Natural Systems The Best Defense Against Climate Change

Study Highlights Ecosystems As Key Strategy

Though his business card says Director of Forest Carbon Science at The Nature Conservancy, Bronson Griscom introduces himself as an ecological accountant. Griscom radiates an optimism somewhat rare in seasoned environmentalists, especially when he discusses the “carbon economy” of nature: the everyday role that trees, grasslands and coastal habitats play in the carbon cycle. Griscom can measure the carbon impact of logging in old growth forests, or how well different forest ecosystems work as sinks for absorbing and storing carbon from the atmosphere. He helps link our economy with the economy of the biosphere.

In recent decades, forest use—Griscom’s area of expertise—has been widely studied for its climate impacts. Forest loss accounts for 8 to 10 percent of carbon emissions globally; tropical rainforests like the Amazon have become almost synonymous with land conservation, largely because they work as massive carbon sinks and are home to many of the world’s indigenous people and endangered species.

deforestation and climate change

But other global ecosystems and managed lands—from farmlands and peatlands to seagrass and tidal marshes—have garnered less attention from climate regulators, both as a source of emissions and a potential mitigation solution. In fact, until recently no one had ever integrated the raw data on all the carbon that all ecosystems were already sequestering, and what the potential was for increasing carbon storage among all these habitats together, as Griscom and his team studied.

“I thought we would review a few papers and take an average to answer the question,” he says. “We were shocked to find that important gaps remained in answering the question: how much can lands contribute to solving climate change? So we took it upon ourselves to convene a large group of scientists across 15 research institutions to take a comprehensive look at this question.”

Answering that question became the highest priority for Bronson’s team, and the foundation for what has become the most comprehensive study on the role that nature can play in keeping global temperature increases to 2°C or below. They found that, with the right management, nature can play a bigger role than we realized.

Natural climate solutions offer up to 37% of the mitigation needed between now and 2030 to keep global temperature rise below 2°C.

Mt. Kilimanjaro deforestation

The paper offers a comprehensive roadmap for reducing carbon emissions through nature. The study is the culmination of a partnership between the Conservancy and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation that brought together more than two-dozen leading natural scientists and economists from fifteen research, educational and private institutions around the world.

The land-use sector is currently responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. But this new study shows that this could change—and with concerted global action on land use over the next decade, nature can be a significant part of the climate solution.

The analysis found that the total biophysical potential for natural climate solutions while still taking account of food production needs is as much as 23.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year—approximately 30 percent more than previous, less comprehensive estimates.

In addition, the study’s economic analyses show that half of these natural climate solutions (11.3 billion tons CO2e) offer cost-effective mitigation opportunities, because they cost less than the future impacts of climate change, expected to cost society more than $100 per ton of CO2 in the atmosphere. These cost-effective NCS mitigation options offer up to 37 percent of mitigation needed between now and 2030 to keep global temperature rise below 2°C —the widely recognized target of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Pathways to Natural Climate Solutions

To synthesize the research, Griscom and his team developed a framework to distill the world’s “natural climate solutions”—the proven ways of storing and reducing carbon emissions in forests, grasslands (including agricultural and rangelands) and wetlands—into a taxonomy of 20 specific pathways that account for the full climate potential of nature.

In addition to covering three biomes, the pathways also look at different practices across a variety of economic scenarios that mitigate climate change, including the implementation of low-cost opportunities only ($10 per tonne CO2e or less).

Another striking aspect of these pathways is the additional benefits they provide. Most nature climate solutions—if effectively implemented—also offer water filtration, flood buffering, improved soil health, protection of biodiversity habitat, and enhanced climate resilience.

“The approach is synergistic,” says Justin Adams, managing director for Global Lands at the Nature Conservancy. “We can hit multiple targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals if we get this right.”

palm oil plantation deforestation

There is, however, a catch: The world must act soon.

Assuming current business-as-usual trajectories, increased emissions entering the atmosphere, coupled with continued environmental degradation, will lessen the impact that nature can have. If natural climate solutions are mobilized over the next 10 to 15 years, they could provide 37 percent of the needed mitigation for global climate targets. But if action is delayed until after 2030, that number drops to 33 percent, and drops again to only 22 percent after 2050.

Over the past two years, the world experienced unprecedented global climate momentum. In September 2015, international leaders adopted the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to fight poverty, promote sustainability and address climate change. Shortly after, nearly 200 countries came together in Paris to adopt the world’s largest ever international climate treaty.

And despite recent setbacks, including the United States announcing its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, many countries have moved forward implementing voluntary measures to limit emissions. And while natural climate solutions are part of many countries’ pledges, there remains a gap between promised action and realized climate progress.

“Natural climate solutions are available now, are cost effective and greatly benefit communities,” said Justin Adams.

As they are currently written, the Paris Agreement pledges still fall short, likely keeping warming around 4°C. Every five years, international representatives and negotiators will meet to ramp up ambition, but the current timeline for countries to end their reliance on fossil fuels while still maintaining development and economic growth does not align with what is needed to achieve climate stability. Barring a technological miracle, the world likely needs more time than it realistically has to move to full economic decarbonization.

“There’s a growing recognition that to get to below 2°C, we need to actively drawdown carbon from the atmosphere,” Adams says. “And while there’s lots of interest and investment in new technology solutions to capture and store carbon, this is new, experimental technology. Trees and other plants, meanwhile have already perfected this process over hundreds of millions of years of evolution—we’re unlikely to see a better carbon capture and storage technology than that which nature provides.”

deforestation and biodiversity

This makes the findings from the 20 pathways particularly important: they provide a scalable near-term option that, combined with fossil fuel emission reductions, can put the planet on a 2° path by 2030. If world leaders hold off on concurrently investing in nature now, emerging technology will have to play an exponentially larger role in reducing emissions later on. “That’s a gamble on the future that can be prevented today,” Adams says.

“The rapid deployment of clean energy technologies currently being witnessed is truly inspiring, and we absolutely must press forward with the deployment of renewables, electric cars, energy efficiency and other methods for fossil fuel reduction,” Adams adds. “But we also need to see a similar level of investment in natural solutions, which are available now, are cost effective and greatly benefit communities.”

Read The Full Story at Climate Change News via Nature

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems.

Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Deforestation Surging Again In Amazon Basin

Deforestation In Brazil Not Expected To Stop

The Brazilian government estimates that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has increased by 29 percent over last year. That’s the second year in a row that deforestation in the Amazon accelerated. Last year, the pace rose by about 24 percent.

The estimated deforestation rate, released Tuesday by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), is based on satellite imagery. The institute found that from August 2015 to July 2016, the Amazon rainforest was deforested at an estimated rate of 7,989 square kilometers (more than 3,000 square miles). The year before, it was 6,207 square kilometers. Two years ago, it was barely over 5,000 square kilometers.

forest tribes and forest conservation

INPE acknowledged the increase but noted that the current rate represents a decrease of 71 percent, when compared with 2004. That was the year the government implemented a policy designed to curb deforestation; from 2004-2007, the rate of deforestation dropped rapidly.

Many observers had been prepared to see an increase in deforestation, but not one this high. The causes of the increased deforestation were actions taken by the federal government between 2012 and 2015, such as the waiving of fines for illegal deforestation, the abandonment of protected areas — that is, ‘conservation units’ and indigenous lands — and the announcement, which he calls ‘shameful,’ that the government doesn’t plan to completely stop illegal deforestation until the year 2030.

The rise in deforestation is raising concerns about Brazil’s ability to meet its commitments as part of the international Paris Agreement on combating climate change. Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, and Brazil’s success in reducing deforestation from 2004 to 2014 was seen as a model for other developing countries.

A lack of funding has hampered the organization that’s tasked with stopping illegal logging efforts. The Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, or Ibama, has struggled with budget cuts as Brazil grapples with a recession.

“The loggers are better equipped than we are,” said Uiratan Barroso, Ibama’s head of law enforcement. “Until we have the money to rent unmarked cars and buy proper radios we won’t be able to work. A 30 percent cut in Ibama’s budget has meant fewer operations this year. Helicopters and jeeps have been idle due to a lack of fuel.”

rainforest conservation Latin America

Deforestation and Climate Change News via

reforestation and climate change solution

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Tropical Deforestation Impacts Climate, Agriculture, Ecosystems

Impact As Costly As Carbon From Fossil Fuels

In the face of climate change, scientists often focus on the harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions, but new research shows that tropical deforestation triggers global changes that are just as costly as carbon pollution.

Clearing trees not only releases carbon into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse gas effect, but also alters rain patterns and increases temperatures worldwide. This distorts Earth’s normal wind and water systems and puts future agricultural productivity at risk.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

Tropical deforestation delivers a double whammy to the climate – and to farmers,” lead study author Deborah Lawrence said in a statement. “Most people know that climate change is a dangerous global problem, and that it’s caused by pumping carbon into the atmosphere. But it turns out that removing forests alters moisture and air flow, leading to changes – from fluctuating rainfall patterns to rises in temperatures – that are just as hazardous, and happen right away.”

Most people might think that this only impacts tropical places like South America, which is home to the expansive Amazon rainforest. However, researchers say that these findings even apply to the United Kingdom and Hawaii, which could see an increase in rainfall, while less rain would fall in the US Midwest and Southern France.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Overall, there would be 10-15 percent reduced rainfall in the region surrounding where the tree clearing took place. Thailand has already seen less rainfall at the start of its dry season, and the Amazon’s annual rainfall schedule has started to shift as well.

In addition, deforestation in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa may alter growing conditions in agricultural areas in the tropics and as far away as the US Midwest, Europe and China, which is bad news for farmers.

Complete tropical deforestation could lead to a rise in global temperature of 0.7 degrees Celsius (33.3 Fahrenheit), which is on top of the projected impact from greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. According to the report, described in the journal Nature Climate Change, temperature increases are guaranteed with deforestation.

“This does not change, no matter what you do – no matter what kind of model you use, temperature increases occur – whether it’s half a degree, a full degree or two degrees,” Lawrence explained.

“That’s a very big deal,” she added. “In the last few centuries, the average global temperature has never varied by more than about one degree. Once we go above one degree – to 1.5 degrees or more – we’re talking about conditions that are very different from anything humanity has ever experienced.”

deforestation and climate change

Tropical forests move more water than any other ecosystem on land and are central to the Earth’s ability to generate moisture, helping to keep the planet cool. But removing large swaths of forests disturbs this natural cycle. What’s more, as more deforestation occurs, the greater its impact worldwide will be.

“While complete deforestation is unlikely to occur, over the course of history, deforestation has continued as countries develop,” Lawrence said. “Further, this study fills gaps in our understanding of deforestation tipping points – and what could happen if we continue down this path.”

According to the research, if 30-50 percent of the Amazon rainforest is cut down, it would put deforestation at the tipping point, meaning any more forest clearing than that would lead to rainfall reductions that could significantly change ecosystems, as well as raise the risk of forest fires.

Lawrence and her colleagues hope that this study can help policy makers and rainforest managers come up with better strategies for combating deforestation.


climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information

Wales Will Conserve Rainforests In Africa, Latin America

Conserving, Reforesting Two Million Hectares

The Welsh charity, Size of Wales, has reached its fundraising goal of an astounding U.S. $3 million to help protect an area of rainforest that is roughly the same size of its own country. The various conservation projects in Africa and Latin America are aimed at halting logging practices as well as tackling deforestation over an area of 2 million hectares in size.

rainforest conservation Latin America

Initiated less than three years ago, the Size of Wales charity strives to take a more positive approach to climate change by engaging the citizens of Wales in conservation efforts. In order to increase support, charity members rally communities, school, businesses and organizations throughout the country, encouraging them to donate funds and participate in rainforest projects.

The U.S.$3 million raised is intended to sponsor a series of projects in Africa and Latin America, including sustainable management of forest resources, aiding in the significant reduction of global carbon emissions. One project in particular aims to protect 54,000 hectares of Peruvian Amazon rainforest, as well as working to improve education and business opportunities for women and young adults.

Wales has become the extraordinary example in forest conservation, encouraging other countries to hop on board. In fact, a Danish non-governmental organization is considering the development of a project entitled “Size of Denmark”, which would protect twice as much land as the Welsh charity. The Size of Wales charity is a role model for other nations due to its remarkable efforts in raising funds to protect an area of rainforest equaling the size of its own country.

reforest Tanzania

Few environmental campaigns have captured the imagination as much as Size of Wales, the headline grabbing plan to raise enough money to safeguard two millions hectares – literally the size of Wales – of threatened rainforest around the world.

On St David’s Day the charity announced it had, with the help of match funding from bodies such as the Waterloo Foundation, raised the £2m it needed to achieve it two million hectare target.

Claire Raisin, who took over as director in April, admitted that the public’s response to the campaign had exceeded expectations.

“We’ve done really over the last year or so through fundraising with schools, communities and businesses across Wales, and also with our partners that run the projects overseas,” she said.

“We thought it was going to be a short-term campaign but we’ve found that it’s actually incredibly successful and really well received, particularly our education programme.”

She added: “I think the message of climate change and tropical forests is often very difficult to bring to life in the UK, and how our actions here have an impact overseas and vice versa.

“We’ve found some very good ways of engaging with people on those messages and helping people feel empowered to make a difference, particularly because we offer everybody who fundraises for us the opportunity to select which projects their funds go to.

“We really encourage an emotional link, particularly the schools. If a school wants to make contact with a school in one of our project areas, we encourage those relationships.

“It makes for a much more positive experience, because climate change and deforestation can seem so overwhelming, to empower people to feel the small steps they make can make a big difference is really important.”

Size of Wales has a portfolio of 20 projects around the world, but focuses particularly on what it calls its ‘Big Five.’

Four of those are in Africa and one in South America, and together they encompass an area of two million hectares – enough by themselves to achieve the size of Wales target.

The projects tackle the full range of issues facing rainforests and their indigenous communities. One in Guyana is focused on securing indigenous people’s land rights and tenure over an area of 1.4 million hectares.

deforestation and climate change

On the other end of the scale in terms of area – though still of critical importance to the community concerned – is a tree planting and reforestation project in Uganda, which is run by the Mbale Coalition against Poverty co-funded by the Welsh Government.

“They’re all vitally important whether it’s securing legal land rights for indigenous people, protecting forest that’s already there or planting forest that has been destroyed,” said Ms Raisin.

The director recently visited a community land rights project in Brazil to see for herself the difference Size of Wales is making.

“When people think of Brazil and rainforests they think of the Amazon. Actually the Mata Atlantica, the tropical rainforest that runs down the Atlantic coast, is vast and vitally important, but because it’s on the coast it’s very close to large cities including Sao Paulo. These cities are expanding into the forests,” she said.

“There are indigenous communities all along the coast. We work in co-operation with two other organisations, Christian Aid and CPI. who are an indigenous group based in Brazil.”

The indigenous people of the area, the Guarani, were driven from the land several years ago and the forest was cleared for logging and charcoal, Ms Raisin explained. Once all the trees were cleared mining companies began extracting sand, so what was once tropical forest right up to the coast is now destroyed.

“The community moved back to the land in 2000, and they’ve been gradually working on securing legal land rights,” she added.

“The money we’ve raised in Wales has been going to help these communities raise awareness of their legal rights, where they can go to get help to secure legal support.”

Ms Raisin explained that there are many areas of rainforest around the world that are protected on paper but where there is no enforcement of legal rights.

She added: “In a way that’s the beauty of being able to work with indigenous groups. Certainly in the Amazon, [on] land that has now secure land titles to indigenous groups, deforestation has dropped there to 1%, while the average rate of deforestation in the Amazon is 20%.

“Working with local groups that understand the land, know how to harvest things sustainably, is a really very simple long term fix.”

But, she explained, securing land rights is a time consuming and laborious process.

“The land has to be identified by the indigenous groups, that detail then gets submitted to the government and is officially recognised, and then a few years down the line it becomes demarcated and at that point it is fenced or clearly marked. At that point it’s definitely protected.

“But the other benefit is that once land has been identified and recognised, even before it’s been demarcated, the groups living on that land are able to apply for funding for schools and healthcare, whereas when the land is unrecognised they can get no financial support for their rights.”

Inevitably there are sometimes problems.

“The main issues come when there are mining companies or other resource extraction interests vying for the land,” Ms Raisin said.

“[At] one of the communities I visited, when they returned to their land some local corporations had hired mercenaries and people were beaten, they had their houses burnt down. They were very aggressively trying to drive them off their land.

“I was astounded at how calm and dignified they were about the whole process. There was this wonderful acceptance that it’s not going to happen quickly and they were probably not going to see forest back there but their children and grandchildren would.

“It’s very much a case of taking the time to do it properly rather than getting aggressive or violent, I think it’s commendable.”

Ms Raisin explained that the Size of Wales money is used to provide partners overseas with the funds and resources they need to be able to visit indigenous communities and tell them what help is available.

“In Brazil for example it’s about enabling groups there that focus on helping indigenous communities, because just the travel and time required for visiting these groups is huge,” she said.

“Some of the money will go for very specific things, for example the project in Guyana they need resources such as field clothes and printer paper.”

Perhaps inevitably one can’t help wondering, given the size of the world’s rainforests and the scale of deforestation that is going on, how much difference two million hectares make in global terms.

Ms Raisin has an answer. “If you put it in real time it doesn’t feel as significant as you’d like it to. At the moment an area the size of Wales is destroyed every two to three months,” she said.

“But every step counts and the great thing about the projects we’re working with is that they’re really long term, particularly the legal land rights and reforestation projects.”

She added: “A lot of the work that we’re doing is building capacity on the ground so the projects will be self-sustaining in the future and won’t need as much support from us. It is a huge problem but we’ve got to do what we can.”

Perhaps one of the most encouraging things about Size of Wales is the impact it has had in other parts of the developed world.

“We’re a real flagship, we’ve had interest from a group in Denmark who’ve said, this is such a brilliant idea, and they’re looking to do a Size of Denmark campaign,” Ms Raisin said.

“There’s a group in Herefordshire who’s trying to set up a Size of Herefordshire. Because we are a small nation, the fact that we’ve done such a fantastic job could really kick a few other places into action as well.”

Now that Size of Wales has passed its initial target of £2m, what is the next stage?

“We’ve again managed to secure a match fund for the next three years from the Waterloo Foundation, so every £1 that’s raised in Wales we’re able to double,” said Ms Raisin.

The charity’s core costs are covered by its core funding from the Welsh Government and Waterloo Foundation, so all donations people make go directly to the projects.

It has a very small administrative team, just two full-time staff and one part-time education officer. It is in the process of applying for more funding because the education officer is fully booked for the next few months, so the charity wants to make him full time so he can get to more schools.

Size of Wales is also trying to engage with more businesses. It has a successful partnership with Specsavers which supports the Brazil project. Staff at Specsavers in Cardiff and Penarth raised more than £1,000 dancing zumba on Cardiff High Street among other things.

“When some of the team from Brazil came to the UK to meet their partners we organised for them to meet the staff at Christian Aid,” Ms Raisin said.

“It provides great staff engagement. We’d like to see businesses have a personal link directly with projects on the ground.”

In the last year Size of Wales’ educational outreach programme has reached 30,000 school children, but Ms Raisin wants to expand the programme further, linking up with schools overseas and encouraging a pen-pal exchange.

“Some of the projects are very isolated, some are very well resourced. In Uganda they may even be able to get Skype link ups,” she said.

“To get kids in Wales talking to kids of the same age in Uganda and discussing the similarities in life – because everybody loves football or has a bad day with their maths teacher – to talk about the similarities and differences in life would really help.”

Ms Raisin, who lives in Roath, Cardiff, studied at university in Cardiff before doing her masters and a PhD in conservation at the Durrell Institute in Canterbury.

She worked in Mauritius for a few years, “climbing trees and catching parrots”, and continued working in the academic side of conservation on her return.

“But I was finding that I was getting more and more disconnected from the work on the ground, and decided that I wanted to get back into more beneficial conservation and environmental work,” she said.

She joined Size of Wales in June 2012 as partnership manager, responsible for business partnerships and fundraising events, becoming director last April.

She described how Size of Wales, besides its more critical benefits, is spreading awareness of Wales among indigenous communities around the world.

“The indigenous groups I met with in Brazil speak Guarani rather than Portuguese, which is the majority language. When I mentioned Welsh is the traditional language in Wales but a lot of people don’t speak it there was a real empathy,” she said.


climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support.