Tag Archives: Forests

Save wildlife, save forests, and avoid pandemics

Covid-19 emerged from the wilderness. That alone is reason to protect the forests, control trade in wildlife – and avoid pandemics.

LONDON, 5 August, 2020 – If the world wants to avoid pandemics like Covid-19 in future, it has a lot to learn. This coronavirus outbreak is likely to cost the world somewhere between $8 trillion and $15 trillion.

It might have been 500 times cheaper, say US scientists, simply to have done what conservationists have sought for years: control trade in wildlife and stop destroying tropical forests.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus – also known as Covid-19 – is a new human infection that has been traced back to bats apparently traded as food in China. It has so far infected 15 million people around the planet and caused nearly 700,000 deaths.

But it is just one of a series of viruses that have emerged from creatures in the wilderness, to cause a series of local or global epidemics: among them HIV, Ebola, MERS, SARS and H1N1.

Researchers calculate that, for the last century, at least two new viruses each year have spilled from their natural hosts into the human population.

“Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes”

And this has happened, they argue in the journal Science, most often directly after people have handled live primates, bats and other mammals, or butchered them for meat, or indirectly after such viruses have infected farm animals such as chickens or pigs.

These infections are now so familiar they have acquired their own medical classification: they are zoonotic viruses.

And human exploitation of the world’s last remaining wildernesses – the tropical forests – and pursuit of exotic creatures for trophies, medicines or food can be linked to the emergence of most of them.

“All this traces back to our indifference about what has been happening at the edge of the tropical forests,” said Les Kaufman, an ecologist at Boston University.

He and 17 other experts argue that at a cost of somewhere between $22 billion and $30 billion a year, the transmission of unknown and unexpected diseases could be significantly reduced: chiefly by controlling logging and conversion of rainforest into ranch land, and limiting the trade in wild meat and exotic animals.

Clear argument

The sums are large. But the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic so far is likely to prove at least 500 times more costly.

Professor Kaufman and his colleagues did the calculations. They added up the annual costs of monitoring the world’s wildlife trade; of active programmes to prevent what they call “spillovers” from wild creatures; of efforts to detect and control outbreaks; the cost of reducing infection to human populations and farmed livestock; the cost of reducing deforestation each year by half, and the cost of ending the trade in wild meat in China. Their highest estimate was $31.2bn a year, their lowest $22bn.

They offset this with the benefits simply in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions linked to forest destruction, and then matched the total against the global loss of gross domestic product, the cost of the estimated 590,000 dead from the virus at the end of July, and so on, to arrive at a minimum cost of $8.1 trillion, and a maximum of $15.8tn.

The researchers see this balance of costs as a clear argument for international and concerted action from governments around the world to reduce an enduring hazard.

“The pandemic gives an incentive to do something addressing concerns that are immediate and threatening to individuals, and that’s what moves people,” Professor Kaufman said. “Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes.” – Climate News Network

Covid-19 emerged from the wilderness. That alone is reason to protect the forests, control trade in wildlife – and avoid pandemics.

LONDON, 5 August, 2020 – If the world wants to avoid pandemics like Covid-19 in future, it has a lot to learn. This coronavirus outbreak is likely to cost the world somewhere between $8 trillion and $15 trillion.

It might have been 500 times cheaper, say US scientists, simply to have done what conservationists have sought for years: control trade in wildlife and stop destroying tropical forests.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus – also known as Covid-19 – is a new human infection that has been traced back to bats apparently traded as food in China. It has so far infected 15 million people around the planet and caused nearly 700,000 deaths.

But it is just one of a series of viruses that have emerged from creatures in the wilderness, to cause a series of local or global epidemics: among them HIV, Ebola, MERS, SARS and H1N1.

Researchers calculate that, for the last century, at least two new viruses each year have spilled from their natural hosts into the human population.

“Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes”

And this has happened, they argue in the journal Science, most often directly after people have handled live primates, bats and other mammals, or butchered them for meat, or indirectly after such viruses have infected farm animals such as chickens or pigs.

These infections are now so familiar they have acquired their own medical classification: they are zoonotic viruses.

And human exploitation of the world’s last remaining wildernesses – the tropical forests – and pursuit of exotic creatures for trophies, medicines or food can be linked to the emergence of most of them.

“All this traces back to our indifference about what has been happening at the edge of the tropical forests,” said Les Kaufman, an ecologist at Boston University.

He and 17 other experts argue that at a cost of somewhere between $22 billion and $30 billion a year, the transmission of unknown and unexpected diseases could be significantly reduced: chiefly by controlling logging and conversion of rainforest into ranch land, and limiting the trade in wild meat and exotic animals.

Clear argument

The sums are large. But the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic so far is likely to prove at least 500 times more costly.

Professor Kaufman and his colleagues did the calculations. They added up the annual costs of monitoring the world’s wildlife trade; of active programmes to prevent what they call “spillovers” from wild creatures; of efforts to detect and control outbreaks; the cost of reducing infection to human populations and farmed livestock; the cost of reducing deforestation each year by half, and the cost of ending the trade in wild meat in China. Their highest estimate was $31.2bn a year, their lowest $22bn.

They offset this with the benefits simply in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions linked to forest destruction, and then matched the total against the global loss of gross domestic product, the cost of the estimated 590,000 dead from the virus at the end of July, and so on, to arrive at a minimum cost of $8.1 trillion, and a maximum of $15.8tn.

The researchers see this balance of costs as a clear argument for international and concerted action from governments around the world to reduce an enduring hazard.

“The pandemic gives an incentive to do something addressing concerns that are immediate and threatening to individuals, and that’s what moves people,” Professor Kaufman said. “Nothing seems more prudent than to give ourselves time to deal with this pandemic before the next one comes.” – Climate News Network

Rising heat affects Europe’s floods and droughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing vulnerability

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Paris promise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing vulnerability

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Paris promise

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

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

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

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

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

South Pole warms faster than anywhere − but why?

The coldest place on Earth, the South Pole, is mysteriously heating a lot faster than the rest of the planet.

LONDON, 16 July, 2020 − The South Pole is warming, and warming fast. In the last 30 years, the place furthest from the summer sun, the place where one winter’s night lasts for 179 days, has been warming at 0.6°C per decade. This is three times the speed of average warming for the whole planet.

The finding is unexpected. The geographic South Pole is not only the most extreme location in the southern hemisphere, it is also at Alpine altitude. The Amundsen-Scott research station at the pole is at 2,835 metres, perched on a sheet of glacier ice 2,700 metres above the bedrock, and moving towards the sea at 10 metres a year.

Winter temperatures have fallen to minus 82.8°C. The warmest summer day ever recorded was minus 13.6°C.

And yet this unforgiving spot, with an annual average temperature of minus 49°C, still registers a measure of global warming. Whether this warming is fuelled by a natural climate cycle or by the profligate human use of fossil fuels, or by both, is not certain.

Systematic record-keeping began only in 1957 and for most of the late 20th century, while the rest of the planet started to warm, the South Pole continued to cool. West Antarctica is getting warmer, and melting at an accelerating rate, thanks in part to human-fuelled climate change.

“Antarctica experiences some of the most extreme weather and variability on the planet, and due to its remote location we actually know very little about the continent”

But scientists from New Zealand and the US report in the journal Nature that between 1989 and 2018, the South Pole had warmed by 1.8°C, partly because warm waters in the western Pacific had affected the South Atlantic winds and stepped up the delivery of warm air to the heart of the continent.

And this most extreme of environments goes on presenting puzzles. In April researchers announced the discovery of the remains of a 90-million-year-old swampy temperate forest within 900kms of the South Pole: it was once so warm that even in a winter night that lasted for months, foliage could flourish.

The latest research from the South Pole data suggests that researchers would like to know a lot more before they can say if the warming trend will continue, and why.

“Antarctica experiences some of the most extreme weather and variability on the planet,” said Kyle Clem, of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, who led the research, “and due to its remote location we actually know very little about the continent, so there are constant surprises and new things to learn about Antarctica every year.” − Climate News Network

The coldest place on Earth, the South Pole, is mysteriously heating a lot faster than the rest of the planet.

LONDON, 16 July, 2020 − The South Pole is warming, and warming fast. In the last 30 years, the place furthest from the summer sun, the place where one winter’s night lasts for 179 days, has been warming at 0.6°C per decade. This is three times the speed of average warming for the whole planet.

The finding is unexpected. The geographic South Pole is not only the most extreme location in the southern hemisphere, it is also at Alpine altitude. The Amundsen-Scott research station at the pole is at 2,835 metres, perched on a sheet of glacier ice 2,700 metres above the bedrock, and moving towards the sea at 10 metres a year.

Winter temperatures have fallen to minus 82.8°C. The warmest summer day ever recorded was minus 13.6°C.

And yet this unforgiving spot, with an annual average temperature of minus 49°C, still registers a measure of global warming. Whether this warming is fuelled by a natural climate cycle or by the profligate human use of fossil fuels, or by both, is not certain.

Systematic record-keeping began only in 1957 and for most of the late 20th century, while the rest of the planet started to warm, the South Pole continued to cool. West Antarctica is getting warmer, and melting at an accelerating rate, thanks in part to human-fuelled climate change.

“Antarctica experiences some of the most extreme weather and variability on the planet, and due to its remote location we actually know very little about the continent”

But scientists from New Zealand and the US report in the journal Nature that between 1989 and 2018, the South Pole had warmed by 1.8°C, partly because warm waters in the western Pacific had affected the South Atlantic winds and stepped up the delivery of warm air to the heart of the continent.

And this most extreme of environments goes on presenting puzzles. In April researchers announced the discovery of the remains of a 90-million-year-old swampy temperate forest within 900kms of the South Pole: it was once so warm that even in a winter night that lasted for months, foliage could flourish.

The latest research from the South Pole data suggests that researchers would like to know a lot more before they can say if the warming trend will continue, and why.

“Antarctica experiences some of the most extreme weather and variability on the planet,” said Kyle Clem, of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, who led the research, “and due to its remote location we actually know very little about the continent, so there are constant surprises and new things to learn about Antarctica every year.” − Climate News Network

Heat may leave tropical trees unable to germinate

If a plant can’t germinate, it’s heading for extinction. For many tropical trees, conditions could soon become too hot to procreate.

LONDON, 14 July, 2020 – There could soon be real trouble for tropical trees and other plants. As global average temperatures rise, in response to ever more profligate use of fossil fuels, it may for some species become too hot to successfully germinate.

The foliage most at risk from this thermal barrier to reproduction is certain to be in the tropics, where tens of thousands of plant species have already adapted to very nearly the limits of their tolerance.

Australian researchers report in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography that they looked at 9,737 records for 1,312 species worldwide from the Kew Gardens’ global germination database, to work out the temperature ranges that suit germination.

They report that the closer to the equator, the more the risk that by 2070 temperatures could rise high enough to exceed the ceiling below which germination is possible.

More than half of all the tropical seedlings tested – 79 out of 142 – would experience temperatures higher than the optimum for breeding. And 41 out of 190 would meet temperatures that would be higher than the maximum at which seeds would germinate.

Survival impossible

“These plants are more at risk because they are near their upper limits. So even a small increase in temperature from climate change could push them over the edge,” said Alexander Sentinella, of the University of New South Wales, who led the study.

“The figures are quite shocking because by 2070 more than 20% of tropical plant species, we predict, will face temperatures above their upper limit, which means they won’t germinate, and so can’t survive.”

The world’s tropical forests are already in trouble. Altogether there could be three trillion trees on the planet, and humans are already removing 15 billion a year. The richest habitats are in the tropics.

There could be 40,000 species of tree that flourish in the equatorial forests, and half of these have already been pronounced threatened. The hot moist forests provide cover for myriad smaller shrubs and plants under the canopy, and they flourish alongside a mosaic of wetland and grassland habitats to support some of the richest biodiversity on the planet.

The forests and the plants in them absorb a high proportion of the extra carbon dioxide emitted from power station and vehicle exhausts, they serve as a sponge to store rainy season water, and they recycle the planet’s oxygen. They are under increasing stress from human exploitation and climate change.

“These plants are more at risk because they are near their upper limits. So even a small increase in temperature from climate change could push them over the edge”

Higher temperatures mean greater extremes of windstorm that can severely damage whole forests; higher temperatures mean more intense droughts and greater fire hazard; climate change has begun to alter the mix, variety and abundance of tree species both in the tropics and worldwide; and where they can, tropical species have already begun to colonise higher ground to stay within suitable temperature boundaries.

So the realisation that plant species – like animals on land and fish in the oceans – may be most vulnerable at a key moment of the life cycle is even more bad news. Many species will still be able to reproduce, but if they have already gone beyond the optimum for germination, then the success rate will be smaller.

The news on a global scale is more encouraging: the researchers found that 95% of species at latitudes higher than 45° could actually benefit from global warming, because temperatures could shift more closely to the optimum for many temperate and cool zone plants. And some plant species may evolve as temperatures rise. But many will not adapt in time to rapidly-rising global temperatures.

“There are almost 400,000 plant species worldwide – so we would expect a number of them to fail to germinate between now and 2070,” Sentinella said.

“Humans have known about the dangers of climate change for decades, and we already have the answers to tackle it. Hopefully, our study will encourage people and policymakers to take action now.” – Climate News Network

If a plant can’t germinate, it’s heading for extinction. For many tropical trees, conditions could soon become too hot to procreate.

LONDON, 14 July, 2020 – There could soon be real trouble for tropical trees and other plants. As global average temperatures rise, in response to ever more profligate use of fossil fuels, it may for some species become too hot to successfully germinate.

The foliage most at risk from this thermal barrier to reproduction is certain to be in the tropics, where tens of thousands of plant species have already adapted to very nearly the limits of their tolerance.

Australian researchers report in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography that they looked at 9,737 records for 1,312 species worldwide from the Kew Gardens’ global germination database, to work out the temperature ranges that suit germination.

They report that the closer to the equator, the more the risk that by 2070 temperatures could rise high enough to exceed the ceiling below which germination is possible.

More than half of all the tropical seedlings tested – 79 out of 142 – would experience temperatures higher than the optimum for breeding. And 41 out of 190 would meet temperatures that would be higher than the maximum at which seeds would germinate.

Survival impossible

“These plants are more at risk because they are near their upper limits. So even a small increase in temperature from climate change could push them over the edge,” said Alexander Sentinella, of the University of New South Wales, who led the study.

“The figures are quite shocking because by 2070 more than 20% of tropical plant species, we predict, will face temperatures above their upper limit, which means they won’t germinate, and so can’t survive.”

The world’s tropical forests are already in trouble. Altogether there could be three trillion trees on the planet, and humans are already removing 15 billion a year. The richest habitats are in the tropics.

There could be 40,000 species of tree that flourish in the equatorial forests, and half of these have already been pronounced threatened. The hot moist forests provide cover for myriad smaller shrubs and plants under the canopy, and they flourish alongside a mosaic of wetland and grassland habitats to support some of the richest biodiversity on the planet.

The forests and the plants in them absorb a high proportion of the extra carbon dioxide emitted from power station and vehicle exhausts, they serve as a sponge to store rainy season water, and they recycle the planet’s oxygen. They are under increasing stress from human exploitation and climate change.

“These plants are more at risk because they are near their upper limits. So even a small increase in temperature from climate change could push them over the edge”

Higher temperatures mean greater extremes of windstorm that can severely damage whole forests; higher temperatures mean more intense droughts and greater fire hazard; climate change has begun to alter the mix, variety and abundance of tree species both in the tropics and worldwide; and where they can, tropical species have already begun to colonise higher ground to stay within suitable temperature boundaries.

So the realisation that plant species – like animals on land and fish in the oceans – may be most vulnerable at a key moment of the life cycle is even more bad news. Many species will still be able to reproduce, but if they have already gone beyond the optimum for germination, then the success rate will be smaller.

The news on a global scale is more encouraging: the researchers found that 95% of species at latitudes higher than 45° could actually benefit from global warming, because temperatures could shift more closely to the optimum for many temperate and cool zone plants. And some plant species may evolve as temperatures rise. But many will not adapt in time to rapidly-rising global temperatures.

“There are almost 400,000 plant species worldwide – so we would expect a number of them to fail to germinate between now and 2070,” Sentinella said.

“Humans have known about the dangers of climate change for decades, and we already have the answers to tackle it. Hopefully, our study will encourage people and policymakers to take action now.” – Climate News Network

Drought-hit forests may worsen climate change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flying blind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No guarantee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flying blind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No guarantee

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

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

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

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

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

Ocean sensitivity may lower carbon emissions cuts

Ocean sensitivity to atmospheric change is well established. But just how sensitive the oceans are remains a surprise to science.

LONDON, 30 June, 2020 – As greenhouse gas emissions soar, ocean sensitivity has quietly helped humanity to slow global heating: the seas have responded by absorbing more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But should humans come to grips with the challenge of looming climate catastrophe and start to reduce emissions, the oceans could respond again – by absorbing less and slightly slowing the fall of the mercury in the global thermometer.

And there is even an immediate chance to test this proposal: if so, then oceans that have been each year absorbing more and more carbon from the atmosphere as greenhouse gas ratios rise will go into brief reverse, because of the global economic shutdown and fall in emissions triggered by the global pandemic of Covid-19.

For the first time in decades, the oceans could take up less carbon dioxide in 2020, according to a new study by US scientists in the American Geophysical Union journal AGU Advances.

“We didn’t realise until we did this work that these external forcings, like changes in the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide, dominate the variability in the global ocean on year-to-year timescales. That’s a real surprise,” said Galen McKinley, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Feedback in action

“As we reduce our emissions and the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide slows down, it’s important to realise that the ocean carbon sink will respond by slowing down.”

The research should not be interpreted as an invitation to go on burning fossil fuels. It is another lesson in the intricacy of the traffic between atmosphere, rocks, oceans, and living things in an evolving world. And it is more immediately an exquisite example of what engineers call feedback.

In cases of negative feedback, the agency of change also triggers a way of slowing that change. Since 1750 – the birth of the Industrial Revolution – human economies have added 440 billion tonnes of carbon to the planetary atmosphere.

For most of human history carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere had hovered around 285 parts per million. They have now gone beyond 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have already risen by more than 1°C.

They’d be even higher but for the oceans, which have responded by absorbing around 39% of all that extra carbon from coal, oil and gas combustion. So the oceans are sensitive to atmospheric change, and respond.

“There will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should be accounted for in policymaking”

The latest study is a lesson in how sensitive: Professor McKinley and her colleagues used computer models to try to understand better why the ocean uptake of carbon varies.

In the early 1990s, the ocean absorption of carbon dioxide varied: dramatically at first, because a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 that darkened the stratosphere also accelerated ocean uptake.

And then the ocean uptake started to slow, as the skies cleared but also as the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations changed the global pattern of fuel use. It went on declining until 2001, when fossil fuel use started to accelerate. And then the ocean sink started once again to become more absorbent.

Such research is a reminder of how much scientists still don’t know about the machinery of the planet. That greenhouse gas from fossil fuel combustion drives global heating is not now in doubt. But the precise speed, and the drivers and brakes of positive and negative feedback, remain less certain.

Many feedbacks are positive: as the Arctic warms, carbon plant remains frozen in the permafrost will start to decay, release more methane and carbon dioxide, and accelerate warming.

Forest concern

As the sea ice retreats, and the ice reflects less sunlight, the exposed blue seas will absorb ever more radiation, to turn up the planetary temperatures. A warner world will be a wetter one, which may also mean a rise in the rate of warming.

But the ocean is not the only example of negative feedback. More carbon dioxide seems to mean more vigorous plant growth, and there is clear evidence that the world’s great forests are an important carbon sink: an example of negative feedback. That is why almost all governments recognise the importance of forest conservation.

Action however is uneven, forests are still being degraded, and there is alarming evidence that at some point, as temperatures get too high, the tropical forests could start surrendering the carbon they have for millennia absorbed, and become agents of positive feedback.

Professor McKinley warns that – as global emissions are cut – there will be a phase during which ocean uptake slows. If so, then planetary temperature rise will not slow as fast as hoped: extra carbon dioxide will linger, to contribute to warming.

“We need to discuss this coming feedback. We want people to understand that there will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should also be accounted for in policymaking.” – Climate News Network

Ocean sensitivity to atmospheric change is well established. But just how sensitive the oceans are remains a surprise to science.

LONDON, 30 June, 2020 – As greenhouse gas emissions soar, ocean sensitivity has quietly helped humanity to slow global heating: the seas have responded by absorbing more and more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But should humans come to grips with the challenge of looming climate catastrophe and start to reduce emissions, the oceans could respond again – by absorbing less and slightly slowing the fall of the mercury in the global thermometer.

And there is even an immediate chance to test this proposal: if so, then oceans that have been each year absorbing more and more carbon from the atmosphere as greenhouse gas ratios rise will go into brief reverse, because of the global economic shutdown and fall in emissions triggered by the global pandemic of Covid-19.

For the first time in decades, the oceans could take up less carbon dioxide in 2020, according to a new study by US scientists in the American Geophysical Union journal AGU Advances.

“We didn’t realise until we did this work that these external forcings, like changes in the growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide, dominate the variability in the global ocean on year-to-year timescales. That’s a real surprise,” said Galen McKinley, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Feedback in action

“As we reduce our emissions and the growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide slows down, it’s important to realise that the ocean carbon sink will respond by slowing down.”

The research should not be interpreted as an invitation to go on burning fossil fuels. It is another lesson in the intricacy of the traffic between atmosphere, rocks, oceans, and living things in an evolving world. And it is more immediately an exquisite example of what engineers call feedback.

In cases of negative feedback, the agency of change also triggers a way of slowing that change. Since 1750 – the birth of the Industrial Revolution – human economies have added 440 billion tonnes of carbon to the planetary atmosphere.

For most of human history carbon dioxide ratios in the atmosphere had hovered around 285 parts per million. They have now gone beyond 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have already risen by more than 1°C.

They’d be even higher but for the oceans, which have responded by absorbing around 39% of all that extra carbon from coal, oil and gas combustion. So the oceans are sensitive to atmospheric change, and respond.

“There will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should be accounted for in policymaking”

The latest study is a lesson in how sensitive: Professor McKinley and her colleagues used computer models to try to understand better why the ocean uptake of carbon varies.

In the early 1990s, the ocean absorption of carbon dioxide varied: dramatically at first, because a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 that darkened the stratosphere also accelerated ocean uptake.

And then the ocean uptake started to slow, as the skies cleared but also as the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite nations changed the global pattern of fuel use. It went on declining until 2001, when fossil fuel use started to accelerate. And then the ocean sink started once again to become more absorbent.

Such research is a reminder of how much scientists still don’t know about the machinery of the planet. That greenhouse gas from fossil fuel combustion drives global heating is not now in doubt. But the precise speed, and the drivers and brakes of positive and negative feedback, remain less certain.

Many feedbacks are positive: as the Arctic warms, carbon plant remains frozen in the permafrost will start to decay, release more methane and carbon dioxide, and accelerate warming.

Forest concern

As the sea ice retreats, and the ice reflects less sunlight, the exposed blue seas will absorb ever more radiation, to turn up the planetary temperatures. A warner world will be a wetter one, which may also mean a rise in the rate of warming.

But the ocean is not the only example of negative feedback. More carbon dioxide seems to mean more vigorous plant growth, and there is clear evidence that the world’s great forests are an important carbon sink: an example of negative feedback. That is why almost all governments recognise the importance of forest conservation.

Action however is uneven, forests are still being degraded, and there is alarming evidence that at some point, as temperatures get too high, the tropical forests could start surrendering the carbon they have for millennia absorbed, and become agents of positive feedback.

Professor McKinley warns that – as global emissions are cut – there will be a phase during which ocean uptake slows. If so, then planetary temperature rise will not slow as fast as hoped: extra carbon dioxide will linger, to contribute to warming.

“We need to discuss this coming feedback. We want people to understand that there will be a time when the ocean will limit the effectiveness of mitigation actions, and this should also be accounted for in policymaking.” – Climate News Network

The wetter world ahead will suffer worse droughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Search for precision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Search for precision

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

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

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

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

Nature’s accounts show what the world does for us

People go on getting richer, and the planet pays a mounting price. There’s a better way to balance nature’s accounts.

LONDON, 24 June, 2020 – It may take a while to catch on, but one day the financial pages of the daily newspaper could be quoting a new register of national wealth: called gross ecosystem product, this way of balancing nature’s accounts makes clear how much we really depend on the Earth.

And it would be a real-world indicator of prosperity you could have confidence in: a measure in cash terms of the health of the forests, rivers, lakes and wildlife of both nations and regions and – more precisely – of the benefits heedless humans take for granted.

These include the insect pollination of crops; the control of insect pests by birds and bats; the supply of fresh, safe water from mountain streams, rivers, springs and lakes; the management of waste by scavengers and microbes; the recycling of nutrients; and all the myriad services provided by plants, animals and topography. This is sometimes called “natural capital.”

The measure has already formally been tested in one province in China and matched with the more familiar indicator: Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.

Flying blind

Chinese scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that in the year 2000, the gross ecosystem product or GEP of Qinghai province was greater than its GDP.

By 2015, after phenomenal economic growth, it was still three-fourths the size of its GDP. And the form this natural wealth took? Mostly water supplies to other crowded regions: Qinghai is where the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers rise.

“We’re basically flying blind when it comes to knowing where and how much nature to protect,” said Gretchen Daily, an environmental scientist at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences in California, and one of the report’s authors.

“GEP tracks the vital contributions of nature to society, informs investments in securing them and helps evaluate the performance of leaders and policies.”

And her British co-author, Ian Bateman, an economist at the University of Exeter, said: “The global economy as conventionally measured by GDP more than doubled between 1990 and 2015. However, at the same time our stocks of ‘ecosystem assets’ – such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, fertile soils and biodiversity – have come under increasing pressure.”

“We were able to place a value on important ecosystem services, especially water supply, that Qinghai currently exports to other provinces but receives no credit for in the GDP calculation”

He continued: “These things are obviously valuable in many ways – including to human wellbeing. However, in this study we examine the benefits they bring us measured in a way that governments and business can understand.”

Naturalists, conservationists and economists have repeatedly argued that it makes better economic sense to conserve nature rather than to exploit it: untouched natural forest or grassland contributes more to everybody’s wealth than any clear-felling project or conversion to cattle-grazing.

Scientists and economists have again and again tried to calculate the cash value to humankind of nature’s goods and services, and to steer development in a sustainable fashion.

They have repeatedly warned that global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels is almost certain to hit the pockets of the poorest most cruelly.

And they have warned that uncontrolled exploitation of once untouched natural forests, mangrove estuaries, grasslands, wetlands and coral reefs that precipitates mass extinction of species is certain to impoverish billions in the long run.

Direct test

But to persuade governments that natural capital represents an investment with measurable returns, economists need a standard global measure. GEP could be it.

The measure was tested directly in what is sometimes called the “water tower” of Asia. The logic is that if the people of that region care for their natural habitat, and people downstream benefit directly from that care, then those downstream should also contribute to the costs of care.

“Qinghai is rich in natural capital but its GDP alone does not reflect that value”, said the study’s lead author, Zhiyun Ouyang, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Using this new metric we were able to place a value on important ecosystem services, especially water supply, that Qinghai currently exports to other provinces but receives no credit for in the GDP calculation.” – Climate News Network

People go on getting richer, and the planet pays a mounting price. There’s a better way to balance nature’s accounts.

LONDON, 24 June, 2020 – It may take a while to catch on, but one day the financial pages of the daily newspaper could be quoting a new register of national wealth: called gross ecosystem product, this way of balancing nature’s accounts makes clear how much we really depend on the Earth.

And it would be a real-world indicator of prosperity you could have confidence in: a measure in cash terms of the health of the forests, rivers, lakes and wildlife of both nations and regions and – more precisely – of the benefits heedless humans take for granted.

These include the insect pollination of crops; the control of insect pests by birds and bats; the supply of fresh, safe water from mountain streams, rivers, springs and lakes; the management of waste by scavengers and microbes; the recycling of nutrients; and all the myriad services provided by plants, animals and topography. This is sometimes called “natural capital.”

The measure has already formally been tested in one province in China and matched with the more familiar indicator: Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.

Flying blind

Chinese scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that in the year 2000, the gross ecosystem product or GEP of Qinghai province was greater than its GDP.

By 2015, after phenomenal economic growth, it was still three-fourths the size of its GDP. And the form this natural wealth took? Mostly water supplies to other crowded regions: Qinghai is where the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers rise.

“We’re basically flying blind when it comes to knowing where and how much nature to protect,” said Gretchen Daily, an environmental scientist at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences in California, and one of the report’s authors.

“GEP tracks the vital contributions of nature to society, informs investments in securing them and helps evaluate the performance of leaders and policies.”

And her British co-author, Ian Bateman, an economist at the University of Exeter, said: “The global economy as conventionally measured by GDP more than doubled between 1990 and 2015. However, at the same time our stocks of ‘ecosystem assets’ – such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, fertile soils and biodiversity – have come under increasing pressure.”

“We were able to place a value on important ecosystem services, especially water supply, that Qinghai currently exports to other provinces but receives no credit for in the GDP calculation”

He continued: “These things are obviously valuable in many ways – including to human wellbeing. However, in this study we examine the benefits they bring us measured in a way that governments and business can understand.”

Naturalists, conservationists and economists have repeatedly argued that it makes better economic sense to conserve nature rather than to exploit it: untouched natural forest or grassland contributes more to everybody’s wealth than any clear-felling project or conversion to cattle-grazing.

Scientists and economists have again and again tried to calculate the cash value to humankind of nature’s goods and services, and to steer development in a sustainable fashion.

They have repeatedly warned that global heating driven by profligate use of fossil fuels is almost certain to hit the pockets of the poorest most cruelly.

And they have warned that uncontrolled exploitation of once untouched natural forests, mangrove estuaries, grasslands, wetlands and coral reefs that precipitates mass extinction of species is certain to impoverish billions in the long run.

Direct test

But to persuade governments that natural capital represents an investment with measurable returns, economists need a standard global measure. GEP could be it.

The measure was tested directly in what is sometimes called the “water tower” of Asia. The logic is that if the people of that region care for their natural habitat, and people downstream benefit directly from that care, then those downstream should also contribute to the costs of care.

“Qinghai is rich in natural capital but its GDP alone does not reflect that value”, said the study’s lead author, Zhiyun Ouyang, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“Using this new metric we were able to place a value on important ecosystem services, especially water supply, that Qinghai currently exports to other provinces but receives no credit for in the GDP calculation.” – Climate News Network

Forest trees are growing shorter and dying younger

Temperatures could get too high for tropical forests, and forest trees everywhere are changing in response to human action.

LONDON, 9 June, 2020 – There are limits to what forest trees will tolerate; many tropical forests, for instance, can cope with climate change – but only up to a point. Again, they will go on storing carbon from human greenhouse gas emissions – but only to a degree.

But at around the 32°C threshold, tree growth halts and trees start to die more frequently, putting carbon back into the atmosphere, to accelerate more global heating, according to a detailed study of trees in more than 800 tropical forests.

And a second, unrelated study of forests worldwide finds separate evidence of the impact of climate change. Thanks to human action, forest trees are now younger – and shorter.

The point of the first study is that, in their natural and undisturbed state, the world’s tropical forests can take the heat, but there may be a limit to their capacity for change, and that limit is a daytime maximum of 32.2°C.

A collective of 225 researchers in South America, Africa and Asia report in the journal Science that they made 2 million measurements of 10,000 tropical tree species in sample plots in 24 countries to examine the capacity of forests to absorb atmospheric carbon in a rapidly heating world.

Safety zone

“Our analysis reveals that up to a certain point of heating, tropical forests are surprisingly resistant to small temperature differences. If we limit climate change they can continue to store a large amount of carbon in a warmer world,” said Martin Sullivan, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and at Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the study.

“The 32-degree threshold highlights the critical importance of cutting our emissions to avoid pushing too many forests beyond the safety zone.

“For example, if we limit global average temperatures to a 2°C increase above pre-industrial levels, this pushes nearly three-quarters of tropical forests above the heat threshold we identified. Any further increases in temperature will lead to rapid losses of forest carbon.”

The finding suggests that overall, and independently of species of tree, tropical forest carbon declines with higher temperatures. In all forests, trees flourish and absorb carbon, die back and release it again. But at their best, forests on balance absorb and store away for centuries more carbon than they release – until the thermometer starts to rise and goes on rising.

“Reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen”

A co-author, Beatriz Marimon of the State University of Matto Grosso in Brazil, said: “Each degree increase above this 32-degree threshold releases four times as much carbon as would have been released below the threshold.”

The message is that tropical forests need to be protected from climate change, deforestation and wildlife exploitation: that way, they protect  biodiversity, protect themselves, and protect humankind, for future generations. They can adapt to warming temperatures, but this takes decades, perhaps centuries.

But according to another study, also in Science, forest trees the world over are now changing. They are responding to ever higher levels of atmospheric carbon – in effect, they are being fertilised – but also wildfire, drought, windstorm damage, insect attack and disease have become more frequent and more severe with climate change.

And then there has been the direct impact of human economic demand: clearance, disturbance and economic exploitation.

In consequence, US and European scientists conclude, from detailed satellite data and from reviews of more than 160 previous studies, that there has been a “pervasive shift” in forest dynamics, and a dramatic decrease in the age and stature of the forests. The world’s trees on average are younger, and shorter.

Drastic change

“This trend is likely to continue with global warming,” said Nate McDowell,  of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who led the research.

“A future planet with fewer large, old forests will be very different than what we have grown accustomed to. Older forests often host much higher biodiversity than young forests, and they store more carbon than young forests.”

So direct and indirect human action have – in the big picture – affected the way forests shelter new seedlings, the growth of all trees, and the rate of death of those trees. Mortality is going up, while recruitment and growth are faltering.

“Unfortunately, mortality drivers like rising temperature and disturbances are on the rise and are expected to continue increasing in frequency over the next century,” Dr McDowell said.

“So reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen.” – Climate News Network

Temperatures could get too high for tropical forests, and forest trees everywhere are changing in response to human action.

LONDON, 9 June, 2020 – There are limits to what forest trees will tolerate; many tropical forests, for instance, can cope with climate change – but only up to a point. Again, they will go on storing carbon from human greenhouse gas emissions – but only to a degree.

But at around the 32°C threshold, tree growth halts and trees start to die more frequently, putting carbon back into the atmosphere, to accelerate more global heating, according to a detailed study of trees in more than 800 tropical forests.

And a second, unrelated study of forests worldwide finds separate evidence of the impact of climate change. Thanks to human action, forest trees are now younger – and shorter.

The point of the first study is that, in their natural and undisturbed state, the world’s tropical forests can take the heat, but there may be a limit to their capacity for change, and that limit is a daytime maximum of 32.2°C.

A collective of 225 researchers in South America, Africa and Asia report in the journal Science that they made 2 million measurements of 10,000 tropical tree species in sample plots in 24 countries to examine the capacity of forests to absorb atmospheric carbon in a rapidly heating world.

Safety zone

“Our analysis reveals that up to a certain point of heating, tropical forests are surprisingly resistant to small temperature differences. If we limit climate change they can continue to store a large amount of carbon in a warmer world,” said Martin Sullivan, a geographer at the University of Leeds, and at Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the study.

“The 32-degree threshold highlights the critical importance of cutting our emissions to avoid pushing too many forests beyond the safety zone.

“For example, if we limit global average temperatures to a 2°C increase above pre-industrial levels, this pushes nearly three-quarters of tropical forests above the heat threshold we identified. Any further increases in temperature will lead to rapid losses of forest carbon.”

The finding suggests that overall, and independently of species of tree, tropical forest carbon declines with higher temperatures. In all forests, trees flourish and absorb carbon, die back and release it again. But at their best, forests on balance absorb and store away for centuries more carbon than they release – until the thermometer starts to rise and goes on rising.

“Reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen”

A co-author, Beatriz Marimon of the State University of Matto Grosso in Brazil, said: “Each degree increase above this 32-degree threshold releases four times as much carbon as would have been released below the threshold.”

The message is that tropical forests need to be protected from climate change, deforestation and wildlife exploitation: that way, they protect  biodiversity, protect themselves, and protect humankind, for future generations. They can adapt to warming temperatures, but this takes decades, perhaps centuries.

But according to another study, also in Science, forest trees the world over are now changing. They are responding to ever higher levels of atmospheric carbon – in effect, they are being fertilised – but also wildfire, drought, windstorm damage, insect attack and disease have become more frequent and more severe with climate change.

And then there has been the direct impact of human economic demand: clearance, disturbance and economic exploitation.

In consequence, US and European scientists conclude, from detailed satellite data and from reviews of more than 160 previous studies, that there has been a “pervasive shift” in forest dynamics, and a dramatic decrease in the age and stature of the forests. The world’s trees on average are younger, and shorter.

Drastic change

“This trend is likely to continue with global warming,” said Nate McDowell,  of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who led the research.

“A future planet with fewer large, old forests will be very different than what we have grown accustomed to. Older forests often host much higher biodiversity than young forests, and they store more carbon than young forests.”

So direct and indirect human action have – in the big picture – affected the way forests shelter new seedlings, the growth of all trees, and the rate of death of those trees. Mortality is going up, while recruitment and growth are faltering.

“Unfortunately, mortality drivers like rising temperature and disturbances are on the rise and are expected to continue increasing in frequency over the next century,” Dr McDowell said.

“So reductions in forest age and height are already happening, and they’re likely to continue to happen.” – Climate News Network

Siberia dries out as forests burn and climate heats

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network