‘Deforestation-free’ palm oil problematic to guarantee

Genuinely ‘deforestation-free’ palm oil products are problematic to guarantee, according to a new study.

Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is used in thousands of products worldwide, including an estimated 50% of all products on supermarkets shelves, from food to detergents to cosmetics.

Although growing palm trees requires less land and resources than traditional vegetable oils, the cultivation of palm oil is a major cause of tropical deforestation, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia. Oil palm plantations replaced 2.7 million hectares of tropical forest in these two countries between 1990 and 2005, leading to a loss of biodiversity and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Pressure from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace has led many companies to commit to only using “deforestation-free” palm oil products – those made exclusively using palm oil from plantations that have not cleared forests. However, environmentalists have criticised the action so far as taking too long and not following sufficiently strict guidelines.

Now, a study by researchers from Imperial College London has revealed some of the challenges faced by companies in guaranteeing that products labelled as “deforestation-free” have really been produced without causing deforestation. The results are published this week in the journal Global Environmental Change.

Source: ‘Deforestation-free’ palm oil not as simple as it sounds

Ecosystem services and adaptive decision-making can improve land management


An ecosystem services approach combined with adaptive decision-making can aid land and resource managers in administering their regions for the benefit of communities and stakeholders, according to a recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey and Resources for the Future.

Ecosystem services are the benefits to people from things produced by the natural living environment, such as pollination of crops, filtering of groundwater by wetland vegetation, and buffering of storm surge by mangrove swamps. Adaptive decision-making, meanwhile, allows managers to learn by doing, adjusting their operations based on results from management decisions, and ongoing research and monitoring over time.

“Resource management decisions are having greater impacts on our lives, and we need the best methods to assess and understand the consequences of decisions,” said Carl Shapiro, director of the USGS Science and Decisions Center. “Our work showing how adaptive decision-making and ecosystem services complement each other will help resource managers make the best decisions affecting the Nation’s natural resources.”

Source: Better together: How ecosystem services and adaptive decision-making can improve land management

Four degree increase by 2084

A new study shows the Earth’s climate would increase by 4 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels, before the end of 21st century. The study also projects precipitation changes in association with a 4 degrees Celsius global warming above the pre-industrial period using the available RCP8.5 experiments of CMIP5 models.

“A great many record-breaking heat events, heavy floods, and extreme droughts would occur if global warming crosses the 4 °C level, with respect to the preindustrial period,” said Dabang Jiang, a senior researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “The temperature increase would cause severe threats to ecosystems, human systems, and associated societies and economies.”

In the analysis, Jiang and his team used the parameters of scenario in which there was no mitigation of rising greenhouse gas emissions. They compared 39 coordinated climate model experiments from the fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (https://www.wcrp-climate.org/wgcm-cmip), which develops and reviews climate models to ensure the most accurate climate simulations possible.

They found that most of the models projected an increase of 4°C as early as 2064 and as late as 2095 in the 21st century, with 2084 appearing as the median year.

Source: Earth’s climate to increase by four degrees by 2084

400 Straight Hotter Than Average Months

Like A Virgin By Madonna was top in the music charts last time Earth had a colder than average month. Last April marked 400 consecutive months where our planet’s temperature was hotter than average, a record stretching back to December of 1984.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the milestone recently, confirming that we are unequivocally living on a warming planet. The governmental agency notes that while another warming milestone has been reached, the signs have been clear for decades.

Professors, government scientists, independent agencies, and industry scientists all use the 20th-century average as the benchmark from which they compare today’s temperatures. This ensures people around the world are using the same temperatures as a baseline.

Source: Global Warming Exhibit A: April Was The 400th Straight Hotter Than Average Month

Monitoring tropical trees 

Experts have challenged the principle that tropical ecosystems are aseasonal — after discovering regular cycles in fruiting, flowering and leafing in such climates.

Researchers from the University of Stirling made the unexpected observations after studying 30 years of data from 851 tropical trees in the Lopé National Park in Gabon, Central Africa.

The team — led by Stirling PhD researcher Emma Bush — also uncovered the reasons behind inaccuracies in previous monitoring of tropical tree behaviour and made recommendations to enhance future approaches. This will improve monitoring and, in turn, the data that is available for organisations that manage tropical ecosystems and their products, which support livelihoods and the survival of wildlife.

The research is published in a special section of the Biotropica journal, guest edited by Dr Katharine Abernethy, Reader in Tropical Ecology in Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences.

Source: Monitoring of tropical trees in face of climate change

Biodiversity depends on which climate change target we reach

A new assessment finds that, by 2100, the number of plant and vertebrate species losing more than half of their natural ranges will double if global warming is limited to 2°Celsius (C), rather than 1.5°C; insects are projected to be impacted the most, with 18 percent losing over half of their natural ranges under the warmer scenario.

The United Nations Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C above preindustrial levels and to “pursue efforts” to limit it to 1.5°C; however, current pledges by countries are expected to exceed these targets, at 3.2°C. Here, Rachel Warren and colleagues sought to understand how these different global warming scenarios will impact the geographical areas in which a species can be found (“species range”), assessing a total of more than 115,000 terrestrial species; their study involved many organisms, including many insects, that have not previously been considered in similar global biodiversity assessments.

Source: High stakes for biodiversity, depending on which climate change target we reach

Endangered South American forests were man made

Huge swathes of land in Chile, Brazil and Argentina are covered with millions of Araucaria, or monkey puzzle trees, thanks to people planting or cultivating them more than a thousand years ago, a new study shows. Recent logging means the landscape is now one of the world’s most at-risk environments.

It had been thought the forests expanded due to wetter and warmer weather. But the research shows the rapidly expanding pre-Columbian population of South America, Southern Jê communities, were really responsible.

New excavations and soil analysis shows the forests, still hugely culturally and economically important to people living in South America, expanded between 1,410 and 900 years ago because of population growth and cultural changes.

Dr Mark Robinson, from the University of Exeter, who led the British Academy and AHRC-FAPESP-funded research, said: “Our research shows these landscapes were man-made. Communities settled on grassland, and then – perhaps because they modified the soil, protected seedlings or even planted trees – established these forests in places where geographically they shouldn’t have flourished.”

Source: Critically endangered South American forests were man made

Worst-case climate change scenario is even worse than we thought | New Scientist

A possible future that climatologists treat as the worst of the worst, because it would produce huge greenhouse gas emissions, might lead to even more emissions than believed

These lignite-fired power plants are among the largest in Europe
These lignite-fired power plants are among the largest in Europe
Thomas Corzelius / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Michael Le Page

The phrase “worse than we thought” is a cliché when it comes to climate change. There are lots of studies suggesting we’re in for more warming and worse consequences than thought, and few saying it won’t be as bad. But guess what: it’s worse than we thought.

A study of the future global economy has concluded that the standard worst-case scenario used by climate scientists is actually not the worst case.

How much the climate will change depends on how much greenhouse gas we emit, which in turn depends on the choices we make as a society – including how the global economy behaves. To handle this, climatologists use four scenarios called RCPs, each of which describes a different possible future.

The RCP8.5 scenario is the worst for the climate. It assumes rapid, unfettered economic growth and rampant burning of fossil fuels.

It now seems RCP8.5 may have underestimated the emissions that would result if we follow the economic path it describes.

“Our estimates indicate that, due to higher than assumed economic growth rates, there is a greater than 35 per cent probability that year 2100 emissions concentrations will exceed those given by RCP8.5,” says Peter Christensen of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

In one sense, it is not quite that bad. RCP8.5 assumes no action is taken to limit warming, which is unlikely. “We’ve already locked in a certain amount of climate policy,” says Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate Research in Norway.

But the worrying implication is that emissions could be much higher than expected even if climate action continues and is ramped up. “The results will also affect estimates of emissions pathways under a variety of policy scenarios,” says Christensen.

Source: Worst-case climate change scenario is even worse than we thought | New Scientist

Insurance industry unprepared for extreme weather

As historic flooding caused by climate change devastates communities in New Brunswick and British Columbia, new research from the University of Waterloo reveals the insurance industry hasn’t considered a changing climate in their practices, putting homeowners at financial risk.

The study which looked at data from 178 insurers, found that most insurance companies assumed the risk to property from extreme weather is static and based their premiums on historical data. However, as extreme weather events are increasing in severity, frequency, and unpredictability, insurers have not adjusted.

“As extreme events become more frequent, insurers that ignore climate change will not put away enough money to cover their claims. To re-coup those losses, they’ll have to raise rates or pull coverage from high risk areas,” said Jason Thistlethwaite, a climate change economist at the University of Waterloo. “When this shift happens, thousands of people will lose coverage or it will be unaffordable.”

Source: Waterloo study says insurance industry dangerously unprepared for extreme weather

Methane and Our Uncertain Future

Methane is generally considered secondary to carbon dioxide in its importance to climate change, but what role might methane play in the future if global temperatures continue to rise?

The biggest natural emitters of methane are wetlands and lakes, both of which are affected by the impacts of climate change, namely increased temperatures and changing hydrology. The balance between methane production and its oxidation within these environments before it can be released to the atmosphere, both of which are affected by temperature and hydrology, is crucial to understanding the response of these systems to climate change.

While not the largest emitters, permafrost systems (underlain by soils that remain frozen throughout the year due to cold local temperatures) are highly vulnerable to climate change. The proportion of methane emitted from such systems may increase significantly in a warmer future as the previously frozen organic carbon-rich soils are thawed out, making this material available for methane producing microbes.

Source: Methane, Climate Change, and Our Uncertain Future – Eos