Google Analytics Alternative

You are browsing the archive for Food security.

Heat extremes threaten crop yields

March 21, 2014 in Agriculture, Climate risk, Drought, Extreme weather, Food security, Temperature Increase, Vegetation changes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

An undersized cob from a failed maize crop in Ghana's Upper West Region, which has suffered failed rains and rising temperatures Image: By CIAT (NP Ghana23_lo  Uploaded by mrjohncummings), via Wikimedia Commons

An undersized cob from a failed maize crop in Ghana which has suffered failed rains and rising temperatures
Image: By CIAT (NP Ghana23_lo Uploaded by mrjohncummings), via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

Yields of several major crops are likely to be seriously affected by rising temperatures, scientists say, with spells of extreme heat posing the greatest risk.

LONDON, 21 March – Rampant climate change driven by ever-rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere poses a serious threat to world food supply, according to a new study in Environmental Research Letters.

The hazard comes not from high average temperatures, but the likelihood of heat extremes at times when crops are most sensitive to stress. And the message is: those communities that rely on maize as a staple are more at risk than most.

Delphine Derying of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in the UK and colleagues looked at one of the big puzzles of the coming decades: what will global warming do for crop yields?

It is not a simple question: climate change must mean more evaporation, more precipitation, longer growing seasons, more warmth, and higher levels of the carbon dioxide that plants exploit by photosynthesis (the process they use to convert light into chemical energy), so the consequence ought to be greater yields. But as every farmer knows, what matters most is the timing of all that warmth, rain, and those dry spells in which the harvest can ripen.

Danger in extremes

There is a second consideration. Climate is the sum of all events. Rather than a steady overall rise in daily temperatures, an increasing number of ever-larger regions are predicted to experience ever more intense extremes of heat, and sometimes cold. Plants can be very sensitive to extremes of heat at flowering time: if the thermometer goes up, the pollen becomes increasingly sterile and less seed is likely to be set. So an extended heat wave in the wrong season could be calamitous.

The Tyndall team included the assumption that nothing would be done about climate change – that is, that governments, industry and people would continue with a business-as-usual scenario. They then chose three well-studied and vital crops – spring wheat, maize and soybean – and tested predictions under 72 different climate change scenarios for the rest of this century.

They allowed for the already-established benign effects of carbon dioxide-driven warming, one of which is that plants can make more tissue and at the same time use water more efficiently, and therefore respond more effectively to drought conditions. They also looked for the outcomes in places where yields could be most vulnerable: for example, the North American corn belt.

Emissions cuts essential

What they found was that – if carbon dioxide fertilisation effects are not taken into account – then maize, wheat and soya yields are all likely to fall, in all five top-producing countries for each of these crops.

When they factored in the benefits of more CO2 in the atmosphere, the picture changed. There would be positive impacts on soya and wheat, but not on maize.

There is another proviso: so far, the benefits of extra CO2 have been confirmed in experimental plant laboratories. The experience in the fields 60 years in the future may be rather different. And in any case, these positive impacts could be severely offset by extremes of heat at the moment when the crops were most vulnerable, so overall, harvests remain at risk.

The best answer, the scientists argue, is to attempt to limit climate change. “Climate mitigation policy would help reduce risks of serious negative impacts on maize worldwide and reduce risks of extreme heat stress that threaten global crop production,” says Deryng. – Climate News Network

AAAS: Climate risks irreversible change

March 18, 2014 in AAAS, Child Malnutrition, Climate risk, Coastal Threats, Extreme weather, Flooding, Food security, IPCC, Weather

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

By Alex Kirby

In a highly unusual intervention in the debate over climate policy, US scientists say the evidence that the world is warming is as conclusive as that which links smoking and lung cancer.

LONDON, 18 March – The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) says there is a “small but real” chance that a warming climate will cause sudden and possibly unalterable changes to the planet.

This echoes the words used in its 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said climate change might bring “abrupt and irreversible” impacts.

A child with kwasiorkor, caused by evere protein deficiency: Child malnutrition may rise by about a fifth Image: Dr Lyle Conrad via Wikimedia Commons

A child with kwashiorkor, caused by evere protein deficiency: Child malnutrition may rise by about a fifth
Image: Dr Lyle Conrad, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, via Wikimedia Commons

In a report, What We Know, the AAAS makes an infrequent foray into the climate debate. The report’s significance lies not in what it says, which covers familiar ground, but in who is saying it: the world’s largest general scientific body, and one of its most knowledgeable.

The AAAS says: “The evidence is overwhelming: levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising. Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying.

“The science linking human activities to climate change is analogous to the science linking smoking to lung and cardiovascular diseases. Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all agree smoking causes cancer.

Few dissenters

“And this consensus among the health community has convinced most Americans that the health risks from smoking are real. A similar consensus now exists among climate scientists, a consensus that maintains climate change is happening, and human activity is the cause.”

The report’s headline messages are unambiguous. It says climate change is occurring here and now: “Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.

“This agreement is documented not just by a single study, but by a converging stream of evidence over the past two decades from surveys of scientists, content analyses of peer-reviewed studies, and public statements issued by virtually every membership organization of experts in this field.

“We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts…Disturbingly, scientists do not know how much warming is required to trigger such changes to the climate system.

Expensive to delay

“The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do…as emissions continue and warming increases, the risk increases”.

The AAAS says there is scarcely any precedent for the speed at which this is happening: “The rate of climate change now may be as fast as any extended warming period over the past 65 million years, and it is projected to accelerate in the coming decades.”

Historically rare extreme weather like once-in-a-century floods, droughts and heat waves could become almost annual occurrences, it says, and there could be large-scale collapses of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, and of part of the Gulf Stream, loss of the Amazon rain forest, die-off of coral reefs, and mass extinctions.

The authors acknowledge that what the AAAS is doing is unusual: “As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do or must believe about the rising threat of climate change.

“But we consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening…”

More child malnutrition

At the end of March the IPCC, the UN’s voice on climate science, is due to release a summary of the report of its Working Group II, on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability to climate change.

The London daily The Independent, which says it has seen a draft of the report’s final version, says it will spell out a prospect of “enormous strain, forcing mass migration, especially in Asia, and increasing the risk of violent conflict.”

The newspaper says the report predicts that climate change “will reduce median crop yields by 2% per decade for the rest of the century”, against a backdrop of rising demand set to increase by 14% per decade until 2050. “This will in turn push up malnutrition in children by about a fifth”, it adds.

Other predictions in the draft, The Independent says, include possible global aggregate economic losses of between 0.2 and 2.0%; more competition for fresh water; and by 2100 hundreds of millions of people affected by coastal flooding and displaced by land loss, mainly in Asia. – Climate News Network

Climate science ‘is beyond argument’

March 17, 2014 in Arctic, Business, Carbon, Climate deniers, Deep Ocean, Economy, Fish, Food security, Global Ocean Commission, Ice Loss, Marine ecology, Ocean acidification, Ocean Warming, Polar ice, Pollution, Science

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Not as sunny as it seems: The ocean is under attack on many fronts, with climate change foremost among them Image: kein via Wikimedia Commons

Not as sunny as it seems: The ocean is under attack on many fronts, with climate change foremost among them
Image: kein via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

The Global Ocean Commission says climate change is one of the key threats to the health of the world’s marine life, which it says faces multiple pressures in a warming world.

HONG KONG, 17 March - South Africa’s former Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, has derided those who deny the scientific argument that climate change is an urgent problem caused largely by human activity.

He told journalists here: “The science is now incontrovertible. There are a few people in the world who deny it, but they are mainly in lunatic asylums.”

Mr Manuel is one of three co-chairs of the Global Ocean Commission, a panel of global leaders who have just ended a meeting here to finalise the proposals they will present to the United Nations in June.

The meeting agreed that another key threat to the world’s oceans is overfishing and the subsidies which help to make it possible. It says this, and the other factors causing ocean degradation, threaten the food security of as many as 500 million people.

It is deeply worried about pollution. With plastic remains now so pervasive that they are found even in deep seafloor sediments, Mr Manuel said, it sometimes seemed that “you might as well not bother to buy seafood at all – just buy the plastic bag it comes in and eat that.”

Shells corroded

The Commission says climate change threatens the oceans in three main ways: by raising the temperature of the water; by reducing its oxygen content; and by increasing its acidity. Antarctic pteropods, small sea snails also known as sea butterflies, are already being found with severely corroded shells because of acidification, and larger creatures, including bigger shellfish and corals, are likely to be seriously affected.

Another of the co-chairs, José María Figueres, the former president of Costa Rica, told the Climate News Network the Commission was concerned at the prospect of exploitation of the high seas in the Arctic as the region’s sea ice continues to melt.

He said: “Beyond Arctic countries’ EEZs (exclusive economic zones stretching 200 nautical miles from the coast), the melting will leave us with a doughnut-shaped hole in the Arctic high seas, which are not under international control.

“Some nations are now looking to explore there for fish, minerals, valuable biodiversity and other resources. I believe we should not go down that route.

We should listen to the science and follow the precautionary principle, keeping this pristine area off-limits for exploitation until we understand the consequences.

Coalition builders

“We’re already pushing the high seas to the limit. We don’t need to push them over the edge by a lack of proper precaution in the Arctic.”

He said: “The jury is still out on whether we have 20 or 30 years ahead as a window of opportunity to act. But why wait? Listen to the science, which is overwhelming, and to the economics, which are sound.”

Describing the Commission as “not just a bunch of treehuggers, but a group that’s grounded itself in good sound economics”, Mr Figueres said the recommendations it planned to present to the UN on 24 June would represent about 20% of its work. The other 80% would involve building coalitions around each recommendation: there are expected to be no more than 10 in total.

The Commission’s third co-chair is the UK’s former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. He told the Network: “Answers that sit on a shelf are a waste of time, and people who are positively inclined to protect the oceans are held back by institutional inertia.

“But the interplay between climate change and ocean damage is rising, and it very much needs to. The science of most of the last half-century shows us how we’ve been playing tricks with nature.” – Climate News Network

Call for more efficient livestock management

March 11, 2014 in Agriculture, Emissions reductions, Food security, Greenhouse Gases, Livestock, Methane

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Feed me grass, not wheat Image: Man vyi via Wikepedia Commons

Feed me grass, not wheat
Image: Man vyi via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

Many methods of raising livestock are chronically inefficient argue a group of scientists. Changing the way animals are fed would mean more food being available for human consumption: methane emissions would also be reduced.

LONDON, 11 March – British and international scientists have proposed eight strategies to make cattle and sheep-farming more sustainable, to make both the animals and people who depend on them healthier, and to reduce the strain on the planet.

Mark Eisler, a veterinary scientist at the University of Bristol and colleagues argue in the journal Nature  that cattle, sheep and some other livestock eat the grass and crop residues that people cannot digest.

In so doing farm animals can offer both efficient use of resources and high quality protein for those who might need it most.

Dependence on livestock

Almost a billion of the world’s poorest people depend on livestock for their livelihood, but the scientists are not arguing that the world should eat more meat: rather that there should be more careful use of livestock as a resource.

They make their argument at a time when obesity has emerged as a global problem, and at a time when reports once again link a diet high in meat and animal products with cancer and diabetes.

“Annual meat consumption in India is just 3.2 kilograms per head, compared with 125kg per person in the United States in 2007, much of it from heavily processed foods, such as burgers, sausages and ready meals,” they write. “The focus should be on eating less, better quality meat.”

For the world’s poorest, however, there are clear nutritional advantages to high quality animal foods rich in protein. The challenge is to manage livestock in the most effective way.

Changing diet

They argue that farm animals now consume a third or more of the world’s cereal grain, which would be better used to feed people directly. Other scientists have lately argued that a higher quality diet for animals would lead to lower emissions of methane.

Instead, the Bristol-led team wants to see ruminants or cud-chewing animals fed food that humans cannot eat. Rather than try to improve yield in the developing world by exporting cattle that can deliver 30 litres of milk a day – yields that don’t survive a change in climate and environment – farmers and scientists should try to improve local livestock already adapted to local conditions.

They also argue that animal health is important. Sick animals can make people sick too. A total of 13 diseases transferred between animals and humans are linked to 2.2 million deaths a year and 2.4 billion cases of illness.

Professor Eisler and his fellow authors also want to see animal productivity boosted by the right food supplements to encourage better growth, more efficient digestion and lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Less red meat

They believe in a balanced diet with an average of no more than 300 grams of red meat per person per week; they want to see better management of animals and grazing land to conserve biodiversity and increase carbon capture by plants and soil, and they want to see a global network of research farms.

“The quest for intensification in livestock farming has thundered ahead with little regard for sustainability and overall efficiency, the net amount of food produced in relation to inputs such as land and water,” said Prof Eisler.

“With animal protein set to remain part of the food supply, we must pursue sustainable intensifications and figure out how to keep livestock in ways that work best for individuals, communities and the planet.” – Climate News Network

 

Farming on sand

March 10, 2014 in Black Carbon, Deforestation, Development Issues, Flooding, Food security, Glaciers, Himalayas, Land Use, Monsoon, Rainfall, Soil, Water

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

It was once a rice paddy but now it's only sand Image: Kieran Cooke

It was once a rice paddy but now it’s only sand
Image: Kieran Cooke

By Kieran Cooke

The Brahmaputra river is one of the world’s mightiest rivers, with millions dependent on its waters. The river also brings misery, with flooding and erosion major problems: climate change is likely to bring more hardship. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in Assam in northeast India, meeting villagers living on the Brahmaputra’s banks.

Laupani village, Assam, 10 March – The holes are dug laboriously in the dusty, sandy soil. Krishna Maya Sharma stops her work to wipe the sweat from her lined face.

“In the old days we would plant paddy here and have enough to sell at market” says Krishna, a 42 year old mother of six children.

“Now the soil is so bad, sweet potato is the only thing that will grow. The rest of our land is ruined.”

Laupani is a village in the north of the tea state of Assam, spread along the banks of the Brahmaputra river. In the distance, the pink evening light shines on the snow capped ridges of the eastern Himalayas.

The Brahmaputra, its waters rising more than 5,000 metres up on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing for about 3,000 kilometres through China, India and Bangladesh before joining up with the Ganges and out into the Bay of Bengal, is one of the world’s major rivers, 10 kilometres wide in places.

Widespread flooding

According to a recent report by India’s Third Pole organisation, the Brahmaputra carries a volume of water exceeded only by the Amazon and Congo rivers – and greater than the combined flow of Europe’s 20 largest rivers.

The river is a lifeline to millions, delivering vital nutrients to the soils of the plains but its fast flowing waters also cause widespread misery to people like Krishna.

Floods are frequent. There is widespread erosion and massive amounts of sand washed out of the river’s banks are deposited on surrounding fields, making once verdant areas into what looks like an enormous beach. The floods also bring invasive plant species that colonise agricultural lands.

More than 40% of Assam’s geographical area is designated as being flood prone: more than 1.5 million people were displaced by floods in 2012, lives were lost and whole villages were washed away.

Sand accumulations

“The waters were so deep and stayed so long that the grass was destroyed and our cattle died because they had no fodder” says Krishna.

“The sand means our land is no good anymore – my husband has given up being a farmer and is working in construction. Many young men go away to try and find jobs, there is nothing for them here.”

Locals – the majority of whom are poor, subsistence farmers – say river flows are becoming more unpredictable, with erosion and what’s called sandcasting becoming worse.

In part the flooding caused by the Brahmaputra’s waters is a natural phenomenon which has been going on for centuries. As the river’s waters cascade down from the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas, millions of tons of sediment is washed onto the alluvial plains of Assam and others states in India’s northeast.

Earthquake danger

There are other forces at work: the region is a highly seismic zone. In 1950 the Brahmaputra river basin suffered one of the most violent earthquakes ever recorded. The geology of the area was changed and the river level was raised dramatically, by between eight and 10 metres in places.

Climate change is another factor, with a combination of rising temperatures and accumulations of what’s known as black carbon or soot in the high Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau causing glaciers which feed into upper reaches of the Brahmaputra to melt.

Increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns, with periods of intense downpours, are also contributing to more volatile river flows.

Professor Jogendra Nath Sarma is a locally based geologist who has been studying the Brahmaputra for years.

“Over time different rivers in the Brahmaputra basin have merged, braiding over a very wide area. Thousands of square kilometres of land has been eaten away. Rampant deforestation is another big contributor to land erosion. “

In the past, says Professor Sarma, people would migrate to higher ground during the flood season but now, due to population growth and large scale immigration, there is nowhere for them to go.

Doubtful future

The future does not look good. According to models produced by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati, Assam’s capital, climate change will result in the Brahmaputra valley region experiencing more flood events.

The Institute says that not only will river peak flows increase: so will the incidence of pre-monsoon flooding, endangering key phases of the agricultural cycle.

Talk of climate change is not of great interest to Krishna, digging holes for her sweet potato plants. She has more immediate things to worry about.

“Life is getting harder. Every time the floods come, I wonder what will happen. But where else can we go?” – Climate News Network


 

 

 

 

Equatorial fish feel the heat

February 12, 2014 in Adaptation, Fish, Food security, Indonesia, Marine ecology, Ocean Warming, Warming, Wildlife

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Weaving through the coral: Small fish like these are important sources of food for larger reef species Image: D. Dixson

Weaving through the coral: Small fish like these are important sources of food for larger reef species
Image: D. Dixson

By Alex Kirby

Many species of fish living near the Equator are sensitive to variations in heat and will not thrive in the warmer oceans of the future, scientists in Australia have found.

LONDON, 12 February – Lying in a hot bath may be a pleasant experience, because you can always get out when you’ve had enough. For some of the fish that swim in equatorial seas, though, that is not an option: climate change threatens to make the water not just uncomfortable, but unendurable.

An international team of researchers based in Australia reports in Global Change Biology that the rapid pace of climate change is threatening the future of some of the fish which live near the Equator.

Over a 14-day period the team tested four species of damsel fish and two of cardinal fish. They say: “Our results indicate that low-latitude reef fish populations are living close to their thermal optima and may be more sensitive to ocean warming than higher-latitude populations.”

“Our studies found that one species of fish could not even survive in water just 3°C warmer than it lives in now”, says the lead author of the study, Dr Jodie Rummer from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University in Queensland.

Dr Rummer and her colleagues studied six common species living on coral reefs near the Equator. She says many species in this region experience only a very narrow range of temperatures throughout their lives, and so are probably adapted to perform best at those temperatures.

The world’s oceans are projected to warm by 2-3°C by the end of this century. “Such an increase in warming leads to a loss of performance”, Dr Rummer said. “Already, we found four species of fish are living at or above the temperatures at which they function best.”

Breeding compromised

The team measured the rates at which fish use oxygen across different temperatures – at rest and during maximal performance. The results showed that in warmer water fish lose their ability to perform properly. In the wild this would limit activities crucial to survival, such as evading predators, finding food, and finding the energy to breed.

With many of the Earth’s equatorial wild populations now living close to their thermal limits, there will be serious consequences if some – like the fish the researchers studied – cannot adapt to the speed at which the oceans are warming.

The response of many species to increasing warmth is to migrate to somewhere that suits them better, which could help to drain the equatorial oceans of fish which play a key role there. Dr Rummer suggests there will be declines in fish populations as species move away from the Equator to find refuge in areas with more agreeable temperatures.

“This will have a substantial impact on the human societies that depend on these fish,” she says. Many developing countries are in the equatorial zone, and fish are central to the livelihoods and survival of millions of people, including many in Indonesia and south-east Asia.

With rapid climate change, the scientists say, understanding the link between an organism and its environment is crucial to developing management strategies to conserve biodiversity and to allow the sustainable use of marine fisheries. This is especially urgent for ensuring food security for people. – Climate News Network

Drought intensifies in western US

February 3, 2014 in Agriculture, Drought, Extreme weather, Food security, Forests, USA, Vegetation changes

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Low water in California's San Gabriel dam after two years of drought Image: Shannon1 via Wikimedia Commons

Low water in California’s San Gabriel dam after two years of drought
Image: Shannon1 via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

In recent days California has announced its most severe water restrictions ever as drought continues to hit the state. Scientists say the region’s rainfall has been declining over the years and the consequences are serious.

LONDON, 3 February – January is the month when Californians put on their rain jackets – but not this year.

It’s the month which is usually wettest in the western US, when rivers and reservoirs are replenished: this year there was virtually no rain through January in much of the region, following on from an exceptionally dry period through much of 2013.

A vast area of land in the western region of the American land mass, stretching from the province of Alberta in Canada across to parts of Texas in the US and on down into Mexico, is suffering as reservoirs and rivers dry up. A state of emergency has been declared in several areas, including California.

Dr Wallace Covington is director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University. “What we’re seeing across this region is an intensification of long-established aspects of climate change”, Covington told Climate News Network.

“I hate to sound pessimistic but all around in these large watersheds we’re seeing a degradation of water structure and function. There’s increased erosion leading to desertification, and with the dry conditions and generally stronger winds the forest fire season is being extended.”

Covington is an internationally recognised expert on forest restoration who has been studying tree growth in Arizona for many years, particularly among its ponderosa pines – the Pinus ponderosa.

30-year drought

“Longer drought periods and increasing temperatures are resulting in attacks by bark beetles – which can eventually kill off trees – becoming increasingly severe.

‘The trees can’t produce adequate moisture: if enough photosynthesis is going on they can fight off the beetles and their larvae. But in northern Arizona we’ve been under drought conditions for about 30 years and it’s getting worse. We’ve been losing pines that are 300 or 400 years old at an alarming rate.”

At the end of last month California’s State Water Project – the largest state-built water and power development and distribution system in the US – said it would stop supplying water to local agencies in many areas in order, said officials, to use what water remained “as wisely as possible”.

The agencies – which supply water to about 25 million people and to about 750,000 acres of farmland – would in future have to look elsewhere for water, including from local reservoirs or from groundwater sources.

Mr Jerry Brown, California’s governor, says the water shortages are “a stark reminder that California’s drought is real” and has asked people to reduce their water consumption by at least 20%.

Food price fears

The western region of the US is one of the world’s main agricultural production regions and if the drought is prolonged global food prices could rise. In some areas ranchers have been forced to sell off their herds and in others farmers are abandoning their crops.

In southern California, an area which produces a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts and other crops, farmers are complaining that water supplies are being diverted to towns and cities from their lands.

“It’s not as if there hasn’t been enough warning about what’s happening”, says Covington.

“These changes have been going on over decades but the trouble is our political and management systems respond only in four to five year cycles, not to 40 or 50 year trends.

“This is above national – it’s global. Yet our institutions are national at best. And we don’t have a lot of time to act.” – Climate News Network

Amazon forest loss threatens five states

December 29, 2013 in Amazonia, Deforestation, Development Issues, Drought, Food security, Forests, Pollution, Rainfall, South America, Water

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated again in the last year, with implications far further afield Image: Ramonbicudo via Wikimedia Commons

Deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated again in the last year, with implications far further afield
Image: Ramonbicudo via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

Water, food supplies and energy production are all in jeopardy as the Amazon forest is felled for profit, campaigners say – and the damage is spreading beyond Amazonia itself.

LONDON, 29 December – The continued destruction of the Amazon to exploit its resources for mining, agriculture and hydro-power is threatening the future of the South American continent, according to a report by campaigning groups using the latest scientific data.

Five countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – share the Amazon, and for all of them the forest area occupies more than 40% of their territory. All face threats to their water supply, energy production, food and health.

In addition, the report says, because of the over-exploitation of the region rainfall will fall by 20% over a heavily-populated area far to the south of Amazonia known as the La Plata basin, covering parts of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Last month it was reported that deforestation in Amazonia had increased by almost a third in the past year, with an area equal to 50 football pitches destroyed globally every minute since 2000.

The report, the Amazonia Security Agenda, authored by the Global Canopy Programme  and CIAT, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, says the prosperity of the region is based on the abundance of water.

There always seemed to be an endless supply of water, but the combination of industrial and agricultural pollution and droughts is creating a once unthinkable vulnerability for the five countries of Amazonia.

Profits syphoned off

The huge wealth being generated from the forests comes with large-scale environmental and social costs. Local people do not benefit, and the profits from minerals, mining and agriculture are syphoned out of the region.

The large-scale economic development of the region causes deforestation. That in turn is threatening not only the wellbeing of the local people but the economic stability of the industries themselves.

Climate change is adding to both the uncertainty and the instability. Increasing temperatures, as much as 3.5°C in the near future, changing rainfall patterns and more intense and frequent extreme weather events will have further impacts on the health and well-being of the population. Energy supply from hydro-electric dams will decline.

Big bill coming

Among those welcoming the report is Manuel Pulgar, Peru’s environment minister.  He will play a leading part when the country’s capital, Lima, hosts the 20th summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2014. http://unfccc.int/2860.php

He said: “Climate change is a global problem, but one that will multiply local and regional problems in unforeseeable ways. In Latin America, we have taken Amazonia and its seemingly limitless water and forests as a given. But recent unprecedented droughts have shown us just what happens when that water security falters…”

The report says the impacts of environmental degradation that have so far been felt in other parts of the world are now likely to be felt in Amazonia, threatening economic development and security.

Governments in the region, it says, need to recognize that development cannot continue without recognising the damage caused to the water supply and the climate both globally and locally.  Policy makers need scientists to monitor changes to conditions and the economic risks they pose.

Trillions of tons of water

These findings must be shared between academic institutions and governments so that they can decide how to remedy the problem. Annual reviews of dangerous hotspots are also needed, and cross-border groups of experts who could help both national and regional development plans to be worked out.

Carlos Klink, Brazil’s national secretary for climate change and environmental quality, endorsed these findings. “We are understanding more and more how interdependent water, food, energy and health security are across our continent.

“There is also interdependence between the countries that share the Amazon, which recycles trillions of tons of water that all our people and economies rely on.

“The challenge that we are just beginning to recognise and act upon is one of transitioning to a more sustainable economy – one that values the role of a healthy Amazonia in underpinning long-term security and prosperity.” – Climate News Network

Climate change adds to East Africa’s food plight

December 19, 2013 in Africa, Agriculture, Drought, Food security, Insurance, Population, Rainfall

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Drought in Ethiopia, 2011: Livestock as well as people are at risk Image: US Army Africa via Wikimedia Commons

Drought in Ethiopia, 2011: Livestock as well as people are at risk
Image: US Army Africa via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Agriculture dominates the economies of countries in East Africa: if plans aren’t made to adapt to climate change the region’s rapidly expanding population faces a grim future, says a new report.

LONDON, 19 December – The report, East African Agriculture and Climate Change, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), looks at threats to food supplies in 11 countries in East and Central Africa – Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

Agriculture accounts for more than 40% of gross domestic product across the region. The report says soil deficiencies in many parts mean agricultural productivity is falling.

Ecosystems are depleted, infrastructure is poor and there’s a lack of reliable information and policy coordination. Meanwhile weather systems are becoming more erratic and violent.

“Climate change will have far-reaching consequences for the poor and marginalized groups, among which the majority depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and have a lower capacity to adapt…this situation is likely to become more desperate and to threaten the very survival of the most vulnerable farmers as global warming continues”, says the study.

Bleak prospect

Crop production across the region depends overwhelmingly on rainfall. Many areas are likely to see less rainfall in future and an increased incidence of droughts. In 2011 there were prolonged droughts in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.

Rising temperatures in many areas are likely to result in reduced crop yields: harvests of wheat, soybean, sorghum and irrigated rice could decline by between 5% and 20%, with irrigated rice production being the hardest hit. However, output of rain-fed maize and rain-fed rice might increase slightly, due to increased rainfall in some areas.

Endemic poverty affects more than 50% of the region’s 360 million people. Overall – unless adaptation measures, including the introduction of new crop varieties, better land management and the advancing of planting dates to cope better with changes in climate are adopted – the outlook for the region is bleak, warns the report.

“Recent trends and the current performance of agriculture expose a region that is progressively less able to meet the needs of its burgeoning population.”

Insurance unaffordable

The countries of East Africa have among the highest population increases in the world: between 1988 and 2008 the region’s population – excluding that of the DRC – increased by “a staggering” 74%. By 2050, that population could double.

While there’s growing urbanisation across the region and more industrial development, agriculture will continue to dominate the countries’ economies.

The report says there’s a role for insurance schemes which would enable farmers to cope better with changes in climate. But persuading those working on the land – mainly smallholders – to invest in such schemes is hard, with no spare cash available to spend on even small premiums.

The study is a collaboration between IFPRI, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and regional scientists. Previous studies have looked at the impact of climate change on agriculture in West Africa and southern Africa. – Climate News Network

Warsaw – Day 9: One billion Africans in harm’s way

November 19, 2013 in Adaptation, Africa, Climate finance, Development Issues, Food security

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Digging an irrigation canal in Tanzania: Better water for farmers is one adaptation priority Image: UN Photo/B Wolff

Digging an irrigation canal in Tanzania: Better water for farmers is one adaptation priority
Image: UN Photo/B Wolff

By Paul Brown in Warsaw

Paul Brown of the Climate News Network is in the Polish capital for the UN climate talks – the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, now in its final, ministerial phase. Today he reports on an appeal by African ministers for funds – because they cannot cope alone with climate change.

Africa is already struggling to cope with the effects of climate change and the adaptation costs are so huge that hundreds of millions of people will be put at risk unless richer nations provide $200 billion of aid a year, the United Nations Environment Programme says.

A UNEP report published here, Africa’s Adaptation Gap, paints a grim picture of sea level rise, loss of agricultural production, spreading disease, floods and droughts beyond the power of Africa to deal with.

Launching the report, Mr Tosi Mpanu, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, leader for the African Group of Negotiators here, said the plight of Africa was not of its making. It was the developed countries that had caused the problem and Africa was asking for the funds to help. But so far they had not been forthcoming.

“This report shows that one billion Africans are in harm’s way. We witness instability in rainfall, diseases spreading, sea level rise and floods”, he said.

“One of the effects of climate change is to send Africans further and further to seek water. This brings them into conflict with other Africans. We are faced with wars on African soil that are not created in Africa.

No sign of money

“We came to this conference in Poland expecting help with the adverse effects of climate change, but so far there are no signs of the finance that Africa needs.

“We are hoping that the arrival [in Warsaw] of ministers will signal a strong political commitment to scale up the finance to help us adapt. There are many adaptation projects in the pipeline but the money to do them is running out. We need a top-up for these funds,  but so far there is no sign of it.”

The report says that even if world leaders were able to keep temperature rise below the danger level of 2°C beyond pre-industrial levels, the adaptation costs for the continent would still be $150 bn a year. If, as now expected by the scientific community, the temperature rise reaches 3.5°C by 2070, adaptation costs will have risen to $350 bn annually.

It says that already by 2020 adaptation will be costing $7 to $15 bn, and the cost will rise steeply since higher levels of warming will lead to higher impacts. Among the adaptation measures Africa urgently needs are early warning systems for floods, droughts and fires to help people prepare for extreme events.

Adapt or perish

Because of changing climate, the report says, irrigation, improvement in water storage capacity, reforestation to protect surface water systems, sustainable use of groundwater systems and desalination of seawater are among the projects needed.

On the coast, where sea level rise is expected to be as much as a metre, seawalls, dykes and breakwaters are needed to protect coastal communities and ports. Food storage in cities and urban agriculture are needed to enhance food security.

Professor Ephraim Kamuntu, Uganda’s Minister of Water and Environment, said: “This report provides concrete evidence that climate change in Africa is a reality. We have to adapt or perish, but our capacity to respond is limited.

“The report shows the cost of waiting to do something is far greater than doing something now. How many super-typhoons do we need before we have to take action? This is a matter of survival. What are we waiting for?”

Asked whether the African delegates at the climate conference were disappointed at the continuing lack of the funds promised so far, Mrs Haddijatou Jallow, executive chairperson of the Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Agency, said: “We have not given up hope – what choice does humanity have? Our survival as the human race depends on it. We must find a solution, we must fund what it takes to solve the problem.” – Climate News Network