Tag Archives: Global threats

How to save economy and climate together

There’s growing agreement by economists and scientists: Covid-19 needs the world to rescue both economy and climate together.

LONDON, 7 May, 2020 − The warnings are stark. With the Covid-19 crisis wreaking global havoc and the overheating atmosphere threatening far worse in the long term, especially if governments rely on the same old carbon-intensive ways, both economy and climate will sink or swim together.

“There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate fire”, says a new report, Will Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on Climate Change? Published by the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, UK, it says now is the time for governments to restructure their economies and act decisively to tackle climate change.

“The climate emergency is like the Covid-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver”, says the study, written by a team of economic and climate change heavyweights including Joseph Stiglitz, Cameron Hepburn and Nicholas Stern.

Economic recovery packages emerging in the coming months will have a significant impact on whether globally agreed climate goals are met, says the report.

“The recovery packages can either kill two birds with one stone – setting the global economy on a pathway to net-zero emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be nearly impossible to escape.”

“In the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments”

The study’s authors talked to economists, finance officials and central banks around the world.

They say that putting policies aimed at tackling climate change at the centre of recovery plans makes economic as well as environmental sense.

“… Green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long term-term cost saving, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus”, says the report.

“Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar.

“As previous research has shown, in the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments.”

Fundamental change coming

Covid-19 is causing great suffering and considerable economic hardship around the world. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and waterways, a quieter environment and far less commuting to and from work, with people in the developed countries doing more work from home.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent survey that Covid-19 and other factors were bringing about a fundamental change in the global energy market, with the use of climate-changing fossil fuels falling sharply and prices of oil, coal and gas plummeting. The IEA also projected that global emissions of greenhouses gases would fall by 8% in 2020, more than any other year on record.

The Oxford report says that with the implementation of the right policies, these positive changes can be sustained: by tackling climate change, many economic and other problems will be solved.

Sceptics have often said that public resistance to changes in lifestyle will prevent governments from taking any substantial action on the climate issue. The study begs to differ: “The (Covid-19) crisis has also demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present.”

Economists and finance experts are calling for the UK to play a decisive role in ensuring that economies around the world do not return to the old, high-carbon ways but instead implement green recovery packages.

Climate conference

The UK is president and co-host of COP-26, the round of UN climate talks originally due to take place in November this year but now, due to Covid, postponed to early 2021.

The round is seen as a vital part of efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, now a finance adviser to the British prime minister for COP-26, says the UK has the opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in order to combat a warming world.

“The UK’s global leadership in financial services provides a unique opportunity to address climate change by transforming the financial system”, he says.

“To seize it, all financial decisions need to take into account the risks from climate change and the opportunities from the transition to a net zero economy.” − Climate News Network

There’s growing agreement by economists and scientists: Covid-19 needs the world to rescue both economy and climate together.

LONDON, 7 May, 2020 − The warnings are stark. With the Covid-19 crisis wreaking global havoc and the overheating atmosphere threatening far worse in the long term, especially if governments rely on the same old carbon-intensive ways, both economy and climate will sink or swim together.

“There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate fire”, says a new report, Will Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on Climate Change? Published by the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, UK, it says now is the time for governments to restructure their economies and act decisively to tackle climate change.

“The climate emergency is like the Covid-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver”, says the study, written by a team of economic and climate change heavyweights including Joseph Stiglitz, Cameron Hepburn and Nicholas Stern.

Economic recovery packages emerging in the coming months will have a significant impact on whether globally agreed climate goals are met, says the report.

“The recovery packages can either kill two birds with one stone – setting the global economy on a pathway to net-zero emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be nearly impossible to escape.”

“In the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments”

The study’s authors talked to economists, finance officials and central banks around the world.

They say that putting policies aimed at tackling climate change at the centre of recovery plans makes economic as well as environmental sense.

“… Green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long term-term cost saving, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus”, says the report.

“Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar.

“As previous research has shown, in the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments.”

Fundamental change coming

Covid-19 is causing great suffering and considerable economic hardship around the world. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and waterways, a quieter environment and far less commuting to and from work, with people in the developed countries doing more work from home.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent survey that Covid-19 and other factors were bringing about a fundamental change in the global energy market, with the use of climate-changing fossil fuels falling sharply and prices of oil, coal and gas plummeting. The IEA also projected that global emissions of greenhouses gases would fall by 8% in 2020, more than any other year on record.

The Oxford report says that with the implementation of the right policies, these positive changes can be sustained: by tackling climate change, many economic and other problems will be solved.

Sceptics have often said that public resistance to changes in lifestyle will prevent governments from taking any substantial action on the climate issue. The study begs to differ: “The (Covid-19) crisis has also demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present.”

Economists and finance experts are calling for the UK to play a decisive role in ensuring that economies around the world do not return to the old, high-carbon ways but instead implement green recovery packages.

Climate conference

The UK is president and co-host of COP-26, the round of UN climate talks originally due to take place in November this year but now, due to Covid, postponed to early 2021.

The round is seen as a vital part of efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, now a finance adviser to the British prime minister for COP-26, says the UK has the opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in order to combat a warming world.

“The UK’s global leadership in financial services provides a unique opportunity to address climate change by transforming the financial system”, he says.

“To seize it, all financial decisions need to take into account the risks from climate change and the opportunities from the transition to a net zero economy.” − Climate News Network

Sir John Houghton: UK climate science pioneer

A towering figure in tackling global heating, the UK climate science pioneer Sir John Houghton has died at 88.

LONDON, 5 May, 2020 − One of the many victims of the coronavirus pandemic has been the 88-year-old British climate change expert and meteorologist Sir John Houghton, who died on 15 April.

During the final quarter of the twentieth century he  was amongst the handful of key scientific figures who moved concern about the threat of climate change from being something dismissed as a cranky theory to its current political acceptance as one of the most important issues facing the world. Memorably, he was the scientist who persuaded the UK government to take climate change seriously.

Educated at Rhyl Grammar School, he won a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, where he held a fellowship between 1960 and 1983, the last seven of these as professor of atmospheric physics. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences, in 1972, was appointed a CBE in 1983, and was given a knighthood by the then prime minister, John Major, in 1991.

He chaired the scientific committee of the World Climate Research Programme between 1981 and 1983 and the Earth Observation Advisory Committee from 1982, moving on to chair the initial scientific assessment panel of the newly formed Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1988 to 2001 − still the foremost international science organisation concerned with climate change.

“Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority”

He was lead editor of the IPCC’s first three assessments of the science of global climate change; his books include Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, aimed at the non-scientific reader and now in its fifth edition.

In an unprecedented move, the IPCC has announced that the scientific section of its forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report, due in early 2022, is to be formally dedicated to Sir John’s memory.

He set up the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, published many outstanding papers on atmospherics, and became the most frequent scientific broadcaster and lecturer on climate change issues.

He had moved from academia to become the chief executive of the Met Office in Bracknell, near London, in 1983, where my stepfather, the late Michael Blackwell (holder of the Polar Medal), was a senior fellow-scientist. I recall being at my parents’ house just outside Bracknell that year, and first meeting John Houghton at a dinner party there.

Because I had recently launched the Association for the Conservation of Energy, he talked to me at length about his work on what was then called the Greenhouse Effect, and the impact that excessive consumption of fuels (they were practically all fossil-based then) was having upon average temperatures worldwide.

Stressing the benefits

In Sir John’s view, reducing unnecessary energy consumption was the most effective way to combat this threat. He urged me to campaign  stressing this beneficial aspect, rather more than the employment, health and economic arguments I had been pursuing,

He was influential in ensuring the House of Commons environment select committee, under the late (and also lamented) Sir Hugh Rossi MP, who died the day before him, on 14 April, became the first major UK institution to examine the potential of this policy solution for ameliorating the threat of climate change.

Later in that decade, in 1989, both privately and publicly he was key to persuading the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher (a former chemist) to make her seminal Royal Society speech on global warming, a speech that still provides the intellectual leitmotif for greening the Conservative Party.

Just after that speech Mrs Thatcher arranged for Sir John to organise a full day briefing for the entire Cabinet on the threat of climate change, an event recalled by Ken Clarke in his autobiography Kind of Blue as an occasion of distinctly confused ennui for almost all attendees (with the possible exceptions of two sympathetic senior Conservative MPs, Chris Patten and John Gummer): it was certainly very unfamiliar political territory then. Around that time he was appointed as scientific chair of the newly formed IPCC: the rest is history.

Providing moral support

Some 13 years after we first met I coincided with him in a broadcasting studio. To my surprise, he recalled well that first meeting, and congratulated me for being amongst those who really had listened in detail to what he had been saying.

I recall in 1999 (somewhat to my surprise) being invited myself to give a lecture at the Royal Society, always quintessentially his territory, and being very flattered to find he had popped into the back of the room when I started as he put it, to give me moral support.

A very devout Christian, his overt sincerity has triumphed over the cynicism, lies and self-interest that the purveyors of pollution always employ, to try to colour the climate change debate. Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority.

Everyone concerned to combat the threat of climate change will always owe an unpayable debt to John Theodore Houghton. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Warren was director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy between 1981 and 2014. He now chairs the British Energy Efficiency Federation.

A towering figure in tackling global heating, the UK climate science pioneer Sir John Houghton has died at 88.

LONDON, 5 May, 2020 − One of the many victims of the coronavirus pandemic has been the 88-year-old British climate change expert and meteorologist Sir John Houghton, who died on 15 April.

During the final quarter of the twentieth century he  was amongst the handful of key scientific figures who moved concern about the threat of climate change from being something dismissed as a cranky theory to its current political acceptance as one of the most important issues facing the world. Memorably, he was the scientist who persuaded the UK government to take climate change seriously.

Educated at Rhyl Grammar School, he won a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, where he held a fellowship between 1960 and 1983, the last seven of these as professor of atmospheric physics. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s national academy of sciences, in 1972, was appointed a CBE in 1983, and was given a knighthood by the then prime minister, John Major, in 1991.

He chaired the scientific committee of the World Climate Research Programme between 1981 and 1983 and the Earth Observation Advisory Committee from 1982, moving on to chair the initial scientific assessment panel of the newly formed Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1988 to 2001 − still the foremost international science organisation concerned with climate change.

“Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority”

He was lead editor of the IPCC’s first three assessments of the science of global climate change; his books include Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, aimed at the non-scientific reader and now in its fifth edition.

In an unprecedented move, the IPCC has announced that the scientific section of its forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report, due in early 2022, is to be formally dedicated to Sir John’s memory.

He set up the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, published many outstanding papers on atmospherics, and became the most frequent scientific broadcaster and lecturer on climate change issues.

He had moved from academia to become the chief executive of the Met Office in Bracknell, near London, in 1983, where my stepfather, the late Michael Blackwell (holder of the Polar Medal), was a senior fellow-scientist. I recall being at my parents’ house just outside Bracknell that year, and first meeting John Houghton at a dinner party there.

Because I had recently launched the Association for the Conservation of Energy, he talked to me at length about his work on what was then called the Greenhouse Effect, and the impact that excessive consumption of fuels (they were practically all fossil-based then) was having upon average temperatures worldwide.

Stressing the benefits

In Sir John’s view, reducing unnecessary energy consumption was the most effective way to combat this threat. He urged me to campaign  stressing this beneficial aspect, rather more than the employment, health and economic arguments I had been pursuing,

He was influential in ensuring the House of Commons environment select committee, under the late (and also lamented) Sir Hugh Rossi MP, who died the day before him, on 14 April, became the first major UK institution to examine the potential of this policy solution for ameliorating the threat of climate change.

Later in that decade, in 1989, both privately and publicly he was key to persuading the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher (a former chemist) to make her seminal Royal Society speech on global warming, a speech that still provides the intellectual leitmotif for greening the Conservative Party.

Just after that speech Mrs Thatcher arranged for Sir John to organise a full day briefing for the entire Cabinet on the threat of climate change, an event recalled by Ken Clarke in his autobiography Kind of Blue as an occasion of distinctly confused ennui for almost all attendees (with the possible exceptions of two sympathetic senior Conservative MPs, Chris Patten and John Gummer): it was certainly very unfamiliar political territory then. Around that time he was appointed as scientific chair of the newly formed IPCC: the rest is history.

Providing moral support

Some 13 years after we first met I coincided with him in a broadcasting studio. To my surprise, he recalled well that first meeting, and congratulated me for being amongst those who really had listened in detail to what he had been saying.

I recall in 1999 (somewhat to my surprise) being invited myself to give a lecture at the Royal Society, always quintessentially his territory, and being very flattered to find he had popped into the back of the room when I started as he put it, to give me moral support.

A very devout Christian, his overt sincerity has triumphed over the cynicism, lies and self-interest that the purveyors of pollution always employ, to try to colour the climate change debate. Fundamentally a rather shy and diffident man, his obvious academic prowess and his probity meant that his was the voice that always carried real authority.

Everyone concerned to combat the threat of climate change will always owe an unpayable debt to John Theodore Houghton. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Andrew Warren was director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy between 1981 and 2014. He now chairs the British Energy Efficiency Federation.

Global fossil fuel demand’s ‘staggering’ fall

The world’s energy markets are in upheaval, as experts report an historic fall in global fossil fuel demand.

LONDON, 1 May, 2020 − One of the pillars of industrial society is tottering: global fossil fuel demand is buckling, with only renewable energy expected to show any growth this year.

Oil prices are going through the floor. The market for coal and gas is shrinking fast. And global emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases are set to fall in 2020 by 8%, the largest annual decrease in emissions ever recorded.

The latest report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global energy watchdog, will make sobering reading for those involved in the fossil fuel industry – and hearten those fighting against a warming world.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought death, pain and suffering around the world and is causing widespread economic and financial hardship.

But it’s become clear that the Covid crisis has done something that years of climate change negotiations have failed to do – it has not only forced us to change the way we live our lives, but also dramatically altered the way we use the planet’s resources, in particular its energy supplies.

‘Unheard-of slump’

“This is a historic shock to the entire energy world”, says Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“Amid today’s unparalleled health and economic crises, the plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas.

“Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard-of slump in electricity use”, says Dr Birol.

The IEA report, its Global Energy Review 2020, looks at likely energy trends over the coming months and analyses data accumulated over the first Covid-influenced 100 days of this year.

Overall world energy demand in 2020 is set to fall by 6% − a drop seven times greater than the decline recorded in the wake of the 2008/2009 global financial crash.

“The plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas. Only renewables are holding up”

That fall is equivalent to losing the entire annual energy demand of India − or the combined yearly demand of the UK, France, Germany and Italy.

Oil demand, says the report, is expected to decline by 9% over the present year, its biggest annual drop in a quarter of a century. Demand for gas – which has consistently expanded over recent times − is expected to fall by 5%.

The economic disruption caused by the Covid pandemic is likely to hit the coal industry – already in decline − particularly hard. The IEA forecasts coal demand to drop this year by 8% compared with 2019, its biggest year-on-year decline since the end of WWII.

“It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts, but the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before”, says the report.

The study says renewable energy is the one segment of the sector that will see growth over the present year.

Decline already begun

The dominant role of fossil fuels in the energy market was already in decline before the Covid crisis. This trend is likely to continue as low operating costs and flexible access to electricity grids make renewables ever more competitive.

Moves in many countries towards cleaner energy and more climate change-related regulations will see an overall growth of 5% in renewable electricity generation in 2020.

The IEA is generally seen as a conservative body, careful not to offend powerful interests in the global energy industry.

It says the resilience of renewable energy in the midst of a global crisis could encourage fossil fuel companies to switch to generating more clean energy.

There is the possibility that countries will revert to the old ways, with fossil fuel use climbing again as economies recover.

‘Inescapable’ challenge ahead

The IEA urges governments to put clean energy at the centre of their economic recovery plans and prioritise clean energy technologies including batteries, hydrogen and carbon capture.

In an article last month Dr Birol talked of the impact the Covid crisis was having on people’s health and economic activity.

“Although they may be severe, the effects are likely to be temporary”, he wrote.

“Meanwhile the threat posed by climate change, which requires us to reduce global emissions significantly this decade, will remain.

“We should not allow today’s crisis to compromise our efforts to tackle the world’s inescapable challenge.” − Climate News Network

The world’s energy markets are in upheaval, as experts report an historic fall in global fossil fuel demand.

LONDON, 1 May, 2020 − One of the pillars of industrial society is tottering: global fossil fuel demand is buckling, with only renewable energy expected to show any growth this year.

Oil prices are going through the floor. The market for coal and gas is shrinking fast. And global emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases are set to fall in 2020 by 8%, the largest annual decrease in emissions ever recorded.

The latest report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global energy watchdog, will make sobering reading for those involved in the fossil fuel industry – and hearten those fighting against a warming world.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought death, pain and suffering around the world and is causing widespread economic and financial hardship.

But it’s become clear that the Covid crisis has done something that years of climate change negotiations have failed to do – it has not only forced us to change the way we live our lives, but also dramatically altered the way we use the planet’s resources, in particular its energy supplies.

‘Unheard-of slump’

“This is a historic shock to the entire energy world”, says Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“Amid today’s unparalleled health and economic crises, the plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas.

“Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard-of slump in electricity use”, says Dr Birol.

The IEA report, its Global Energy Review 2020, looks at likely energy trends over the coming months and analyses data accumulated over the first Covid-influenced 100 days of this year.

Overall world energy demand in 2020 is set to fall by 6% − a drop seven times greater than the decline recorded in the wake of the 2008/2009 global financial crash.

“The plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas. Only renewables are holding up”

That fall is equivalent to losing the entire annual energy demand of India − or the combined yearly demand of the UK, France, Germany and Italy.

Oil demand, says the report, is expected to decline by 9% over the present year, its biggest annual drop in a quarter of a century. Demand for gas – which has consistently expanded over recent times − is expected to fall by 5%.

The economic disruption caused by the Covid pandemic is likely to hit the coal industry – already in decline − particularly hard. The IEA forecasts coal demand to drop this year by 8% compared with 2019, its biggest year-on-year decline since the end of WWII.

“It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts, but the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before”, says the report.

The study says renewable energy is the one segment of the sector that will see growth over the present year.

Decline already begun

The dominant role of fossil fuels in the energy market was already in decline before the Covid crisis. This trend is likely to continue as low operating costs and flexible access to electricity grids make renewables ever more competitive.

Moves in many countries towards cleaner energy and more climate change-related regulations will see an overall growth of 5% in renewable electricity generation in 2020.

The IEA is generally seen as a conservative body, careful not to offend powerful interests in the global energy industry.

It says the resilience of renewable energy in the midst of a global crisis could encourage fossil fuel companies to switch to generating more clean energy.

There is the possibility that countries will revert to the old ways, with fossil fuel use climbing again as economies recover.

‘Inescapable’ challenge ahead

The IEA urges governments to put clean energy at the centre of their economic recovery plans and prioritise clean energy technologies including batteries, hydrogen and carbon capture.

In an article last month Dr Birol talked of the impact the Covid crisis was having on people’s health and economic activity.

“Although they may be severe, the effects are likely to be temporary”, he wrote.

“Meanwhile the threat posed by climate change, which requires us to reduce global emissions significantly this decade, will remain.

“We should not allow today’s crisis to compromise our efforts to tackle the world’s inescapable challenge.” − Climate News Network

Tropical deforestation releases deadly infections

Brazil’s burning forests are bad news for the global climate. Now scientists say the trees harbour deadly infections too.

SÃO PAULO, 29 April, 2020 − As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind.

There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.

As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria.

“The connection between deforestation and infectious diseases is just one more impact of deforestation, added to impacts of losing both Amazonia’s biodiversity and the forest’s vital climate functions in avoiding global warming and in recycling water.”

He is one of the co-authors of a paper by a team led by Joel Henrique Ellwanger on the impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health, which has just been published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy.

Dr Fearnside adds: “Many ‘new’ human diseases originate from pathogens transferred from wild animals, as occurred with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Amazonia contains a vast number of animal species and their associated pathogens with the potential to be transferred to humans.”

No surprise

The warnings are not new. Ana Lúcia Tourinho, with a Ph.D in ecology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), interviewed by Deutsche Welle, said: “For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms – up till then in equilibrium – migrating to humans and causing victims.

“That is why news of the propagation of the new coronavirus detected in China, which has spread throughout the world, was not a surprise.

“When a vírus which is not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and enters our body it brings chaos”, she said.

Isolated and in equilibrium with their habitats, like dense forests, this sort of vírus would not be a threat to humans. The problem comes when this natural reservoir is destroyed and occupied (by other species).

Scientific studies published years before the present pandemic already showed the connection between the loss of forest, proliferation of bats in the degraded areas, and the coronavirus.

One example is the study by Dr Aneta Afelt, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, who concluded that the high rates of forest destruction in the last 40 years in Asia were an indication that the next serious infectious disease could come from there.

“For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms migrating to humans”

To reach this conclusion, she followed the trail of previous pandemics triggered by other coronaviruses like Sars in 2002 and 2003, and Mers in 2012.

“Because it’s one of the regions where population growth is most intense, where sanitary conditions remain bad and where the rate of deforestation is high, south-east Asia has all the conditions for becoming the place where infectious diseases emerge or re-emerge”, she wrote in 2018.

If destruction of the Amazon continues at the present accelerated pace, Dr Tourinho says, and it is turned into an area of savannah, “we cannot imagine what might come out of there in terms of diseases.”

The relationship between deforestation and the increase of diseases in the Amazon has been studied by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

A 2015 survey in 773 Amazon towns showed that for each 1% of forest destroyed, malaria cases increased by 23%. The incidence of leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of sand flies, which causes skin sores, disfigurement and can kill, also increased.

Since Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing climate denier, became president of Brazil in January 2019, the rate of deforestation, followed by forest fires, has exploded.

Officially-sanctioned illegality

This year the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon)’s deforestation alert system (SAD) reports that an area of 254 sq km in the Amazon region was deforested in March, a increase of 279% over the same month last year.

This is even more alarming because traditionally deforestation begins in June, at the end of the rainy season. This year it has begun three months earlier.

The illegal clearing of the forest, much of it in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, by land grabbers, for cattle, soy, and logging projects, and by miners panning for gold, has been openly encouraged by Bolsonaro and his so-called Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.

The Amazon Council set up by the president to coordinate action in the region does not include a single scientist, environmentalist or Amazon researcher, or even any experts from the government agencies for the environment and indigenous affairs, Ibama and Funai.

Instead, all its members are officers of the armed forces or the police. The likelihood that it will do anything serious to stop deforestation is zero.

Yet the destruction of the Amazon is a disaster not only for the world’s climate but also for its health, and Brazil is set to become one of the worst-affected countries. Climate News Network

Brazil’s burning forests are bad news for the global climate. Now scientists say the trees harbour deadly infections too.

SÃO PAULO, 29 April, 2020 − As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind.

There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.

As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria.

“The connection between deforestation and infectious diseases is just one more impact of deforestation, added to impacts of losing both Amazonia’s biodiversity and the forest’s vital climate functions in avoiding global warming and in recycling water.”

He is one of the co-authors of a paper by a team led by Joel Henrique Ellwanger on the impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health, which has just been published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy.

Dr Fearnside adds: “Many ‘new’ human diseases originate from pathogens transferred from wild animals, as occurred with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Amazonia contains a vast number of animal species and their associated pathogens with the potential to be transferred to humans.”

No surprise

The warnings are not new. Ana Lúcia Tourinho, with a Ph.D in ecology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), interviewed by Deutsche Welle, said: “For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms – up till then in equilibrium – migrating to humans and causing victims.

“That is why news of the propagation of the new coronavirus detected in China, which has spread throughout the world, was not a surprise.

“When a vírus which is not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and enters our body it brings chaos”, she said.

Isolated and in equilibrium with their habitats, like dense forests, this sort of vírus would not be a threat to humans. The problem comes when this natural reservoir is destroyed and occupied (by other species).

Scientific studies published years before the present pandemic already showed the connection between the loss of forest, proliferation of bats in the degraded areas, and the coronavirus.

One example is the study by Dr Aneta Afelt, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, who concluded that the high rates of forest destruction in the last 40 years in Asia were an indication that the next serious infectious disease could come from there.

“For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms migrating to humans”

To reach this conclusion, she followed the trail of previous pandemics triggered by other coronaviruses like Sars in 2002 and 2003, and Mers in 2012.

“Because it’s one of the regions where population growth is most intense, where sanitary conditions remain bad and where the rate of deforestation is high, south-east Asia has all the conditions for becoming the place where infectious diseases emerge or re-emerge”, she wrote in 2018.

If destruction of the Amazon continues at the present accelerated pace, Dr Tourinho says, and it is turned into an area of savannah, “we cannot imagine what might come out of there in terms of diseases.”

The relationship between deforestation and the increase of diseases in the Amazon has been studied by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

A 2015 survey in 773 Amazon towns showed that for each 1% of forest destroyed, malaria cases increased by 23%. The incidence of leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of sand flies, which causes skin sores, disfigurement and can kill, also increased.

Since Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing climate denier, became president of Brazil in January 2019, the rate of deforestation, followed by forest fires, has exploded.

Officially-sanctioned illegality

This year the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon)’s deforestation alert system (SAD) reports that an area of 254 sq km in the Amazon region was deforested in March, a increase of 279% over the same month last year.

This is even more alarming because traditionally deforestation begins in June, at the end of the rainy season. This year it has begun three months earlier.

The illegal clearing of the forest, much of it in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, by land grabbers, for cattle, soy, and logging projects, and by miners panning for gold, has been openly encouraged by Bolsonaro and his so-called Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.

The Amazon Council set up by the president to coordinate action in the region does not include a single scientist, environmentalist or Amazon researcher, or even any experts from the government agencies for the environment and indigenous affairs, Ibama and Funai.

Instead, all its members are officers of the armed forces or the police. The likelihood that it will do anything serious to stop deforestation is zero.

Yet the destruction of the Amazon is a disaster not only for the world’s climate but also for its health, and Brazil is set to become one of the worst-affected countries. Climate News Network

London’s Kew Gardens teach respect for nature

This story originally appeared on CBS News, and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

Kew Gardens in London are a cherished corner of the UK capital − with a life-giving lesson for humanity.

LONDON, 26 April, 2020 − Kew Gardens more formally the United Kingdom’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London have been a place of reflection and natural refuge for about 250 years, though now they sit empty because of the country’s coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

On April 22, as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Kew Gardens’ director Richard Deverell warned that more “fundamental challenges” could lie ahead for humankind “unless we start to treat the natural world better.”

“It’s exceptionally beautiful, but it’s tragic to see these beautiful gardens, 330 acres here at Kew − a world heritage site − to see them empty,” he told CBS News’ Mark Phillips.

Deverell, who lives on the property, said he “hopes” the current situation could help people understand the importance of respecting nature.

“We’ve got a situation today where four and half billion people are in lockdown, that’s extraordinary,” he said. “So I hope, if nothing else, this Covid experience has given us a dose of humility… we are just one species of many, many millions.”

He added that we “need to play our role” alongside Earth’s other species “in a responsible way.”

“I hope, if nothing else, this Covid experience has given us a dose of humility… we are just one species of many, many millions”

“And I hope too, that we’ll realise that actually the cost of pre-empting a problem, of mitigating it, is a fraction of the cost of dealing with it when it engulfs you,” he said. “If you abuse the natural world, bad things happen, including bad things to people.”

Researchers at the gardens are already working on these mitigation efforts. With new specimens arriving from all over the world, scientists are studying ways to help plants cope with a warming globe.

Among other projects, researchers are studying how to deal with coffee beans that are not getting enough rain and getting too much sunshine. The team is working to find varieties that are more tolerant to the changing conditions.

“Perhaps some have greater heat tolerance or aridity tolerance that can be bred into the commercial crop to safeguard future supplies of coffee,” Deverell explained.

He highlighted the importance of keeping nature safe and intact, not just for the natural world, but for humanity itself.

“At the simplest level, of course, plants provide us with oxygen,” he said. “About a quarter of all cancer medicines derive from plants and fungi, so they deliver many, many beneficial things to humans.”

This story originally appeared on CBS News, and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

Kew Gardens in London are a cherished corner of the UK capital − with a life-giving lesson for humanity.

LONDON, 26 April, 2020 − Kew Gardens more formally the United Kingdom’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London have been a place of reflection and natural refuge for about 250 years, though now they sit empty because of the country’s coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

On April 22, as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Kew Gardens’ director Richard Deverell warned that more “fundamental challenges” could lie ahead for humankind “unless we start to treat the natural world better.”

“It’s exceptionally beautiful, but it’s tragic to see these beautiful gardens, 330 acres here at Kew − a world heritage site − to see them empty,” he told CBS News’ Mark Phillips.

Deverell, who lives on the property, said he “hopes” the current situation could help people understand the importance of respecting nature.

“We’ve got a situation today where four and half billion people are in lockdown, that’s extraordinary,” he said. “So I hope, if nothing else, this Covid experience has given us a dose of humility… we are just one species of many, many millions.”

He added that we “need to play our role” alongside Earth’s other species “in a responsible way.”

“I hope, if nothing else, this Covid experience has given us a dose of humility… we are just one species of many, many millions”

“And I hope too, that we’ll realise that actually the cost of pre-empting a problem, of mitigating it, is a fraction of the cost of dealing with it when it engulfs you,” he said. “If you abuse the natural world, bad things happen, including bad things to people.”

Researchers at the gardens are already working on these mitigation efforts. With new specimens arriving from all over the world, scientists are studying ways to help plants cope with a warming globe.

Among other projects, researchers are studying how to deal with coffee beans that are not getting enough rain and getting too much sunshine. The team is working to find varieties that are more tolerant to the changing conditions.

“Perhaps some have greater heat tolerance or aridity tolerance that can be bred into the commercial crop to safeguard future supplies of coffee,” Deverell explained.

He highlighted the importance of keeping nature safe and intact, not just for the natural world, but for humanity itself.

“At the simplest level, of course, plants provide us with oxygen,” he said. “About a quarter of all cancer medicines derive from plants and fungi, so they deliver many, many beneficial things to humans.”

North Pole may be clear water by mid-century

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

Within 30 years, there could be clear blue water over the North Pole – not good news for most of the planet.

LONDON, 25 April, 2020 – Within three decades, the North Pole could be free of sea ice in the late summer. The latest and most advanced climate simulations, tested by 21 research institutes from around the world, predict that if humans go on emitting ever-greater volumes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion and other actions, then before 2050, for the first time in human history, there could be no ice over the North Pole.

And a team of research scientists aboard a ship intent on spending a year observing the drift of sea ice across the Arctic Ocean has been warned that they may have to finish early: the ice supposed to hold the ship fast could melt too soon.

The loss of sea ice promises devastating consequences for the rich life in the most northern waters. The ice reflects sunlight back into space and keeps the Arctic cool. It also provides space for seals on which to haul out, and hunting grounds for blubber-hungry polar bears.

And although human inaction in the climate emergency makes the loss of polar ice ever more probable, so much greenhouse gas has already built up in the planetary atmosphere that it could happen anyway.

Taken aback

“If we reduce global emissions rapidly and substantially, and thus keep our warming below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels, sea ice will nevertheless likely disappear occasionally in summer even before 2050,” said Dirk Notz, of the University of Hamburg in Germany, who led the study. “This really surprised us.”

Climate scientists first warned of the accelerating loss of Arctic sea ice two decades ago, and have repeatedly re-examined the climate predictions, each time with much the same outcome.

The loss of ice promises new trade routes between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but the cost of a warming Arctic could have catastrophic economic consequences.

The pattern of the northern hemisphere climate is driven by the temperature difference between the Arctic and the tropics, and rapid polar warming both disturbs temperate climate regimes and brings ever higher sea levels, with accelerating ice loss from Greenland, which right now bears enough ice to raise global sea levels by more than seven metres.

“The changes in the Arctic system are so incredibly rapid that even our satellite observations from 15 years ago are unlike the Arctic today”

Dr Notz and his co-authors report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they used the very latest climate model developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and tested it on a range of 40 possible climate outcomes.

In most simulations, the Arctic sea ice was reduced to less than a million square kilometres – polar researchers call this “practically sea-ice free” – in the month of September for the first time before 2050. Even if human fossil fuel use was sharply reduced, the ocean could be free of ice some years; if not, the pole could become open water most years.

And a second study, in the journal The Cryosphere, offers a measure of the sea ice loss even now. More than a century ago, the great explorer Fridtjof Nansen sailed his ship the Fram into the polar ice, became fast, and travelled with the floe across the Arctic Ocean.

His became the first scientific observation of a phenomenon called the trans-Polar drift, which takes algae, sediments and nutrients – and increasingly, plastic pollution – across the Arctic from Siberia to Canada and Greenland.

Melted out

In October a team of international researchers boarded a vessel called Polarstern with the intention of measuring the ice movement in the modern Arctic in more detail. They had planned for a year fast in the ice. Their project even has a name: Mosaic, or Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate.

But climate simulations by the US scientists reveal that in every sense, the project is on thin ice and could end prematurely. The flow of ice could be faster, and carry the ship further, than expected: nearly one in five of the simulations also predicted that the ship could melt out of the ice in less than a year.

“The changes in the Arctic system are so incredibly rapid that even our satellite observations from 15 years ago are unlike the Arctic today,” said one of the authors, Marika Holland of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“Now there is thinner ice, which moves more quickly, and there is less snow cover. It is a totally different ice regime.” – Climate News Network

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

Within 30 years, there could be clear blue water over the North Pole – not good news for most of the planet.

LONDON, 25 April, 2020 – Within three decades, the North Pole could be free of sea ice in the late summer. The latest and most advanced climate simulations, tested by 21 research institutes from around the world, predict that if humans go on emitting ever-greater volumes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion and other actions, then before 2050, for the first time in human history, there could be no ice over the North Pole.

And a team of research scientists aboard a ship intent on spending a year observing the drift of sea ice across the Arctic Ocean has been warned that they may have to finish early: the ice supposed to hold the ship fast could melt too soon.

The loss of sea ice promises devastating consequences for the rich life in the most northern waters. The ice reflects sunlight back into space and keeps the Arctic cool. It also provides space for seals on which to haul out, and hunting grounds for blubber-hungry polar bears.

And although human inaction in the climate emergency makes the loss of polar ice ever more probable, so much greenhouse gas has already built up in the planetary atmosphere that it could happen anyway.

Taken aback

“If we reduce global emissions rapidly and substantially, and thus keep our warming below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels, sea ice will nevertheless likely disappear occasionally in summer even before 2050,” said Dirk Notz, of the University of Hamburg in Germany, who led the study. “This really surprised us.”

Climate scientists first warned of the accelerating loss of Arctic sea ice two decades ago, and have repeatedly re-examined the climate predictions, each time with much the same outcome.

The loss of ice promises new trade routes between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but the cost of a warming Arctic could have catastrophic economic consequences.

The pattern of the northern hemisphere climate is driven by the temperature difference between the Arctic and the tropics, and rapid polar warming both disturbs temperate climate regimes and brings ever higher sea levels, with accelerating ice loss from Greenland, which right now bears enough ice to raise global sea levels by more than seven metres.

“The changes in the Arctic system are so incredibly rapid that even our satellite observations from 15 years ago are unlike the Arctic today”

Dr Notz and his co-authors report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they used the very latest climate model developed for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and tested it on a range of 40 possible climate outcomes.

In most simulations, the Arctic sea ice was reduced to less than a million square kilometres – polar researchers call this “practically sea-ice free” – in the month of September for the first time before 2050. Even if human fossil fuel use was sharply reduced, the ocean could be free of ice some years; if not, the pole could become open water most years.

And a second study, in the journal The Cryosphere, offers a measure of the sea ice loss even now. More than a century ago, the great explorer Fridtjof Nansen sailed his ship the Fram into the polar ice, became fast, and travelled with the floe across the Arctic Ocean.

His became the first scientific observation of a phenomenon called the trans-Polar drift, which takes algae, sediments and nutrients – and increasingly, plastic pollution – across the Arctic from Siberia to Canada and Greenland.

Melted out

In October a team of international researchers boarded a vessel called Polarstern with the intention of measuring the ice movement in the modern Arctic in more detail. They had planned for a year fast in the ice. Their project even has a name: Mosaic, or Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate.

But climate simulations by the US scientists reveal that in every sense, the project is on thin ice and could end prematurely. The flow of ice could be faster, and carry the ship further, than expected: nearly one in five of the simulations also predicted that the ship could melt out of the ice in less than a year.

“The changes in the Arctic system are so incredibly rapid that even our satellite observations from 15 years ago are unlike the Arctic today,” said one of the authors, Marika Holland of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“Now there is thinner ice, which moves more quickly, and there is less snow cover. It is a totally different ice regime.” – Climate News Network

UK plutonium stockpile is a costly headache

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use.

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has examined all the potential options suggested to put the 139 tonnes of plutonium to some useful peaceful purpose (in other words, to create energy), but concludes that none of them is viable.

It says: “The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource, and authority should again take a closer look at immobilisation options.”

Among the solutions that have been suggested is to mix the plutonium with ceramics to immobilise and stabilise it, so that it can be safely stored or disposed of, not used for weapons. The government has so far rejected that option. − Climate News Network

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use.

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has examined all the potential options suggested to put the 139 tonnes of plutonium to some useful peaceful purpose (in other words, to create energy), but concludes that none of them is viable.

It says: “The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource, and authority should again take a closer look at immobilisation options.”

Among the solutions that have been suggested is to mix the plutonium with ceramics to immobilise and stabilise it, so that it can be safely stored or disposed of, not used for weapons. The government has so far rejected that option. − Climate News Network

Covid-19 severity ‘linked to higher air pollution’

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Scientists in the UK say they have found evidence suggesting air pollution levels in England are linked to Covid-19 severity.

LONDON, 21 April, 2020 − In research which could, if confirmed by further studies, have fundamental implications not only for health but also for the climate crisis, scientists at the University of Cambridge say they have found an association between living in parts of England with high levels of air pollution and Covid-19 severity.

Because of the urgent need to share information relating to the pandemic, the researchers say, they have decided to publish their report on medRxiv, the preprint server for health sciences, even though it has not yet been peer-reviewed. However, they say, this preliminary data is supported by that from other countries.

The initial symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, but do not always include breathing difficulties. But, the researchers point out, some patients do go on to develop very serious respiratory problems. Although most experience only mild illness, around a quarter of patients admitted to hospital need intensive care treatment because of viral pneumonia with respiratory complications.

Research suggests that this probably stems from an overactive immune response, they say − but it is not clear why some patients are at greater risk of severe disease.

Previous studies have suggested that people over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer, are at highest risk of severe disease or death.

Long-term exposure to air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and ground-level ozone from car exhaust fumes or burning fossil fuels is a known risk factor for these health conditions.

Higher infection risk

Such pollutants can also cause a persistent inflammatory response and increase the risk of infection by viruses that target the respiratory tract.

In this study the researchers, from the Medical Research Council toxicology unit at Cambridge, report an association between certain air pollutants and Covid-19 in several parts of England.

They analysed the data on total Covid-19 cases and deaths, against the levels of three major air pollutants, collected during 2018 and 2019, when no Covid-19 case had been reported.

Their study used publicly available data from seven regions in England, where a minimum of 2,000 coronavirus infections and 200 deaths have been reported from from February to 8 April 2020.

The largest number of Covid deaths in England has been recorded across London and the Midlands; previous studies have shown that the annual average of nitrogen dioxide concentrations are largest in these two regions, both of which have heavy levels of traffic and industrial concentrations.

When the team compared the annual average of daily nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels to the total number of Covid-19 cases in each region, they found a positive correlation – in other words, the higher the pollutant levels, the greater the number of cases and deaths.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond”

Both pollutants result from a chemical reaction between nitrogen and oxygen during the combustion of fossil fuels, and so they represent a significant source of air pollution in areas with high road traffic.

Marco Travaglio, a PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, said: “Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England.

“London, the Midlands and the northwest [of England] show the largest concentration of these air pollutants, with southern regions displaying the lowest levels in the country, and the number of Covid-19 deaths follows a similar trend.”

The team found a negative association between ambient ground levels of ozone and the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in each region – in other words, reduced ozone levels are associated with a greater number of cases and deaths.

Ozone is a secondary by-product of traffic-related air pollution and is generated through sunlight-driven reactions between motor-vehicle emissions and volatile organic compounds. The lowest levels of ozone were found in highly urbanised regions, such as London or the Midlands.

This is likely to be due to the highly reactive nature of ozone, which results in the gas being converted to other chemicals, a phenomenon previously reported for areas of heavy traffic.

Supporting data

Dr Miguel Martins, senior author of the study, said: “Our study adds to growing evidence from northern Italy and the USA that high levels of air pollution are linked to deadlier cases of Covid-19.

“This is something we saw during the previous SARS outbreak back in 2003, where long-term exposure to air pollutants had a detrimental effect on the prognosis of SARS patients in China.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.”

The researchers say their findings show only a correlation, and that further research is needed to confirm that air pollution makes Covid-19 worse.

So their research is suitably tentative and will rightly be treated with caution by other scientists. It does however pose a range of questions, which include:

•are the UK’s air pollution standards adequate?

•what can be done to protect children, the elderly and other specially vulnerable people?

•what further protection is available for everyone who lives in areas with toxic air?

•what are the implications for climate and energy policy?

•what are the geopolitical implications of the suggested Covid-19/air pollution association?

Few of these preliminary questions are likely to receive an immediate answer. − Climate News Network

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Scientists in the UK say they have found evidence suggesting air pollution levels in England are linked to Covid-19 severity.

LONDON, 21 April, 2020 − In research which could, if confirmed by further studies, have fundamental implications not only for health but also for the climate crisis, scientists at the University of Cambridge say they have found an association between living in parts of England with high levels of air pollution and Covid-19 severity.

Because of the urgent need to share information relating to the pandemic, the researchers say, they have decided to publish their report on medRxiv, the preprint server for health sciences, even though it has not yet been peer-reviewed. However, they say, this preliminary data is supported by that from other countries.

The initial symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, but do not always include breathing difficulties. But, the researchers point out, some patients do go on to develop very serious respiratory problems. Although most experience only mild illness, around a quarter of patients admitted to hospital need intensive care treatment because of viral pneumonia with respiratory complications.

Research suggests that this probably stems from an overactive immune response, they say − but it is not clear why some patients are at greater risk of severe disease.

Previous studies have suggested that people over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer, are at highest risk of severe disease or death.

Long-term exposure to air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and ground-level ozone from car exhaust fumes or burning fossil fuels is a known risk factor for these health conditions.

Higher infection risk

Such pollutants can also cause a persistent inflammatory response and increase the risk of infection by viruses that target the respiratory tract.

In this study the researchers, from the Medical Research Council toxicology unit at Cambridge, report an association between certain air pollutants and Covid-19 in several parts of England.

They analysed the data on total Covid-19 cases and deaths, against the levels of three major air pollutants, collected during 2018 and 2019, when no Covid-19 case had been reported.

Their study used publicly available data from seven regions in England, where a minimum of 2,000 coronavirus infections and 200 deaths have been reported from from February to 8 April 2020.

The largest number of Covid deaths in England has been recorded across London and the Midlands; previous studies have shown that the annual average of nitrogen dioxide concentrations are largest in these two regions, both of which have heavy levels of traffic and industrial concentrations.

When the team compared the annual average of daily nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels to the total number of Covid-19 cases in each region, they found a positive correlation – in other words, the higher the pollutant levels, the greater the number of cases and deaths.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond”

Both pollutants result from a chemical reaction between nitrogen and oxygen during the combustion of fossil fuels, and so they represent a significant source of air pollution in areas with high road traffic.

Marco Travaglio, a PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, said: “Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England.

“London, the Midlands and the northwest [of England] show the largest concentration of these air pollutants, with southern regions displaying the lowest levels in the country, and the number of Covid-19 deaths follows a similar trend.”

The team found a negative association between ambient ground levels of ozone and the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in each region – in other words, reduced ozone levels are associated with a greater number of cases and deaths.

Ozone is a secondary by-product of traffic-related air pollution and is generated through sunlight-driven reactions between motor-vehicle emissions and volatile organic compounds. The lowest levels of ozone were found in highly urbanised regions, such as London or the Midlands.

This is likely to be due to the highly reactive nature of ozone, which results in the gas being converted to other chemicals, a phenomenon previously reported for areas of heavy traffic.

Supporting data

Dr Miguel Martins, senior author of the study, said: “Our study adds to growing evidence from northern Italy and the USA that high levels of air pollution are linked to deadlier cases of Covid-19.

“This is something we saw during the previous SARS outbreak back in 2003, where long-term exposure to air pollutants had a detrimental effect on the prognosis of SARS patients in China.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.”

The researchers say their findings show only a correlation, and that further research is needed to confirm that air pollution makes Covid-19 worse.

So their research is suitably tentative and will rightly be treated with caution by other scientists. It does however pose a range of questions, which include:

•are the UK’s air pollution standards adequate?

•what can be done to protect children, the elderly and other specially vulnerable people?

•what further protection is available for everyone who lives in areas with toxic air?

•what are the implications for climate and energy policy?

•what are the geopolitical implications of the suggested Covid-19/air pollution association?

Few of these preliminary questions are likely to receive an immediate answer. − Climate News Network

Direct virus lessons we can learn as we go

Learning from pandemics is hard but vital. We need 1918’s virus lessons this time round to show us a better normal.

LONDON, 8 April, 2020 – What history knows as the 1918 ‘flu pandemic infected about a quarter of the world’s population at the time – around 500 million people – and left virus lessons for this generation, whether or not it’s learned them.

Thankfully, the 2020 coronavirus outbreak shows no sign yet of matching last century’s virulence. There are growing calls, though, for the world not just to get back to normal, but to turn this global horror into an opportunity to rebuild by finding a better normal to reclaim.

In late 2018 the Rapid Transition Alliance was launched with the intention of building a community to learn from moments of sudden change and to apply those lessons to the climate emergency.

Changes in the biosphere are happening faster than changes in human behaviour, so the question the Alliance asks is this: how do we match the speed and scale of social and economic change with the science – and what it is telling us to do?

It is now working with two other British organisations, the original Green New Deal group and Compass, the campaign that builds support for new ideas among social movements, decision-makers and political parties.

“Once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action”

In the first of several digital meetings the three have begun to sketch out a framework for how society can “learn as we go” from unprecedented events. They have identified five principles for a just recovery, which say in essence:

  • Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions. That means resourcing health services everywhere and ensuring access for all.
  • Providing economic relief directly to the people is vital, particularly those marginalised in existing systems. Concentrate on people and workers and on short-term needs and long-term conditions.
  • Assistance directed at specific industries must be channelled to rescuing communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives, and never to corporations whose actions worsen the climate crisis.
  • The world needs to create resilience for future crises by creating millions of decent jobs that will help power a just transition for workers and communities to the zero-carbon future we need.
  • We must build solidarity and community across borders: do not empower authoritarians, do not use the crisis as an excuse to trample on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy.

An indication of the degree of international support for the five principles is available here.

Making things happen

The principles are already accepted by millions of people, but are no closer to reality, for all that. If they were, the climate crisis would be almost over. What can the three groups offer to make them happen?

The coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance is Andrew Simms, author of a summary of what the discussions have agreed so far. He told the Climate News Network: “Nobody can guarantee that things will turn out any certain way.

“But once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action.

“The current pandemic crisis is wreaking havoc on families, communities and whole economies. But it is also changing our ideas about what really matters to people and also what it is possible to do as a nation when faced with a great challenge.

“There is a new appreciation of key workers who provide the goods and services that a society really relies on – like health services and those in the food supply chain – but who typically lack recognition or are poorly paid.

Good-bye to inertia

“One of the greatest enemies in overcoming the climate emergency has been the sheer inertia of business-as-usual. Now there is a great sense of people taking stock of what is truly important.

“Vitally, when there is a fundamental threat to society, we have seen that financial resources can be mobilised. Fundamental change cannot happen without there being a consensus that it is both desirable and possible.

“The last few weeks have made visible underlying cracks in society, but also our ability to fix them. Once people have seen that, they are unlikely to settle for less.”

This first meeting spent some time talking practicalities, including how to protect wages and income. One example was the call by a member of Parliament for the introduction of a basic income scheme. Globally, the pandemic has prompted the United Nations to call for a worldwide ceasefire.

Overall, the summary says, greater consensus is emerging on how our economy and way of life relies on public not private interests, from health services to community aid groups, and that both local and national government have a vital enabling role on the need to improve the resilience of the economy at a national and local level.

Broadband before wheels

A radical reappraisal of transport came days after the meeting from the president of the UK’s Automobile Association (AA), Edmund King, who predicted a major shift in behaviour after the pandemic.

“People travelling up and down motorways just to hold meetings is inefficient, expensive and not good for the environment”, he said. “I think the use of road and rail and indeed bus will be reduced after this crisis.”

The AA, seen for years as a stalwart member of the roads lobby, said government funds for new transport infrastructure, including roads, might be better spent on improving broadband access to support home working.

The meeting agreed that the UK economy lacks a supportive town centre retail banking infrastructure with the capacity to administer a support scheme.

The build-up to the 2007-2008 financial crisis saw the evacuation of local banking services from the high street, and now the pandemic was making clear that the withering of local financial infrastructure in the UK must be reversed.

Universal and more mutual banking services are needed to build more resilient local economies, the three groups agreed. More progressive business models like social enterprises, which have direct community links, and the co-operative movement may help to provide answers. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Learning from pandemics is hard but vital. We need 1918’s virus lessons this time round to show us a better normal.

LONDON, 8 April, 2020 – What history knows as the 1918 ‘flu pandemic infected about a quarter of the world’s population at the time – around 500 million people – and left virus lessons for this generation, whether or not it’s learned them.

Thankfully, the 2020 coronavirus outbreak shows no sign yet of matching last century’s virulence. There are growing calls, though, for the world not just to get back to normal, but to turn this global horror into an opportunity to rebuild by finding a better normal to reclaim.

In late 2018 the Rapid Transition Alliance was launched with the intention of building a community to learn from moments of sudden change and to apply those lessons to the climate emergency.

Changes in the biosphere are happening faster than changes in human behaviour, so the question the Alliance asks is this: how do we match the speed and scale of social and economic change with the science – and what it is telling us to do?

It is now working with two other British organisations, the original Green New Deal group and Compass, the campaign that builds support for new ideas among social movements, decision-makers and political parties.

“Once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action”

In the first of several digital meetings the three have begun to sketch out a framework for how society can “learn as we go” from unprecedented events. They have identified five principles for a just recovery, which say in essence:

  • Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions. That means resourcing health services everywhere and ensuring access for all.
  • Providing economic relief directly to the people is vital, particularly those marginalised in existing systems. Concentrate on people and workers and on short-term needs and long-term conditions.
  • Assistance directed at specific industries must be channelled to rescuing communities and workers, not shareholders or corporate executives, and never to corporations whose actions worsen the climate crisis.
  • The world needs to create resilience for future crises by creating millions of decent jobs that will help power a just transition for workers and communities to the zero-carbon future we need.
  • We must build solidarity and community across borders: do not empower authoritarians, do not use the crisis as an excuse to trample on human rights, civil liberties, and democracy.

An indication of the degree of international support for the five principles is available here.

Making things happen

The principles are already accepted by millions of people, but are no closer to reality, for all that. If they were, the climate crisis would be almost over. What can the three groups offer to make them happen?

The coordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance is Andrew Simms, author of a summary of what the discussions have agreed so far. He told the Climate News Network: “Nobody can guarantee that things will turn out any certain way.

“But once people have seen what it is possible for a nation to do, and how fast it can do it, it is much harder for those in power to justify inaction, or wrong action.

“The current pandemic crisis is wreaking havoc on families, communities and whole economies. But it is also changing our ideas about what really matters to people and also what it is possible to do as a nation when faced with a great challenge.

“There is a new appreciation of key workers who provide the goods and services that a society really relies on – like health services and those in the food supply chain – but who typically lack recognition or are poorly paid.

Good-bye to inertia

“One of the greatest enemies in overcoming the climate emergency has been the sheer inertia of business-as-usual. Now there is a great sense of people taking stock of what is truly important.

“Vitally, when there is a fundamental threat to society, we have seen that financial resources can be mobilised. Fundamental change cannot happen without there being a consensus that it is both desirable and possible.

“The last few weeks have made visible underlying cracks in society, but also our ability to fix them. Once people have seen that, they are unlikely to settle for less.”

This first meeting spent some time talking practicalities, including how to protect wages and income. One example was the call by a member of Parliament for the introduction of a basic income scheme. Globally, the pandemic has prompted the United Nations to call for a worldwide ceasefire.

Overall, the summary says, greater consensus is emerging on how our economy and way of life relies on public not private interests, from health services to community aid groups, and that both local and national government have a vital enabling role on the need to improve the resilience of the economy at a national and local level.

Broadband before wheels

A radical reappraisal of transport came days after the meeting from the president of the UK’s Automobile Association (AA), Edmund King, who predicted a major shift in behaviour after the pandemic.

“People travelling up and down motorways just to hold meetings is inefficient, expensive and not good for the environment”, he said. “I think the use of road and rail and indeed bus will be reduced after this crisis.”

The AA, seen for years as a stalwart member of the roads lobby, said government funds for new transport infrastructure, including roads, might be better spent on improving broadband access to support home working.

The meeting agreed that the UK economy lacks a supportive town centre retail banking infrastructure with the capacity to administer a support scheme.

The build-up to the 2007-2008 financial crisis saw the evacuation of local banking services from the high street, and now the pandemic was making clear that the withering of local financial infrastructure in the UK must be reversed.

Universal and more mutual banking services are needed to build more resilient local economies, the three groups agreed. More progressive business models like social enterprises, which have direct community links, and the co-operative movement may help to provide answers. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Tropical forests’ damage spreads catastrophically

Human inroads into tropical forests stretch far beyond oil plantations or the edge of cattle ranches and are a wider threat to conservation.

LONDON, 7 April, 2020 – Tropical forests are vital in the campaign to limit global heating. Here’s how to blunt them as a force – just put a clearing, or a plantation, a road or a ranch in the pristine wilderness. And then, as absorbers of atmospheric carbon, the trees up to 100 metres deep into the jungle will lose their edge.

Along that 100 metre width, the canopy height, leaf mass and phosphorus levels per square metre will begin to change. All three are measures of a tree’s capacity to grow vigorously and store carbon.

Researchers call this the edge effect. It matters. The world now has 1.2bn hectares of remaining tropical forest. This is an area far bigger than Canada.

But invasion of what, just one lifetime ago, were still unmapped wildernesses is now so aggressive that almost one fifth of the area of the world’s tropical forest is within 100 metres of a non-forest edge.

And about half of all the forest is within 500 metres of a ranch, road, settlement or plantation.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion”

Scientists from the US report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they mapped change in the forests of Malaysian Borneo, looking closely at the sites where forest and commercial palm oil plantation co-exist.

They report that the levels of carbon stored “above ground” – that is, in the trunk and canopy – fell by an average of 22% along the forest edges, to a depth of 100 metres. The older this forest edge, the greater the fall in stored carbon.

There are already reports that degradation of the rainforest in the Amazon and Congo, amplified by the impact of climate change in the form of extreme heat and drought, is so advanced that within a decade or two these forests could cease to be “sinks” for atmospheric carbon, and instead start adding to the world’s burden of greenhouse gases that threaten to accelerate climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

The world’s forests are vital in the global plans to contain or limit climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Research has repeatedly confirmed that undisturbed forest is an efficient absorber and permanent store of atmospheric carbon and that almost any human transgression could damage the capacity of the rainforest to absorb carbon.

Road web spreads

And yet all the signs are ominous: humans will go on making inroads into natural wilderness, in the most literal sense: by 2050, there could be 25 million km new road lanes, most of them in the developing world, to carry timber trucks, livestock and minerals through the world’s forests.

There is an argument that “smart” roads can limit the damage to the environment and society caused by indiscriminate engineering: one group advocating this approach is the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS), based at James Cook University in Australia.

But the threat to the remaining forests is now so pronounced that many researchers simply point out, in the kind of understatement that comes naturally to scientists, that such changes have “far-reaching implications” for the conservation of forest biodiversity and carbon stocks.

They see their research as a potential guide to government and local authorities on the management of the remaining wild woodland.

“Not all forest-agriculture boundaries are created equal, and most remaining forests change for many years following the original land conversion that takes place nearby,” said Greg Asner of Arizona State University, one of the researchers.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion.” – Climate News Network

Human inroads into tropical forests stretch far beyond oil plantations or the edge of cattle ranches and are a wider threat to conservation.

LONDON, 7 April, 2020 – Tropical forests are vital in the campaign to limit global heating. Here’s how to blunt them as a force – just put a clearing, or a plantation, a road or a ranch in the pristine wilderness. And then, as absorbers of atmospheric carbon, the trees up to 100 metres deep into the jungle will lose their edge.

Along that 100 metre width, the canopy height, leaf mass and phosphorus levels per square metre will begin to change. All three are measures of a tree’s capacity to grow vigorously and store carbon.

Researchers call this the edge effect. It matters. The world now has 1.2bn hectares of remaining tropical forest. This is an area far bigger than Canada.

But invasion of what, just one lifetime ago, were still unmapped wildernesses is now so aggressive that almost one fifth of the area of the world’s tropical forest is within 100 metres of a non-forest edge.

And about half of all the forest is within 500 metres of a ranch, road, settlement or plantation.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion”

Scientists from the US report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they mapped change in the forests of Malaysian Borneo, looking closely at the sites where forest and commercial palm oil plantation co-exist.

They report that the levels of carbon stored “above ground” – that is, in the trunk and canopy – fell by an average of 22% along the forest edges, to a depth of 100 metres. The older this forest edge, the greater the fall in stored carbon.

There are already reports that degradation of the rainforest in the Amazon and Congo, amplified by the impact of climate change in the form of extreme heat and drought, is so advanced that within a decade or two these forests could cease to be “sinks” for atmospheric carbon, and instead start adding to the world’s burden of greenhouse gases that threaten to accelerate climate change, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

The world’s forests are vital in the global plans to contain or limit climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Research has repeatedly confirmed that undisturbed forest is an efficient absorber and permanent store of atmospheric carbon and that almost any human transgression could damage the capacity of the rainforest to absorb carbon.

Road web spreads

And yet all the signs are ominous: humans will go on making inroads into natural wilderness, in the most literal sense: by 2050, there could be 25 million km new road lanes, most of them in the developing world, to carry timber trucks, livestock and minerals through the world’s forests.

There is an argument that “smart” roads can limit the damage to the environment and society caused by indiscriminate engineering: one group advocating this approach is the Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS), based at James Cook University in Australia.

But the threat to the remaining forests is now so pronounced that many researchers simply point out, in the kind of understatement that comes naturally to scientists, that such changes have “far-reaching implications” for the conservation of forest biodiversity and carbon stocks.

They see their research as a potential guide to government and local authorities on the management of the remaining wild woodland.

“Not all forest-agriculture boundaries are created equal, and most remaining forests change for many years following the original land conversion that takes place nearby,” said Greg Asner of Arizona State University, one of the researchers.

“The importance of this discovery trickles all the way down to how conservation managers work to mitigate biodiversity losses associated with agricultural expansion.” – Climate News Network