Tag Archives: Drought


Europe warns of Brazilian trade boycott over fires

Appalled by more forest loss and worse wildfires, eight European countries warn of a possible Brazilian trade boycott.

SÃO PAULO, 21 September, 2020 − There was international concern over the forest fires which swept the Amazon last year. This year’s devastation looks set to be still more severe. And it won’t go without vigorous protest, and possible action: a Brazilian trade boycott.

Six EU countries and the UK have sent an open letter to the Brazilian government protesting at Brazil’s environmental policy and threatening a boycott.

Fires in two of Brazil’s most important biomes (areas of the Earth  that can be classified according to the plants and animals that live in them), the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands area, have reached record numbers of fires.

The seven countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom), are signatories to the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, set up in 2015 to ensure sustainable commodity supply chains. Their focus is on deforestation and sustainable palm oil.

Worse than 2019

Their letter (which is supported by a non-member of the Partnership, Belgium) was prompted by evidence that this year’s fires in the Amazon are going to be even worse than those last year, which led to worldwide protests against the Brazilian government. In the first two weeks of September 2020 more fires have been recorded than during the entire month of September last year.

In addition, not only is the Amazon burning: the Pantanal is also seeing a record number of fires. An area the size of Belgium (almost 3 million hectares) has already been burnt. The Pantanal is a wildlife sanctuary, and untold millions of animals, birds and reptiles have been burned to death or have died from smoke inhalation, in what is probably one of the worst-ever extinctions of wildlife.

The fires in the Pantanal have been facilitated by an unprecedented drought, leaving rivers and streams dry, but police are investigating evidence that they were started deliberately by farmers seeking more grassland for their cattle. The Pantanal is also home to millions of cattle.

The letter’s signatories express alarm at the growth in deforestation which has led to the fires, pointing out that in the past Brazil successfully expanded agricultural production while reducing forest clearing.

Supermarkets intervene

“There is growing concern among consumers, companies, investors and European civil society about the present rates of deforestation”, they say.

Recently two of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains, Edeka and Lidl, asked the German government to put pressure on Brazil to reduce deforestation.

For Marcio Astrini, of the Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory, the letter will influence the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which still has to be ratified by most European parliaments.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology, which favours environmental crime in detriment to productive forces and the comparative advantages which Brazil enjoyed”, he said.

Global protest

President Bolsonaro and his ministers, who against all the evidence continue to deny the severity of the fires in the Amazon, downplayed the importance of the letter, dismissing it as a “trade strategy” of the Europeans.

But it is not only the Europeans who are worried about what’s happening in the Amazon. A few days ago 230 agribusiness companies and NGOs joined forces to present the government with a list of proposals for ending deforestation (in Brazilian Portuguese)

The group, which includes WWF Brazil, the World Resources Institute, Imazon and Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), as well as some of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, like Bayer, Danone, Unilever, Natura, JBS, Marfrig and Amaggi, says that a rapid decrease in deforestation is fundamental, not only for environmental but for economic reasons too.

It wants a return to regular monitoring and application of fines for illegal clearing, which the Bolsonaro government has effectively sabotaged by cutting funds for environmental agencies.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology”

It says access to official funds should be conditional upon socio-environmental criteria, and attempts by private landowners to declare themselves owners of areas located within protected public lands should be stopped.

In other words, what it is demanding is not rocket science, but the enforcement of existing laws, instead of the illegality which the Bolsonaro government has indirectly encouraged.

Neither the Amazon nor the Pantanal, both humid areas, catches fire spontaneously. Huge areas illegally cleared last year are being set on fire to prepare the land for farming. Trees were felled en masse by big chains stretched between tractors that topple everything in their path.

This year the felled vegetation is being burned to clear the land for cattle or soy. Between January 2019 and April 2020 an area of over 4,500 sq kms of Amazon forest was cleared.

Catastrophe foretold

The fires spread easily because of tinder-dry conditions, and because the environment ministry failed to release funds for firefighting until the dry season was well under way.

There were warnings. In June IPAM declared that the deforestation of the last year and a half in the Amazon could herald a catastrophe in the region. “If 100% is burnt, an unprecedented health calamity will add to the effects of Covid-19”, it said.

The fires have covered towns and cities in the Amazon with huge clouds of sooty smoke, leading to thousands of people, including babies and small children, being hospitalised for breathing problems, as reported in a study published by Human Rights Watch, IPAM and IPES (the Health Policies Study Institute), on 26 August.

The fires’ impact is not confined to the Amazon region: black clouds of sooty particles are spreading south and are expected to reach São Paulo, Brazil’s major metropolis, within a few days. Pressure for a Brazilian trade boycott is liable to intensify. − Climate News Network

Appalled by more forest loss and worse wildfires, eight European countries warn of a possible Brazilian trade boycott.

SÃO PAULO, 21 September, 2020 − There was international concern over the forest fires which swept the Amazon last year. This year’s devastation looks set to be still more severe. And it won’t go without vigorous protest, and possible action: a Brazilian trade boycott.

Six EU countries and the UK have sent an open letter to the Brazilian government protesting at Brazil’s environmental policy and threatening a boycott.

Fires in two of Brazil’s most important biomes (areas of the Earth  that can be classified according to the plants and animals that live in them), the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands area, have reached record numbers of fires.

The seven countries (Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom), are signatories to the Amsterdam Declarations Partnership, set up in 2015 to ensure sustainable commodity supply chains. Their focus is on deforestation and sustainable palm oil.

Worse than 2019

Their letter (which is supported by a non-member of the Partnership, Belgium) was prompted by evidence that this year’s fires in the Amazon are going to be even worse than those last year, which led to worldwide protests against the Brazilian government. In the first two weeks of September 2020 more fires have been recorded than during the entire month of September last year.

In addition, not only is the Amazon burning: the Pantanal is also seeing a record number of fires. An area the size of Belgium (almost 3 million hectares) has already been burnt. The Pantanal is a wildlife sanctuary, and untold millions of animals, birds and reptiles have been burned to death or have died from smoke inhalation, in what is probably one of the worst-ever extinctions of wildlife.

The fires in the Pantanal have been facilitated by an unprecedented drought, leaving rivers and streams dry, but police are investigating evidence that they were started deliberately by farmers seeking more grassland for their cattle. The Pantanal is also home to millions of cattle.

The letter’s signatories express alarm at the growth in deforestation which has led to the fires, pointing out that in the past Brazil successfully expanded agricultural production while reducing forest clearing.

Supermarkets intervene

“There is growing concern among consumers, companies, investors and European civil society about the present rates of deforestation”, they say.

Recently two of Germany’s biggest supermarket chains, Edeka and Lidl, asked the German government to put pressure on Brazil to reduce deforestation.

For Marcio Astrini, of the Brazilian NGO Climate Observatory, the letter will influence the EU-Mercosur trade deal, which still has to be ratified by most European parliaments.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology, which favours environmental crime in detriment to productive forces and the comparative advantages which Brazil enjoyed”, he said.

Global protest

President Bolsonaro and his ministers, who against all the evidence continue to deny the severity of the fires in the Amazon, downplayed the importance of the letter, dismissing it as a “trade strategy” of the Europeans.

But it is not only the Europeans who are worried about what’s happening in the Amazon. A few days ago 230 agribusiness companies and NGOs joined forces to present the government with a list of proposals for ending deforestation (in Brazilian Portuguese)

The group, which includes WWF Brazil, the World Resources Institute, Imazon and Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM), as well as some of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies, like Bayer, Danone, Unilever, Natura, JBS, Marfrig and Amaggi, says that a rapid decrease in deforestation is fundamental, not only for environmental but for economic reasons too.

It wants a return to regular monitoring and application of fines for illegal clearing, which the Bolsonaro government has effectively sabotaged by cutting funds for environmental agencies.

“Jair Bolsonaro and his government are destroying our biomes, the Earth’s climate and the economic future of the country in the name of a toxic and stupid ideology”

It says access to official funds should be conditional upon socio-environmental criteria, and attempts by private landowners to declare themselves owners of areas located within protected public lands should be stopped.

In other words, what it is demanding is not rocket science, but the enforcement of existing laws, instead of the illegality which the Bolsonaro government has indirectly encouraged.

Neither the Amazon nor the Pantanal, both humid areas, catches fire spontaneously. Huge areas illegally cleared last year are being set on fire to prepare the land for farming. Trees were felled en masse by big chains stretched between tractors that topple everything in their path.

This year the felled vegetation is being burned to clear the land for cattle or soy. Between January 2019 and April 2020 an area of over 4,500 sq kms of Amazon forest was cleared.

Catastrophe foretold

The fires spread easily because of tinder-dry conditions, and because the environment ministry failed to release funds for firefighting until the dry season was well under way.

There were warnings. In June IPAM declared that the deforestation of the last year and a half in the Amazon could herald a catastrophe in the region. “If 100% is burnt, an unprecedented health calamity will add to the effects of Covid-19”, it said.

The fires have covered towns and cities in the Amazon with huge clouds of sooty smoke, leading to thousands of people, including babies and small children, being hospitalised for breathing problems, as reported in a study published by Human Rights Watch, IPAM and IPES (the Health Policies Study Institute), on 26 August.

The fires’ impact is not confined to the Amazon region: black clouds of sooty particles are spreading south and are expected to reach São Paulo, Brazil’s major metropolis, within a few days. Pressure for a Brazilian trade boycott is liable to intensify. − Climate News Network

Seas and forests are muddying the carbon budget

As climates change, forests may not absorb more carbon as expected. But a new carbon budget could appeal to the oceans.

LONDON, 18 September 2020 – Two new studies could throw long-term climate forecasts into confusion. The planetary carbon budget – the all-important traffic of life’s first element between rocks, water, atmosphere and living things – that underpins planetary temperatures and maintains a stable climate needs a rethink.

A warming climate makes trees grow faster. The awkward finding is that  faster-growing trees die younger. Therefore they must surrender their carbon back to the atmosphere quicker.

So tomorrow’s forests may not be quite such reliable long-term banks of carbon pumped into the atmosphere as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use by human economies.

The more reassuring news is that the ocean – that’s almost three fourths of the planet’s surface – may absorb and store a lot more atmospheric carbon than previous estimates suggest.

All calculations about the future rate of global heating, and the potential consequences of climate change, rest upon the carbon budget.

Forest doubts

This is the intricate accounting of the mass of carbon in continuous circulation from air to plant to animal and then to shell, skeleton and sediment, and the expected flow of carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels stored hundreds of millions of years ago, and exhumed in the last two centuries.

To make sense of the factors at work, climate scientists have to make calculations about all the carbon stored in the permafrost, in the soils, in the forests, dissolved in the oceans, free in the atmosphere and being released from power station chimneys, vehicle exhausts and ploughed or scorched land.

But for decades, one component of the equation has been automatically accepted: more forests must mean more carbon absorbed, and better protected natural forests would store the most carbon, the most efficiently.

Now a new report in the journal Nature Communications introduces some doubt into this cornerstone of the carbon budget. In an already warming world, much more of the carbon stored in tomorrow’s forests might find its way back into the atmosphere.

Researchers looked at 200,000 tree ring records from 82 tree species from sites around the planet. They found what they describe as trade-offs that are near universal: faster-growing trees have shorter lives.

“There is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality”

This was true in cool climates and warm ones, and in all species. So the hope that natural vegetation will respond to warmer temperatures by absorbing even more carbon becomes insecure, especially if it means that the more vigorous growth means simply swifter death and decay.

“Our modeling suggests that there is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality,” said Roel Brienen of the University of Leeds in the UK, who led the research. “They estimate that global increases in tree death don’t kick in until after sites show accelerated growth.”

All such research is provisional: the findings gain currency only when supported by other teams using different approaches. So it has yet to be confirmed.

But recent studies have suggested that climate change has already begun to complicate calculations. Just in recent months, research teams have found that forest trees are growing shorter and dying younger; that higher temperatures may affect plant germination; and that forests already hit by drought may start surrendering carbon more swiftly than they absorb it. Planting more trees is not an alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, the carbon budget may still make sense: the oceans may be responding to ever-higher concentrations of carbon dioxide by absorbing more from the atmosphere, which also makes the oceans more acidic, which is not necessarily helpful.

Oceans’ effect

All such calculations are based on sea surface temperatures. Gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen dissolve well in colder water, not so well in warm lagoons and tropical tides.

But a British group reports in the same journal that calculations so far may have been under-estimates. This is because, on balance, researchers have tended to ignore the small difference between the temperatures at the surface, and a few metres down, where the measurements of dissolved greenhouse gas were actually made.

A team from the University of Exeter worked from a global database to make new estimates of the oceans’ appetite for carbon between 1992 and 2018.

“We used satellite data to correct for these temperature differences, and when we do that, it makes a big difference – we get a substantially larger flux going into the ocean,” said Andrew Watson, who led the study.

“The difference in ocean uptake we calculate amounts to 10% of global fossil fuel emissions.” – Climate News Network

As climates change, forests may not absorb more carbon as expected. But a new carbon budget could appeal to the oceans.

LONDON, 18 September 2020 – Two new studies could throw long-term climate forecasts into confusion. The planetary carbon budget – the all-important traffic of life’s first element between rocks, water, atmosphere and living things – that underpins planetary temperatures and maintains a stable climate needs a rethink.

A warming climate makes trees grow faster. The awkward finding is that  faster-growing trees die younger. Therefore they must surrender their carbon back to the atmosphere quicker.

So tomorrow’s forests may not be quite such reliable long-term banks of carbon pumped into the atmosphere as a consequence of profligate fossil fuel use by human economies.

The more reassuring news is that the ocean – that’s almost three fourths of the planet’s surface – may absorb and store a lot more atmospheric carbon than previous estimates suggest.

All calculations about the future rate of global heating, and the potential consequences of climate change, rest upon the carbon budget.

Forest doubts

This is the intricate accounting of the mass of carbon in continuous circulation from air to plant to animal and then to shell, skeleton and sediment, and the expected flow of carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels stored hundreds of millions of years ago, and exhumed in the last two centuries.

To make sense of the factors at work, climate scientists have to make calculations about all the carbon stored in the permafrost, in the soils, in the forests, dissolved in the oceans, free in the atmosphere and being released from power station chimneys, vehicle exhausts and ploughed or scorched land.

But for decades, one component of the equation has been automatically accepted: more forests must mean more carbon absorbed, and better protected natural forests would store the most carbon, the most efficiently.

Now a new report in the journal Nature Communications introduces some doubt into this cornerstone of the carbon budget. In an already warming world, much more of the carbon stored in tomorrow’s forests might find its way back into the atmosphere.

Researchers looked at 200,000 tree ring records from 82 tree species from sites around the planet. They found what they describe as trade-offs that are near universal: faster-growing trees have shorter lives.

“There is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality”

This was true in cool climates and warm ones, and in all species. So the hope that natural vegetation will respond to warmer temperatures by absorbing even more carbon becomes insecure, especially if it means that the more vigorous growth means simply swifter death and decay.

“Our modeling suggests that there is likely to be a timelag before we see the worst of the potential loss of carbon stocks from increases in tree mortality,” said Roel Brienen of the University of Leeds in the UK, who led the research. “They estimate that global increases in tree death don’t kick in until after sites show accelerated growth.”

All such research is provisional: the findings gain currency only when supported by other teams using different approaches. So it has yet to be confirmed.

But recent studies have suggested that climate change has already begun to complicate calculations. Just in recent months, research teams have found that forest trees are growing shorter and dying younger; that higher temperatures may affect plant germination; and that forests already hit by drought may start surrendering carbon more swiftly than they absorb it. Planting more trees is not an alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the other hand, the carbon budget may still make sense: the oceans may be responding to ever-higher concentrations of carbon dioxide by absorbing more from the atmosphere, which also makes the oceans more acidic, which is not necessarily helpful.

Oceans’ effect

All such calculations are based on sea surface temperatures. Gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen dissolve well in colder water, not so well in warm lagoons and tropical tides.

But a British group reports in the same journal that calculations so far may have been under-estimates. This is because, on balance, researchers have tended to ignore the small difference between the temperatures at the surface, and a few metres down, where the measurements of dissolved greenhouse gas were actually made.

A team from the University of Exeter worked from a global database to make new estimates of the oceans’ appetite for carbon between 1992 and 2018.

“We used satellite data to correct for these temperature differences, and when we do that, it makes a big difference – we get a substantially larger flux going into the ocean,” said Andrew Watson, who led the study.

“The difference in ocean uptake we calculate amounts to 10% of global fossil fuel emissions.” – Climate News Network

Mass migration set to increase as world warms

Climate change is now driving mass migration, which will only worsen unless governments take global heating seriously.

LONDON, 15 September, 2020 −There is strong evidence that deteriorating environments caused by climate change are driving millions of people to resort to mass migration in their search for a better life, both within countries and across borders.

As temperatures rise these migrations will only increase, particularly in Latin America and India, which is predicted to overtake China as the country with the largest population by 2025.

An analysis of environment and migration, published in Nature Climate Change, of 30 studies of individual countries across the world shows that there is no one single factor that drives migration.

But most research has found that environmental hazards have a major influence. Rising temperature levels, changes in rainfall and single sudden events like hurricanes are all triggers.

Policies for improvement

The analysis, by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and research partners across Europe, was undertaken to try to inform policy makers about how to avert mass human migration.

It points out that two of the most high-profile mass migration episodes in recent times – the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 and the “migrant caravan” from Central America to the United States in 2018 – have been partly attributed to severe droughts in the countries concerned.

While some studies conclude that environmental factors were not the main driver of migration, most thought it was one of the primary causes. The analysis says governments should expect significantly higher migration flows in the future.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the publicity surrounding the issue, migrations were not centred on poor people trying to enter rich nations in Europe or North America. Instead, most movements were from the countryside to urban areas in the same country, particularly in agriculturally dependent countries, or from one middle-income country to another.

“The best way to protect those affected is to stabilise the global climate by rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels”

People with particularly low incomes normally stayed where they were,  despite environmental pressures, because they had no way of financing a move, while richer people had the means to adapt to new circumstances and so they also stayed put.

“Environmental factors can drive migration, but the size of the effects depends on the particular economic and socio-political conditions in the countries,” explains the lead author Roman Hoffmann, from Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

“In both low and high income countries, environmental impacts on migration are weaker – presumably because either people are too poor to leave and therefore essentially become trapped or, in wealthy countries, they have enough financial means to absorb the consequences. It is mainly in middle-income regions and those with a dependency on agriculture that we see strong effects.”

IIASA predicts future higher levels of environmental migration for countries in Central America, the Caribbean, Brazil and Argentina. In Africa it is the Sahel region south of the Sahara that is already drying out, and East Africa that has the highest potential for people migrating because of climate change.

Eyes on India

Perhaps the most disturbing prediction is that India, with 1.3 billion people and soon to be the most populous country in the world, is likely to see large migrations. The heat and floods in the country are already killing hundreds of people a year, and many millions who are still dependent on subsistence agriculture are struggling with changing climate conditions.

“Our research suggests that populations in Latin America and the Caribbean, several countries in sub-Saharan Africa – especially in the Sahel region and East Africa – as well as western, southern and south-east Asia, are particularly at risk,” says co-author Anna Dimitrova from the Vienna Institute of Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

While the report is aimed at preparing governments for migrations that will inevitably happen in the future, with difficult consequences for both the migrants and the host country, the research suggests the best way of averting the coming crisis is to tackle climate change and reduce further rises in temperatures.

“The best way to protect those affected is to stabilise the global climate by rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels as well as simultaneously to enhance adaptive capacity, such as through improving human capital,” says Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, a researcher with the IIASA World Population Program and professor of economics at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. − Climate News Network

Climate change is now driving mass migration, which will only worsen unless governments take global heating seriously.

LONDON, 15 September, 2020 −There is strong evidence that deteriorating environments caused by climate change are driving millions of people to resort to mass migration in their search for a better life, both within countries and across borders.

As temperatures rise these migrations will only increase, particularly in Latin America and India, which is predicted to overtake China as the country with the largest population by 2025.

An analysis of environment and migration, published in Nature Climate Change, of 30 studies of individual countries across the world shows that there is no one single factor that drives migration.

But most research has found that environmental hazards have a major influence. Rising temperature levels, changes in rainfall and single sudden events like hurricanes are all triggers.

Policies for improvement

The analysis, by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and research partners across Europe, was undertaken to try to inform policy makers about how to avert mass human migration.

It points out that two of the most high-profile mass migration episodes in recent times – the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 and the “migrant caravan” from Central America to the United States in 2018 – have been partly attributed to severe droughts in the countries concerned.

While some studies conclude that environmental factors were not the main driver of migration, most thought it was one of the primary causes. The analysis says governments should expect significantly higher migration flows in the future.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the publicity surrounding the issue, migrations were not centred on poor people trying to enter rich nations in Europe or North America. Instead, most movements were from the countryside to urban areas in the same country, particularly in agriculturally dependent countries, or from one middle-income country to another.

“The best way to protect those affected is to stabilise the global climate by rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels”

People with particularly low incomes normally stayed where they were,  despite environmental pressures, because they had no way of financing a move, while richer people had the means to adapt to new circumstances and so they also stayed put.

“Environmental factors can drive migration, but the size of the effects depends on the particular economic and socio-political conditions in the countries,” explains the lead author Roman Hoffmann, from Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

“In both low and high income countries, environmental impacts on migration are weaker – presumably because either people are too poor to leave and therefore essentially become trapped or, in wealthy countries, they have enough financial means to absorb the consequences. It is mainly in middle-income regions and those with a dependency on agriculture that we see strong effects.”

IIASA predicts future higher levels of environmental migration for countries in Central America, the Caribbean, Brazil and Argentina. In Africa it is the Sahel region south of the Sahara that is already drying out, and East Africa that has the highest potential for people migrating because of climate change.

Eyes on India

Perhaps the most disturbing prediction is that India, with 1.3 billion people and soon to be the most populous country in the world, is likely to see large migrations. The heat and floods in the country are already killing hundreds of people a year, and many millions who are still dependent on subsistence agriculture are struggling with changing climate conditions.

“Our research suggests that populations in Latin America and the Caribbean, several countries in sub-Saharan Africa – especially in the Sahel region and East Africa – as well as western, southern and south-east Asia, are particularly at risk,” says co-author Anna Dimitrova from the Vienna Institute of Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

While the report is aimed at preparing governments for migrations that will inevitably happen in the future, with difficult consequences for both the migrants and the host country, the research suggests the best way of averting the coming crisis is to tackle climate change and reduce further rises in temperatures.

“The best way to protect those affected is to stabilise the global climate by rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels as well as simultaneously to enhance adaptive capacity, such as through improving human capital,” says Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, a researcher with the IIASA World Population Program and professor of economics at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. − Climate News Network

Plant world feels effect of growing climate heat

From Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, the plant world is beginning to change. Blame it on global heating.

LONDON, 28 August, 2020 – From one end of the Americas to the other, climate heating is subjecting the plant world to radical change, with cold-resistant species increasingly yielding place to those that welcome the rising warmth.

That badge of Canadian identity, the sugar maple, may one day turn sour. As global temperatures, driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels, continue to soar, Acer saccharum could simply lose its habitat and no longer sweeten the forests from Novia Scotia to the Appalachians.

And the southern live oak, so associated with Florida that a city there preserves its name, may find life too hot for comfort: in the south of the state, Quercus virginiana could one day be replaced by trees from the Caribbean or even further south, such as the already present Cuban mahogany Swietenia mahogani or the Gumbo limbo Bursera simaruba.

And in what was once the reliably wintry city of New York, that marvel of old Mississippi the southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, has begun to multiply and bloom ever earlier each year.

These species shifts are just part of a larger trend in the Americas, from Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, according to new research in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that are critical to our ways of life”

Researchers analysed 60 million records of 17,000 plant species in almost 200 New World eco-regions, from 1970 to 2011, to identify a pattern of change in response to heat: a phenomenon called thermophilisation.

“Almost anywhere you go, the types of species that you encounter now are different than what you would have found in the same spot 40 years ago, and we believe that this pattern is the direct result of rising temperatures and climate change,” said Ken Feeley, a biologist at the University of Miami, who led the research.

The study – two continents, and a range of temperature regimes from near-Arctic to equatorial and onwards, almost to the edge of the Southern Ocean – confirms the big picture, but dozens of earlier studies had already built up a mosaic of observations that told much the same story.

As temperatures rise, and precipitation patterns shift, plants respond. The forests of the northern hemisphere everywhere are vulnerable to heat and drought, and even species considered resistant to drought could be about to succumb.

In the lowland tropics, researchers have warned that conditions could become so intemperate that some species may fail to germinate and renew their tenure in the forest. Researchers have observed tropical species moving uphill to find more equable temperature regimes, while others have warned that those upland species that are comfortable at height may soon find it so hot there could be nowhere left to go.

Worldwide effects

The northern tundra is already beginning to host new plant life, but rising temperatures and shifting climate regimes could also damage forests and fuel even more global warming.

The latest study shows once again that, in any ecosystem, those species that are more likely to cope with colder temperatures are being replaced by others that just like it hot.

“Some of these changes can be so dramatic that we are shifting entire habitat types from forests to grasslands or vice versa – by looking at all types of plants over long periods of time and over huge areas, we were able to observe those changes,” said Professor Feeley.

“All animals – including humans – depend on the plants around them. If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that we are used to seeing in our communities and that are critical to our ways of life.

“When people think of climate change, they need to realise that it’s not just about losing ice in Antarctica, or rising sea levels – climate change affects almost every natural system in every part of the planet.” – Climate News Network

From Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, the plant world is beginning to change. Blame it on global heating.

LONDON, 28 August, 2020 – From one end of the Americas to the other, climate heating is subjecting the plant world to radical change, with cold-resistant species increasingly yielding place to those that welcome the rising warmth.

That badge of Canadian identity, the sugar maple, may one day turn sour. As global temperatures, driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels, continue to soar, Acer saccharum could simply lose its habitat and no longer sweeten the forests from Novia Scotia to the Appalachians.

And the southern live oak, so associated with Florida that a city there preserves its name, may find life too hot for comfort: in the south of the state, Quercus virginiana could one day be replaced by trees from the Caribbean or even further south, such as the already present Cuban mahogany Swietenia mahogani or the Gumbo limbo Bursera simaruba.

And in what was once the reliably wintry city of New York, that marvel of old Mississippi the southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, has begun to multiply and bloom ever earlier each year.

These species shifts are just part of a larger trend in the Americas, from Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, according to new research in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that are critical to our ways of life”

Researchers analysed 60 million records of 17,000 plant species in almost 200 New World eco-regions, from 1970 to 2011, to identify a pattern of change in response to heat: a phenomenon called thermophilisation.

“Almost anywhere you go, the types of species that you encounter now are different than what you would have found in the same spot 40 years ago, and we believe that this pattern is the direct result of rising temperatures and climate change,” said Ken Feeley, a biologist at the University of Miami, who led the research.

The study – two continents, and a range of temperature regimes from near-Arctic to equatorial and onwards, almost to the edge of the Southern Ocean – confirms the big picture, but dozens of earlier studies had already built up a mosaic of observations that told much the same story.

As temperatures rise, and precipitation patterns shift, plants respond. The forests of the northern hemisphere everywhere are vulnerable to heat and drought, and even species considered resistant to drought could be about to succumb.

In the lowland tropics, researchers have warned that conditions could become so intemperate that some species may fail to germinate and renew their tenure in the forest. Researchers have observed tropical species moving uphill to find more equable temperature regimes, while others have warned that those upland species that are comfortable at height may soon find it so hot there could be nowhere left to go.

Worldwide effects

The northern tundra is already beginning to host new plant life, but rising temperatures and shifting climate regimes could also damage forests and fuel even more global warming.

The latest study shows once again that, in any ecosystem, those species that are more likely to cope with colder temperatures are being replaced by others that just like it hot.

“Some of these changes can be so dramatic that we are shifting entire habitat types from forests to grasslands or vice versa – by looking at all types of plants over long periods of time and over huge areas, we were able to observe those changes,” said Professor Feeley.

“All animals – including humans – depend on the plants around them. If we lose some plants, we may also lose the insects, birds and many other forms of wildlife that we are used to seeing in our communities and that are critical to our ways of life.

“When people think of climate change, they need to realise that it’s not just about losing ice in Antarctica, or rising sea levels – climate change affects almost every natural system in every part of the planet.” – Climate News Network

Batteries boost Californian hopes of cooler future

Californian hopes of cooler future rise as the world’s biggest battery storage system comes on stream.

LONDON, 25 August, 2020 – Recent reports of record-breaking heat in the Golden State may be only part of the story: Californian hopes of cooler future days are strengthening with the entry into service of new technology that should promise a less torrid future for millions of people.

The ability to store large amounts of renewable energy – generated mainly by solar and wind power – is seen as a key component in the battle to combat catastrophic climate change.

The Gateway Energy Storage project, near San Diego in southern California, is capable of storing and redistributing up to 230MW of power from solar installations in the area.

“By charging during solar production on off-peak hours and delivering energy to the grid during times of peak demand for power, our battery storage projects improve electric reliability, reduce costs and help our state meet its climate objectives”, said John King of LS Power, the New York-based power development company operating the project.

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real”

California – the most populous state in the US and one of the wealthiest – has been hit by a series of power blackouts in recent weeks as an extreme heatwave has led to increased air conditioner use and expanding energy demand.

In the Central Valley area of the state, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, daytime temperatures have soared to more than 40°C.

In mid-August the temperature in Death Valley, a desert area in southern California, reached 54°C – which could be the highest temperature reliably recorded anywhere in the world.

Further north, residents of Sacramento, the state capital, baked as temperatures reached over 40°C on consecutive days – more than 7°C above normal for the time of year.

Though it’s too early to say whether the heatwave is due to increased levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, is in little doubt about what is driving the heat extremes.

World’s worst air

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier”, Newsom said in a video message to delegates participating in a virtual convention of the Democratic Party. “Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California”, said Newsom.

The extreme heat has led to increased storm activity in many areas of the state and a series of lightning strikes which, in turn, have caused an outbreak of wildfires.

Several people have been killed as the fires have raged out of control over hundreds of thousands of acres. Air quality in some regions has declined to levels not seen before.

At one stage this month the area around San Francisco – one of the globe’s wealthiest cities and home to many of the biggest IT companies – was described as having the worst air quality in the world.

Batteries in demand

A shortage of equipment and firefighters has added to problems. In the past California has used prisoners to help fight fires – a policy condemned by various groups.

Many of the prisoners who might have been used for this purpose are no longer available: they’ve either been placed in quarantine or released in an attempt to control the spread of the Covid virus through California’s overcrowded prison system.

Developing more battery storage to service fast-growing solar and wind industries is seen as vital for the state’s energy needs.

California is facing restrictions on importing power from other states in the western US due to heatwaves in those regions and rising power demand. It has also been shutting down fossil fuel-burning power plants.

Governor Newsom said this month that state utilities must find solutions to the power problem: blackouts, he said, were “unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.” – Climate News Network

Californian hopes of cooler future rise as the world’s biggest battery storage system comes on stream.

LONDON, 25 August, 2020 – Recent reports of record-breaking heat in the Golden State may be only part of the story: Californian hopes of cooler future days are strengthening with the entry into service of new technology that should promise a less torrid future for millions of people.

The ability to store large amounts of renewable energy – generated mainly by solar and wind power – is seen as a key component in the battle to combat catastrophic climate change.

The Gateway Energy Storage project, near San Diego in southern California, is capable of storing and redistributing up to 230MW of power from solar installations in the area.

“By charging during solar production on off-peak hours and delivering energy to the grid during times of peak demand for power, our battery storage projects improve electric reliability, reduce costs and help our state meet its climate objectives”, said John King of LS Power, the New York-based power development company operating the project.

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real”

California – the most populous state in the US and one of the wealthiest – has been hit by a series of power blackouts in recent weeks as an extreme heatwave has led to increased air conditioner use and expanding energy demand.

In the Central Valley area of the state, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, daytime temperatures have soared to more than 40°C.

In mid-August the temperature in Death Valley, a desert area in southern California, reached 54°C – which could be the highest temperature reliably recorded anywhere in the world.

Further north, residents of Sacramento, the state capital, baked as temperatures reached over 40°C on consecutive days – more than 7°C above normal for the time of year.

Though it’s too early to say whether the heatwave is due to increased levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, is in little doubt about what is driving the heat extremes.

World’s worst air

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier”, Newsom said in a video message to delegates participating in a virtual convention of the Democratic Party. “Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California”, said Newsom.

The extreme heat has led to increased storm activity in many areas of the state and a series of lightning strikes which, in turn, have caused an outbreak of wildfires.

Several people have been killed as the fires have raged out of control over hundreds of thousands of acres. Air quality in some regions has declined to levels not seen before.

At one stage this month the area around San Francisco – one of the globe’s wealthiest cities and home to many of the biggest IT companies – was described as having the worst air quality in the world.

Batteries in demand

A shortage of equipment and firefighters has added to problems. In the past California has used prisoners to help fight fires – a policy condemned by various groups.

Many of the prisoners who might have been used for this purpose are no longer available: they’ve either been placed in quarantine or released in an attempt to control the spread of the Covid virus through California’s overcrowded prison system.

Developing more battery storage to service fast-growing solar and wind industries is seen as vital for the state’s energy needs.

California is facing restrictions on importing power from other states in the western US due to heatwaves in those regions and rising power demand. It has also been shutting down fossil fuel-burning power plants.

Governor Newsom said this month that state utilities must find solutions to the power problem: blackouts, he said, were “unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.” – Climate News Network

Indian law restores once dried-up rivers to villagers

Indian villagers who brought dried-up rivers back to life then had to fight a legal battle to use their water.

LONDON, 7 August, 2020 – Drought and dried-up rivers can spell catastrophe for rural communities that rely on their crops for survival. But villagers in India have shown that both threats can be reversed and livelihoods restored – with the backing of the law.

Having succeeded in restoring their rivers’ flow, the villagers faced another battle with their local government and vested interests which wanted to take over the new water supply for their own use. So they went to court, formed their own “water parliament”, and wrested back control.

The story began back in 1985 in the parched lands of Rajasthan in north-west India, when villagers were suffering acutely because the rivers they relied on to water their crops were running dry. They resorted to building johads, traditional hand-dug earth dams, which capture water in the rainy season so that it can soak into the earth and be retained instead of flooding away uselessly.

Often called natural flood management, this approach mimics the natural process of rivers which become blocked by debris and trees – with the beneficial results seen in the complex ecosystems created by beavers, which build their own dams and thereby prevent flooding downstream while also storing water for the dry season.

The first dam was built at the original source of the Arvari river, which for the first 45 kilometres of its length had stopped flowing at all. It took 375 earth dams before the Arvari started to flow again, and 10 years before it became a perennial river once more.

“The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe”

Success was infectious. Altogether, over those 10 years, the residents of 1,000 villages built more than 8,600 johads and other structures to collect water for use in the dry seasons. Remarkably, five rivers – the Arvari, Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali – began to flow again, their valleys turning green with crops.

The rivers gained in value again. So the government of Rajasthan, seeing an opportunity to make money, claimed ownership, even awarding fishing licences to contractors, who were stopped by furious local people.

Fortunately the courts sided with the protestors and handed control of the river to them after 72 villages formed what they called the Arvari River Parliament to administer the river and allot rights to water resources in a fair manner.

They were lucky: the Indian constitution allows local people to get financial and legal support in cases against perceived injustices. This meant they had access to justice which they could not otherwise have afforded. The system favours local democracy where it can be shown to work.

Over-exploitation

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

The story of the success of the earth dams is told by the RTA as part of its series publicising global examples of how projects and communities can combat the environmental destruction caused by the effects of climate heating.

The drying-up of water resources, combined with climate change, is one of the key problems of poor river management in many parts of the world. Climates vary markedly, but on rivers in Africa, Europe and the US vital water resources are also drying up, often through over-exploitation as well as drought.

The Alliance says: “The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe. Climate change is exacerbating this with higher temperatures in already dry places.”

Resisting usurpers

It cites a range of schemes used to tackle the problem, similar in essence to Rajasthan’s diversion of the wet season rains by the johads into underground aquifers rather than letting the water run to waste.

Its message is that solutions need to be low-tech, cheap and achievable by local people acting together democratically to decide what is best for the community. Often this involves resisting local government and big business in their attempts to exploit and profit from the scarce water   frequently the cause of the original damage to the river.

The Alliance says two lessons from Rajasthan translate to other locations and across cultures: first, the physical return of water in a controlled way to an arid environment is possible using low-tech, cheap, accessible solutions.

Second, it says, the guardianship of a natural resource can be achieved effectively by using a communal parliament where all interests are represented equally and fair decisions are taken. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

Indian villagers who brought dried-up rivers back to life then had to fight a legal battle to use their water.

LONDON, 7 August, 2020 – Drought and dried-up rivers can spell catastrophe for rural communities that rely on their crops for survival. But villagers in India have shown that both threats can be reversed and livelihoods restored – with the backing of the law.

Having succeeded in restoring their rivers’ flow, the villagers faced another battle with their local government and vested interests which wanted to take over the new water supply for their own use. So they went to court, formed their own “water parliament”, and wrested back control.

The story began back in 1985 in the parched lands of Rajasthan in north-west India, when villagers were suffering acutely because the rivers they relied on to water their crops were running dry. They resorted to building johads, traditional hand-dug earth dams, which capture water in the rainy season so that it can soak into the earth and be retained instead of flooding away uselessly.

Often called natural flood management, this approach mimics the natural process of rivers which become blocked by debris and trees – with the beneficial results seen in the complex ecosystems created by beavers, which build their own dams and thereby prevent flooding downstream while also storing water for the dry season.

The first dam was built at the original source of the Arvari river, which for the first 45 kilometres of its length had stopped flowing at all. It took 375 earth dams before the Arvari started to flow again, and 10 years before it became a perennial river once more.

“The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe”

Success was infectious. Altogether, over those 10 years, the residents of 1,000 villages built more than 8,600 johads and other structures to collect water for use in the dry seasons. Remarkably, five rivers – the Arvari, Ruparel, Sarsa, Bhagani and Jahajwali – began to flow again, their valleys turning green with crops.

The rivers gained in value again. So the government of Rajasthan, seeing an opportunity to make money, claimed ownership, even awarding fishing licences to contractors, who were stopped by furious local people.

Fortunately the courts sided with the protestors and handed control of the river to them after 72 villages formed what they called the Arvari River Parliament to administer the river and allot rights to water resources in a fair manner.

They were lucky: the Indian constitution allows local people to get financial and legal support in cases against perceived injustices. This meant they had access to justice which they could not otherwise have afforded. The system favours local democracy where it can be shown to work.

Over-exploitation

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change).

The story of the success of the earth dams is told by the RTA as part of its series publicising global examples of how projects and communities can combat the environmental destruction caused by the effects of climate heating.

The drying-up of water resources, combined with climate change, is one of the key problems of poor river management in many parts of the world. Climates vary markedly, but on rivers in Africa, Europe and the US vital water resources are also drying up, often through over-exploitation as well as drought.

The Alliance says: “The unsustainable use of water in modern agriculture and the demands made on aquifers by conurbations is already at breaking point in many places around the globe. Climate change is exacerbating this with higher temperatures in already dry places.”

Resisting usurpers

It cites a range of schemes used to tackle the problem, similar in essence to Rajasthan’s diversion of the wet season rains by the johads into underground aquifers rather than letting the water run to waste.

Its message is that solutions need to be low-tech, cheap and achievable by local people acting together democratically to decide what is best for the community. Often this involves resisting local government and big business in their attempts to exploit and profit from the scarce water   frequently the cause of the original damage to the river.

The Alliance says two lessons from Rajasthan translate to other locations and across cultures: first, the physical return of water in a controlled way to an arid environment is possible using low-tech, cheap, accessible solutions.

Second, it says, the guardianship of a natural resource can be achieved effectively by using a communal parliament where all interests are represented equally and fair decisions are taken. – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

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

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

Rising heat affects Europe’s floods and droughts

Patterns of Europe’s floods and droughts are starting to change: each could be more extreme, and far likelier with rising heat.

LONDON, 27 July, 2020 − Climate change has begun to affect the pattern of Europe’s floods. The past three decades have seen “exceptional” flooding, say Austrian scientists who have worked their way through documentary records for the last 500 years.

At the same time, heat and drought affecting the continent are on the increase. The summer of 2018 broke all records for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and by 2019 many trees in Europe’s forests were partly or entirely dead. And by 2085 rainfall could decline by a fifth, Swiss ecologists report, to alter the make-up of the forests dramatically.

Both findings are consistent with the big picture of climate change worldwide: wet seasons will become ever wetter; dry seasons too will become more extreme, according to US researchers in a third separate study.

All attempts to establish climate records involve careful interrogation of the past. Günter Blöschl of Vienna’s University of Technology and colleagues report in Nature that they sifted evidence from mountain lake beds, floodplains and 500 years of contemporary documents to identify decades more than usually rich in floods.

The floods of 1990 to 2016 in Western and Central Europe have been among the worst in history. To make sure of such a claim, the researchers identified periods of calamitous inundation across the whole region in the late 16th century and again in the 17th; and in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

“We should be preparing for the future by improving the technology to efficiently use water for crops”

If these episodes had anything in common, bygone floods happened when air temperatures were lower: fewer of them, too, happened in the summer.

“This finding seems to contradict the observation that, in some areas such as in the northwest of Europe, the recent warmer climate is aligned with larger floods,” Professor Blöschl said. “Our study shows for the first time that the underlying mechanisms have changed.

“While in the past floods have occurred more frequently under colder conditions, the opposite is the case now. The hydrological conditions of the present are very different from those in the past.”

Now, 55% of Central European floods happen in the summer, compared with 41% in previous centuries. It’s a message for planners, city chiefs and governments across the region: flood management is going to have to adapt.

So, too, is forest and woodland management, say scientists in Switzerland and Germany, who have been measuring changes in the canopies of their forests.

Growing vulnerability

For most of Europe, the single most extreme heatwave has been that of 2003: that is, until 2018. The sustained heat and aridity made temperatures in the growing season of 2018 on average 1.2°C higher than 2003, and 3.3°C higher than the average from 1961-1990.

Woodland foliage showed signs of drought stress. Leaves wilted, aged and dropped much earlier, and by 2019 many trees were dead, or partly dead. Those that survived were more vulnerable to beetle or fungal pests. Losses included beech, long considered the most drought-resistant.

Ten out of the 12 hottest growing seasons in the last 120 years have all happened this century. Climate forecasts already predict more of the same, with precipitation falling by a fifth by 2085. Foresters will have to think again about woodland design.

“Spruce was most heavily affected. But it was a surprise for us that beech, silver fir and pine were also damaged to this extent,” said Ansgar Kahmen of the University of Basel in Switzerland.

“We still need to study which tree species are good in which combinations, including from a forestry perspective. That will take time.”

Keeping Paris promise

And worldwide, farmers, foresters and water managers can also expect more of the same. As temperatures rise worldwide, dry seasons will tend to become drier, and wet seasons wetter.

US researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they divided the world into nine land regions, and looked at annual rain or snowfall and how this fluctuated through the seasons in each of the nine from 1971 to 2000. They then looked at future temperature predictions for the rest of the century to see what happened to water availability.

The best outcome for relatively stable water supplies would be if nations could act to limit the planet’s average global temperature rise to no more than 2°C by 2100, in line with a promise made by 195 governments in Paris in 2015.

At higher temperatures the predicted scatter of flood and drought became more extreme. Once again, the message is: start planning. “We need to take precautions to optimally use how much water we have,” said Ashok Mishra of Clemson University in South Carolina.

“As the climate changes and population increases, we should be preparing for the future by improving the technology to efficiently use water for crops.” − Climate News Network

Patterns of Europe’s floods and droughts are starting to change: each could be more extreme, and far likelier with rising heat.

LONDON, 27 July, 2020 − Climate change has begun to affect the pattern of Europe’s floods. The past three decades have seen “exceptional” flooding, say Austrian scientists who have worked their way through documentary records for the last 500 years.

At the same time, heat and drought affecting the continent are on the increase. The summer of 2018 broke all records for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and by 2019 many trees in Europe’s forests were partly or entirely dead. And by 2085 rainfall could decline by a fifth, Swiss ecologists report, to alter the make-up of the forests dramatically.

Both findings are consistent with the big picture of climate change worldwide: wet seasons will become ever wetter; dry seasons too will become more extreme, according to US researchers in a third separate study.

All attempts to establish climate records involve careful interrogation of the past. Günter Blöschl of Vienna’s University of Technology and colleagues report in Nature that they sifted evidence from mountain lake beds, floodplains and 500 years of contemporary documents to identify decades more than usually rich in floods.

The floods of 1990 to 2016 in Western and Central Europe have been among the worst in history. To make sure of such a claim, the researchers identified periods of calamitous inundation across the whole region in the late 16th century and again in the 17th; and in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

“We should be preparing for the future by improving the technology to efficiently use water for crops”

If these episodes had anything in common, bygone floods happened when air temperatures were lower: fewer of them, too, happened in the summer.

“This finding seems to contradict the observation that, in some areas such as in the northwest of Europe, the recent warmer climate is aligned with larger floods,” Professor Blöschl said. “Our study shows for the first time that the underlying mechanisms have changed.

“While in the past floods have occurred more frequently under colder conditions, the opposite is the case now. The hydrological conditions of the present are very different from those in the past.”

Now, 55% of Central European floods happen in the summer, compared with 41% in previous centuries. It’s a message for planners, city chiefs and governments across the region: flood management is going to have to adapt.

So, too, is forest and woodland management, say scientists in Switzerland and Germany, who have been measuring changes in the canopies of their forests.

Growing vulnerability

For most of Europe, the single most extreme heatwave has been that of 2003: that is, until 2018. The sustained heat and aridity made temperatures in the growing season of 2018 on average 1.2°C higher than 2003, and 3.3°C higher than the average from 1961-1990.

Woodland foliage showed signs of drought stress. Leaves wilted, aged and dropped much earlier, and by 2019 many trees were dead, or partly dead. Those that survived were more vulnerable to beetle or fungal pests. Losses included beech, long considered the most drought-resistant.

Ten out of the 12 hottest growing seasons in the last 120 years have all happened this century. Climate forecasts already predict more of the same, with precipitation falling by a fifth by 2085. Foresters will have to think again about woodland design.

“Spruce was most heavily affected. But it was a surprise for us that beech, silver fir and pine were also damaged to this extent,” said Ansgar Kahmen of the University of Basel in Switzerland.

“We still need to study which tree species are good in which combinations, including from a forestry perspective. That will take time.”

Keeping Paris promise

And worldwide, farmers, foresters and water managers can also expect more of the same. As temperatures rise worldwide, dry seasons will tend to become drier, and wet seasons wetter.

US researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they divided the world into nine land regions, and looked at annual rain or snowfall and how this fluctuated through the seasons in each of the nine from 1971 to 2000. They then looked at future temperature predictions for the rest of the century to see what happened to water availability.

The best outcome for relatively stable water supplies would be if nations could act to limit the planet’s average global temperature rise to no more than 2°C by 2100, in line with a promise made by 195 governments in Paris in 2015.

At higher temperatures the predicted scatter of flood and drought became more extreme. Once again, the message is: start planning. “We need to take precautions to optimally use how much water we have,” said Ashok Mishra of Clemson University in South Carolina.

“As the climate changes and population increases, we should be preparing for the future by improving the technology to efficiently use water for crops.” − Climate News Network

Drought-hit forests may worsen climate change

Forests help to slow the challenge of climate change, don’t they? Only if climate change doesn’t fell the forests first.

LONDON, 7 July, 2020 − There could be big problems with national and international plans to plant forests to deal with climate change. One of them is uncertainty about how climate change is going to deal with the forests.

In six new studies of what might be called the plantation carbon conundrum, independent groups of researchers warn that:

That the loss of natural forests worldwide is a driver of global heating and climate change has never been in doubt. And climate scientists continue to count tomorrow’s forests as part of the answer to the threat of catastrophic climate change.

But researchers have already warned that a vow to plant one trillion trees is not of itself a readymade answer, and that national plans to conserve existing forest are less than effective.

So the challenge for foresters and ecologists is to decide what works best – and what would not. Researchers in the US argue in the journal Science that governments and policymakers need a masterplan to confront the risks forests face from the consequences of rising temperatures: drought, fire and insect disturbance.

Flying blind

Forests and other natural ecosystems absorb about one-third of all the greenhouse gas emissions that human actions release each year. New forests must be part of the answer, but only if the new timber goes on and on absorbing carbon.

“There’s a very real chance that many of those forest projects could go up in flames or to bugs or drought stress or hurricanes in the coming decades,” said William Anderegg of the University of Utah, who led the study. “Without good science to tell us what the risks are, we’re flying blind and not making the best policy decisions.”

The other papers look at aspects of the hazard, and of well-intentioned policies to combat climate change. The Bonn Challenge aims to restore an area of forest eight times the size of California, but 80% of the commitments so far involve plantations of single species or of exploitable species: fruit, for instance, and rubber on what might have been natural forest land, grassland or savannahs that support biodiversity.

Californian and Chilean researchers report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they looked at the role of long-running Chilean government subsidies in afforestation and found an uncomfortable result: exotic species flourished at the expense of native wilderness.

“Chile’s forest subsidies probably decreased biodiversity without increasing total carbon stored in aboveground biomass,” they conclude, bluntly. And one of the paper’s authors, Eric Lambin of Stanford University, spelled it out: “That’s the exact opposite of what these policies are aiming for.”

“Up until now, forests have stabilised the climate, but as they become more drought-stressed, they could become a destabilising carbon source”

German scientists report in the journal Basic and Applied Ecology that a warmer world has already delivered dramatic consequences for the forests of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The past five years have been the warmest in the region since records began, and 2018’s summer was the most extreme – 3.3°C above the long-term average. For spruce and other species that was the limit, and by 2019 even beech trees had died.

Since extreme drought and heat will become ever more likely, researchers need to decide what mix of species is going to survive and provide cover for threatened species. “This is going to take some time,” said Bernhard Schuldt, of the University of Würzburg.

Chinese and US researchers report in Nature Sustainability that they examined the same problems using a ground-up approach. They looked at 11,000 soil samples taken across 163 control and forested plots in northern China, to find that the carbon capture potential of afforestation schemes may have been overestimated. In soils low in carbon, plantation did increase the density of organic carbon. In those soils already rich in organic carbon, the planting seemed to lower carbon density.

European researchers, too, report in Science that they looked at data collected over 150 years at 6,000 locations to work out what happened to plants and animals as climate change and human intrusion transformed the world’s forests. Again, the answers are not simple.

No guarantee

“Surprisingly, we found that forest loss doesn’t always lead to biodiversity declines,” said Gergana Daskalova of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “Instead, when we lose forest cover, this can amplify the ongoing biodiversity change. For example, if a plant or animal species was declining before forest loss, its decline becomes even more severe.” Species already doing well, however, seemed to do better.

But there’s little guarantee that what works now will go on working, according to Arizona scientists writing in the journal Global Change Biology. So far, forests have helped contain climate change. But they found that North America’s most prolific tree, the Douglas fir, will absorb less carbon in future and do less to slow climate change.

They based their finding on examination of 2.7 million tree rings from 2,700 sites in the fir’s enormous ecological range. At the southern and warmest and driest end of this range, the decline in annual growth could be as high as 30%.

“More warming for trees could mean more stress, more tree death and less capacity to slow global warming,” said Margaret Evans, of the University of Arizona.

“Up until now, forests have stabilised the climate, but as they become more drought-stressed, they could become a destabilising carbon source.” − Climate News Network

Forests help to slow the challenge of climate change, don’t they? Only if climate change doesn’t fell the forests first.

LONDON, 7 July, 2020 − There could be big problems with national and international plans to plant forests to deal with climate change. One of them is uncertainty about how climate change is going to deal with the forests.

In six new studies of what might be called the plantation carbon conundrum, independent groups of researchers warn that:

That the loss of natural forests worldwide is a driver of global heating and climate change has never been in doubt. And climate scientists continue to count tomorrow’s forests as part of the answer to the threat of catastrophic climate change.

But researchers have already warned that a vow to plant one trillion trees is not of itself a readymade answer, and that national plans to conserve existing forest are less than effective.

So the challenge for foresters and ecologists is to decide what works best – and what would not. Researchers in the US argue in the journal Science that governments and policymakers need a masterplan to confront the risks forests face from the consequences of rising temperatures: drought, fire and insect disturbance.

Flying blind

Forests and other natural ecosystems absorb about one-third of all the greenhouse gas emissions that human actions release each year. New forests must be part of the answer, but only if the new timber goes on and on absorbing carbon.

“There’s a very real chance that many of those forest projects could go up in flames or to bugs or drought stress or hurricanes in the coming decades,” said William Anderegg of the University of Utah, who led the study. “Without good science to tell us what the risks are, we’re flying blind and not making the best policy decisions.”

The other papers look at aspects of the hazard, and of well-intentioned policies to combat climate change. The Bonn Challenge aims to restore an area of forest eight times the size of California, but 80% of the commitments so far involve plantations of single species or of exploitable species: fruit, for instance, and rubber on what might have been natural forest land, grassland or savannahs that support biodiversity.

Californian and Chilean researchers report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they looked at the role of long-running Chilean government subsidies in afforestation and found an uncomfortable result: exotic species flourished at the expense of native wilderness.

“Chile’s forest subsidies probably decreased biodiversity without increasing total carbon stored in aboveground biomass,” they conclude, bluntly. And one of the paper’s authors, Eric Lambin of Stanford University, spelled it out: “That’s the exact opposite of what these policies are aiming for.”

“Up until now, forests have stabilised the climate, but as they become more drought-stressed, they could become a destabilising carbon source”

German scientists report in the journal Basic and Applied Ecology that a warmer world has already delivered dramatic consequences for the forests of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The past five years have been the warmest in the region since records began, and 2018’s summer was the most extreme – 3.3°C above the long-term average. For spruce and other species that was the limit, and by 2019 even beech trees had died.

Since extreme drought and heat will become ever more likely, researchers need to decide what mix of species is going to survive and provide cover for threatened species. “This is going to take some time,” said Bernhard Schuldt, of the University of Würzburg.

Chinese and US researchers report in Nature Sustainability that they examined the same problems using a ground-up approach. They looked at 11,000 soil samples taken across 163 control and forested plots in northern China, to find that the carbon capture potential of afforestation schemes may have been overestimated. In soils low in carbon, plantation did increase the density of organic carbon. In those soils already rich in organic carbon, the planting seemed to lower carbon density.

European researchers, too, report in Science that they looked at data collected over 150 years at 6,000 locations to work out what happened to plants and animals as climate change and human intrusion transformed the world’s forests. Again, the answers are not simple.

No guarantee

“Surprisingly, we found that forest loss doesn’t always lead to biodiversity declines,” said Gergana Daskalova of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “Instead, when we lose forest cover, this can amplify the ongoing biodiversity change. For example, if a plant or animal species was declining before forest loss, its decline becomes even more severe.” Species already doing well, however, seemed to do better.

But there’s little guarantee that what works now will go on working, according to Arizona scientists writing in the journal Global Change Biology. So far, forests have helped contain climate change. But they found that North America’s most prolific tree, the Douglas fir, will absorb less carbon in future and do less to slow climate change.

They based their finding on examination of 2.7 million tree rings from 2,700 sites in the fir’s enormous ecological range. At the southern and warmest and driest end of this range, the decline in annual growth could be as high as 30%.

“More warming for trees could mean more stress, more tree death and less capacity to slow global warming,” said Margaret Evans, of the University of Arizona.

“Up until now, forests have stabilised the climate, but as they become more drought-stressed, they could become a destabilising carbon source.” − Climate News Network

The wetter world ahead will suffer worse droughts

Things are bad now, but worse droughts are coming. More rain will fall in a warmer world, but not where and when we need it.

LONDON, 26 June, 2020 – Australian scientists have bad news for drought-stricken and fire-ravaged fellow-citizens: still worse droughts are in store.

Even though the world will grow wetter as greenhouse gas emissions rise and planetary average temperatures soar, the droughts will endure for longer and become more intense.

And this will be true not just for a country with a government that seems anxious not to acknowledge the role of climate change in a procession of disasters. It will be true for California and much of the US West. It will be true for the Mediterranean and parts of Africa, and for any areas that lie within the drylands zone.

It could be true even for the tropical rainforests. Wherever average rainfall seems to be in decline, droughts will become more devastating. And that includes Central America and the Amazon.

“The earlier we act on reducing our emissions, the less economic and social pain we will feel in the future”

And even in the rainy zones where precipitation seems to be on the rise, and floods more frequent, when droughts happen they will be more intense, according to new research in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The conclusion, although alarming, is not new. It reinforces decades of earlier research predicting that as the world warms floods, superstorms and megadroughts could all increase.

Every rise of 1°C in planetary average temperatures means that the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb water vapour also increases: for every 1°C rise, rainfall will increase by 2%, and with every average increase the extremes will become ever more extreme.

The latest finding is a test of new climate models to be used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Between 1998 and 2017, according to UN data, droughts have afflicted 1.5bn people and accounted for a third of all natural disaster impacts.

Search for precision

What will happen as humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to raise planetary average temperatures ever higher will mean ever more severe tests for farmers, pastoralists, industry, natural ecosystems and national economies.

The latest study is an attempt to be a little more precise about the shape of the future in a warming world.

“We found the new models produced the most robust results for future droughts to date and that the degree of increase in drought duration and intensity was directly linked to the amounts of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere,” said Anna Ukkola of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the study.

“However, while these insights grow clearer with each advance, the message they deliver remains the same – the earlier we act on reducing our emissions, the less economic and social pain we will feel in the future.” – Climate News Network

Things are bad now, but worse droughts are coming. More rain will fall in a warmer world, but not where and when we need it.

LONDON, 26 June, 2020 – Australian scientists have bad news for drought-stricken and fire-ravaged fellow-citizens: still worse droughts are in store.

Even though the world will grow wetter as greenhouse gas emissions rise and planetary average temperatures soar, the droughts will endure for longer and become more intense.

And this will be true not just for a country with a government that seems anxious not to acknowledge the role of climate change in a procession of disasters. It will be true for California and much of the US West. It will be true for the Mediterranean and parts of Africa, and for any areas that lie within the drylands zone.

It could be true even for the tropical rainforests. Wherever average rainfall seems to be in decline, droughts will become more devastating. And that includes Central America and the Amazon.

“The earlier we act on reducing our emissions, the less economic and social pain we will feel in the future”

And even in the rainy zones where precipitation seems to be on the rise, and floods more frequent, when droughts happen they will be more intense, according to new research in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The conclusion, although alarming, is not new. It reinforces decades of earlier research predicting that as the world warms floods, superstorms and megadroughts could all increase.

Every rise of 1°C in planetary average temperatures means that the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb water vapour also increases: for every 1°C rise, rainfall will increase by 2%, and with every average increase the extremes will become ever more extreme.

The latest finding is a test of new climate models to be used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Between 1998 and 2017, according to UN data, droughts have afflicted 1.5bn people and accounted for a third of all natural disaster impacts.

Search for precision

What will happen as humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to raise planetary average temperatures ever higher will mean ever more severe tests for farmers, pastoralists, industry, natural ecosystems and national economies.

The latest study is an attempt to be a little more precise about the shape of the future in a warming world.

“We found the new models produced the most robust results for future droughts to date and that the degree of increase in drought duration and intensity was directly linked to the amounts of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere,” said Anna Ukkola of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the study.

“However, while these insights grow clearer with each advance, the message they deliver remains the same – the earlier we act on reducing our emissions, the less economic and social pain we will feel in the future.” – Climate News Network

3 bn people may face Saharan heat levels by 2070

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network

For three billion people or more, heat levels could prove almost impossible for human civilisation – in half a century.

LONDON, 3 June, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever more fossil fuels to put ever higher concentrations of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then one third of the world’s population may face – within 50 years – heat levels that could be all but intolerable.

By 2070, 19% of the land area of the planet, home to 3.5 billion people, could be faced with a mean annual temperature of 29°C. That is, although there would be seasons in which temperatures fell well below this average, these would be followed by summers in which the thermometer went much higher.

Right now, only 0.8% of the land surface of the planet experiences such a mean annual temperature, and most of this space is located in the Saharan desert region of North Africa. But population growth – already highest in the poorest and hottest parts of the globe – and the projected increases in planetary average temperatures will expand this danger zone to almost one fifth of the planet’s land area, to embrace a third of the world’s people.

The conclusion – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – sounds like a dramatic advance on repeated warnings that planetary average temperatures could be 3°C above the long-term average for almost all of human history. But it may not be.

One important difference is that climate science forecasts tend to describe the entire planet. But almost three fourths of the planet is ocean, which is warming much more slowly than the land surfaces. Another is that climate forecasts predict average change for a sphere with a circumference of 40,000 kms. And the third factor is that such predictions do not specifically address where humans choose to live.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche”

Xu Chi of Nanjing University in China and his European co-authors started from the premise that humans – like all animal species – have a preferred climate niche. They looked back through 6000 years of the history of civilisation and concluded that most of humankind flourished within a climate space between annual averages of 11°C and 15°C. A much smaller number of people lived in places where the average temperature was between 20°C and 25°C.

And they found that – although civilisations rose and fell, whole peoples disappeared, wars, plagues and famines struck, and entire populations migrated to or invaded other homes – nearly all of humankind continued to prefer to live in land zones at between 11°C and 15°C.

“This strikingly constant climate niche likely represents fundamental constraints on what humans need to survive and thrive,” said Marten Scheffer of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

But in the next 50 years, the average temperature experienced by an average human is expected to rise by 7.5°C. And because population growth is highest in the already hottest regions, these temperature rises will affect more and more people.

Warnings mount

By 2070 this total could reach 3.5bn people, across 19% of the planet’s land surface, many of them exposed to temperatures and climate conditions that right now would be considered difficult to survive.

In just the last six or seven weeks, climate scientists have warned that rising temperatures present a direct threat to the natural ecosystems on which human civilisation depends; that the number of days that US farmworkers will find dangerously hot will almost double; that potentially lethal combinations of heat and humidity trailed as a future hazard may already have arrived, in limited locations for brief periods; that some will find more heat brings more extremes of rainfall, while other regions will become increasingly arid; and that South Asia, in particular, is at increasing hazard from ever more extreme temperatures and choking pollution, thanks to global climate change.

But the latest attempt to look at the big picture trumps all of these already bleak findings. As usual, other climate researchers will question their assumptions and challenge their conclusions, but the authors are fairly sure of their ground.

“We were frankly blown away by our initial results,” said Dr Xu. “As our findings were striking, we took an extra year to carefully check all assumptions and computations. We also decided to publish all data and computer codes for transparency and to facilitate follow-up work by others.

“The results are as important to China as they are to any other nation. Clearly we will need a global approach to safeguard our children against the potentially enormous social tensions the projected change could invoke.”

Range of pressures

This also raises issues already repeatedly raised by climate forecasters: the people most threatened by climate change are already among the world’s poorest. So there will be pressure to migrate. And there will be potential for conflict.

What will happen in the next 50 years under circumstances in which governments go on authorising fossil fuel consumption is difficult to predict with any certainty. Communities will to a certain extent adapt. Economic development could help contain some of the challenges. And governments could decide to act.

“The good news is that these impacts can be greatly reduced if humanity succeeds in curbing global warming,” said Tim Lenton, of Exeter University in the UK.

“Our computations show that each degree of warming above present levels corresponds to roughly one billion people falling outside of the climate niche.” – Climate News Network