Africa’s most famous trees are dying, and scientists suspect a changing climate

Africa’s most famous trees are dying, and scientists suspect a changing climate

SOURCE: Washington Post DATE: June 11, 2018 SNIP: The baobab tree, sometimes called the “Tree of Life,” has an unforgettable appearance. Found in savanna regions of Africa, Madagascar and Australia, the trees form a very thick and wide trunk and mainly branch high above the ground. They can grow to be thousands of years old, and develop hollows inside so large that one massive baobab in South Africa had a bar inside it. But that tree, the more than 1,000-year-old Sunland baobab, apparently the biggest of these trees in Africa, “toppled over” last year. Another famous baobab, the Chapman tree in Botswana, collapsed in 2016. Something similar, a new scientific study suggests, is happening to the oldest and largest baobabs across the world in “an event of an unprecedented magnitude.” The research, by Adrian Patrut of Babes-Bolyai University in Romania and an international group of colleagues, finds that in the past 12 years, “9 of the 13 oldest and 5 of the 6 largest individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died.” “Each of these trees was unique and special,” he wrote. “They have seen more history than we can imagine.” Patrut says the largest trees are the most vulnerable — and he believes that a changing climate is involved, although the study itself says that “further research is necessary to support or refute this supposition.” In Zimbabwe, baobab deaths are reportedly being accompanied by what appears to be some type of fungus that turns the trees black before they die. Patrut’s study, which surveys baobabs much more widely, contends that for the oldest...
UN forest accounting loophole allows CO2 underreporting by EU, UK, US

UN forest accounting loophole allows CO2 underreporting by EU, UK, US

SOURCE: Mongabay and Environmental Research Letters DATE: May 2, 2018 SNIP: [Dr. Mary] Booth’s research — Not carbon neutral: Assessing the net emissions impact of residues burned for bioenergy, published this February in the journal Environmental Research Letters — helps answer some thorny questions critical to our energy and carbon future. Her study examines the net CO2 emissions of biomass burned to replace coal at the UK’s massive Drax power stations and other EU power plants. Combined, those energy facilities consume tons of wood each year. One major finding, right out of the gate: Booth reports that — contrary to a largely accepted view — wood pellets aren’t sourced mainly from fallen limbs and lumber waste called residue, but rather from whole trees. However, she based her study on residue-derived wood pellets anyway because the biomass industry “so often claims residues are a main pellet source.” Even based on the false assumption that only wood waste, not whole trees, are being burnt, Booth found that “up to 95 percent of cumulative CO2 emitted [by the biomass burning power plants] represent a net addition to the atmosphere over decades.” In other words, biomass is not carbon neutral. More disturbing: Booth’s research opens up the IPCC to charges that its policymaking decisions regarding emissions accounting have been politicized — crafted by negotiators to include built-in loopholes that allow nations to underreport certain emissions while appearing to achieve their carbon-reduction targets. In particular, both the UK and EU appear to have slipped through a large loophole in order to “disappear” real emissions from their carbon accounting, as one source told me, thus...
Tree Farms Will Not Save Us from Global Warming

Tree Farms Will Not Save Us from Global Warming

SOURCE: Scientific American DATE: March 13, 2018 SNIP: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its Fifth Assessment Report, presented more than 100 modeled scenarios that it said had a high likelihood of keeping global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius of preindustrial levels. Nearly all of them assumed that negative emissions technology would be viable and widely used, particularly BECCS. The idea calls for massive plantations of trees and other crops to draw carbon dioxide out of the air. The trees could then be harvested for the production of energy or biofuels, with carbon capture technology used to sequester their emissions. The whole process would be carbon-negative. This could theoretically cool the climate. But it would have to be done at a massive scale. It’s still almost an entirely hypothetical concept. But it has rapidly risen to prominence as a strategy for meeting the world’s climate targets established under the Paris Agreement. But there’s a major problem: Research increasingly suggests that the process is not feasible at the scale necessary to make a real dent in global climate goals—at least, not without causing massive environmental or social disruptions. If that’s the case, some experts worry that the models could mislead policymakers into believing there’s a definite “out” if global emissions don’t fall fast enough in the future. A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change in January is among the latest to raise doubts. It suggests that the large-scale deployment of BECCS—which calls for massive, managed plantations of trees—would likely require an unsustainable use of land, water and other resources. “Our main message is that really relying on...
Global tree cover loss reaches a record high in 2016

Global tree cover loss reaches a record high in 2016

SOURCE: Think Progress DATE: October 23, 2017 SNIP: In 2016, the world’s forests lost more than 73.4 million acres of tree cover — an area roughly the size of New Zealand, and a 51 percent increase from the year before. Tree cover — considered any wooded area, natural or otherwise — is declining at an alarming rate, fueled by poor forest management and climate change-driven drought, according to a study published Monday by Global Forest Watch. “We see a massive increase in tree cover loss in 2016, and, from what we have seen, it seems like the main reason for the increase is a proliferation of forest fires both in the tropics and other parts of the world,” Mikaela Weisse, a research analyst with Global Forest Watch, told ThinkProgress. The tree cover loss recorded in 2016 is the highest amount since Global Forest Watch began keeping records in...
Tropical forests used to protect us from climate change. Now, scientists say, they’re making it worse

Tropical forests used to protect us from climate change. Now, scientists say, they’re making it worse

SOURCE: Washington Post and The Guardian DATE: September 28, 2017 SNIP: A surprising scientific study released Thursday presents troubling news about the enormous forests of the planet’s tropical midsection — suggesting that they are releasing hundreds of millions of tons of carbon to the atmosphere, rather than storing it in the trunks of trees and other vegetation. “The losses due to deforestation and degradation are actually emitting more CO2 to the atmosphere, compared with how much the existing forest is able to absorb,” said Alessandro Baccini, the lead author of the study and a researcher at the Woods Hole Research Center. Specifically, the study found that tropical forests are losing 425 million tons of carbon annually, on average, which is the net result after you sum up 861 million tons of losses and 436 million tons of gains as forests grow each year. “Forests are losing more carbon than we thought,” Baccini said. “And one reason they’re losing so much carbon is because there is actually a lot of disturbance in the forest. You don’t have to wait for deforestation. You don’t have to only look for places that completely lost the trees.” This is a far greater loss than previously thought and carries extra force because the data emerges from the most detailed examination of the topic ever undertaken. The authors say their findings – published in the journal Science on Thursday – should galvanise policymakers to take remedial...