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.
BBC News reports that fires in Brazil’s Amazon rose by almost 20% in June 2020. Government data records show the fires are at a 13-year high for the month.
In June 2019 Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) recorded 1,880 fires. This year, the figure for June is 2,248.
Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll from coronavirus, after the USA. Coranavirus is exacerbating the problem, as illegal logging and arson are less monitored.
Democracy Now quotes environmentalist Carlos Souza Jr. as saying that,
“The clearing of land already represented a serious health problem. If we have land clearing and COVID-19 together, this could bring catastrophic consequences for the residents of the region.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that Central Kalimantan has more than 700 forest fires and has declared a state of emergency until 28 September 2020:
The declaration comes as Indonesia scales back protection for some of the world’s most important tropical forests. The team that identifies fires and helps put them out has seen its budget halved due to the economic impact of the coronavirus, an environment ministry official told Reuters last month.
Last year 1.6 million hectares of land burned, including forest and peatland. Kiki Taufik, head of Greenpeace’s forest campaign in Indonesia told Thomson Reuters Foundation that the budget cuts could result in more dangerous fires. Communities could be left to fight them on their own. Taufik said,
“Fire hot spots could potentially be bigger and spread to remote peat land areas, especially in the burned areas from 2019 that are not yet restored. And the haze could be potentially thicker or similar to last year.”
Last week, an area of more than 2,000 hectares of forest was burning in Sakha Republic in the Russian Arctic according to the Ministry of Emergency Situations. In total the fires have destroyed over a million hectares of forest.
On Gizmodo, Brian Kahn notes,
This year’s blazes have smashed records, including the northernmost fires on record and the highest total of Siberian carbon emissions. If you want to know what a climate emergency looks like, this is it.
June 2020 saw the highest level of carbon emissions from Siberian fires on record – 59 megatonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. That’s approximately how much Portugal emits in a year.
The thawing of the permafrost is making matters worse. “Given that this ground should be frozen or at least boggy all year round, it should not be available to burn!” Thomas Smith, a fire expert at the London School of Economics told Gizmodo. “But it is burning, which implies that it has thawed out and has dried.”
An analysis by Bloomberg found that discussions related to climate change dropped by 50% during first-quarter earnings calls in 2020, compared to last-quarter calls in 2019. Fortune reports that,
Bloomberg analyzed mentions of climate change and related terms across all companies of the S&P 500 that held earnings calls for the first calendar quarter of 2019 through the first quarter of 2020. Companies were considered to have discussed climate change if they spoke about at least one of the search terms during the calls.
Executives at energy companies mentioned climate change 58% fewer times, technology companies 53% fewer, and financial service companies 69% fewer.
An investigation by Earthsight reveals that Robinson Lumber is one of Peruvian timber company Maderera Bozoich‘s top US clients. Although the timber is marked as coming from FSC-certified concessions, as Earthsight notes,
the value of this [FSC] label is uncertain in Peru, given the sophisticated laundering of illegal timber which is known to occur, and given the ease with which its systems allow bad actors to switch bad for good wood.
Illegal logging in Peru is systematic, Earthsight reports, with criminal networks working closely with state actors. The Environmental Investigation Agency points out that the illegal logging is driven in part by “an enormous no-questions-asked demand for tropical timber from global markets”.
The illegal logging contributes to Peru having the highest rate of deforestation of any country in the Andes Amazon. Earthsight writes,
Bozovich was also recently implicated in the Panama Papers scandal, accused of using complex networks of companies registered in offshore tax havens, including a company named ‘Foaming Sea Ltd,’ which carried a valid FSC ‘sustainability’ certificate at the time of writing, to carry out secret transactions, safe from the eyes of Peruvian tax authorities.
Vicky Boult, a postdoctoral researcher in Conservation Biology, at the University of Reading, sums up what we know so far about the hundreds of elephants found dead in Botswana.
The first deaths were reported in March. Significant numbers recorded from May onwards. Most deaths happened near the village of Seronga in the Okavango Delta.
The tusks are still in place, so it’s unlikely that poachers are to blame.
Some dead elephants were found on their knees and faces rather than their side, suggesting a sudden death. But there are also reports of elephants looking disoriented and walking in circles.
Many dead elephants were found near to water, which suggests the elephants might have been poisoned. But no other species have died under similar circumstances, which probably rules out poisoning.
Drought is a possibly, but drought tends to kill very young and very old elephants. In Botswana, elephants of all ages have died. In any case, rainfall in recent months has been near normal.
Disease is a possibility. On 2 July 2020, the government of Botswana put out a Media Statement:
The public is also informed that three Laboratories in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Canada have been identified to process the samples taken from the dead elephants which will be interpreted against field veterinary assessments of clinically ill and dead elephants.
Here’s some background on elephants, poaching, and conservation in Botswana on Conservation Watch: