Mangroves ‘won’t stop tsunami’

Claims that coastal tree barriers can halt the might of a tsunami are false and dangerous, says a team of international marine scientists.

There are many reasons for preserving the world’s dwindling stocks of mangroves but protecting people from tsunamis is not one of them, they added.

Four year on from the devastating 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, which killed more than 250,000 people, the team of scientists issued a strong warning against coastal communities and governments putting their trust in mangrove and tree barriers.

“Following the Boxing Day tsunami, scientific studies were released which claimed that the damage to coastal communities had been less in places where there was a barrier of trees or coastal vegetation,” explained Dr Andrew Baird of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University.

“As a result, there has been a lot of tree planting in coastal areas affected by the tsunami in the hope it will protect coastal communities in future from such events,” he observed.

“However these studies looked only at the presence or absence of vegetation and the extent of damage – and did not take account of other important variables, like the distance of a village from the shore, the height of the village above sea level or the shape of the seabed in concentrating the tsunami’s power.”

The study by Dr Baird’s team concluded that there was, as yet, no evidence that coastal tree belts could provide meaningful protection against a tsunami or even storm surges produced by cyclones, such as the surge that followed Cyclone Nargis in Burma earlier this year, which killed more than 150,000 people.

As a result it would be extremely dangerous to rely on tree planting alone to shield coastal communities in the event of future tsunami or storm surges, they warned.

The findings will be published shortly in a report by the United Nations Environment Programme.

Source: Australian Research Council press release

Date: 26/12/2008

Twiglet: Holly

The holly, as a rule, blooms in May; male and female flowers are usually found on different trees; only female flowers go on to become berries, but only if pollenated by male trees/flowers.

Superstition: prickly leaves are known as “he holly”; smooth leaves as “she holly”. Whichever first comes into your house in New Year determines who rules house for coming 12 months.

(Twiglets are an occasional lighter, bite-sized look at trees)

Carbon trading ‘not enough to save rainforests’

Including carbon emissions from tropical deforestation in a future international climate regime will not suffice to protect the world’s remaining tropical forests from expanding palm oil plantations, according to a study by researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden.

Delegates at the recent UN climate summit in Poznan, Poland, reduced emissions from deforestation (REDD) was one of the top issues, and hopes were high that a climate protocol could help reduce deforestation in the tropics in the future.

Carbon dioxide emissions from tropical deforestation at present account for around 20% of total global emissions, on a par with emissions from the transport sector.

Currently, there are no incentives for tropical countries to reduce these emissions, although this could change if the emissions are included in a future climate protocol.

“It is argued that this would make forest clearance unprofitable and tropical countries would choose to preserve more of their remaining forests,” said study author Martin Persson.

“However, a carbon price will also increase the demand for bioenergy and make forest clearance for agricultural land more profitable,” he added.

The researcher said clearing tropical forests for palm oil plantations, producing both liquid and solid biofuels, will remain highly profitable even when faced with a price on the carbon emissions arising from deforestation.

The current efforts to include tropical deforestation in a future climate regime may therefore not be sufficient to protect the world’s tropical forests, he suggested.

The expansion of palm oil plantations is already an important driving force behind deforestation in South-East Asia, although the proportion of palm oil that goes into biodiesel production is still small.

In addition, with increasing profitability, there is a risk that palm oil plantations will also start to expand in the Amazon and Congo basins, areas with a large share of the world’s remaining tropical forests.

“These results should not be taken as an argument for keeping tropical deforestation out of a future international climate regime,” observed Mr Persson.

“That would only make matters worse. But it implies that in addition to a price on the carbon emissions from deforestation, other and stronger protection measures will still be needed.”

Source: Chalmers University of Technology press release

Date: 09/12/2008

Forests face fiery future, warn UK’s Met Office

Climate change is putting further pressure on forests, with less rain and increased drought leading to increased risk from fire, the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre has warned.

Deforestation is already a major cause of carbon emissions, it warns, and is currently estimated to exceed those from the global transport sector.

Hadley Centre scientists attending the UN climate conference in Poznan claimed that new estimates of future deforestation in critical regions, such as the Amazon, were much larger than those used by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

With no controls on deforestation, the area of forest lost could be five times greater than outlined in the IPCC’s Special Report Emissions Scenarios (SRES).

The researchers warned that even with effective governance the loss could be double.

Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate advice at the Met Office, said: “In addition to man-made deforestation, climate change may cause the ‘die-back’ of the Amazonian forest.

“However, deliberate deforestation in Amazonia is likely to have a bigger impact in the short term.”

Climate scientists are assessing the potential impacts of ongoing deforestation on climate change and the extent to which reducing deforestation could contribute to stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations.

By avoiding deforestation during the early part of this century, carbon emissions would be reduced by up to 27 gigatonnes by 2050.

In a double benefit, preservation of the forest would maintain a carbon sink from carbon dioxide fertilisation of photosynthesis, which is worth a further four gigatonnes by 2050.

Climate change is also expected to put further pressure on forests, the UK researchers warn.

They said that in previous droughts, such as 2005, fires used for forest clearance became uncontrolled and larger areas were burnt through this “fire leakage”.

Climate change is also likely to reduce rainfall in the region.

The researchers suggest that even if this does not directly damage plants, it is likely to increase the risk of fire leakage which would magnify the impact of deforestation.

Source: UK Met Office press release

Date: 10/12/2008

Invasive shrub blamed for Yemen floods

Agricultural experts and local communities in southern Yemen are urging the government to tackle an evergreen and fast-growing shrub that has been blocking waterways, with sometimes devastating consequences.

They say mesquite (Prosopis juliflora) is responsible for exacerbating flooding in October by blocking watercourses and diverting floodwater into villages, which might otherwise have been unscathed.

At least 90 people were killed, and 20,000-25,000 were left homeless by the floods, according to the UN IRIN news service.

Mesquite, which was introduced to Yemen several decades ago to combat desertification and stabilise sand dunes, is native to the Americas, tolerates harsh, arid, saline conditions, and has spread throughout arable parts of the Hadramaut province.

The shrub has recently colonised many uncultivated hectares of land in Yemen’s coastal and eastern desert areas, with animals responsible for the spread; the seeds are mainly disseminated in animal droppings.

When left unmanaged the shrub can form dense impassable thickets, particularly where land has been degraded or overgrazed, say agricultural experts. It also invades cultivated fields and irrigated farms.

Source: IRIN news

Date: 08/12/2008

A slow start to saving trees in Zambia

After years of extensive flooding and droughts, Zambians are gradually turning to greener energy technologies to save trees, which could slow the impact of climate change, according to a UN news feature.

Charcoal-fed braziers are being replaced by those burning briquettes made of treated coal waste, which are smokeless and emit low levels of sulphur dioxide gas.

Biogas – a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by fermenting organic matter like animal or human waste, biodegradable waste and municipal solid waste – is also being punted as alternatives to wood fuel.

“Traditional energy sources, especially wood fuel, cause deforestation and serious ecological and environmental degradation in the country,” said Alick Muvundika, head of the water, energy and environment programme at the government-run National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR).

Zambia is listed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as one of the top 10 countries with the highest annual deforestation rates. The FAO estimates that Zambia loses about 8,000 hectares of forest every year.

Most of the trees are used as firewood or for producing charcoal, while in many rural areas they are cut and burnt to ash, which is used to improve soil fertility on subsistence farms.

Greener alternatives like the coal briquettes have been available in Zambia since the 1990s, but there have been few takers.

Nasri Safieddine, who designs energy-saving traditional cookers, said there had been little political will to promote these technologies until recently.

Power cuts and the price of charcoal are now prompting urban Zambians to explore the greener energy alternatives, said Mr Muvundika.

A 10kg bag of coal briquettes costs about US$1.50, while Zambians have to shell out US$5 for the same amount of charcoal, and 1.3kg of coal briquettes can burn for six hours, while the same weight of charcoal will burn for only one and a half hours.

Experts say the effects of climate change are most severe in areas where the trees have been cut down.

In Zambia’s Southern Province, which suffered one of the highest and fastest deforestation rates in the 1990s, floods and droughts have become perennial, causing failed harvests and chronic hunger, while other parts of the country have been experiencing shorter rainy seasons with colder winters and warmer summers.

Trees draw ground water up through their roots and release it into the atmosphere, so removing the forests could lead to a drier climate in the region.

Slash-and-burn deforestation also affects the carbon cycle, warming up the atmosphere, and is estimated to be responsible for 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions every year, amounting to one-fifth of the global total.

Joseph Kanyanga, chief meteorologist at the Zambia Meteorological Department, said the country had experienced significant changes in temperature and rainfall patterns over the last 40 years.

“[There have been more] floods than dry spells, especially in recent years, and this is a signal of climatic change in our weather patterns,” he told the UN’s IRIN news service.

“It means that Zambia needs to adjust to environmentally friendly ways of living to avoid such effects as outbreaks of diseases, crop failure, floods and other consequences,” Mr Kanyanga added.

Source: IRIN news service

Date: 03/12/2008

Hackers ‘aid’ Amazon logging scam

Hackers have helped logging firms in Brazil evade limits on tree felling, says a Greenpeace report.

The hi-tech criminals penetrated a computer system designed to monitor logging in the Brazilian state of Para, according to a report on the BBC News website.

Once inside the system, hackers issued fake permits so loggers could cut down far more timber than environmental officials were prepared to allow.

Greenpeace estimates that 1.7m cubic metres of illegal timber may have been removed with the aid of the hackers.

Drawing on information released by Brazilian federal prosecutor Daniel Avelino, Greenpeace believes hackers were employed by 107 logging and charcoal companies.

“Almost half of the companies involved in this scam have other law suits pending for environmental crimes or the use of slave labour,” said Mr Avelino in a statement issued by Greenpeace.

Mr Avelino is suing the companies behind the mass hack attack for two billion reals (£564m) – the estimated value of the timber illegally sold.

The Brazilian investigation of the hackers began in April 2007 and more than 30 ring leaders were arrested during the summer of that year. The ongoing investigation means that now 202 people face charges for their involvement in the subversion of the logging system.

The hack was made possible by a decision in 2006 to do away with paper forms to help monitor whether logging and charcoal firms were keeping to the quotas they were set.

Instead, the Amazon state of Para turned to a fully-computerised system that issued travel permits for the timber logging firms were removing. The intent was that travel permits would stop being issuedonce logging companies had reached their annual quota.

With the help of the hackers, Brazilian logging firms were able to issue fake permits allowing them to bust through these caps.

“We’ve pointed out before that this method of controlling the transport of timber was subject to fraud,” said Andre Muggiati, Greenpeace campaigner in Manaus. “And this is only the tip of the iceberg, because the same computer system is also used in two other Brazilian states.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 15/12/2008

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