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In the Fight Against Climate Change, Humans and Wildlife Are Allies
By Jason Bittel
One million species could soon face extinction. Climate change is accelerating at a breakneck pace, already affecting about half of all threatened mammal species and a quarter of threatened birds. And according to a study published in Science last year, if nothing is done to curb our carbon emissions, nearly 50 percent of the planet's insects, which make up the foundation of food webs all over the globe, could disappear by the end of the century.
Until now, the crises of climate change and biodiversity loss have mostly been framed as separate issues. A 2018 study, for instance, found that climate change receives eight times more media coverage than biodiversity, despite the fact that scientists publish new studies on both subjects at about the same rate. (And to put that into broader perspective, climate change doesn't receive nearly as much press as it should.)
Clockwise from top left: A panther chameleon, a Harris's three spot moth caterpillar, a pale tussock caterpillar.
Simone Sbaraglia, Lance Featherstone, Nick Goodrum
Yet biodiversity and climate are inextricably linked. "We can't stabilize the climate without really addressing biodiversity, and we can't save biodiversity without staying below 1.5 degrees," says Eric Dinerstein, a wildlife biologist at the nonprofit RESOLVE, referring to the maximum increase in global temperature (in degrees Celsius) that scientists agree most species can survive. "You can't solve one without the other."
Dinerstein and his colleagues recently laid out a plan in Science Advances to address biodiversity loss and climate change as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Their Global Deal for Nature calls for the creation of formal, line-in-the-sand protections for 50 percent of the planet's biomes by 2050.
Dinerstein and his coauthors go into great detail about how to achieve this goal, but the heart of the effort comes down to one simple idea: By saving plants and animals, we can save the world.
One of the best strategies for combating global warming is to preserve those habitats that naturally lock up the most carbon. Tropical forests, where giant, ancient trees constantly absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then fix it into the soil, store around 40 percent of all the carbon on land. This is why protecting the lush expanses of the Amazon, the Congo River Basin, and Southeast Asia is so essential.
Clearly, cutting down nature's carbon sequestration machines is terrible for mitigating climate change, but so too is killing off the animals that spread the seeds that allow the forests to flourish. "In the tropics, these giant trees are often dispersed by things like tapirs and rhinos and elephants," says Dinerstein. "This is a critical point."
Seed dispersers aren't the only animals worth saving. Predators also help to conserve their forests—and sometimes, the bigger and scarier, the better.
A tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India.
James Warwick / www.JamesWarwick.co.uk
Dinerstein has spent much of his career studying tigers. In one study, he determined that forested landscapes that still harbor functional tiger populations in India contain three times the carbon density of landscapes where humans have eradicated tigers. This is because areas that still have tigers are often much better managed and protected. "People tend to stay out of them more," Dinerstein says, "whereas once a forest has lost its tigers, people pretty much go in there all the time and start exploiting other species and cutting down firewood, and they become degraded more quickly."
Similar relationships are playing out in the oceans. For instance, seagrass meadows cover just 0.2 percent of the ocean floor, but they hold more than 10 percent of all the carbon locked up in the sea, thanks to deep roots that can keep the plants in place for thousands of years. Too many grazers, such as sea turtles and dugongs, however, can wipe out seagrass beds and the carbon storage services they provide.
But if you throw in a few tiger sharks, the hungry herbivores are forced to nibble and move on, lest they end up as dinner themselves.
Believe it or not, Dinerstein says, coastal mangroves sequester much more carbon than almost any other habitat. They also serve as nurseries for a huge number of tropical fish species. And they protect coastlines from storm surges and erosion—"a threefold benefit," says Dinerstein. Unfortunately, shrimp farming and other commercial developments have already cleared away large swaths of mangrove habitat, most noticeably in Asia and the South Pacific.
Yes, we need trees and seagrass (and coral reefs and peat bogs and tundra), but we also need the tapirs, tigers, and tiger sharks (and the caribou and the blue whales and the hornbills). Saving the world from mass extinction and climate change is a package deal. To quote the Global Deal for Nature, "It is no coincidence that some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on land—natural forests—also harbor high levels of biodiversity." From predators and prey to decomposers, parasites, and pollinators, when every niche is full of life, carbon gets locked up like on an assembly line.
But it's one thing to identify the importance of protecting animals and their habitats, and it's another thing to do it. All told, the Global Deal would cost around $100 billion per year to reach the 2050 milestone. That seems like a hefty price tag considering that the international community currently spends $10 billion a year at the most on conservation. But that's the wrong way to look at it, says Dinerstein.
"In the U.S. alone, we spend $33 billion a year on pet food and grooming," he says. "If we just doubled that and included other countries in the world . . . if we love nature just as much, we can easily afford this."
This also isn't simply a case for charity. Numerous industries, the researchers calculate, stand to make considerable gains by mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss. According to the Global Deal for Nature, the global seafood industry could make an additional $53 billion per year. And the insurance industry, if it didn't have to cover losses caused by intensifying wildfires and flooding, could savean annual sum of approximately $4,300 billion.
To be clear, that's $4,300,000,000,000.
Here's another way to look at it: When you consider the amount of subsidies the United States alone gifts the fossil fuel industry each year, $100 billion starts to sound like chump change. As in, we'd be chumps not to invest in fixing our own planet for the cost of building a spaceship to visit another one.
We also, of course, can't afford not to.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Randi Spivak
Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.
A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.
By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.
Council of Hemispheric Affairs
Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
- Brazil's New President Could Spell Catastrophe for the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Deforestation Increase Prompts Germany to Cut $39.5M in ... ›
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By Simon Mui
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