Category Archives: Indonesia

Win-win way to aid food security and climate

Water pressure: rice fields in China use huge amounts of water Image: Chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons
Water pressure: rice fields in China use huge amounts of irrigation water
Image: Chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

Scientists in the US believe they have identified a way to feed billions more people, while at the same reducing the strains and stresses on the environment.

LONDON, 23 July, 2014 − Imagine being able to contain greenhouse gas emissions, make fertilizer use more efficient, keep water waste to a minimum, and put food on the table for the 10 billion people crowded into the planet’s cities, towns and villages by the end of the century.

An impossible dream? Not according to Paul West, co-director and lead scientists of the Global Landscapes Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

He and research colleagues report in the journal Science that if government, industry, business and agriculture set about choosing the best crops for local conditions and then used resources in the most efficient way, the world could be fed on existing land with the least damage to the global environment.

Fresh thinking

This is thinking big: the global view of immediate and local problems. The researchers selected three key areas with the greatest potential for reducing environmental damage while boosting food supply. They thought about water use, food waste, greenhouse gas emissions and polluting run-off from farmland and where fresh thinking could make the most difference in the most efficient way.

They focused on cotton and the 16 food crops that produce 86% of the world’s calories from 58% of the global cropland area. They identified a series of what they called “global leverage points”, and those countries where application of such thinking could make the biggest difference.

The first challenge is to produce more food on existing land. They see an “agricultural yield gap” − that is, a difference between what soil actually produces and what it could produce− in many parts of the world.

And they point out that, in those places where the gaps are widest, simply to close even half those gaps would produce more than 350 million tonnes of additional grain and supply the energy needs of 850 million people − most of them in Africa, plus some in Asia and eastern Europe.

Half of these gains could be made in just 5% of the total harvested area of these crops. Co-incidentally, 850 million is very roughly the number of people the UN currently estimates to be severely malnourished.

The researchers based all their calculations on existing conditions, while recognising that climate change could force people to think again. But the study identified ways to grow food most efficiently, while at the same limiting the impact on climate.

Forests cleared

Agriculture is responsible for somewhere between 30% and 35% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but much of this is because tropical forests are being cleared for farmland. Methane from livestock and from rice fields supplies much of the rest.

Brazil and Indonesia, with the planet’s largest reserves of forest, are places where one set of actions could make a big difference. China and India, which produce more than half the world’s rice, are others.

China, India and the US between them emit more than half of all oxides of nitrogen from the world’s cropland, and wheat, maize and rice account for 68% of these emissions.

Rice and wheat are the crops that create most demand for irrigation, which in turn accounts for 90% of global water consumption. More than 70% of irrigation happens in India, China, Pakistan and the US, and just by concentrating of more efficient use, farmers could deliver the same yield and reduce water demand by 15%.

Crops now grown as animal food could supply the energy needs of 4 billion people, and most of this “diet gap” is in the US, China and Western Europe.

Wasted food

In addition, between 30% and 50% of all food is wasted, and the waste of animal food is the worst. To discard a kilogram of boneless beef is the same as throwing away 24 kilos of wheat. Waste reduction in the US, China and India alone could provide food for an additional 400 million people.

The paper is not a plan of action, but rather an identification of where the firmest concerted action could make the biggest differences.

“By pointing out specifically what we can do and where, it gives funders and policy makers the information they need to target their activities for the greatest good,” Dr West says.

“By focusing on areas, crops and practices with the most to be gained, companies, governments, NGOs and others can ensure that their efforts are being targeted in a way that best accomplishes the common and critically important goal of feeding the world while protecting the environment.” – Climate News Network

Borneo’s mystery trees guzzle carbon

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Tree of life: a mighty dipterocarp tree soars up into the Borneo rainforest canopy Image: T R Shankar Raman via Wikimedia Commons

Tree of life: a mighty dipterocarp tree soars up into the Borneo rainforest canopy
Image: T R Shankar Raman via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

Scientists discover that the unique and mysterious trees of  Borneo’s tropical rainforest − being felled at an alarming rate − soak up even more carbon than those in Amazonia and have a vital role to play in slowing down global warming

LONDON,  11 May −  If there was just one place in the world where it would make sense to protect trees, maintain the rainforest and damp down global warming, scientists have confirmed that it would be the island of Borneo.

A new research report published in the Journal of Ecology says that while the Amazon rainforest might be the biggest and most important area of green canopy on the planet,  Borneo soaks up, tree for tree, more carbon from the atmosphere.

Lindsay Banin, an ecologist at the UK-based Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEU), and colleagues from Malaysia, Brunei, the US, Brazil, Taiwan, Peru and Ecuador investigated what is called above-ground wood production  – the most visible, tangible indicator of carbon uptake – to see how forests in Amazonia and Indonesia measured up as consumers of atmospheric carbon.

The tropical rainforests cover only a tenth of the planet’s land surface, but they account for about a third of the terrestrial primary production – that is, about a third of the conversion of sunlight into greenery happens in the tropical forests – and they soak up about half of all terrestrial carbon.

Vigorous consumers

However, it turns out that some tropical forests are more vigorous consumers than others. The Amazon and the Borneo forests have similarities – for example, neither has an annual dry season, and each has a range of soil types. So if there is a difference, it must be in the trees.

The researchers examined data from 17 plots in Amazonia and 11 in Borneo, with a total of 12,000 trees − all of which have been monitored for more than  two decades.

They found that the woody growth in north Borneo was almost half as much again (49%) as in the north-west Amazon. South-east Asian trees of a given diameter were taller than Amazon trees, which meant they amassed a greater volume of wood. On average, the south-east Asian plots grew 3.2 tons of wood per hectare more than the South American plots.

The research matters because climate scientists still have an uncertain picture of the carbon cycle. Simulations of future temperatures depend on what happens to carbon dioxide emissions, and how vigorously the natural world responds to all that extra potential fertility.

There has been recent concern that higher temperatures and changes in rainfall pattern could drastically alter the rainforests in the Congo and in the Amazon rainforests.

But there is also evidence that mature forests, with a high population of elderly giant trees, can still soak up surprising quantities of carbon dioxide.

Alarming rate of loss

On the debit side, Borneo has been losing its primal forest cover at an alarming rate. More than half of the lowland forests of Kalimantan – the equivalent of an area the size of Belgium − were felled for timber between 1985 and 2001.

If trees in Borneo grow faster than anywhere else in the tropics, then any loss of those trees is likely to accelerate global warming.

The next step in the research is to try to figure out what Borneo has that Amazonia hasn’t.

The difference can be linked to local evolutionary history and the types of trees that flourish in each region.

“In Borneo, dipterocarps – a family of large trees with winged seeds – produce wood more quickly than their neighbours,” said Dr Banin, lead author of the CEU report. “This means that they have evolved something special and unique – and what this is exactly remains a mystery.

“Dipterocarps are known to make special relationships with fungi in the soil, so they may be able to tap into scarce nutrient resources. Or they may be trading off growth of other plant parts.” – Climate News Network

Forest peoples urge land rights action

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Palm oil concession in Sumatra: Indigenous  peoples want more action to save the forests Image: Hayden via Wikimedia Commons

Palm oil concession in Sumatra: Indigenous peoples want more action to save the forests
Image: Hayden via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

There’s plenty of talk at the United Nations and in the corridors of international conferences on making land rights a realiy for forest people. But campaigners say there’s not much action to match.

LONDON, 23 February – Forest people’s groups say many governments are failing to protect their right to their ancestral lands, and argue that this neglect is damaging efforts to slow climate change.

Their argument is supported by campaigners. Research by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) says the pace of provision of new legal protection for indigenous communities has fallen, despite an increase in professions of support by industry, governments and international initiatives like REDD+ and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

RRI says fewer new laws have been passed to protect indigenous land rights since 2008 than in the six preceding years, and the legislation that has been enacted is weaker.

Previous RRI research into 12 emerging market countries found that at least one out of every three hectares licensed for natural resource development overlaps with indigenous community land. When private companies acquire land and resources without first checking who lives there, it says, they expose themselves and their investors to substantial risk, as some level of conflict or business disruption often results.

The ownership of almost half the developing world’s rural, forest and dryland areas is contested, according to RRI, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of over two billion people. They often have no formal title to the lands on which they live and depend, and can seldom legally defend their rights.

Better stewards

An RRI report, Lots of Words, Little Action: Will the private sector tip the scales for community land rights?, examines how land rights and attempts to mitigate climate change through REDD are linked.

One of its findings is that REDD+ initiatives are not yet translating into globally significant increases in the area under the ownership and control of indigenous peoples and local communities. Meanwhile, it says, the global forest area covered by industrial concessions is large and growing.

Global climate change efforts have a key role to play in securing the land rights of indigenous people and rural communities, it says. And when they are secured, that means less deforestation and more climate change mitigation.

Indigenous communities, it is argued, are unlikely to over-exploit forest resources. Their understanding of the forests as the place on which they depend encourages them to resist deforestation and the piecemeal exploitation and destruction of their fauna and flora.

Indonesia is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, chiefly because of deforestation for palm oil and other natural resource extraction. One group, the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), says those it represents claim 40 million hectares of the country’s rainforests. If they are given stronger rights over their lands, AMAN says, they will help the country to fight deforestation and reduce climate change.

Wide regional variations

The head of AMAN, Abdon Nababan, is urging President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyon to formally implement a May 2013 Constitutional Court decision which declared unconstitutional a line in the country’s 1999 Forestry Law stating that customary forests are state forest. The Indonesian Government controls 96% of the country’s forests.

The RRI report also highlights a number of regional differences:

  • In Latin America, communities own or control more than 39% of forests, a direct contrast with sub-Saharan Africa where less than 6% of forests are controlled by communities.
  • Of the recorded progress seen in Africa since 2002, 89% comes from the implementation of Tanzania’s Village Land Act (1999) and Forest Act (2002).
  • Only two African countries in the study – Liberia and Mozambique – have statutory frameworks that recognize community ownership of land.
  • Governments of the countries of the Congo Basin, which contains the world’s second largest rainforest, claim legal control of more than 99% of forest land.
  • By 2013, all 12 Asian countries surveyed had implemented some form of community tenure regime, but these laws affect less than 4% of forestland in seven of the nations.

One of  RRI’s campaigns seeks to double by 2018 the amount of land recognized worldwide as owned or controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities. Another effort is focused on REDD+, which RRI describes as “the world’s leading initiative to support forest conservation”.

REDD+ promises to respect the rights of indigenous people and local communities to protect forests and to sell the carbon they contain as offsets to polluters seeking to meet emissions targets.

The United Nations is leading the negotiations for new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) intended to guide economic development and poverty reduction for the next 15 years. But RRI is concerned that no specific target for land rights has yet been set for the SDGs. - Climate News Network

Equatorial fish feel the heat

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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

Forest people ‘can gather carbon data’

 

The people on the spot - as here in China - can often do as good a job of carbon measuring as scientists from outside Image: Michael Køie Poulsen, Nordeco

The people on the spot – as here in China – can do as good a job of carbon measuring as scientists from outside
Image: Michael Køie Poulsen, Nordeco

By Alex Kirby

Researchers say the people who live in some of the world’s most fragile forests can establish how much carbon they contain as accurately as scientists equipped with hi-tech measuring instruments.

LONDON, 29 October – You don’t have to be a sophisticated scientist equipped with all the latest gizmos in order to work out just how effective a particular forest is as a carbon sink, a critical way of soaking up greenhouse gases

The job, researchers believe, can be done just as accurately by the people who live in the forests, most of whom probably have neither modern instruments nor scientific training.

And the forests themselves will probably gain as well, because the local people will have more reason to feel they are buying into the trees’ conservation and so will have an incentive to protect them and work with conservationists from outside the forests.

The study, Community Monitoring for REDD+: International Promises and Field Realities, was published in a special issue of the journal Ecology and Society and was carried out by researchers at the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and colleagues from Europe and south-east Asia.

It is on the agenda at the Oslo Redd Exchange, which aims to improve the workings of the UN’s Redd+ programme (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).

Promise – and reality

The team studied some of south-east Asia’s most complex, carbon-rich forests: lowland forest in Indonesia, mountain rainforest in China and monsoon forest in Laos and Vietnam.

They report that they found that local communities – using simple tools like ropes and sticks – could produce forest carbon data on a par with the results obtained by professional foresters using high-tech devices.

The UN says its Redd+ projects must ensure local communities’ “full and effective participation.” But the study found that nearly half of official Redd+ projects, which depend on the accurate measurement of carbon stored in the forests, do not engage communities in this data gathering.

Finn Danielsen, the study’s lead author and senior ecologist at the Nordic Foundation for Environment and Development in Copenhagen, Denmark, says: “Saving the world’s forests requires us to close the massive gulf between international promises and realities on the ground.

“Our research shows that if more Redd+ projects were to include community monitoring, we would see a more just global effort to fight climate change that meaningfully incorporates insight from people who depend on forests for everything from their incomes to their food – and are eager to protect these precious natural resources as a result.”

Similarities ‘striking’

To establish whether forest dwellers could provide accurate monitoring of above-ground forest carbon stocks, the researchers trained community members in simple measuring techniques and sent them to 289 forest plots to measure the trees’ number, girth and biomass per hectare. They then compared the community measurements with those gathered by professional foresters using handheld computers and other elaborate aids.

The community monitoring was done with some basic equipment, apart from GPS devices: measuring tapes, ropes marked at intervals, paint and pencils.

The researchers say: “The results showed strikingly similar results between community members and professional foresters across countries and forest types.

“This corroborates a small but growing body of research suggesting that, when armed with the simplest of techniques and equipment, community members with limited education can accurately monitor forest biomass – previously thought to be the domain of highly-trained professionals.” They say the community data also met the standards of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Subekti Rahayu, an analyst at ICRAF who conducted fieldwork for the study, says: “We’re convinced that engaging communities is ultimately the most cost-effective approach. The small extra cost would be largely offset by its benefits to both local people – who would earn wages and gain training from these activities – and larger global efforts to address climate change.” – Climate News Network