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.
Jeff Goodall has a piece this week in Rolling Stone under the headline “Climate Apocalypse Now”. He lists some of the recent crises in different parts of the planet: massive fires in California, Australia and Brazil, a category 4 hurricane in Louisiana, the COVID-19 pandemic, Greenland melting, Antarctica collapsing into the ocean, and the Great Barrier Reef dying.
The catalog of planetary chaos is endless. It is more visible today than it was yesterday, and the changes that are underway are accelerating. There is no magical boundary where we cross over into a lost world, when the planet becomes uninhabitable. But we are on a journey in that direction.
Goodall doesn’t blame the climate crisis on US President Donald Trump. But he concludes: “You can have four more years of Trump, or you can have a habitable planet. But you can’t have both.”
Governments are currently negotiating a “political declaration on the environment”, to be adopted in 2022.
The political declaration, which will be unenforceable, and completely worthless, will mark the 50th anniversary of the UN Conference on the Human Environment.
The UN Conference on the Human Environment took place in Stockholm in 1972, and established the UN Environment Programme. Maurice Strong, oil tycoon and founder of the Canadian International Development Agency, organised the Conference. Until 1975, he was UNEP’s executive director.
Strong’s obituary in Nature after his death in November 2015 notes that, “It is true that UNEP and the environment conventions have made little progress in slowing climate change or reducing the rate of biodiversity loss.”
For anyone who can bear following yet another utterly futile UN negotiating process on the environment, IISD has a overview of the process so far, here.
Negative emissions technologies (NETs) are supposed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and therefore help address the climate crisis. “The trouble is, nobody has tried these technologies at the demonstration scale, much less at the massive levels necessary to offset current CO2 emissions,” says Andres Clarens of the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment at the University of Virginia.
In a paper published in Nature Climate Change, Clarens and colleagues look at the costs of the three main NETs: bioenergy with carbon capture and storage; tree planting; and direct air capture. They look at the effects of the three NETs on global food supply, water use, and energy demand. They found that food crop prices could rise more than five-fold in Africa.
Clarens points out that,
“We need to move away from fossil fuels even more aggressively than many institutions are considering. Negative emissions technologies are the backstop the UN and many countries expect will one day save us, but they will have side effects we have to be prepared for. It’s a huge gamble to sit on our hands for the next decade and say, we’ve got this because we’re going to deploy this technology in 2030, but then it turns out there are water shortages, and we can’t do it.”
Satellite data from the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project shows more than 500 major forest fires covering an area of more than 370,000 hectares. Nearly half of these fires took place in the past two weeks.
Even worse, 12% of the fires detected so far this year are within intact forests, covering a total of 70,330 hectares.
Most of the fires were set by people, and most of them are illegal. In May 2020, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro sent military troops to stop deforestation, and in July 2020, he ordered a four-month ban on fires.
Associated Press reports that putting the army in charge of protecting the rainforest has failed to stop deforestation. In fact it is making matters worse by building roads and bridges that allow exports to be transported faster, and make access to protected areas easier. Meanwhile, the army has carried out no raids against illegal logging, mining, or fires. Bolsonaro recently extended the military’s role in the Amazon until November 2020.
A study published last year in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that “More than 80 per cent of the Indonesian rainforest, mangroves and peatlands most vulnerable to being cleared for palm oil production is completely unprotected by the country’s Forest Moratorium”.
The researchers, from Sheffield University and National University of Singapore found that the moratorium protected just 10% of the areas they identified as vulnerable to oil palm expansion. The moratorium fails to protect 83% of vulnerable natural areas against conversion to oil palm plantations.
Sheffield University put out a press release about the research after the UK government proposed a ban on UK businesses using products grown on land that was illegally deforested. Dr Jolian McHardy, Senior Lecturer in Economics at Sheffield University comments that,
“Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium was introduced to protect precious habitats – but its failure to cover most areas vulnerable to oil palm expansion means it actually risks exacerbating the climate and biodiversity crises.
“It’s good to see the UK government trying to end the use of products grown on illegally deforested land, but without adequate protection forests remain vulnerable to excessive crop expansion and habitat destruction.”
More than 12,000 lighting strikes in 10 days resulted in more than 600 wildfires in California. An area of more than 400,000 hectares has burned.
The area of fires in California has increased fivefold since the 1970s. A paper published last year in the journal Earth’s Future found the increase in fires, and the large, destructive fires in 2017 and 2018, “was very likely driven by drying of fuels promoted by human-induced warming”.
Unfortunately the 2020 fires in California are likely to get worse with rains not expected until November. Eight of the 10 deadliest fires in California happened in October and November. “We have a lot of fire season ahead of us. We’re calling it the fire year,” The Mercury News reports Robert Baird, director of fire and aviation management for the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region in Vallejo, as saying.