By Chris Lang
This week’s REDD notes. Follow @reddmonitor on Twitter for more links to news about forests, the climate crisis, natural climate solutions, the oil industry, greenwash, carbon offsetting, etc.
A year-long investigation by The Gecko Project, Mongabay, the Korean Center for Investigative Journalism-Newstapa, and Al Jazeera traced a US$22 million payment to an unnamed ‘expert’ in Papua, Indonesia. The company involved was the Korindo Group, and the payment was part of the company’s expansion of its oil palm plantations in Papua.
Korindo now controls more land in Papua than any other corporation. The investigators estimate that the company has exported wood products worth US$320 million from Papua, using timber cleared to make way for plantations. Every year, palm oil worth tens of millions of dollars is exported from Papua, but Indigenous Papuans say that Korindo has failed to keep its promises of jobs and development.
An article in Rolling Stone magazine looks at two recent studies. The first, in Nature Sustainability, found that subsidies paid over a period of 25 years for industrial tree plantations in Chile have decreased biodiversity, without increasing total carbon stored in above-ground biomass.
The researchers measured the full impact of the afforestation subsidies and calculated their effects on net carbon and biodiversity changes across the entire country. They found that while afforestation payments expanded the area covered by trees, they decreased the area of native forests. Because Chile’s native forests are far more carbon dense and biodiverse than plantations (think rainforest vs. Christmas tree farm), the subsidies had the perverse effect of failing to increase carbon storage, while at the same time accelerating biodiversity losses.
The second study, in Science, “raises big questions about the long-term security of carbon stored in forests, especially as those forests become increasingly vulnerable to drought, wildfires, and disease in our rapidly warming world.”
Lead author Bill Anderegg of the University of Utah told Rolling Stone, “When it comes to storing carbon in forests, the issue no one has really looked at is permanence. How long will the carbon be locked away for? Fifty years? A hundred years?”
Anderegg’s paper points out that if we continue burning fossil fuels, forests will tip from being a cliamte crisis solution, to a climate crisis accelerant. “There are lots of good reasons to plant trees,” Anderegg says. “And forests can certainly be a useful part of a climate change solution. But we’re not to going to plant our way out of the climate crisis.”
Rolling Stone journalist Jeff Goodell writes that,
the idea that we’re going to solve the climate crisis by planting a trillion trees is a particular kind of lunacy, and a great example of what happens when bad science hooks up with do-gooderism and they sleep together in a bed of political expediency.
CarbonBrief reports on a paper published in Nature Geosciences that investigates the result of more than 80,000 land deals made between 2000 and 2018 in 15 countries in the tropics. Not surprisingly, the report found that buying up of tropical forest by private companies and foreign government accelerates deforestation in the majority of cases.
The research finds that, compared with similar areas that have not seen private investment, areas with large-scale land acquisitions had higher forest loss in 52% of cases.
In Indonesia, for example, most of the privately acquired land was used for palm oil palntations. In South America, large-scale mining is associated with increased forest lost. In Mexico, however, mining was associated with decreases in deforestation, compared to non-investment areas.
Research published in Global Change Biology found that as the planet heats up the Douglas fir will absorb less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and will therefore slow climate change less than once thought.
Margeret Evans at the University of Arizona is the senior author of the study. In a press statement she said,
“More warming for trees could mean more stress, more tree death and less capacity to slow global warming. Up until now, forests have stabilized the climate, but as they become more drought stressed, they could become a destabilizing carbon source.”
The warmer and drier a local climate is on average, the more trees are affected. The researchers found that almost all Douglas firs are growing slower because of increased temperatures and increasing drought strees.
Journalist Umair Irfan reports for Vox that one of the most alarming environmental problems stemming from the coronavirus is “the unchecked destruction of tropical rainforests happening in Brazil and Indonesia”.
With governments distracted by the pandemic, a spike in forest fires in both countries is a serious risk. The smoke from the fires will make respiratory infections worse, meaning that coronavirus infections are more likely to be more serious among populations affected by the fires.
Reuters reports that Indonesia has scaled back protection of forests ahead of the fire season because of budget cuts due to coronavirus.
Irfan’s reporting for Vox is based in part on an online press conference hosted by the Resilience Media project of the Earth Institute at Columbia University:
In an article for YaleEnvironment360, journalist Beth Gardiner investigates how polluting industries are using the coronavirus crisis to their advantage. Industries are lobbying for bailouts and the easing of regulations.
Industries such as oil and gas, coal, aviation, and auto-manufacturing describe the giveaways as necessary to ease the pandemic’s economic pain, but experts say the changes often align with companies’ long-standing agendas of weakening existing environmental rules and taxes, and opposing new ones.
In the USA, officials have loosened regulations on logging, gazing, pipeline safety, and the disposal of radioactive waste. Coal is getting government subsidies in China and South Korea. Brazil is doing little or nothing to stop illegal loggers, miners, and ranchers from trashing the Amazon.
Journalist Amy Westervelt and Emily Gertz have tracked the weakening of climate related regulation by the Trump administration and state governments since the coronovirus crisis. It’s a staggeringly long list.