REDD+ could do more harm than good, forestry experts warn


As governments across Latin America prepare to implement a new financial mechanism aimed at mitigating climate change by curbing carbon emissions from the destruction of tropical forests, experts have warned against a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

Instead, they are calling for flexible, balanced solutions to the surrounding this new mechanism.

Among the experts’ main concerns are that the wealthy and powerful could capture many of the benefits, largely at the expense of rural communities, including indigenous groups.

Organised by Mexico’s National Forestry Commission and the Swiss government, with scientific support from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), a recent conference’s findings and recommendations will be feed into a UN Forum on Forests (UNFF) meeting scheduled to take place in early 2011, marking the launch of the International Year of Forests.

The Mexico gathering brought together scientists, as well as representatives of governments and non-government organisations, for discussions on governance, decentralisation and REDD+ in Latin America.

Under REDD+ (for reducing deforestation and forest degradation), industrialised countries will provide developing nations with sizeable sums of money in exchange for verifiable storage of carbon in forests, in addition to the conservation and sustainable management of forests.

Forest destruction currently accounts for up to 18% of annual global carbon emissions. Several Latin American countries, including Mexico, have taken the lead in designing REDD+ schemes and stand to benefit significantly.

“Good forest governance – involving transparent and inclusive relationships between governments, forests and the people who depend on them – is fundamental for ensuring that REDD+ helps forest-dependent communities move out of poverty, instead of fueling corruption and funding entrenched bureaucracies,” said Elena Petkova, a CIFOR scientist.

“REDD+ schemes could either flounder on governance failures or flourish under successful governance.”

The central aim of the conference in Oaxaca was to provide science-based advice on the design and implementation of REDD+ schemes, so these schemes can capture carbon and reduce emissions effectively, while at the same time generate significant benefits from sustainable forest management that are equitably shared.

“About 40 years of public sector investment in curbing deforestation, while producing many local successes, has fallen far short of its goal,” said another CIFOR scientist, Andrew Wardell, who was also attending the conference.

“REDD+ might be our last chance to save the world’s tropical forests. So, it’s extremely important to get it right in Latin America and elsewhere.

“This region holds nearly a quarter of the world’s forests, upon which millions of people depend, and over the last five years, it has accounted for 65% percent of global net forest loss.”

Source: CIFOR press release

Date: 03/09/2010

Climate ‘adds fuel to Asian wildfire emissions’


In the last decade, Asian farmers have cleared tens of thousands of square miles of forests to accommodate the world’s growing demand for palm oil, an increasingly popular food ingredient, reports Science Daily.

Ancient peatlands have been drained and lush tropical forests have been cut down.

As a result, the landscape of equatorial Asia now lies vulnerable to fires, which are growing more frequent and having a serious impact on the air as well as the land.

A team of NASA-sponsored researchers have used satellites to make the first series of estimates of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from these fires — both wildfires and fires started by people — in Malaysia, Indonesia, Borneo, and Papua New Guinea.

They are now working to understand how climate influences the spread and intensity of the fires.

Using data from a carbon-detecting NASA satellite and computer models, the researchers found that seasonal fires from 2000 to 2006 doubled the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released from the Earth to the atmosphere above the region.

The scientists also observed through satellite remote sensing that fires in regional peatlands and forests burned longer and emitted ten times more carbon when rainfall declined by one third the normal amount.

The results were presented in December 2008 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tropical Asian fires first grabbed the attention of government officials, media, and conservationists in 1997, when fires set to clear land for palm oil and rice plantations burned out of control.

The fires turned wild and spread to dry, flammable peatlands during one of the region’s driest seasons on record. By the time the flames subsided in early 1998, emissions from the fires had reached 40 percent of the global carbon emissions for the period.

“In this region, decision makers are facing a dichotomy of demands, as expanding commercial crop production is competing with efforts to ease the environmental impact of fires,” said co-author Jim Collatz, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“The science is telling us that we need strategies to reduce the occurrence of deforestation fires and peatlands wildfires. Without some new strategies, emissions from the region could rise substantially in a drier, warmer future.”

Since the 1997 event, the region has been hit by two major dry spells and a steady upswing in fires, threatening biodiversity and air quality and contributing to the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere.

As more CO2 is emitted, the global atmosphere traps more heat near Earth’s surface, leading to more drying and more fires.

Until recently, scientists knew little about what drives changes in how fires spread and how long they burn. Dr Collatz, along with lead author Guido van der Werf of Vrije University, Amsterdam, and other colleagues sought to estimate the emissions since the devastating 1997-98 fires and to analyse the interplay between the fires and drought.

They used the carbon monoxide detecting Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite — as well as 1997-2006 fire data and research computer models — to screen for and differentiate between carbon emissions from deforestation versus general emissions.

Carbon monoxide is a good indicator of the occurrence of fire, and the amounts of carbon monoxide in fire emissions are related to the amount of carbon dioxide.

They also compared the emissions from different types of plant life (peat land verses typical forest) by examining changes in land cover and land use as viewed by Terra’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectradiometer (MODIS) and by Landsat 7.

Collatz explained that two climate phenomena drive regional drought.

El Nino’s warm waters in the Eastern Pacific change weather patterns around the world every few years and cause cooler water temperatures in the western Pacific near equatorial Asia that suppress the convection necessary for rainfall.

Previously, scientists have used measurements from NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission satellite to correlate rainfall with carbon losses and burned land data, finding that wildfire emissions rose during dry El Nino seasons.

The Indian Ocean dipole phenomenon affects climate in the Indian Ocean region with oscillating ocean temperatures characterized by warmer waters merging with colder waters to inhibit rainfall over Indonesia, Borneo, and their neighbors.

“This link between drought and emissions should be of concern to all of us,” said co-author Ruth DeFries, an ecologist at Columbia University in New York.

“If drought becomes more frequent with climate change, we can expect more fires.”

Collatz, DeFries, and their colleagues found that between 2000 and 2006, the average carbon dioxide emissions from equatorial Asia accounted for about 2 percent of global fossil fuel emissions and 3 percent of the global increase in atmospheric CO2.

But during moderate El Nino years in 2002 and 2006, when dry season rainfall was half of normal, fire emissions rose by a factor of 10. During the severe El Nino of 1997-1998, fire emissions from this region comprised 15% of global fossil fuel emissions and 31% of the global atmospheric increase over that period.

“This study not only updates our measurements of carbon losses from these fires, but also highlights an increasingly important factor driving change in equatorial Asia,” explained DeFries.

“In this part of Asia, human-ignited forest and peat fires are emitting excessive carbon into the atmosphere. In climate-sensitive areas like Borneo, human response to drought is a new dynamic affecting feedbacks between climate and the carbon cycle.”

In addition to climate influences, human activities contribute to the growing fire emissions.

Palm oil is increasingly grown for use as a cooking oil and biofuel, while also replacing trans fats in processed foods.

It has become the most widely produced edible oil in the world, and production has swelled in recent years to surpass that of soybean oil.

More than 30 million tonnes of palm oil are produced in Malaysia and Indonesia alone, and the two countries now supply more than 85% of global demand.

The environmental effects of such growth have been significant. Land has to be cleared to grow the crop, and the preferred method is fire.

The clearing often occurs in drained peatlands that are otherwise swampy forests where the remains of past plant life have been submerged for centuries in as much as 60 feet of water.

Peat material in Borneo, for example, stores the equivalent of about nine years worth of global fossil fuel emissions.

“Indonesia has become the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after the United States and China, as a result primarily to these fire emissions,” Collatz said.

“With an extended dry season, the peat surface dries out, catches fire, and the lack of rainfall can keep the fires going for months.”

Besides emitting carbon, the agricultural fires and related wildfires also ravage delicate ecosystems in conservation hotspots like the western Pacific island of Borneo, home to more than 15,000 species of plants, 240 species of trees, and an abundance of endangered animals.

Smoke and other fire emissions also regularly taint regional air quality to such a degree that officials have to close schools and airports out of concern for public health and safety.

Peat fires also aggravate air pollution problems in this region because they release four times more carbon monoxide than forest fires.

In 1997, air pollution from the fires cost the region an estimated $4.5 billion in tourism and business.

Source: Science Daily

Date: 10/05/2009

Tree-killing hurricanes ‘could contribute to global warming’


A first-of-its kind, long-term study of hurricane impact on US trees shows that hurricane damage can diminish a forest’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Science Daily reports.

Tulane University researchers examined the impact of tropical cyclones on US forests between 1851 to 2000 and found that changes in hurricane frequency might contribute to global warming.

The results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, and release it when they die – either from old age or from trauma, such as hurricanes.

The annual amount of carbon dioxide a forest removes from the atmosphere is determined by the ratio of tree growth to tree mortality each year.

When trees are destroyed en masse by hurricanes, not only will there be fewer trees in the forest to absorb greenhouse gases, but forests could eventually become emitters of carbon dioxide, warming the climate.

Other studies, notes Tulane ecologist Jeff Chambers, indicate that hurricanes could intensify with a warming climate.

“If landfalling hurricanes become more intense or more frequent in the future, tree mortality and damage exceeding 50 million tonnes of tree biomass per year would result in a net carbon loss from US forest ecosystems,” says Dr Chambers.

The study, which was led by Tulane postdoctoral research associate Hongcheng Zeng, establishes an important baseline to evaluate changes in the frequency and intensity of future landfalling hurricanes.

Using field measurements, satellite image analyses, and empirical models to evaluate forest and carbon cycle impacts, the researchers established that an average of 97 million trees have been affected each year for the past 150 years over the entire United States, resulting in a 53-million ton annual biomass loss and an average carbon release of 25 million tons.

Forest impacts were primarily located in Gulf Coast areas, particularly southern Texas and Louisiana and south Florida, while significant impacts also occurred in eastern North Carolina.

Chambers compares the data from this study to a 2007 study that showed that a single storm – Hurricane Katrina – destroyed nearly 320 million trees with a total biomass loss equivalent to 50–140% of the net annual US carbon sink in forest trees.

“The bottom line,” observes Dr Chambers, “is that any sustained increase in hurricane tree biomass loss above 50 million tons would potentially undermine our efforts to reduce human fossil fuel carbon emissions.”

Study contributors include Tulane lab researchers Robinson Negrón-Juárez and David Baker; George Hurtt of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire; and Mark Powell at the Hurricane Research Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Source: Science Daily

Date: 10/05/2009

Key role of forests ‘may be lost’


Forests’ role as massive carbon sinks is “at risk of being lost entirely”, the BBC’s Mark Kinver has reported top forestry scientists as warning.

The International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) says forests are under increasing degrees of stress as a result of climate change.

Forests could release vast amounts of carbon if temperatures rise 2.5C (4.5F) above pre-industrial levels, it adds.

The findings will be presented at the UN Forum on Forests, which begins on Monday in New York.

Compiled by 35 leading forestry scientists, the report provides what is described as the first global assessment of the ability of forests to adapt to climate change.

“We normally think of forests as putting the brakes on global warming,” observed Professor Risto Seppala from the Finnish Forest Research Institute, who chaired the report’s expert panel.

“But over the next few decades, damage induced by climate change could cause forests to release huge quantities of carbon and create a situation in which they do more to accelerate warming than to slow it down.”

The scientists hope that the report, called Adaption of Forests and People to Climate Change – A Global Assessment, will help inform climate negotiators.

The international climate debate has focused primarily on emissions from deforestation, but the researchers say their analysis shows that attention must also be paid to the impacts of climate change on forests.

While deforestation is responsible for about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, forests currently absorb more carbon than they emit.

But the problem is that the balance could shift as the planet warms, the report concludes, and the sequestration service provided by the forest biomes “could be lost entirely if the Earth heats up by 2.5C or more”.

The assessment says higher temperatures – along with prolonged droughts, more pest invasions, and other environmental stresses – would trigger considerable forest destruction and degradation.

This could create a dangerous feedback loop, it adds, in which damage to forests from climate change would increase global carbon emissions that then exacerbate global warming.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Droughts are projected to become more intense and frequent in subtropical and southern temperate forests
  • Commercial timber plantations are set to become unviable in some areas, but more productive in others
  • Climate change could result in “deepening poverty, deteriorating public health, and social conflict” among African forest-dependent communities

The IUFRO assessment will be considered by delegates at the eighth session of the UN Forum on Forests, which has the objective of promoting the “management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forest”.

Co-author Professor Andreas Fischlin from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology commented: “Even if adaption measures are fully implemented, unmitigated climate change would – during the course of the current century – exceed the adaptive capacity of many forests.

“The fact remains that the only way to ensure that forests do not suffer unprecedented harm is to achieve large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 18/04/2009

Taiwanese urged to plant trees for environmental protection


The Taiwanese public have been urged to participate in a tree-planting activity organised by Cingjing Veterans Farm in central Taiwan’s Nantou County, reports Taiwan News.

The annual event, called LOHAS Tree Planting Fun, was launched three years ago by the farm in conjunction with 7-Eleven of Uni-President Corp and the Good Neighbor Foundation, with the aim of promoting the idea of eco-conservation through tree planting.

According to the organisers, this year’s event have been the biggest to date, with 2,642 cherry, peach, plum, sweet osmanthus, camellia and azalea saplings being planted in the Little Swiss Garden, located on the farm.

An additional 1,000 cherry saplings are being planted alongside a “natural ecology path” surrounding the farm.

The organisers added that about 200 staff from 7-Eleven and 80 volunteers will also take part in the activity.

Meals and accommodation for the volunteers will be sponsored by the farm and the Cingjing Tourism Development and Promotional Association, and a memorial plaque will be erected to acknowledge their efforts.

“We hope that this activity will raise public awareness that it is very difficult but absolutely necessary to protect the ecology,” a spokesman for Uni-President said.

“We hope to call on more volunteers to take care of these plants and contribute to nature conservation.”

Noting that each tree will not only absorb 25 kg of carbon dioxide but will also produce 19 kg of oxygen each year, the organizers said planting trees to help offset greenhouse gas emissions has become a shared responsibility of everyone on the planet, especially at a time when climate change is worsening because of growing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Source: Taiwan News

Date: 20/03/2009

Forest fires ‘to add to climate concerns’


The fierce bushfires that scorched Australia’s Victoria State released millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, a leading scientist has warned.

Forest fires could become a growing source of carbon pollution as the planet warms, he told Reuters news agency.

Mark Adams of the University of Sydney said global warming could trigger a vicious cycle in which forests could stop becoming sinks of CO2, further accelerating the rise of the planet-warming gas in the atmosphere.

“With increasing concerns about rising CO2, rising temperatures and reduced rainfall in many of the forested areas, then we could well see much greater emissions from forest fires,” added Professor Adams, dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

The Victoria fires, which killed more than 200 people, were the worst in the nation’s history and many were still burning weeks later.

“Scientists worldwide are worried about fires and forests.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the Arctic tundra fires, or peat fires in Kalimantan or bushfires in Australia,” observed the Australian researcher, who has worked in collaboration with the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre.

In a submission to the United Nations last year, the Australian government said wildfires in 2003 released 190 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent, roughly a third of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions for the year.

Such large, one-off releases of CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane, are not presently accounted for in Australia’s annual list of national greenhouse gas emissions.

If they were, the country would vastly exceed its emission limits under the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations’ main weapon to fight climate change.

This is one reason, critics say, why Australia is calling for amendments to UN rules on land use change, so that only human activities that “can be practicably influenced” are included.

Professor Adams said the UN climate summit at the end of the year in Denmark should discuss the growing threat from forest fires and how to develop better legal frameworks to tackle the problem.

In a study of how much carbon Australia’s forests and soil can store, he estimated that fires in 2003, which ravaged the capital Canberra, and in 2006-07 released about 550 million tonnes of CO2.

The current fires had already burned hundreds of thousands of hectares, he said, in areas with total carbon content of 200 tonnes per hectare or more.

Australia, though, was not his only concern; annual fires in Indonesia also release vast amounts of CO2.

Huge fires in 1997 released up to 6 billion tonnes of CO2, covering South-East Asia in a thick haze and causing a spike in global levels of the gas.

Research on the forest and peat fires by a team of international scientists found the blazes released the equivalent of up 40% of global annual emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Professor Adams described the findings as a “wake-up call”.

“When you see the step-increases (of CO2) that they observed, we have to sit up and take notice, that fires are a major problem,” he said.

In the past, he explained, native forest carbon had been in rough equilibrium over millions of years with fires, with very small accretion of carbon over very long periods of time.

“But then if you add rapid climate change and much greater fire frequency, the equilibrium carbon content of the native forests, instead of going up, is going to go down.”

Source: Reuters


Date: 26/02/2009

Africa’s tropical forests ‘absorbing more carbon’


Trees across the tropics are getting bigger and offering unexpected help in the fight against climate change, scientists have discovered.

A report in the Guardian newspaper described how a study of the girth of 70,000 trees across Africa has shown that tropical forests are soaking up more carbon dioxide pollution that anybody realised.

Almost one-fifth of our fossil fuel emissions are absorbed by forests across Africa, Amazonia and Asia, the research suggests in the journal Nature.

Simon Lewis, a climate expert at the University of Leeds, who led the study, said: “We are receiving a free subsidy from nature. Tropical forest trees are absorbing about 18% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels, substantially buffering the rate of change.”

The study measured trees in 79 areas of intact forest across 10 African countries from Liberia to Tanzania, and compared records going back 40 years. “On average the trees are getting bigger,” Lewis said.

Compared to the 1960s, each hectare of intact African forest has trapped an extra 0.6 tonnes of carbon a year. Over the world’s tropical forests, this extra “carbon sink” effect adds up to 4.8bn tonnes of CO2 removed each year – close to the total carbon dioxide emissions from the US.

Although individual trees are known to soak up carbon as they photosynthesise and grow, large patches of mature forest were once thought to be carbon neutral, with the carbon absorbed by new trees balanced by that released as old trees die.

A similar project in South America challenged that assumption when it recorded surprise levels of tree growth a decade ago, Lewis said.

His study, he added, was to check whether the effect was global.

The discovery suggests that increased CO2 in the atmosphere could fertilise extra growth in the mature forests.

Lewis said: “It’s good news for now but the effect won’t last forever. The trees can’t keep on getting bigger and bigger.”

Helene Muller-Landau of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Ancon, Panama, used a commentary piece in Nature to suggest that the forests could be growing as they recover from past trauma.

“Tropical forests that we think of as intact [could have] suffered major disturbances in the not-too-distant past and are still in the process of growing back,” she said.

Droughts, fire and past human activity could be to blame, she added: “This recovery process is known as succession and takes hundreds or even thousands of years.”

The research comes as efforts intensify to find a way to include protection for tropical forests in carbon credit schemes, as part of a new global climate deal to replace the Kyoto protocol.

Lee White, Gabon’s chief climate change scientist, who worked on the new study, said: “To get an idea of the value of the sink, the removal of nearly 5bn tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by intact tropical forests should be valued at about £13bn per year.”

David Ritter, senior forest campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: “This research reveals how these rainforests are providing a huge service to mankind by absorbing carbon dioxide from our factories, power stations and cars.

“The case for forest protection has never been stronger, but we must not allow our politicians to use this as an excuse to avoid sweeping emissions cuts here in the UK.”

Source: Guardian newspaper

Date: 18/02/2009

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