Tag Archives: Forests

Cocaine traffickers fuel climate change

cocaine

An ever-expanding US market for cocaine is leading to drug traffickers destroying swathes of tropical forest to create new transport routes.

LONDON, October 17, 2019 – Having a cocaine habit is bad for your health – and for the planet’s too, as it turns out that the growing use of the drug is also contributing to global warming.

A series of recent reports examining the cocaine trade in Central America say traffickers seeking out new smuggling routes are destroying large areas of tropical forest in order to build roads and landing strips to transport supplies of cocaine bound for an ever-expanding market in the US.

Forests are vital “carbon sinks”, soaking up large amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases. When they are destroyed, the stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere. And the smoke from forest fires adds to problem.

Drug convoys

Authors of the series of papers describe what’s going on as “narco-deforestation”. Jennifer Devine, an assistant professor of geography at Texas State University and co-author of two of the studies, says: “Narco-deforestation now affects large tropical forests in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and is beginning to affect Costa Rica as well.”

Drug traffickers are moving into national parks, forest reserves and special conservation areas in order to elude the authorities. Trees are being chopped down not only to build roads for drug convoys; the researchers found that vast areas of forest are being cleared for ranches and crop growing – through which the traffickers launder their drug money.

Earlier studies looking at drug-related activities on the Caribbean coast of Honduras found that the clearing of forests by the drug cartels has also caused extensive flooding in the region.

“Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological cost”

Bernardo Aguilar-González, a director of the Fundación Neotrópica NGO and a co-author of one of the reports, says: “Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological costs.”

The reports strongly criticise a long-running, US-backed “War on Drugs” being waged in Central America. They conclude that funds provided by the US for a heavily-militarised anti-drug campaign “have ultimately pushed drug trafficking and the laundering of spectacular profits into remote, biodiverse spaces, where they threaten both ecosystems and people, and undermine conservation goals and local livelihoods”.

Other studies say the campaign has resulted in people being forced off their lands, and this has contributed to a growth in migration – with people trying to cross the border into the US.

Indigenous land rights

The researchers say a key way of tackling deforestation by the traffickers is to give local communities more control over the forests; indigenous land rights must be recognised and enforced across the region.

Areas managed by local communities have very low forest losses say the reports.

“Investing in community land rights and participatory governance in protected areas is a key strategy to combat drug trafficking and climate change simultaneously,” Aguilar-González told the Reuters news agency.

“Taken together, these papers confirm just how vital it is to ensure that local forest communities have long-term control over their land and forest resources,” says David Wrathall, assistant professor of geography at Oregon State University and a report author.

“If we are to reduce the risk of emissions caused when forests are destroyed and to safeguard the carbon in forests, such rights will be key in order to avoid dangerous human interference in the atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

An ever-expanding US market for cocaine is leading to drug traffickers destroying swathes of tropical forest to create new transport routes.

LONDON, October 17, 2019 – Having a cocaine habit is bad for your health – and for the planet’s too, as it turns out that the growing use of the drug is also contributing to global warming.

A series of recent reports examining the cocaine trade in Central America say traffickers seeking out new smuggling routes are destroying large areas of tropical forest in order to build roads and landing strips to transport supplies of cocaine bound for an ever-expanding market in the US.

Forests are vital “carbon sinks”, soaking up large amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases. When they are destroyed, the stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere. And the smoke from forest fires adds to problem.

Drug convoys

Authors of the series of papers describe what’s going on as “narco-deforestation”. Jennifer Devine, an assistant professor of geography at Texas State University and co-author of two of the studies, says: “Narco-deforestation now affects large tropical forests in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, and is beginning to affect Costa Rica as well.”

Drug traffickers are moving into national parks, forest reserves and special conservation areas in order to elude the authorities. Trees are being chopped down not only to build roads for drug convoys; the researchers found that vast areas of forest are being cleared for ranches and crop growing – through which the traffickers launder their drug money.

Earlier studies looking at drug-related activities on the Caribbean coast of Honduras found that the clearing of forests by the drug cartels has also caused extensive flooding in the region.

“Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological cost”

Bernardo Aguilar-González, a director of the Fundación Neotrópica NGO and a co-author of one of the reports, says: “Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, producing significant social and ecological costs.”

The reports strongly criticise a long-running, US-backed “War on Drugs” being waged in Central America. They conclude that funds provided by the US for a heavily-militarised anti-drug campaign “have ultimately pushed drug trafficking and the laundering of spectacular profits into remote, biodiverse spaces, where they threaten both ecosystems and people, and undermine conservation goals and local livelihoods”.

Other studies say the campaign has resulted in people being forced off their lands, and this has contributed to a growth in migration – with people trying to cross the border into the US.

Indigenous land rights

The researchers say a key way of tackling deforestation by the traffickers is to give local communities more control over the forests; indigenous land rights must be recognised and enforced across the region.

Areas managed by local communities have very low forest losses say the reports.

“Investing in community land rights and participatory governance in protected areas is a key strategy to combat drug trafficking and climate change simultaneously,” Aguilar-González told the Reuters news agency.

“Taken together, these papers confirm just how vital it is to ensure that local forest communities have long-term control over their land and forest resources,” says David Wrathall, assistant professor of geography at Oregon State University and a report author.

“If we are to reduce the risk of emissions caused when forests are destroyed and to safeguard the carbon in forests, such rights will be key in order to avoid dangerous human interference in the atmosphere.” – Climate News Network

Mountains rich in species still puzzle science

Life on Earth is ultimately a mystery. Even more of a riddle is why there are so many mountains rich in species.

LONDON, 16 September, 2019 − Danish ecologists have begun to wrestle with one of life’s great unsolved puzzles: why does the world have so many ranges of mountains rich in species?

This is not just a question for the intellectual high ground. As many as a million species of amphibian, fish, bird, reptile, mammal, insect or plant could be threatened by climate change and the destruction of forest habitat by human action this century.

But forests – if conserved and protected – could play a vital role in mitigating climate change, and researchers have repeatedly found that undisturbed forests hold the greatest levels of biodiversity, and conversely that biodiversity is important to the stability of the great forests.

But when biologists look more closely at the challenge of explaining biodiversity, they are confronted by something unexpected. The richest landscapes on the planet are the tropical and subtropical mountain chains. And the richest of all are the northern Andean chain.

This stretch of soaring peaks and woodland valleys is the most species-rich of all, with 45,000 kinds of flowering plant, 44% of which are found only in that region.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life”

There are huge concentrations of living things in the highlands of China’s Sichuan and Yunnan, the East African Highlands and the mountains of New Guinea. These contours of ridge and valley occupy only 25% of the inhabited continents, but they are home to 85% of amphibians, birds and mammals.

And of this population of vertebrates, more than half are found only in mountain ranges. To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the great explorer Alexander von Humboldt, scientists have dubbed this question “the Humboldt enigma”.

In 1799 Humboldt began a five-year voyage of discovery through Latin America, and made history by mapping the way vegetation changed with altitude on Mt Chimborazo in Ecuador.

“The challenge is that, although it is evident that much of the global variation in biodiversity is so clearly driven by the extraordinary richness of tropical mountain regions, it is this very richness that current biodiversity models, based on contemporary climate, cannot explain,” said Carsten Rahbek of the University of Copenhagen and Imperial College London, who led the research, published in the journal Science.

“Mountains are simply too rich in species, and we are falling short of explaining global hotspots of biodiversity.”

Search for principles

Professor Rahbek was one of a team that, five years ago, measured changes of colour in butterflies and dragonflies that could be linked to changes in European temperatures in a world of global heating.

That is, evolution seemed to be responding to environmental change. Scientists call this sort of research macroecology: the search for the principles behind change, rather than the details of change.

There could hardly be a bigger macroecological question than one that concerns the location of the richest concentrations of life’s variety. Climatic variation – including the shifts in temperature with altitude – is clearly a factor.

Geology – because mountains are where bedrock tends to be most exposed – emerges as another factor in the two papers in Science.

Open question

Professor Rahbek describes the studies as testament to the pioneering science of Humboldt more than two centuries ago. The Humboldt enigma, for the moment, remains an open question.

Conservation scientists know that climate change and habitat destruction driven by human behaviour threatens the bewildering richness of life on Earth. But they still don’t know quite why life on Earth is so bewilderingly rich, and especially why it is so rich in relatively confined hotspots.

“The global pattern of biodiversity shows that mountain biodiversity exhibits a visible signature of past evolutionary processes,” Professor Rahbek said.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life, as well as being cradles where new species have arisen at a much higher rate than in lowland areas, even in areas as amazingly biodiverse as the Amazonian rainforest.” − Climate News Network

Life on Earth is ultimately a mystery. Even more of a riddle is why there are so many mountains rich in species.

LONDON, 16 September, 2019 − Danish ecologists have begun to wrestle with one of life’s great unsolved puzzles: why does the world have so many ranges of mountains rich in species?

This is not just a question for the intellectual high ground. As many as a million species of amphibian, fish, bird, reptile, mammal, insect or plant could be threatened by climate change and the destruction of forest habitat by human action this century.

But forests – if conserved and protected – could play a vital role in mitigating climate change, and researchers have repeatedly found that undisturbed forests hold the greatest levels of biodiversity, and conversely that biodiversity is important to the stability of the great forests.

But when biologists look more closely at the challenge of explaining biodiversity, they are confronted by something unexpected. The richest landscapes on the planet are the tropical and subtropical mountain chains. And the richest of all are the northern Andean chain.

This stretch of soaring peaks and woodland valleys is the most species-rich of all, with 45,000 kinds of flowering plant, 44% of which are found only in that region.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life”

There are huge concentrations of living things in the highlands of China’s Sichuan and Yunnan, the East African Highlands and the mountains of New Guinea. These contours of ridge and valley occupy only 25% of the inhabited continents, but they are home to 85% of amphibians, birds and mammals.

And of this population of vertebrates, more than half are found only in mountain ranges. To mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the great explorer Alexander von Humboldt, scientists have dubbed this question “the Humboldt enigma”.

In 1799 Humboldt began a five-year voyage of discovery through Latin America, and made history by mapping the way vegetation changed with altitude on Mt Chimborazo in Ecuador.

“The challenge is that, although it is evident that much of the global variation in biodiversity is so clearly driven by the extraordinary richness of tropical mountain regions, it is this very richness that current biodiversity models, based on contemporary climate, cannot explain,” said Carsten Rahbek of the University of Copenhagen and Imperial College London, who led the research, published in the journal Science.

“Mountains are simply too rich in species, and we are falling short of explaining global hotspots of biodiversity.”

Search for principles

Professor Rahbek was one of a team that, five years ago, measured changes of colour in butterflies and dragonflies that could be linked to changes in European temperatures in a world of global heating.

That is, evolution seemed to be responding to environmental change. Scientists call this sort of research macroecology: the search for the principles behind change, rather than the details of change.

There could hardly be a bigger macroecological question than one that concerns the location of the richest concentrations of life’s variety. Climatic variation – including the shifts in temperature with altitude – is clearly a factor.

Geology – because mountains are where bedrock tends to be most exposed – emerges as another factor in the two papers in Science.

Open question

Professor Rahbek describes the studies as testament to the pioneering science of Humboldt more than two centuries ago. The Humboldt enigma, for the moment, remains an open question.

Conservation scientists know that climate change and habitat destruction driven by human behaviour threatens the bewildering richness of life on Earth. But they still don’t know quite why life on Earth is so bewilderingly rich, and especially why it is so rich in relatively confined hotspots.

“The global pattern of biodiversity shows that mountain biodiversity exhibits a visible signature of past evolutionary processes,” Professor Rahbek said.

“Mountains, with their uniquely complex environments and geology, have allowed the continued persistence of ancient species deeply rooted in the tree of life, as well as being cradles where new species have arisen at a much higher rate than in lowland areas, even in areas as amazingly biodiverse as the Amazonian rainforest.” − Climate News Network

Desert treaty steps up fight for degraded land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demanding target

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

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

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

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

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

Rich world uninvolved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demanding target

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

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

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

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

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

Rich world uninvolved

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

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

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

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

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

Tree loss brings more warming as world heats

Blazing forests cannot dampen climate change, tree loss will worsen it, and poorly nourished trees will make the next century more challenging.

LONDON, 27 August, 2019 − As global temperatures soar, tree loss will mean the world’s forests may no longer be able to function fully as safe stores for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Forests play a key role in the effort to contain climate change driven by human combustion of fossil fuels. But as the Arctic burns and fires race through the Amazon forest four new studies cast doubt on whether the planetary canopy can keep up.

The boreal forests of the north-west territories of Canada are home to vast tracts of spruce and other conifers: they cover soils so rich in carbon that a square metre could hold 75 kilograms of life’s most vital element.

But in 2014 wildfires made more probable by rising temperatures spread across more than 2.8 million hectares of Canada, turning at least 340,000 ha of the territories from a carbon sink into a source for more planet-heating greenhouse gas.

Limit to benefits

More carbon dioxide should fertilise more abundant growth in those forests not destroyed by fire and drought. But a new study from California and Spain warns that by 2100, the woodland world may reach breaking point. It isn’t clear that forests can go on benefiting from higher levels of carbon dioxide.

And new measurements from the Amazon, which in theory absorbs around a quarter of all human fossil fuel emissions each year, demonstrate why: the region’s soils are deficient in phosphorus. Without this vital element, the trees cannot take full advantage of the extra carbon fertilizer.

A fourth study presents an overall picture of change driven in some way by climate change. Fires, windstorms, insect outbreaks and other large disturbances account for more than a tenth of all tree death worldwide.

That the world’s forests are part of the campaign to mitigate climate change is not in doubt: one study even presents a picture of all waste land covered by new canopy as possibly the solution. There are an estimated three trillion trees on the planet, being destroyed at the rate of 15 billion a year. Losses are happening worldwide but nowhere with more devastating consequences than in the rainy tropics.

“We have already witnessed indiscriminate logging in pristine tropical forests, the largest reservoirs of biomass on the planet. We stand to lose a tremendously important tool to limit global warming”

But fire and drought are now more frequent even in the temperate and northern zones. Researchers from the US and Canada visited 200 different stands of scorched and incinerated spruce forest to sample the levels of carbon in the soils. They report in the journal Nature that as fires become more frequent, ever more of the rich legacy of carbon stored over hundreds of thousands of years of green canopy is being returned to the atmosphere.

“In older stands that burn, this carbon is protected by thick organic soils,” said Xanthe Walker, graduate of the University of Saskatchewan and now at Northern Arizona University. “But in younger stands that burn, the soil does not have time to re-accumulate. after the previous fire, making legacy carbon vulnerable to burning. This pattern could shift boreal forests to a new domain of carbon cycling, where they become a carbon source instead of a sink.”

Researchers wonder in the journal Nature Climate Change about the capacity of forests to go on indefinitely absorbing ever more carbon dioxide, given that to do so they will also need ever more nitrogen and phosphorus.

Losses already happening

Scientists from Stanford University in California and the Autonomous University of Barcelona took data from 138 experiments with heightened atmospheric carbon dioxide over cropland, grasslands, shrubs and forests and used computer models to peer into the future.

By the end of the century, this extra greenhouse gas could boost the biomass of foliage by 12% the equivalent of about six years of fossil fuel emissions. But the forests of the Amazon, the Congo and Indonesia will be crucial.

“We have already witnessed indiscriminate logging in pristine tropical forests, which are the largest reservoirs of biomass on the planet,” said César Terrer of Stanford University. “We stand to lose a tremendously important tool to limit global warming.”

Now a study from an international team suggests that some forest capacity is already being lost. They report in Nature Geoscience that they used computer models to check the increasing uptake of carbon in the Amazon, given the finite levels of soil phosphorus, a condition current estimates have not properly taken into account. The news is not encouraging.

Multiple stresses

“In reality the ecosystem is millions of years old, highly weathered and therefore depleted on phosphorus in many parts of the Amazon,” said Jennifer Holm of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one of the authors.

And even if there was a healthy supply of nutrients, the stresses linked to rising temperatures – greater extremes of flood, heat, drought and wind – will take their toll. Scientists from Europe and the US studied the satellite data to build up a picture of profit and loss in the wooded world and found that, along with harvesting, such upsets account for 12% of forest loss. And with the loss, the surrender of carbon continues, they suggest in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“This year’s large fires across the Arctic may be just an anomaly, they may be a sign that disturbances in the region are becoming more frequent relative to the historical norm,” said Thomas Pugh of the University of Birmingham in the UK, who led the research.

“If that’s the case, we can expect large amounts of carbon to be released from these forests over the coming century and perhaps wholesale changes in the mix of vegetation that make up the forests.” − Climate News Network

Blazing forests cannot dampen climate change, tree loss will worsen it, and poorly nourished trees will make the next century more challenging.

LONDON, 27 August, 2019 − As global temperatures soar, tree loss will mean the world’s forests may no longer be able to function fully as safe stores for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Forests play a key role in the effort to contain climate change driven by human combustion of fossil fuels. But as the Arctic burns and fires race through the Amazon forest four new studies cast doubt on whether the planetary canopy can keep up.

The boreal forests of the north-west territories of Canada are home to vast tracts of spruce and other conifers: they cover soils so rich in carbon that a square metre could hold 75 kilograms of life’s most vital element.

But in 2014 wildfires made more probable by rising temperatures spread across more than 2.8 million hectares of Canada, turning at least 340,000 ha of the territories from a carbon sink into a source for more planet-heating greenhouse gas.

Limit to benefits

More carbon dioxide should fertilise more abundant growth in those forests not destroyed by fire and drought. But a new study from California and Spain warns that by 2100, the woodland world may reach breaking point. It isn’t clear that forests can go on benefiting from higher levels of carbon dioxide.

And new measurements from the Amazon, which in theory absorbs around a quarter of all human fossil fuel emissions each year, demonstrate why: the region’s soils are deficient in phosphorus. Without this vital element, the trees cannot take full advantage of the extra carbon fertilizer.

A fourth study presents an overall picture of change driven in some way by climate change. Fires, windstorms, insect outbreaks and other large disturbances account for more than a tenth of all tree death worldwide.

That the world’s forests are part of the campaign to mitigate climate change is not in doubt: one study even presents a picture of all waste land covered by new canopy as possibly the solution. There are an estimated three trillion trees on the planet, being destroyed at the rate of 15 billion a year. Losses are happening worldwide but nowhere with more devastating consequences than in the rainy tropics.

“We have already witnessed indiscriminate logging in pristine tropical forests, the largest reservoirs of biomass on the planet. We stand to lose a tremendously important tool to limit global warming”

But fire and drought are now more frequent even in the temperate and northern zones. Researchers from the US and Canada visited 200 different stands of scorched and incinerated spruce forest to sample the levels of carbon in the soils. They report in the journal Nature that as fires become more frequent, ever more of the rich legacy of carbon stored over hundreds of thousands of years of green canopy is being returned to the atmosphere.

“In older stands that burn, this carbon is protected by thick organic soils,” said Xanthe Walker, graduate of the University of Saskatchewan and now at Northern Arizona University. “But in younger stands that burn, the soil does not have time to re-accumulate. after the previous fire, making legacy carbon vulnerable to burning. This pattern could shift boreal forests to a new domain of carbon cycling, where they become a carbon source instead of a sink.”

Researchers wonder in the journal Nature Climate Change about the capacity of forests to go on indefinitely absorbing ever more carbon dioxide, given that to do so they will also need ever more nitrogen and phosphorus.

Losses already happening

Scientists from Stanford University in California and the Autonomous University of Barcelona took data from 138 experiments with heightened atmospheric carbon dioxide over cropland, grasslands, shrubs and forests and used computer models to peer into the future.

By the end of the century, this extra greenhouse gas could boost the biomass of foliage by 12% the equivalent of about six years of fossil fuel emissions. But the forests of the Amazon, the Congo and Indonesia will be crucial.

“We have already witnessed indiscriminate logging in pristine tropical forests, which are the largest reservoirs of biomass on the planet,” said César Terrer of Stanford University. “We stand to lose a tremendously important tool to limit global warming.”

Now a study from an international team suggests that some forest capacity is already being lost. They report in Nature Geoscience that they used computer models to check the increasing uptake of carbon in the Amazon, given the finite levels of soil phosphorus, a condition current estimates have not properly taken into account. The news is not encouraging.

Multiple stresses

“In reality the ecosystem is millions of years old, highly weathered and therefore depleted on phosphorus in many parts of the Amazon,” said Jennifer Holm of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, one of the authors.

And even if there was a healthy supply of nutrients, the stresses linked to rising temperatures – greater extremes of flood, heat, drought and wind – will take their toll. Scientists from Europe and the US studied the satellite data to build up a picture of profit and loss in the wooded world and found that, along with harvesting, such upsets account for 12% of forest loss. And with the loss, the surrender of carbon continues, they suggest in the journal Nature Geoscience.

“This year’s large fires across the Arctic may be just an anomaly, they may be a sign that disturbances in the region are becoming more frequent relative to the historical norm,” said Thomas Pugh of the University of Birmingham in the UK, who led the research.

“If that’s the case, we can expect large amounts of carbon to be released from these forests over the coming century and perhaps wholesale changes in the mix of vegetation that make up the forests.” − Climate News Network

Poor and rich face economic loss as world warms

Yet another study predicts economic loss as the world gets hotter. And the richer nations will also feel the pain.

LONDON, 23 August, 2019 – By the close of the century, the United States could be more than 10% poorer, thanks to the economic loss that climate change will impose.

There is bad news too for Japan, India and New Zealand, which will also be 10% worse off in a world that could be 3°C hotter than any temperatures experienced since humans began to build cities, civilisations and complex economies.

And the news is even worse for Canada, a northern and Arctic nation that could reasonably have expected some things to improve as the thermometer rose: under a “business as usual” scenario in which nations go on burning fossil fuels at ever increasing rates, the Canadian economy could shrink by 13%.

A new study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts warns that overall the global economy will shrink by 7%, unless the world’s nations meet the target they set themselves at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, when they agreed an ambition to keep global warming to no more than 2°C above the levels maintained until the Industrial Revolution.

“The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible”

The factor that tends to govern how bad an economy may be hit is not the global average thermometer rise, but the level of deviation from the historical normal: farmers, business people and government planners tend to bank on more or less foreseeable conditions. But conditions in a hotter world are less predictable.

“Whether cold snaps or heat waves, droughts or floods or natural disasters, all deviations of climate conditions from their historical norms have adverse economic effects,” said Kamiar Mohaddes, a co-author based at the faculty of economics at the other Cambridge, in the UK.

“Without mitigation and adaptation policies, many countries are likely to experience sustained temperature increases relative to historical norms and suffer major income losses as a result. This holds for both rich and poor countries as well as hot and cold regions.

“Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. There are risks to its physical infrastructure, coastal and northern communities, human health and wellness, ecosystems and fisheries – all of which has had a cost.”

Familiar refrain

The planet has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century, with ever more intense and frequent extremes of heat, drought and rainfall. The news that climate change could impose massive costs is not a surprise.

Researchers have been warning for decades that although the switch away from fossil fuels – along with other steps – will be costly, doing nothing will be even more expensive and, for many regions, ruinous.

Studies have warned that both Europe and the United States will pay a heavy price for failing to meet the Paris targets, and the poor in America will pay an even heavier price.

In the latest study, researchers from California, Washington DC, the UK and Taiwan started with data from 174 nations going back to 1960 to find a match between variations from normal temperatures and income levels. They then made computer simulations of what could happen under two scenarios.

Paris makes sense

They made the assumption that nations would adapt to change, but that such adaptations would take 30 years to complete. They then looked at 10 sectors of the US economy in particular, and found that across 48 states, every sector in every state suffered economically from at least one aspect of climate change.

They also found that the Paris Agreement of 2015 – which President Trump proposes to abandon – offers the best business sense. Were nations to contain global warming to the ideal of 1.5°C, both the US and Canada could expect their wealth to dwindle by no more than 2%.

“The economics of climate change stretch far beyond the impact on growing crops. Heavy rainfall prevents mountain access for mining and affects commodity prices. Cold snaps raise heating bills and high street spending drops. Heat waves cause transport networks to shut down. All these things add up,” Dr Mohaddes said.

“The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible.” – Climate News Network

Yet another study predicts economic loss as the world gets hotter. And the richer nations will also feel the pain.

LONDON, 23 August, 2019 – By the close of the century, the United States could be more than 10% poorer, thanks to the economic loss that climate change will impose.

There is bad news too for Japan, India and New Zealand, which will also be 10% worse off in a world that could be 3°C hotter than any temperatures experienced since humans began to build cities, civilisations and complex economies.

And the news is even worse for Canada, a northern and Arctic nation that could reasonably have expected some things to improve as the thermometer rose: under a “business as usual” scenario in which nations go on burning fossil fuels at ever increasing rates, the Canadian economy could shrink by 13%.

A new study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts warns that overall the global economy will shrink by 7%, unless the world’s nations meet the target they set themselves at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, when they agreed an ambition to keep global warming to no more than 2°C above the levels maintained until the Industrial Revolution.

“The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible”

The factor that tends to govern how bad an economy may be hit is not the global average thermometer rise, but the level of deviation from the historical normal: farmers, business people and government planners tend to bank on more or less foreseeable conditions. But conditions in a hotter world are less predictable.

“Whether cold snaps or heat waves, droughts or floods or natural disasters, all deviations of climate conditions from their historical norms have adverse economic effects,” said Kamiar Mohaddes, a co-author based at the faculty of economics at the other Cambridge, in the UK.

“Without mitigation and adaptation policies, many countries are likely to experience sustained temperature increases relative to historical norms and suffer major income losses as a result. This holds for both rich and poor countries as well as hot and cold regions.

“Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. There are risks to its physical infrastructure, coastal and northern communities, human health and wellness, ecosystems and fisheries – all of which has had a cost.”

Familiar refrain

The planet has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century, with ever more intense and frequent extremes of heat, drought and rainfall. The news that climate change could impose massive costs is not a surprise.

Researchers have been warning for decades that although the switch away from fossil fuels – along with other steps – will be costly, doing nothing will be even more expensive and, for many regions, ruinous.

Studies have warned that both Europe and the United States will pay a heavy price for failing to meet the Paris targets, and the poor in America will pay an even heavier price.

In the latest study, researchers from California, Washington DC, the UK and Taiwan started with data from 174 nations going back to 1960 to find a match between variations from normal temperatures and income levels. They then made computer simulations of what could happen under two scenarios.

Paris makes sense

They made the assumption that nations would adapt to change, but that such adaptations would take 30 years to complete. They then looked at 10 sectors of the US economy in particular, and found that across 48 states, every sector in every state suffered economically from at least one aspect of climate change.

They also found that the Paris Agreement of 2015 – which President Trump proposes to abandon – offers the best business sense. Were nations to contain global warming to the ideal of 1.5°C, both the US and Canada could expect their wealth to dwindle by no more than 2%.

“The economics of climate change stretch far beyond the impact on growing crops. Heavy rainfall prevents mountain access for mining and affects commodity prices. Cold snaps raise heating bills and high street spending drops. Heat waves cause transport networks to shut down. All these things add up,” Dr Mohaddes said.

“The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible.” – Climate News Network

‘Small’ nuclear war could bring global cooling

Smoke from Canadian forest fires was so vast it bore comparison with a nuclear bomb’s mushroom cloud – and the global cooling that might unleash.

LONDON, 21 August, 2019 − If a nuclear war should ever break out, any survivors could have to cope not just with the immediate effects of blast and radioactivity, but with climate mayhem as well: global cooling with unknowable consequences.

The wildfires in the Canadian province of British Columbia in the summer of 2017 were the worst the region had ever seen. They were so bad that the smoke from the sustained blaze rose 23 kms into the upper stratosphere and stayed there for eight months.

And that has given US scientists the chance once again to model the consequences of a nuclear winter after thermonuclear war.

“This process of injecting soot into the stratosphere and seeing it extend its lifetime by self-lofting was previously modelled as a consequence of nuclear winter in the case of an all-out war between the United States and Russia, in which smoke from burning cities would change the global climate,” said Alan Robock, an environmental scientist at Rutgers University.

“Even a relatively small nuclear war between India and Pakistan could cause climate change unprecedented in recorded human history, and global food crises.”

“The observed rapid plume, latitudinal spread, and photochemical reactions provided new insight into potential global climate impacts from nuclear war”

Professor Robock and colleagues report in the journal Science that they used computer simulations and satellite observations to test an old worry: what happens when black carbon or other obstructions get into the stratosphere. Sulphate aerosols discharged to stratospheric heights from volcanoes have been observed to lower global average temperatures.

The eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 blasted 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere and lowered global temperatures by around 0.5°C, and the same observations have prompted scientists to propose an untested and potentially dangerous solution to runaway global heating, by spraying aerosols into the upper atmosphere.

The unprecedented fires in British Columbia that began in July 2017 provided them with experimental evidence: the devastation was so bad that 40,000 people were evacuated from their homes and the provincial government declared a state of emergency that lasted 10 weeks. Altogether the fires destroyed 1.2 million hectares of forest and caused $564m worth of damage.

What interested the US scientists was the smoke. It formed a pyrocumulonimbus cloud larger than any ever observed before and rose 12 kilometres. There was hardly enough mass in the plume to cool the planet in any measurable way, but it had bulk enough to provide information on how the cloud dispersed and how it lingered.

The soot in the cloud absorbed solar radiation and the air around each particle became hotter, which made it rise even further. Within two months, it had reached 23kms. The stratosphere is above the rain clouds, so there was nothing to wash the soot down again. The stratosphere is also home to the jet stream, and high winds took the soot around the whole hemisphere.

Future unpredictable

And that gave Professor Robock and his colleagues the chance to test models of what might happen if, instead of forest fires, the smoke had come from cities reduced to ash by a thermonuclear exchange.

The smoke from British Columbia held 300,000 tonnes of soot. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan however could put 15 million tonnes into the upper atmosphere, and a war between the US and Russia could generate 150 million tonnes.

Nobody knows what then might happen. More than 30 years ago, US scientists raised the spectre of nuclear winter: a world in which sunlight was weakened, summers were cancelled, and harvests failed.

The hypothesis was, thankfully, never put to the test, and in any case was challenged by other scientists. The Canadian fires, themselves perhaps made more devastating by global warming, delivered some vital clues. The next step is to apply the evidence from 2017 to see whether, after a nuclear war, the much-feared enduring winter would follow.

“The observed rapid plume, latitudinal spread, and photochemical reactions provided new insight into potential global climate impacts from nuclear war,” the scientists write. − Climate News Network

Smoke from Canadian forest fires was so vast it bore comparison with a nuclear bomb’s mushroom cloud – and the global cooling that might unleash.

LONDON, 21 August, 2019 − If a nuclear war should ever break out, any survivors could have to cope not just with the immediate effects of blast and radioactivity, but with climate mayhem as well: global cooling with unknowable consequences.

The wildfires in the Canadian province of British Columbia in the summer of 2017 were the worst the region had ever seen. They were so bad that the smoke from the sustained blaze rose 23 kms into the upper stratosphere and stayed there for eight months.

And that has given US scientists the chance once again to model the consequences of a nuclear winter after thermonuclear war.

“This process of injecting soot into the stratosphere and seeing it extend its lifetime by self-lofting was previously modelled as a consequence of nuclear winter in the case of an all-out war between the United States and Russia, in which smoke from burning cities would change the global climate,” said Alan Robock, an environmental scientist at Rutgers University.

“Even a relatively small nuclear war between India and Pakistan could cause climate change unprecedented in recorded human history, and global food crises.”

“The observed rapid plume, latitudinal spread, and photochemical reactions provided new insight into potential global climate impacts from nuclear war”

Professor Robock and colleagues report in the journal Science that they used computer simulations and satellite observations to test an old worry: what happens when black carbon or other obstructions get into the stratosphere. Sulphate aerosols discharged to stratospheric heights from volcanoes have been observed to lower global average temperatures.

The eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 blasted 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere and lowered global temperatures by around 0.5°C, and the same observations have prompted scientists to propose an untested and potentially dangerous solution to runaway global heating, by spraying aerosols into the upper atmosphere.

The unprecedented fires in British Columbia that began in July 2017 provided them with experimental evidence: the devastation was so bad that 40,000 people were evacuated from their homes and the provincial government declared a state of emergency that lasted 10 weeks. Altogether the fires destroyed 1.2 million hectares of forest and caused $564m worth of damage.

What interested the US scientists was the smoke. It formed a pyrocumulonimbus cloud larger than any ever observed before and rose 12 kilometres. There was hardly enough mass in the plume to cool the planet in any measurable way, but it had bulk enough to provide information on how the cloud dispersed and how it lingered.

The soot in the cloud absorbed solar radiation and the air around each particle became hotter, which made it rise even further. Within two months, it had reached 23kms. The stratosphere is above the rain clouds, so there was nothing to wash the soot down again. The stratosphere is also home to the jet stream, and high winds took the soot around the whole hemisphere.

Future unpredictable

And that gave Professor Robock and his colleagues the chance to test models of what might happen if, instead of forest fires, the smoke had come from cities reduced to ash by a thermonuclear exchange.

The smoke from British Columbia held 300,000 tonnes of soot. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan however could put 15 million tonnes into the upper atmosphere, and a war between the US and Russia could generate 150 million tonnes.

Nobody knows what then might happen. More than 30 years ago, US scientists raised the spectre of nuclear winter: a world in which sunlight was weakened, summers were cancelled, and harvests failed.

The hypothesis was, thankfully, never put to the test, and in any case was challenged by other scientists. The Canadian fires, themselves perhaps made more devastating by global warming, delivered some vital clues. The next step is to apply the evidence from 2017 to see whether, after a nuclear war, the much-feared enduring winter would follow.

“The observed rapid plume, latitudinal spread, and photochemical reactions provided new insight into potential global climate impacts from nuclear war,” the scientists write. − Climate News Network

Elephants’ diets help forests to thrive

Elephants may throw their weight around, but they pay their dues to the environment: they help the great forests store ever more carbon.

LONDON, 30 July, 2019 – Like humans, all social animals exploit, disturb and alter their natural environment. Biologists have just identified at least one species, elephants, that – in the course of bulldozing their way through the undergrowth and destroying young trees – actually make the forest more efficient at storing carbon and thus containing global heating.

The African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis browses upon and uproots young trees with stems smaller than 30cms and deposits the digested foliage as fertiliser, rich in seeds for the next generation of saplings.

Researchers from Italy, France, Brazil and the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that this simple act – performed by perhaps one elephant in one square kilometre of forest – actually adds to the biomass locked in the remaining timber at the rate of by between 26 and 60 tonnes per hectare.

And if these ancient mega-herbivores were not crashing through the forest, consuming young trees, the forest would be home to 7% less biomass in the form of dense timber.

Forest elephants, the same scientists say, are rapidly declining in numbers. The researchers had been studying the species for years, and devised a mathematical model of their impact on the environment that supported them.

“Humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can. Forest elephants are facing extinction. All of their positive effect on carbon and their roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost”

Humans convert forest to farmland and increase the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that fuel global heating and the climate emergency. Forest elephants, on the other hand, simply alter the composition of the forest and make their environment a little cooler.

They do so by clearing away the fast-growing species to make more space for trees slower to climb towards the sunlight but with timber of higher density.

“Lo and behold, as we look at numbers of elephants in a forest and we look at the composition of forest over time, we find that the proportion of trees with high-density wood is higher in forests with elephants,” said Stephen Blake of St Louis University in the US, one of the authors.

“The simulation found that the slow-growing plant species survive better when elephants are present. These species aren’t eaten by elephants and, over time, the forest becomes dominated by these slow-growing species. Wood (lignin) has a carbon backbone, meaning it has a large number of carbon molecules in it.

“Slow-growing high wood-density species contain more carbon molecules per unit volume than fast-growing low wood-density species. As the elephants ‘thin’ the forest, they increase the number of slow-growing trees and the forest is capable of storing more carbon.”

Support for Gaia

The finding is consistent with the Gaia theory of earth system science: that life unconsciously but collectively tends to work in ways that keep the planet’s atmosphere stable and the planetary temperatures within comfortable boundaries.

So far humans are the most conspicuous exception to this rule. Biologists have wondered about the contribution of the mega-herbivores: in this one case, it seems that forest elephants are good for the forest and good for climate control.

The finding is also consistent with an argument put by conservationists, biologists and climate scientists: the healthiest and most efficient forests at absorbing atmospheric carbon are those that are home to the richest levels of biodiversity – that is, forests that remain natural wilderness.

Biologists and conservationists talk a lot about “ecosystem services” and “natural capital”: that is, the contribution of the natural world,  directly or indirectly, to human wealth. The researchers put a cash value on the carbon contribution of the African forest elephants: they perform a carbon storage service of $43 bn.

“The sad reality is that humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can,” said Dr Blake. “Forest elephants are rapidly declining and facing extinction. From a climate perspective, all of their positive effect on carbon and their myriad other ecological roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost.” – Climate News Network

Elephants may throw their weight around, but they pay their dues to the environment: they help the great forests store ever more carbon.

LONDON, 30 July, 2019 – Like humans, all social animals exploit, disturb and alter their natural environment. Biologists have just identified at least one species, elephants, that – in the course of bulldozing their way through the undergrowth and destroying young trees – actually make the forest more efficient at storing carbon and thus containing global heating.

The African forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis browses upon and uproots young trees with stems smaller than 30cms and deposits the digested foliage as fertiliser, rich in seeds for the next generation of saplings.

Researchers from Italy, France, Brazil and the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that this simple act – performed by perhaps one elephant in one square kilometre of forest – actually adds to the biomass locked in the remaining timber at the rate of by between 26 and 60 tonnes per hectare.

And if these ancient mega-herbivores were not crashing through the forest, consuming young trees, the forest would be home to 7% less biomass in the form of dense timber.

Forest elephants, the same scientists say, are rapidly declining in numbers. The researchers had been studying the species for years, and devised a mathematical model of their impact on the environment that supported them.

“Humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can. Forest elephants are facing extinction. All of their positive effect on carbon and their roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost”

Humans convert forest to farmland and increase the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that fuel global heating and the climate emergency. Forest elephants, on the other hand, simply alter the composition of the forest and make their environment a little cooler.

They do so by clearing away the fast-growing species to make more space for trees slower to climb towards the sunlight but with timber of higher density.

“Lo and behold, as we look at numbers of elephants in a forest and we look at the composition of forest over time, we find that the proportion of trees with high-density wood is higher in forests with elephants,” said Stephen Blake of St Louis University in the US, one of the authors.

“The simulation found that the slow-growing plant species survive better when elephants are present. These species aren’t eaten by elephants and, over time, the forest becomes dominated by these slow-growing species. Wood (lignin) has a carbon backbone, meaning it has a large number of carbon molecules in it.

“Slow-growing high wood-density species contain more carbon molecules per unit volume than fast-growing low wood-density species. As the elephants ‘thin’ the forest, they increase the number of slow-growing trees and the forest is capable of storing more carbon.”

Support for Gaia

The finding is consistent with the Gaia theory of earth system science: that life unconsciously but collectively tends to work in ways that keep the planet’s atmosphere stable and the planetary temperatures within comfortable boundaries.

So far humans are the most conspicuous exception to this rule. Biologists have wondered about the contribution of the mega-herbivores: in this one case, it seems that forest elephants are good for the forest and good for climate control.

The finding is also consistent with an argument put by conservationists, biologists and climate scientists: the healthiest and most efficient forests at absorbing atmospheric carbon are those that are home to the richest levels of biodiversity – that is, forests that remain natural wilderness.

Biologists and conservationists talk a lot about “ecosystem services” and “natural capital”: that is, the contribution of the natural world,  directly or indirectly, to human wealth. The researchers put a cash value on the carbon contribution of the African forest elephants: they perform a carbon storage service of $43 bn.

“The sad reality is that humanity is doing its best to rid the planet of elephants as quickly as it can,” said Dr Blake. “Forest elephants are rapidly declining and facing extinction. From a climate perspective, all of their positive effect on carbon and their myriad other ecological roles as forest gardeners and engineers will be lost.” – Climate News Network

Planting more trees could cut carbon by 25%

Scientists now know where to start restoring the forests to soak up carbon and cool the planet, by planting more trees on unused land.

LONDON, 5 July, 2019 − Swiss scientists have identified an area roughly the size of the United States that could be newly shaded by planting more trees. If the world’s nations then protected these 9 million square kilometres  of canopy over unused land, the new global forest could in theory soak up enough carbon to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas by an estimated 25%.

That is, the extent of new tree canopy would be enough to take the main driver of global heating back to conditions on Earth a century ago.

And a second study, released in the same week, identifies 100 million hectares of degraded or destroyed tropical forest in 15 countries where restoration could start right now – and 87% of these hectares are in biodiversity hotspots that hold high concentrations of species found nowhere else.

The global study of the space available for tree canopy is published in the journal Science. Researchers looked for land not used for agriculture or developed for human settlement. They excluded wetlands and grasslands already fulfilling important ecological functions.

Huge canopy increase

They left existing forests out of their calculations. And they identified enough degraded, wasted, or simply unused land to provide another 0.9 billion hectares – that is, 9 million square kilometres – of tree canopy.

Such new or restored forest could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon. This is about two-thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of extra carbon humans have pumped into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago.

“We all knew that restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we didn’t really know how big the impact would be. Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today,” said Tom Crowther of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, now known as ETH Zurich.

“But we must act quickly, as new forests will take decades to mature and achieve their full potential as a source of natural carbon storage.”

“Restoring forests is a must-do – and it’s doable”

Forecasts for the future start with the data available now: the Swiss team worked from a dataset of observations of 80,000 forests, and used mapping software to predict possible tree cover worldwide under current conditions.

The big unknown is: what will global heating and climate change do for future forest growth? If nations go on burning fossil fuels at the present rates, then parts of the world could begin to experience harsher conditions and by 2050 the area available for tree cover could have dwindled by 223 million hectares, much of this in the tropics.

Forests are an integral part of the answer to the climate crisis. But forests worldwide, and particularly in the tropics, are also vulnerable to extremes of heat and drought and windstorm that are likely to come with ever higher average temperatures.

Where and when and how nations act to restore forests involves political decisions that must be based on evidence. So researchers have for years been trying to establish the extent of the global tree inventory, and its variety.

Unrecorded forest

They have confirmed the importance and value of urban forests. They have identified huge areas of woodland  hitherto not mapped or recorded. They have tried to make an estimate of the number of trees on the planet and the rate at which they are being felled, grazed, burned, or even extinguished.

They have identified threats to tropical forests, monitored the increasing damage to or degradation of what are  supposed to be protected areas, much of them forested, and they have measured changes in forests as the temperatures rise.

Right now, the world has 5.5 billion hectares of forest or woodland with at least 10% and up to 100% of tree cover: altogether this adds up to 2.8bn hectares of canopy. It also has a challenge to get on with: the Bonn Challenge to extend national forest areas by 350 million hectares by 2030 has been accepted by 48 countries so far.

The Swiss researchers calculated that there were up to 1.8 billion hectares of land of “low human activity” that could be reforested. If half of this was shaded by foliage, that would yield another 900 million hectares of canopy to soak up and store atmospheric carbon, and more than half of this potential tree space was in just six countries: Russia, the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.

Best restoration options

But a second study, led by Brazilian scientists and published in the journal Science Advances, used high-resolution satellite studies to find that the most compelling opportunities for forest restoration exist in the lowland tropical rainforests of Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Almost three-fourths of the restoration hotspots were in countries that had already made commitments under the Bonn Challenge. The five nations with the largest areas in need of restoration are Brazil, Indonesia, India, Madagascar and Colombia. Madagascar is also one of six African nations – the others are Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Togo and South Sudan – that, on average, offer the best immediate opportunities for forest restoration.

“Restoring tropical forests is fundamental to the planet’s health, now and for generations to come,” said Pedro Brancalion, of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the study.

“For the first time, our study helps governments, investors and others seeking to restore global tropical moist forests to determine precise locations where restoring forests is most viable, enduring and beneficial. Restoring forests is a must-do – and it’s doable.” − Climate News Network

Scientists now know where to start restoring the forests to soak up carbon and cool the planet, by planting more trees on unused land.

LONDON, 5 July, 2019 − Swiss scientists have identified an area roughly the size of the United States that could be newly shaded by planting more trees. If the world’s nations then protected these 9 million square kilometres  of canopy over unused land, the new global forest could in theory soak up enough carbon to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas by an estimated 25%.

That is, the extent of new tree canopy would be enough to take the main driver of global heating back to conditions on Earth a century ago.

And a second study, released in the same week, identifies 100 million hectares of degraded or destroyed tropical forest in 15 countries where restoration could start right now – and 87% of these hectares are in biodiversity hotspots that hold high concentrations of species found nowhere else.

The global study of the space available for tree canopy is published in the journal Science. Researchers looked for land not used for agriculture or developed for human settlement. They excluded wetlands and grasslands already fulfilling important ecological functions.

Huge canopy increase

They left existing forests out of their calculations. And they identified enough degraded, wasted, or simply unused land to provide another 0.9 billion hectares – that is, 9 million square kilometres – of tree canopy.

Such new or restored forest could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon. This is about two-thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of extra carbon humans have pumped into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago.

“We all knew that restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we didn’t really know how big the impact would be. Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today,” said Tom Crowther of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, now known as ETH Zurich.

“But we must act quickly, as new forests will take decades to mature and achieve their full potential as a source of natural carbon storage.”

“Restoring forests is a must-do – and it’s doable”

Forecasts for the future start with the data available now: the Swiss team worked from a dataset of observations of 80,000 forests, and used mapping software to predict possible tree cover worldwide under current conditions.

The big unknown is: what will global heating and climate change do for future forest growth? If nations go on burning fossil fuels at the present rates, then parts of the world could begin to experience harsher conditions and by 2050 the area available for tree cover could have dwindled by 223 million hectares, much of this in the tropics.

Forests are an integral part of the answer to the climate crisis. But forests worldwide, and particularly in the tropics, are also vulnerable to extremes of heat and drought and windstorm that are likely to come with ever higher average temperatures.

Where and when and how nations act to restore forests involves political decisions that must be based on evidence. So researchers have for years been trying to establish the extent of the global tree inventory, and its variety.

Unrecorded forest

They have confirmed the importance and value of urban forests. They have identified huge areas of woodland  hitherto not mapped or recorded. They have tried to make an estimate of the number of trees on the planet and the rate at which they are being felled, grazed, burned, or even extinguished.

They have identified threats to tropical forests, monitored the increasing damage to or degradation of what are  supposed to be protected areas, much of them forested, and they have measured changes in forests as the temperatures rise.

Right now, the world has 5.5 billion hectares of forest or woodland with at least 10% and up to 100% of tree cover: altogether this adds up to 2.8bn hectares of canopy. It also has a challenge to get on with: the Bonn Challenge to extend national forest areas by 350 million hectares by 2030 has been accepted by 48 countries so far.

The Swiss researchers calculated that there were up to 1.8 billion hectares of land of “low human activity” that could be reforested. If half of this was shaded by foliage, that would yield another 900 million hectares of canopy to soak up and store atmospheric carbon, and more than half of this potential tree space was in just six countries: Russia, the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China.

Best restoration options

But a second study, led by Brazilian scientists and published in the journal Science Advances, used high-resolution satellite studies to find that the most compelling opportunities for forest restoration exist in the lowland tropical rainforests of Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Almost three-fourths of the restoration hotspots were in countries that had already made commitments under the Bonn Challenge. The five nations with the largest areas in need of restoration are Brazil, Indonesia, India, Madagascar and Colombia. Madagascar is also one of six African nations – the others are Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Togo and South Sudan – that, on average, offer the best immediate opportunities for forest restoration.

“Restoring tropical forests is fundamental to the planet’s health, now and for generations to come,” said Pedro Brancalion, of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the study.

“For the first time, our study helps governments, investors and others seeking to restore global tropical moist forests to determine precise locations where restoring forests is most viable, enduring and beneficial. Restoring forests is a must-do – and it’s doable.” − Climate News Network

Keep climate teaching real and honest

Many schools now routinely include climate teaching. A British teacher says her profession should tell the full story as directly as it can.

LONDON, 4 July, 2019 − There’s no escaping climate teaching. Gone are the days when the core curriculum at most schools used to consist of reading, writing and ’rithmetic, and not an awful lot more. It’s increasingly rare today to find any that don’t include the facts of life in this warming world.

But, as global youth concern over the deepening crisis manifests itself in the protests of Fridays for Future, which has earned the backing of leading climate scientists, how do teachers fulfil our obligation to encourage pupils to treat the climate as responsibly as it deserves?

What are we teaching, and how are we teaching it? What are we trying to achieve?

The past twenty years in primary and tertiary education have taught me that the answer is, and always has been, quite simple; we must keep the content real and we must teach honestly.

That means doing away with tokenistic “eco weeks” or days, and embedding climate change teaching in the day-to-day reality of core subjects.

‘Cute little projects’

There’s no doubt that special days and events are fun to do and a welcome break from teaching to the test that is becoming ever more prevalent. But they become meaningless if the message and seriousness of taking action on climate change is forgotten, or if old habits prevail.

When I saw my son learning about “rainforests” in the way I had thirty years previously, our profession’s responsibility struck home to me.

It’s not OK to treat these topics − “oceans”, “rainforests”, “habitats” or whatever − as cute little projects that end in a good assembly or great classroom display, or to have litter-picking days and then ignore our children as they emerge from the cinema leaving a trail of popcorn boxes and cups for others to clear up.

That’s not teaching that’s real and honest. But there are many resources to help us make it so.

Perhaps one of the greatest sources of support comes from organisations such as Survival, World Wide Fund for Nature, Sustainability and Environmental EducationGreenpeace, Oxfam, and the magazine New Scientist.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”

There’s an argument that if our actions support people, then they will protect their environment. Survival is a great example of this. It supports indigenous people living in many threatened areas. As teachers in a small international school in Malawi, we wondered how to ensure our teaching about rainforests was indeed real and honest. We used Survival’s bank of videos and joined their campaign to support the Awá tribe of Brazil. We told the children their letters mattered and that we would send them. We did.

Half a year later, when we received an email from Survival thanking all of its supporters and sharing the good news that the forest home of the Awá was safe from loggers, we were thrilled.

The children realised they had the collective power to act and support fellow human beings on another continent. The intention to educate responsibly, the implementation through research, discussion and formal letter-writing, all made an incredible impact.

A second wonderful resource comes from every teacher’s favourite – the book. It is stories that make us human and give us that safe place to explore, question and reason.

Take Dr.Seuss’ The Lorax, in which he reminds us: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This was written in 1971, so it lends itself to examining why we are now reaching crisis point in 2019, even though warnings about how our behaviour is affecting our planet were resounding decades ago.

Music matters

The Morningside Centre for Teaching Social Responsibility  has a list of further fictional texts to explore climate change in the classroom. I’d also recommend Lynne Cherry’s The Great Kapok Tree, which could allow the use of drama and music to explore the impact of individuals on the planet.

As the arts become more and more sidelined, it’s important to remember just how they help to deliver messages about tackling issues. The rising movement of protest choirs is a great place to start looking at how language and music can combine to make a point peacefully, non-violently but powerfully.

Finally, don’t forget the numbers. Those we bring into the classroom should be real and meaningful too. Striking infographics can help to tell the story for you, supporting the teaching of mathematics in greater depth, or providing a vivid portrayal of how concerned about climate change different countries are.

Our children’s and young people’s worries about climate change are justified. As their teachers, we’re privileged to empower them further. Keeping our teaching real and honest matters: there’ll be no point in passing exams if there’s no planet where they can live out their dreams.

The world’s young people have already worked this one out. Let’s take our role seriously and help them to help everyone make the changes that we so urgently need. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anne Kagoya, a primary school teacher with 22 years’ experience, has worked in state sector schools in Scotland, England and the Falkland Islands (also known as the Malvinas), and at an international primary school and teacher training college in Malawi

Email: fabulouslyrelevant@gmail.com

Many schools now routinely include climate teaching. A British teacher says her profession should tell the full story as directly as it can.

LONDON, 4 July, 2019 − There’s no escaping climate teaching. Gone are the days when the core curriculum at most schools used to consist of reading, writing and ’rithmetic, and not an awful lot more. It’s increasingly rare today to find any that don’t include the facts of life in this warming world.

But, as global youth concern over the deepening crisis manifests itself in the protests of Fridays for Future, which has earned the backing of leading climate scientists, how do teachers fulfil our obligation to encourage pupils to treat the climate as responsibly as it deserves?

What are we teaching, and how are we teaching it? What are we trying to achieve?

The past twenty years in primary and tertiary education have taught me that the answer is, and always has been, quite simple; we must keep the content real and we must teach honestly.

That means doing away with tokenistic “eco weeks” or days, and embedding climate change teaching in the day-to-day reality of core subjects.

‘Cute little projects’

There’s no doubt that special days and events are fun to do and a welcome break from teaching to the test that is becoming ever more prevalent. But they become meaningless if the message and seriousness of taking action on climate change is forgotten, or if old habits prevail.

When I saw my son learning about “rainforests” in the way I had thirty years previously, our profession’s responsibility struck home to me.

It’s not OK to treat these topics − “oceans”, “rainforests”, “habitats” or whatever − as cute little projects that end in a good assembly or great classroom display, or to have litter-picking days and then ignore our children as they emerge from the cinema leaving a trail of popcorn boxes and cups for others to clear up.

That’s not teaching that’s real and honest. But there are many resources to help us make it so.

Perhaps one of the greatest sources of support comes from organisations such as Survival, World Wide Fund for Nature, Sustainability and Environmental EducationGreenpeace, Oxfam, and the magazine New Scientist.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”

There’s an argument that if our actions support people, then they will protect their environment. Survival is a great example of this. It supports indigenous people living in many threatened areas. As teachers in a small international school in Malawi, we wondered how to ensure our teaching about rainforests was indeed real and honest. We used Survival’s bank of videos and joined their campaign to support the Awá tribe of Brazil. We told the children their letters mattered and that we would send them. We did.

Half a year later, when we received an email from Survival thanking all of its supporters and sharing the good news that the forest home of the Awá was safe from loggers, we were thrilled.

The children realised they had the collective power to act and support fellow human beings on another continent. The intention to educate responsibly, the implementation through research, discussion and formal letter-writing, all made an incredible impact.

A second wonderful resource comes from every teacher’s favourite – the book. It is stories that make us human and give us that safe place to explore, question and reason.

Take Dr.Seuss’ The Lorax, in which he reminds us: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This was written in 1971, so it lends itself to examining why we are now reaching crisis point in 2019, even though warnings about how our behaviour is affecting our planet were resounding decades ago.

Music matters

The Morningside Centre for Teaching Social Responsibility  has a list of further fictional texts to explore climate change in the classroom. I’d also recommend Lynne Cherry’s The Great Kapok Tree, which could allow the use of drama and music to explore the impact of individuals on the planet.

As the arts become more and more sidelined, it’s important to remember just how they help to deliver messages about tackling issues. The rising movement of protest choirs is a great place to start looking at how language and music can combine to make a point peacefully, non-violently but powerfully.

Finally, don’t forget the numbers. Those we bring into the classroom should be real and meaningful too. Striking infographics can help to tell the story for you, supporting the teaching of mathematics in greater depth, or providing a vivid portrayal of how concerned about climate change different countries are.

Our children’s and young people’s worries about climate change are justified. As their teachers, we’re privileged to empower them further. Keeping our teaching real and honest matters: there’ll be no point in passing exams if there’s no planet where they can live out their dreams.

The world’s young people have already worked this one out. Let’s take our role seriously and help them to help everyone make the changes that we so urgently need. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Anne Kagoya, a primary school teacher with 22 years’ experience, has worked in state sector schools in Scotland, England and the Falkland Islands (also known as the Malvinas), and at an international primary school and teacher training college in Malawi

Email: fabulouslyrelevant@gmail.com

Climate crisis needs radical food changes

From farm to fork, agriculture fuels global heating. Can the world eat well, but stay a little cooler? That will need radical food changes.

LONDON, 3 July, 2019 – To feed 9 billion people by 2050, and keep planet Earth from overheating, will mean massive and radical food changes – and not just in the way food is grown.

To contain global temperatures to no more than 2°C above the average for most of human history will require humanity to change its diet, contain its appetite and reform the entire system of food production and distribution.

This is the verdict of the latest study of the challenge set in Paris in 2015, when 195 nations promised to limit global warming – driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and by the conversion of forest, grassland and wetlands into commercial use – to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

Researchers report in the journal Sustainability that they looked at 160 studies and analyses of global agriculture and food systems and most closely at the world’s smallholders and markets that sustain as many as 2.5 billion people, mostly in the developing world.

Farming’s massive impact

Small farmers account for about a third of global agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, but these include also many of the people most vulnerable to the coming climate crisis, which is likely to put harvests at hazard on a global scale.

Agriculture, together with forestry and changes in land use, accounts for a quarter of all the carbon dioxide, methane and oxides of nitrogen that fuel global warming.

Just on its own, the action of growing grain, fruit and vegetables or feeding grazing animals accounts for no more than 12% of global warming, but a third of all the food that leaves the farm gate is wasted before it arrives on the supper table.

This is enough to provide 8% of the world’s emissions, and if just one fourth of the waste could be saved, that would be enough to feed 870 million people for a year.

By making smart investments in climate action, we can save lives now through improved air quality and health”

Agronomists, crop researchers, climate scientists and ministry planners know of many steps that can be taken to reduce the greenhouse impact of agriculture: even under the most hopeful forecasts, these are likely to be deployed slowly.

The researchers see reductions in food loss as a “big opportunity” that will benefit farmers and consumers as well as reduce emissions. A more challenging problem is to change global appetites: the meat and dairy business accounts for about 18% of all human-triggered emissions, counting the clearance of forests and the impact of changes in the way land is used to feed the demand for meat, milk, butter and cheese.

A shift to plant-based diets would save on land and water and deliver more and healthier meals and permit more forest restoration.

“If you think about the two degree increase, efforts need to go beyond the agriculture sector,” said Anna Maria Loboguerrero, of the climate change, agriculture and food security programme of CGIAR, once known as the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, who led the study.

Drastic cuts needed

“This means reducing emissions by stopping deforestation, decreasing food loss and waste, reducing supply chain emissions and rethinking human diets, if we really want to get on track to that target.”

The researchers acknowledge that what they propose will constrain farm choices and increase costs. But a second study reports once again that the health benefits of immediate, dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions will save lives, improve human health, and offset the immediate costs of containing planetary heating and adapting to the climate crisis.

“The global health benefits from climate policy could reach trillions of dollars annually, but will importantly depend on the air quality policies that nations adopt independently of climate change,” they write in the journal Nature Communications.

And Mark Budolfson of the University of Vermont, one of the authors, said: “We show the climate conversation doesn’t need to be about the current generation investing in the further future. By making smart investments in climate action, we can save lives now through improved air quality and health.” – Climate News Network

From farm to fork, agriculture fuels global heating. Can the world eat well, but stay a little cooler? That will need radical food changes.

LONDON, 3 July, 2019 – To feed 9 billion people by 2050, and keep planet Earth from overheating, will mean massive and radical food changes – and not just in the way food is grown.

To contain global temperatures to no more than 2°C above the average for most of human history will require humanity to change its diet, contain its appetite and reform the entire system of food production and distribution.

This is the verdict of the latest study of the challenge set in Paris in 2015, when 195 nations promised to limit global warming – driven by profligate use of fossil fuels and by the conversion of forest, grassland and wetlands into commercial use – to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

Researchers report in the journal Sustainability that they looked at 160 studies and analyses of global agriculture and food systems and most closely at the world’s smallholders and markets that sustain as many as 2.5 billion people, mostly in the developing world.

Farming’s massive impact

Small farmers account for about a third of global agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, but these include also many of the people most vulnerable to the coming climate crisis, which is likely to put harvests at hazard on a global scale.

Agriculture, together with forestry and changes in land use, accounts for a quarter of all the carbon dioxide, methane and oxides of nitrogen that fuel global warming.

Just on its own, the action of growing grain, fruit and vegetables or feeding grazing animals accounts for no more than 12% of global warming, but a third of all the food that leaves the farm gate is wasted before it arrives on the supper table.

This is enough to provide 8% of the world’s emissions, and if just one fourth of the waste could be saved, that would be enough to feed 870 million people for a year.

By making smart investments in climate action, we can save lives now through improved air quality and health”

Agronomists, crop researchers, climate scientists and ministry planners know of many steps that can be taken to reduce the greenhouse impact of agriculture: even under the most hopeful forecasts, these are likely to be deployed slowly.

The researchers see reductions in food loss as a “big opportunity” that will benefit farmers and consumers as well as reduce emissions. A more challenging problem is to change global appetites: the meat and dairy business accounts for about 18% of all human-triggered emissions, counting the clearance of forests and the impact of changes in the way land is used to feed the demand for meat, milk, butter and cheese.

A shift to plant-based diets would save on land and water and deliver more and healthier meals and permit more forest restoration.

“If you think about the two degree increase, efforts need to go beyond the agriculture sector,” said Anna Maria Loboguerrero, of the climate change, agriculture and food security programme of CGIAR, once known as the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, who led the study.

Drastic cuts needed

“This means reducing emissions by stopping deforestation, decreasing food loss and waste, reducing supply chain emissions and rethinking human diets, if we really want to get on track to that target.”

The researchers acknowledge that what they propose will constrain farm choices and increase costs. But a second study reports once again that the health benefits of immediate, dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions will save lives, improve human health, and offset the immediate costs of containing planetary heating and adapting to the climate crisis.

“The global health benefits from climate policy could reach trillions of dollars annually, but will importantly depend on the air quality policies that nations adopt independently of climate change,” they write in the journal Nature Communications.

And Mark Budolfson of the University of Vermont, one of the authors, said: “We show the climate conversation doesn’t need to be about the current generation investing in the further future. By making smart investments in climate action, we can save lives now through improved air quality and health.” – Climate News Network