Climate Change’s Costs are Still Escalating

Author: Paul Brown

LONDON, 19 July, 2015 − The massive economic and health losses that climate change is already causing across the world are detailed in six scientific papers published today.

Perhaps most striking is the warning about large productivity losses already being experienced due to heat stress, which can already be calculated for 43 countries. The paper estimates that in South-East Asia alone “as much as 15% to 20% of annual work hours may already be lost in heat-exposed jobs”.

And that figure may double by 2030 as the planet continues warming − with poor manual labourers who work outdoors being the worst affected.

The release of the papers coincides with the start of a conference on disaster risk reduction, held in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and jointly sponsored by the International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH) and the UN Development Programme.

The aim is to alert delegates to the already pressing scale of the problem and the need to take measures to protect the health of people, and to outline the economic costs of not taking action.

Substantial health risks

In an introduction to the six-paper collection, UNU-IIGH research fellows Jamal Hisham Hashim and José Siri write that humanity faces “substantial health risks from the degradation of the natural life support systems which are critical for human survival. It has become increasingly apparent that actions to mitigate environmental change have powerful co-benefits for health.”

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Plants’ Ability to Slow Climate Change Depends on their Fungi

Author: Hayley Dunning

Plants take in carbon dioxide for growth, and in a greenhouse, raising the levels of carbon dioxide can boost their growth. This boost is known as the ‘CO2 fertilisation effect’.

Our paper is… a huge step forward in climate science that will help make more accurate predictions of the effects of CO2 in the future.

– César Terrer

This effect also works on a global scale, with plants currently absorbing about 30 percent of human CO2 emissions. This helps to remove some extra CO2 from the atmosphere, slowing down the rate of climate change.

However, it was not known whether this effect would continue indefinitely, and plants would continue to take up the same percentage of extra CO2 emissions with rising levels. Experiments across the world that increase CO2 levels beyond current levels have given mixed results, with some showing greatly increased plant growth and associated CO2 uptake, and others showing little to no additional growth and uptake.

Now, new research led by scientists from Imperial College London has revealed that fungi are key to understanding how plants will behave. The study is published today in Science, and includes researchers from Northern Arizona University, Indiana University and the University of Antwerp.

KEEP READING ON IMPERIAL COLLEGE LONDON

Soil4Climate and Tufts Global Development and Environment Institute Release Earth Day Climate Policy Brief – Emphasize Soil

THETFORD, Vermont — April 22, 2016 — Soil4Climate today announced that an Earth Day climate policy brief prepared jointly with the Tufts University Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE), has been released.

To summarize, the policy brief states that cutting fossil fuel emissions, on its own, will not suffice to meet the temperature goals set by the agreement reached during the Paris climate negotiations in December 2015, to be signed today by participating nations in New York. In addition to decreased emissions, active removal, or drawdown, of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, through the implementation of innovative agricultural practices, will also be required.

As noted in the policy brief, “While reducing energy and industrial emissions of heat-trapping gases is essential, reducing emissions from forests, grasslands, wetlands, and soils, and enhancing their capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, offers a crucial pathway for success in meeting the Paris temperature goals.”

Seth Itzkan, cofounder of Soil4Climate and contributor to the brief, said, “Soil4Climate is pleased to have collaborated with the team at the Tufts University Global Development and Environment Institute on this climate policy brief. Expanding awareness of soil as a climate solution is core to our mission.”

The GDAE/Soil4Climate policy brief is available at http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/Pubs/climate/ClimatePolicyBrief3.pdf.

The GDAE homepage is at http://www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/.

Join the Soil4Climate Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/Soil4Climate/.

Soil Carbon Sequestration to Mitigate Climate Change

Author: Rattan Lal

Abstract

The increase in atmospheric concentration of CO2 by 31% since 1750 from fossil fuel combustion and land use change necessitates identification of strategies for mitigating the threat of the attendant global warming. Since the industrial revolution, global emissions of carbon (C) are estimated at 270F 30 Pg (Pg = petagram = 10 15g = 1 billion ton) due to fossil fuel combustion and 136F 55 Pg due to land use change and soil cultivation. Emissions due to land use change include those by deforestation, biomass burning, conversion of natural to agricultural ecosystems, drainage of wetlands and soil cultivation. Depletion of soil organic C (SOC) pool have contributed 78F 12 Pg of C to the atmosphere. Some cultivated soils have lost one-half to two-thirds of the original SOC pool with a cumulative loss of 30–40 Mg C/ha (Mg = megagram = 10 6g = 1 ton). The depletion of soil C is accentuated by soil degradation and exacerbated by land misuse and soil mismanagement. Thus, adoption of a restorative land use and recommended management practices (RMPs) on agricultural soils can reduce the rate of enrichment of atmospheric CO2 while having positive impacts on food security, agro-industries, water quality and the environment. A considerable part of the depleted SOC pool can be restored through conversion of marginal lands into restorative land uses, adoption of conservation tillage with cover crops and crop residue mulch, nutrient cycling including the use of compost and manure, and other systems of sustainable management of soil and water resources. Measured rates of soil C sequestration through adoption of RMPs range from 50 to 1000 kg/ha/year. The global potential of SOC sequestration through these practices is 0.9F 0.3 Pg C/year, which may offset one-fourth to one-third of the annual increase in atmospheric CO2 estimated at 3.3 Pg C/year. The cumulative potential of soil C sequestration over 25–50 years is 30–60 Pg. The soil C sequestration is a truly win–win strategy. It restores degraded soils, enhances biomass production, purifies surface and ground waters, and reduces the rate of enrichment of atmospheric CO2 by offsetting emissions due to fossil fuel.

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The Exxons of Agriculture

Author: GRAIN

It goes without saying that oil and coal companies should not have a seat at the policy table for decisions on climate change. Their profits depend on business-as-usual and they’ll do everything in their power to undermine meaningful action.

But what about fertiliser companies? They are essentially the oil companies of the food world: the products they get farmers to pump into the soil are the largest source of emissions from farming.1 They, too, have their fortunes wrapped in agribusiness-as-usual and the expanded development of cheap sources of energy, like shale gas.*

Exxon and BP must envy the ease their fertiliser counterparts have had in infiltrating the climate change policy arena. World leaders are about to converge for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December, but there is only one major intergovernmental initiative that has emerged to deal with climate change and agriculture  and it is controlled by the world’s largest fertiliser companies.

The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture, launched last year at the United Nations (UN) Summit on Climate Change in New York, is the culmination of several years of efforts by the fertiliser lobby to block meaningful action on agriculture and climate change. Of the Alliance’s 29 non-governmental founding members, there are three fertiliser industry lobby groups, two of the world’s largest fertiliser companies (Yara of Norway and Mosaic of the US), and a handful of organisations working directly with fertiliser companies on climate change programmes. Today, 60% of the private sector members of the Alliance still come from the fertiliser industry.2

Read the media release about this report here

Keep Reading and Download the Report from GRAIN

Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use

Authors: Sara J. Scherr and Sajal Sthapit

Summary

Land makes up a quarter of Earth’s surface, and its soil and plants hold three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. More than 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions arise from the land use sector. Thus, no strategy for mitigating global climate change can be complete or successful without reducing emissions from agriculture, forestry, and other land uses. Moreover, only land-based or “terrestrial” carbon sequestration offers the possibility today of large-scale removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, through plant photosynthesis.

Five major strategies for reducing and sequestering terrestrial greenhouse gas emissions are:

Enriching soil carbon. Soil is the third largest carbon pool on Earth’s surface. Agricultural soils can be managed to reduce emissions by minimizing tillage, reducing use of nitrogen fertilizers, and preventing erosion. Soils can store the carbon captured by plants from the atmosphere by building up soil organic matter, which also has benefits for crop production. Adding biochar (biomass burned in a low-oxygen environment) can further enhance carbon storage in soil.

Farming with perennials. Perennial crops, grasses, palms, and trees constantly maintain and develop their root and woody biomass and associated carbon, while providing vegetative cover for soils. There is large potential to substitute annual tilled crops with perennials, particularly for animal feed and vegetable oils, as well as to incorporate woody perennials into annual cropping systems in agroforestry systems.

Climate-friendly livestock production. Rapid growth in demand for livestock products has triggered a huge rise in the number of animals, the concentration of wastes in feedlots and dairies, and the clearing of natural grasslands and forests for grazing. Livestock-related emissions of carbon and methane now account for 14.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions—more than the transport sector. A reduction in livestock numbers may be needed but production innovations can help, including rotational grazing systems, manure management, methane capture for biogas production, and improved feeds and feed additives.

Protecting natural habitat. The planet’s 4 billion hectares of forests and 5 billion hectares of natural grasslands are a massive reservoir of carbon—both in vegetation above ground and in root systems below ground. As forests and grasslands grow, they remove carbon from the atmosphere. Deforestation, land clearing, and forest and grassland fires are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Incentives are needed to encourage farmers and land users to maintain natural vegetation through product certification, payments for climate services, securing tenure rights, and community fire control. The conservation of natural habitat will benefit biodiversity in the face of climate change.

Restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands. Extensive areas of the world have been denuded of vegetation through land clearing for crops or grazing and from overuse and poor management. Degradation has not only generated a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions, but local people have lost a valuable livelihood asset as well as essential watershed functions. Restoring vegetative cover on degraded lands can be a win-win-win strategy for addressing climate change, rural poverty, and water scarcity.

Agricultural communities can play a central role in fighting climate change. Even at a relatively low price for mitigating carbon emissions, improved land management could offset a quarter of global emissions from fossil fuel use in a year. In contrast, solutions for reducing emissions by carbon capture in the energy sector are unlikely to be widely utilized for decades and do not remove the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. To tackle the climate challenge, we need to pursue land use solutions in addition to efforts to improve energy efficiency and speed the transition to renewable energy.

Yet so far, the international science and policy communities have been slow to embrace terrestrial climate action. Some fear that investments in land use will not produce “real” climate benefits, or that land use action would distract attention from investment in energy alternatives. There is also a concern that land management changes cannot be implemented quickly enough and at a scale that would make a difference to the climate.

Download the Full Report on Worldwatch Institute

Food and Climate Change: The Forgotten Link

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Food is a key driver of climate change. How our food gets produced and how it ends up on our tables accounts for around half of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Chemical fertilizers, heavy machinery and other petroleum-dependant farm technologies contribute significantly. The impact of the food industry as a whole is even greater: destroying forests and savannahs to produce animal feed and generating climate-damaging waste through excess packaging, processing, refrigeration and the transport of food over long distances, despite leaving millions of people hungry.

A new food system could be a key driver of solutions to climate change. People around the world are involved in struggles to defend or create ways of growing and sharing food that are healthier for their communities and for the planet. If measures are taken to restructure agriculture and the larger food system around food sovereignty, small scale farming, agro-ecology and local markets, we could cut global emissions in half within a few decades. We don’t need carbon markets or techno-fixes. We need the right policies and programmes to dump the current industrial food system and create a sustainable, equitable and truly productive one instead.  

Food and climate: piecing the puzzle together

Most studies put the contribution of agricultural emissions – the emissions produced on the farm – at somewhere between 11 and 15% of all global emissions.[1] What often goes unsaid, however, is that most of these emissions are generated by industrial farming practices that rely on chemical (nitrogen) fertilizers, heavy machinery run on petrol, and highly concentrated industrial livestock operations that pump out methane waste.

The figures for agriculture’s contribution also often do not account for its role in land use changes and deforestation, which are responsible for nearly a fifth of global GHG emissions.[2] Worldwide, agriculture is pushing into savannas, wetlands, cerrados and forests, plowing under huge amounts of land. The expansion of the agricultural frontier is the dominant contributor to deforestation, accounting for between 70-90% of global deforestation.[3] This means that some 15-18% of global GHG emissions are produced by land-use change and deforestation caused by agriculture. And here too, the global food system and its industrial model of agriculture are the chief culprits. The main driver of this deforestation is the expansion of industrial plantations for the production of commodities such as soy, sugarcane, oilpalm, maize and rapeseed.

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Carbon Sequestration in Agricultural Soils

The purpose of this report is to improve the knowledge base for facilitating investments in land management technologies that sequester soil organic carbon. While there are many studies on soil carbon sequestration, there is no single unifying volume that synthesizes knowledge on the impact of different land management practices on soil carbon sequestration rates across the world. A meta-analysis was carried out to provide soil carbon sequestration rates in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This is one important element in decision-making for sustainable agricultural intensification, agro-ecosystems resilience, and comprehensive assessments of greenhouse mitigation potentials of Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices. Furthermore, the ecosystem simulation modeling technique was used to predict future carbon storage in global cropland soils. Last, marginal abatement cost curves and trade-off graphs were used to assess the cost-effectiveness of the technologies in carbon sequestration. The remainder of the report is organized as follows. Chapter two provides a brief review of soil organic carbon dynamics and the methods for soil carbon assessment. The chapter concludes with brief information on carbon assessment in The World Bank’s sustainable land management projects portfolio. Chapter three reports the increase in soil carbon for selected sustainable land management practices in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Chapter four reports the estimates from ecosystem simulation, while chapter five concludes with the benefits and costs of adopting carbon sequestering practices and a discussion of policy options to support climate smart agriculture in developing countries. The report will provide a broad perspective to natural resource managers and other professionals involved in scaling up Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA).

Download the Report from the Open Knowledge Repository

Food and Climate: Connecting the Dots, Choosing the Way Forward

Food & Climate: Connecting the Dots, Choosing the Way Forward, outlines the climate requirements for successful food production, and examines two competing food production methods – industrial and organic – to reveal how they contribute to climate change, how resilient they are in the face of escalating climate shocks, and how organic and related agricultural systems can actually contribute to solving the climate crisis.

In this report, Center for Food Safety examines how industrial agriculture – the dominant method of food production in the U.S. – externalizes many social and environmental costs while relying heavily on fossil fuels. Organic farming, by comparison, requires half as much energy, contributes far fewer greenhouse gasses, and, perhaps most surprisingly, is more resilient in the face of climate disruption.

Food & Climate: Connecting the Dots, Choosing the Way Forward also recommends that government agricultural policies and regulations be designed to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals and calls on the public to pressure elected officials to act now to slow down climate change. The report rallies individuals to work toward a stable climate and an abundant food supply three times a day by choosing climate-friendly “cool foods.”

Download the Report from the Center for Food Safety

Soil Carbon Sequestration in Conservation Agriculture: A Framework for Valuing Soil Carbon as a Critical Ecosystem Service

Conservation agricultural systems sequester carbon from the atmosphere into long-lived soil organic matter pools – while promoting a healthy environment and enhancing economically sustainable production conditions for farmers throughout the world. Soil organic carbon is fundamental to the development of soil quality and sustainable food production systems. Soil, soil organic carbon, and soil quality are the foundations of human inhabitation of our Earth. We must enhance the ability of soil to sustain our lives by improving soil organic carbon.

Conservation agricultural systems have been successfully developed for many different regions of the world. These systems, however, have not been widely adopted by farmers for political, social and cultural reasons. Through greater adoption of conservation agricultural systems, there is enormous potential to sequester soil organic carbon, which would:

(1) help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming and

(2) increase soil productivity and avoid further environmental damage from the unsustainable use of inversion tillage systems, which threaten water quality, reduce soil biodiversity, and erode soil around the world.

Download the Report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations