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.
An article on the Global Forest Watch website hits the nail on the head: “While protecting and restoring forests may be essential for slowing climate change, reducing carbon emissions is also critical to preserving forests in the first place.”
The article notes that while forests are resilient ecosystems forests are already suffering from the climate crisis. “Higher temperatures have led to dryer conditions and longer, hotter growing seasons — perfect kindling for larger forest fires.”
In the tropics, dryer conditions mean less rainfall, which doesn’t bode well for rainforests. As vegetation dries out, fires could become more common in an ecosystem where they are not natural. Some researchers hypothesize that reaching a certain threshold of drying could push the Amazon over an ecological tipping point, where the environment is no longer able to support a forest. The world’s largest rainforest could degrade to savanna in less than 50 years.
It’s good see Global Forest Watch pointing out that the climate crisis is a massive threat to forests, and that we cannot rely on forests to address the climate crisis. To address the climate crisis and to protect forests, we have to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
Recent research shows that tropical forest soils are significantly more sensitive to climate change than previously thought. In what could be a dangerous tipping point, billions of tons of carbon dioxide risk being release to the atmosphere.
A team of researchers from Edinburgh University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama carried out a large-scale experiment in a tropical forest in Panama. Their paper was published in Nature under title, “Soil carbon loss by experimental warming in a tropical forest”.
The researchers increased the temperature of a lowland tropical forest soil on Barro Colorado Island, Panama for two years. They found that emissions from the soil increased by 55% compared to soils at ambient temperatures. The authors write that, “These results demonstrate that soil carbon in tropical forests is highly sensitive to warming, creating a potentially substantial positive feedback to climate change.”
The Guardian reports on a “State of the Climate in 2019” report published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The report was compiled by 520 scientists from more than 60 countries.
The Guardian highlights four ways that rising temperatures are changing life on earth:
- Sea-surface temperatures were the second warmest on record last year, surpassed only by 2016. The heating up of the ocean and melting of glaciers caused global sea levels to hit a new high point of 3.4 inches above what they were, on average, 30 years ago.
- Greenhouse gas levels hit their highest level ever recorded in 2019. Concentrations of these planet-warming gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are now higher than any period measured by modern instruments or ice cores dating back 800,000 years.
- The polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctic experienced their second hottest year on record. The loss of ice from the poles is helping push sea levels upwards, imperiling coastal cities around the world.
- The consequences of the climate crisis are being felt around the world, including recent widespread flooding across east Africa and wildfires in Australia, the Amazon and Siberia.
Greenpeace reports that based on its analysis of official data,
Fire season has kicked off early and with worrying intensity in the Amazon, with the worst start to August in a decade. Protected areas in particular have seen an increase in blazes over the past ten days…
In the first ten days of August 2020, there were 10,136 hotspots in the Amazon. In 2019, fires in the Amazon triggered an international outcry. This year, the number of hotspots is 17% higher than last year.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, on 11 August 2020 Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s President, denies the existence of fires in the Amazon. “This story that the Amazon is going up in flames is a lie and we must combat it with true numbers,” Reuters reports him as saying.
In July 2020, there were 28% more fires than in July 2019. The number of hotspots in Indigenous territories increased by 77% over the previous year. There were also 51% more fires in conservation areas, and 48% more fires in federal parks.
“I’m really worried,” Ane Alencar, director of science at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) told Greenpeace. “We can expect a catastrophic burning season.”
Fires in the Pantanal, the world’s largest continuous wetland, covering Brazil’s border with Bolivia and Paraguay, are even worse. In July 2020, the number of fires was the highest since records began in 1998.
On 14 July 2020, the government of Cameroon issued a decree that opened up lmost 70,000 hectares of rainforest to logging operations. In a press release, Sylvie Djacbou, forest campaigner at Greenpeace Africa, commented,
“Ebo forest is home to critically endangered primates whose death sentence may have been signed by Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute with the approval of the President’s office. Greenpeace asks once again to cancel plans for industrial logging in Ebo forest and to designate it as a self-managed park instead.”
Cameroon is one of the world’s largest exporters of tropical timber by volume. China is now Cameroon’s biggest buyer of timber, overtaking Europe. Bloomberg reported Cameroon’s Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Jules Doret Ndongo, as saying that Cameroon has enough forest in protected areas:
“The United Nations obliges countries to keep at least 12% of their national territory as protected areas; Cameroon is already at 30%.”
On 11 August 2020, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya suspended the logging plans. The statement from the prime minister’s office did not provide a reason for the decision. An urgent question is what will happen to the forest now?
Ecuador’s Amazon faces combined threats of flooding, COVID-19, and disastrous oil spills, the Real News Network reports. In April 2020, both of Ecuador’s transnational oil pipelines burst, releasing thousands of barrels of oil in the Coca river and its tributaries. The rivers provide fresh water and livelihoods to Indigenous Peoples in Ecuador. Amazon Watch calls the oil spill the worst in a decade.
The Real News Network reports that,
The government in Quito recently moved to reopen businesses, allowing the oil, gas, and mineral industries to restart operations. Workers and equipment have been brought back into Indigenous land, considerably elevating communities’ exposure to COVID-19. The acute lack of essential items has also forced native people to venture out to nearby towns. In some cases, those who leave also bring back COVID-19.
Patricia Gualinga, leader of the Indigenous Kichwa community of Sarayaku told the Real News Network that,
“Clearly, what we’re talking about and calling for is a really profound change and this is not what’s being talked about at the COPs [UN climate conferences] where they’re trying to improve a flawed system. We’re talking about a bigger system change.”