Tag Archives: greenhouse gas emissions

Environment  Mongabay: Old-growth forests of Pacific Northwest could be key to climate action — story and video

Hall of Mosses Trail, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park, Washington state, U.S. Image by Tjflex2 via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

This story linked here is one I originally imagined reporting from Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The Canadian province seems intent allowing the last of its majestic, irreplaceable old-growth forests be taken by the timber and pellet industries — aside from perhaps the Great Bear Rainforest on the central coast. But Covid restrictions locked the border between the US and Canada in late July (2021), so I shifted my focus to Washington state and Olympic National Park for my first field reporting since summer 2019.

My idea was simple — tour a coastal, old-growth rainforest with a forest ecologist and discuss why such rare ecosystems are important to harboring vast biodiversity, cleansing air and watersheds, and storing more carbon per hectare than the rainforests of the tropics. A good source and expert, Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at Wild Heritage: Earth Island Institute, agreed to fly up from Oregon to meet me on the Upper Peninsula of Washington state, just a few miles across the sound from British Columbia.

I also wanted a video, linked here, to complement my story. My my editor Glenn Scherer approved a budget for me to hire Seattle-based Ted Grudowski, a friend of my Greensboro neighbor and documentarian Michael Frierson (lucky connections all around). Ted is an award-winning environmental videographer and knows the Olympic National Park inside out. He was as much as a fixer in helping me map a plan for where to report from as he was an expert videographer in capturing my hike with DellaSala, and later, a key interview with John Talberth, an expert Pacific Northwest forest conversation. The multimedia package came together exactly as I hoped it would, with a special assist from Mongabay video producers Manon Verchot in India, Lucia Torres in Spain and Lisa Golden in Great Britain.

Here’s an excerpt:

“As humans endure one of the worst summers ever punctuated by climate catastrophes around the world, and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its most dire report yet, I’ve invited DellaSala, past president of the Society of Conservation Biology, to join me on this hike to discuss the value of old-growth forests.

“What’s at stake in protecting much of what’s left? How can government policy on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border do more to preserve old-growth, perhaps the most effective means we have of slowing the alarming rate of global warming — letting tall, old trees grow taller and older in large, fully intact ecosystems?”

Northwest Coastal Map: Coastal temperate rainforests, among the rarest ecosystems on Earth as well as being the most carbon dense, stretch along the Pacific Coast from northern California to the Alaska panhandle. Map (left) by Dominick DellaSala and Island Press / photo (right) by John Schoen.

Environment  Mongabay: Illegal clearing for agriculture is driving tropical deforestation: Report

An expanding oil palm plantation abuts rainforest in Sabah, Malaysia. Image by Rhett Butler/Mongabay.
An expanding oil palm plantation abuts rainforest in Sabah, Malaysia. Image by Rhett Butler/Mongabay.

Forest Trends is an NGO I’ve been familiar with for a number of years, primarily through a deputy director, Gena Gammie, who lives in Lima and heads up water conservation initiatives there. I’ve interviewed Michael Jenkins, the founder and CEO, several times and have always found him knowledgeable and candid — no nonsense, like Phil Duffy at Woodwell Climate Research Center. So when Forest Trends released a major new report on illegal deforestation connected to agriculture commodities, I knew we had a for a solid story for Mongabay. The story linked here. Also, Mongabay produced a short, subtitled video of my story for social media, linked here.

An excerpt: “In its report, Illicit Harvest, Complicit Goods, NGO Forest Trends found that at least 69% of tropical forests cleared for agricultural activities such as ranching and farmland between 2013 and 2019 was done in violation of national laws and regulations. The actual amount of illegally deforested land is immense during that period – 31.7 million hectares, or an area roughly the size of Norway.

“The report reveals the climate impact of this illegal agro-conversion is equally significant, making up 42% of greenhouse gas emissions of all tropical deforestation. The related emissions total of 2.7 gigatons of CO2 annually during the seven-year period is more than India’s fossil fuel emissions in 2018. The study notes that if tropical deforestation emissions tied to commercial agriculture were a country, it would rank third behind China and the U.S.”

The problem only gets worse year by year — even as climate and national leaders stress that there were few things more important in curbing global warming and protecting biodiversity than dramatically reducing deforestation — especially in places where it’s already illegal. The issue will need to be a high priority at the United Nations climate summit, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021.

Special thanks to Mongabay’s Morgan Erickson-Davis for her careful edit.

A fire burns in Sumatra, Indonesia. These fires are generally started by slash-and-burn clearing to turn forests into crop fields. Image by Rhett Butler/Mongabay.
A fire burns in Sumatra, Indonesia. Fires here are often started by slash-and-burn clearing to turn forests into farmland. Image by Rhett Butler/Mongabay.

Environment  Mongabay @ COP22: Trump election leaves COP22 climate delegates aghast, shaken but firm

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The stunning and disastrous election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president has sent shock waves through the 22nd United Nations Climate Summit in Marrakesh. Mongabay thought my story here was important enough that they had it translated into seven languages — a first. That happens when a purposely ignorant climate denier follows the first president, Barack Obama, to ever make climate change policy a major part of his legacy.

Environment  Mongabay @COP22: Beyond Paris — COP22 in Marrakesh, a critical nuts-and-bolts carbon-cutting summit

An open-air market in Marrakesh, Morocco. The city is hosting November’s COP22 Climate Conference and decisions made there could shape its future. If the rising heat brought by global warming isn’t abated, then parts of North Africa could become inhabitable by mid-century, according to a 2016 study. Feliciano Guimarães licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

An open-air market in Marrakesh, Morocco. The city is hosting November’s COP22 Climate Conference and decisions made there could shape its future. If the rising heat brought by global warming isn’t abated, then parts of North Africa could become inhabitable by mid-century, according to a 2016 study. Feliciano Guimarães licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In preparing to cover my third consecutive United Nation’s Climate Summit — COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco — I was able to call on a variety of new sources I made when in Bonn, Germany, at the mid-year summit last May. Among some officials, there is a tendency to let Marrakesh be something of a breather after the historic achievement at COP21 in Paris. The Paris Agreement, ratified with unprecedented haste, was the first time after 20 years of failure that 195 nations agreed to each do something about reducing their carbon footprint.

But Paris is simply a blue print. So much hard work remains. And we’ve already lost two decades to political inertia and denial. Thus, we have no time to waste. COP22 must exceeds expectations and begin delivering on the promise established in Paris. My story here explains why.

 

Environment  Climate alert! China’s coal consumption is dropping — barely

Lu Lunyun of the World Wildlife Fund in Beijing at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru.

Lu Lunyun of the World Wildlife Fund in Beijing at the UN climate summit in Lima, Peru. Photo by Justin Catanoso

LIMA, Peru (Dec. 9, 2014) — Lunyan Lu has a tough job. As a Chinese national, she works in Beijing for the World Wildlife Fund as its climate and energy program director. There she does what he can to lobby for environmental safeguards and greater use of alternative energy sources.

Chinese has kept a low profile thus far in the United Nation’s climate negotiations that I’m covering this week in Lima, Peru. But it is the elephant in the room — the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases with a deep supply of coal to burn and dependence on it to maintain its torrid transition from a rural to urban society with a leading economy.

During a press conference today with WWF staffers from countries including South Africa and Mexico, Lu made a comment that caught my attention. While coal accounts for 67 percent of China’s energy production, the use of coal “has plateaued,” she said, and actually will decline by 1 percent this year.

She did not offer this fact for applause. She doesn’t work for the Chinese government. She lives in Beijing and thus chokes on the smog-dense air like everyone else there. But she offered the insight as a way of illustrating that China is at least trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

When I asked her during the press conference if it’s possible for China to accelerate its slightly declining rate of coal burning, and lower its peak emissions before 2030, as President Xi Jiping recently pledged, she said:

Smog in Beijing on an a

Smog in Beijing on an average day. NBC News

“We have already seen a plateau trend of the coal consumption for this year. That may be not forever. That could be temporary, just for this year. That’s why we (the WWF) encouraged the government to maintain this trend. We also see the government has taken some action, using imported natural gas to offset some of its coal consumption. And they have a clear plan for nuclear energy. We do see that clear plan for action. We will try our best to urge the government to peak sooner.”

I spoke with Lu after the press conference. She explained that China is in a bind. Its growth goals are relentless, and its most abundant natural resource for energy is coal. It can’t practically import enough natural gas to meet its needs and reduce carbon emissions. But it is moving fast on renewable energy sources, with more than $100 billion invested thus far in wind, solar and nuclear platforms.

Lu confided that just like most Americans, most Chinese pay little attention to  issues related to climate change — despite gravity of the earth’s condition. But unlike in America, the air in China’s cities is so black and polluted from energy and traffic smog that people there are outraged and demanding that its government act for better air quality.

“We see this as an opportunity,” Lu told me. “This public outcry is about smog, but it also helps to fight climate change.”

 

Environment  Much Maligned REDD+ Gets a Boost from Above for Climate Mitigation

Entrance to the UN Climate Summit in Lima, Peru -- Dec. 1-12, 2

Entrance to the UN Climate Summit in Lima, Peru — Dec. 1-12, 2014. Photo by Justin Catanoso

As the United Nations climate negotiations in Lima, Peru, entered their second and final week, some progress – and thus some optimism — was claimed late Monday, Dec. 8. They were small steps. And because huge leaps seem impossible in grappling with this global crisis, even small steps take on growing importance. A big reason for the optimism is the incredible advances in scientific monitoring of carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions that simply didn’t exist a few years ago. It’s giving countries confidence to engage in this process. I explain why in this story on National Georgraphic online.

Breaking NewsEnvironment  Now starring as diplomat: Bianca Jagger vigorously defends forests at UN climate change talks

 

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Bianca Jagger on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, in Lima, Peru, at an event connected to the UN climate talks. She is speaking to Heru Prasetyo, a climate change expert from Indonesia. Photo by Justin Catanoso.

Note: I am in Lima, Peru, reporting on the COP20, the 20th annual United Nations climate negotiations. I arrived Dec. 6 and will remain through the end of the conference on Dec. 12. This is my first story.

LIMA, Peru – Whatever her youthful reputation as the wife of a world-famous rock star and glittery jet setter, Bianca Jagger has committed much of the past 30 years of her life to advancing causes associated with human rights and environmental protection in the developing world.

On Sunday morning, during a side event connected with the annual UN climate negotiations here in Lima, Peru, the 69-year-old Jagger sounded every bit the international diplomat she’s become in recent years. Delivering an impassioned 13-minute talk during a panel discussion, she spoke bluntly about the perils of climate change and the need to restore both destroyed and degraded forests as the best strategy to reduce the ongoing damage.

“Climate change will affect everyone, everywhere, in every nation, in every echelon of society, in the developing world and the developed world,” said Jagger, a native of Nicaragua and British citizen. “We will all suffer the catastrophic consequences of rising sea levels, ocean acidification, food scarcity and political unrest. But some of the most vulnerable communities in the world are bearing a disproportionate burden of the harm without having significantly contributed to the cost. This is a terrible injustice.”

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Photo by Justin Catanoso

Noting that climate experts predict that 2014 will become the hottest year on record, Jagger warned: “Time is running out. Inaction will lead to severe and irreversible damage.”

In another time, in another setting, Jagger may have been the star attraction at an event such as this with fans and paparazzi swarming to bask in her celebrity. There was little of that in evidence Sunday morning during the Global Landscapes Forum held at the Westin Lima Hotel & Convention Center.

WITH A CROWD of mostly influential scientists, top environmental activists and leading figures from the United Nations, World Bank and World Wildlife Fund, Jagger arrived without fanfare as the founder of the London-based Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation. She appeared elegantly striking just the same, dressed in a full-length white wool coat with sparkling flats and leaning on a Dalmatian-spotted cane. She greeted a small knot of well wishers and quietly took her place on stage. Three other panels were taking place at the same time; Jagger’s panel – “A new climate agenda? Moving forward with adaptation-based mitigation” – attracted about 100 people.

Jagger noted that two years ago, she was appointed an ambassador to the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 150 million hectares (370 million acres) of degraded or deforested land around the world by 2020.

“I took on this role because I believe the objective of the Bonn Challenge is critical and more importantly, it is achievable,” she said.  “Frankly, it is one of the more achievable initiatives trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve the lives of people. Achieving the Bonn Challenge goal could sequester 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide a year, which would reduce our current emissions by up to 17 percent. That is really a very important advance from a restoration program.”

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Bianca Jagger, before the start of the panel discussion. Photo by Justin Catanoso

The two-day landscape forum focused largely on the underappreciated role forests play globally in slowing the rate of climate change by absorbing tons and tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually through the process of photosynthesis. Millions of acres of tropical forests around the world (which do the most work in carbon sequestration) are destroyed for agriculture, mining and extraction. The clear-cutting is often far more than is necessary and at great costs to biodiversity and the indigenous peoples who make their homes and living in such forests.

A PRIMARY GOAL of these 20th annual UN climate talks is for governmental and environmental leaders from 200 countries to draft a legally binding agreement that can be signed as a global treaty next year in Paris.  Despite accords that came out of Kyoto (1997) and Copenhagen (2009), no treaty currently exists, even as the accumulating evidence of ongoing, manmade climate change continues to pile up.

Time is running out. Inaction will lead to severe and irreversible damage.” — Bianca Jagger

While progress appears to be halting after the first of two weeks of negotiations, the Lima draft is hoped to contain an array of strategies to slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions largely through the reduction of burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation. Such reductions are seen as vital to hold global warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 50 to 85 years. Beyond that point, scientists predict far worse extreme weather patterns than we now see, greater coastal erosion, more water shortages and increased food scarcity than is already cropping up around the globe.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions – the airborne layer of chemicals in the atmosphere responsible for global warming – can go beyond cutting back the extracting and burning of fossil fuels. Other strategies include the expansion of alternative energy sources, greater fuel efficiencies in transportation, as well as similar efficiencies in home and building construction and lighting and appliances.

Increasingly, as the landscape forum emphasized and as Jagger stressed in her talk, the massive preservation of existing tropical forests, and replanting ones that have been damaged and destroyed, can play a significant role — if not the most important role — in staving off catastrophic climate change.

Jagger said the United States, along with countries such as Rwanda, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guatemala have already committed to restore some 51 million hectares (126 million acres) of forests by 2020 as part of the Bonn Challenge. She lauded large-scale restoration efforts in China and Brazil, too.

“It is true that governments have not come forward to do what is necessary,” Jagger said. “It is true that we don’t have a legally binding treaty now. But if we can continue with initiatives like the Bonn Challenge, we would see a difference. Forests are essential to our future.”

Justin Catanoso is a freelance journalist based in North Carolina and director of journalism at Wake Forest University. His environmental reporting is supported in part by the Wake Forest Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, D.C.