indicated clearly in the recent IPCC report on global warming of 1.5°C, the decrease in soil moisture will increase the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms in south, south-west and central Asia.

A recent example was the powerful dust storm that swept over parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2018. There was also a toxic salt storm from the Aral Sea that hit northern Turkmenistan and western Uzbekistan.

The storms then moved through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-west India and collided with the pre-monsoon weather, including thunderstorms and rain, affecting a wide area and causing the loss of hundreds of lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

Desert treaty steps up fight for degraded land

Degraded land − drought − the spread of the world’s deserts: that’s the challenge for a UN conference starting in Delhi.

DELHI, 2 September, 2019 − The battle to halt the march of deserts across the world and the spread of degraded land, which lead to mass migration, is the focus of 169 countries meeting in India from today.

The annual United Nations climate change convention, held every year,  receives massive media coverage. In contrast the UN Convention to Combat Desertification meets once every two years to combat the spread of deserts, land degradation and drought. Its success is vital for more than half the world’s population. But it gets little attention.

Four out of five hectares of land on the planet have been altered from their natural state by humans. Much of this alteration has been damaging, making the land less fertile and productive.

This degrading of land and the spread of deserts are already affecting 3.2 billion people, mostly in the poorer parts of the world. The UN says this degradation, together with climate change and biodiversity loss, may force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.

Four years ago the parties to the convention agreed to reverse the continuing loss of fertile land and to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN) by 2030. So far 120 of the 169 countries affected have come up with plans for how to reduce the risk of degradation and where to recover degrading land (known as LDN targets in the conference jargon).

“This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries”

Although Africa usually springs to mind as one of the continents worst affected, much of South Asia with its recurring floods, droughts and other extreme weather events is facing a range of problems related to land. Coastal areas right up to the Himalayas suffer land degradation, and the problem involves all the governments in the region.

India, host to this year’s conference, has a major problem, with 30% of its land affected. It has 2.5% of the Earth’s land area, yet supports 18% of its total human population and roughly 20% of its livestock. But 96.4 million hectares (almost 240m acres)of India’s land is classed as degraded, nearly 30% of its total geographical area.

A study published in 2018 by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) for the government of India put the cost of the country’s desertification and land degradation at 2.5% of India’s GDP (2014-15).

This year a robust response is planned. “To fight this menace, India will convert degraded land of nearly 50 lakh (5m) hectares to fertile land in the next 10 years; it will implement the provisions of the New Delhi Declaration which is to be adopted at the end of the conference,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change told the Climate News Network.

The land due for conversion is just 5.2% of India’s total degraded land, but the minister hinted that the target could go up before the conference’s final declaration is agreed on 13 September.

Demanding target

Another south-east Asian country, Sri Lanka, has arid parts which are drying out further, and wetter regions which are becoming wetter as erratic rains and high temperatures have made the soil vulnerable.

“Sri Lanka has about one-fifth of land which is either degraded or showing signs of degradation,” said Ajith Silva of the environment ministry. “We are carrying out various government schemes that have a focus on soil conservation in plains and watershed management in hill areas,” Silva told the Climate News Network.

Sri Lanka has set a target to restore and improve degraded forest: 80% in the dry zone and 20% in the wet zone. Just as in Sri Lanka and India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh also have targets and programmes aimed at land restoration.

While governments have targets, local people, realising the dangers to their way of life, are acting independently and taking their own actions to save their land. Dhrupad Choudhury, of ICIMOD, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, said: “Many good things are taking place across these countries. But apart from government efforts, those that happen at the community or village levels are not recognised.”

Across South Asia most government programmes are planned top-down, with almost no community partnership. Without ownership by the community, an important stakeholder, these remain poorly implemented. Many NGOs, on the other hand, do it right.

Rich world uninvolved

There is some resentment among the countries affected by desertification that their plight gets scant attention and very little finance from the richer states untroubled by deserts. An official of one of the South Asian nations commented: “This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries.”

Javadekar, the Indian minister, said he believed there should be public finance from the developed world for land restoration. But to help to plug the gap he announced plans for a Centre of Excellence for Capacity Building of Developing Countries, to be created in India to help developing countries to achieve land degradation neutrality, with India offering training to other countries on financing solutions.

To try to move things along, the convention has already adopted a gender action plan and is working on innovative financing opportunities and ways to improve communications.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, is likely to make an appearance at the 14th Conference of the Parties, as the Delhi meeting is formally known.

With the New Delhi Declaration due to be announced, India has already said it will, as the host of the conference and during its two years as the convention’s president, lead from the front to ensure its goals are achieved. − Climate News Network

Degraded land − drought − the spread of the world’s deserts: that’s the challenge for a UN conference starting in Delhi.

DELHI, 2 September, 2019 − The battle to halt the march of deserts across the world and the spread of degraded land, which lead to mass migration, is the focus of 169 countries meeting in India from today.

The annual United Nations climate change convention, held every year,  receives massive media coverage. In contrast the UN Convention to Combat Desertification meets once every two years to combat the spread of deserts, land degradation and drought. Its success is vital for more than half the world’s population. But it gets little attention.

Four out of five hectares of land on the planet have been altered from their natural state by humans. Much of this alteration has been damaging, making the land less fertile and productive.

This degrading of land and the spread of deserts are already affecting 3.2 billion people, mostly in the poorer parts of the world. The UN says this degradation, together with climate change and biodiversity loss, may force up to 700 million people to migrate by 2050.

Four years ago the parties to the convention agreed to reverse the continuing loss of fertile land and to achieve land degradation neutrality (LDN) by 2030. So far 120 of the 169 countries affected have come up with plans for how to reduce the risk of degradation and where to recover degrading land (known as LDN targets in the conference jargon).

“This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries”

Although Africa usually springs to mind as one of the continents worst affected, much of South Asia with its recurring floods, droughts and other extreme weather events is facing a range of problems related to land. Coastal areas right up to the Himalayas suffer land degradation, and the problem involves all the governments in the region.

India, host to this year’s conference, has a major problem, with 30% of its land affected. It has 2.5% of the Earth’s land area, yet supports 18% of its total human population and roughly 20% of its livestock. But 96.4 million hectares (almost 240m acres)of India’s land is classed as degraded, nearly 30% of its total geographical area.

A study published in 2018 by The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) for the government of India put the cost of the country’s desertification and land degradation at 2.5% of India’s GDP (2014-15).

This year a robust response is planned. “To fight this menace, India will convert degraded land of nearly 50 lakh (5m) hectares to fertile land in the next 10 years; it will implement the provisions of the New Delhi Declaration which is to be adopted at the end of the conference,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change told the Climate News Network.

The land due for conversion is just 5.2% of India’s total degraded land, but the minister hinted that the target could go up before the conference’s final declaration is agreed on 13 September.

Demanding target

Another south-east Asian country, Sri Lanka, has arid parts which are drying out further, and wetter regions which are becoming wetter as erratic rains and high temperatures have made the soil vulnerable.

“Sri Lanka has about one-fifth of land which is either degraded or showing signs of degradation,” said Ajith Silva of the environment ministry. “We are carrying out various government schemes that have a focus on soil conservation in plains and watershed management in hill areas,” Silva told the Climate News Network.

Sri Lanka has set a target to restore and improve degraded forest: 80% in the dry zone and 20% in the wet zone. Just as in Sri Lanka and India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh also have targets and programmes aimed at land restoration.

While governments have targets, local people, realising the dangers to their way of life, are acting independently and taking their own actions to save their land. Dhrupad Choudhury, of ICIMOD, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, said: “Many good things are taking place across these countries. But apart from government efforts, those that happen at the community or village levels are not recognised.”

Across South Asia most government programmes are planned top-down, with almost no community partnership. Without ownership by the community, an important stakeholder, these remain poorly implemented. Many NGOs, on the other hand, do it right.

Rich world uninvolved

There is some resentment among the countries affected by desertification that their plight gets scant attention and very little finance from the richer states untroubled by deserts. An official of one of the South Asian nations commented: “This is a poor convention for poor people from poor countries.”

Javadekar, the Indian minister, said he believed there should be public finance from the developed world for land restoration. But to help to plug the gap he announced plans for a Centre of Excellence for Capacity Building of Developing Countries, to be created in India to help developing countries to achieve land degradation neutrality, with India offering training to other countries on financing solutions.

To try to move things along, the convention has already adopted a gender action plan and is working on innovative financing opportunities and ways to improve communications.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, is likely to make an appearance at the 14th Conference of the Parties, as the Delhi meeting is formally known.

With the New Delhi Declaration due to be announced, India has already said it will, as the host of the conference and during its two years as the convention’s president, lead from the front to ensure its goals are achieved. − Climate News Network

Wind and solar power can green the desert

Cover enough ground with wind turbines and solar panels, and you change the local climate, green the desert and could even boost the Sahara’s rainfall.

LONDON, 19 September, 2018 – Wind and solar energy could deliver more than just renewable, low-carbon electricity: they could green the desert, increasing the Sahara’s rainfall and helping it to bloom.

A sufficiently large network of wind turbines and solar panels arrayed across the dusty wastes of North Africa could change the local climate in ways that could double rainfall, stimulate vegetation growth and set up a feedback loop that could go on increasing moisture in the world’s greatest desert region.

The array of wind turbines and solar panels so far remains hypothetical: to green the Sahara even a little, it would have to extend over 9 million square kilometres – an area bigger than Brazil.

The combined power output from this entirely imaginary infrastructure however would be enormous, at more than 80 terawatts of electrical power. Global consumption in 2017 was only 18 terawatts.

“Large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change on continental scales”

The study is an exercise in climate modelling: were investors to exploit the Sahara desert and the Sahel, what would all that hardware do to the land on which it stood?

Researchers have already established that wind turbines actually do change the prevailing winds: they convert high winds to a mix of electrical energy and lower wind speeds.

Similarly, light-absorbing photovoltaic cells on the ground would change the reflectivity of the surface on which they stood, and there is a demonstrable link between what climate scientists call albedo, and local climate.

Researchers chose to model the impact of renewable energy infrastructure on the Sahara because it is relatively empty, sunlit and windy. They matched the results with experiment.

Benefits for Sahel

They report in the journal Science that they found that wind farms mix warmer air from above, to raise minimum temperatures and create a feedback loop that drives greater evaporation, precipitation and plant growth.

Over the Sahara proper, rainfall increased by 150%, but since the desert is very dry the increase is relatively small. In the Sahel region to the south, a dry landscape of scrub, savannah and woodland, stretching from the Atlantic to the Nile, the simulated wind farms stepped up rainfall by 1.12 millimetres a day.

This is more than double the average observed in a control experiment, and what could amount to an extra 500mm a year could have “major ecological, environmental and societal impacts,” the scientists say.

“Previous modelling studies have shown that large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change on continental scales,” said Yan Li, an environmental scientist at the University of Illinois, one of the chief authors.

Big rain boost

Solar arrays had very little effect on wind speed, but these too triggered a change in local conditions. The solar panels – and the wind turbines – together created a darker, more broken surface, a change that once again favoured around 50% more rainfall, and more vegetation growth, which in turn could promote even more rain.

Two centuries of exploitation of fossil fuels has driven economic growth everywhere, but at a cost in ever greater ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The planet is warming, and increasing extremes of heat, drought and storm threaten to change climates with catastrophic consequences, drying up water supplies, advancing the desert regions and creating millions of climate refugees.

So the case for renewable energy is easily made, and five years ago researchers began looking to the North African countries as potential providers of renewable power. And the latest study makes the point that such investment could actually be beneficial in unexpected ways.

“The increase in rainfall and vegetation, combined with clean electricity as a result of solar and wind energy, could help agriculture, economic development and social well-being in the Sahara, Sahel, Middle East and other nearby regions,” said Safa Mottesharrei of the University of Maryland, another of the authors. – Climate News Network

Cover enough ground with wind turbines and solar panels, and you change the local climate, green the desert and could even boost the Sahara’s rainfall.

LONDON, 19 September, 2018 – Wind and solar energy could deliver more than just renewable, low-carbon electricity: they could green the desert, increasing the Sahara’s rainfall and helping it to bloom.

A sufficiently large network of wind turbines and solar panels arrayed across the dusty wastes of North Africa could change the local climate in ways that could double rainfall, stimulate vegetation growth and set up a feedback loop that could go on increasing moisture in the world’s greatest desert region.

The array of wind turbines and solar panels so far remains hypothetical: to green the Sahara even a little, it would have to extend over 9 million square kilometres – an area bigger than Brazil.

The combined power output from this entirely imaginary infrastructure however would be enormous, at more than 80 terawatts of electrical power. Global consumption in 2017 was only 18 terawatts.

“Large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change on continental scales”

The study is an exercise in climate modelling: were investors to exploit the Sahara desert and the Sahel, what would all that hardware do to the land on which it stood?

Researchers have already established that wind turbines actually do change the prevailing winds: they convert high winds to a mix of electrical energy and lower wind speeds.

Similarly, light-absorbing photovoltaic cells on the ground would change the reflectivity of the surface on which they stood, and there is a demonstrable link between what climate scientists call albedo, and local climate.

Researchers chose to model the impact of renewable energy infrastructure on the Sahara because it is relatively empty, sunlit and windy. They matched the results with experiment.

Benefits for Sahel

They report in the journal Science that they found that wind farms mix warmer air from above, to raise minimum temperatures and create a feedback loop that drives greater evaporation, precipitation and plant growth.

Over the Sahara proper, rainfall increased by 150%, but since the desert is very dry the increase is relatively small. In the Sahel region to the south, a dry landscape of scrub, savannah and woodland, stretching from the Atlantic to the Nile, the simulated wind farms stepped up rainfall by 1.12 millimetres a day.

This is more than double the average observed in a control experiment, and what could amount to an extra 500mm a year could have “major ecological, environmental and societal impacts,” the scientists say.

“Previous modelling studies have shown that large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change on continental scales,” said Yan Li, an environmental scientist at the University of Illinois, one of the chief authors.

Big rain boost

Solar arrays had very little effect on wind speed, but these too triggered a change in local conditions. The solar panels – and the wind turbines – together created a darker, more broken surface, a change that once again favoured around 50% more rainfall, and more vegetation growth, which in turn could promote even more rain.

Two centuries of exploitation of fossil fuels has driven economic growth everywhere, but at a cost in ever greater ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The planet is warming, and increasing extremes of heat, drought and storm threaten to change climates with catastrophic consequences, drying up water supplies, advancing the desert regions and creating millions of climate refugees.

So the case for renewable energy is easily made, and five years ago researchers began looking to the North African countries as potential providers of renewable power. And the latest study makes the point that such investment could actually be beneficial in unexpected ways.

“The increase in rainfall and vegetation, combined with clean electricity as a result of solar and wind energy, could help agriculture, economic development and social well-being in the Sahara, Sahel, Middle East and other nearby regions,” said Safa Mottesharrei of the University of Maryland, another of the authors. – Climate News Network

Tibetan threat to vital water

COP21: China’s leading scientists warn that large areas of the Tibetan plateau – the life-giving source of Asia’s major rivers – are suffering from desertification.

PARIS, 12 December, 2015 – Hours before the UN climate talks end, a warning from China’s top scientific body –  the twin influences of human activities and climate change are turning much of the Tibetan plateau into a desert.

The damage is not only transforming grasslands and wetlands into sand and rock where nothing can grow. The plateau is also the source of Asia’s major rivers, on whose water about 1.4 billion people depend.

More than 100 scientists have contributed to a report – published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences – that discloses the rate of the desertification process and its spread.

The report, which appears on the website of thethirdpole newsletter, says the plateau is already warming twice as fast as the global average.

The scientists expect temperatures there to rise by up to 4.6°C by the end of this century, and say that glaciers are shrinking, lakes expanding and river flows increasing, all signs of an intensifying water cycle.

While more water is flowing on the plateau, desertification is spreading and will continue to expand. Together with melting permafrost, the growing desert is thought to be the major driver of environmental degradation on the plateau.

Regional threat

The Tibetan Plateau is known as the world’s “third pole” because it holds the largest store of fresh water outside the Antarctic and Arctic. It is the source of 10 of Asia’s major rivers, including the Yangtze, the Yellow River and the Mekong, which support about 1.4 billion people downstream. 

The report says that the loss of grasslands, alpine meadows, wetlands and permafrost threatens environmental security across China and South Asia.

The headwaters of the rivers are said to be suffering the worst desertification and land degradation.

The most severe damage is at the headwaters of the Brahmaputra and the Yangtze, where soil erosion and sand have spread along rivers and risen up hillsides and mountains. The Yangtze flows east across China, powering the country’s largest economic zone. The plight of the upper Yellow river region is no less serious.

The scientists say there are many factors working to turn the plateau into a desert, both natural physical processes and human mismanagement. Geology, climate change and rodent damage as well as human activities all play a role in worsening the situation.

Warming annually

Permafrost is a particular concern at the source of the Yangtze, where the scientists found that the active layer of frozen soil beneath the surface, which thaws each summer, is getting warmer every year and is thickening by 3.6mm-7.5mm per year.

Permafrost areas will continue to shrink throughout the century, the report predicts. Wetlands rely on permafrost: summer melt supplies them with water, while the year-round sub-surface frozen layer prevents water from seeping deeper into the soil, and so benefits surface vegetation.

On the Yellow River, the combination of overgrazing of yaks and sheep, cultivation without proper protection, and climate change are blamed for the desert’s spread

Infrastructure construction is another problem. The report says the building of the Qinghai-Tibet road and railway, without adequate knowledge of the ecosystem and permafrost conservation, has resulted in “serious impacts on the eco-system” and threatened further soil erosion and degradation.

Careless mining practices and the dumping of waste have polluted water, further increasing the risk of soil erosion, landslides and other natural disasters. – Climate News Network

COP21: China’s leading scientists warn that large areas of the Tibetan plateau – the life-giving source of Asia’s major rivers – are suffering from desertification.

PARIS, 12 December, 2015 – Hours before the UN climate talks end, a warning from China’s top scientific body –  the twin influences of human activities and climate change are turning much of the Tibetan plateau into a desert.

The damage is not only transforming grasslands and wetlands into sand and rock where nothing can grow. The plateau is also the source of Asia’s major rivers, on whose water about 1.4 billion people depend.

More than 100 scientists have contributed to a report – published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences – that discloses the rate of the desertification process and its spread.

The report, which appears on the website of thethirdpole newsletter, says the plateau is already warming twice as fast as the global average.

The scientists expect temperatures there to rise by up to 4.6°C by the end of this century, and say that glaciers are shrinking, lakes expanding and river flows increasing, all signs of an intensifying water cycle.

While more water is flowing on the plateau, desertification is spreading and will continue to expand. Together with melting permafrost, the growing desert is thought to be the major driver of environmental degradation on the plateau.

Regional threat

The Tibetan Plateau is known as the world’s “third pole” because it holds the largest store of fresh water outside the Antarctic and Arctic. It is the source of 10 of Asia’s major rivers, including the Yangtze, the Yellow River and the Mekong, which support about 1.4 billion people downstream. 

The report says that the loss of grasslands, alpine meadows, wetlands and permafrost threatens environmental security across China and South Asia.

The headwaters of the rivers are said to be suffering the worst desertification and land degradation.

The most severe damage is at the headwaters of the Brahmaputra and the Yangtze, where soil erosion and sand have spread along rivers and risen up hillsides and mountains. The Yangtze flows east across China, powering the country’s largest economic zone. The plight of the upper Yellow river region is no less serious.

The scientists say there are many factors working to turn the plateau into a desert, both natural physical processes and human mismanagement. Geology, climate change and rodent damage as well as human activities all play a role in worsening the situation.

Warming annually

Permafrost is a particular concern at the source of the Yangtze, where the scientists found that the active layer of frozen soil beneath the surface, which thaws each summer, is getting warmer every year and is thickening by 3.6mm-7.5mm per year.

Permafrost areas will continue to shrink throughout the century, the report predicts. Wetlands rely on permafrost: summer melt supplies them with water, while the year-round sub-surface frozen layer prevents water from seeping deeper into the soil, and so benefits surface vegetation.

On the Yellow River, the combination of overgrazing of yaks and sheep, cultivation without proper protection, and climate change are blamed for the desert’s spread

Infrastructure construction is another problem. The report says the building of the Qinghai-Tibet road and railway, without adequate knowledge of the ecosystem and permafrost conservation, has resulted in “serious impacts on the eco-system” and threatened further soil erosion and degradation.

Careless mining practices and the dumping of waste have polluted water, further increasing the risk of soil erosion, landslides and other natural disasters. – Climate News Network