Monthly Archives: February 2018

Bring back our trees: the forest communities fighting climate change

“A decade ago this land was dismissed as lost to the desert,” said ecologist Mamadou Diakite. He was smiling beneath the shade of a tree, one of hundreds growing vigorously all around him on land previously abandoned by local millet farmers.

The growth of these trees, and hundreds of millions more in a remote region of West Africa on the edge of the Sahara desert, is the result of local farmers abandoning long-standing advice from government experts to uproot trees on their fields – and to nurture them instead.

What is today called “Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration” is thought to have begun in the mid-1980s in Dan Saga, a village in the Maradi region of Niger, which suffered hugely from Sahel droughts in the 1970s.

The story is that some young men returned to their fields late in the season after working abroad. In a rush, they planted their crops without first clearing their land of woody plants. To their surprise, their grain yields were better than in neighbouring fields that had been cleared. When the same thing happened the next year, the village got the message: Trees were good for their crops.

So from then on, when preparing their land for planting, farmers cultivated stems growing from stumps in their fields. The resulting trees fixed nitrogen, stabilised soils and dropped leaves that maintained soil moisture.

And before long, the trees were providing firewood, animal fodder and other products, as well as shading crops and villages from wind and sun. The message spread. “It was slow to take off, but now they all want to do it,” Diakite said. “The land is coming back into production.”

This version of agroforestry has now extended across 5 million hectares of Niger. The 200 million extra trees benefit yields of millet and sorghum on more than a million farms, which typically gain an income of about $1,000 per year from selling products such as wood, fodder, fruit, pods and leaves.

And there is another, less immediately tangible benefit: The trees capture an estimated 30 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere.

Niger’s grassroots revolution – which for a long time was invisible to outsiders – is not an isolated example of people bringing back diverse forests, but has been replicated in different forms in different corners of the globe – from once denuded farmlands in Costa Rica to the foothills of the Himalayas, from the remote Scottish coast to the Xingu basin in the Amazon, and elsewhere.

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Originally published on News Trust.

A eureka moment for the planet: we’re finally planting trees again

China plans to plant forests the size of Ireland. Latin American countries have pledged to restore 20m hectares of degraded forest and African countries more than 100m hectares. India is to plant 13m hectares, and on a single day last year 1.5 million people planted 66m trees in Madhya Pradesh alone.

This enthusiasm for a greener world, expressed in trees, is inspiring and overdue. For 200 years forested countries barely knew what to do with their trees. They were treated as expendable and a waste of space. But in a great cultural shift, they have changed from being dark and fearsome places to semi-sacred and untouchable.

And why not? In this new ecological age, we have learned that trees have far more value than providing timber: they keep soils moist, prevent floods and provide shelter, store carbon, beautify landscapes, protect water sources, increase biodiversity, improve conservation and induce human wellbeing. So woe betide councils such as Sheffield that want to cut down trees. From the Newbury bypass protests 20 years ago to today’s battles to save the ancient woodlands along the route of the HS2 rail link, there are few surer ways of angering people than cutting down their trees.

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Originally published on The Guardian

Why Burning Trees for Energy Harms the Climate

Trees are renewable, so why not let them count under the proposed revisions to the EU renewable energy target? Here we answer this and other questions to demonstrate why burning trees for energy is not inherently climate-friendly.

What is the EU renewable energy target and its relevance to trees?

The European Union (EU) Renewable Energy Directive establishes an overall policy for advancing the use of energy from renewable sources in the EU. The current framework requires the EU to meet at least 20 percent of its total energy needs with renewables by 2020. Wood is currently the largest contributor to this renewable energy target, accounting for as much as 45 percent of all renewable energy consumed. Much of the forest biomass currently used consists of industrial and harvest residues and traditional fuelwood. However, these sources are nearing full exploitation and further demand for wood for bioenergy will likely come from additional tree harvesting. Even now, Europe is importing wood pellets from U.S. and Canadian forests. Proposals currently under discussion by the European Parliament for a revised Renewable Energy Directive would increase the share of renewable energy in the EU’s total energy mix from 20 percent to at least 27 percent, and possibly 30–35 percent, by 2030. This proposal would likely increase demand to turn trees into energy as EU countries seek ways to meet these more ambitious renewable energy targets.

Why aren’t trees a climate-friendly energy source?

There is a common perception that burning trees to generate heat or electricity should be considered “zero emissions” or “carbon neutral” because the carbon dioxide (CO2) released during burning is either recaptured by photosynthesis as trees regrow, or the CO2 already sequestered by trees cancels out the emissions. The reality, however, is more complex for the following reasons:

  • When burned, trees generate more CO2 emissions per unit of energy generated than fossil fuels. An oft overlooked fact is that burning wood emits more CO2than fossil fuels per megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated or per unit of heat generated. For example, per data from Laganière et al. (2017), smokestack CO2 emissions from combusting wood for heat can be 2.5 times higher than those of natural gas and 30 percent higher than those of coal per unit of generated energy. In terms of electricity generation, smokestack emissions from combusting wood can be more than three times higher than those of natural gas, and 1.5 times those of coal per MWh.

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Originally published on the WRI website.

Vietnam: An Up-and-Coming Clean Energy Leader?

Vietnam has a significant challenge ahead: power its remarkable economic growth with less polluting and more affordable clean energy.

This is no small task. According to the Vietnam Business Forum, the country’s current energy plan would increase coal use from 14 gigawatts (GW) to 55GW by 2030 and require 10 million tons of coal to be imported every year from 2017 onward.

Yet the government is increasingly invested in changing this trajectory, recently committing to reduce its emissions up to 25 percent from business-as-usual levels by 2030, in part by generating 18,000 megawatts (MW) of power from wind and solar. The private sector, too, is increasingly willing to support the country’s clean energy and greenhouse gas commitments.

Vietnam today is a dynamic place where business and government could chart an unprecedented shift toward towards clean energy — if they can address some key barriers.

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Originally published on the WRI website.

Talanoa Dialogue: Jump-Starting Climate Action in 2018

This year opens a new phase for the Paris Agreement and a historic opportunity to jumpstart action to limit the most dangerous impacts of climate change and set the world on course to a carbon-neutral, sustainable future by 2050.

With the official launch of the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue in January, countries are now embarking on the first global assessment of collective efforts to achieve the Paris goals. Global stocktakes are a core part of the regular five-year cycles built into the Agreement to ramp up ambition and action.

Talanoa is a traditional Pacific island term that describes a conversational sharing of ideas and experience that leads to decision-making for the greater good. As envisioned in the recent United Nations climate negotiations led by Fiji, the Talanoa Dialogue aims to build trust and boost ambition, ultimately leading to a commitment by governments to strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by 2020 and work with stakeholders at home to identify the best ways forward.

Led jointly by Fiji and Poland, which will preside over this year’s negotiations, the Dialogue will include a preparatory phase and a high-level political phase.

The Dialogue will seek to answer three central questions about climate action:

  • Where are we?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How do we get there?

A key focus of the conversation will also be the findings of a special report prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading international body of scientists reviewing research on global warming, expected in October. It will address the impacts of global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels and will identify potential pathways to limit warming to that level.

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Originally published on the WRI website

Agroforestry systems may play vital role in mitigating climate change

Agroforestry could play an important role in mitigating climate change because it sequesters more atmospheric carbon in plant parts and soil than conventional farming, according to Penn State researchers.

An agricultural system that combines trees with crops and livestock on the same plot of land, agroforestry is especially popular in developing countries because it allows small shareholder farmers — who have little land available to them — to maximize their resources. They can plant vegetable and grain crops around trees that produce fruit, nuts and wood for cooking fires, and the trees provide shade for animals that provide milk and meat.

The researchers analyzed data from 53 published studies around the world that tracked changes in soil organic carbon after land conversion from forest to crop cultivation and pasture-grassland to agroforestry. While forests sequester about 25 percent more carbon than any other land use, agroforestry, on average, stores markedly more carbon than agriculture.

The transition from agriculture to agroforestry significantly increased soil organic carbon an average of 34 percent, according to Michael Jacobson, professor of forest resources, whose research group in the College of Agricultural Studies conducted the study. The conversion from pasture/grassland to agroforestry produced soil organic carbon increases of about 10 percent, on average.

“We showed that agroforestry systems play an effective role in global carbon sequestration, involved in carbon capture and the long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide,” he said. “The process is critical to mitigating or deferring global warming.”

However, carbon was not stored equally in different soil levels, noted lead researcher Andrea De Stefano, a graduate student at Penn State when the study was done, now at Louisiana State University. He pointed out that the study, which was published in December in Agroforestry Systems, provides an empirical foundation to support expanding agroforestry systems as a strategy to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and mitigate climate change.

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Originally published on the Eureka Alert website.