Tag Archives: Forests

Most protected areas lack proper policing

On paper, nations are protecting their wilderness areas. In practice, most protected areas lack effective policing. Nature is not safe, even in reserves.

LONDON, 13 June, 2019 − Three-quarters of all the world’s protected areas – bits of ocean and wilderness nominally made safe for animals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, plants and fungi produced by 500 million years of evolution – may not be sufficiently staffed or funded.

And of 12,000 species of amphibians, birds and mammals whose ranges include protected areas, fewer than one in 10 are safely within properly policed and cared-for parks and reserves.

Researchers report in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment that they looked at a sample of more than 2,100 protected areas in Africa, South America and Asia to see which could be classed as sufficiently funded and staffed.

Only 22.4% of these – covering a total area of about 25% of the total areas assessed – could claim to be sufficiently or well resourced.

The news comes only weeks after UN chiefs warned that up to a million species around the globe could be at risk of imminent extinction, and researchers found that many areas declared protection zones for the wilderness were being reclassified, degraded or exploited by industry and agribusiness.

Protection fails

“This analysis shows that most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Nations need to do much more to ensure that protected areas fulfil their role as a major tool to mitigate the growing biodiversity crisis.”

The researchers also identified 11,919 species of bird, amphibian and mammal that might have natural ranges that included protected areas, and made estimates of those that could be sure of properly protected areas within their range.

They found that this represented 4% of amphibians, 8% of birds and 9% of mammal species in the sample. This is at least five times lower than the targets protected areas were supposed to meet.

Humans usurp nature

That there is a biodiversity crisis has been established and confirmed, again and again. It has been driven by the fourfold explosion both in human population and in the advancement of global economies just in the 20th century, as humans have colonised savannah, forest and wetland to build cities, establish farms and exploit minerals.

The climate crisis, driven by a remorseless rise in global average temperatures in turn driven by profligate use of fossil fuels, can only intensify the hazard to the other species which share the planet, recycle the air and water, scavenge detritus and provide the primary foodstuffs and fibres on which humans depend.

Researchers have also repeatedly established that properly protected wilderness areas offer a way of slowing climate change. And almost on a daily basis, fresh studies identify the cascade towards extinction.

Research in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution reveals that since 1900, at least 571 species of seed plant have been extinguished. The researchers also say that “almost as many may have been erroneously declared extinct and then been rediscovered”, but even that caveat simply highlights the numbers that might be nearing oblivion, and reinforces the call for effective protection of natural habitat.

“Most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity”

On paper, around 15% of the global terrestrial surface and about 12% of marine areas are under national protection, and nations are on track to match a global commitment to protect 17% of land surface and 10% of the seas by 2020, under an internationally agreed strategic plan for biodiversity.

The implication of the latest studies is that “on paper” isn’t good enough. Even if nations can claim to be on target, that doesn’t mean the wild things the protected areas are intended to protect are very much safer.

“While continued expansion of the world’s protected areas is necessary, a shift in emphasis from quantity to quality is critical to effectively respond to the current biodiversity crisis,” said the researchers.

And Professor Watson warned that without such a shift, conservationists could risk “sending a false message that sufficient resources are being committed to biodiversity protection.” − Climate News Network

On paper, nations are protecting their wilderness areas. In practice, most protected areas lack effective policing. Nature is not safe, even in reserves.

LONDON, 13 June, 2019 − Three-quarters of all the world’s protected areas – bits of ocean and wilderness nominally made safe for animals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, plants and fungi produced by 500 million years of evolution – may not be sufficiently staffed or funded.

And of 12,000 species of amphibians, birds and mammals whose ranges include protected areas, fewer than one in 10 are safely within properly policed and cared-for parks and reserves.

Researchers report in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment that they looked at a sample of more than 2,100 protected areas in Africa, South America and Asia to see which could be classed as sufficiently funded and staffed.

Only 22.4% of these – covering a total area of about 25% of the total areas assessed – could claim to be sufficiently or well resourced.

The news comes only weeks after UN chiefs warned that up to a million species around the globe could be at risk of imminent extinction, and researchers found that many areas declared protection zones for the wilderness were being reclassified, degraded or exploited by industry and agribusiness.

Protection fails

“This analysis shows that most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland in Australia and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“Nations need to do much more to ensure that protected areas fulfil their role as a major tool to mitigate the growing biodiversity crisis.”

The researchers also identified 11,919 species of bird, amphibian and mammal that might have natural ranges that included protected areas, and made estimates of those that could be sure of properly protected areas within their range.

They found that this represented 4% of amphibians, 8% of birds and 9% of mammal species in the sample. This is at least five times lower than the targets protected areas were supposed to meet.

Humans usurp nature

That there is a biodiversity crisis has been established and confirmed, again and again. It has been driven by the fourfold explosion both in human population and in the advancement of global economies just in the 20th century, as humans have colonised savannah, forest and wetland to build cities, establish farms and exploit minerals.

The climate crisis, driven by a remorseless rise in global average temperatures in turn driven by profligate use of fossil fuels, can only intensify the hazard to the other species which share the planet, recycle the air and water, scavenge detritus and provide the primary foodstuffs and fibres on which humans depend.

Researchers have also repeatedly established that properly protected wilderness areas offer a way of slowing climate change. And almost on a daily basis, fresh studies identify the cascade towards extinction.

Research in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution reveals that since 1900, at least 571 species of seed plant have been extinguished. The researchers also say that “almost as many may have been erroneously declared extinct and then been rediscovered”, but even that caveat simply highlights the numbers that might be nearing oblivion, and reinforces the call for effective protection of natural habitat.

“Most protected areas are poorly funded and therefore failing to protect wildlife on a scale sufficient to stave off the global decline in biodiversity”

On paper, around 15% of the global terrestrial surface and about 12% of marine areas are under national protection, and nations are on track to match a global commitment to protect 17% of land surface and 10% of the seas by 2020, under an internationally agreed strategic plan for biodiversity.

The implication of the latest studies is that “on paper” isn’t good enough. Even if nations can claim to be on target, that doesn’t mean the wild things the protected areas are intended to protect are very much safer.

“While continued expansion of the world’s protected areas is necessary, a shift in emphasis from quantity to quality is critical to effectively respond to the current biodiversity crisis,” said the researchers.

And Professor Watson warned that without such a shift, conservationists could risk “sending a false message that sufficient resources are being committed to biodiversity protection.” − Climate News Network

Wilder world can slow climate change

If you want to tackle climate change and restore once-familiar animals at the same time, a wilder world can help − naturally.

LONDON, 21 May, 2019 − Imagine a wilder world where many of the species humanity has almost wiped out are instead protected, cared for and encouraged to thrive.

No − it’s not Jurassic Park brought to life; it’s still largely an idea waiting to happen. But if it does ever become reality rewilding, as it’s known, could do a lot for us.

Rewilding simply means re-introducing wild creatures which used to live in countries like the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and North America. One example is the Eurasian beaver, hunted in the UK to near-extinction several centuries ago but now making a tentative return to Britain.

They began their UK recovery modestly: two families were imported from Norway in 2001, with more animals following later to increase genetic diversity.

Through their skillful lodge-building and engineering of woods and waterways, beavers show how they benefit humans and other creatures. They create a range of habitats for birds, insects, fish, small mammals and plants; one re-introduction project records that the 10 clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers. They slow water flow, prevent flooding, and store water for local use.

Three wins in one

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that beavers’ lifestyles can prove a fast, cheap way to slow climate breakdown, to build resilience to its inescapable impacts and to restore natural diversity.

Another good candidate for rewilding, almost a century after they were wiped out in northern Europe and the US, is the wolf, one of 21 key species identified by the Rewilding Britain group for reintroduction. Among the species the British journalist George Monbiot lists in his book Feral as suitable for rewilding in the UK are not only beavers and wolves but bison, lynx, wild boar, European sturgeon and grey whales.

The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park in the US in 1995 shows how rewilding can work on a large scale to increase biodiversity. By the end of the 1920s almost all of the US wolves had been killed off, mainly by ranchers protecting their livestock. They clung on in small populations in the northern wildernesses along the border with Canada.

But within a few years the Yellowstone wolf packs had made favourable impacts on the whole ecosystem through their control of the elk population. They reduced overall numbers of elk, which are herbivorous, and without predators had grown enormous. This helped the grazing areas and let more trees grow.

“Ten clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers”

Along river banks the tree growth slowed the flow of water and reduced flooding during heavy rainfall. It also shaded the banks, allowing fish to flourish. And the wolves are bringing in money: wolf-watching is big business and earns an estimated four times more than elk hunting.

A 2018 report by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, argued for rewilding because native herbivores produce less methane than modern cattle and maintain forests by dispersing seeds in their dung.

Much of the UK would naturally support trees that absorb carbon, but it has some of the lowest tree cover in Europe. Rewilding could change that. And the RTA says people would benefit from the increased encounters with wildlife that would be possible, citing a 2013 Woodland Trust estimate that if every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space, it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in healthcare costs.

Predators take livestock, admittedly, but its supporters say we can mitigate losses with planning, design and compensation. For example, Germany sees few losses from herds because the farmers keep their livestock enclosed. Using specialist dog breeds to warn off wolves has also proved highly successful.

The UK badly needs rewilding. The 2016 State of Nature report noted that between 1970 and 2013 56% of species declined.

Resident nightingales

In southern England the Knepp Wildland project shows how rewilding can work. It is devoted to free-roaming herds of cattle, horses, pigs and deer as the drivers of habitat creation. Since it began in 2001 the numbers of many endangered species returning to Knepp have increased sharply: it now boasts 2% of the UK’s entire breeding population of nightingales.

Elsewhere in Europe countries including Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria, led by Rewilding Europe, an independent group based in the Netherlands and funded by the EU, are working towards similar goals.

If rewilding can work in Europe and North America, could it help in other parts of the world too? They certainly need it: the UN reported earlier this month in its Global Assessment Report that about one million of the Earth’s animal and plant species are at risk of extinction.

There’s just one snag. Historically, humans have exploited wildlife for fairly narrowly defined purposes: fur, feathers and flesh, often. Now we just want to shove them aside so that we can exploit the entire planet. Wildlife that doesn’t pay its way seldom gets the chance to stay. The Assessment’s authors say the main cause of the extinction crisis is the change which humans are making to their use of the Earth’s land and seas.

At that rate, the Rapid Transition Alliance thinks, it doesn’t sound as though there’ll be much room left by tomorrow to re-introduce anything, unless rewilding is part of a much wider strategy, including an absolute reduction of human consumption. − 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.

If you want to tackle climate change and restore once-familiar animals at the same time, a wilder world can help − naturally.

LONDON, 21 May, 2019 − Imagine a wilder world where many of the species humanity has almost wiped out are instead protected, cared for and encouraged to thrive.

No − it’s not Jurassic Park brought to life; it’s still largely an idea waiting to happen. But if it does ever become reality rewilding, as it’s known, could do a lot for us.

Rewilding simply means re-introducing wild creatures which used to live in countries like the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe and North America. One example is the Eurasian beaver, hunted in the UK to near-extinction several centuries ago but now making a tentative return to Britain.

They began their UK recovery modestly: two families were imported from Norway in 2001, with more animals following later to increase genetic diversity.

Through their skillful lodge-building and engineering of woods and waterways, beavers show how they benefit humans and other creatures. They create a range of habitats for birds, insects, fish, small mammals and plants; one re-introduction project records that the 10 clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers. They slow water flow, prevent flooding, and store water for local use.

Three wins in one

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that beavers’ lifestyles can prove a fast, cheap way to slow climate breakdown, to build resilience to its inescapable impacts and to restore natural diversity.

Another good candidate for rewilding, almost a century after they were wiped out in northern Europe and the US, is the wolf, one of 21 key species identified by the Rewilding Britain group for reintroduction. Among the species the British journalist George Monbiot lists in his book Feral as suitable for rewilding in the UK are not only beavers and wolves but bison, lynx, wild boar, European sturgeon and grey whales.

The reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park in the US in 1995 shows how rewilding can work on a large scale to increase biodiversity. By the end of the 1920s almost all of the US wolves had been killed off, mainly by ranchers protecting their livestock. They clung on in small populations in the northern wildernesses along the border with Canada.

But within a few years the Yellowstone wolf packs had made favourable impacts on the whole ecosystem through their control of the elk population. They reduced overall numbers of elk, which are herbivorous, and without predators had grown enormous. This helped the grazing areas and let more trees grow.

“Ten clumps of frogspawn laid in 2011 in its ponds had increased to 370 clumps by 2018, thanks to the improvements made by the arriving beavers”

Along river banks the tree growth slowed the flow of water and reduced flooding during heavy rainfall. It also shaded the banks, allowing fish to flourish. And the wolves are bringing in money: wolf-watching is big business and earns an estimated four times more than elk hunting.

A 2018 report by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, argued for rewilding because native herbivores produce less methane than modern cattle and maintain forests by dispersing seeds in their dung.

Much of the UK would naturally support trees that absorb carbon, but it has some of the lowest tree cover in Europe. Rewilding could change that. And the RTA says people would benefit from the increased encounters with wildlife that would be possible, citing a 2013 Woodland Trust estimate that if every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space, it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in healthcare costs.

Predators take livestock, admittedly, but its supporters say we can mitigate losses with planning, design and compensation. For example, Germany sees few losses from herds because the farmers keep their livestock enclosed. Using specialist dog breeds to warn off wolves has also proved highly successful.

The UK badly needs rewilding. The 2016 State of Nature report noted that between 1970 and 2013 56% of species declined.

Resident nightingales

In southern England the Knepp Wildland project shows how rewilding can work. It is devoted to free-roaming herds of cattle, horses, pigs and deer as the drivers of habitat creation. Since it began in 2001 the numbers of many endangered species returning to Knepp have increased sharply: it now boasts 2% of the UK’s entire breeding population of nightingales.

Elsewhere in Europe countries including Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria, led by Rewilding Europe, an independent group based in the Netherlands and funded by the EU, are working towards similar goals.

If rewilding can work in Europe and North America, could it help in other parts of the world too? They certainly need it: the UN reported earlier this month in its Global Assessment Report that about one million of the Earth’s animal and plant species are at risk of extinction.

There’s just one snag. Historically, humans have exploited wildlife for fairly narrowly defined purposes: fur, feathers and flesh, often. Now we just want to shove them aside so that we can exploit the entire planet. Wildlife that doesn’t pay its way seldom gets the chance to stay. The Assessment’s authors say the main cause of the extinction crisis is the change which humans are making to their use of the Earth’s land and seas.

At that rate, the Rapid Transition Alliance thinks, it doesn’t sound as though there’ll be much room left by tomorrow to re-introduce anything, unless rewilding is part of a much wider strategy, including an absolute reduction of human consumption. − 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.

Cloud forests risk drying out by 2060

For the world’s cloud forests, the future is overcast. Some face fiercer storm and flood: they could even lose their unique clouds.

LONDON, 23 April, 2019 – Planet Earth may be about to lose a whole ecosystem: the cloud forests – those species-rich, high altitude rainforests found mostly in Central and South America – could be all but gone in 40 years.

Researchers warn that within 25 years, global warming driven by ever increasing use of fossil fuels could dry up 60-80% of the misty mountain forests of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru, simply by dispersing the clouds that keep them ever moist, and rich with plant, insect and bird life.

And as the habitat alters, that could be it for the Monarch butterflies that migrate in their millions to the mountains of Mexico, the elfin woods warbler found only in Puerto Rico, and the other creatures that make their homes in forests so rich and wet that even the trees are home to yet more green habitat: ferns, lichens, mosses and other epiphytes nourished by year-round water and water vapour.

And the reason? The clouds will have dispersed, or moved uphill, or simply been blown away as greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere continue to grow and temperatures creep ever higher, according to new research in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

“Maria is more extreme in its precipitation than anything else the island has ever seen. I just didn’t expect that it was going to be so much more than anything else that has happened in the last 60 years”

And if nations go on burning ever greater quantities of coal, oil and natural gas to power economic growth, then the cloud and frost that keep the equatorial cloud forests unique homes to living things will have gone.

Nine-tenths of the cloud forests in the Western Hemisphere will have been lost by 2060, if the calculations funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service are correct.

Researchers mapped cloud forest across the Western Hemisphere with data collected over the last 60 years and then used climate simulations to see how the habitat would change with time.

They found that indeed some regions would become even more immersed in cloud: this however would only add up to perhaps 1%. For the most part the clouds would thin, the steady supply of moisture would thin, and the forests would begin to change inexorably.

Trees head uphill

This is not the first research to suggest that ever higher temperatures would affect cloud patterns. Scientists using a different approach reported earlier this year that tropical cloud formation of the kind that damps down equatorial temperatures could be at risk.

Other researchers have used historic data to record the steady uphill march of characteristic trees in the Andean forests in response to average global temperature increases of 1°C in the past century.

And yet another team has warned that the increasingly violent winds that arrived in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria in 2017 would in any case change the make-up of forest species.

Devastating winds that uproot forest giants at all altitudes won’t be the only problem for the climate-hit forests and the region. Hurricane Maria dumped an unprecedented 1.029 mm of rain in a day on Puerto Rico.

Recurrence likely

A second study from the American Geophysical Union has confirmed that the extreme rainfall that accompanied Maria was not only the worst in the last 60 years, but has become much more likely to happen again.

Thanks to global warming, which increased the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb moisture, such floods are now five times more likely, they write in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Maria is more extreme in its precipitation than anything else the island has ever seen,” said David Keellings of the University of Alabama, one of the authors.

“I just didn’t expect that it was going to be so much more than anything else that has happened in the last 60 years.” – Climate News Network

For the world’s cloud forests, the future is overcast. Some face fiercer storm and flood: they could even lose their unique clouds.

LONDON, 23 April, 2019 – Planet Earth may be about to lose a whole ecosystem: the cloud forests – those species-rich, high altitude rainforests found mostly in Central and South America – could be all but gone in 40 years.

Researchers warn that within 25 years, global warming driven by ever increasing use of fossil fuels could dry up 60-80% of the misty mountain forests of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru, simply by dispersing the clouds that keep them ever moist, and rich with plant, insect and bird life.

And as the habitat alters, that could be it for the Monarch butterflies that migrate in their millions to the mountains of Mexico, the elfin woods warbler found only in Puerto Rico, and the other creatures that make their homes in forests so rich and wet that even the trees are home to yet more green habitat: ferns, lichens, mosses and other epiphytes nourished by year-round water and water vapour.

And the reason? The clouds will have dispersed, or moved uphill, or simply been blown away as greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere continue to grow and temperatures creep ever higher, according to new research in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

“Maria is more extreme in its precipitation than anything else the island has ever seen. I just didn’t expect that it was going to be so much more than anything else that has happened in the last 60 years”

And if nations go on burning ever greater quantities of coal, oil and natural gas to power economic growth, then the cloud and frost that keep the equatorial cloud forests unique homes to living things will have gone.

Nine-tenths of the cloud forests in the Western Hemisphere will have been lost by 2060, if the calculations funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service are correct.

Researchers mapped cloud forest across the Western Hemisphere with data collected over the last 60 years and then used climate simulations to see how the habitat would change with time.

They found that indeed some regions would become even more immersed in cloud: this however would only add up to perhaps 1%. For the most part the clouds would thin, the steady supply of moisture would thin, and the forests would begin to change inexorably.

Trees head uphill

This is not the first research to suggest that ever higher temperatures would affect cloud patterns. Scientists using a different approach reported earlier this year that tropical cloud formation of the kind that damps down equatorial temperatures could be at risk.

Other researchers have used historic data to record the steady uphill march of characteristic trees in the Andean forests in response to average global temperature increases of 1°C in the past century.

And yet another team has warned that the increasingly violent winds that arrived in Puerto Rico with Hurricane Maria in 2017 would in any case change the make-up of forest species.

Devastating winds that uproot forest giants at all altitudes won’t be the only problem for the climate-hit forests and the region. Hurricane Maria dumped an unprecedented 1.029 mm of rain in a day on Puerto Rico.

Recurrence likely

A second study from the American Geophysical Union has confirmed that the extreme rainfall that accompanied Maria was not only the worst in the last 60 years, but has become much more likely to happen again.

Thanks to global warming, which increased the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb moisture, such floods are now five times more likely, they write in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Maria is more extreme in its precipitation than anything else the island has ever seen,” said David Keellings of the University of Alabama, one of the authors.

“I just didn’t expect that it was going to be so much more than anything else that has happened in the last 60 years.” – Climate News Network

Restoring forests rules out growing crops

Restoring forests is helpful, but planting crops to do so is not. Only one of these options soaks up enough atmospheric carbon.

LONDON, 15 April, 2019 − Nations of the world are committed to restoring forests covering an area the size of India to soak up carbon dioxide and combat climate change. But British scientists have identified a serious flaw in the plan.

“Two-thirds of the area committed to global reforestation for carbon storage is slated to grow crops,” they write in the journal Nature. “This raises serious concerns.”

Their argument is simple. To limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century requires both rapid cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and investment in efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Altogether 43 tropical and subtropical nations have pledged to restore 350 million hectares of forest to remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100.

Little natural forest

Many of them, including Brazil, China and India, have already committed to 292 million hectares of new canopy. But in their analysis of the plans published so far, the scientists say that only 34% of this accumulated area would go back to natural forest.

Another 45% would be covered by plantations of one species harvested for biomass or timber, and 21% would be devoted to agroforestry: a mix of crops sheltered by stands of woodland.

In their calculations, this altogether would remove only 16 bn tonnes of carbon. That is because natural forests restored and subsequently protected would hold 40 times the carbon of a monoculture plantation and six times more than any mix of trees and crops.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London, who led the analysis. “To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’”

Forests are only part of the answer to the challenge of containing climate change. To keep to the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, humankind has to find ways to remove 730 bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which translates to 199 bn tonnes of carbon.

If the world found ways to boost the total area of global forest, woodland and woody savannahs, this could absorb perhaps a quarter of the total needed to keep planetary warming to no more than 1.5°C. And many countries have signed up to convert degraded land to new tree canopy.

“But will this policy work?” the scientists ask. “We show that under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees.”

Their point is that plantations can support local economies, but are poorer at storing carbon. Natural forests require little or no disturbance from humans, whereas the regular clearing and harvesting of plantations releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere every 10 or 20 years, while natural forests go on sequestering the greenhouse gas for decades. Natural regeneration is the cheapest and easiest option.

Land use shift

Most of the monoculture commitments are in large countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scientists suggest such plans have been insufficiently thought through. Drastic increases in tropical plantation for commercial crops would mark a major shift in global land use and could be accompanied by a fall in prices, with potentially unsatisfactory economic consequences.

And, they argue, policymakers are in any case misinterpreting the term forest restoration: it should not include plantations of a single species, such as eucalypt or rubber, which would do little for carbon sequestration. If commercial plantations were planted across the whole 350 million hectares, the entire crop would soak up and store just one billion tonnes of carbon.

“Of course new natural forests alone are not sufficient to meet our climate goals,” said Charlotte Wheeler of the University of Edinburgh, another of the authors. “Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation must also stop.

“Other ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere are also needed. But no scenario has been produced that keeps climate change below dangerous levels without the large-scale restoration of natural forests.” − Climate News Network

Restoring forests is helpful, but planting crops to do so is not. Only one of these options soaks up enough atmospheric carbon.

LONDON, 15 April, 2019 − Nations of the world are committed to restoring forests covering an area the size of India to soak up carbon dioxide and combat climate change. But British scientists have identified a serious flaw in the plan.

“Two-thirds of the area committed to global reforestation for carbon storage is slated to grow crops,” they write in the journal Nature. “This raises serious concerns.”

Their argument is simple. To limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century requires both rapid cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and investment in efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Altogether 43 tropical and subtropical nations have pledged to restore 350 million hectares of forest to remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100.

Little natural forest

Many of them, including Brazil, China and India, have already committed to 292 million hectares of new canopy. But in their analysis of the plans published so far, the scientists say that only 34% of this accumulated area would go back to natural forest.

Another 45% would be covered by plantations of one species harvested for biomass or timber, and 21% would be devoted to agroforestry: a mix of crops sheltered by stands of woodland.

In their calculations, this altogether would remove only 16 bn tonnes of carbon. That is because natural forests restored and subsequently protected would hold 40 times the carbon of a monoculture plantation and six times more than any mix of trees and crops.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London, who led the analysis. “To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’”

Forests are only part of the answer to the challenge of containing climate change. To keep to the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, humankind has to find ways to remove 730 bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which translates to 199 bn tonnes of carbon.

If the world found ways to boost the total area of global forest, woodland and woody savannahs, this could absorb perhaps a quarter of the total needed to keep planetary warming to no more than 1.5°C. And many countries have signed up to convert degraded land to new tree canopy.

“But will this policy work?” the scientists ask. “We show that under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees.”

Their point is that plantations can support local economies, but are poorer at storing carbon. Natural forests require little or no disturbance from humans, whereas the regular clearing and harvesting of plantations releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere every 10 or 20 years, while natural forests go on sequestering the greenhouse gas for decades. Natural regeneration is the cheapest and easiest option.

Land use shift

Most of the monoculture commitments are in large countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scientists suggest such plans have been insufficiently thought through. Drastic increases in tropical plantation for commercial crops would mark a major shift in global land use and could be accompanied by a fall in prices, with potentially unsatisfactory economic consequences.

And, they argue, policymakers are in any case misinterpreting the term forest restoration: it should not include plantations of a single species, such as eucalypt or rubber, which would do little for carbon sequestration. If commercial plantations were planted across the whole 350 million hectares, the entire crop would soak up and store just one billion tonnes of carbon.

“Of course new natural forests alone are not sufficient to meet our climate goals,” said Charlotte Wheeler of the University of Edinburgh, another of the authors. “Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation must also stop.

“Other ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere are also needed. But no scenario has been produced that keeps climate change below dangerous levels without the large-scale restoration of natural forests.” − Climate News Network

CO2 levels pass 3-million-year record

The modern world is about to pass a temperature peak dating back for millions of years – because CO2 levels have already passed an ancient record..

LONDON, 8 April, 2019 – German scientists have confirmed, once again, that carbon dioxide is reaching concentrations unprecedented on any human time scale, with CO2 levels in the atmosphere already higher than they have been for at least three million years.

And their computer simulations – backed up by analysis of ocean sediments that tell a tale of changing temperatures and greenhouse gas levels – show that before the century’s close the world will become warmer than at any time in the last three million years.

The last time planetary temperatures reached a level higher than the target set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 was during a bygone geological period, the Pliocene.

“It seems we are now pushing our home planet beyond any climatic conditions experienced during the entire current geological period, the Quaternary,” said Matteo Willeit of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Our results imply a strong sensitivity of the Earth system to relatively small changes in atmospheric CO2. As fascinating as this is, it is also worrying”

“A period that started almost three million years ago and saw human civilisation beginning only 11,000 years ago. So the modern change we see is big, really big, even by the standards of Earth history.”

He and colleagues report in the journal Science Advances  that they made a numerical model of all the astronomical and geological data available for the last few million years and fed in algorithms to represent the physics and chemistry of planet Earth.

So they had a simulation of a rocky planet complete with active volcanoes that emit carbon dioxide with their magma, on a journey many times around a slowly-changing elliptical orbit that subtly changed the levels of sunshine that slammed into the rocks, oceans and forests – patterns of change called the Milankovitch cycles, long implicated in periodic shifts in planetary climate.

They also fed in data about sediments in the high latitudes: important because ice sheets advance more easily over gravel than bedrock, and atmospheric dust from such attrition makes ice surfaces darker and more vulnerable to melting. The result: confirmation of one thing already observed and another much feared.

Carbon ratio leaps

At a time in the astronomical cycle when Earthlings might expect a slow return of the Ice Ages, human action over the last two centuries – the profligate combustion of fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases, the wholesale clearance of the great forests that absorb atmospheric carbon – has already lifted carbon dioxide ratios from a long-term average of around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm.

Human action has also raised long-term average planetary temperatures by a whole degree Celsius, with more warming on the way.

A new Ice Age seems increasingly unlikely, and other researchers have already pointed to the Pliocene data as a soon-to-be-exceeded record.

Entirely different studies have shown the world to be on course to exceed the 2°C limit, so the research confirms other findings and delivers a test of the reliability of evidence from the past. It also backs up the value of simulation as an increasingly reliable form of climate forecasting.

CO2’s key role

“We know from the analysis of sediments on the bottom of our seas about past ocean temperatures and ice volumes, but so far the role of CO2 in shaping the glacial cycles has not been fully understood,” said Dr Willeit.

“It is a breakthrough that we can now show in computer simulations that changes in CO2 levels were a main driver of the Ice Ages, together with variations of how the Earth orbits around the sun, the so-called Milankovitch cycles. These are actually not just simulations: we compared our results with hard data from the deep sea, and they prove to be in good agreement,” he said.

“Our results imply a strong sensitivity of the Earth system to relatively small changes in atmospheric CO2. As fascinating as this is, it is also worrying.” – Climate News Network

The modern world is about to pass a temperature peak dating back for millions of years – because CO2 levels have already passed an ancient record..

LONDON, 8 April, 2019 – German scientists have confirmed, once again, that carbon dioxide is reaching concentrations unprecedented on any human time scale, with CO2 levels in the atmosphere already higher than they have been for at least three million years.

And their computer simulations – backed up by analysis of ocean sediments that tell a tale of changing temperatures and greenhouse gas levels – show that before the century’s close the world will become warmer than at any time in the last three million years.

The last time planetary temperatures reached a level higher than the target set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 was during a bygone geological period, the Pliocene.

“It seems we are now pushing our home planet beyond any climatic conditions experienced during the entire current geological period, the Quaternary,” said Matteo Willeit of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Our results imply a strong sensitivity of the Earth system to relatively small changes in atmospheric CO2. As fascinating as this is, it is also worrying”

“A period that started almost three million years ago and saw human civilisation beginning only 11,000 years ago. So the modern change we see is big, really big, even by the standards of Earth history.”

He and colleagues report in the journal Science Advances  that they made a numerical model of all the astronomical and geological data available for the last few million years and fed in algorithms to represent the physics and chemistry of planet Earth.

So they had a simulation of a rocky planet complete with active volcanoes that emit carbon dioxide with their magma, on a journey many times around a slowly-changing elliptical orbit that subtly changed the levels of sunshine that slammed into the rocks, oceans and forests – patterns of change called the Milankovitch cycles, long implicated in periodic shifts in planetary climate.

They also fed in data about sediments in the high latitudes: important because ice sheets advance more easily over gravel than bedrock, and atmospheric dust from such attrition makes ice surfaces darker and more vulnerable to melting. The result: confirmation of one thing already observed and another much feared.

Carbon ratio leaps

At a time in the astronomical cycle when Earthlings might expect a slow return of the Ice Ages, human action over the last two centuries – the profligate combustion of fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases, the wholesale clearance of the great forests that absorb atmospheric carbon – has already lifted carbon dioxide ratios from a long-term average of around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm.

Human action has also raised long-term average planetary temperatures by a whole degree Celsius, with more warming on the way.

A new Ice Age seems increasingly unlikely, and other researchers have already pointed to the Pliocene data as a soon-to-be-exceeded record.

Entirely different studies have shown the world to be on course to exceed the 2°C limit, so the research confirms other findings and delivers a test of the reliability of evidence from the past. It also backs up the value of simulation as an increasingly reliable form of climate forecasting.

CO2’s key role

“We know from the analysis of sediments on the bottom of our seas about past ocean temperatures and ice volumes, but so far the role of CO2 in shaping the glacial cycles has not been fully understood,” said Dr Willeit.

“It is a breakthrough that we can now show in computer simulations that changes in CO2 levels were a main driver of the Ice Ages, together with variations of how the Earth orbits around the sun, the so-called Milankovitch cycles. These are actually not just simulations: we compared our results with hard data from the deep sea, and they prove to be in good agreement,” he said.

“Our results imply a strong sensitivity of the Earth system to relatively small changes in atmospheric CO2. As fascinating as this is, it is also worrying.” – Climate News Network

Worse tropical winds will kill more trees

More greenhouse gases mean worse tropical winds and fiercer storms. That could mean more forest damage . . . and more greenhouse gas emissions . . .

LONDON, 28 March, 2019 − Worse tropical winds will spell worse danger to forests, in a cycle that feeds on itself. Hurricane Maria, which in 2017 slammed into Puerto Rico, shut down the electricity supply for the entire US island of 3.3 million people, and claimed almost 3,000 lives. And it also killed or damaged at least 20 million trees, or possibly 40 million.

If what happened in the track of Maria is a pointer to the future, then hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones will join drought, wildfire and men with chainsaws as a new threat to the world’s tropical forests, the biggest absorbers of carbon on the terrestrial surface.

Living forests absorb carbon. Dying and decaying trees release greenhouse gases. The damage by Maria has already been estimated to have released 5.75 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. This is about one-fortieth of all the carbon taken up by all the forests in the US.

“The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin”

Hurricanes are linked with rising sea surface temperatures. Researchers have been warning for decades that in a warming world, extremes of heat, drought, flood and windstorm will become more destructive. So Hurricane Maria could be a taste of things to come.

“These hurricanes are going to kill more trees,” said Maria Uriarte, of the Earth Institute of Columbia University. “They’re going to break more trees. The factors that protected many trees in the past will no longer apply. Forests will become shorter and smaller because they won’t have time to regrow, and they will be less diverse.”

Maria blew into Puerto Rico in October 2017, with winds of up to 250 kms an hour. It dropped 500 mm of rain to become the island’s worst storm for 90 years.

To make their estimate of the destruction, Professor Uriarte and colleagues surveyed a 16-hectare plot of the island’s El Yunque national forest near the capital, San Juan: a plot that has been monitored after violent windstorm assault in 1989 by Hurricane Hugo and then in 1998 by Hurricane Georges.

Much fiercer impact

They report in the journal Nature Communications that Hurricane Maria killed twice as many trees outright as previous storms, and snapped more than three times as many trunks. Some species experienced breakage rates of up to 12 times that of previous hurricanes. Among them, and unexpectedly, were some of the slowest-growing, most valuable hardwoods. About half of all trees with broken trunks are expected to die within two or three years.

Some species survived well: among them the sierra palm, a tree able to bend with the wind, and if stripped sprout again from the top. Such species could be the inheritors of future hurricanes and grow quickly to take advantage of cleared forest space. So future forests could be dominated by shorter, and less diverse, foliage.

And the future is unpromising. Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperatures are rising, and climate simulations predict that by 2100 the highest sustained hurricane winds could increase by 15%. Warmer air can hold more moisture, so rainfall near storm centres could increase by 20%. Extreme winds fell trees; rain destabilises soil and makes uprooting easier.

“Maria transformed tropical forests across the island into leafless tangles of damaged and downed trees,” the researchers write. And they warn: “The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin.” − Climate News Network

More greenhouse gases mean worse tropical winds and fiercer storms. That could mean more forest damage . . . and more greenhouse gas emissions . . .

LONDON, 28 March, 2019 − Worse tropical winds will spell worse danger to forests, in a cycle that feeds on itself. Hurricane Maria, which in 2017 slammed into Puerto Rico, shut down the electricity supply for the entire US island of 3.3 million people, and claimed almost 3,000 lives. And it also killed or damaged at least 20 million trees, or possibly 40 million.

If what happened in the track of Maria is a pointer to the future, then hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones will join drought, wildfire and men with chainsaws as a new threat to the world’s tropical forests, the biggest absorbers of carbon on the terrestrial surface.

Living forests absorb carbon. Dying and decaying trees release greenhouse gases. The damage by Maria has already been estimated to have released 5.75 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. This is about one-fortieth of all the carbon taken up by all the forests in the US.

“The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin”

Hurricanes are linked with rising sea surface temperatures. Researchers have been warning for decades that in a warming world, extremes of heat, drought, flood and windstorm will become more destructive. So Hurricane Maria could be a taste of things to come.

“These hurricanes are going to kill more trees,” said Maria Uriarte, of the Earth Institute of Columbia University. “They’re going to break more trees. The factors that protected many trees in the past will no longer apply. Forests will become shorter and smaller because they won’t have time to regrow, and they will be less diverse.”

Maria blew into Puerto Rico in October 2017, with winds of up to 250 kms an hour. It dropped 500 mm of rain to become the island’s worst storm for 90 years.

To make their estimate of the destruction, Professor Uriarte and colleagues surveyed a 16-hectare plot of the island’s El Yunque national forest near the capital, San Juan: a plot that has been monitored after violent windstorm assault in 1989 by Hurricane Hugo and then in 1998 by Hurricane Georges.

Much fiercer impact

They report in the journal Nature Communications that Hurricane Maria killed twice as many trees outright as previous storms, and snapped more than three times as many trunks. Some species experienced breakage rates of up to 12 times that of previous hurricanes. Among them, and unexpectedly, were some of the slowest-growing, most valuable hardwoods. About half of all trees with broken trunks are expected to die within two or three years.

Some species survived well: among them the sierra palm, a tree able to bend with the wind, and if stripped sprout again from the top. Such species could be the inheritors of future hurricanes and grow quickly to take advantage of cleared forest space. So future forests could be dominated by shorter, and less diverse, foliage.

And the future is unpromising. Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperatures are rising, and climate simulations predict that by 2100 the highest sustained hurricane winds could increase by 15%. Warmer air can hold more moisture, so rainfall near storm centres could increase by 20%. Extreme winds fell trees; rain destabilises soil and makes uprooting easier.

“Maria transformed tropical forests across the island into leafless tangles of damaged and downed trees,” the researchers write. And they warn: “The expected changes in hurricane winds and rainfall may have profound consequences for the long-term resilience of tropical forests in the North Atlantic basin.” − Climate News Network

Writer’s notes show climate impact on plants

The writer’s notes left by the US thinker and naturalist known as the sage of Walden Pond have yielded more evidence of climate change.

LONDON, 27 March, 2019 − Henry David Thoreau, author of the memoir Walden, or Life in the Woods, in 1854, did more than just observe the oaks, the aspens, the “golden-rods, pinweeds and graceful wild grasses”: he left precise writer’s notes on the natural world he found during his wilful exile in the Massachusetts wilderness.

And thanks to these, US researchers now know that as the world warms, the native ecosystem that Thoreau observed and recorded is out of step.

At the close of winter, the trees now leaf at least two weeks earlier. But the wildflowers that depend on their moment in the sun for a head start now form leaves only one week earlier.

Researchers from Tennessee, Massachusetts, Maine and New York State report in the journal Ecology Letters that they combined observations around Walden in 1852 with a sequence of observations made in 37 separate years up to 2018, and with separate field experiments in a Pennsylvania forest, to conclude that wildflowers could not keep pace

“Combining our work from Pittsburgh with Thoreau’s data revealed an overlooked yet critical implication of how our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people,” said Mason Heberling, a botanist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who led the research.

Novel science

The Oxford English Dictionary cites Thoreau as an authority for words and meanings more than 600 times, but not for a new science. But in effect, and without intending it, Thoreau has become one of the giants of the science of phenology, a word not recorded in use until 1884.

Phenology is the study of when natural events happen; when buds burst, flowers bloom, birds nest, insects pupate, fruit falls and leaves drop.

Thoreau, first to use the imagery of those who march to a different beat (he wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”), has already been cited as a phenological authority.

More than five years ago scientists used his nature notes to confirm that woody plants around Walden Pond were leafing up to 18 days earlier, thanks to climate change driven by human use of fossil fuels that enrich the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warm the world. Temperatures on average around Concord, Massachusetts have risen by around 3°C since Thoreau vacated his cabin at nearby Walden.

“Our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people”

If spring happens earlier for the trees of the canopy than it does for the shrubs of the understorey, then the wildflowers have less time for photosynthesis and are placed at a disadvantage in the competition for growth.

The evidence seems to suggest that climate change could already be limiting wildflower abundance: if fewer blooms ripen, there will be less seed for following years.

The asynchrony of leaf-out that could be changing the nature of Thoreau’s woods is likely to get more pronounced: by 2080, the northeastern US temperatures could have risen another 2.5 to 4.5°C.

It was Thoreau who memorably observed in one of his essays that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It could be even more desperate for his wildflowers. − Climate News Network

The writer’s notes left by the US thinker and naturalist known as the sage of Walden Pond have yielded more evidence of climate change.

LONDON, 27 March, 2019 − Henry David Thoreau, author of the memoir Walden, or Life in the Woods, in 1854, did more than just observe the oaks, the aspens, the “golden-rods, pinweeds and graceful wild grasses”: he left precise writer’s notes on the natural world he found during his wilful exile in the Massachusetts wilderness.

And thanks to these, US researchers now know that as the world warms, the native ecosystem that Thoreau observed and recorded is out of step.

At the close of winter, the trees now leaf at least two weeks earlier. But the wildflowers that depend on their moment in the sun for a head start now form leaves only one week earlier.

Researchers from Tennessee, Massachusetts, Maine and New York State report in the journal Ecology Letters that they combined observations around Walden in 1852 with a sequence of observations made in 37 separate years up to 2018, and with separate field experiments in a Pennsylvania forest, to conclude that wildflowers could not keep pace

“Combining our work from Pittsburgh with Thoreau’s data revealed an overlooked yet critical implication of how our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people,” said Mason Heberling, a botanist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who led the research.

Novel science

The Oxford English Dictionary cites Thoreau as an authority for words and meanings more than 600 times, but not for a new science. But in effect, and without intending it, Thoreau has become one of the giants of the science of phenology, a word not recorded in use until 1884.

Phenology is the study of when natural events happen; when buds burst, flowers bloom, birds nest, insects pupate, fruit falls and leaves drop.

Thoreau, first to use the imagery of those who march to a different beat (he wrote: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer”), has already been cited as a phenological authority.

More than five years ago scientists used his nature notes to confirm that woody plants around Walden Pond were leafing up to 18 days earlier, thanks to climate change driven by human use of fossil fuels that enrich the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and warm the world. Temperatures on average around Concord, Massachusetts have risen by around 3°C since Thoreau vacated his cabin at nearby Walden.

“Our changing climate is affecting native wildflowers beloved by so many people”

If spring happens earlier for the trees of the canopy than it does for the shrubs of the understorey, then the wildflowers have less time for photosynthesis and are placed at a disadvantage in the competition for growth.

The evidence seems to suggest that climate change could already be limiting wildflower abundance: if fewer blooms ripen, there will be less seed for following years.

The asynchrony of leaf-out that could be changing the nature of Thoreau’s woods is likely to get more pronounced: by 2080, the northeastern US temperatures could have risen another 2.5 to 4.5°C.

It was Thoreau who memorably observed in one of his essays that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It could be even more desperate for his wildflowers. − Climate News Network

China and India are making a greener Earth

Human efforts are producing a greener Earth. But the news is not all good, because some of the greening comes from fertiliser pollution.

LONDON, 26 March, 2019 − Despite climate change, water scarcity and the many ills affecting the planet, this generation is living on an increasingly greener Earth.

Measurements from space show that some parts of the northern hemisphere, notably China and India, are a lot greener than they used to be, which is potentially very good news for the climate.

Growing vegetation takes up a great deal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the more that plants and trees can use, the greater the chance of slowing global warming.

The new findings appear especially positive in the light of earlier studies of global vegetation trends. Science has already found that climate change can affect the Earth’s vegetation pattern adversely.

There is also concern that the effort to grow crops to combat climate change will itself leave less space for other vegetation. And changes in Arctic vegetation are prompting concern that they could promote an increase in releases of greenhouse gases.

“A third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive”

Up to now scientists who have already noted the appearance of global greening thought it was because plants were responding to the fact there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which is needed for photosynthesis) and so were growing faster, in a process known as the fertiliser effect.

This turns out to be only partly true, because a new study reported in the online community Nature Research Sustainability has shown that it is more intensive agriculture and the use of much more artificial farm fertilisers that is one of the main contributors to greening.

This is causing its own environmental damage by polluting watercourses and damaging biodiversity.

But despite these reservations there is much good news in the latest research. Since the turn of the century China has shown a remarkable growth in its green areas because of the planting of new forests and the intensification of agriculture. Although the country contains only 6.6% of the global vegetated area, it alone accounts for 25% of the net increase in leaf area of the planet in that time.

Of this, 42% of the increase in green areas was from newly planted forest and 32% from croplands. The forests are designed to hold back the deserts, cut air pollution and reduce climate change.

Food production leaps

The 32% rise of greening in croplands was caused by intense agriculture, more irrigation with multiple cropping, and heavy fertiliser use, often causing damage to the local environment.

In India, also far greener than in 2000, larger forests account for only a 4.4% increase in greening, while 82% comes from croplands. In both countries food production has increased 35% in the same period as both governments have sought to feed their people.

The European Union also has experienced considerable greening over the same period, third behind China and India in the global league table. In this case 55% was due to increased cropland and 34% to more forests.

Sadly, despite the increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the greening this represents did not make up for the loss of leaf area in tropical forests.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia continued destroying their forests, and in doing so more than made up for the gains elsewhere, apart from the damage this did to ecosystems and biodiversity, the scientists note.

Brazil leads browners

They compiled a league table of greening and the reverse – browning – where satellites show countries have degraded or abandoned land and so reduced the vegetation cover.

Brazil, which has more green land than any other country on the planet, came top of the browning table, having degraded 11.6% of its green land since 2000. Indonesia came second in the browning table with 6.8%, Argentina a close third with 6.7%, and Canada fourth with 5.7%.

This does not tell the whole story, because while some land became browner other patches became greener, so in nearly all countries the browning was balanced out by greening. Altogether the Earth became a lot greener in this period, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

The Nature study concludes that a third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive, but this is not simply the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most of the greening is down to more intensive agricultural practices, as in China and India, and more planting of forests. This, rather than the fertiliser effect, is responsible for at least a third or probably more of the greening of the Earth this century. − Climate News Network

Human efforts are producing a greener Earth. But the news is not all good, because some of the greening comes from fertiliser pollution.

LONDON, 26 March, 2019 − Despite climate change, water scarcity and the many ills affecting the planet, this generation is living on an increasingly greener Earth.

Measurements from space show that some parts of the northern hemisphere, notably China and India, are a lot greener than they used to be, which is potentially very good news for the climate.

Growing vegetation takes up a great deal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the more that plants and trees can use, the greater the chance of slowing global warming.

The new findings appear especially positive in the light of earlier studies of global vegetation trends. Science has already found that climate change can affect the Earth’s vegetation pattern adversely.

There is also concern that the effort to grow crops to combat climate change will itself leave less space for other vegetation. And changes in Arctic vegetation are prompting concern that they could promote an increase in releases of greenhouse gases.

“A third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive”

Up to now scientists who have already noted the appearance of global greening thought it was because plants were responding to the fact there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which is needed for photosynthesis) and so were growing faster, in a process known as the fertiliser effect.

This turns out to be only partly true, because a new study reported in the online community Nature Research Sustainability has shown that it is more intensive agriculture and the use of much more artificial farm fertilisers that is one of the main contributors to greening.

This is causing its own environmental damage by polluting watercourses and damaging biodiversity.

But despite these reservations there is much good news in the latest research. Since the turn of the century China has shown a remarkable growth in its green areas because of the planting of new forests and the intensification of agriculture. Although the country contains only 6.6% of the global vegetated area, it alone accounts for 25% of the net increase in leaf area of the planet in that time.

Of this, 42% of the increase in green areas was from newly planted forest and 32% from croplands. The forests are designed to hold back the deserts, cut air pollution and reduce climate change.

Food production leaps

The 32% rise of greening in croplands was caused by intense agriculture, more irrigation with multiple cropping, and heavy fertiliser use, often causing damage to the local environment.

In India, also far greener than in 2000, larger forests account for only a 4.4% increase in greening, while 82% comes from croplands. In both countries food production has increased 35% in the same period as both governments have sought to feed their people.

The European Union also has experienced considerable greening over the same period, third behind China and India in the global league table. In this case 55% was due to increased cropland and 34% to more forests.

Sadly, despite the increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the greening this represents did not make up for the loss of leaf area in tropical forests.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia continued destroying their forests, and in doing so more than made up for the gains elsewhere, apart from the damage this did to ecosystems and biodiversity, the scientists note.

Brazil leads browners

They compiled a league table of greening and the reverse – browning – where satellites show countries have degraded or abandoned land and so reduced the vegetation cover.

Brazil, which has more green land than any other country on the planet, came top of the browning table, having degraded 11.6% of its green land since 2000. Indonesia came second in the browning table with 6.8%, Argentina a close third with 6.7%, and Canada fourth with 5.7%.

This does not tell the whole story, because while some land became browner other patches became greener, so in nearly all countries the browning was balanced out by greening. Altogether the Earth became a lot greener in this period, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

The Nature study concludes that a third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive, but this is not simply the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most of the greening is down to more intensive agricultural practices, as in China and India, and more planting of forests. This, rather than the fertiliser effect, is responsible for at least a third or probably more of the greening of the Earth this century. − Climate News Network

Rivers gain legal protection from misuse

Several countries are ensuring their rivers can gain legal protection, a move akin to treating them as people, which could help nature more widely.

LONDON, 21 March, 2019 − So Old Man River is getting a day in court: a growing international initiative is seeing to it that rivers gain legal protection against pollution and other forms of exploitation, in a move which insists that they have rights just as people do.

There are hopes that protecting rivers (and one lake) in this way could in time be extended to living species and to other features of the natural world.

The first river to win this legal safeguard is the Whanganui in New Zealand, which in March 2017 gained recognition as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. (The country had in 2014 already granted legal personhood to a forest.) The river – or rather, those acting for it – will now be able to sue for protection under the law.

The Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 recognises the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, which has rights and interests and is the owner of its own river bed. The river can both sue and be sued. The Act also acknowledges the river as a living whole that stretches from the mountains to the sea.

Two individuals, one from the government and the other from the indigenous Whanganui people, have been appointed to serve as the river’s legal custodians, acting for its health and well-being. They work in the same way that legal guardians represent children in loco parentis (in place of a parent).

Crucial difference

Legal rights are not the same as human rights, which include civil and political rights. And conferring legal personhood on non-humans already happens with many organisations.

But the Rapid Transition Alliance, an enthusiastic backer of the idea, says: “Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer.

“Accepting a non-human part of nature as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift away from placing humanity at the centre of everything. This understanding could generate other legal changes handing power to other parts of our natural world.”

The New Zealand example spread fast. On the day in March 2017 when it recognised the rights of the Whanganui river, the Ganges and Yamuna river system in India was also given the legal status of persons after a battle to stop it being polluted.

Growing pressure

The Indian court, treating the river system as a minor, appointed specific government posts in the state of Uttarakhand to act in loco parentis. But it is now being challenged because the river flows across state borders where local government has no jurisdiction.

Other countries which have explored the idea of rights for nature include Ecuador, Bolivia, Turkey and Nepal. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature maintains a comprehensive list of similar worldwide initiatives; they include groups such as Lawyers Responding to Climate Change (LRI) and ClientEarth.

Two years after New Zealand and India, the concept had reached the US: in February 2019 voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a ballot to give Lake Erie, which forms part of the border between the US and Canada and was heavily polluted, rights normally associated with a person.

The pressure in Toledo came partly from an insistence on an urgent clean-up of the lake’s toxic water. But it drew as well on an older tradition, kept alive by indigenous groups who still retain a folk memory of how things had been before the industrial revolution.

“Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer”

The vote excited comment. One critic saw it as an anti-capitalism plot and cited in his support a plan to give an orang-utan in Argentina the legal right to leave a zoo. But the Australian Centre for the Rights of Nature took a more positive view, saying that recognising the rights in law meant rejecting “the notion that nature is human property.”

Another influence on the spread of the idea of rights for nature is likely to be the concept of critical biodiversity,  which argues that species diversity is needed for a healthy ecosystem to thrive.

Progress on that and on rights for nature has so far been tentative and exploratory, and there are many obstacles ahead.

But if they could reinforce each other in safeguarding species like the great apes, the forest fauna of south-east Asia and areas under pressure such as the Great Barrier Reef and Amazonia, the gains could be immense. − 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.

Several countries are ensuring their rivers can gain legal protection, a move akin to treating them as people, which could help nature more widely.

LONDON, 21 March, 2019 − So Old Man River is getting a day in court: a growing international initiative is seeing to it that rivers gain legal protection against pollution and other forms of exploitation, in a move which insists that they have rights just as people do.

There are hopes that protecting rivers (and one lake) in this way could in time be extended to living species and to other features of the natural world.

The first river to win this legal safeguard is the Whanganui in New Zealand, which in March 2017 gained recognition as holding rights and responsibilities equivalent to a person. (The country had in 2014 already granted legal personhood to a forest.) The river – or rather, those acting for it – will now be able to sue for protection under the law.

The Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act 2017 recognises the river and all its tributaries as a single entity, Te Awa Tupua, which has rights and interests and is the owner of its own river bed. The river can both sue and be sued. The Act also acknowledges the river as a living whole that stretches from the mountains to the sea.

Two individuals, one from the government and the other from the indigenous Whanganui people, have been appointed to serve as the river’s legal custodians, acting for its health and well-being. They work in the same way that legal guardians represent children in loco parentis (in place of a parent).

Crucial difference

Legal rights are not the same as human rights, which include civil and political rights. And conferring legal personhood on non-humans already happens with many organisations.

But the Rapid Transition Alliance, an enthusiastic backer of the idea, says: “Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer.

“Accepting a non-human part of nature as a legal entity requires a conceptual shift away from placing humanity at the centre of everything. This understanding could generate other legal changes handing power to other parts of our natural world.”

The New Zealand example spread fast. On the day in March 2017 when it recognised the rights of the Whanganui river, the Ganges and Yamuna river system in India was also given the legal status of persons after a battle to stop it being polluted.

Growing pressure

The Indian court, treating the river system as a minor, appointed specific government posts in the state of Uttarakhand to act in loco parentis. But it is now being challenged because the river flows across state borders where local government has no jurisdiction.

Other countries which have explored the idea of rights for nature include Ecuador, Bolivia, Turkey and Nepal. The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature maintains a comprehensive list of similar worldwide initiatives; they include groups such as Lawyers Responding to Climate Change (LRI) and ClientEarth.

Two years after New Zealand and India, the concept had reached the US: in February 2019 voters in Toledo, Ohio approved a ballot to give Lake Erie, which forms part of the border between the US and Canada and was heavily polluted, rights normally associated with a person.

The pressure in Toledo came partly from an insistence on an urgent clean-up of the lake’s toxic water. But it drew as well on an older tradition, kept alive by indigenous groups who still retain a folk memory of how things had been before the industrial revolution.

“Conferring personhood – even of this limited kind – on a part of non-human nature could prove a game changer”

The vote excited comment. One critic saw it as an anti-capitalism plot and cited in his support a plan to give an orang-utan in Argentina the legal right to leave a zoo. But the Australian Centre for the Rights of Nature took a more positive view, saying that recognising the rights in law meant rejecting “the notion that nature is human property.”

Another influence on the spread of the idea of rights for nature is likely to be the concept of critical biodiversity,  which argues that species diversity is needed for a healthy ecosystem to thrive.

Progress on that and on rights for nature has so far been tentative and exploratory, and there are many obstacles ahead.

But if they could reinforce each other in safeguarding species like the great apes, the forest fauna of south-east Asia and areas under pressure such as the Great Barrier Reef and Amazonia, the gains could be immense. − 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.

Young forests use carbon most effectively

As greenhouse gas consumers, young forests use carbon more industriously in the temperate and cool zones than older forests.

LONDON, 28 February, 2019 − For forests, it really does help to be young. British scientists who have identified the vital factor that shows what makes a forest a good carbon sink say young forests use carbon best and absorb it most efficiently.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seems on the face of it to settle an old puzzle with an unsurprising answer. New and young forests make the most efficient and effective carbon sinks.

Humans burn fossil fuels and emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The felling, burning and clearing of natural forest releases ever more carbon.

But green plants absorb CO2 to make tissue and turn the gas into root and branch, leaf and bark, trunk and fruit. So scientists, led by Tom Pugh of the University of Birmingham in England, addressed the question: what kind of forest is best as a carbon sink?

“Ultimately reforestation programmes will only be effective if we simultaneously work to reduce our emissions”

They gathered data about forest age, devised computer models and looked at the estimates of carbon intake between 2001 and 2010 in old, long-established areas of forest. Then they looked at the data from younger stands of timber that had colonised areas once logged, or damaged by forest fire, or farmed and then abandoned.

They identified an age effect in stands of timber less than 140 years old: big enough to account for 25% of forest carbon uptake from the atmosphere.

And although the great tropical rainforests are regarded as the “lungs” of the planet, and invaluable resources and homes for biodiversity, in fact the most efficient carbon dioxide consumers were forests in the middle and high latitudes: these included areas of land once farmed in the US eastern states, and then left to become part of the US National Forest, and farmland abandoned during the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s.

The finding seems reasonable, if only because the carbon appetite that turns a sapling into a full-grown tree would seem to be more demanding than that of mature or very old trees. But nothing about the notorious “carbon budget problem” is simple.

Uncertain response

It is an axiom of global response to climate change that forests should be protected and restored. But the nature and the mechanisms of forest carbon uptake can be difficult to establish.

In theory forests may absorb around a third of all carbon emissions, but the way trees could respond to the extra carbon dioxide available is still not certain.

As carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere increase, the planet warms and climates change: it could be possible for some forests, some of the time, to actually release more carbon than they absorb.

And while it might seem obvious that young trees would be greedier than old ones, precise measurement of the forest giants doesn’t necessarily tell the same story. Although the importance of forests is not in question, researchers keep making the point that forests are not enough.

Drastic cuts needed

Humans must still find ways to drastically cut fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions. But as of 2019, there is no sign that this is happening.

But the latest research confirms the value of some investments. It suggests that the vast reforestation programmes launched in China, and the huge boreal forests of Canada, Russia and Europe, are playing an important role in climate management.

“It’s important to get a clear sense of where and why this carbon uptake is happening, because it helps us make targeted and informed decisions about forest management,” Dr Pugh said.

“The amount of CO2 that can be taken up by forests is a finite amount; ultimately reforestation programmes will only be effective if we simultaneously work to reduce our emissions.” − Climate News Network

As greenhouse gas consumers, young forests use carbon more industriously in the temperate and cool zones than older forests.

LONDON, 28 February, 2019 − For forests, it really does help to be young. British scientists who have identified the vital factor that shows what makes a forest a good carbon sink say young forests use carbon best and absorb it most efficiently.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seems on the face of it to settle an old puzzle with an unsurprising answer. New and young forests make the most efficient and effective carbon sinks.

Humans burn fossil fuels and emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The felling, burning and clearing of natural forest releases ever more carbon.

But green plants absorb CO2 to make tissue and turn the gas into root and branch, leaf and bark, trunk and fruit. So scientists, led by Tom Pugh of the University of Birmingham in England, addressed the question: what kind of forest is best as a carbon sink?

“Ultimately reforestation programmes will only be effective if we simultaneously work to reduce our emissions”

They gathered data about forest age, devised computer models and looked at the estimates of carbon intake between 2001 and 2010 in old, long-established areas of forest. Then they looked at the data from younger stands of timber that had colonised areas once logged, or damaged by forest fire, or farmed and then abandoned.

They identified an age effect in stands of timber less than 140 years old: big enough to account for 25% of forest carbon uptake from the atmosphere.

And although the great tropical rainforests are regarded as the “lungs” of the planet, and invaluable resources and homes for biodiversity, in fact the most efficient carbon dioxide consumers were forests in the middle and high latitudes: these included areas of land once farmed in the US eastern states, and then left to become part of the US National Forest, and farmland abandoned during the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s.

The finding seems reasonable, if only because the carbon appetite that turns a sapling into a full-grown tree would seem to be more demanding than that of mature or very old trees. But nothing about the notorious “carbon budget problem” is simple.

Uncertain response

It is an axiom of global response to climate change that forests should be protected and restored. But the nature and the mechanisms of forest carbon uptake can be difficult to establish.

In theory forests may absorb around a third of all carbon emissions, but the way trees could respond to the extra carbon dioxide available is still not certain.

As carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere increase, the planet warms and climates change: it could be possible for some forests, some of the time, to actually release more carbon than they absorb.

And while it might seem obvious that young trees would be greedier than old ones, precise measurement of the forest giants doesn’t necessarily tell the same story. Although the importance of forests is not in question, researchers keep making the point that forests are not enough.

Drastic cuts needed

Humans must still find ways to drastically cut fossil fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions. But as of 2019, there is no sign that this is happening.

But the latest research confirms the value of some investments. It suggests that the vast reforestation programmes launched in China, and the huge boreal forests of Canada, Russia and Europe, are playing an important role in climate management.

“It’s important to get a clear sense of where and why this carbon uptake is happening, because it helps us make targeted and informed decisions about forest management,” Dr Pugh said.

“The amount of CO2 that can be taken up by forests is a finite amount; ultimately reforestation programmes will only be effective if we simultaneously work to reduce our emissions.” − Climate News Network