Tag Archives: Forests

Wildfire risk can be reduced with agroforestry

As Australia struggles to recover from months of wildfires, farmers and foresters say agroforestry could help to protect the country.

LONDON, 28 January, 2020 – Researchers in Europe have found that simply adopting a way of managing land to support animals, crops and trees – a system known as agroforestry – can help significantly to cut the risk of wildfires breaking out in areas around the Mediterranean.

As uncontrolled wildfires threaten natural vegetation, biodiversity, communities and economies – and lives – and release large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global temperature rise, the pressure to find ways of controlling them is urgent.

Studying ten years’ worth of data, the researchers analysed the relationship between the incidence of fire and several different uses of land (for agroforestry, forests, shrublands and grasslands). Agroforestry, occupying 12% of the land area, was linked to just 6% of the fires, while shrubland, which occupied 16%, suffered from 41% of the fires (these figures are based on two European Union documents – LUCAS, its Land use and land cover survey, and the European Forest Fire Information System, EFFIS, 2008-17.

Paul Burgess, reader in crop ecology and management at Cranfield University, UK, said: “Areas of shrubland were at particular risk of wildfire – where the land is not proactively managed or used, there is a build-up of dry vegetation and shrubs creating fuel.

Work boost

“Agroforestry is shown to reduce wildfire risk by encouraging rural employment and removing part of the dry ground-level vegetation through livestock grazing. Taking into account the effect of climate change in this region, it is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being.”

Combining livestock and trees on agroforestry land can create habitats rich in a variety of species that provide an annual income for farmers through livestock products. For clearing vegetation, agroforestry uses less machinery and fossil fuel.

Dr Burgess, who is secretary of the Farm Woodland Forum, told the Climate News Network that agroforestry could help countries like Australia and Portugal to cut the extreme fire risk they have been facing.

He said: “Compared with unmanaged shrubland areas, agroforestry can provide three benefits. Firstly, it encourages local employment and management on the ground which can allow for more rapid initial responses. Then, in most agroforestry systems, the understorey, the vegetation between the forest canopy and the floor, is managed, and this reduces the store of fuel. Third, in many agroforestry systems there are breaks between the trees, which can also help to limit fire spread.”

“Agroforestry is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being”

The proportion of burnt land in the area studied by the team over 10 years ranged from 0.1% of the area of France to 1-2% of the area of Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, and to 14% of the area of Portugal. The researchers report their study in the journal Agroforestry Systems.

Land abandonment is an important element in the risk of wildfires. In many parts of the Mediterranean, an ageing population and the end of traditional farming and forestry activity have led to extensive unmanaged lands.

This results in an increase in decayed biomass, plant material which readily serves as fuel in shrublands that can be easily ignited by natural events such as thunderstorms, or by human activity.

Other suggestions for reducing wildfires include using sunlight to replace fossil fuel-derived kerosene with a synthetic version, and cutting fossil fuel reliance through wide use of new generation batteries. – Climate News Network

As Australia struggles to recover from months of wildfires, farmers and foresters say agroforestry could help to protect the country.

LONDON, 28 January, 2020 – Researchers in Europe have found that simply adopting a way of managing land to support animals, crops and trees – a system known as agroforestry – can help significantly to cut the risk of wildfires breaking out in areas around the Mediterranean.

As uncontrolled wildfires threaten natural vegetation, biodiversity, communities and economies – and lives – and release large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global temperature rise, the pressure to find ways of controlling them is urgent.

Studying ten years’ worth of data, the researchers analysed the relationship between the incidence of fire and several different uses of land (for agroforestry, forests, shrublands and grasslands). Agroforestry, occupying 12% of the land area, was linked to just 6% of the fires, while shrubland, which occupied 16%, suffered from 41% of the fires (these figures are based on two European Union documents – LUCAS, its Land use and land cover survey, and the European Forest Fire Information System, EFFIS, 2008-17.

Paul Burgess, reader in crop ecology and management at Cranfield University, UK, said: “Areas of shrubland were at particular risk of wildfire – where the land is not proactively managed or used, there is a build-up of dry vegetation and shrubs creating fuel.

Work boost

“Agroforestry is shown to reduce wildfire risk by encouraging rural employment and removing part of the dry ground-level vegetation through livestock grazing. Taking into account the effect of climate change in this region, it is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being.”

Combining livestock and trees on agroforestry land can create habitats rich in a variety of species that provide an annual income for farmers through livestock products. For clearing vegetation, agroforestry uses less machinery and fossil fuel.

Dr Burgess, who is secretary of the Farm Woodland Forum, told the Climate News Network that agroforestry could help countries like Australia and Portugal to cut the extreme fire risk they have been facing.

He said: “Compared with unmanaged shrubland areas, agroforestry can provide three benefits. Firstly, it encourages local employment and management on the ground which can allow for more rapid initial responses. Then, in most agroforestry systems, the understorey, the vegetation between the forest canopy and the floor, is managed, and this reduces the store of fuel. Third, in many agroforestry systems there are breaks between the trees, which can also help to limit fire spread.”

“Agroforestry is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being”

The proportion of burnt land in the area studied by the team over 10 years ranged from 0.1% of the area of France to 1-2% of the area of Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, and to 14% of the area of Portugal. The researchers report their study in the journal Agroforestry Systems.

Land abandonment is an important element in the risk of wildfires. In many parts of the Mediterranean, an ageing population and the end of traditional farming and forestry activity have led to extensive unmanaged lands.

This results in an increase in decayed biomass, plant material which readily serves as fuel in shrublands that can be easily ignited by natural events such as thunderstorms, or by human activity.

Other suggestions for reducing wildfires include using sunlight to replace fossil fuel-derived kerosene with a synthetic version, and cutting fossil fuel reliance through wide use of new generation batteries. – Climate News Network

New forests mean permanently lower river flows

Planting trees helps to combat the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gases. But the price can be permanently lower river flows.

LONDON, 20 January, 2020 − New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there’s a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

A study by scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, has found that river flow is reduced in areas where forests have been planted − and, significantly, it does not recover over time. Rivers in some regions can disappear completely within 10 years.

This, the researchers say, highlights the need to consider the impact on regional water availability, as well as the wider climate benefit of tree-planting plans.

“Reforestation is an important part of tackling climate change, but we need to carefully consider the best places for it. In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”, said Laura Bentley, a plant scientist in the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and first author of the report.

Age effect missed

Planting large areas of trees has been suggested as one of the best ways of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, because trees absorb and store the gas as they grow, although uncertainties about the strategy persist. Science has known for a long time that planting trees reduces the amount of water flowing into nearby rivers, but no-one had realised how this effect changes as forests age.

The Cambridge study looked at 43 sites across the world where forests have been established, and used river flow as a measure of water availability in the region. It found that within five years of planting trees, river flow had reduced by an average of 25%.

But 25 years after the trees were planted, rivers had gone down by an average of 40%, or in a few cases had dried up altogether. The biggest percentage reductions in water availability were in parts of Australia and South Africa.

“River flow does not recover after planting trees, even after many years, once disturbances in the catchment and the effects of climate are accounted for,” said Professor David Coomes, director of the Conservation Research Institute, who led the study.

“In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”

Published in the journal Global Change Biology, the research showed that the type of land where trees are planted determines the impact they have on local water availability.

Trees planted on natural grassland where the soil is healthy decrease river flow significantly. But on land previously degraded by agriculture, establishing a forest helps to repair the soil so that it can hold more water, and therefore decreases nearby river flow by a smaller amount.

Strangely, the effect of trees on river flow is smaller in drier years than in wetter ones. When trees are drought-stressed they close the pores on their leaves to conserve water, and as a result take up less water from the soil. In wet weather, though, they use more water from the soil, and also catch the rainwater in their leaves.

“Climate change will affect water availability around the world,” said Bentley. “By studying how forestation affects water availability, we can work to minimise any local consequences for people and the environment.” − Climate News Network

Planting trees helps to combat the climate crisis by cutting greenhouse gases. But the price can be permanently lower river flows.

LONDON, 20 January, 2020 − New forests are an apparently promising way to tackle global heating: the trees absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities. But there’s a snag, because permanently lower river flows can be an unintended consequence.

A study by scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, has found that river flow is reduced in areas where forests have been planted − and, significantly, it does not recover over time. Rivers in some regions can disappear completely within 10 years.

This, the researchers say, highlights the need to consider the impact on regional water availability, as well as the wider climate benefit of tree-planting plans.

“Reforestation is an important part of tackling climate change, but we need to carefully consider the best places for it. In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”, said Laura Bentley, a plant scientist in the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, and first author of the report.

Age effect missed

Planting large areas of trees has been suggested as one of the best ways of reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, because trees absorb and store the gas as they grow, although uncertainties about the strategy persist. Science has known for a long time that planting trees reduces the amount of water flowing into nearby rivers, but no-one had realised how this effect changes as forests age.

The Cambridge study looked at 43 sites across the world where forests have been established, and used river flow as a measure of water availability in the region. It found that within five years of planting trees, river flow had reduced by an average of 25%.

But 25 years after the trees were planted, rivers had gone down by an average of 40%, or in a few cases had dried up altogether. The biggest percentage reductions in water availability were in parts of Australia and South Africa.

“River flow does not recover after planting trees, even after many years, once disturbances in the catchment and the effects of climate are accounted for,” said Professor David Coomes, director of the Conservation Research Institute, who led the study.

“In some places, changes to water availability will completely change the local cost-benefits of tree-planting programmes”

Published in the journal Global Change Biology, the research showed that the type of land where trees are planted determines the impact they have on local water availability.

Trees planted on natural grassland where the soil is healthy decrease river flow significantly. But on land previously degraded by agriculture, establishing a forest helps to repair the soil so that it can hold more water, and therefore decreases nearby river flow by a smaller amount.

Strangely, the effect of trees on river flow is smaller in drier years than in wetter ones. When trees are drought-stressed they close the pores on their leaves to conserve water, and as a result take up less water from the soil. In wet weather, though, they use more water from the soil, and also catch the rainwater in their leaves.

“Climate change will affect water availability around the world,” said Bentley. “By studying how forestation affects water availability, we can work to minimise any local consequences for people and the environment.” − Climate News Network

Australia’s sunshine could spare its blazing forests

The hellish sight of Australia’s blazing forests threatens to become all too familiar. But the future doesn’t have to be like this.



LONDON, 16 January, 2020 − Australia burns, and recent studies show that the severity of the heat waves there has been exacerbated by climate change, fuelling this year’s extensive bush fires and torching the blazing forests. And yet Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, has not faltered in his support for the fossil fuel industry.

To be fair, he is in a difficult situation. A significant part of the Australian economy is dependent on coal, and the economy would take a real hit if coal mining was shut down. On the other hand, it is clear that the coal industry is a major driver of climate change, the consequences of which his voters are suffering from. There is no easy way out. Morrison’s approval ratings have fallen from +2 to -12 during the past month.

So what can Mr Morrison do if he wants to reduce the impact that climate change will have on Australia’s forests? In my opinion, the answer is obvious. He should make good use of the other natural resource that his country has in abundance: sunshine. Sunshine means energy. For a big country like Australia, it means lots of energy.

Exporting solar-powered electricity directly to neighbouring countries is impractical and not very cost-effective − not least because, for Australia, there are very few such neighbouring countries. However, solar energy could be used to produce synthetic hydrocarbons and be stored and transported that way.

“Mr Morrison, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener?”

To take a practical example, there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of airliners being able to run directly on electric batteries charged by renewable sources – to cross the Atlantic, say, the batteries would simply be too heavy. In this respect, kerosene is a remarkable chemical, storing so much energy per gram of fuel. We cannot simply stop aircraft flying – the world’s economy depends on aviation.

Kerosene, as burnt by today’s aircraft, derives from fossil carbon, and it is our emissions of fossil carbon that are causing the climate to change and the Australian bush to burn. But it doesn’t have to be made from fossil carbon.

It can be made by sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and combining it with hydrogen, which has been made by separating it out from oxygen in common-or-garden water (a process known as hydrolysis).

Of course, this process requires energy, and it makes no sense to create synthetic kerosene using energy from fossil carbon. But it makes sense if the kerosene is made using solar energy.

Cost problem

Research has shown that producing synthetic kerosene in this way is possible. The problem of producing it at scale is one of cost. According to recent estimates, the cost of oil would have to exceed US$100 a barrel for synthetic kerosene to become viable.

This is the time for the countries of the world, especially those who have signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, to make commitments. A concrete proposal would be that past 2030, aircraft that land and take off at airports in these countries will, if the planes run on fossil kerosene, be taxed by an amount that would make it economically much more attractive for them to run on synthetic kerosene.

Of course, this won’t make sense unless synthetic kerosene is available in sufficient amounts. Herein lies Australia’s unique economic opportunity. As a politically stable country, we would not have to worry about supplies getting shut off by political instability, a concern for some other sunny parts of the world. Australia could easily become the go-to country for synthetic kerosene.

The developed countries of the world should take the lead in announcing a date when planes landing or taking off at their airports will be taxed extra if they burn fossil kerosene. Mr Morrison, if they do so, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener? Even if it is only to safeguard your own forests. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Tim Palmer is a Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics at the University of Oxford, UK.

The hellish sight of Australia’s blazing forests threatens to become all too familiar. But the future doesn’t have to be like this.



LONDON, 16 January, 2020 − Australia burns, and recent studies show that the severity of the heat waves there has been exacerbated by climate change, fuelling this year’s extensive bush fires and torching the blazing forests. And yet Scott Morrison, Australia’s Prime Minister, has not faltered in his support for the fossil fuel industry.

To be fair, he is in a difficult situation. A significant part of the Australian economy is dependent on coal, and the economy would take a real hit if coal mining was shut down. On the other hand, it is clear that the coal industry is a major driver of climate change, the consequences of which his voters are suffering from. There is no easy way out. Morrison’s approval ratings have fallen from +2 to -12 during the past month.

So what can Mr Morrison do if he wants to reduce the impact that climate change will have on Australia’s forests? In my opinion, the answer is obvious. He should make good use of the other natural resource that his country has in abundance: sunshine. Sunshine means energy. For a big country like Australia, it means lots of energy.

Exporting solar-powered electricity directly to neighbouring countries is impractical and not very cost-effective − not least because, for Australia, there are very few such neighbouring countries. However, solar energy could be used to produce synthetic hydrocarbons and be stored and transported that way.

“Mr Morrison, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener?”

To take a practical example, there is no prospect in the foreseeable future of airliners being able to run directly on electric batteries charged by renewable sources – to cross the Atlantic, say, the batteries would simply be too heavy. In this respect, kerosene is a remarkable chemical, storing so much energy per gram of fuel. We cannot simply stop aircraft flying – the world’s economy depends on aviation.

Kerosene, as burnt by today’s aircraft, derives from fossil carbon, and it is our emissions of fossil carbon that are causing the climate to change and the Australian bush to burn. But it doesn’t have to be made from fossil carbon.

It can be made by sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and combining it with hydrogen, which has been made by separating it out from oxygen in common-or-garden water (a process known as hydrolysis).

Of course, this process requires energy, and it makes no sense to create synthetic kerosene using energy from fossil carbon. But it makes sense if the kerosene is made using solar energy.

Cost problem

Research has shown that producing synthetic kerosene in this way is possible. The problem of producing it at scale is one of cost. According to recent estimates, the cost of oil would have to exceed US$100 a barrel for synthetic kerosene to become viable.

This is the time for the countries of the world, especially those who have signed up to the 2015 Paris Agreement, to make commitments. A concrete proposal would be that past 2030, aircraft that land and take off at airports in these countries will, if the planes run on fossil kerosene, be taxed by an amount that would make it economically much more attractive for them to run on synthetic kerosene.

Of course, this won’t make sense unless synthetic kerosene is available in sufficient amounts. Herein lies Australia’s unique economic opportunity. As a politically stable country, we would not have to worry about supplies getting shut off by political instability, a concern for some other sunny parts of the world. Australia could easily become the go-to country for synthetic kerosene.

The developed countries of the world should take the lead in announcing a date when planes landing or taking off at their airports will be taxed extra if they burn fossil kerosene. Mr Morrison, if they do so, are you prepared to take the initiative in making use of your vast reserves of solar energy to help make the aviation industry significantly greener? Even if it is only to safeguard your own forests. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Tim Palmer is a Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics at the University of Oxford, UK.

Conservation pays its way handsomely

Money does grow on trees. The conservation of a native forest is natural capital, its cash value often reaching trillions of dollars.

LONDON, 2 December, 2019 – More than 400 scientists in Brazil have once again established that conservation pays: landscapes and people are richer for the native vegetation preserved on rural properties.

They calculate that 270 million hectares (667m acres) of natural forest, scrub, marsh and grassland contained in Brazil’s legal reserves are worth US$1.5 trillion (£1.7tn) a year to the nation.

Natural wilderness pays its way by providing a steady supply of natural crop pollinators and pest controls, by seamlessly managing rainfall and water run-off, and by maintaining soil quality, the researchers argue in a new study in the journal Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation.

“The paper is meant to show that preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil and diverges from what was done in Europe 500 years ago, when the level of environmental awareness was different”, said Jean Paul Metzger, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo, who leads the signatories.

“Brazil conserves a great deal, protecting over 60% of its vegetation cover, and has strict legislation. It’s ranked 30th by the World Bank, behind Sweden and Finland, which protect approximately 70%. However, we must call attention to the fact that conservation isn’t bad,” said Professor Metzger.

Protection maintained

Brazilian law requires rural landowners to leave forest cover untouched on a percentage of their property: in the Amazon region as much as 80%; in other regions as little as 20%. But these protected areas shelter a third of the nation’s natural vegetation.

A bill that proposed to weaken or eliminate the Legal Reserve requirement went before the Brazilian Senate in 2019. Had it passed, it could have led to the loss altogether of 270 million hectares of native vegetation.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but a small army of scientists – including 371 researchers in 79 Brazilian laboratories, universities and institutions – have responded with a study that attempts to set a cash value to simply maintaining the natural capital of the wilderness.

Brazil is home to one of the world’s great tropical rainforests, and to one of the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. The global climate crisis is already taking its toll of the forest canopy in the form of drought and fire. But under new national leadership there have been fears that even more forest could be at risk.

“Preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil”

The cash-value case for conservation has been made, and made repeatedly. Studies have confirmed that agribusiness monocultures – vast tracts devoted entirely to one crop and only one crop – are not sustainable: animal pollinators can make the best of the flowering season but then have no alternative sources of food for the rest of the year.

Other researchers have separately established that the loss of natural forest can be far more costly and economically damaging than anybody had expected; and that, conversely, conserved and undisturbed wilderness actually delivers wealth on a sustained basis for national and regional economies. But farmers concerned with immediate profits might not be so conscious of the long-term rewards of conservation.

“It’s an important paper because it presents sound information that can be used to refute the arguments of those who want to change the Brazilian Forest Code and do away with the legal reserve requirement”, said Carlos Joly of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one of the signatories.

And his colleague Paulo Artaxo said: “Farmers sometimes take a short-term view that focuses on three or four years of personal profit, but the nation is left with enormous losses. This mindset should go. The paper makes that very clear.” – Climate News Network

Money does grow on trees. The conservation of a native forest is natural capital, its cash value often reaching trillions of dollars.

LONDON, 2 December, 2019 – More than 400 scientists in Brazil have once again established that conservation pays: landscapes and people are richer for the native vegetation preserved on rural properties.

They calculate that 270 million hectares (667m acres) of natural forest, scrub, marsh and grassland contained in Brazil’s legal reserves are worth US$1.5 trillion (£1.7tn) a year to the nation.

Natural wilderness pays its way by providing a steady supply of natural crop pollinators and pest controls, by seamlessly managing rainfall and water run-off, and by maintaining soil quality, the researchers argue in a new study in the journal Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation.

“The paper is meant to show that preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil and diverges from what was done in Europe 500 years ago, when the level of environmental awareness was different”, said Jean Paul Metzger, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo, who leads the signatories.

“Brazil conserves a great deal, protecting over 60% of its vegetation cover, and has strict legislation. It’s ranked 30th by the World Bank, behind Sweden and Finland, which protect approximately 70%. However, we must call attention to the fact that conservation isn’t bad,” said Professor Metzger.

Protection maintained

Brazilian law requires rural landowners to leave forest cover untouched on a percentage of their property: in the Amazon region as much as 80%; in other regions as little as 20%. But these protected areas shelter a third of the nation’s natural vegetation.

A bill that proposed to weaken or eliminate the Legal Reserve requirement went before the Brazilian Senate in 2019. Had it passed, it could have led to the loss altogether of 270 million hectares of native vegetation.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but a small army of scientists – including 371 researchers in 79 Brazilian laboratories, universities and institutions – have responded with a study that attempts to set a cash value to simply maintaining the natural capital of the wilderness.

Brazil is home to one of the world’s great tropical rainforests, and to one of the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. The global climate crisis is already taking its toll of the forest canopy in the form of drought and fire. But under new national leadership there have been fears that even more forest could be at risk.

“Preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil”

The cash-value case for conservation has been made, and made repeatedly. Studies have confirmed that agribusiness monocultures – vast tracts devoted entirely to one crop and only one crop – are not sustainable: animal pollinators can make the best of the flowering season but then have no alternative sources of food for the rest of the year.

Other researchers have separately established that the loss of natural forest can be far more costly and economically damaging than anybody had expected; and that, conversely, conserved and undisturbed wilderness actually delivers wealth on a sustained basis for national and regional economies. But farmers concerned with immediate profits might not be so conscious of the long-term rewards of conservation.

“It’s an important paper because it presents sound information that can be used to refute the arguments of those who want to change the Brazilian Forest Code and do away with the legal reserve requirement”, said Carlos Joly of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one of the signatories.

And his colleague Paulo Artaxo said: “Farmers sometimes take a short-term view that focuses on three or four years of personal profit, but the nation is left with enormous losses. This mindset should go. The paper makes that very clear.” – Climate News Network

Earth nears irreversible tipping points

Changes afoot now in at least nine areas could drastically alter the Earth’s climate. There’s no time left to act on these tipping points.

LONDON, 28 November, 2019 – On the eve of a global climate summit in Madrid, seven distinguished climate scientists have issued an urgent warning of approaching planetary tipping points: within a few years, they say, humankind could enter a state of potentially catastrophic climate change on a new “hothouse” Earth.

They warn that dramatic changes to planetary stability may already be happening in nine vulnerable ecosystems. As these changes happen, they could reinforce each other and at the same time amplify planetary temperature rise, commit the oceans to inexorable sea level rise of around 10 metres, and threaten the existence of human civilisations.

Their warning is issued in a commentary in the journal Nature. Their conclusions are not – and perhaps cannot be – confirmed by direct evidence or the consensus of other scientists. They present an opinion, not a set of facts that can be scrutinised and challenged or endorsed by their peers.

And the seven researchers recognise that although such changes are happening at speed, some of the consequences of those changes will follow more slowly. Their point is that the risks of irreversible change are too great not to act – and to act now.

Happening now

But the fact that they have chosen to issue such an alarm at all is a measure of the concern raised by the rapid retreat of the Arctic ice, the steady loss of the Greenland ice cap, the damage to the boreal forests, the thaw of the polar permafrost, the slowing of a great ocean current, the loss of tropical corals and the collapse of ice sheets in East and West Antarctica.

Each of these happenings – and many more – was identified more than a decade ago as a potential “tipping point”: an irreversible change that would amplify global heating and trigger a cascade of other climate changes.

“Now we see evidence that over half of them have been activated,” said Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter, UK. “The growing threat of rapid, irreversible changes means it is no longer responsible to wait and see.”

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this”

The idea of a climate tipping point – a threshold beyond which dramatic climate change would be irreversible – is an old one. Two decades ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change examined the idea and proposed that, were the planet to warm by 5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then it could tip into a new climate regime.

But in the last few decades, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have gone from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have risen by more than 1°C. And the rate of change, driven by profligate use of fossil fuels that deposit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, has been alarming.

“It is not only human pressures on Earth that continue rising to unprecedented levels. It is also that, as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming. This is what we are seeing already at 1°C global warming,” said Johan Rockström, who directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and who is another signatory.

“Scientifically, this provides strong evidence for declaring a state of planetary emergency, to unleash world action that accelerates the path towards a world that can continue evolving on a stable planet.”

Inadequate pledges

In 2015, at a climate summit in Paris, 195 nations promised to contain planetary heating to “well below” 2°C, and ideally to 1.5°C, by 2100. But the Nature signatories point at that even if the pledges those nations made are implemented – a “big if”, they warn – then they will ensure only that the world is committed to at least 3°C warming.

The scientists believe there is still time to act – but their dangerous tipping points are now dangerously close.

The arguments go like this. In West Antarctica, ice may already be retreating beyond the “grounding line” where ice, ocean and bedrock meet. If so, then the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse, and sea levels could rise by three metres.

New evidence suggests the East Antarctic ice sheet could be similarly unstable, and precipitate further sea level rise of up to four metres. Hundreds of millions are already at risk from coastal flooding.

Timescale controlled

The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate, and once past a critical threshold could lose enough water to raise sea levels by seven metres. Even a 1.5°C warming might condemn Greenland to irreversible melting – and on present form the world could warm by 1.5°C by 2030.

“Thus we might have already committed future generations to living with sea level rises of around 10m over thousands of years. But the timescale is still under our control,” the authors warn.

They also warn that a “staggering 99% of tropical corals” could be lost if the planet heats by even 2°C – at a profound cost to both marine sea life and human economies.

They say 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost since 1970: a loss of somewhere between 20% and 40% could tip the entire rainforest into a destabilised state, increasingly at risk from drought and fire.

Risks multiply

In the boreal forests of northern Asia, Europe and Canada, insect outbreaks, fire and dieback could turn some regions into sources of more carbon, rather than sinks that soak up the extra carbon dioxide.

Permafrost thaw could release ever-greater volumes of stored methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent, over a century, than carbon dioxide, and so on. The dangers multiply, and each one amplifies planetary heating.

“If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping point cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilisation,” the authors warn.

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this.” – Climate News Network

Changes afoot now in at least nine areas could drastically alter the Earth’s climate. There’s no time left to act on these tipping points.

LONDON, 28 November, 2019 – On the eve of a global climate summit in Madrid, seven distinguished climate scientists have issued an urgent warning of approaching planetary tipping points: within a few years, they say, humankind could enter a state of potentially catastrophic climate change on a new “hothouse” Earth.

They warn that dramatic changes to planetary stability may already be happening in nine vulnerable ecosystems. As these changes happen, they could reinforce each other and at the same time amplify planetary temperature rise, commit the oceans to inexorable sea level rise of around 10 metres, and threaten the existence of human civilisations.

Their warning is issued in a commentary in the journal Nature. Their conclusions are not – and perhaps cannot be – confirmed by direct evidence or the consensus of other scientists. They present an opinion, not a set of facts that can be scrutinised and challenged or endorsed by their peers.

And the seven researchers recognise that although such changes are happening at speed, some of the consequences of those changes will follow more slowly. Their point is that the risks of irreversible change are too great not to act – and to act now.

Happening now

But the fact that they have chosen to issue such an alarm at all is a measure of the concern raised by the rapid retreat of the Arctic ice, the steady loss of the Greenland ice cap, the damage to the boreal forests, the thaw of the polar permafrost, the slowing of a great ocean current, the loss of tropical corals and the collapse of ice sheets in East and West Antarctica.

Each of these happenings – and many more – was identified more than a decade ago as a potential “tipping point”: an irreversible change that would amplify global heating and trigger a cascade of other climate changes.

“Now we see evidence that over half of them have been activated,” said Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter, UK. “The growing threat of rapid, irreversible changes means it is no longer responsible to wait and see.”

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this”

The idea of a climate tipping point – a threshold beyond which dramatic climate change would be irreversible – is an old one. Two decades ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change examined the idea and proposed that, were the planet to warm by 5°C above the long-term average for most of human history, then it could tip into a new climate regime.

But in the last few decades, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have gone from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have risen by more than 1°C. And the rate of change, driven by profligate use of fossil fuels that deposit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, has been alarming.

“It is not only human pressures on Earth that continue rising to unprecedented levels. It is also that, as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming. This is what we are seeing already at 1°C global warming,” said Johan Rockström, who directs the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, and who is another signatory.

“Scientifically, this provides strong evidence for declaring a state of planetary emergency, to unleash world action that accelerates the path towards a world that can continue evolving on a stable planet.”

Inadequate pledges

In 2015, at a climate summit in Paris, 195 nations promised to contain planetary heating to “well below” 2°C, and ideally to 1.5°C, by 2100. But the Nature signatories point at that even if the pledges those nations made are implemented – a “big if”, they warn – then they will ensure only that the world is committed to at least 3°C warming.

The scientists believe there is still time to act – but their dangerous tipping points are now dangerously close.

The arguments go like this. In West Antarctica, ice may already be retreating beyond the “grounding line” where ice, ocean and bedrock meet. If so, then the rest of the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse, and sea levels could rise by three metres.

New evidence suggests the East Antarctic ice sheet could be similarly unstable, and precipitate further sea level rise of up to four metres. Hundreds of millions are already at risk from coastal flooding.

Timescale controlled

The Greenland ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate, and once past a critical threshold could lose enough water to raise sea levels by seven metres. Even a 1.5°C warming might condemn Greenland to irreversible melting – and on present form the world could warm by 1.5°C by 2030.

“Thus we might have already committed future generations to living with sea level rises of around 10m over thousands of years. But the timescale is still under our control,” the authors warn.

They also warn that a “staggering 99% of tropical corals” could be lost if the planet heats by even 2°C – at a profound cost to both marine sea life and human economies.

They say 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been lost since 1970: a loss of somewhere between 20% and 40% could tip the entire rainforest into a destabilised state, increasingly at risk from drought and fire.

Risks multiply

In the boreal forests of northern Asia, Europe and Canada, insect outbreaks, fire and dieback could turn some regions into sources of more carbon, rather than sinks that soak up the extra carbon dioxide.

Permafrost thaw could release ever-greater volumes of stored methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent, over a century, than carbon dioxide, and so on. The dangers multiply, and each one amplifies planetary heating.

“If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping point cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilisation,” the authors warn.

“The stability and resilience of our planet is in peril. International action – not just words – must reflect this.” – Climate News Network

Forest damage costs far more than thought

Tropical forest damage is bad enough. New thinking suggests it could prove far more ruinous in terms of the climate crisis.

LONDON, 19 November, 2019 – We know already that human activities are causing devastating forest damage. Now a new study shows the loss we face could be much worse than we think.

Here, it says, is how to multiply your country’s contribution to solving the carbon problem sixfold. It’s simple. Do not do anything to your intact tropical forest. Don’t put roads around it, hunt in it, or select prize lumps of timber from it; don’t quarry, mine or plant oil palms in it. Just protect it.

Researchers have calculated that – compared with clearing it – the benefits of benign neglect are 626% higher than all previous accounting. And that’s just the calculation for the first 13 years of this century. Instead of an estimated 340 million tonnes of carbon spilled into the atmosphere, the figure from clearing forests now becomes 2.12 billion tonnes.

And a second team of scientists has identified a way to keep those conservation promises and carefully protect those forests and other habitats already declared protected areas. That too is simple: be a rich country in the northern hemisphere. That way, you might be able to count on the resources to back up the good intentions.

The role of the world’s forests in what climate scientists like to call the carbon budget – the annual traffic of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from all sources and back again into green plants, rocks and oceans – is a complicated one, and the play between human intrusion and the natural habitats makes it even more of a headache.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying”

Broadly, of the world’s tropical rainforests, only around 20% can be considered now intact. This by 2013 was an area of around 5.49 million square kilometres – an area much bigger than the European Union, yet smaller than Australia – but this green space concentrates 40% of all the carbon found in the trunks, branches and leaves of the world’s surviving natural tropical foliage, and gulps down carbon from the atmosphere at the rate of a billion tonnes a year.

So tropical forests play a vital role in worldwide national pledges, made in Paris in 2015, to contain global heating to “well below” a global average increase of 2°C by the end of the century. The planet has already warmed by 1°C in the last century, thanks to profligate human use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the planet’s natural forests.

And between 2000 and 2013, human growth and demand has reduced the area of intact forests by more than 7%. What the latest research has done is try to make a realistic estimate of the enduring cost to the planet.

“Usually, only ‘pulse’ emissions are considered – these are emissions released the instant intact forest is destroyed,” said Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland in Australia.

“Our analysis considers all impacts, such as the effects of selective logging, foregone carbon sequestration, expanding effects on the edges of forests, and species extinction.

Better funding needed

“We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”

Forest destruction has accelerated this century. Dr Maxwell and his co-authors report in the journal Science Advances that they considered all the carbon that was not sequestered by forest degradation between 2000 and 2013, along with the impacts of road clearance, mining, selective logging and overhunting of the animals that naturally disperse forest seeds, to arrive at their new estimate of the price in carbon emissions to be paid for destruction.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland, and a co-author.

“Humanity needs to better fund the conservation of intact forests, especially now we’ve shown their larger than realised role in stabilising the climate.”

And in the same week, British scientists confirmed that – around the globe – protected areas are not reducing human pressure on the natural wilderness. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at satellite evidence, together with census and crop data, to see what humans had so far done to 12,315 protected areas between 1995 and 2010.

Threat of protection

In every global region, there had been evidence of human encroachment. Overall, northern hemisphere nations and Australia had been more effective at keeping down human pressure in the areas set aside for conservation, compared to advances into unprotected areas.

But in those parts of the world where biodiversity is richest – South America, Southeast Asia and Africa south of the Sahara – human damage was significantly higher in protected grasslands, forests, mangrove swamps and other habitats than it was in unprotected areas. In parts of South America, clearance for agriculture in protected regions was 10% higher than in unprotected zones.

“Our study shows that agriculture is the driving force behind threats to protected areas, particularly in the tropics,” said Jonas Geldmann of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Our data does not reveal the causes, but we suspect factors that play a major role include rapid population growth, lack of funding, and higher levels of corruption. Additionally, most unprotected land suitable for agriculture is already farmed,” he said.

“We think that what we are seeing are the effects of establishing protected areas on paper, but not following through with the right funding, management and community engagement that is needed.” – Climate News Network

Tropical forest damage is bad enough. New thinking suggests it could prove far more ruinous in terms of the climate crisis.

LONDON, 19 November, 2019 – We know already that human activities are causing devastating forest damage. Now a new study shows the loss we face could be much worse than we think.

Here, it says, is how to multiply your country’s contribution to solving the carbon problem sixfold. It’s simple. Do not do anything to your intact tropical forest. Don’t put roads around it, hunt in it, or select prize lumps of timber from it; don’t quarry, mine or plant oil palms in it. Just protect it.

Researchers have calculated that – compared with clearing it – the benefits of benign neglect are 626% higher than all previous accounting. And that’s just the calculation for the first 13 years of this century. Instead of an estimated 340 million tonnes of carbon spilled into the atmosphere, the figure from clearing forests now becomes 2.12 billion tonnes.

And a second team of scientists has identified a way to keep those conservation promises and carefully protect those forests and other habitats already declared protected areas. That too is simple: be a rich country in the northern hemisphere. That way, you might be able to count on the resources to back up the good intentions.

The role of the world’s forests in what climate scientists like to call the carbon budget – the annual traffic of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from all sources and back again into green plants, rocks and oceans – is a complicated one, and the play between human intrusion and the natural habitats makes it even more of a headache.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying”

Broadly, of the world’s tropical rainforests, only around 20% can be considered now intact. This by 2013 was an area of around 5.49 million square kilometres – an area much bigger than the European Union, yet smaller than Australia – but this green space concentrates 40% of all the carbon found in the trunks, branches and leaves of the world’s surviving natural tropical foliage, and gulps down carbon from the atmosphere at the rate of a billion tonnes a year.

So tropical forests play a vital role in worldwide national pledges, made in Paris in 2015, to contain global heating to “well below” a global average increase of 2°C by the end of the century. The planet has already warmed by 1°C in the last century, thanks to profligate human use of fossil fuels and the destruction of the planet’s natural forests.

And between 2000 and 2013, human growth and demand has reduced the area of intact forests by more than 7%. What the latest research has done is try to make a realistic estimate of the enduring cost to the planet.

“Usually, only ‘pulse’ emissions are considered – these are emissions released the instant intact forest is destroyed,” said Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland in Australia.

“Our analysis considers all impacts, such as the effects of selective logging, foregone carbon sequestration, expanding effects on the edges of forests, and species extinction.

Better funding needed

“We were shocked to see that when considering all of the available factors, the net carbon impact was more than six times worse for the climate.”

Forest destruction has accelerated this century. Dr Maxwell and his co-authors report in the journal Science Advances that they considered all the carbon that was not sequestered by forest degradation between 2000 and 2013, along with the impacts of road clearance, mining, selective logging and overhunting of the animals that naturally disperse forest seeds, to arrive at their new estimate of the price in carbon emissions to be paid for destruction.

“Losing Earth’s remaining wilderness is devastating by itself, but climate impacts 626% greater than expected is terrifying,” said James Watson, of the University of Queensland, and a co-author.

“Humanity needs to better fund the conservation of intact forests, especially now we’ve shown their larger than realised role in stabilising the climate.”

And in the same week, British scientists confirmed that – around the globe – protected areas are not reducing human pressure on the natural wilderness. They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at satellite evidence, together with census and crop data, to see what humans had so far done to 12,315 protected areas between 1995 and 2010.

Threat of protection

In every global region, there had been evidence of human encroachment. Overall, northern hemisphere nations and Australia had been more effective at keeping down human pressure in the areas set aside for conservation, compared to advances into unprotected areas.

But in those parts of the world where biodiversity is richest – South America, Southeast Asia and Africa south of the Sahara – human damage was significantly higher in protected grasslands, forests, mangrove swamps and other habitats than it was in unprotected areas. In parts of South America, clearance for agriculture in protected regions was 10% higher than in unprotected zones.

“Our study shows that agriculture is the driving force behind threats to protected areas, particularly in the tropics,” said Jonas Geldmann of the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Our data does not reveal the causes, but we suspect factors that play a major role include rapid population growth, lack of funding, and higher levels of corruption. Additionally, most unprotected land suitable for agriculture is already farmed,” he said.

“We think that what we are seeing are the effects of establishing protected areas on paper, but not following through with the right funding, management and community engagement that is needed.” – Climate News Network

Indigenous firefighters tackle Brazil’s blazes

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

Warming forces world of ice into retreat

warming

New evidence from the air, space, atmospheric chemistry and old records is testament to global warming impacts on the speed of change in the frozen world.

LONDON, October, 21, 2019 – Just as Scottish scientists deliver dramatic visual evidence of the retreat of Europe’s most famous glacier over the course of a century because of global warming, German scientists have mapped an even more devastating retreat of Andean glaciers in just 16 years.

In another demonstration of the impact of warming on what had always been considered the cryosphere, the world of ice and snow, Swedish scientists have shown that the chemistry of the northern forests has begun to change in ways that could even accelerate rising temperatures.

And in the US, researchers have shown that winter is on the wane and the snows in retreat – with dramatic consequences for wildlife, water supplies and human wealth and health.

Warming faster

All four studies are further confirmation of what climate scientists have already shown – that the high latitudes and high altitudes are warming faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with ominous consequences.

In August 1919, pioneer aviator Walter Mittelholzer flew near the summit of Mont Blanc in Europe in a biplane to photograph Europe’s highest peak and the Mer de Glace glacier, one of the great tourist attractions and celebrated by artists and poets for two centuries

Exactly one century later, researchers from the University of Dundee in Scotland used global positioning satellite guidance and digital help to take a helicopter to exactly the same position and altitude of 4,700 metres to repeat the 1919 aerial study.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades”

Kieran Baxter, aerial photographer, digital media practitioner and researcher at the University of Dundee, says: “The scale of ice loss was immediately evident as we reached altitude, but it was only by comparing the images side by side that the last 100 years of change were made visible.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades.”

Glaciers store rainy season ice and snow, and release it as meltwater in the hot dry summers. They keep the rivers flowing, the crops growing, and the hydroelectric turbines turning.

Scientists from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany report in the The Cryosphere journal that they used satellite imagery to calculate glacier loss in Peru this century.

Almost three-quarters of all tropical glaciers and 90% of their area of ice are concentrated in the Peruvian Andes, at around 4000 metres or more.

At the beginning of this century, there had been a count of 1,973 rivers of ice in the region. Of these, 170 have vanished altogether, while the others have retreated uphill, and their accumulated area has dwindled by around 550 square kilometres.

Loss of ice mass

Eight billion tonnes of ice have melted away, and at an ever-faster rate. The loss of ice mass between 2013 and 2016 was around four times higher than in the previous 12 years, perhaps because of local climate changes triggered by a periodic climate phenomenon known worldwide as an El Niño.

Glaciers are an important part of the climate machine, but the great forests that flourish in the snows below them are even more important.

They add up to 14% of the planet’s vegetation coverage, they absorb atmospheric carbon to cool the climate in one way, and counter the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming in another, subtle way. The conifers exude terpene aerosols – the pine-fresh fragrance from their resins – that have a cooling effect on the air over the forests.

But scientists from Sweden report in Nature Communications journal that, thanks to atmospheric pollution driven by global agriculture and industrialisation, the terpene particles from the forests are getting smaller in diameter – some smaller than a wavelength of optical light.

That means that the same particles are now less effective at reflecting solar radiation back into space. Ammonia and sulphur dioxide discharged by humankind have changed the chemistry of the forests: there are now more aerosols, but their diameter is dwindling.

Study leader Pontus Rodin, a researcher at Lund University, Sweden, says: “The heavily-oxidized organic molecules have a cooling effect on the climate. With a warmer climate, it is expected that forests will release more terpenes, and thus create more cooling organic aerosols.

“However, the extent of that effect also depends on the emission volumes of sulphur dioxide and ammonia in the future. It’s very clear, though, that this increase in organic aerosols cannot by any means compensate for the warming of the climate caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Weather station data

And while European scientists examined the detail of loss, scientists in the US looked at 100 years of weather station data from the forests of the US and Canada.

They report in Ecological Applications journal that they found a significant decline in the number of “frost days” when the temperature dropped below freezing, and “ice days” in which the thermometer stayed below freezing.

Snow and ice sustain ecosystems by preventing disease spread and reducing beetle and aphid numbers. Deep snow insulates tree roots, provides wildlife habitat, and promotes soil nutrient recycling.

“Winter conditions are changing more rapidly than any other season, and it could have serious implications,” says Alexandra Contosta, assistant professor in the Earth Systems Research Centre at the University of New Hampshire.

“Whether precipitation falls as snow or rain makes a big difference, whether you are talking about a forest stream, a snowshoe hare, or even a skier.” –Climate News Network

New evidence from the air, space, atmospheric chemistry and old records is testament to global warming impacts on the speed of change in the frozen world.

LONDON, October, 21, 2019 – Just as Scottish scientists deliver dramatic visual evidence of the retreat of Europe’s most famous glacier over the course of a century because of global warming, German scientists have mapped an even more devastating retreat of Andean glaciers in just 16 years.

In another demonstration of the impact of warming on what had always been considered the cryosphere, the world of ice and snow, Swedish scientists have shown that the chemistry of the northern forests has begun to change in ways that could even accelerate rising temperatures.

And in the US, researchers have shown that winter is on the wane and the snows in retreat – with dramatic consequences for wildlife, water supplies and human wealth and health.

Warming faster

All four studies are further confirmation of what climate scientists have already shown – that the high latitudes and high altitudes are warming faster than almost anywhere else on the planet, with ominous consequences.

In August 1919, pioneer aviator Walter Mittelholzer flew near the summit of Mont Blanc in Europe in a biplane to photograph Europe’s highest peak and the Mer de Glace glacier, one of the great tourist attractions and celebrated by artists and poets for two centuries

Exactly one century later, researchers from the University of Dundee in Scotland used global positioning satellite guidance and digital help to take a helicopter to exactly the same position and altitude of 4,700 metres to repeat the 1919 aerial study.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades”

Kieran Baxter, aerial photographer, digital media practitioner and researcher at the University of Dundee, says: “The scale of ice loss was immediately evident as we reached altitude, but it was only by comparing the images side by side that the last 100 years of change were made visible.

“It was both a breathtaking and heartbreaking experience, particularly knowing that the melt has accelerated massively in the last few decades.”

Glaciers store rainy season ice and snow, and release it as meltwater in the hot dry summers. They keep the rivers flowing, the crops growing, and the hydroelectric turbines turning.

Scientists from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany report in the The Cryosphere journal that they used satellite imagery to calculate glacier loss in Peru this century.

Almost three-quarters of all tropical glaciers and 90% of their area of ice are concentrated in the Peruvian Andes, at around 4000 metres or more.

At the beginning of this century, there had been a count of 1,973 rivers of ice in the region. Of these, 170 have vanished altogether, while the others have retreated uphill, and their accumulated area has dwindled by around 550 square kilometres.

Loss of ice mass

Eight billion tonnes of ice have melted away, and at an ever-faster rate. The loss of ice mass between 2013 and 2016 was around four times higher than in the previous 12 years, perhaps because of local climate changes triggered by a periodic climate phenomenon known worldwide as an El Niño.

Glaciers are an important part of the climate machine, but the great forests that flourish in the snows below them are even more important.

They add up to 14% of the planet’s vegetation coverage, they absorb atmospheric carbon to cool the climate in one way, and counter the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming in another, subtle way. The conifers exude terpene aerosols – the pine-fresh fragrance from their resins – that have a cooling effect on the air over the forests.

But scientists from Sweden report in Nature Communications journal that, thanks to atmospheric pollution driven by global agriculture and industrialisation, the terpene particles from the forests are getting smaller in diameter – some smaller than a wavelength of optical light.

That means that the same particles are now less effective at reflecting solar radiation back into space. Ammonia and sulphur dioxide discharged by humankind have changed the chemistry of the forests: there are now more aerosols, but their diameter is dwindling.

Study leader Pontus Rodin, a researcher at Lund University, Sweden, says: “The heavily-oxidized organic molecules have a cooling effect on the climate. With a warmer climate, it is expected that forests will release more terpenes, and thus create more cooling organic aerosols.

“However, the extent of that effect also depends on the emission volumes of sulphur dioxide and ammonia in the future. It’s very clear, though, that this increase in organic aerosols cannot by any means compensate for the warming of the climate caused by our emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Weather station data

And while European scientists examined the detail of loss, scientists in the US looked at 100 years of weather station data from the forests of the US and Canada.

They report in Ecological Applications journal that they found a significant decline in the number of “frost days” when the temperature dropped below freezing, and “ice days” in which the thermometer stayed below freezing.

Snow and ice sustain ecosystems by preventing disease spread and reducing beetle and aphid numbers. Deep snow insulates tree roots, provides wildlife habitat, and promotes soil nutrient recycling.

“Winter conditions are changing more rapidly than any other season, and it could have serious implications,” says Alexandra Contosta, assistant professor in the Earth Systems Research Centre at the University of New Hampshire.

“Whether precipitation falls as snow or rain makes a big difference, whether you are talking about a forest stream, a snowshoe hare, or even a skier.” –Climate News Network

Cocaine traffickers fuel climate change

cocaine

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

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

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

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

Drug convoys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous land rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug convoys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous land rights

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

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

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

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

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

Mountains rich in species still puzzle science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Search for principles

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

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

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

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

Open question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Search for principles

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

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

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

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

Open question

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

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

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

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