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 new analysis published in The Lancet: Planetary Health found that the Global North is responsible for 92% of excess global CO2 emissions. The analysis, by Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist, “proposes a novel method for quantifying national responsibility for damages related to climate change by looking at national contributions to cumulative CO2 emissions in excess of the planetary boundary of 350 ppm atmospheric CO2 concentration”.
Hickel told In These Times that his methodology starts from “the position that the atmosphere is a common resource and that all people should have equal access to it within the safe planetary boundary (defined as 350 parts per million atmospheric concentration of CO2)”. His method allows us to answer the question “Who got us into this mess?”
“We know that the Global South suffers more than 90% of the costs of climate breakdown, and 98% of the deaths associated with climate breakdown, due to fires, floods, droughts, famine, disease, displacement and so on. So, just like under colonialism, the North is benefitting at the expense of the South.”
A report by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute found that between 1990 and 2015, the world’s richest 1% were responsible for more than twice as much CO2 emissions as the poorer 50% of the world.
CO2 emissions rose by 60% over the period. Emissions from the richest 1% increased by three times more than the increase in emissions from the poorer half.
Transport is one of the key drivers of the increase in emissions. People in rich countries are buying more SUVs and other high emitting cars, and are flying more.
The Lionshead Fire in Oregon burned through one of the largest forest carbon projects that is generating offsets for California’s carbon market. Non-profit organisation CarbonPlan calls for a “systemic appraisal of the effectiveness of California’s offset program in the context of risks posed by a changing climate”.
CarbonPlan summarises the problem:
When trees die — whether through fire, drought, or other ecological processes — much of the carbon stored in roots, wood, and soil is released back into the atmosphere. Many threats to forest carbon permanence will only get worse as the planet warms, increasing the chances that forest carbon will be released to the atmosphere.
By 17 September 2020, about 72% of the ACR260 forest offset project in Oregon had been burned.
Stephen Pyne, fire researcher and emeritus professor at Arizona State University, has written a great op-ed in The Hill under the headline “What’s causing Western wildfires and how to stop them”. His title was “Driving fire”.
Pyne gives a whirlwind history of humanity’s relationship with fire, and how fossil fuels changed that relationship. Forest fires in the USA are not new. In 1910, fires raged in Idaho, Montana, and Washington. For the next 50 years, the US Forest Service tried to eliminate fires. That didn’t work, and by 1978 the policy was fire restoration: control bad fires and promote good fires.
But Florida prescribed burns more than 800,000 hectares. California is three times as big, but only burns 80,000 hectares.
Pyne writes that, “Monster fires raged in the 19th century because of logging and land-clearing slash. They blow up today largely because of climate change acting as a performance enhancer on preexisting conditions.”
He suggests four “general strategies” for managing landscape fire. “Which is right?” he asks. “They all are,” he answers. “The one sure way to failure is to pick a single technique and exclude all the others.”
Xinhua news agency reports that according to Bolivia’s Forest and Land Authority, in the first week of September forest fires have burned an area of almost 600,000 hectares in the region of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Jeanine Anez Bolivia’s right wing interim president has declared a national emergency.
On 16 September 2020, in the town of San Ignacio de Velasco in Santa Cruz, Anez said,
“Today, something very important and significant is happening: we are presenting two decrees. One to reinforce the fight against fire, and another to repeal the decree that allowed controlled burning.”
The Jakarta Post reports that Indonesian NGO Auriga Nusantara has compiled data from NASA’s Modis satellites between 2001 and 2019.
The data show that land and forest fires regularly occur in seven provinces: Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan and Papua. But Central Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, and North Kalimantan also risk becoming epicentres of fire. in the past five years an increasing number of forest fires have been recorded in these provinces linked to more logging and establishment of industrial plantations.
Bambang Hero Saharjo, a fire forensics specialist at Bogor Agicultural University critised the government for focussing on mitigation rather than prevention: “Fire prevention should be done before the dry season, but what usually happens is that authorities often start to get busy only when the fires are about to get out of control.”