Celebrating International Day of Forests: A Special Round-Up on Deforestation

March 21 is International Day of Forests – The theme of the 2017 International Day of Forests celebration is “Forests and Energy” to increase awareness of forest-energy interconnections and strengthen engagement between forest and energy practitioners and policymakers. Individuals, groups, governments and businesses are encouraged to organize and partake in awareness raising and activities regarding the importance of preserving and protecting forests such as tree planting efforts.

Teenager Is on Track to Plant a Trillion TreesNational Geographic’s Laura Parker reports on a teenager and his environmental group.  Starting his project as a nine-year-old, Felix Finkbeiner aims to restore the world’s forests. Finkbeiner is 19—and Plant-for-the-Planet, the environmental group he founded, together with the UN’s Billion Tree campaign, has planted more than 14 billion trees in more than 130 nations. The group has also pushed the planting goal upward to one trillion trees—150 for every person on the Earth.

The organization also prompted the first scientific, full-scale global tree count, which is now aiding NASA in an ongoing study of forests’ abilities to store carbon dioxide and their potential to better protect the Earth. In many ways, Finkbeiner has done more than any other activist to recruit youth to the climate change movement. Plant-for-the-Planet now has an army of 55,000 “climate justice ambassadors,” who have trained in one-day workshops to become climate activists in their home communities. Most of them are between the ages nine and 12.

The Earth Has Lungs. Watch Them Breathe – By Robert Krulwich – What a difference a leaf makes! Well, not one leaf. We have 3.1 trillion trees on our planet—that’s 422 trees per person. If we count all the leaves on all those trees and take a look at what they do collectively to the air around us, the effect—and I do not exaggerate—is stunning. I’ve got a video from NASA. When you see it, I think your jaw is going to drop—just a little. It tracks the flow of carbon dioxide across the planet over 12 months, starting in January. Most of the action takes place in the Northern Hemisphere because that’s where most of the land is, and so that’s where most of the trees are. The biggest temperate forests are in Canada, Siberia, and Scandinavia.

That’s what the NASA video shows us: We can see the Green Machine turning on, then, a few months later, turning off. When it’s on, when the leaves are out, those ugly, poisonous-looking swirls of orange and red vanish from the sky. The machine works. And this happens every year. It’s as though the Earth itself has lungs.  But for all of its lung power, CO2 concentrations keep building in our atmosphere. We’re apparently pouring so much CO2 into the sky that the trees can’t keep up. Twelve thousand years ago, the Yale study says, there were twice as many trees on Earth. Apparently, we need their help. We need more trees. We really do.

The Nearest Forest is Farther Away Than You Thought – By Kastalia Medrano – New analysis of American deforestation offers a surprising stat: The average distance to the nearest forest increased by nearly 14 percent in the last decade. To put it another way, the total forest cover lost is comparable in size to the state of Maine.  The forest cover is also vanishing at a rate more than a full order of magnitude greater than we previously thought. A pair of researchers made the discovery by analyzing forest attrition — the complete removal of forest patches, including small ones — across the continental United States.

Two Redwood Trees

Redwood Trees Providing Canopy

The western part of the country especially was shown to have vastly accelerated rates of attrition.  A study detailing the research was published recently in the journal PLOS ONE. The focus for this study was on four primary drivers: commercial logging, agriculture, urbanization pressure, and forest fires.

More Companies Reporting Progress toward Deforestation-free Supply Chains Recent years have witnessed a groundswell of private sector commitments to reducing deforestation linked to the agricultural commodities that underpin vast corporate supply chains. A growing number of companies have been sharing their progress toward those pledges, according to the latest annual report from Forest Trends’ Supply Change initiative. The report, Supply Change: Tracking Corporate Commitments to Deforestation-free Supply Chains, 2017, looks at 447 companies that have made 760 commitments to curb forest destruction in supply chains linked to the “big four” agricultural commodities: palm, soy, timber & pulp, and cattle.

“Corporate commitments to deforestation-free supply chains continue to gain momentum as stakeholders demand more sustainable businesses and products. As companies move to address these demands – and the ever-growing threats to their supply chains, including climate change – we’re learning that meeting these goals is easier said than done,” said Stephen Donofrio, Senior Advisor for Supply Change. “It requires a reformulation of an entire complex system – from suppliers to retailers, among many other non-corporate actors.” The report, which examines 718 companies that Supply Change has identified as “exposed” to the big four commodities, include:  Commitments on palm and timber & pulp continue to lead the way, thanks in large part to more well-established certification programs and scrutiny around palm oil-driven deforestation. Commitment rates remain considerably lower for soy and cattle, which is troubling given their outsized contribution to tropical forest loss.

HSBC overhauls deforestation policy after Greenpeace investigation – HSBC has launched a new zero-deforestation policy after a Greenpeace investigation found a link between the banking corporation and organizations destroying Indonesia’s forests and peatland.  The new policy requires its customers to commit to protecting natural forest and peat by 30 June 2017 by publishing their own forest protection policies. It also says the bank will no longer provide funding to companies involved in any kind of deforestation or peatland clearance, breaking its links with destructive palm oil corporations. More than 200,000 people around the world signed a petition to put pressure on HSBC thanks to a Greenpeace campaign that also encouraged people to send emails directly to the bank’s CEO and protest outside high street branches.

Prince of Wales brokers pact to end cocoa deforestation – By Terry Slavin. The world’s biggest buyers, producers and retailers in the cocoa supply chain met in London recently to sign a statement of collective intent to end deforestation in the global cocoa supply chain. The agreement, the first of its kind covering the global cocoa supply chain, was brokered by the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit and signed by 12 of the biggest companies in the supply chain, including Cargill, Olam, Ferrero, The Hershey Company; Mars, Mondelēz International and Nestlé. The 12 companies hope to unveil a joint framework at COP 23 in Bonn in November. Crucially, ministers and senior government representatives of the two leading cocoa producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, as well as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK attended.

The Prince of Wales told participants: “It is clear that the private sector has a critically important part to play in saving our remaining forests, particularly through tackling the deforestation that has too often, alas, been associated with global commodity supply chains. The commitments made in this regard over recent years by a number of the world’s major companies, including some of those represented in this room, are hugely encouraging. But we all know that delivery on such commitments can be challenging, to put it mildly, and that the list of commodities covered remains far from complete.

And until now, one of the important omissions from that list was cocoa, which is why today’s announcement is so very heartening.” The statement commits the companies to work with public, private, and civil society partners to develop a common vision and joint framework to end deforestation and forest degradation in the cocoa sector by 2018. Among other commitments, the companies will work with producer country governments to “professionalize and economically empower farmers and their families, and deepen support for inclusive and participatory development of cocoa-growing communities, with a strong focus on gender empowerment.”

Exclusive Look Into How Rare Elephants’ Forests Are Disappearing – By Laurel Neme – A high-stakes game playing out in a remote biodiversity hot spot pits the palm oil industry against the ecological integrity of the last place on Earth where critically endangered Sumatran elephants, tigers, rhinos, and orangutans live side by side. At issue is destruction of Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem—a UNESCO World Heritage site at the northern end of Sumatra—principally by forest clearing for oil palm plantations. Roughly the size of Massachusetts, the Leuser’s 10,000 square miles straddle two provinces, with 85 percent in Aceh and the rest in North Sumatra.

Sumatran Elephant

This little one gets a nudge as they cross a river in the Leuser Ecosystem.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL HILTON FOR RAN

The region encompasses Sumatra’s largest intact rain forest and a mix of habitats, from high alpine meadows to peat swamps. Palm oil—the basis of products such as cosmetics and shampoos, processed foods and biodiesel—is versatile and has a long shelf life.  But oil palm plantations gobble up forest—and not always legally. A new report by the NGO Rainforest Action Network details the illegal razing of lowland forest, critical habitat for 22 Sumatran elephants, by oil palm grower PT Agra Bumi Niaga (PT ABN). The clearing likely also affects tigers and orangutans that depend on this forest. The Rainforest Action Network is a San Francisco-based NGO with a 30-year history of campaigns targeting major corporate brands implicated in forest destruction, human rights abuses, and climate change pollution.

Successful Forest Protection in DRC Hinges on Community Participation – By John C. Cannon The tens of millions of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo who depend on the forest must be considered to keep the world’s second largest rainforest intact.  The Democratic Republic of Congo’s extensive forests seem like a bright spot in an otherwise-troubled country. With forests covering an area larger than Colombia, DRC has managed to sidestep the surge in losses that forest-rich countries in South America, Southeast Asia and elsewhere in Africa have suffered. It has become an important country partner in the UN’s REDD+ program. Short for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries,” REDD+ promises DRC hundreds of millions of dollars for environmental and development work, coming from the governments of Norway, Germany, France, the U.K., and the EU.

In exchange, the country’s leadership has agreed to preserve the country’s stockpile of carbon tucked away in the vegetation of its forests, estimated to be around 22 billion metric tons (48.5 trillion pounds).  The goal now is to maintain DRC’s status as a high-forest, low-deforestation country, while proving to the continent and the world that a strategy as global as REDD+ can work. REDD+ has potential to slow the emissions from forest destruction and provide poor countries with funds for development, but as research in DRC and elsewhere is proving, it will only do that if it’s implemented properly.

The solution is far from one-size-fits-all, researchers say, and it will depend on the earnest commitment of local communities. For DRC, as the light of economic and political stability flickers on the horizon, the question is more basic. The country’s forests have survived decades of dysfunction, conflict and failed governance.  Now, they stand on the leading edge of a global climate solution. They’re attracting the attention of donor countries and at the same time international corporations looking for new places to develop while also bringing the promise of economic prosperity. Will they survive this ‘success’?

Drought and forest loss cause vicious circle in the Amazon – If dry seasons intensify with man-made climate change, the risk for self-amplified forest loss increases even more and could put the Amazon rainforest further at risk, an international team of scientists found. Despite a trend of boosting forest areas around the globe, the rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest increased in 2016 for the fourth consecutive year.  Researchers at the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) found the Amazon rainforest could be exposed to higher risks of dieback if dry seasons intensify and rainfall decreases.

This could lead to a vicious dieback circle, they said in a study published in Nature Communications. “The Amazon rainforest is one of the tipping elements in the Earth system,” said lead-author Delphine Clara Zemp, who conducted the study at PIK. “We already know that on the one hand, reduced rainfall increases the risk of forest dieback, and on the other hand, forest loss can intensify regional droughts,” she said. “So more droughts can lead to less forest leading to more droughts and so on.

Yet the consequences of this feedback between the plants on the ground and the atmosphere above them so far was not clear.” The researchers found the close relationship between deforestation and drought could put the Amazon further at risk. When it rains, trees absorb water through their roots and then release it back to the atmosphere. Tropical forests produce most of the water they need themselves: they pump moisture which then rains back to them.

deforestation amazan

Yet logging and warmer air – due to greenhouse gas emissions – reduce precipitations and hinder the moisture transport from one forest area to the other, affecting even remote areas. “Then happens what we call the ‘cascading forest loss,'” said co-author Anja Rammig from the Technical University of Munich, who is currently working as a guest scientist at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. A fifth of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest, says the conservation group Cool Earth.

Small farmers play big role in felling Peru rainforest: satellite maps – By Chris ArsenaultDeforestation in the Peruvian Amazon has risen this century – destroying an area of rainforest 14 times larger than Los Angeles – with small farmers behind most of the cutting, according to a new analysis of satellite maps. Small farmers account for about 80 percent of Peru’s forest loss, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), a Washington, D.C.-based research group, said on Wednesday. “One of the big findings of this report is that deforestation is not driven by sexier issues such as large-scale oil palm (plantations) or dams, but widespread small-scale agriculture,” said Matt Finer, MAAP’s director. Small producers clearing forests for farms or cattle grazing along with logging roads and illegal gold mining have caused Peru to lose 1,800,000 hectares of Amazon rainforest since 2001 and the trend is steadily increasing, the analysis said.

Cameroon to restore 12 million hectares of Congo Basin rainforest – Cameroon has committed to restoring over 12 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2030 as part of the Bonn Challenge initiative, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has announced. The initiative is a global effort to restore 150 million hectares by 2020, and more than double that to 350 million by 2030. The pledge is the biggest to date in the Congo Basin, home to the world’s second-largest tropical rain forest, and brings the 2020 goal into range with a total of 148 million hectares pledged. Cameroon’s pledge will also contribute to the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), which aims to bring 100 million hectares under restoration by 2030 through the Bonn Challenge and concurrent programs.

Weekly Round-Up: Water Stewardship – Some, for all, forever

Access to clean water and sanitation services are human rights.  And, yet, according to Water for People, 1.8 billion people around the world still don’t have access to safe water. 2.4 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation, and more than 840,000 people die each year from water-related diseases.

Each of us lives in a watershed.chickencreek watershed sign The US Geological Survey defines a watershed as the area of land where all of the water that falls in it and drains off of it goes to a common outlet. Watersheds can be as small as a footprint or large enough to encompass all the land that drains water into rivers that drain into a bay, where it enters an ocean.

Often it seems we waste water by design.

We flush our toilets with drinking water.

54% of urban water use in the US is for landscape irrigation1.

Water lost due to aging infrastructure in the US is 1.7 trillion gallons annually2.

The estimated cost of upgrading infrastructure: $2 trillion over 25 years2.

As much as 70% – 90% of the world’s fresh water is contained in the ice that cover the Antarctic continent.

As much as 43 gallons of water is used to produce a pound of paper3.

A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons per year. That’s the amount of water needed to take more than 180 showers4.leaky water faucet

Fixing easily corrected household water leaks can save homeowners about 10% on water bills4 .

The Food Service Technology Center has tools and calculators to help estimate the cost of leaks in restaurants and food service operations.

Stormwater pollution is the #1 source of water pollution in the United States; and the # 1 pollutant in stormwater by volume is sediment.  One gallon of motor oil can contaminate one MILLION gallons of water.

Thirsty business: CDP 2016 Annual Report of Corporate Water Disclosure.  The report and underlying data analysis aim to shine a light on the linkages between water, energy and private sector efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The report, written on behalf of 643 investors with $67 trillion in assets, revealed water-related impacts cost business $14 billion, a five-fold increase from last year.  Additionally, 24% of greenhouse gas reduction activities depend on a stable supply of good quality water with 53% of companies reporting that better water management is delivering GHG reductions.

Liquidity crisisAs water becomes ever more scant the world needs to conserve it, use it more efficiently and establish clear rights over who owns the stuff . “NOTHING is more useful than water,” observed Adam Smith, but “scarcely anything can be had in exchange for it.” The father of free-market economics noted this paradox in 18th-century Scotland, as rain-sodden and damp then as it is today. Where water is in ample supply his words still hold true. But around the world billions of people already struggle during dry seasons.

Drought and deluge are a costly threat in many countries. If water is not managed better, today’s crisis will become a catastrophe. By the middle of the century more than half of the planet will live in areas of “water stress”, where supplies cannot sustainably meet demand. Lush pastures will turn to barren desert and millions will be forced to flee in search of fresh water. But putting food on their tables requires floods of the stuff. Growing 1kg of wheat takes 1,250 liters of water; fattening a cow to produce the same weight of beef involves 12 times more. Overall, agriculture accounts for more than 70% of global freshwater withdrawals. And as the global population rises from 7.4bn to close to 10bn by the middle of the century, it is estimated that agricultural production will have to rise by 60% to fill the world’s bellies.

This will put water supplies under huge strain.  Overall about 41% of America’s withdrawals go towards cooling power stations. Climate change will only make the situation more fraught. Hydrologists expect that a warming climate will see the cycle of evaporation, condensation and precipitation speed up. Wet regions will grow wetter and dry ones drier as rainfall patterns change and the rate increases at which soil and some plants lose moisture. Deluges and droughts will intensify, adding to the pressure on water resources. Late or light rainy seasons will alter the speed at which reservoirs and aquifers refill. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture (the water content of air rises by about 7% for every 1ºC of warming) increasing the likelihood of sudden heavy downpours that can cause flash flooding across parched ground. This will also add to sediment in rivers and reservoirs, affecting storage capacity and water quality.

US Drought Monitor.  Established in 1999, the US Drought Monitor is a weekly map of drought conditions produced jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The map, which comes out every Thursday based on data through the preceding Tuesday, is based on measurements of climatic, hydrologic and soil conditions as well as reported impacts and observations from more than 350 contributors around the country. Eleven climatologists from the partner organizations take turns serving as the lead author each week. The authors examine all the data and use their best judgment to reconcile any differences in what different sources are saying.

Watering Restrictions Currently in Effect in Atlanta Area – Drought conditions across Atlanta and most of Georgia have worsened.  52 counties have moved from Level 1 to Level 2 Response, requiring outdoor water use restrictions. In the City of Atlanta, outdoor landscape watering is only allowed two days a week, determined by odd- and even-numbered addresses. Even-numbered addresses and properties without numbered addresses may water on Wednesday and Saturday before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Odd-numbered addresses may water Thursday and Sunday before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Even on allowable days, it’s encouraged that watering be limited to when plants are showing stress.

Drought and forest loss cause vicious circle in the Amazon – If dry seasons intensify with man-made climate change, the risk for self-amplified forest loss increases even more and could put the Amazon rainforest further at risk, an international team of scientists found. Researchers at the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) found the Amazon rainforest could be exposed to higher risks of dieback if dry seasons intensify and rainfall decreases. This could lead to a vicious dieback circle, they said in a study published in Nature Communications.

no water - drought

The dramatic effects of drought.

“The Amazon rainforest is one of the tipping elements in the Earth system,” said lead-author Delphine Clara Zemp, who conducted the study at PIK. “We already know that on the one hand, reduced rainfall increases the risk of forest dieback, and on the other hand, forest loss can intensify regional droughts,” she said.  “So more droughts can lead to less forest leading to more droughts and so on.” The researchers found the close relationship between deforestation and drought could put the Amazon further at risk. When it rains, trees absorb water through their roots and then release it back to the atmosphere. Tropical forests produce most of the water they need themselves: they pump moisture which then rains back to them.

ISCIENCES: Global Water Monitor & Forecast monitors fresh water resources worldwide and forecasts changes with their Water Security Indicator Model.  Each month they document current anomalies and provide forecasts with lead times from 1-9 months.

The Coca-Cola Company is the first Fortune 500 Company to replenish all of the water it uses globally. Being a steward means holding something in trust and taking care of it. And that’s really what everyone does with water. Water is a finite resource, but it’s infinitely renewable. And that’s where stewardship becomes very important. At the end of 2015 Coke met its 2020 goal to replenish 100% of the water used across its entire system by replenishing 337.78 billion liters of water to nature and communities. Working with a whole host of different charities and conservation organizations, Coke supported 248 community water partnership projects in 71 countries and over 2,000 communities, which focused on safe water access, watershed protection and water for productive use. In many cases, these projects also provide access to sanitation and education, help improve local livelihoods, assist communities with adapting to climate change, improve water quality, enhance biodiversity, engage on policy and build awareness on water issues.

Beer giant AB InBev’s former water guru offers some advice – By Hugh Share – There’s no single definition of “water stewardship.” My view is that it is something to be continually strived for, not something that can be simply achieved, and I’d challenge any company that claims to have achieved it.  When the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) talks about stewardship, it uses the words progression, improvement, direct operations, value chain and commitment. The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) states that its members are aiming to continually improve and to act, engage and influence on matters related to water stewardship. Much like our health, we can’t simply lose weight or apply an intervention and declare we’ve achieved “health.” We must continue to eat well, exercise and maintain ourselves if we’re to stay healthy.  We need more pragmatic thinking that generates real-world results. I’ve seen the same case studies for years, examples that are force-fitted into different guidance documents, over and over again. The bottom line is we all need to talk less, act more and work together — quicker, more efficiently and to scale. See the great tips on water stewardship Hugh has for NGOs, businesses and governments.

Sources:

  1. Hydro Point Data Systems
  2. US Council on Competitiveness: Leverage: Water and Manufacturing.
  3. Environment Canada
  4. US EPA