World’s great forests could lose half of all wildlife as planet warms

World’s great forests could lose half of all wildlife as planet warms

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: March 13, 2018 SNIP: The world’s greatest forests could lose more than half of their plant species by the end of the century unless nations ramp up efforts to tackle climate change, according to a new report on the impacts of global warming on biodiversity hotspots. Mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds are also likely to disappear on a catastrophic scale in the Amazon and other naturally rich ecosystems in Africa, Asia, North America and Australia if temperatures rise by more than 1.5C, concludes the study by WWF, the University of East Anglia and the James Cook University. The research in the journal Climate Change examined the impact of three different levels of warming – 2C (the upper target in the 2015 Paris agreement), 3.2C (the likely rise given existing national commitments) and 4.5C (the forecast outcome if emissions trends remain unchanged) on nearly 80,000 plant and animal species in 35 of the world’s most biodiverse regions. If governments fail to set more ambitious commitments than those currently on the table, the report projects devastating losses of more than 60% of plant species and almost 50% of animal species in the Amazon at a temperature rise of 3.2C. If countries lift their efforts sufficiently to reach the 2C goal, the outlook is improved – but still grim – with more than 35% of species at risk of local extinction in the region. If no actions are taken, the picture is apocalyptic, with a likely loss of more than 70% of plant and reptile species and a more than 60% decline of mammal, reptile and bird species...
The Importance of Keeping Forests Intact

The Importance of Keeping Forests Intact

SOURCE: Pacific Standard DATE: February 28, 2018 SNIP: When it comes to habitat quality and ecosystem services, research has shown that natural landscapes do it best. A new study, published recently in Nature, adds fodder to this argument, describing how intact forests are critically important for mitigating climate change, maintaining water supplies, safeguarding biodiversity, and even protecting human health. However, it warns that global policies aimed at reducing deforestation are not putting enough emphasis on the preservation of the world’s dwindling intact forests, instead relying on a one-size-fits-all approach that may end up doing more harm than good. Intact forests are large areas of connected habitat free from human-caused disturbance. From the Amazon rainforest in South America to the taiga that rings the Arctic, the Earth’s intact forests provide a diverse array of unbroken habitats for many—if not most—of the planet’s terrestrial wildlife. But intact forests are disappearing. An analysis released last year found that, overall, the world lost more than 7 percent of its intact forest landscapes in just over a decade, a trend that appears to be accelerating. Zooming in, the analysis reveals bigger losses for specific regions: 10.1 percent in Africa, 13.9 percent in Southeast Asia, nearly 22 percent in Australia. At the country level, Paraguay came out particularly bad, losing almost 80 percent of its intact forest landscapes between 2000 and 2013. [R]esearch has shown even small logging roads can open up a “Pandora’s box” of destructive repercussions that can threaten the integrity of a once-untouched forest. Such seemingly small, localized deforestation activities have resulted in a situation where the world’s forests have essentially been...

A destructive beetle has jumped the Rockies

SOURCE: Yale Climate Connections DATE: January 22, 2018 SNIP: Canada’s vast conifer forests are being destroyed by tiny beetles that are on the move. Mountain pine beetles are native to western North America, but as the climate warms, the beetle’s range is expanding. Six: “It’s actually jumped the Rockies and has spread across Alberta to Saskatchewan. That’s in the far north, it’s interior. It’s typically very, very cold, and in the past too cold for the beetle to survive there, but now it’s warm enough.” Diana Six is an entomologist at the University of Montana. She says that, as the beetles spread to these new locations, they are starting to kill a new type of tree: jack pine, which is a dominant species across much of Canada. Six: “Jack pine is what we call a naive host. It means it’s one that the beetle hasn’t co-evolved with and so that tree has never had to evolve defenses against the beetle.” She fears that the beetles could destroy vast areas of jack pine forests across Canada, and eventually even move into eastern pine forests. When dead trees decompose, they release stored carbon back to the atmosphere. So when millions of trees are destroyed by beetles, it is not just devastating for wildlife – it makes climate change...
Scientists just presented a sweeping new estimate of how much humans have transformed the planet

Scientists just presented a sweeping new estimate of how much humans have transformed the planet

SOURCE: Washington Post DATE: December 20, 2017 SNIP: In this age of climate change, we naturally train our attention on all the fossil fuels being combusted for human use — but scientists have long known that what’s happening is also all about the land. Just as buried fossil fuels are filled with carbon from ancient plant and animal life, so too are living trees and vegetation on Earth’s surface today. Razing forests or plowing grasslands puts carbon in the atmosphere just like burning fossil fuels does. Now, new research provides a surprisingly large estimate of just how consequential our treatment of land surfaces and vegetation has been for the planet and its atmosphere. If true, it’s a finding that could shape not only our response to climate change, but our understanding of ourselves as agents of planetary transformation. Using a series of detailed maps derived from satellite information and other types of ecological measurements, Karl-Heinz Erb, the lead study author, and his colleagues estimated how much carbon is contained in Earth’s current vegetation. The number is massive: 450 billion tons of carbon, which, if it were to somehow arrive in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, would amount to over a trillion tons of the gas. But the study also presented an even larger and perhaps more consequential number: 916 billion tons. That’s the amount of carbon, the research calculated, that could reside in the world’s vegetation — so not in the atmosphere — if humans somehow entirely ceased all uses of land and allowed it to return to its natural state. The inference is that current human use of...
Carbon Loophole: Why Is Wood Burning Counted as Green Energy?

Carbon Loophole: Why Is Wood Burning Counted as Green Energy?

SOURCE: Yale Environment 360 DATE: December 19, 2017 SNIP: It was once one of Europe’s largest coal-burning power stations. Now, after replacing coal in its boilers with wood pellets shipped from the U.S. South, the Drax Power Station in Britain claims to be the largest carbon-saving project in Europe. About 23 million tons of carbon dioxide goes up its stacks each year. But because new trees will be planted in the cut forests, the company says the Drax plant is carbon-neutral. There is one problem. Ecologists say that the claims of carbon neutrality, which are accepted by the European Union and the British government, do not stand up to scrutiny. The forests of North Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi — as well as those in Europe — are being destroyed to sustain a European fantasy about renewable energy. And with many power plants in Europe and elsewhere starting to replace coal with wood, the question of who is right is becoming ever more important. In September, some 200 scientists wrote to the EU insisting that “bioenergy [from forest biomass] is not carbon-neutral” and calling for tighter rules to protect forests and their carbon. Yet just a month later, EU ministers rubber-stamped the existing carbon accounting rules, reaffirming that the burning of wood pellets is renewable energy. Under the terms of both the UN Paris climate agreement and Europe’s internal rules, carbon losses from forests supplying power stations should be declared as changes to the carbon storage capacity of forest landscapes. But such changes are seldom reported in national inventories. And there is no system either within the EU or at...