By Johnny Wood
What better place to build a Doomsday Vault than the remote, snow-covered islands of Norway's Arctic Svalbard? Sitting around 1,000 kilometers from the North Pole, the facility is buried in permafrost to protect the precious seed samples housed there. But a freak heatwave is causing the region's ice to melt.
Deep Trouble?<p>The <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-it-s-like-inside-the-doomsday-vault-that-stores-every-known-crop-on-the-planet" target="_blank">Svalbard Global Seed Vault</a> – also known as the Doomsday Vault – is a gigantic bunker, sitting deep inside a mountain surrounded by snowy wastelands. The facility stores close to <a href="https://www.seedvault.no/about/the-facility/" target="_blank">900,000 seed samples</a> from around the world and acts as a sort of back-up plan for agriculture, should disaster render parts of the planet unlivable or the world suffer a catastrophe, such as nuclear war or extreme climate change.</p><p>It's been described as an "<a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/2235116-svalbard-doomsday-vault-gets-first-big-seed-deposit-since-upgrade/" target="_blank">insurance policy for food security</a>."</p><p>Inside the vault, <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-it-s-like-inside-the-doomsday-vault-that-stores-every-known-crop-on-the-planet" target="_blank">temperatures are kept below minus 18℃</a>, cold enough to keep the seed samples safe for at least 200 years, even without backup power. But climate change is causing problems for the vault.</p><p>In 2016, which was the <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2841/2018-fourth-warmest-year-in-continued-warming-trend-according-to-nasa-noaa/" target="_blank">warmest year on record according to NASA</a>, soaring temperatures caused <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/20/doomsday-arctic-seed-vault-breached-permafrost-melts/" target="_blank">meltwater to breach the vault's entrance tunnel</a>. While no seeds were damaged, the <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/svalbard-home-of-the-doomsday-vault-just-recorded-its-highest-ever-temperature" target="_blank">floodwater left an expensive repair bill</a> and tarnished the vault's reputation as impregnable to natural or manmade disasters.<span></span><br></p>
The Heat Is On<p>Warming in the islands has been underway for some time. Figures for 2017 show average temperatures are between 3-5℃ hotter than in 1971, according to the <a href="https://www.miljodirektoratet.no/globalassets/publikasjoner/M1242/M1242.pdf" target="_blank">Climate in Svalbard 2100</a> report, with the largest increases affecting the inner fjords.</p><p><span></span>Between 2071 and 2100, average temperatures throughout the archipelago will increase by between 7-10℃, the report predicts, shortening the snow season and causing loss of near-surface permafrost.</p><p><span></span>What's happening in Svalbard is symptomatic of wider changes impacting the Arctic expanse, which is <a href="https://www.upi.com/Science_News/2018/12/12/NOAA-Arctic-warming-at-twice-the-rate-of-the-rest-of-the-planet/5141544580754/" target="_blank">warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet</a>. Parts of the <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2019GL082187" target="_blank">Canadian Arctic are thawing 70 years earlier than predicted</a>, scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks found, a sign that climate change could be happening faster than first thought.</p><p>As warmer-than-average summers destabilize permafrost, much of which has lain frozen for millennia, methane and other gases trapped in the ice could be released at scale, accelerating climate change. In turn, warmer temperatures would lead to further permafrost loss.<br><br>Melting ice, on land and at sea, <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/11-arctic-species-affected-climate-change" target="_blank">destroys animal habitats for species like polar bears and Arctic foxes</a>, which use their snowy white coats as camouflage either to hunt for food or avoid predators.</p>
When you want a seat on the UN Security Council, the last thing you need is a teenage activist, practiced at the art of shaming government officials, working against you. However, that's just what Norway and Canada have.
- Climate Change Tops World Economic Forum Agenda, Both Greta ... ›
- Greta Thunberg Punches Back After Treasury Secretary Mnuchin ... ›
- Greta Thunberg—Swedish Teen who Inspired School Climate ... ›
- Greta Thunberg: Covid-19 Should Be Climate Crisis Wake-Up Call ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Britain announced that it will ban sales of new diesel and gasoline powered cars in 15 years last week. That was five years earlier than expected, but necessary for the UK to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, according to a statement from the prime minister's office, as CNN reported.
- Bristol Diesel Ban Approved in Effort to Clean Air - EcoWatch ›
- UK Bans All New Petrol and Diesel Cars by 2040 - EcoWatch ›
- Scotland to Ban Sale of New Gas and Diesel Cars by 2032 - EcoWatch ›
'This Is History in the Making': Cherokee Nation Is First U.S.-Based Tribe to Preserve Seeds in 'Doomsday Vault'
The Cherokee Nation will save seeds from the "three-sisters" crops in the Arctic "doomsday vault," making it the first Native American tribe to ensure culturally emblematic crops will be preserved for the future, as The Guardian reported.
- Record Warm Water Measured Beneath Antarctica's 'Doomsday ... ›
- Doomsday Clock Moves to 100 Seconds Before Midnight Due to ... ›
Greta Thunberg Declines $51K Environmental Prize, Says ‘Climate Movement Does Not Need any More Awards’
Greta Thunberg wants action, not prizes.
The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist was awarded the 2019 Nordic Council Environment Prize Tuesday, but refused to accept it, CNN reported.
- Greta Thunberg Chastises European Parliament for Prioritizing ... ›
- 'It Is Time to Rebel': Listen to Greta Thunberg on New Track From ... ›
- Greta Thunberg Says 'Haters' Attacking Her Asperger's Have ... ›
- Greta Thunberg to Cross the Atlantic by Emissions-Free Boat to ... ›
Norway has urged its companies that actively do business in Brazil to make sure that they are not contributing to destruction of the Amazon rainforest, as Reuters reported.
- Amazon Deforestation Increase Prompts Germany to Cut $39.5M in ... ›
- Amazon Deforestation Rate Hits 3 Football Fields Per Minute, Data ... ›
- Norway Freezes $33.2M Transfer to Brazil's Amazon Fund Amid ... ›
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:
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<p>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 <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/deforestation">deforestation</a> 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.</p><p>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.</p><p>There has been <a href="https://redd-monitor.org/2019/07/12/norway-and-brazils-negotiations-about-the-amazon-fund-are-ignoring-the-failure-to-address-the-drivers-of-deforestation/" target="_blank">some controversy</a> as to whether the Fund has actually <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/05/brazil-has-the-tools-to-end-amazon-deforestation-now-report/" target="_blank">achieved its goals</a>: 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.</p><p>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).</p><p>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.</p><p>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).</p><p>Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, <a href="https://oglobo-globo-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/oglobo.globo.com/sociedade/noruega-paralisa-repasses-para-fundo-amazonia-23879397?versao=amp" target="_blank">told</a> 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."</p><p>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 <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/08/future-of-amazon-deforestation-data-in-doubt-as-research-head-sacked/" target="_blank">deforestation has been soaring this year</a>.</p><p>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 <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/08/germany-cuts-39-5-million-in-environmental-funding-to-brazil/" target="_blank">now frozen</a>.</p><p>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."</p>
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<p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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."</p><p>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."</p>
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<p>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.</p><p>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 <a href="https://gestagro360.com.br/2019/07/04/especial-acordo-mercosul-ue-preve-ate-2035-aumento-no-pib-nos-investimentos-e-nas-exportacoes/" target="_blank">an increase of almost $100 billion</a> in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.</p><p>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."</p><p>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."</p><p><a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2017/07/soy-king-blairo-maggi-wields-power-over-amazons-fate-say-critics/" target="_blank">Blairo Maggi</a>, 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.</p>
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<p>Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, <a href="https://www.valor.com.br/brasil/6391459/retorica-do-governo-levara-agronegocio-estaca-zero-diz-blairo" target="_blank">told</a> 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."</p><p>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 <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-g20-summit-brazil-china/brazils-bolsonaro-to-meet-chinas-xi-for-first-time-at-g20-idUSKCN1TP2L0" target="_blank">recently announced</a> October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.</p><p>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."</p>
- Brazil's New President Could Spell Catastrophe for the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Deforestation Increase Prompts Germany to Cut $39.5M in ... ›
By Eoin Higgins
Just over a decade after it first opened, the world's "doomsday vault" of seeds is imperiled by climate change as the polar region where it's located warms faster than any other area on the planet.
- 'Doomsday' Seed Vault Flooded After Arctic Permafrost Melts ... ›
- World's Largest Seed Bank Hits One Million Unique Food Crops ... ›
By Andy Rowell
The beginning of the end of the age of oil moved a step closer Friday, with Norway's government recommending that its $1 trillion wealth fund should divest from upstream oil and gas producers.
Environmentalists celebrated the move as a victory for rainforests, the climate and endangered species such as orangutans that have lost their habitats due to palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia. It also sets a major precedent for other nations.