Shepherd K.D.,International Center for Research in Agroforestry |
Shepherd G.,United Nations Environment Programme |
Walsh M.G.,The University of Arusha
Agricultural Systems | Year: 2015
Degradation of land health - the capacity of land, relative to its potential, to sustain delivery of ecosystem services - is recognized as a major global problem in general terms, but remains poorly quantified, resulting in a lack of specific evidence to focus action. Land health surveillance and response is designed to overcome limitations of current assessment approaches. It is modelled on science principles and approaches used in surveillance in the public health sector, which has a long history of evidence-informed policy and practice.Key elements of the science framework are: (i) repeated measurement of land health and associated risk factors using probability based sampling of well defined populations of sample units; (ii) standardized protocols for data collection to enable statistical analysis of patterns, trends, and associations; (iii) case definitions based on specific diagnostic criteria; (iv) rapid low cost screening tests to permit detection of cases and non-cases in large numbers of samples; (v) cost-effectiveness evaluation of interventions based on projected reduction in risks and problem incidence; (vi) design of statistically analysable studies to evaluate interventions in the real-world; (vii) meta-analysis of these data to guide design of public policy and intervention programmes; and (viii) integrating surveillance and the communication and use of results into operational systems as part of regular policy and practice.The scientific rigour of land health surveillance has potential to provide a sound basis for directing and assessing action to combat land degradation. Specialized national surveillance units should be established to harness and realign existing resources to provide integrated national land health systems. An international unit is needed to provide science and technology support to governments and develop standards, whereas an international agency should coordinate land health surveillance globally. Application of the surveillance framework could result in a shift away from a focus on rehabilitation of severely degraded land towards a preventive approach that focuses more on reducing distal risks at national and regional levels. © 2014 The Authors. Source
While most human occupation harms the landscape, new research shows that British Columbia's coastal First Nations have made the forest thrive. There seems to be few places in the world where the persistent march of human development hasn’t resulted in habitat destruction to some extent. We come, we see, we conquer. Trees and ecosystems? Pshaw. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), we are losing about 77 square miles (200 square kilometres) of forest each day thanks to decisions that the land should be used for something else. But in the coastal areas of British Columbia where First Nations have lived for millennia, this is decidedly not the case. And in fact, 13,000 years of repeated occupation has had the opposite effect; temperate rainforest productivity has been enhanced, not hampered, according to new research. "It's incredible that in a time when so much research is showing us the negative legacies people leave behind, here is the opposite story," says study leader Andrew Trant, a professor in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo. "These forests are thriving from the relationship with coastal First Nations. For more than 13,000 years --500 generations -- people have been transforming this landscape. So this area that at first glance seems pristine and wild is actually highly modified and enhanced as a result of human behaviour." The researchers looked at 15 former habitation sites in the Hakai Lúxvbálís Conservancy on Calvert and Hecate Islands employing ecological and archaeological methods to compare forest productivity. They found that trees growing at former habitation sites are taller, wider and healthier than those in the surrounding forest. They conclude that this is the result of, in large part, discarded shells and fire. As it turns out, thousands of years of intertidal shellfish in the diet has resulted in the accumulation of deep shell middens, in some places more than 15 feet deep and covering massive expanses of forest area. The shells were there for terracing and drainage, or discarded as refuse. Depositing the shells inland has drenched the soil with marine-derived nutrients as the shells slowly break down over time; that and the careful use of fire have helped the forest through increased soil pH and vital nutrients, and also improved soil drainage. The authors conclude: "Ecosystems with a history of extensive human use through commercial logging, development or other forms of contemporary resource extraction are often considered degraded and disturbed. Here we offer alternative consequences of extensive and long-term human management in coastal areas." "It is clear that coastal First Nations people have developed practices that enhanced nutrient-limited ecosystems," they add, "making the environment that supported them even more productive." It's so simple; treat the environment with respect and empathy, give it things that feed it rather than poison it, and it will be generous in return. We have a lot to learn.
Over the past decade, scientists and policymakers have joined efforts to create a science-based framework under the auspices of the United Nations to protect our remaining tropical forests. These carbon-rich ecosystems help to moderate the climate and serve as a treasure trove of biodiversity and a resource for local and indigenous peoples. Governments across the tropics have begun to incorporate forest conservation into their climate and development plans. Now it is time to do the same with coastal wetlands. Some 2.4–4.6% of the world’s carbon emissions are captured and sequestered by living organisms in the oceans, and the UN estimates that at least half of that sequestration takes place in ‘blue-carbon’ wetlands. Often occupied by seagrass and mangroves, these saltwater ecosystems promote healthy fisheries and sequester carbon in their soils. Mangroves also stave off erosion and serve as the first line of defence against powerful storms as well as saltwater intrusion into local groundwater resources. The world has lost more than one-third of its mangroves over the past several decades, and more succumb each year to shrimp farms, rice paddies and palm plantations, as well as to tourism and real-estate development. There’s money to be made, but it’s the environment that pays. Nascent efforts are under way to halt this degradation, and a few pioneering projects have already shown success. Senegal is home to the world’s largest mangrove restoration project, which began in 2008. Villagers have planted around 79 million mangrove trees across more than 7,900 hectares. The project has been registered and certified under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and is benefiting from the sale of carbon credits. In 2010, the United Nations Environment Programme launched the Blue Carbon Initiative, which seeks to reverse current trends and increase the area of coastal wetlands under effective management by 2025. The global climate agreement signed in Paris last December opens the door to advance such efforts, for example by enabling carbon trading and a programme similar to the CDM that allows countries and companies to pay to reduce emissions or build carbon stocks in projects such as the one in Senegal. It will be up to governments to incorporate coastal management into their climate plans, and to begin creating what some have called the ‘blue-green economy’. The available evidence justifies the pursuit of these efforts. Mangrove ecosystems alone could store as much as 20 billion tonnes of carbon — equivalent to more than 2 years of global carbon emissions — in their soils, much of which would be released into the atmosphere if the trees were destroyed. A 2012 study suggested that mangrove conservation could be effective at a cost of just US$4–10 per tonne of carbon dioxide, which is within the current range of prices on the European carbon trading system (J. Siikamäki et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 14369–14374; 2012). In some cases, mangrove protection and restoration could even benefit from the existing forest-carbon-trading framework, which enables developed countries to invest in efforts to reduce deforestation in the developing world. But more science is needed, both to document the extent and causes of the problem and to provide the data that will be needed if countries are to incorporate coastal wetlands into their carbon inventories and climate planning. We know too little about what happens to the carbon locked up in plants and soils when they are converted for other uses. Just as occurred with remedying tropical deforestation, science and policy can move forward in parallel. As countries establish coastal management policies, they will help to drive the development of both science and policies. One opportunity is in the Dominican Republic, which has devised a comprehensive plan to reduce emissions by conserving and restoring mangrove forests. That project is registered with the UN, and it incorporates scientific objectives, including quantification of the carbon sequestration and storage capacity of these ecosystems. This will inform the policy framework and provide the scientific basis for any economic returns that the initiative may reap years and decades into the future. Meeting the objectives of the Paris agreement — to contain global warming over the course of the twenty-first century — will require urgent action on all fronts. Countries must work to reduce industrial carbon emissions, but ensuring that natural ecosystems continue to function is equally vital — and relatively simple. The planet that humanity calls home already knows how to sequester carbon. Let’s make our forests and coastal wetlands work for us.
News Article | August 23, 2016
Renewable energy investment is gaining momentum at Mach speeds and tech companies want a piece of the pie. On the global scale, record-breaking investment in renewable energy reached $285.9bn in 2015, according to the latest United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report. Based on Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) data and analysis, the UNEP report states that installed capacity also broke global records in 2015, reaching 134 GW of renewables – up from 106 GW in 2014. Around the world, analysts are monitoring the impending revolution in renewable energy markets. Morgan Stanley, focusing lately on Australia, states that “the broader energy market in Australia still underestimates what’s about to hit them.” Reporting on Australia’s economic future for 2016 and beyond, Morgan Stanley predicts that one million Australian homes will install energy storage systems over the coming four years. In the coming 20 years, the report indicates, residential rooftop solar and battery storage will more than double. Morgan Stanley is optimistic that Australia’s economic infrastructure will evolve to accommodate renewable energy market expansion. It states that the future offers “plenty of potential for energy, infrastructure, financial and technology players across the spectrum.” Darryn Van Hout, CEO of Australian Solar Quotes*, is keeping a close watch on the exciting renewables expansion. With over ten years experience in the energy industry, Darryn sees challenges ahead for businesses adapting to the new energy economy. Citing Accenture‘s recent report, The New Energy Consumer: Thriving in the Energy Ecosystem, Van Hout agrees that the energy market is “going through a reinvention that will forge the way to future prosperity in an environment where consumers can and will choose to move completely off the grid and take more control of their energy choices.” “The energy war is truly underway around the world,” explains Van Hout, “and there’s one word on everyone’s lips: storage, or more specifically, the solar-plus-storage revolution.” He believes that renewable energy tech companies are uniquely poised to win this war, especially along the primary frontlines of battery storage, electric cars, and electricity retailing. Clearly, the swirling, merging war of renewable energy is nowhere more mesmerizing than among leading tech companies like Tesla, Google, and Apple. As Van Hout notes, energy storage is the new currency of the renewables realm. Elon Musk is the uncontested king of storage, blessed with marketing prowess that grows exponentially as the realm under his throne expands. At the heart of this empire, Musk wants to ensure that all renewable energy roads lead to the Tesla Gigafactory, the “machine that builds the machines.” Located on a 3,000-acre lot of land in Nevada, the Gigafactory itself currently occupies over 5.5 million square feet – the equivalent of 126 acres. All this space and more to come is solely dedicated to supplying the coming demand for energy storage systems. Not only supplying the batteries for Tesla’s spectacularly popular electric vehicles, the Gigafactory also produces top-of-the-line solar energy storage systems for commercial and residential markets. Exploring sustainable energy markets on every avenue with remarkable passion, Musk is driving Tesla expansion from EVs into autonomous vehicles, and energy storage systems into one-stop solar shopping, and even into eventual grid services. Musk envisions, “You’d walk into the Tesla store and say: ‘I’d like a great solar solution with a battery and an electric car,’ and in five minutes you’re done.” He continues, “It’s completely painless, seamless, easy and that’s what the customer wants.” Well on its way in the renewables expansion, Google has already mapped most of the roads–including the road to self-driving electric vehicles. And, with the recent announcement of $22 million in Department of Energy (DOE) funding for EVs and sustainable transportation technologies, investor attention is only just beginning to warm up. Sustainable transportation technology is a lucrative Google keyword. Since 2009, Google reports, its fleet of 55 autonomous cars has driven over 1.4 million miles on California’s SF Bay Area roads, as well as roads around Austin, Texas. Simulations, according to Google, are now racking up 3 million miles a day. Well in the lead, Google is dedicated to reaching its 100 percent renewable energy goal. In fact, Google is now the world’s largest non-utility customer of renewable energy. With over 15 contracts signed to date, Google’s purchases top 2 GW of clean energy, equivalent to taking a million gas guzzling cars off the road. “We’re buying clean electricity directly from wind and solar farms around the world through Power Purchase Agreements (or PPAs),” explains Google, “and we’re additionally working with our utility partners to make more renewable energy available to us and others through renewable energy tariffs and bilateral contracts.” It looks like a very short ride to get from Google Cars to electricity retailing, doesn’t it? Completing the current triumvirate of reigning tech companies, Apple is a perennial prize-winner, and always full of surprises. The company’s electric car project is currently in development and Apple is lately expressing interest in electric charging stations “for refueling their future EV.” More importantly, ‘Apple Energy LLC,’ the company’s new renewable energy subsidiary, was quietly formed to sell excess electricity generated at its solar farms. With a goal to go 100 percent renewable, Apple needs to offset ‘net-metered’ grid electricity used during evenings and cloudy days. To do this, Apple will now ‘trade’ excess energy generated during sunny days. Apple’s solar power investments include 130 MW in California, 50 MW in Arizona, and 20 MW of installed capacity in Nevada. Suggesting that Apple may have even bigger goals, however, filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) indicate that Apple “plans to sell electricity across the whole of the US.” Explaining its case to the FERC, Apple notes that it “meets the legal criteria for selling electricity at market rates because it is not a major player in the energy business and thus has no power to influence electricity prices.” Darryn Van Hout notes, “It’s now only a matter of time until the shift in the way that we buy, store and consume electricity will be available.” It may well turn out that electricity retailing will be the Tech companies’ favorite slice of the renewables pie. [News Flash!!! The FERC just approved Apple’s application to start selling electricity at market rates. GTM Research analyst Colin Smith explains, “If they’re buying power at 10 cents per kilowatt hour and wholesale power prices happen to move up to 15 cents, they can actually sell power directly and pocket the difference. This turns them much more into an independent power producer and really enables them to work the energy markets more freely.”] In Australia, Darryn sees telecommunications companies nudging their way to the dessert table. With plenty of money, millions of consumers, and significant market influence, Australian telecom company Telstra is planning to launch home solar-plus-storage solutions. Cynthia Whelan, Telstra’s head of new business, explains, “Telstra is looking at the opportunities to help customers monitor and manage many different aspects of the home, including energy.” She adds, “We see energy as relevant to our ‘connected home’ strategy, where more and more machines are connected in what is called the internet of things.” Van Hout predicts that “other large telcos will follow suit when the adoption of solar-plus-storage increases, and everyone wants a piece of the pie.” The renewable energy pie is sitting in a quickly ripening market. In alignment with the rapid growth of solar storage solutions, energy consumer empowerment is changing the power dynamics behind traditional utility company dictatorships. Darryn Van Hout notes that “demand for self-sufficiency in energy consumption is high.” Voting with their pocketbooks, purchasers are starting to split the renewables pie into fair shares for all kinds of consumers. Splitting the renewables pie will require similar fair sharing between renewable energy suppliers and tech companies. The traditional relationship between consumers, businesses, and technology may serve as a useful guide. As a leading consumer care organization, Australian Solar Quotes has been on the front lines, helping protect consumers from unfair electricity prices driven by the Australian utility companies. CEO Darryn Van Hout (Twitter: @DarrynVanHout) sees himself as a sustainability ambassador, “with a keen interest in the solar energy sector in particular.” Optimistic about the renewable energy future, Darryn says, “the next huge boom in the solar industry is imminent.” *This post has been generously supported by Australian Solar Quotes. Drive an electric car? Complete one of our short surveys for our next electric car report. 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News Article | February 27, 2016
Numerous species of bees, butterflies and other pollinators are fast hurtling towards extinction – and hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of food crops will be affected if nothing is done about it, a new report from the United Nations has warned. The more than 20,000 species of pollinators play a critical role in the annual food supply. But two of five species of bees, butterflies and pollinating critters are on the way to becoming extinct, with their vertebrate counterparts, such as bats and hummingbirds, only slightly better off with one out of six facing extinction. "Without pollinators, many of us would no longer be able to enjoy coffee, chocolate and apples, among many other foods that are part of our daily lives," says Simon Potts, biodiversity and ecosystems professor at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. Potts is also the co-chair of the two-year assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). More than 75 percent of food crops worldwide greatly depend on pollination by insects and other animals. Global crops directly affected by these pollinators amount to $235 billion to $577 billion, with a 300 percent increase in volume of agricultural production that depends on pollination in the last half century. The problem is one cannot pinpoint a single culprit. "Their (wild pollinators) decline is primarily due to changes in land use, intensive agricultural practices and pesticide use, alien invasive species, diseases and pests, and climate change,” says IPBES vice-chair and renowned British ecological scientist Robert Watson. Among the more controversial ones are neonicotinoid insectides, which threaten pollinators around the globe but whose long-term impacts remain unknown. A groundbreaking study showed they negatively affect wild bees, but the consequences for honeybees was less conclusive. The assessment report, released on Feb. 26 and which analyzed many existing scientific studies, gained approval from a congress of 124 member nations in the fourth plenary meeting of the IPBES in Kuala Lumpur. The matter with dwindling pollinator populations is deemed fixable, and actions can be done on the local level. "There are relatively simple, relatively inexpensive mechanisms for turning the trend around for native pollinators," argues co-author David Inouye from the University of Maryland, who added that England already had two wild bumblebee species become extinct while the United States lost one. Among the challenges, particularly in the United States, is that massive portions of farmland are devoted to a single crop, or the practice of monoculture. Wildflowers, the food for these pollinators, are fast disappearing. Grasslands are also gracious hosts to wild pollinators, yet in Europe 97 percent already disappeared since the Second World War. The report made several recommendations to protect pollinators, including creating diversity in agricultural and urban landscapes, supporting traditional crop rotation and related indigenous practices, knowledge exchange between farmers and experts and enhancing pathogen control in bee husbandry. “As we work towards food security, it is important to approach the challenge with a consideration of the environmental impacts that drive the issue,” says Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.