The Log-istics of Carbon Dioxide Removal

Trees are the coolest source of CO2 Removal on the planet.

http://www.climatechangenews.com/2012/10/26/conservation-or-carbon-sinks-can-the-un-see-the-forest-for-the-trees/

Trees and vegetation are known to help cool ambient air temperatures through evapotranspiration.  If left undisturbed, forests can also be a vital source of carbon storage.  Estimates from the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA 2015) show that the world’s forests and other wooded lands store more than 485 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon: 260 Gt in the biomass, 37 Gt in dead wood and litter, and 189 Gt in the soil.

In the most recent IPCC Special Report Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the world’s leading climate scientists assess the pathways the global community can pursue over the next few decades to prevent overshoot ofScreen Shot 2018-10-08 at 3.58.11 PM warming beyond 1.5°C.  The fact that all pathways to limit global warming to 1.5°C require mitigation via some form of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) is not to be overlooked. But these removal amounts vary across pathways, as do the relative contributions of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) and removals in the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector.  BECCS sequestration is projected to range from 0-1, 0-8, and 0-16 GtCO2/yr, in 2030, 2050, and 2100 respectively; the AFOLU-related measures are projected to remove 0-5, 1-11, and 1-5 GtCO2/yr in these years.  These contributions appear meager, and they are… but every little bit counts in this climate.

A reasonable argument can be made for increased investment in and use of CCS to achieve emissions reductions.  The SPM makes it clear that forests alone won’t be able to make a significant numerical difference in reduction of CO2 from the atmosphere.  And as the New York Times aptly points out, “the world is currently much better at cutting down forests than planting new ones.”

On the surface, CCS seems like a logical outgrowth from the nature of GHG emissions production.  The IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Capture and Storage (SRCCS) describes CCS as a mitigation activity that Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.37.30 PMseparates CO2 from large industrial and energy-related point sources, which has the potential to capture 85-95% of the CO2 processed in a capture plant.  Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies like ClimeWorks remove CO2 from the air. Proponents argue that DAC is a much less land-intensive process than afforestation: Removal of 8 Gt/CO2 would require 6.4 million km² of forested land and 730 km³ of water, while DAC would directly require only 15,800 km² and no water.

However, as our blog has cautioned readers in the past, CCS requires significant financial investments from industry and government and are only regionally accessible.  Only places that have sufficient infrastructure and political support can pursue this path of technological sequestration, leaving underdeveloped countries at a major disadvantage.  A recent report published in Nature Research further emphasizes that BECCS will have significant negative implications for the Earth’s planetary boundaries, or thresholds that humanity should avoid crossing with respect to Earth and her sensitive biophysical subsystems and processes.  Transgressing these boundaries will increase the risk of irreversible climate change, such as the loss of major ice sheets, accelerated sea level rise, and abrupt shifts in forest and agricultural systems.  Above all else, CCS ultimately supports the continual burning of fossil fuels. CCS technology may capture carbon, but it also has the potential to push us over the edge.

Money tree

Mitigation has historically been the focus of the FCCC and other collaborative climate change efforts.  Global climate change policy experts are familiar with the binding language associated with activities related to mitigation in the multilateral environmental agreements: Article 4(1)(b) of the Convention calls for commitments to formulate, implement, publish and update national programs containing measures to mitigate climate change; and Article 3 of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) calls for Annex I Parties to account for their emissions reductions in order to promote accountability and activity guided by mindful emissions production.  In the waning hours of the KP, the Paris Agreement has become the new collective rallying document, whose ambitious emissions reduction target has inspired the likes of the IPCC to offer us pathways to get there.

If we are not currently on track towards limiting GHG emissions well-below 2°C in the grand scheme of the FCCC, why not insure some success, however small, buy securing CO2 in forests, not CCS?  Forests are a well-established CDR technology that do not have the associated risks with CCS.  While the most recent UN Forum on Forests report kindly reminds us that forests are also crucial for food, water, wood, health, energy, and biodiversity, the SPM upholds that mitigation contributions from carbon sequestration technology are numerically minuscule in the face of the large-scale change necessary to avoid CO2 overload.  A much more engaged energy overhaul is needed.

The ideal SPM pathScreen Shot 2018-11-15 at 11.10.17 PMway states that afforestation can be the only CDR option when social, business, and technological innovations result in lower energy demand and a decarbonized energy system.  A more middle-of-the-road scenario achieves necessary emissions reductions mainly by changing the way in which energy and products are produced, and to a lesser degree by reductions in demand.  This speaks to the need for a broad focus on sustainable development rather than continuing business as usual.  Regardless of the pathway, forests need to be preserved, whether it be for carbon sequestration, their cooling effects, or merely beauty.

Sometimes there is no turning back.


The Value of a Tree

How much is a tree worth?  How do you calculate its value?  Board feet?  Ecoservices?

PNW ForestFor many people advocating for the implementation of REDD+, the value of a forest is great.  Forests in developing countries like Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Mongolia are recognized for their vital role in protecting water sources, sequestering carbon, and controlling erosion.  The forests are also valued because they provide ecosystem services and protect biodiversity.  These benefits individually and collectively act as a buffer to the effects of climate change – creating a resilient ecosystem.

But what about the value of a tree?  More importantly, how should developed states value their trees and forests? The Temperate forests of Oregon and Washington and the Boreal forests of Alaska are considered global champions for climate change mitigation.  Yet the timber industry as well as the state and federal agencies that manage forests on public lands value a tree and even entire forest by extractable board footage.  Simply put, the value of a tree is determined by the immediate profit that can be realized by its removal as well as the jobs created in the process.  Little to no account is given to intangible worth like ecosystem services and the forests’ rich biodiversity.  Given less consideration are unforeseeable future benefits like a stable climate.

clear-cut

But if we are to adequately determine whether to remove a tree or a forest, perhaps we should take a page from the book of developing nations.  In doing so, it behooves us to place a proper value on the resource- considering its worth entirely.  We may find that the forest, yes even the tree, is worth more standing.

 


Implementing Adaptation for Resilient Mediterranean-climate Regions

worldmap

One of the side events at COP 22 today presented best practices and case studies for implementing adaptation in Mediterranean-climate regions, with a focus on: consumer behavior; stakeholder and citizen participation; health; and climate policy. The speakers identified ways that sub-national governments can increase adaptation efforts. Surprisingly, few of the case studies involved countries along the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, the speakers focused primarily on initiatives and policies in South Africa and California, both of which are primarily mediterranean climates. In fact, mediterranean-climate regions can be found on every continent but Antarctica.

The Mediterranean basin gives the climate its name, and more than half of world’s mediterranean climates are found in this region. However, the mediterranean climate can also be found in regions in southwestern Australia, central Chile, coastal California, northern Iran, and southwestern South Africa. Mediterranean climate zones are characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. These regions experience pronounced climactic changes between season, most notably in terms of temperature and rainfall changes. Mediterranean climates cover just 3% of world but account for 20% of plant biodiversity and house over 200 million people.  Most large, historic cities of the Mediterranean basin, including Athens, Barcelona, Beirut, Jerusalem, Rome, and Tunis, lie within mediterranean climatic zones, as do major cities outside of the Mediterranean basin, such as Casablanca, Cape Town, Perth, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Many of these cities are major coastal cities and biological hotspots supported by tourism-based economies that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The dense populations in these cities concentrate the demand for services and infrastructure, which increases the city’s vulnerability to climate change. These regions will experience an increase in their average temperatures, declining air and water quality, increased frequency and intensity of droughts and heat waves, and an increase in ground-level ozone. These impacts will lead to loss of habitat, decreased biodiversity, and water shortages. Climate change will also greatly impact human health. For example, during a prolonged heat wave in Los Angeles in 2006 more than 16,000 excess emergency room visits were reported. Just last year Jerusalem experience 5 straight days of snowfall, something that has not happened in decades, which shut down highways and crippled the city’s infrastructure. Additionally, as food and water become more scarce, populations will begin to migrate to cities in search of subsistence and further exacerbate the impacts of climate change. The first step governments should take in addressing this problem is changing how they view these migrants. Instead of seeing migrants as a political issue that is separate from climate change they must change the paradigm to one that views them as what they really are: climate refugees.

While cities are the source of many climate-related problem, they can also be the source of the solutions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underscored the urgent need for cities to act in its last assessment report. The building sector has the greatest potential for delivering significant and cost-effective adaptation benefits through improved design and smarter technologies to conserve energy. Many of these measures would have co-benefits too, including reductions in noise and waste. Cities can also adapt to climate change by improving their infrastructure. For example, Los Angeles is investing in bus line, pedestrian walkways, and improving bike safety. Cities must continue working to keep the lights on, people employed, and emissions down. These concerns are not limited to mediterranean-climate regions and should be comprehensively addressed by all levels of government to reduce their vulnerability and increase their capacity to adapt to climate change.


Opening the scope of NDCs: “Blue Opportunities”

thMENSJTZMIn a press briefing today, Natalya Gallo and Dr. Lisa Levin from the Scripps Institutions of Oceanography, USCD, Julio Cordano on behalf of Chile and Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles Ambassador talked about the importance of including oceans and marine ecosystems in the NDCs.

Natalya Gallo stated that out of the 161 INDC communicated by June 2015, 112 contained references to oceans, 14 included costal zones while the rest did not contain any reference to oceans and marine ecosystems. The oceans were included as part of the adaptation, mitigation or as a climate change marine risk. Also, most attention is given to ocean warming while ocean oxygen loss, ocean acidification receives little to no attention. Mangroves and coral reefs were almost always included. In terms of parties, the Annex I parties did not include oceans in their INDCs while the SIDS were leading the path in this area. The factors that influenced whether oceans were included in the parties INDC varied from percentage of population living in low lying areas to large exclusive economic zones areas and development status of the respective countries.

Julio Cordano, on behalf of Chile, emphasized that although the oceans were included in the Paris Agreement there has been no implementation endeavor. Nevertheless, we must state that the oceans are indeed included only in the preamble of the Paris Agreement, which is non-biding part of the agreement. Therefore, the inclusion of the oceans is a sign of a global awareness and symbolic victory. Mr. Cordano further believes that any future work should built upon the NDCs as a building block of the Paris Agreement. However, he acknowledges that the NDCs were a compromised formulation as first proposed and there is still a delicate discussion on what to include. The inclusion of too many sectors and perspectives may wash down on the content of the NDCs and lead to ineffective mitigation action.  Also, there is the fear that opening the discussion with respect to oceans would raise the question of whether the NDCs should include other sectors such as energy. Following last year Because the Ocean Declaration, this year, Chile plans to launch a second declaration on 14th of November.

Dr. Lisa Levin talked about the ocean research needs, as countries specifically provided in their INDCs the need for additional research in the following areas: sea level rise and coastal zone monitoring; fisheries; blue carbon; climate observation system; biodiversity research; oceanography and climate; ocean training and capacity building/academic collaboration. The research needs can be addressed by looking at the research infrastructure and the available funds in place today, such as the GEF and the Ocean Sustainability Bank.

Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles Ambassador for Climate Change and SIDS Issues, recognized that it is natural for them to include oceans in their NDCs. However, they recognize that there is a lack of research, as for example they do not have an accurate and complete overview, among others, on the impacts of climate change and the marine species in need of protection. That is why, the University of Seychelles started a research institute called the Blue Economy Research Institute to advance their knowledge and have access to accurate and complete information that can help them put forward an ambitious NDC. They also decided to be an example and lead the way by starting reviewing and upscaling their NDCs so as to achieve the 1,5°C goal.

We can only hope that at future APA meetings, the Paris Agreement will act as a spokesperson for the oceans and marine ecosystems, as currently they do not have one.


Caught on the Front Lines of Climate Change

In an event hosted today by WOCAN (Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management), six inspiring women shared their stories of community, loss, and leadership. The panel was comprised of women from diverse and remote regions of the world, including a Native American of the Ponca Nation, a representative from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a Quechua-speaking native of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and several leaders of global non-profit organizations. All of these women came to COP21 with the same message: the voices of women and indigenous peoples are essential to effectively addressing climate change.

IMG_2261-1

Panelists at today’s event, Global Women & Indigenous Peoples on the Frontline of Climate Solutions: Forests & Renewable Energy

Each of the panelists shared shockingly similar stories of their lives and their communities, highlighting their plight against the effects of climate change. Most indigenous communities contribute very little to climate change, yet feel the effects far more profoundly than the rest of the world. Women also face disproportionate impacts from climate change, indicating that this group had tremendous insight to offer from both perspectives. They had faced the direct impacts of climate change and had established innovative methods of addressing the associated problems. In the case of the Ponca Nation and the Amazonian natives, both groups are actively opposing resource extraction in their sacred ancestral lands. Women in Colombia are reclaiming land for traditional agricultural practices after years of protests allowed them to begin saving seeds again. Women in the DRC are creating carbon negative local economies by planting trees. By organizing their communities and utilizing traditional and institutional knowledge, they are developing robust, local solutions to climate change.

Nevertheless, a Paris agreement may not address these groups’ needs or their suggestions. There are currently four binding sections of the agreement that reference gender equality or the rights of indigenous people, and two of those references are bracketed. This means that the rights of indigenous people and women may not be adequately addressed in two important parts of the agreement (purpose and finance). Hopefully, this panel discussion, along with the other events associated with Gender Day, will encourage the negotiators to avoid this absurd result.


Animal Adaptation to Climate Change: Looking Through the Lens of the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly

Climate change affects animals. This is not a new revelation. The first IPCC Assessment Report, released in 1990, discusses how climate change negatively impacts polar bears. But the conversation on animals and climate change often neglects the stories of how animals survive by adapting to climate changed conditions.

Many species adapt by broadening their diets and changing other behaviors, such as migrating patterns, mating habits, and hibernation lengths. For example, the National Wildlife Federation reports that the Quino checkerspot butterfly was disappearing in the late 1990’s. The butterfly was dying because hot weather in California was causing its host plant to dry out before any caterpillars could enter adulthood.

This endangered subspecies was considered a “goner,” but then the Quino did something surprising. Surrounded by desert, the butterfly could not migrate butterflynorth to wetter terrain. Instead, it moved to higher ground. The Quino population resettled at a higher elevation and most importantly, adapted to using a new host plant. This adaptation is exciting because it indicates what one scientist calls “a genetic revolution.”

Moving to a new host plant isn’t as easy as it sounds. The butterfly genes governing its search image and its natural instinct to lay eggs on a particular plant have to change. This one genetic change can create a domino effect on the genetic make-up of the Quino. For instance, the butterfly might have to alter the number of eggs it lays because of the new host plant’s capacity to nourish young caterpillars. In turn, the young caterpillars might need to develop new enzymes in order to eat the new host plant.

If the decision to move to a higher elevation is able to change what type of enzymes the next generation of Quino produces, the capacity for animal adaptation to climate change is immense. This past summer, researchers discovered polar bears have started eating dolphins. As northern seas become ice free, dolphins are migrating farther north, which in turn provides starving polar bears a new source of food.

Animal adaptation to climate change will not stop global warming, but it does illustrate why the UNFCCC is making an effort to enable the human animal to adjust to a climate-changed world. In order to mitigate climate change, humans must be able to adapt to the changes already occurring. The new agreement draft text shows that Parties are trying to balance mitigation and adaptation efforts in their commitments to address climate change concerns.

 


Growing Pains: Are GMOs an Adaptation Solution for Growing, Hungry Populations Affected by Climate Change?

Chronic hunger plagues 805 million people worldwide. Although this is 100 million less than 10 years ago, the future of food security remains uncertain in the face of climate change. The world is growing, and so is the demand for food. The World Resources Institute projects the world will face a 69% food gap in 2050 if food production remains the same.

Adaptation efforts will be particularly challenging due to changing precipitation patterns, warming temperatures, and extreme weather events resulting from climate change. The agriculture sector accounts for 55% of total world GHG emissions; paradoxically, it must strive to reduce GHG emissions and to increase food production simultaneously. Ideally this will be done without increasing deforestation and consequently decreasing carbon storage. To face these climate change hurdles and maintain consistent crop yields, countries will likely consider using or expanding current use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

cornpharma+gmo

Photo Credit: www.darkgovernment.com

GMOs are organisms that have been inserted with another organism’s genetic material to achieve new properties. The new properties for crops typically include herbicide tolerance, virus resistance, and water-uptake efficiency. The new genetic material can come from plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria. For example, in the US the majority of soybeans, corn, and cotton are GMOs with genetic material from soil bacterium, bacillus thuringiensis; the bacteria produces a protein toxic to certain insect larvae, but not to humans and animals.

In addition to the US, many countries have already taken stances on this divisive topic. Others remain undecided as they weigh the pros and cons. The US along with Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and India are leading producers of GMOs. Among countries limiting GMOs are: EU countries, requiring approval of all genetically modified products prior to distribution; Switzerland, banning GMO farming since 2005; Russia, banning all imported GMO products; and China, banning GMOs for human consumption but allowing them for livestock.

Monsanto, a producer of GM seeds and Roundup herbicide, advocates for using heat and drought resistant GM seeds to adapt to climate change impacts. Other proponents argue GMO crops can adapt more quickly to sudden weather changes than conventional breeding methods.  They also maintain that farmers can produce more with fewer resources, thus having less climate affecting impacts.

Opponents of GMOs champion alternatives like ecological agriculture and conventional breeding that, they say, are just as good if not better. They also site environmental hazards, unknown human health risks, biodiversity loss, and economic concerns as reasons to ban or at least label GMO crops.  Mark Spitznagel, professor of risk engineering at NYU School of Engineering, compares the “GMO experiment” to the US financial system before the 2008 crash, which many people believed to be “too big to fail.”  He differentiates the two explaining that there are no possible bailouts when the GMO enterprise fails, and that the consequences would be much more devastating. Genetic engineering is only 40 years old. Uncertain future consequences of using this new technology is troubling to many people who believe the risks outweigh the potential benefits.

As more countries submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and consider adaptation methods to climate change, it will be interesting to see how the global dialogue surrounding GMOs develops. The agriculture sector is the largest contributor to global anthropogenic non-CO2 GHGs. The agriculture sector directly impacts climate change. Climate change directly impacts the agriculture sector. Deciding how to feed a growing, hungry planet and also curb temperature increases will be one controversial topic stemming from this paradoxical challenge.

53cbadc236dd9-640x419

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Warsaw, Wildlife, and Greenpeace

The trip has cIMG_2014ome to an end. And what an experience it was. During the 12-14 hour days, it felt like it was going on forever, but at the end of theIMG_2023 week I was questioning where my week had gone. Some of the highlights included getting 2 feet away from Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, walking around Old Town, hearing the inspiring words of Christiana Figueres, working with my great NGO, Wildlife Conservation Society, actually seeing the international process at work, and getting to know my fellow VLS delegates better.

My biggest disappointment was the lack of discussion throughout the week on my chosen topic: wildlife, endangered species, and biodiversity. While I tried to tailor each of my posts to my topic and analyze each side event to figure out its indirect link to the conservation of species, I noticed that the topic was rarely, if ever, discussed. Biodiversity and ecosystems where mentioned broadly here and there (most notably in the ocean acidification and REDD+ side events I attended), but for the most part, I heard nothing on how climate change is adversely impacting CITES-logo-high-resolution-300x171species. I am aware that the UN has other treaties, such as the Convention on Biodiversity and CITES, but knowing what I know about how climate change is affecting species, I would have thought at least one side event would have had that focus. This became particularly more puzzling to me when I learned more than one wildlife conservation group attended the CoP. While I realize that most people place a higher value on the plights of the human race when it comes to climate change, the importance of conserving biodiversity cannot be overlooked. As the Lion King says: “we are all connected in the great circle of life.”

On my last night in Poland, Heather, Lindsay, and I had the unique experience of attending a Greenpeace party. Greenpeace gave a recap of of their 2 weeks at the CoP. They had some exciting protests against cop19_greenpeace_670pcPoland’s reliance on coal and unveiled brilliant t-shirts: a play on the Godfather – the “coalfather.” I, not for lack of want, did not get lucky enoughBZboykZCIAANefn.jpg_large to secure one. There were also several demonstrations on the Arctic 30. Greenpeace is currently on a campaign to free the arctic 30; 30 peaceful activists from around the world who boarded the Arctic Sunrise in an attempt to board a Russian oil rig in protest of reliance on fossil fuels and to try and stop the drilling. The Russian authorities took control of the Arctic Sunrise and the arctic 30, who are now detained in Russia for piracy and hooliganism. Their call: “Free the Arctic 30.”

190010eb-f999-4d88-990c-f46dd6596ee8.fileGreenpeace in Greenland

Overall, I am thankful for this cultural and learning experience.