How Europe is greener now than 100 years ago

Within the last 100 years, Europe has experienced two World Wars, the end of communism, the emergence of the European Union and a series of other transformative political and economic developments. A team of scientists has now been able to visualize the impact of historical events in maps that show the growth and decline of settlements, forests and croplands.

The map, shown above, is the result of a research project led by Dutch scholar Richard Fuchs from the University of Wageningen. Besides regional political and economic trends, Europe’s landscape was shaped by several larger developments of the 20th century, according to Fuchs.

The following maps preview some of the affected regions which we will explain and show in detail throughout this post.

“More than 100 years ago, timber was used for almost everything: as fuel wood, for metal production, furniture, house construction. Hence, at around 1900 there was hardly any forest areas left in Europe. Especially after World War II, many countries started massive afforestation programs which are still running today,” Fuchs told The Washington Post.

As a result, Europe’s forests grew by a third over the last 100 years. At the same time, cropland decreased due to technological innovations such as motorization, better drainage and irrigation systems: Relatively fewer area was needed to produce the same amount of food. Furthermore, many people migrated from rural to urban areas, or overseas.

Fuchs’ fascinating conclusion: Forests and settlements grew at the same time and Europe is a much greener continent today than it was 100 years ago. A closer look at different regions and countries reveals Europe’s recovery from the deforestation of past centuries.

In the southern French region of Vaucluse, entire mountain ranges were de-forested at the beginning of the 20th century, but the country invested heavily to reverse the trend. Meanwhile, agricultural projects in southern Spain transformed once arid, barren areas into profitable agricultural fields or even forests.

A similar development was documented in Italy. Former cropland were abandoned due to market competition, urbanization and emigration. Today, many parts of the Apennine Mountains (located on the right side of the map below) are dominated by grasslands and forests again.

In eastern Europe, many forests re-grew after the end of the Soviet Union. Fuchs and his colleagues explain the development with the fact that many privatized agricultural farms were less competitive on the global market. Therefore, farmers abandoned unprofitable cropland. Particularly in Romania and Poland, former cropland was taken back by nature afterward, first turning into grassland and later into forests.

In the 1990s, Europe also introduced a Common Agricultural Policy which stated that only highly productive areas should be used as cropland, in order to prevent inefficiency. Hence, fields got continuously bigger to better manage and maintain them with machines. Marginal land, however, was given up.

To the north of formerly communist Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Scandinavian countries were able to re-grow most of their forests (and are continuing to do so today) to keep up with timer demand, as they substituted most other suppliers in Europe that had practically used up most of their own wood resources.

What you see here is among of the most populous areas of Europe: London (the growing, red area in the upper part of the picture), Paris (lower left side), and Brussels (in the middle). Although London experienced its most significant population growth in the 19th century, the city’s suburbs grew massively in the 20th century and continue to do so.

The city of Paris itself actually lost inhabitants over the 20th century due to gentrification and higher rents, but you can clearly see how its suburbs became more and more populous throughout the century.

Both the Netherlands and Britain had empires that relied heavily on the sea and their naval strength. In order to build ships, they needed wood — and in 1900, only 2 – 3 percent of their territory was still covered with forests. Both countries have since been able to increase their forest area to 10-12 percent, as data from 2010 shows. The Netherlands also pursued another major project, visible on maps: It reclaimed the Zuiderzee bay with dams and drainage systems to gain more land.

A closer look at England and Ireland shows that both countries are nevertheless still mainly covered with grassland, while re-forestation has been particularly successful in Scotland.


(Skiada Georgia)

Climate Change Is Becoming a Top Threat to Biodiversity

Climate change will be the fastest-growing cause of species loss in the Americas by midcentury, according to a new set of reports from the leading global organization on ecosystems and biodiversity.

Climate change, alongside factors like land degradation and habitat loss, is emerging as a top threat to wildlife around the globe, the reports suggest. In Africa, it could cause some animals to decline by as much as 50 percent by the end of the century, and up to 90 percent of coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean may bleach or degrade by the year 2050.

The reports, released last week by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), included a sweeping set of biodiversity assessments for four major regions around the world, with contributions from more than 500 experts. A separate report on global land degradation, which was launched yesterday, included more than 100 authors. Both were approved by IPBES’s 129 member states at an ongoing plenary session in Medellín, Colombia.

Numerous other threats still challenge the world’s biodiversity, from pollution and overexploitation to land-use change and habitat loss, and in many places these are still greater immediate dangers to the world’s wildlife than climate change. But the new series of reports emphasize that action on global warming is also action in favor of wild plants and animals. And in turn, protecting the world’s remaining natural places is also a step toward safeguarding the climate.

Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on the health of our natural environment,” IPBES Chairman Robert Watson said in a statement. “We cannot afford to tackle any one of these three threats in isolation—they each deserve the highest policy priority and must be addressed together.”

According to yesterday’s report, the degradation of land—either by human activities or by natural disasters—may be adversely affecting more than 3 billion people around the globe. And the resulting losses in biodiversity and ecosystem services may be costing 10 percent of the world’s annual global gross product.

Land degradation is also a significant contributor to climate change, the report warns. Deforestation, the destruction of wetlands and other forms of land conversion can release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, which may worsen global warming. Climate change can continue the cycle by thawing out frozen ecosystems, creating harsher conditions for vegetation to survive, and increasing the severity of storms and other natural disasters, which can also damage natural landscapes.

The upside of linked stressors is that addressing one can help the other. Working to protect natural landscapes can play a significant role in the fight against climate change, the report suggests. Restoring natural lands or preventing them from being destroyed in the first place could deliver more than a third of the action needed by 2030 to keep keep global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, the authors note.

And that’s a big step in preserving the world’s biodiversity, as well, according to the four reports released last week. While each report focused on a different region of the world—Africa, Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and the Americas—each one highlighted the growing threat of climate change, among a variety of other human-caused threats to global wildlife.

Africa is particularly vulnerable, the reports suggest, with some bird and mammal species facing declines of up to 50 percent if serious action isn’t taken. Africa’s lakes could also see declines in productivity of up to 30 percent by the end of the century.

Other global regions are facing major risks, as well. In the Americas, about 31 percent of all indigenous species are believed to have been lost since European settlers first arrived. Under a “business-as-usual” trajectory, and accounting for other threats, such as habitat loss, the report suggests that this number could climb as high as 40 percent by 2050.


(Dipla Katerina)

Over 5 billion people could face water scarcity problems by 2050, UN says

Some 3.6 billion people are estimated to be living in areas with a potential for water scarcity for at least one month per year, and this number could rise to as many as 5.7 billion people by 2050, according to a report published by UNESCO.

Released Monday, the 2018 edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report said that global demand for water had been rising at a rate of around 1 percent annually, and would “continue to grow significantly” during the next 20 years.

Nature-based solutions (NBS) had an important role in boosting both the quality and supply of water and mitigating the impact of natural disasters, according to the report.

“We need new solutions in managing water resources so as to meet emerging challenges to water security caused by population growth and climate change,” Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of UNESCO, said in a statement.

“If we do nothing, some 5 billion people will be living in areas with poor access to water by 2050,” Azoulay added. “This report proposes solutions that are based on nature to manage water better. This is a major task all of us need to accomplish together responsibly so as to avoid water-related conflicts.”

The report described NBS as being “inspired and supported by nature”. NBS either use or mimic naturally-occurring processes to help improve the management of water. Examples include dry toilets, water harvesting and permeable pavements.

“In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways to manage competing demands on our precious freshwater resources,” Gilbert F. Houngbo, chair of UN-Water and president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, said.


(Dipla Katerina)

Top 10 ways to save water in the UAE

1. Consider your food choices

Marita Peters Middle East Executive Director for Surge, says: “Meat has a huge water footprint. If we learn more and change our consumption patterns, we can immediately conserve vital natural resources.”

2. Reasess all that shopping

“Reduce overall material consumption as water is used to produce absolutely everything,” Peters says. “Educating ourselves on facts can help us make better choices.”

3. Home in on the issue

In a typical household, the bathroom has the highest usage of water, Peters says. She advises changing personal habits — closing the tap when brushing one’s teeth, using the half-tank option when flushing and taking shorter showers.

4. Is it full yet?

An easy way to lower water consumption — and utility bills — is by running dishwashers and washing machines when they are full. Full loads make the best use of water, energy and detergent, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) advises. And when in the market for a new machine, consider a high-efficiency model that may use an average 30 per cent less water and 40 per cent less energy.

5. Look for leaks

David King, Founder of Save Water UAE, says it’s vital to check for water leakages in and around the home. “About 15-17 per cent of water loss happens this way.”

6. Invest to save

Purchasing simple gadgets can not only reduce water consumption but also reduce utility bills, says King. “Look at fitting simple water savers such as basic aerators and flow regulators, which only cost Dh25 and Dh30 each, and can be fitted easily without specialist tools or professional help.” Low-flow showerheads can reduce water consumption by 50-70 per cent without a visible impact on the bather.

7. Garden with a conscience

Dewa advises watering plants before 8am or after 6pm and avoid watering on windy days. A related suggestion is to only water the lawn when it’s thirsty. To determine this, simply walk across the grass. If you leave footprints, it is time to water.

8. Short spurts are better

When you do actually break out the garden hose, water your plants in several short sessions rather than one long one. For example, three ten-minute sessions paced 30 minutes to an hour apart will allow your lawn to better absorb moisture than one straight 30-minute session, Dewa advises.

9. Tech up your act

Dewa also recommends taking the tech route for plants. Install moisture sensors in each zone — sunny, shaded or other — to better determine irrigation needs.

10. Pick appropriate plants

Succulents and other desert flora are ideal for UAE gardens because they are well-suited to the local climate. Plants such as these require minimal watering and provide the benefits of green environment without strain on water supplies.


Check out how Arid Zone Afforestation NPO is part of the solution in the problem:


(Dipla Katerina)

Climate change soon to cause movement of 140m people, World Bank warns

Climate change will result in a massive movement of people inside countries and across borders, creating “hotspots” where tens of millions pour into already crowded slums, according to the World Bank.

More than 140 million people in just three regions of the developing world are likely to migrate within their native countries between now and 2050, the first report on the subject has found.

The World Bank examined three regions, which between them account for 55% of the developing world’s population. In sub-Saharan Africa, 86 million are expected to be internally displaced over the period, in south Asia about 40 million,and in Latin America, 17 million.

Such flows of people could cause enormous disruption, threatening governance and economic and social development, but the World Bank cautioned that it was still possible to stave off the worst effects.

“Climate change-driven migration will be a reality, but it does not need to be a crisis, provided we take action now and act boldly,” said John Roome, a senior director for climate change at the World Bank group.

He laid out three key actions governments should take: first, to accelerate their reductions of greenhouse gases, second, for national governments to incorporate climate change migration into their national development planning, and third, to invest in further data and analysis for use in planning development.

Within countries, the effects of climate change will create multiple “hotspots”: made up of the areas people move away from in large numbers, and the areas they move to.

“Local planners need to make sure the resources are made available, and to make sure it takes place in a comprehensive and coordinated manner,” said Roome.

Globally, many tens of millions more are expected to be similarly affected, creating huge problems for national and local governments. Nearly 3% of the population was judged likely to move owing to climate change in the areas studied – a proportion that might be repeated elsewhere.

Migration between countries has previously taken the spotlight, with its potential for cross-border conflicts, but internal migration may cause as much disruption, putting pressure on infrastructure, jobs, food and water resources.

The 140 million figure extrapolates from current trends, but could be reduced if changes are made. If economic development is made more inclusive, for instance through better education and infrastructure, internal migration across the three regions could drop to between 65 million and 105 million, according to the report. If strong action is taken on greenhouse gas emissions, as few as 30 million to 70 million may migrate.

Climate change is likely to most affect the poorest and most vulnerable, making agriculture difficult or even impossible across large swaths of the globe, threatening water resources and increasing the likelihood of floods, droughts and heatwaves in some areas. Sea level rises and violent storm surges are also likely to hit low-lying coastal areas, such as in Bangladesh.

Kristalina Georgieva, the chief executive of the World Bank, in her introduction to the report, said: “There is growing recognition among researchers that more people will move within national borders to escape the effects of slow-onset climate change, such as droughts, crop failure and rising seas.

“The number of climate migrants could be reduced by tens of millions as a result of global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and with far-sighted development planning. There is an opportunity now to plan and act for emerging climate change threats.”


(Dipla Katerina)

New Government needs to take extra step for wood use

The forest and wood processing industry says it is looking forward to greater use of timber in New Zealand with the coalition government now in place.

But WoodCo Chair, Brian Stanley, says the new government needs to introduce a wood-first policy for government buildings as well.

“We’ve got a new drive from the top for more plantings, a greater thrust for forestry in regional development and a commitment to use trees for carbon sequestration. The missing link though is the government specifying wooden construction as the first choice for its new buildings.”

“Developments in wood engineering, such as cross laminated timber, are enabling medium and high rise buildings to be built with timber as their primary component. This is happening around the world. We are being left behind, with only some recent examples, such as Sir Bob Jones’ 12 storey office tower in Wellington, or the Nelson Airport terminal.

Wood construction has many benefits, such as sourcing locally, use of a renewable resource and quicker construction. But New Zealand architects and specifiers are not familiar with how to use modern wood. We need the government to take a lead.”

“The Rotorua Lakes Council is so far the only local government body to adopt a wood-first policy. Others who want to use a modern and efficient resource already at their doorstep could learn from Rotorua.”

Brian Stanley says the forest and wood industry is not looking for preferential treatment, because he says if wood is objectively considered as a building material it can clearly and frequently outperform other traditional building construction, particularly in earthquakes where the in-built flexibility of wood makes this natural material a class performer.

(Skiada Georgia)

Trees are dying at unprecedented rates. Can we rethink conservation before it’s too late?

Each year, the Earth’s trees suck more than a hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s an impossibly huge number to consider, about 60 times the weight of all the humans currently on the planet.

Our forests perform a cornucopia of services: Serving as a stabilizing force for nearly all of terrestrial life, they foster biodiversity and even make us happier. But as climate change accelerates, drawing that carbon out of the air has become trees’ most critical role.

Absorbing CO2 is key to avoiding the worst effects of climate change when each year matters so much. Carbon “sinks,” like the wood of trees and organic matter buried in dirt, prevent the gas from returning to the atmosphere for dozens or even hundreds of years. Right now, about a third of all human carbon emissions are absorbed by trees and other land plants — the rest remains in the atmosphere or gets buried at sea. That share will need to rise toward and beyond 100 percent in order to counter all of humanity’s emissions past and present.

For trees to pull this off, though, they have to be alive, thriving, and spreading. And at the moment, the world’s forests are trending in the opposite direction.

New evidence shows that the climate is shifting so quickly, it’s putting many of the world’s trees in jeopardy. Rising temperatures and increasingly unusual rainfall patterns inflict more frequent drought, pest outbreaks, and fires. Trees are dying at the fastest rate ever seen, on the backs of extreme events like the 2015 El Niño, which sparked massive forest fires across the tropics. In 2016, the world lost a New Zealand-sized amount of trees, the most in recorded history.

The declining health of trees globally is starting to have profound effects on Earth’s carbon cycle. The rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide has been picking up speed over the past few years, even though human CO2 emissions have flattened. The net effect: Climate change is starting to accelerate.

Some tropical forests — in the Congo, the Amazon, and in Southeast Asia — have already shifted to a net carbon source. That means they emit more greenhouse gases than they absorb, worsening the climate problem worldwide. And signs are emerging that the health of California’s forests is fading, too.

The world’s treescape is undergoing a significant shift in real time. And with the situation getting particularly desperate, conservationists are beginning to rethink which species belong where. They’re even considering speeding up forest transitions, so we can get to the next phase where trees are soaking up massive amounts of carbon again instead of bursting into flames.

Forests are our last, best natural defense against global warming. Without the world’s trees at peak physical condition, the rest of us don’t stand a chance.

The planet is warming, but it isn’t doing so evenly. The icy poles are heating up faster, throwing off the balance of global air circulation. The storms that ride the now-shifted jet stream have deviated away from their historical paths, resulting in an expansion of the dry zones that surround the tropics. In short, a disruption of rainfall patterns across the globe is forcing trees to migrate.

Even at relatively low levels of climate change, where the Earth’s average temperature increases by fewer than 2 degrees Celsius, the range of North American tree species will shift northward at a rate of about two miles per year.

Forests simply can’t migrate that quickly. Take the jack pine, a species that the fossil record shows can adapt relatively fast to climatic shifts. Yet even for the jack pine, the current rate of warming would force it to migrate six times more quickly than it ever has before.

Given all of this, it’s not surprising that a recent study shows that, should warming continue apace, virtually all U.S. forests are at risk of climate-related shifts this century.

For a clear window into how forests are changing in real time, look at a temperate place like California. In recent years, droughts have become more frequent as more of the state begins to take on a desert-like climate. Since 2014, more than 129 million trees have died in California. In aerial views, large swaths of brown pockmark previously pristine canopies. The Golden State’s forests have experienced a ten-fold increase in mortality in recent years, linked to drier and warmer weather and a beetle infestation made worse by the changing climate.

California’s arboreal apocalypse is being exacerbated by the raging wildfires that the state’s forestry department helped stoke. Unlike sub-Arctic and tropical forests, temperate ones are often densely populated with people. A state-funded watchdog report showed in February that California’s forests are sorely lacking prescribed burns, which remove overgrowth and dead trees. Seven of the 10 largest fires in California history have occurred since 2003, including December’s Thomas Fire, the largest on record and the state’s first wintertime megafire. The fires, of course, are reason enough to worry, but recent studies suggest California trees are struggling to regrow naturally after the blazes.

“Many forest ecosystems are not well equipped to do battle with climate-driven changes,” says Stella Cousins, a forest ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

She adds that across the globe, humans degrade forests through land clearing for agriculture and bad forestry practices. Ecosystems, therefore, are already fighting an uphill battle to thrive — and adding warming into the equation makes their ability to flourish nearly impossible.

For tree lovers — and for scientists who spend their lives in the forest — all of this bad news is a punch to the gut.

Yolanda Wiersma, a landscape ecologist at Canada’s Memorial University, is rattled, but she remains optimistic that forests will merely change — and not vanish entirely.

“Our forests in 100 years will not look like our forests today,” she says. “We’re not going to see forests disappear. They’re resilient; they’ll adapt in some way. They’re just going to be different kinds of forests than what we know now.”

Take the sub-Arctic boreal forest in Newfoundland, where Wiersma works. Trees there are, on average, growing taller now as the growing season lengthens. That’s expected to soon lead to bigger fires — because there’s simply more to burn — but also faster regrowth and a new mix of species in the aftermath. It will produce a forest that, according to Wiersma, “we haven’t quite seen before.”

It’s emergent ecosystems like the warmer, less frozen Arctic, that are giving some ecologists, like Wiersma, hope that forests will be able to muddle through. But to ensure forests’ survival amid such rapid change, some scientists believe further human intervention is necessary.

A set of conservationists are rethinking how we approach forests. They considering tinkering with the ecosystems in various ways, including introducing novel species, replanting forests with climate change in mind, and even planting fast-growing species just to burn them for energy.

All of these strategies amount to a radical departure from the static view of forest conservation that has dominated for decades. It’s a view that considers forests as inherently changing instead of inherently stable — at least on timescales that matter to humans.

Wiersma is apprehensive about these sorts of radical approaches. “If we’re going to try anything different,” she says, “it should be done very cautiously”.

But some forests simply aren’t going to be able to handle the next few decades on their own. A recent study used computer models to test the inherently changing point of view. Researchers looked at a forest ecosystem in a remote part of British Columbia that’s susceptible to fires and insect outbreaks. They found that artificially boosting tree diversity increased the forest’s capacity for regrowth by up to 40 percent. It’s an example of what forest ecologists call “assisted migration,” introducing novel species that are expected to do well in the years ahead.

In Minnesota, conservationists aren’t just modeling it with computers. They’re actually doing it.

At the southern edge of the boreal forest, spruce, fir, birch, and aspen dominate — but their days are likely numbered as warm, dry summers become increasingly commonplace. Researchers at the University of Minnesota-Duluth partnered with the Nature Conservancy to plant 100,000 seedlings of native species more representative of the forests of Minnesota’s future — oak, pine, and basswood — on 500 acres of public lands. While they’ve grown in the region before, those species are still relatively rare, so the researchers want to study how the trees fare in years to come.

It will likely take decades to study the ramifications of even this small experiment — and by that time, the climate will likely have moved on. That inherent pressure adds both urgency and controversy to bold actions like these.

Another idea, called bioenergy carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS), involves planting massive swaths of the planet’s arable land with quick-growing trees and other vegetation, and then burning the plant matter for fuel while capturing the resulting carbon dioxide.

It’s controversial on the scale that would be necessary — an area equivalent to the size of India would be needed by 2100 to remove enough carbon from the atmosphere to help stabilize the rise of global temperatures. New studies show it may have compounding negative effects for surrounding ecosystems, but BECCS continues to show up in climate change mitigation strategies simply because humans haven’t yet invented a technology as efficient as trees to suck CO2 out of the sky.

With a problem as big as the potential death of many of the world’s forests, the worst thing we could do is nothing. We’re well on our way to a planet in which forests have radically transformed, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for the end of the story. Trees and humans are now locked in a mutual struggle for survival, and a future that’s good for forests and people will require profound adjustments in the way we think.

Trees can teach us many lessons, including encouraging long-term thinking. “We’re not ready for this rate of climate change,” Wiersma concludes from watching what the current rate of warming is doing to forests.

“But, 500 years from now?” she says. “There’ll be trees. There’ll be forests. But we might not be here.”


(Dipla Katerina)

Save the trees

Scientists and policy-makers will meet in Bonn this June to discuss one of the most pressing concerns to come out of December’s United Nations climate meeting — how to manage the world’s tropical forests. Jeff Tollefson examines some of the proposals.

Rainforest nations walked away from the United Nations (UN) climate meeting in Indonesia last December with pretty much all they had hoped for: a place at the negotiating table and an acknowledgement that deforestation belongs in a future global-warming treaty.

The landmark decision in Bali was accompanied by an outpouring of concern — and in some cases money — from the international community. Little more than a month later, however, the European Commission released a proposal that would ban forestry credits of any kind from the world’s largest carbon market until 2020. The document highlights old divisions over whether to integrate forestry issues into the cap-and-trade programme for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions or to tackle problems such as deforestation separately through government programmes. Rather than open up the European market, the commission proposes funnelling a portion of the proceeds from the carbon market into deforestation programmes.

Advocates of rainforest conservation have in the past focused on issues of biodiversity and the preservation of indigenous communities. The climatic implications of deforestation, which releases the carbon stored in plants and soils into the atmosphere, both heightens the urgency and opens the door to potential solutions. Yet although the Bali declarations endorse the idea of including forest protection in the next climate agreement, they say nothing about which avenue to take — an issue that is now being hotly debated.

Monitoring emissions

The discussions kicked off in Kyoto in 1997, when the United States pushed to make forestry part of the market-based cap-and-trade programme. Europe eventually accepted the programme, but was sceptical about including deforestation, unconvinced that the technology was advanced enough to monitor and quantify emissions resulting from deforestation. Reforestation projects were included in the final agreement, but avoiding deforestation was left out.

Ten years later, with the scientific community generally agreed that satellite monitoring is ready for prime time, rainforest nations banded together in favour of a market-based approach tied to national baselines — similar to the way developed nations would certify industrial emissions (see ‘Taking steps at a local level’). Brazil seemed to be out in the cold last year when it continued to push for the creation of an international fund, independent of an eventual carbon market, that could be tapped in support of programmes to halt deforestation.

In the end, however, UN negotiators failed to settle the issue. “When we went into Bali, we all thought that carbon markets would win, but after Bali there are more and more voices saying, ‘maybe the market doesn’t work that well here’,” says Fred Stolle, a researcher with the World Resources Institute, an environmental think-tank based in Washington DC. Stolle says the European proposal puts the whole idea of a market-based forestry programme “on shaky ground”, because where Europe leads, others may follow.

This dilemma has advocates of a market-based approach looking to the United States for leadership. The leading global-warming legislation in the Senate would set aside 2.5% of the credits in an eventual cap-and-trade system for forestry and deforestation projects. A coalition of businesses and environmental groups, represented by the lobbying firm Covington and Burling, based in Washington DC, is pushing to expand that and other provisions that would allow forestry to play a greater role.

An international fund such as that backed by Brazil might be useful to help pay for infrastructure issues as nations develop the expertise to track and police deforestation, sceptics argue, but the resources necessary to address such a problem can be raised only if avoiding deforestation becomes a private economic enterprise. “In global markets, forests are worth more dead than alive, and this is what we need to turn around,” says Andrew Mitchell, director of the Global Canopy Programme in Oxford, UK. “Philanthropy and governments won’t do it. You have to look to markets to overturn what is in fact a market failure.”

Moreover, having developing nations sign up to cap-and-trade commitments in the forestry sector will build momentum and increase pressure on countries such as China as well, says Stuart Eizenstat, a partner with Covington and Burling who served as chief negotiator for the US delegation to Kyoto. “This could open up a way of breaking this impasse between developed and developing countries.”

To market

But perhaps the biggest fear among sceptics is that an endless stream of deforestation credits will simply allow companies in the developed world to pay a little extra and pass costs on to consumers without otherwise changing their policies. Artur Runge-Metzger, who is in charge of climate issues at the European Commission, says deforestation accounts for 5-6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide annually, compared with 2 gigatonnes in the entire European trading scheme. “That would flood the market,” he says, revealing a major reason behind Europe’s stance. “We want to see real emissions reductions in Europe.”

Eric Bettelheim, executive chairman of Sustainable Forestry Management in London, calls this logic “nonsense”, saying forestry projects will come online over time as countries develop their monitoring systems, link up to the international system and work through projects. Moreover, as some 20% of global greenhouse-gas emissions come from deforestation each year, from a theoretical standpoint, deforestation can’t make up more than 20% of the solution if it represents only 20% of the problem. “It is not the purpose of a market to punish industry,” he says. If reducing emissions through deforestation is the cheapest option, “it’s the logical thing to do”.

Kevin Conrad, director of the New York-based Coalition of Rainforest Nations, plays down the European Commission’s move to bar forestry projects, expressing confidence in the UN talks. He says developing nations would be suspicious of any new non-market initiative, such as the millennium development goals for deforestation, that would be perennially under-funded and bureaucratic. “Developing countries are trying to test the sincerity of developed countries, saying ‘Don’t try to fool us dangling some new-fangled fund in front of us’,” Conrad says. “What we want is just our right to be at the table in the markets that are already in the tens of billions of dollars per year.”

How much money would flow into this sector ultimately depends on the actual cost of curbing deforestation, and for this there is a range of estimates. Doug Boucher, director of the tropical forests and climate initiative for the non-profit Union of Concerned Scientists based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is in the process of compiling and analysing various studies on the issue. He says the numbers vary from a few dollars per tonne of carbon dioxide for individual projects to $10–30 per tonne for some of the economic models. For perspective, carbon dioxide credits are currently trading at more than $30 per tonne in Europe, although they have been much lower in recent months.

In principle, Boucher says, the calculation is easy: saving a forest costs at least as much as a person would have earned cutting it down. And there will be additional costs for developing monitoring systems, administering programmes and enforcing laws, many of which already exist. Such aspects could benefit from traditional international aid, especially as countries gear up. Brazil recently sent a special police unit into the Amazon as part of an effort to bring illegal clearing under control — and to demonstrate its commitment to the problem.

Others are looking at financing mechanisms, including some form of carbon insurance that could be activated if a project that had been paid for turned sour for any reason. New financial institutions would be needed to link the global capital markets to people on the ground. Annie Petsonk, an attorney with Environmental Defense, a non-profit advocacy group in New York, says farmers might even be able to take out a project loan from “forest carbon” banks. “Could you use all of the learning that has been developed in the past 10–15 years in microfinance?” she asks. “Could you apply that to carbon?

But developed nations contribute to the emissions too. The expansion of palm-oil plantations in Indonesia, driven in part by European demand for biofuels, is a primary cause of deforestation. When it comes to timber, it is perfectly legal to ship illegally cut logs to the United States and Europe (although efforts are under way to change that). Cattle ranching is a leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon, and two-thirds of Brazil’s beef goes to Europe, says Mitchell of the Global Canopy Programme. “Europe’s markets are causing these emissions and, more and more, the developing world is saying that it doesn’t want to be blamed.

But a well-designed and focused programme could markedly affect global deforestation. More than half of the emissions from deforestation come from two states in the Brazilian Amazon and one province in Indonesia, according to a preliminary analysis of deforestation trends between 2000 and 2005 by the World Resources Institute and South Dakota State University in Brookings. Whether such a programme could garner the political will and international backing to succeed remains to be seen.


(Skiada Georgia)

Antarctic sea ice shrinks radically, again

New satellite data shows that Antarctic sea ice has shrunk to its second lowest level on record, ending a trend of increasing growth.

The sea ice surrounding Antarctica shrank to 2.15 million sq km in 2018, the Australian Antarctic Division says. It follows last year’s lowest minimum extent on record of 2.07 million sq km and lowest maximum winter-time sea ice extent of 18.05 million sq km. The recordings, released on Friday, end a trend of increasing Antarctic sea ice that saw historic highs reached in successive years from 2012 to 2014.

While it’s too early to tell whether the continent’s shrinking surrounds marks a new trend, AAD chief research scientist Dr Rob Massom says sea ice movements have a “critical” effect on the world’s climate and marine biology.

“This annual growth and retreat cycle is one of the greatest seasonal changes on the surface of the earth,” Dr Massom says.

Sea ice reflects back between 50 to 85 per cent of incoming sunlight, which forms an insulating blanket on the surface of the ocean that decreases the exchange of heat, moisture and gases between the ocean and atmosphere, he said.

Unlike a watery ocean surface that reflects back seven per cent of sunlight and warms up quickly, sea ice’s highly reflective feature is one of many reasons it plays a crucial and pivotal role in the global climate system, the scientist said. In addition, Dr Massom said sea ice conditions impact shipping and logistical operations in the southern ocean, making forecasting vital.

Despite much scientific progress, the causes and effects of sea ice changes remains a mystery.

“This represents an exciting and indeed high-priority challenge in climate and polar research,” Dr Massom said.

“It’s an exciting problem to try and unravel.”

The researcher has called for more international collaboration on projects, mathematical modelling and state of the art technologies to grasp drivers behind sea ice changes and improve forecasting.


(Dipla Katerina)

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Plant a tree today – it all adds up

Andrew Collyer – Practical Gardening

Every year during March the Tree council of Ireland organises The National Tree Week to promote all things aboricultural. To help raise our awareness and appreciation of trees, the importance of planting new trees and care of existing woodlands and even your domestic trees.

It was a love of trees that got me into taking up horticulture for a living, I started out intending to be a forester but growing up in an area devoid of local jobs in this field I segued into gardening which was an easy transition. This is something I have never regretted as there is no job I can think of that would give me such satisfaction and pleasure as I have had working in the gardening business.

The importance of trees to ours lives and to the planet is immeasurable. The fact that they take harmful carbon dioxide out of the air and as a by product give us back oxygen to breath is remarkable enough alone. That trees provide us with food, shelter, warmth and yes, wellbeing. Not to mention they are the most noticeable longest living and largest living things on earth, it should make us more humble about our own existence. Add to this that they just might save the planet from ‘us’ as well and whats not to like.

I read an article recently about how a world wide group of environmentalists have started a campaign to plant one million new trees to help compensate for America pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. I’m not sure of the science of this as I imagine this would only act as a token and not individually make an environmental difference but at the very least it will hopefully act as a catalyst for promoting the idea of mass tree planting across the world.

The last US administration had started the initiative to encourage the planting of ten billion new trees around the world and in India recently they broke the world record and planted sixty six million new trees in a day country wide. This really gives us something to build on.

So what can you do personally. You may feel that any small effort you make, say planting one tree, is inconsequential but you have to buy into the theory that if every household in Ireland did the same, that amounts to a lot of new trees. Extend the theory and if every single person in the world planted a tree we’d be up to 7.5 billion new trees in a year. Of course this is an ideological example and if we lived in an ideal world it wouldn’t even need suggesting.

But the theory is still there for you to believe in so I suggest you go ahead and plant your new tree this week and join a growing group of individuals trying to make a collective difference. Even better with many of our rural houses sited on half acre and larger sized plots why not designate a corner of your garden as a wild woodland area. Instead of planting just one tree plant a copse of twenty and allow rough grass to naturalise beneath them. Low maintenance too.

You can mix your species or plant just one variety, either way you’ll be increasing your contribution twenty fold. Many native species can be bought as small plants, barerooted, from garden centres at the moment and they really aren’t expensive.

I have long been promoting the idea that all rural sites should have to plant at least one long lived native tree to keep our countryside well stocked for centuries to come.

I received a lovely email this week from a lady I had given some advice to via contact through this paper some three years ago. She very kindly thanked me for the advice which had obviously been successful as she said that every time she goes into her garden her heart lifts. That is the effect that gardens, nature, green spaces and particularly trees can have on us as individuals and as a species.


(Dipla Katerina)