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  • Archive for October, 2015

    Protected forests 'still losing trees'

    2015 - 10.28

    Designating areas of forest as 'protected' might not be having the desired effect of stopping trees in these places from being felled, a new report has suggested.

    Forests around the world are under threat from being chopped down for timber, to make room for agriculture or being destroyed in fires. Implementing protected forests was a technique that was meant to at least prevent the first two threats, but it might not be working.

    This is according to a study published in PLOS ONE; it states that the world’s protected areas lost three per cent of their forest cover over a 12-year period. In some instances the protected areas saw a greater proportion of tree loss than the non-protected ones, Mongabay reported.

    A team from Aalto University in Finland used satellite images to track protected areas (PAs) and intact forest landscapes (IFLs), which are continuous tracts of primary forest large enough and undisturbed enough to retain their original levels of biodiversity. The scientists reviewed how these areas of forest had changed between 2000 and 2012.

    They found that the total amount of forest lost across this period was roughly five per cent. In PAs this figure was three per cent. So while lower than the amount of deforestation seen around the world, these designated areas of protection still require more support to stop trees being cut down.

    The researchers also note that agricultural demand for land seems to be the main driver of deforestation, with much of the forest loss coming as a result of farmers clearing trees off the land.

    “However, it is worth to recognise that agriculture related forest loss involves much more complex dynamics than our regression analyses are able to capture,” the authors add. “We further found strong connection between losses in protected and/or intact forests and population density and GDP to fully support our second hypothesis.”

    Obama meets Widodo with climate change high on agenda

    2015 - 10.26

    This week sees a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Indonesian President Joko Widodo, with climate change and deforestation high on the agenda.

    As Widodo heads to the White House, forest fires rage across the Asian country, which has made the issue even more pertinent that it already was.

    The illegal burning of Indonesian forests is indeed a massive issue. Some estimate that the current emissions from Indonesian fires are higher than the total emissions from the US economy. As such, the country's government and its leader are under huge pressure to tackle the dangerous practice.

    Speaking on Friday ahead of the meeting at the Oval Office on Monday, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said that this is Widodo’s "first visit to Washington since taking office, and I do expect them to discuss climate". In view of the UN climate talks in Paris later this year, Schultz added, as "two of the world’s largest democracies, [this is] an area that the two countries can work together" on.

    Pressure is mounting on Indonesia from both domestic and international groups to curb its rate of deforestation and lower carbon emissions. Greenwood Management is among those who would stress the importance of protecting the nation's forests – not only would stopping forest fires reduce carbon emissions, but also allowing forests to flourish is the planet's best means of absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and thus combatting climate change from both angles.

    Nigel Purvis, president and CEO of the Washington-based consulting firm Climate Advisers, commented: "As Presidents Obama and Jokowi meet, much of Indonesia and Southeast Asia will be choking on smoke from fires set to clear forests for farming.

    "In 2009, President Jokowi’s predecessor pledged that Indonesia would reduce deforestation dramatically. That hasn’t happened yet. The stars are aligning for President Jokowi to deliver now, and this will be a test of his climate leadership."

    EU using biomass loophole to cover up carbon emissions, critics say

    2015 - 10.21

    The European Union (EU) needs to provide greater transparency and honesty about its carbon emissions, critics have said.

    According to Climate Central, a nonprofit organisation that analyses and reports on climate science, there are loopholes in the way the EU declares its carbon emission which are very misleading.

    An article on the subject by Quartz explains: "A legal loophole in the EU’s climate rules means it turns a blind eye to tens of millions of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that it pumps into the atmosphere each year."

    This loophole is that the EU counts biomass as a renewable energy, when the reality is that the burning of wood for energy could be damaging the world's forests and increasing CO2 emissions.

    "The core issue lies in how to count the CO2 pollution released when wood is burned for electricity and heat," Climate Central states. It explains that just because trees grow back, this does not make them renewable, so the EU must be more careful in the way is classifies biomass energy as well as reconsider the way it reports its carbon emissions.

    The EU has set a target of getting 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. However, critics suggest that this could be to the detriment of the world's forests, which need to be managed and protected against unsustainable forestry techniques, such as chopping trees down at a fast rate to burn wood in power stations.

    Climate Central says: "Wood tends to emit more carbon than fossil fuels to generate the same amount of energy. Eventually, trees grow back and absorb this carbon. However, a growing body of peer-reviewed research suggests it can take decades—or even centuries—before a forest grows back enough to balance out the atmospheric CO2 created when its trees were burned."

    Tree-planting drones to help combat deforestation

    2015 - 10.19

    Drones have already been hailed as an increasingly important weapon in the arsenal of the armies of organisations trying to combat deforestation. But the uses of this next technology appear to be extending even further.

    Drones have started to be used as a means of monitoring deforestation. By flying the pilotless machines above forest land, an organisation can spot areas where trees are being illegally felled. Moreover, due to the fact that the drone relays images in real time, police enforcement can act immediately should a perpetrator be caught in the act.

    However, while this use has become well established over the past two years, now another company is looking to use drones in a different way to combat deforestation. The British engineering firm BioCarbon Engineering is seeking international backing to develop the first automated tree-planting drones.

    The start-up, which is based in Oxford, has said that drones could be used to plant as many as one billion trees around the world every year. With the planet losing around six billion trees every year, these tree-planting drones would represent a major tool in reversing the damage that is being done.

    Speaking at a recent UN Solutions Summit in New York, Susan Graham, an engineer at BioCarbon Engineering, said that should the company's plan go ahead, the specially developed fixed-wing drones will take detailed images of a particular area to tell the company about its nutrients, biodiversity and topology.

    She continued: "We then churn that data through an algorithm to generate a precision planting pattern, which we upload into our quadcopter… This flies at between two and three metres above the ground and fires a biodegradable seed pod at each position, which contains all the nutrients for healthy tree growth."

    Forestry investors and supporters of forest conservation, such as Greenwood Management, are recognising the vital role technology will play in the battle against deforestation. Drones, it would appear, are to be on the front line of this battle.

    Indonesian government wants palm oil zero deforestation u-turn

    2015 - 10.14

    The Indonesian government has asked the country's big palm oil companies to backtrack on their zero deforestation pledges because it is reportedly hurting small businesses.

    At last year's United Nations climate change summit, some of the major palm oil companies in Indonesia agreed that they would not accept palm oil from suppliers that were practicing deforestation. However, first local and now national government has said that the smaller providers are not able to meet the environmentally friendly credentials so have urged the larger companies to relax their policies.

    Palm is found in everything from peanut butter and pizza to soap and lip stick. However, the product is a major contributor to deforestation around the world, particularly in east Asia.

    Indonesia is the world's biggest palm oil producer and exporter and its industry employs nearly 5 million workers. The country is also home to the world's third largest tropical forests, but these are coming under risk as plantation firms use "slash and burn" techniques to clear forests to plant palm oil trees, a technique which is also leading to fires in the forests, thus further contributing to deforestation.

    According to Reuters, the government has asked palm oil firms who signed the Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) to exempt smallholders. Musdhalifah Machmud, deputy minister for food and agriculture at the coordinating ministry for economic affairs, said that smaller companies are not yet ready for the same level of sustainable forest practices as the big players.

    A representative from an environmental NGO has warned of how damaging it would be to backtrack on the zero deforestation pledge. They said: "This would pretty much ruin the whole attempt to create an industry-wide no-deforestation situation to remove the stigma from Indonesian palm oil."

    As the world's fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases – mainly due to the rate of deforestation in the country – Indonesia will be one of the countries in the spotlight at December's UN climate change conference in Paris. Palm oil is likely to be a topic covered at the summit.

    UK timber industry booming as conifers mature

    2015 - 10.12

    The UK's timber industry is booming, new figures have suggested, with British forestry providing an example for others to follow.

    Data from the Forestry Commission states that a record 12 million tonnes of timber was produced in the UK in 2014. And according to the Forestry Commission, this upturn is thanks to a frenetic period of conifer sowing in the 1960s.

    It offers a clear example to timber industries around the world: plant now and see the rewards later. Likewise, for forestry investors, the long-term gains are there to be enjoyed – all it takes is the patience to wait for the investments, in this case the trees themselves, to mature.

    The timber production record in 2014 was a third higher than in 2008, the figures showed. A report by The Independent says that this increase was "helped by rising investment and increased promotion by the Government".

    Stuart Goodall, head of the private forestry and wood processing industry body ConFor, commented: "A lot of conifer forests were planted in the 1960s and 70s and they’re now coming to maturity. They take about 40 years to grow and this is the optimum time to be harvesting those trees."

    Conifer trees accounted for 96 per cent of all the timber produced in the UK last year. This is despite the fact that this type of tree only makes up around a quarter of all the trees in Britain, which demonstrates that there is a huge influx of these fully-grown trees now being felled.

    The British timber industry is now worth 1.9 billion a year and employs 40,000 people. Moreover, the industry is forecast to continue to grow steadily for the next 15 to 20 years, which is why companies such as Greenwood Management always urge investors to consider forestry as worthwhile market to invest in.

    Brazil to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent by 2030

    2015 - 10.07

    Brazil has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 300 million tonnes by 2030, but some environmentalists say this is not enough.

    Speaking at the UN in New York, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff has committed to a 37 per cent reduction from 2005 by 2025 and an ‘intended reduction' of 43 per cent by 2030. This will be achieved largely through preventing deforestation.

    Brazil has been widely praised for the work it has done in protecting the country's forests. Indeed, the drop in forest clearing avoided 3.2 billion tons of CO2 emissions between 2003 and 2013, or 320 million tons per year, according to a study published last year in the journal Science.

    With its latest emission targets, Brazil has become the first major developing country to pledge an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for an envisioned global pact against climate change, The Guardian reported.

    “Our goals are just as ambitious, if not more so, than those set by developed countries,” President Dilma Rousseff said as she announced the targets.

    The example set by Brazil bodes well ahead of the UN climate change summit, which is taking place in Paris at the end of the year. It is hoped that the high targets set by the South American nation will raise the bar for any similar targets set by the world's other leading polluters, of which Brazil is the seventh worst culprit.

    While praised as a step in the right direction, some critics have said President Rousseff missed a chance to go even further. They say that Brazil has already largely achieved the reduction targets it has set, which actually makes the goals rather conservative.

    Environmentalists also urged Brazilian authorities to take a more robust and realistic approach to eradicating deforestation by 2030.

    Timber investments on the rise, research finds

    2015 - 10.05

    Institutional investors are increasingly turning towards timber as attractive markets pop up around the world, new research has suggested.

    Boston-based forestland research firm RISI Inc. states that institutional capital invested in timber grew to more than $57 billion as of 30 June, which is up from less than $1 billion in 1989. And according to a recent article by Pension & Investments forestland is set for a great deal more investment over the coming years, with many companies ploughing their pension investments into this field.

    At present it is estimated that between 80 and 90 per cent of all timber investments are focused on the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, the 2015-2019 Timberland Investment Outlook from timber manager New Forests, a timber manager based in Sydney, predicts that this will change, with other markets developing, particularly in South America and Asia, as well as notable growth forecast for Europe.

    The reasons for this growth are that forestry is increasingly becoming recognised as a stable asset to invest in, as Greenwood Management has illustrated. Indeed, annual timber returns have been between nine per cent and 10 per cent over the past three years, according to the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries' timberland indexes.

    Another reason, according to an institutional investor in the US, is the simplicity of the investment model. “A large portion of return comes just from biological growth — if the sun shines and the rain falls, the trees grow and along with them, our investment,” explained Vince Smith, head of the investment group of the New Mexico State Investment Council.

    The US is leading the way with timber investments; last month it was announced that three West Coast public pension funds committed more than half of the money to a new $1 billion timber investment partnership sponsored by Plum Creek Timber Company and Silver Creek Capital Management.