Tag Archives: Forests

More carbon dioxide will dry world’s rainforests

More carbon dioxide could parch the rainforest as effectively as the woodman’s axe or farmer’s torch. Both are on the cards.

LONDON, 7 July, 2021 − Brazilian scientists have identified a new way to take the rain out of the rainforest. All the world has to do is to make sure more carbon dioxide reaches the trees − half as much again as today.

The effect will be stark: it will be roughly the same as if Brazil’s business leaders, politicians and farmers cleared the entire Amazon rainforest and replaced it with cattle pasture.

As climate scientists have been pointing out for years, both processes seem to be happening anyway. The region is already experiencing fire and drought as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. And great tracts of the forest are being destroyed, degraded or felled in pursuit of land for soya or beef. What is new is the confirmation that extra carbon dioxide can itself affect the levels of rainfall on the canopy.

That is because most of the rain that in the right season sweeps almost daily over the inland Amazon is not freshly evaporated water from the Atlantic, but condensed from vapour transpired from the forest foliage. As the forest extends inland, most of the rainfall is recycled, again and again. In effect, a great rainforest powers its own repeating sprinkler system. And more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could limit the flow.

“CO2 is a basic input for photosynthesis, so when it increases in the atmosphere, plant physiology is affected and this can have a cascade effect on the transfer of moisture from trees to the atmosphere, the formation of rain in the region, forest biomass and several other processes,” said David Montenegro Lapola, of the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Double conundrum

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already forecast a possible one-fifth reduction in annual rainfall in the region. Professor Lapola and colleagues report in the journal Biogeosciences that they ran computer simulations of the interplay of climate and forest to test two propositions.

One was: what would happen over the next 100 years if the ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 588 parts per million? For most of human history, this ratio hovered around 288ppm. Worldwide, since the global exploitation of fossil fuels began 200 years ago, this ratio has already soared beyond 400 ppm. And under various climate scenarios, the 588 ppm figure could happen by 2050, or 2080.

The second question was: what would happen over a century if the entire forest − it spreads across nine nations − was cleared for grassland? Much of the forest enjoys notional official protection but is still being cleared, lost or degraded anyway.

“To our surprise, just the physiological effect on the leaves of the forest would generate an annual fall of 12% in the amount of rain, whereas total deforestation would lead to a fall of 9%,” Professor Lapola said. “These numbers are far higher than the natural variation in precipitation between one year and the next, which is 5%.”

“The wind gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall”

At the heart of the puzzle of plants and precipitation is the physiology of green growth: the stomata that control the exchange of atmospheric gases on all foliage. These tiny portals open to capture carbon, and emit water vapour. With more CO2 in the atmosphere, they would remain open for shorter spells. The result: less water vapour, reduced cloud formation, lower rainfall.

But there is a second factor: trees are tall and very leafy, with six times the leaf area per square metre of grass, which is low and earthbound. If the entire forest was replaced by pasture, leaf area would be down by two-thirds. And both rising greenhouse gas ratios and deforestation would also influence wind and the movement of the air masses that carry the potential rainfall.

“The forest canopy has a complex surface made up of the tops of tall trees, low trees, leaves and branches. This is called canopy surface roughness. The wind produces turbulence, with eddies and vortices that in turn produce the instability that gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall,” Professor Lapola said.

“Pasture has a smooth surface over which the wind always flows forward, and without forest doesn’t produce vortices. The wind intensifies as a result, bearing away most of the precipitation westward, while much of eastern and central Amazonia, the Brazilian part, has less rain.” − Climate News Network

More carbon dioxide could parch the rainforest as effectively as the woodman’s axe or farmer’s torch. Both are on the cards.

LONDON, 7 July, 2021 − Brazilian scientists have identified a new way to take the rain out of the rainforest. All the world has to do is to make sure more carbon dioxide reaches the trees − half as much again as today.

The effect will be stark: it will be roughly the same as if Brazil’s business leaders, politicians and farmers cleared the entire Amazon rainforest and replaced it with cattle pasture.

As climate scientists have been pointing out for years, both processes seem to be happening anyway. The region is already experiencing fire and drought as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. And great tracts of the forest are being destroyed, degraded or felled in pursuit of land for soya or beef. What is new is the confirmation that extra carbon dioxide can itself affect the levels of rainfall on the canopy.

That is because most of the rain that in the right season sweeps almost daily over the inland Amazon is not freshly evaporated water from the Atlantic, but condensed from vapour transpired from the forest foliage. As the forest extends inland, most of the rainfall is recycled, again and again. In effect, a great rainforest powers its own repeating sprinkler system. And more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could limit the flow.

“CO2 is a basic input for photosynthesis, so when it increases in the atmosphere, plant physiology is affected and this can have a cascade effect on the transfer of moisture from trees to the atmosphere, the formation of rain in the region, forest biomass and several other processes,” said David Montenegro Lapola, of the University of Campinas in Brazil.

Double conundrum

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already forecast a possible one-fifth reduction in annual rainfall in the region. Professor Lapola and colleagues report in the journal Biogeosciences that they ran computer simulations of the interplay of climate and forest to test two propositions.

One was: what would happen over the next 100 years if the ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 588 parts per million? For most of human history, this ratio hovered around 288ppm. Worldwide, since the global exploitation of fossil fuels began 200 years ago, this ratio has already soared beyond 400 ppm. And under various climate scenarios, the 588 ppm figure could happen by 2050, or 2080.

The second question was: what would happen over a century if the entire forest − it spreads across nine nations − was cleared for grassland? Much of the forest enjoys notional official protection but is still being cleared, lost or degraded anyway.

“To our surprise, just the physiological effect on the leaves of the forest would generate an annual fall of 12% in the amount of rain, whereas total deforestation would lead to a fall of 9%,” Professor Lapola said. “These numbers are far higher than the natural variation in precipitation between one year and the next, which is 5%.”

“The wind gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall”

At the heart of the puzzle of plants and precipitation is the physiology of green growth: the stomata that control the exchange of atmospheric gases on all foliage. These tiny portals open to capture carbon, and emit water vapour. With more CO2 in the atmosphere, they would remain open for shorter spells. The result: less water vapour, reduced cloud formation, lower rainfall.

But there is a second factor: trees are tall and very leafy, with six times the leaf area per square metre of grass, which is low and earthbound. If the entire forest was replaced by pasture, leaf area would be down by two-thirds. And both rising greenhouse gas ratios and deforestation would also influence wind and the movement of the air masses that carry the potential rainfall.

“The forest canopy has a complex surface made up of the tops of tall trees, low trees, leaves and branches. This is called canopy surface roughness. The wind produces turbulence, with eddies and vortices that in turn produce the instability that gives rise to the convection responsible for heavy equatorial rainfall,” Professor Lapola said.

“Pasture has a smooth surface over which the wind always flows forward, and without forest doesn’t produce vortices. The wind intensifies as a result, bearing away most of the precipitation westward, while much of eastern and central Amazonia, the Brazilian part, has less rain.” − Climate News Network

As climate heat worsens, a hungrier world is likely

A hotter world will mean a hungrier world. On the evidence so far, the world’s farmers cannot adapt fast enough.

LONDON, 18 June, 2021 − Researchers have once again warned that climate change is likely to mean a hungrier world with less food on the table: by 2050, global crop yield could have fallen by 10%. And by the century’s end − and with a much larger burden of human population − farmers might be producing 25% less than they do now.

The calculations come just a few weeks after a separate team of scientists predicted that uncontrolled global heating driven by continued profligate use of fossil fuels might change the global climate in ways that could cut harvests by as much as a third.

Food is not separable from climate change: modern agriculture and the global appetite for animal products is both a major contributor to ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions and, in very different ways, a potential answer to some of those challenges.

Demand for food for ever-greater numbers of increasingly wealthier people has driven the destruction of forests, savannahs and wetlands that nurse life’s variety, underwrite the planet’s economy, and buffer nations against climate change.

“If difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics?”

But researchers have also found, again and again, that with a different mindset and a shift of global appetite, it might be possible to feed 10 billion people and preserve the planet’s biodiversity.

That is based on an assumption that climate change fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t change the nature of farming. And, increasingly, researchers believe that it will.

There has been repeated evidence that higher temperatures and rainfall shifts can reduce not just total yields, but also nutritional value. And the pattern of heatwave and drought promised by ever-rising temperatures suggests the possibility not just of local but of global famine.

Scientists from the US and from Italy report in the journal Environmental Economics and Management that they matched their climate simulations with weather records from the past and applied them to 21 different forecasts of changes in temperature and rainfall, and the potential impact of these changes on just four staples: maize, rice, soybean and wheat. These four crops account for three-fourths of the world’s calorie supply.

Hesitant adapters

Farmers expect to be confronted by unwelcome weather, not least in an ever hotter and hungrier world. All the evidence is that heat waves, drought, windstorm and flooding are likely with time to become more extreme and more frequent. So how farmers have adapted in the recent past to shifts in the climate in the last few decades might provide an answer as to their preparedness to adapt to the new world.

The new study suggests they may not adapt fast enough or surely enough. The researchers find that three decades from now, the global harvest could be 3% less than it is now, or as much as 11%. By 2100, yields may have fallen by 11%, or as much as 25%.

“Globally, farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, even over longer periods, might be limited,” said Ian Sue Wing of Boston University in the US. “Even in the United States, the world’s agricultural technology frontier, farmers have been able only slightly to compensate for the adverse impacts of extreme heat on yields of maize and soybeans over time-frames of decades.”

And his co-author Enrica de Cian of Ca’Foscari University in Venice, Italy said: “We asked ourselves: if difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics, where 40% of the world’s population live and high temperature extremes are projected to rise more than in the major calorie crop-growing regions of the US?” − Climate News Network

A hotter world will mean a hungrier world. On the evidence so far, the world’s farmers cannot adapt fast enough.

LONDON, 18 June, 2021 − Researchers have once again warned that climate change is likely to mean a hungrier world with less food on the table: by 2050, global crop yield could have fallen by 10%. And by the century’s end − and with a much larger burden of human population − farmers might be producing 25% less than they do now.

The calculations come just a few weeks after a separate team of scientists predicted that uncontrolled global heating driven by continued profligate use of fossil fuels might change the global climate in ways that could cut harvests by as much as a third.

Food is not separable from climate change: modern agriculture and the global appetite for animal products is both a major contributor to ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions and, in very different ways, a potential answer to some of those challenges.

Demand for food for ever-greater numbers of increasingly wealthier people has driven the destruction of forests, savannahs and wetlands that nurse life’s variety, underwrite the planet’s economy, and buffer nations against climate change.

“If difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics?”

But researchers have also found, again and again, that with a different mindset and a shift of global appetite, it might be possible to feed 10 billion people and preserve the planet’s biodiversity.

That is based on an assumption that climate change fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t change the nature of farming. And, increasingly, researchers believe that it will.

There has been repeated evidence that higher temperatures and rainfall shifts can reduce not just total yields, but also nutritional value. And the pattern of heatwave and drought promised by ever-rising temperatures suggests the possibility not just of local but of global famine.

Scientists from the US and from Italy report in the journal Environmental Economics and Management that they matched their climate simulations with weather records from the past and applied them to 21 different forecasts of changes in temperature and rainfall, and the potential impact of these changes on just four staples: maize, rice, soybean and wheat. These four crops account for three-fourths of the world’s calorie supply.

Hesitant adapters

Farmers expect to be confronted by unwelcome weather, not least in an ever hotter and hungrier world. All the evidence is that heat waves, drought, windstorm and flooding are likely with time to become more extreme and more frequent. So how farmers have adapted in the recent past to shifts in the climate in the last few decades might provide an answer as to their preparedness to adapt to the new world.

The new study suggests they may not adapt fast enough or surely enough. The researchers find that three decades from now, the global harvest could be 3% less than it is now, or as much as 11%. By 2100, yields may have fallen by 11%, or as much as 25%.

“Globally, farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, even over longer periods, might be limited,” said Ian Sue Wing of Boston University in the US. “Even in the United States, the world’s agricultural technology frontier, farmers have been able only slightly to compensate for the adverse impacts of extreme heat on yields of maize and soybeans over time-frames of decades.”

And his co-author Enrica de Cian of Ca’Foscari University in Venice, Italy said: “We asked ourselves: if difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics, where 40% of the world’s population live and high temperature extremes are projected to rise more than in the major calorie crop-growing regions of the US?” − Climate News Network

Buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive

All win by protecting nature, not exploiting it. That needs huge sums: buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive today.

LONDON, 4 June, 2021 − In the next 30 years, to save the planet, nations will have to spend a total of $8.1 trillion dollars. We could buy forest rescue at $25 a year if everyone on Earth paid up.

Only big money can now address the interconnected challenges of potential climate catastrophe, the devastation of the planet’s wildlife and the degradation of the ecosystems on which humans and all other living things depend.

This is the message from a new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum and an organisation called the Economics of Land Degradation: by 2030, investment in what will be called “nature-based solutions” must treble, and by 2050 have increased fourfold.

The ambition is that by 2050, the world’s public and private agencies will be spending $536 billion each year − based on 2020 figures − on direct economic investment into restoring the planet, rather than destroying any more of it.

Not so big

That sum sounds enormous. It is however precisely what the global print market was thought to be worth in 2015; it is what the Saudi Arabian stock exchange was valued at in 2019; it is what a new medical field called digital therapeutics could be worth in 2025.

It is exactly the estimate of sums raised for the sustainable bond market − investment in the “green economy” − on the London Stock Exchange in 2020.

The new report urges a re-examination of priorities, by “repurposing” agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies that now actively harm the planet: that is, harm the forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves and other ecosystems that underwrite all economic activity in myriad ways.

Living things soak up greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, restore water supplies, pollinate crops and provide the genetic material for new discoveries.

“We need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature”

But − as researchers have repeatedly warned − human activity has triggered an episode of mass extinction as great as any in the planet’s history.

“Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10% of its output each year. If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress in other vital areas such as education, health and employment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “If we do not save nature now, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development.”

The report’s authors think the planet will have to spend $203 bn a year from now on just to manage, conserve and restore the world’s forests: that works out at $25 a year from everybody on the planet in 2021. The pay-off would be an extra 300 million hectares, or three million square kilometres, of forest and agro-forestry plantations by 2050. This is an area of land slightly bigger than India.

Right now, the world loses 100,000 sq kms of forest − this is about the area of South Korea − every year: demand for beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and wood fibre account for a quarter of that loss.

Neglected message

Right now, the world spends $133 bn a year on conservation and nature-based solutions: this is just 0.1% of global gross domestic product or GDP, the UNEP report says.

And yet, over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that the world’s forests and natural wildernesses are worth more, in strict economic terms, and to the whole world, rather than to individuals, than any profit to be gained from their destruction. The message has yet to get through.

“Our livelihoods depend on nature. Our collective failure to date to understand that nature underpins our global economic system will increasingly lead to financial losses. More than half of the world’ s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature,” the report says.

“In order to ensure that humanity does not breach the safety limits of the planetary boundaries, we need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature.” − Climate News Network

All win by protecting nature, not exploiting it. That needs huge sums: buy forest rescue at $25 a year from everyone alive today.

LONDON, 4 June, 2021 − In the next 30 years, to save the planet, nations will have to spend a total of $8.1 trillion dollars. We could buy forest rescue at $25 a year if everyone on Earth paid up.

Only big money can now address the interconnected challenges of potential climate catastrophe, the devastation of the planet’s wildlife and the degradation of the ecosystems on which humans and all other living things depend.

This is the message from a new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum and an organisation called the Economics of Land Degradation: by 2030, investment in what will be called “nature-based solutions” must treble, and by 2050 have increased fourfold.

The ambition is that by 2050, the world’s public and private agencies will be spending $536 billion each year − based on 2020 figures − on direct economic investment into restoring the planet, rather than destroying any more of it.

Not so big

That sum sounds enormous. It is however precisely what the global print market was thought to be worth in 2015; it is what the Saudi Arabian stock exchange was valued at in 2019; it is what a new medical field called digital therapeutics could be worth in 2025.

It is exactly the estimate of sums raised for the sustainable bond market − investment in the “green economy” − on the London Stock Exchange in 2020.

The new report urges a re-examination of priorities, by “repurposing” agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies that now actively harm the planet: that is, harm the forests, wetlands, savannahs, mangroves and other ecosystems that underwrite all economic activity in myriad ways.

Living things soak up greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, restore water supplies, pollinate crops and provide the genetic material for new discoveries.

“We need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature”

But − as researchers have repeatedly warned − human activity has triggered an episode of mass extinction as great as any in the planet’s history.

“Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10% of its output each year. If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress in other vital areas such as education, health and employment,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP. “If we do not save nature now, we will not be able to achieve sustainable development.”

The report’s authors think the planet will have to spend $203 bn a year from now on just to manage, conserve and restore the world’s forests: that works out at $25 a year from everybody on the planet in 2021. The pay-off would be an extra 300 million hectares, or three million square kilometres, of forest and agro-forestry plantations by 2050. This is an area of land slightly bigger than India.

Right now, the world loses 100,000 sq kms of forest − this is about the area of South Korea − every year: demand for beef, palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, rubber and wood fibre account for a quarter of that loss.

Neglected message

Right now, the world spends $133 bn a year on conservation and nature-based solutions: this is just 0.1% of global gross domestic product or GDP, the UNEP report says.

And yet, over and over again, researchers have demonstrated that the world’s forests and natural wildernesses are worth more, in strict economic terms, and to the whole world, rather than to individuals, than any profit to be gained from their destruction. The message has yet to get through.

“Our livelihoods depend on nature. Our collective failure to date to understand that nature underpins our global economic system will increasingly lead to financial losses. More than half of the world’ s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature,” the report says.

“In order to ensure that humanity does not breach the safety limits of the planetary boundaries, we need a fundamental shift in mindset, transforming our relationship with nature.” − Climate News Network

Timber homes are a good investment for the future

Timber homes could do more than just save energy, and stall climate change. They could be a sound investment.

LONDON, 31 May, 2021 − Finnish engineers have an encouraging message for householders: wood is good, something worth thinking about for the future. They don’t just mean that a wooden structure preserves carbon that would otherwise become a greenhouse gas again. They mean that timber homes are a worthwhile investment.

That is because they studied real estate sales in two suburbs of Helsinki, between 1999 and 2018. They found that multi-storied timber-built homes changed hands at 8.85% more in value than apartments and houses made of bricks and mortar, or concrete and steel.

The sample is small − timber homes added up to only 2.23% of all sales − and the housing market is not simple. But the results are clear: home-buyers think wood is good.

“At first glance, multi-storey housing blocks made out of wood appear to be cheaper on average but when we look more closely at the data and control for location, we see that it’s economically advantageous to use wood,” said Seppo Junilla, of Aalto University.

“Building with wood is essentially the only way for cities to store carbon”

“The results show that wood-based housing is almost 10% more expensive per square metre than concrete-based housing in the same areas.”

He and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability that the global building and construction sector now accounts for almost 40% of global greenhouse emissions. Meanwhile more than half the planet now lives in cities, and governments have begun to commit to drastic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

A standing forest represents stored atmospheric carbon. A felled tree is potentially carbon on the way back to carbon dioxide again − unless that timber can be used and preserved.

Finland’s Ministry of Environment aims by 2025 to have 45% of new multi-storied buildings made from wood. The technology already has its fans: researchers have more than once proposed that wood would be a sound basis for high-density housing while at the same time making an active  contribution to helping to slow climate change driven by global heating fired by carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and cement manufacture.

Eco-friendly preference

The first step is to encourage builders and purchasers to see this not just as good for the environment, but − in nations with rich forests − good business as well. It depends on location, and market. In Finland, by law, a felled tree must be replaced by a new planting, so timber construction would not reduce forest area overall.

“Our previous research shows that if you buy a flat you’re more concerned about its environmental footprint than if you rent. An owner typically invests more in ways to improve performance, like energy-saving options.

“This principle seems to hold true here: buyers are willing to pay more for an eco-friendly choice, even if they can’t afford to live in the most expensive neighbourhoods of the city,” Professor Junnila said.

“Building with wood is essentially the only way for cities to store carbon − by definition they don’t have the vast amounts of nature needed to sink carbon. The good news is that some international investment companies have already realised the potential of timber construction, and we can only expect this interest to grow.” − Climate News Network

Timber homes could do more than just save energy, and stall climate change. They could be a sound investment.

LONDON, 31 May, 2021 − Finnish engineers have an encouraging message for householders: wood is good, something worth thinking about for the future. They don’t just mean that a wooden structure preserves carbon that would otherwise become a greenhouse gas again. They mean that timber homes are a worthwhile investment.

That is because they studied real estate sales in two suburbs of Helsinki, between 1999 and 2018. They found that multi-storied timber-built homes changed hands at 8.85% more in value than apartments and houses made of bricks and mortar, or concrete and steel.

The sample is small − timber homes added up to only 2.23% of all sales − and the housing market is not simple. But the results are clear: home-buyers think wood is good.

“At first glance, multi-storey housing blocks made out of wood appear to be cheaper on average but when we look more closely at the data and control for location, we see that it’s economically advantageous to use wood,” said Seppo Junilla, of Aalto University.

“Building with wood is essentially the only way for cities to store carbon”

“The results show that wood-based housing is almost 10% more expensive per square metre than concrete-based housing in the same areas.”

He and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability that the global building and construction sector now accounts for almost 40% of global greenhouse emissions. Meanwhile more than half the planet now lives in cities, and governments have begun to commit to drastic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

A standing forest represents stored atmospheric carbon. A felled tree is potentially carbon on the way back to carbon dioxide again − unless that timber can be used and preserved.

Finland’s Ministry of Environment aims by 2025 to have 45% of new multi-storied buildings made from wood. The technology already has its fans: researchers have more than once proposed that wood would be a sound basis for high-density housing while at the same time making an active  contribution to helping to slow climate change driven by global heating fired by carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and cement manufacture.

Eco-friendly preference

The first step is to encourage builders and purchasers to see this not just as good for the environment, but − in nations with rich forests − good business as well. It depends on location, and market. In Finland, by law, a felled tree must be replaced by a new planting, so timber construction would not reduce forest area overall.

“Our previous research shows that if you buy a flat you’re more concerned about its environmental footprint than if you rent. An owner typically invests more in ways to improve performance, like energy-saving options.

“This principle seems to hold true here: buyers are willing to pay more for an eco-friendly choice, even if they can’t afford to live in the most expensive neighbourhoods of the city,” Professor Junnila said.

“Building with wood is essentially the only way for cities to store carbon − by definition they don’t have the vast amounts of nature needed to sink carbon. The good news is that some international investment companies have already realised the potential of timber construction, and we can only expect this interest to grow.” − Climate News Network

There will be no silver bullet for climate change

There is no silver bullet for climate change, no one answer. To save civilisation, nations must co-operate on five fronts.

LONDON, 20 May, 2021 − The world could meet a global commitment made six years ago to limit climate heating to no more than 1.5°C by the century’s end − but only by taking urgent and challenging action on five separate fronts, by doing so at speed, and ceasing to dream of a silver bullet for climate change.

In 2015, the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to try to contain the inexorable rise in planetary temperatures by the century’s end, to “well below” 2°C above the historic average before the emergence of coal, oil and gas as fuel to power population growth, technological advance and the global economy.

But by 2021, the planet was already 1.2°C warmer than the historic levels, and research has repeatedly confirmed that so far all the commitments made at Paris will leave the world 3°C or more warmer. And this extra degree or more Celsius could have catastrophic consequences.

These include devastating sea level rise, murderous levels of heat extremes for 500 million people or more, and premature loss of life on huge scales, along with loss of health for even greater numbers.

Now an international team of distinguished climate scientists reports in the journal Environmental Research Letters that its members looked in detail at the action necessary to keep the promises made in Paris.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution”

And they have bleak news for the advocates of gradual change: there is no silver bullet, no engineering solution, no single answer that can address the challenge.

The researchers combed through 414 scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions, and found only 50 that had a chance of restraining temperature rise to 1.5°C in the next eight decades. They also looked at five different kinds of global action that could reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, to find that no single one of them meets the Paris target.

So the world will have to drastically reduce fossil fuel use to almost zero. It will have to restore and protect the natural wilderness − forests, wetlands, grasslands, mangrove forests and so on. Researchers will have to find how to draw down carbon from the atmosphere in ever-greater quantities and then identify ways of storing it for aeons.

Humankind will have to switch to a sustainable plant-based diet on international scales to help reduce emissions of  methane, nitrous oxide and other potent greenhouse gases. Industry, too, will have look for new efficiencies.

Daunting prospect

The switch away from carbon-based fuels is by far the most urgent step to be taken. “Yet we can’t do away with the other strategies,” said Lila Warszawski of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

“Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for instance storing it underground also proves to be almost indispensable. Land use must become a net carbon sink, for instance by re-wetting peatlands or afforestation. Finally, emissions of the powerful gas methane must be cut from animal production, but also from leaks in oil and gas extraction. This is quite a list.”

And Tim Lenton, of the University of Exeter in the UK, reinforced the message. “This calls for an immediate acceleration of worldwide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all available means,” he said.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution. Otherwise those most vulnerable to climate change are going to bear the brunt of missing the 1.5°C target. This is a system-wide challenge − piecemeal actions and rhetorical commitments are not going to be enough.” − Climate News Network

There is no silver bullet for climate change, no one answer. To save civilisation, nations must co-operate on five fronts.

LONDON, 20 May, 2021 − The world could meet a global commitment made six years ago to limit climate heating to no more than 1.5°C by the century’s end − but only by taking urgent and challenging action on five separate fronts, by doing so at speed, and ceasing to dream of a silver bullet for climate change.

In 2015, the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to try to contain the inexorable rise in planetary temperatures by the century’s end, to “well below” 2°C above the historic average before the emergence of coal, oil and gas as fuel to power population growth, technological advance and the global economy.

But by 2021, the planet was already 1.2°C warmer than the historic levels, and research has repeatedly confirmed that so far all the commitments made at Paris will leave the world 3°C or more warmer. And this extra degree or more Celsius could have catastrophic consequences.

These include devastating sea level rise, murderous levels of heat extremes for 500 million people or more, and premature loss of life on huge scales, along with loss of health for even greater numbers.

Now an international team of distinguished climate scientists reports in the journal Environmental Research Letters that its members looked in detail at the action necessary to keep the promises made in Paris.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution”

And they have bleak news for the advocates of gradual change: there is no silver bullet, no engineering solution, no single answer that can address the challenge.

The researchers combed through 414 scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions, and found only 50 that had a chance of restraining temperature rise to 1.5°C in the next eight decades. They also looked at five different kinds of global action that could reduce atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, to find that no single one of them meets the Paris target.

So the world will have to drastically reduce fossil fuel use to almost zero. It will have to restore and protect the natural wilderness − forests, wetlands, grasslands, mangrove forests and so on. Researchers will have to find how to draw down carbon from the atmosphere in ever-greater quantities and then identify ways of storing it for aeons.

Humankind will have to switch to a sustainable plant-based diet on international scales to help reduce emissions of  methane, nitrous oxide and other potent greenhouse gases. Industry, too, will have look for new efficiencies.

Daunting prospect

The switch away from carbon-based fuels is by far the most urgent step to be taken. “Yet we can’t do away with the other strategies,” said Lila Warszawski of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who led the study.

“Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and for instance storing it underground also proves to be almost indispensable. Land use must become a net carbon sink, for instance by re-wetting peatlands or afforestation. Finally, emissions of the powerful gas methane must be cut from animal production, but also from leaks in oil and gas extraction. This is quite a list.”

And Tim Lenton, of the University of Exeter in the UK, reinforced the message. “This calls for an immediate acceleration of worldwide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all available means,” he said.

“We need a sustainability revolution to rival the industrial revolution. Otherwise those most vulnerable to climate change are going to bear the brunt of missing the 1.5°C target. This is a system-wide challenge − piecemeal actions and rhetorical commitments are not going to be enough.” − Climate News Network

Only intact forests can stave off climate change

The world’s forests are supposed to stave off climate change. Left alone, perhaps they could. But they’re not being left alone.

LONDON, 3 May, 2021 − In the last decade, the Amazon forests of Brazil released more carbon into the atmosphere than they absorbed, thanks largely to human activities that cleared or degraded the canopy. Those activities make it impossible for affected forests to stave off climate change.

And a survey of the cooler forests of North America has revealed that these, too, could be surrendering more carbon than they soak up from the atmosphere, thanks to human-triggered climate change and the ever greater hazard of wildfire.

The world’s forests are a key part of the great carbon conundrum: what happens to all the greenhouse gases emitted from power stations, vehicle exhausts and factory chimneys? The assumption is that approaching one third of all the carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the forests, and the conservation of the planet’s forests has become part of the proposed arsenal of global defence against catastrophic climate change.

Researchers have repeatedly confirmed that, undisturbed, the world’s great natural forests are important reservoirs of atmospheric carbon. They have also confirmed that, even without taking carbon sequestration into account, the forests represent precious natural capital: they are worth more to humankind undisturbed than they could ever be as sawn timber or ranchland.

“Forest degradation has become the largest process driving forest loss”

But the world’s forests are not being left alone: one study found that even many of those ecosystems set aside by national law for protection are being destroyed or damaged.

And the simple equation that an area of tree canopy represents so much carbon drawn down from the atmosphere turns out not to be so simple. A warming climate − and the planet as a whole is more than 1°C on average warmer than it was a century ago − can disturb the calculations.

As the thermometer notches up, trees grow faster and die younger;  they also grow shorter and the extra fertility conferred by an atmosphere richer in carbon could result in a richer spring growth that is not sustained over a longer summer season. As the temperature rises, so the character of the forests could change: some species may one day find it too hot to reproduce.

And then there is the direct effect of climate change driven by rising temperatures: with heat comes drought, and the greater risk of fire. Forests that had once been reservoirs of carbon could start to surrender it to accelerate climate change even more. The marvel that is the Amazon rainforest could, one researcher has warned, collapse altogether and change irrevocably in one human lifetime.

Degradation costs more

Both of the latest studies deliver evidence that, over time, this could already be on the cards. Scientists from the US, France, Denmark, the UK and China report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they worked through a vast collection of satellite data to calculate the levels of what they call “above ground carbon” − the mass of the element incorporated in timber and foliage − in the Brazilian Amazon between the years 2010 and 2019.

They worked out that in that decade, the growing forest gained 3.79 billion tonnes of carbon, but degradation or destruction of the forest resulted in a gross loss of 4.45 billion tonnes. And degradation − basically disturbance by humans in the shape of roads, or plantations, or mining or quarrying − was three times more costly in carbon terms than actual forest clearance.

“Forest degradation has become the largest process driving forest loss and should become a higher policy priority,” the authors say.

A second study in the same journal confirms a parallel finding over 2.82 million square kilometres of Alaska and western Canada. Researchers from the US looked at three decades of satellite data, from 1984 to 2014, to calculate that over those 30 years this area of boreal forest gained 434 billion tonnes of mass in the form of timber and foliage above ground. But forest fires also surrendered 789 billion tonnes of mass over those years.

Intact forests vital

The forests recovered − that is, new growth replaced the lost − but in that time only by 642 billion tonnes. Timber millers took 74 billion tonnes, and new growth added 32 billion tonnes in return. Above-ground mass is not the same thing as above-ground carbon, but it doesn’t change the big picture.

And the big picture is that any disturbance alters the value of forests to the atmospheric traffic in carbon. Within that is a warning to those scientists who have to calculate the global carbon budget: humans may have been over-estimating the capacities of the forests.

“It’s not enough for a forest to absorb and store carbon in its wood and soils. For that to be a real benefit, the forest has to remain intact,” said Jonathan Wang, of the University of California at Irvine, who led the study.

“The far north is home to vast, dense stores of carbon that are very sensitive to climate change, and it will take a lot of monitoring and effort to make sure these forests and their carbon stores remain intact.” − Climate News Network

The world’s forests are supposed to stave off climate change. Left alone, perhaps they could. But they’re not being left alone.

LONDON, 3 May, 2021 − In the last decade, the Amazon forests of Brazil released more carbon into the atmosphere than they absorbed, thanks largely to human activities that cleared or degraded the canopy. Those activities make it impossible for affected forests to stave off climate change.

And a survey of the cooler forests of North America has revealed that these, too, could be surrendering more carbon than they soak up from the atmosphere, thanks to human-triggered climate change and the ever greater hazard of wildfire.

The world’s forests are a key part of the great carbon conundrum: what happens to all the greenhouse gases emitted from power stations, vehicle exhausts and factory chimneys? The assumption is that approaching one third of all the carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the forests, and the conservation of the planet’s forests has become part of the proposed arsenal of global defence against catastrophic climate change.

Researchers have repeatedly confirmed that, undisturbed, the world’s great natural forests are important reservoirs of atmospheric carbon. They have also confirmed that, even without taking carbon sequestration into account, the forests represent precious natural capital: they are worth more to humankind undisturbed than they could ever be as sawn timber or ranchland.

“Forest degradation has become the largest process driving forest loss”

But the world’s forests are not being left alone: one study found that even many of those ecosystems set aside by national law for protection are being destroyed or damaged.

And the simple equation that an area of tree canopy represents so much carbon drawn down from the atmosphere turns out not to be so simple. A warming climate − and the planet as a whole is more than 1°C on average warmer than it was a century ago − can disturb the calculations.

As the thermometer notches up, trees grow faster and die younger;  they also grow shorter and the extra fertility conferred by an atmosphere richer in carbon could result in a richer spring growth that is not sustained over a longer summer season. As the temperature rises, so the character of the forests could change: some species may one day find it too hot to reproduce.

And then there is the direct effect of climate change driven by rising temperatures: with heat comes drought, and the greater risk of fire. Forests that had once been reservoirs of carbon could start to surrender it to accelerate climate change even more. The marvel that is the Amazon rainforest could, one researcher has warned, collapse altogether and change irrevocably in one human lifetime.

Degradation costs more

Both of the latest studies deliver evidence that, over time, this could already be on the cards. Scientists from the US, France, Denmark, the UK and China report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they worked through a vast collection of satellite data to calculate the levels of what they call “above ground carbon” − the mass of the element incorporated in timber and foliage − in the Brazilian Amazon between the years 2010 and 2019.

They worked out that in that decade, the growing forest gained 3.79 billion tonnes of carbon, but degradation or destruction of the forest resulted in a gross loss of 4.45 billion tonnes. And degradation − basically disturbance by humans in the shape of roads, or plantations, or mining or quarrying − was three times more costly in carbon terms than actual forest clearance.

“Forest degradation has become the largest process driving forest loss and should become a higher policy priority,” the authors say.

A second study in the same journal confirms a parallel finding over 2.82 million square kilometres of Alaska and western Canada. Researchers from the US looked at three decades of satellite data, from 1984 to 2014, to calculate that over those 30 years this area of boreal forest gained 434 billion tonnes of mass in the form of timber and foliage above ground. But forest fires also surrendered 789 billion tonnes of mass over those years.

Intact forests vital

The forests recovered − that is, new growth replaced the lost − but in that time only by 642 billion tonnes. Timber millers took 74 billion tonnes, and new growth added 32 billion tonnes in return. Above-ground mass is not the same thing as above-ground carbon, but it doesn’t change the big picture.

And the big picture is that any disturbance alters the value of forests to the atmospheric traffic in carbon. Within that is a warning to those scientists who have to calculate the global carbon budget: humans may have been over-estimating the capacities of the forests.

“It’s not enough for a forest to absorb and store carbon in its wood and soils. For that to be a real benefit, the forest has to remain intact,” said Jonathan Wang, of the University of California at Irvine, who led the study.

“The far north is home to vast, dense stores of carbon that are very sensitive to climate change, and it will take a lot of monitoring and effort to make sure these forests and their carbon stores remain intact.” − Climate News Network

Rich world’s demands fell poorer world’s forests

The tropical forests maintain global climate and nurture the riches of nature. The rich world’s demands are destroying them.

LONDON, 9 April, 2021 − The world’s great ecosystems − moderators of climate, nurseries for evolution − are still being destroyed in the service of global trade, to meet the rich world’s demands. Once again, researchers have confirmed that the wealthy nations are in effect ploughing savanna and felling tropical forests at a distance.

In the first 15 years of this century, the growing demand from the well-heeled for chocolate, rubber, cotton, soy, beef and exotic timber has meant that poorer nations have actually increased their levels of deforestation.

In effect, every human in the G7 nations − Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US − is responsible for the loss of at least four trees a year, mostly in the developing world.

And in a separate study in another journal, another team of scientists has examined satellite data to confirm that between 1985 and 2018, humans cleared or altered 268 million hectares of natural ecosystem on the continent of South America. This is 2.68 million sq kilometres: an area almost the size of Argentina.

Two scientists in Japan report in Nature Ecology and Evolution that they matched levels of deforestation against trade with the world’s biggest economies, to find a clear correlation. They could even distinguish demand in one rich country and its impact on the forests of a poorer nation.

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

“While cocoa consumption in Germany poses the highest risk to the forests in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, deforestation in coastal Tanzania is dominated by Japanese consumers for some agricultural commodities, such as cotton and sesame seed,” they write.

“China shares the most significant responsibility for deforestation in Indochina − particularly in northern Laos for timber and rubber.”

Ironically, many of the richer nations have expanded the areas of forest on their own soil. More than 90% of the deforestation caused by five of the G7 nations was beyond their own borders. In effect, the rich were exporting the destruction of the natural world, and the cost to the planet was disproportionate. The loss of three trees in the Amazon might be more damaging than the loss of 14 trees in Norway, the scientists argue.

“Most forests are in poorer countries who are overwhelmed with economic incentives to cut them down. Our findings show that richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities,” said Keiichiro Kanemoto of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto.

“Policies that aim to preserve forests need to also alleviate poverty. With the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment poses more challenges to forest conservation in developing countries. We want our data to assist in the policy making.”

South American losses

And in the journal Science Advances, a team from the University of Maryland reports on a closer look at the impact of demand for pulpwood, sugar cane, beef, corn and other commodities on one continent: South America, home to some of the world’s most important ecosystems.

They found that human impact on the continent’s land surface just between the years 1985 and 2018 had expanded by 60%. In those years the natural tree cover had dwindled by 16%, and the scale of pasture increased by 23%, cropland by 160% and plantation by 288%.

The sum of all the altered land reached 268 million hectares, or 2.68m sq kms. Argentina, which coincidentally covers 2.73m sq kms, saw an increase of only 23% in human conversion of land use. Brazil tipped the scales with an expansion of 65% in those years.

And, say the researchers, of all this altered land cover on the continent, around 55 million hectares had been degraded − that is, it was no longer functioning as an ecosystem − while being employed for no commercial return. This is the equivalent of more than half a million square kilometres: an area slightly bigger than France.

“No region on Earth is likely to have experienced the scale of land conversion for the sake of agricultural commodity production that South America has,” the authors write. − Climate News Network

The tropical forests maintain global climate and nurture the riches of nature. The rich world’s demands are destroying them.

LONDON, 9 April, 2021 − The world’s great ecosystems − moderators of climate, nurseries for evolution − are still being destroyed in the service of global trade, to meet the rich world’s demands. Once again, researchers have confirmed that the wealthy nations are in effect ploughing savanna and felling tropical forests at a distance.

In the first 15 years of this century, the growing demand from the well-heeled for chocolate, rubber, cotton, soy, beef and exotic timber has meant that poorer nations have actually increased their levels of deforestation.

In effect, every human in the G7 nations − Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US − is responsible for the loss of at least four trees a year, mostly in the developing world.

And in a separate study in another journal, another team of scientists has examined satellite data to confirm that between 1985 and 2018, humans cleared or altered 268 million hectares of natural ecosystem on the continent of South America. This is 2.68 million sq kilometres: an area almost the size of Argentina.

Two scientists in Japan report in Nature Ecology and Evolution that they matched levels of deforestation against trade with the world’s biggest economies, to find a clear correlation. They could even distinguish demand in one rich country and its impact on the forests of a poorer nation.

“Richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities”

“While cocoa consumption in Germany poses the highest risk to the forests in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, deforestation in coastal Tanzania is dominated by Japanese consumers for some agricultural commodities, such as cotton and sesame seed,” they write.

“China shares the most significant responsibility for deforestation in Indochina − particularly in northern Laos for timber and rubber.”

Ironically, many of the richer nations have expanded the areas of forest on their own soil. More than 90% of the deforestation caused by five of the G7 nations was beyond their own borders. In effect, the rich were exporting the destruction of the natural world, and the cost to the planet was disproportionate. The loss of three trees in the Amazon might be more damaging than the loss of 14 trees in Norway, the scientists argue.

“Most forests are in poorer countries who are overwhelmed with economic incentives to cut them down. Our findings show that richer countries are encouraging deforestation through demand for commodities,” said Keiichiro Kanemoto of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto.

“Policies that aim to preserve forests need to also alleviate poverty. With the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment poses more challenges to forest conservation in developing countries. We want our data to assist in the policy making.”

South American losses

And in the journal Science Advances, a team from the University of Maryland reports on a closer look at the impact of demand for pulpwood, sugar cane, beef, corn and other commodities on one continent: South America, home to some of the world’s most important ecosystems.

They found that human impact on the continent’s land surface just between the years 1985 and 2018 had expanded by 60%. In those years the natural tree cover had dwindled by 16%, and the scale of pasture increased by 23%, cropland by 160% and plantation by 288%.

The sum of all the altered land reached 268 million hectares, or 2.68m sq kms. Argentina, which coincidentally covers 2.73m sq kms, saw an increase of only 23% in human conversion of land use. Brazil tipped the scales with an expansion of 65% in those years.

And, say the researchers, of all this altered land cover on the continent, around 55 million hectares had been degraded − that is, it was no longer functioning as an ecosystem − while being employed for no commercial return. This is the equivalent of more than half a million square kilometres: an area slightly bigger than France.

“No region on Earth is likely to have experienced the scale of land conversion for the sake of agricultural commodity production that South America has,” the authors write. − Climate News Network

Invasive alien species exact huge ecosystem cost

At last, a global price on invasive alien species: it runs to billions of dollars and doubles every six years.

LONDON, 8 April, 2021 − French scientists have put a value on the cost of ecosystem destruction by often almost invisible newcomers: the damage invasive alien species do, and the price of containing that damage, has already passed the US$1.28 trillion mark in less than 50 years.

That’s because the annual toll imposed by cats, rats and mice, boll weevils, gipsy moths, African bees, red imported fire ants and other unwelcome migrants has averaged $26.8 billion a year from 1970 to 2017, and has been doubling every six years, and trebling every decade.

Which is why the global economic losses in 2017 alone reached $162bn, and will go on rising, they warn in the journal Nature.

“This trillion dollar bill doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, with a consistent threefold increase per decade,” said Christophe Diagne of the Université Paris-Saclay, who led the research.

“Our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs”

“Our annual global estimates signify the huge economic burden, with the average cost exceeding the gross domestic product of 50 countries on the African continent in 2017, and it’s more than 20 times higher than the total funds available for the World Health Organisation and UN combined.”

Displaced species − accidental stowaways such as the Norway rat and the malarial mosquito, or deliberate introductions such as coypu and mink
− can and do cause colossal damage to unique habitats fashioned by evolution and to the ecosystem services they provide.

African bees and boll weevils from Mexico present a potentially devastating threat to farm incomes worldwide; the larvae of gypsy moths from Europe − known to devour the foliage of at least 500 tree species − have caused devastation in US forests, and the colonies of the subterranean Formosan termite are now chewing their way through woodwork on mainland Asia and the US.

And, researchers warn, the expansion of global economic traffic, the degradation of natural habitat and the new opportunities delivered by climate change driven by global warming can only deliver more and more devastating opportunities for such invaders.

Models verified

Dr Diagne and his colleagues in Europe and Australia have been compiling a database of the economic costs of biological invasion, and a mechanism for calculating the scale of annual monetary losses. And these, the researchers warn, are probably much higher than $1.28 trillion in the last five decades.

They want to see the hazard of biological invasion taken seriously in the discussion of transnational projects. They also urge international co-operation to reduce the risks.

“The global costs of invasive alien species are so massive that we spent months verifying our models and this overall estimate, to ensure we were not exaggerating,” Dr Diagne said.

“As it turns out, our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs.” − Climate News Network

At last, a global price on invasive alien species: it runs to billions of dollars and doubles every six years.

LONDON, 8 April, 2021 − French scientists have put a value on the cost of ecosystem destruction by often almost invisible newcomers: the damage invasive alien species do, and the price of containing that damage, has already passed the US$1.28 trillion mark in less than 50 years.

That’s because the annual toll imposed by cats, rats and mice, boll weevils, gipsy moths, African bees, red imported fire ants and other unwelcome migrants has averaged $26.8 billion a year from 1970 to 2017, and has been doubling every six years, and trebling every decade.

Which is why the global economic losses in 2017 alone reached $162bn, and will go on rising, they warn in the journal Nature.

“This trillion dollar bill doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, with a consistent threefold increase per decade,” said Christophe Diagne of the Université Paris-Saclay, who led the research.

“Our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs”

“Our annual global estimates signify the huge economic burden, with the average cost exceeding the gross domestic product of 50 countries on the African continent in 2017, and it’s more than 20 times higher than the total funds available for the World Health Organisation and UN combined.”

Displaced species − accidental stowaways such as the Norway rat and the malarial mosquito, or deliberate introductions such as coypu and mink
− can and do cause colossal damage to unique habitats fashioned by evolution and to the ecosystem services they provide.

African bees and boll weevils from Mexico present a potentially devastating threat to farm incomes worldwide; the larvae of gypsy moths from Europe − known to devour the foliage of at least 500 tree species − have caused devastation in US forests, and the colonies of the subterranean Formosan termite are now chewing their way through woodwork on mainland Asia and the US.

And, researchers warn, the expansion of global economic traffic, the degradation of natural habitat and the new opportunities delivered by climate change driven by global warming can only deliver more and more devastating opportunities for such invaders.

Models verified

Dr Diagne and his colleagues in Europe and Australia have been compiling a database of the economic costs of biological invasion, and a mechanism for calculating the scale of annual monetary losses. And these, the researchers warn, are probably much higher than $1.28 trillion in the last five decades.

They want to see the hazard of biological invasion taken seriously in the discussion of transnational projects. They also urge international co-operation to reduce the risks.

“The global costs of invasive alien species are so massive that we spent months verifying our models and this overall estimate, to ensure we were not exaggerating,” Dr Diagne said.

“As it turns out, our very conservative approach is in fact a massive underestimation of the actual economic costs.” − Climate News Network

Nature left alone offers more than if we exploit it

Save nature, save money. It’s a simple argument. Wilderness cleared and ploughed offers us less than nature left alone.

LONDON, 19 March, 2021 − British scientists have once again made the commercial case for conserving wilderness. They have demonstrated that in its pristine state − mangrove swamps, wetlands, savannahs, forests and so on − nature left alone is of more value to humankind than as exploited real estate.

This argument has been made already, and more than once. But this time the researchers can provide the detail for their argument: they report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they had devised an accounting methodology to test such arguments, and then applied this in 24 selected sites around the planet.

Some of the value would be in intangibles such as providing a shelter for the wild things and wild plants; some of it would be measurable. For instance, if the damage inherent in carbon spilled into the atmosphere through habitat destruction or fossil fuel combustion presents an overall cost to society of $31 a tonne − and this is a conservative estimate − then almost three quarters of the sample sites have greater value simply as natural habitats.

And that includes 100% of all forests. If that greenhouse gas carbon was valued at a paltry $5 a tonne, almost two thirds of the sites would still be, over a 50-year period, a better investment left untouched.

“At current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity”

But what climate scientists now call “natural capital” − the invisible services  provided by nature in crop pollination, water filtration and planetary air conditioning − is of measurable commercial value even without the vital role of carbon sink. Of the 24 sites, 42% would still be worth more in their natural form than converted to cropland.

“Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing,” said Richard Bradbury, of the University of Cambridge. “We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”

And his Cambridge co-author Andrew Balmford said: “Current rates of habitat conversion are driving a species extinction crisis unlike anything in human history. Even if you are only interested in dollars and cents, we can see that conserving and restoring nature is now very often the best bet for human prosperity.”

In fact the researchers made their conclusions based on 62 sites, but concentrated on 24 simply because in these cases they had the most reliable information about the potential commercial value of their sample against which to measure the value of restoring it, or protecting it, or both.

Valuable saltmarsh

If Nepal’s Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park was turned from forest to farmland, investors would gain immediate capital from the value of the timber, and a longer-term income from crops. But the loss of carbon storage would be 60%, and the damage to water quality would be 88%, and Nepal would be $11m worse off.

Even a saltmarsh near Preston in the United Kingdom proved to be worth $2000 a hectare in terms of its value in mitigating carbon emissions: no income from crops or forage grazing could match that.

That left 38 sites for which the economic data was less certain: even in these cases, the “goods and services” delivered by the site in its natural state was, for two thirds of them, of more value to humankind as a whole than calculated exploitation by a few.

“Our findings indicate that, at current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity,” the authors say. − Climate News Network

Save nature, save money. It’s a simple argument. Wilderness cleared and ploughed offers us less than nature left alone.

LONDON, 19 March, 2021 − British scientists have once again made the commercial case for conserving wilderness. They have demonstrated that in its pristine state − mangrove swamps, wetlands, savannahs, forests and so on − nature left alone is of more value to humankind than as exploited real estate.

This argument has been made already, and more than once. But this time the researchers can provide the detail for their argument: they report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they had devised an accounting methodology to test such arguments, and then applied this in 24 selected sites around the planet.

Some of the value would be in intangibles such as providing a shelter for the wild things and wild plants; some of it would be measurable. For instance, if the damage inherent in carbon spilled into the atmosphere through habitat destruction or fossil fuel combustion presents an overall cost to society of $31 a tonne − and this is a conservative estimate − then almost three quarters of the sample sites have greater value simply as natural habitats.

And that includes 100% of all forests. If that greenhouse gas carbon was valued at a paltry $5 a tonne, almost two thirds of the sites would still be, over a 50-year period, a better investment left untouched.

“At current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity”

But what climate scientists now call “natural capital” − the invisible services  provided by nature in crop pollination, water filtration and planetary air conditioning − is of measurable commercial value even without the vital role of carbon sink. Of the 24 sites, 42% would still be worth more in their natural form than converted to cropland.

“Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing,” said Richard Bradbury, of the University of Cambridge. “We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”

And his Cambridge co-author Andrew Balmford said: “Current rates of habitat conversion are driving a species extinction crisis unlike anything in human history. Even if you are only interested in dollars and cents, we can see that conserving and restoring nature is now very often the best bet for human prosperity.”

In fact the researchers made their conclusions based on 62 sites, but concentrated on 24 simply because in these cases they had the most reliable information about the potential commercial value of their sample against which to measure the value of restoring it, or protecting it, or both.

Valuable saltmarsh

If Nepal’s Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park was turned from forest to farmland, investors would gain immediate capital from the value of the timber, and a longer-term income from crops. But the loss of carbon storage would be 60%, and the damage to water quality would be 88%, and Nepal would be $11m worse off.

Even a saltmarsh near Preston in the United Kingdom proved to be worth $2000 a hectare in terms of its value in mitigating carbon emissions: no income from crops or forage grazing could match that.

That left 38 sites for which the economic data was less certain: even in these cases, the “goods and services” delivered by the site in its natural state was, for two thirds of them, of more value to humankind as a whole than calculated exploitation by a few.

“Our findings indicate that, at current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity,” the authors say. − Climate News Network

Wales goes green with Welsh national forest plan

Wales has pledged to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. So it plans a Welsh national forest with thousands more trees.

CARDIFF, 12 March, 2021 − A year ago the first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, announced a big step forward towards a more verdant and accessible country: a scheme for a Welsh national forest.

Inspired by the Wales Coast Path, the idea is to create a woodland system that enables visitors to walk uninterrupted throughout the country.

As well as protecting and improving existing forest sites, the scheme will fund tree-planting across the nation by farmers and local communities.

Wales is part of a global movement. In Africa’s Sahel, the Great Green Wall programme has been running for a decade and is about 15% complete. Once finished, the 8,000 km-long wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

In east Africa the people of the Tanzanian island of Kokota have planted more than two million trees over a decade. The Borneo Nature Foundation is aiming to plant 1m trees in south-east Asia in the next five years.

“Through the National Forest we can restore, enhance and create woodlands and habitats across the length and breadth of Wales”

These schemes, and many others, are supported by millions of campaigners and small organisations who drive the demand for tree-planting. Trees have an undeniably positive effect on the planet, absorbing from the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other climate-heating emissions produced by humans.

But care is needed. An existing forest is more effective than a new one, as mature trees are better than young ones at absorbing emissions, and are more resilient to storms and drought.

Deforestation across the globe has accelerated in recent decades, with sites such as the Amazon rainforest destroyed by agriculture, mining and wildfires. There are worries that tree-planting programmes cannot withstand this damage.

Tree loss of this sort is happening in Africa too, putting pressure on already threatened ecosystems. Kevin Juma, one of the founders of the Africa Forest Carbon Catalyst, says: “Africa has one-fifth of the planet’s remaining forests but is losing them faster than anywhere else. Protecting and restoring these forest landscapes is not only critical for Africa, but for the entire world.

Better than planting

“This forest protection model is among the most cost-effective natural defences against climate change, in addition to helping maintain biodiversity, and providing economic opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people in the region.”

The World Resources Institute says protecting tropical tree cover alone could provide 23% of the climate mitigation needed to meet the goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Schemes which focus on tree protection and forest restoration are more likely to provide climate mitigation than tree-planting.

Initiative 20X20 aims to restore existing forests in Latin America and the Caribbean. So far, it has secured commitments from 17 countries to protect and restore 50 million hectares (124m acres) of degraded land by 2030.

The region contains some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, and restoring them will help their animal inhabitants, as well as contributing to a global effort to reduce emissions.

The Welsh government has been pledging a move towards a more sustainable future for some time. Since 2008 the Plant programme has planted a tree for every child born or adopted in Wales. For the last seven years, this has been matched by planting an additional tree in Uganda for every Welsh birth.

Carbon cuts too

The programme has led to 300,000 new trees being planted in Wales, with 140 hectares of new woodland created. In Uganda, the scheme has supported 1,600 families in 30 villages, and five Fairtrade coffee plantations. Through the Size of Wales programme, the Welsh government also funds projects in Kenya, Borneo, the DRC, Peru and Guyana.

The new National Forest scheme is a way of mirroring this climate action within Wales. It will be part of the nation’s legal commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Welsh wildlife broadcaster Iolo Williams said: “Through the National Forest we can restore, enhance and create woodlands and habitats in a connected way across the length and breadth of Wales, with the right species of tree planted in the right place.

“It will also inspire well-being through creating a love for the outdoors in future generations.” − Climate News Network

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Emily Withers is a trainee journalist covering climate and environment news at Cardiff University and will complete her studies in August 2021. https://emily-withers.co.uk

Wales has pledged to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. So it plans a Welsh national forest with thousands more trees.

CARDIFF, 12 March, 2021 − A year ago the first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, announced a big step forward towards a more verdant and accessible country: a scheme for a Welsh national forest.

Inspired by the Wales Coast Path, the idea is to create a woodland system that enables visitors to walk uninterrupted throughout the country.

As well as protecting and improving existing forest sites, the scheme will fund tree-planting across the nation by farmers and local communities.

Wales is part of a global movement. In Africa’s Sahel, the Great Green Wall programme has been running for a decade and is about 15% complete. Once finished, the 8,000 km-long wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

In east Africa the people of the Tanzanian island of Kokota have planted more than two million trees over a decade. The Borneo Nature Foundation is aiming to plant 1m trees in south-east Asia in the next five years.

“Through the National Forest we can restore, enhance and create woodlands and habitats across the length and breadth of Wales”

These schemes, and many others, are supported by millions of campaigners and small organisations who drive the demand for tree-planting. Trees have an undeniably positive effect on the planet, absorbing from the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other climate-heating emissions produced by humans.

But care is needed. An existing forest is more effective than a new one, as mature trees are better than young ones at absorbing emissions, and are more resilient to storms and drought.

Deforestation across the globe has accelerated in recent decades, with sites such as the Amazon rainforest destroyed by agriculture, mining and wildfires. There are worries that tree-planting programmes cannot withstand this damage.

Tree loss of this sort is happening in Africa too, putting pressure on already threatened ecosystems. Kevin Juma, one of the founders of the Africa Forest Carbon Catalyst, says: “Africa has one-fifth of the planet’s remaining forests but is losing them faster than anywhere else. Protecting and restoring these forest landscapes is not only critical for Africa, but for the entire world.

Better than planting

“This forest protection model is among the most cost-effective natural defences against climate change, in addition to helping maintain biodiversity, and providing economic opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people in the region.”

The World Resources Institute says protecting tropical tree cover alone could provide 23% of the climate mitigation needed to meet the goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Schemes which focus on tree protection and forest restoration are more likely to provide climate mitigation than tree-planting.

Initiative 20X20 aims to restore existing forests in Latin America and the Caribbean. So far, it has secured commitments from 17 countries to protect and restore 50 million hectares (124m acres) of degraded land by 2030.

The region contains some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, and restoring them will help their animal inhabitants, as well as contributing to a global effort to reduce emissions.

The Welsh government has been pledging a move towards a more sustainable future for some time. Since 2008 the Plant programme has planted a tree for every child born or adopted in Wales. For the last seven years, this has been matched by planting an additional tree in Uganda for every Welsh birth.

Carbon cuts too

The programme has led to 300,000 new trees being planted in Wales, with 140 hectares of new woodland created. In Uganda, the scheme has supported 1,600 families in 30 villages, and five Fairtrade coffee plantations. Through the Size of Wales programme, the Welsh government also funds projects in Kenya, Borneo, the DRC, Peru and Guyana.

The new National Forest scheme is a way of mirroring this climate action within Wales. It will be part of the nation’s legal commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

The Welsh wildlife broadcaster Iolo Williams said: “Through the National Forest we can restore, enhance and create woodlands and habitats in a connected way across the length and breadth of Wales, with the right species of tree planted in the right place.

“It will also inspire well-being through creating a love for the outdoors in future generations.” − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Emily Withers is a trainee journalist covering climate and environment news at Cardiff University and will complete her studies in August 2021. https://emily-withers.co.uk