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  • Archive for December, 2015

    New sustainable palm oil study under the microscope

    2015 - 12.30

    A new study into sustainable palm oil has been termed controversial as it rejects zero deforestation while aiming for carbon neutral palm oil – so just what does this mean?

    The new report, which was created by signatories to the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto, outlines a new methodology, termed HCS+, which is tasked with investigating sustainable development in the palm oil industry.

    The methodology calls for companies to develop carbon neutral palm oil policies, while at the same time dismissing the aim for zero deforestation across the globe. It says that all forests across the world that have a carbon stock of more than 75 tonnes per hectare should be listed for protection. The report looks at whether it is possible that the palm oil sector can still grow without wreaking havoc on forests and the natural environment.

    Jonathan Porritt, co-chair of the HCS+ Steering Committee, which came up with the report, was reported by Business Green as saying: "For us, what matters more is not each and every hectare of forest, but each and every tonne of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.

    "It's only a carbon neutral approach that can deliver net zero emissions. Paradoxically, a zero deforestation position (which is, in effect, a zero new development position) cannot deliver that, because it all but guarantees that high levels of forest degradation and illegal encroachment in those forests will continue."

    As such, the study argues that zero deforestation pledges such as those that adopted by Asia Pulp and Paper, are not likely to be effective and firms should therefore be giving a different emphasis to their palm oil interests.

    Mr Porritt added that many firms must realise that they need to pay more for sustainably sourced palm oil if they wish to meet their environmental targets. "Most consumer goods companies, to be honest, are far less supportive of these measures in practice than their rhetoric might lead you to believe. What's more, the premiums that they pay for that 10 per cent are negligible, and often driven down further by extremely aggressive negotiations with the palm oil producers."

    Hawaii's forests in danger due to spreading fungus

    2015 - 12.28

    A tree that is crucial to the wellbeing of Hawaii's native forests is being killed off in vast quantities by a fungus, experts have confirmed, highlighting the importance of working to protect the precious forest land.

    The Ohia Lehua trees have been hugely affected by the fungus, which is said to have affected around 50 per cent of the tree species in Hawaii. This equates to forest cover of around 6,000 acres and so far, the fungus has been identified in Puna, Kona and Kau.

    According to Robert Hauff, the forest health coordinator at the Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources, more research into the fungus will be carried out over the course of the coming year in order to see what can be done about stamping it out. Hauff told The Waltonian: "Worst case scenario is that it spreads statewide and it decimates all of our ohia forests. They are so important for protecting our forest watersheds that it’s necessary our approach to combating this disease involves the highest levels of Government and includes non-government agencies and private partners that can provide additional resources and expertise.”

    As these trees are so crucial for the state, Hawaii's Department of Agriculture has rolled out a series of regulations that aim to prevent the spread of the fungus. The rules forbid people from moving flowers, wood and any other parts of Ohia Lehua trees from one of Hawaii's island to another. Mr Hauff also said that at least one global expert will visit Hawaii in 2016 in order to share knowledge in similar diseases, before helping to coordinate with local authorities in a bid to stamp out the outbreak.

    The Ohia Lehua trees are seen by many local people as being a sacred tree, belonging to the volcano goddess and to the hula goddess.

    Organisations around the world such as Greenwood Management have been working for many years to highlight the importance of forest cover to wildlife, the environment and future generations.

    Deforestation linked to soaring zoonotic malaria cases

    2015 - 12.23

    Deforestation has been blamed for a sharp rise in human cases of P. knowlesi malaria in Malaysia, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has confirmed.

    The school's study, which was published in Emerging Infectious Diseases, found that the rise in the number of cases of the disease could be traced back to rising deforestation and the associated environmental changes. The study is the first to investigate how the emergence or increase of the spread of a disease is linked to changes in land use.

    Plasmodium knowlesi is transmitted between hosts by mosquitoes and has previously been common among macaque monkeys who call the forest their home. However, it is now also the most common form of malaria in humans across many parts of Malaysia, highlighting the many damaging effects of deforestation. The number of cases is also on the rise across southeast Asia.

    Malaysia has witnessed large scale deforestation and rapid oil palm expansion over the last few years and this is now being linked to the malaria cases. In order to carry out the study, the researchers used hospital records dating back to 2008 and 2012 to collect data on the number of P. knowlesi malaria cases across the Kudat and Kota Marudu districts in Sabah, Malaysia.

    Lead author Kimberly Fornace, research fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "The dramatic rise in the number of P. knowlesi malaria cases in humans in Malaysia in the past ten years has been most common in areas with deforestation, as well as areas that are close to patches of forest where humans, macaques and mosquitoes are coming into closer and more frequent contact.

    "This suggests that there is a higher risk of P. knowlesi transmission in areas where land use is changing, and this knowledge will help focus efforts on these areas and also predict and respond to future outbreaks. Given our findings, we view deforestation as having distinct public health consequences which need to be urgently addressed."

    New mapping technology to track Brazil deforestation

    2015 - 12.21

    A new mapping platform called MapBiomas has been developed and will map deforestation across Brazil, its creators confirmed.

    A group of more than 20 organizations, in association with search giant Google, has come up with MapBiomas, which is capable of mapping land use and land cover change in Brazil from 1985 to today. At the moment, information on the changes in land use in the country is only released every five to eight years, but this new mapping platform will allow far more accurate and up to date data to be accessed.

    MapBiomas aims to create “annual maps of land-use, land-use change and forestry in Brazil in the last 30 years and keep it up to date”, Monga Bay reported, allowing people to track changes across the Amazon, Cerrado, Caatinga, Pantanal, Pampa and the Atlantic Forest alongside other pastures and zones.

    Pedro Walfir, coordinator of coastal zone MapBiomas, told the publication: "We will be able to know how much forest area was converted to pasture, how much mangrove was converted to urban area. We will know what was, and what will be, converted since 1985 until today.”

    The first lot of maps, which cover the period from 2008 to 2015, will be released in the first half of next year, the creators confirmed. MapBiomas will then go on to release new data and maps for the remaining years over the course of 2016 and into 2017.

    General coordinator for the project, Tasso Azevedo, said: "The production of annual maps will change the way we see the dynamics of land use in Brazil and this will be possible by applying new technologies and tools available today that did not exist a few years ago."

    MapBiomas makes use of Google Earth in order to process and distribute satellite images at a rapid pace to users across the globe. The open-access platform will provide data, codes and methodologies to people, therefore enabling scientists and other users to make use of MapBiomas' maps from any corner of the globe.

    Organisations like Greenwood Management are increasingly realising the need to prioritise forests in order to protect the land for the future and platforms such as MapBiomas will highlight the need to keep working to do so.

    Selected areas of Brazil 'preventing deforestation pledges from being met'

    2015 - 12.16

    Select parts of the Brazilian Amazon are wreaking havoc on the country’s plans to bring illegal deforestation to an end by 2030, reports have shown.

    Deforestation – a major source of carbon emissions – is a hot topic in Brazil, with the country pledging to end illegal tree felling over the coming years. However, areas such as Anapu, home to corruption and blurred legal lines, are threatening this pledge.

    Daniel Azeredo, public prosecutor in Belém, capital of Pará, was reported by the Financial Times as saying: “We managed to greatly reduce deforestation by large crop farmers and ranchers, but we still have smaller areas being cut by small and medium producers and by criminal gangs. Stopping these people is now the challenge.”

    Currently, Brazil razes more forests per year than almost any other country, with only Indonesia at the same level. Illegal loggers and small farmers are the main culprits behind the tree felling, wishing to use the absence of Government intervention regarding the protection of Government-owned land to their advantage.

    Asserting claims for land often leads to tree felling and violence in areas such as Pará, boosting the level of damaging deforestation.

    According to the Brazilian Government, it is hard at work solving the issue of property disputes – and the related deforestation that can result. However, the campaign group Imazon, which focuses on issues directly affecting the Amazon, warned that it could take almost 60 years to solve the problem if it continues at its current rate.

    This stark warning suggests that the issue of deforestation in the Amazon is one which is not likely to be resolved any time soon – something which makes the promises made by Brazil at the recent Paris talks on climate change seem almost impossible to fulfil.

    Global warming impacted hugely by deforestation, research finds

    2015 - 12.14

    Net carbon emissions could be slashed by five billion tonnes a year if tropical deforestation were to be lowered and degraded tropical forests were restored, scientists in the US have estimated.

    Richard Houghton, senior researcher at the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Research Center, which was founded to address pressing global environmental issues, believes that more focus should be placed on the impact tropical forests can have on mitigating climate change.

    By boosting the world’s tropical forest estate and working to cut deforestation levels across the globe, almost 50 per cent of annual global emissions could be deleted. These efforts, combined with the work to lower the burning of fossil fuels, could avert dangerous climate change, the researchers found.

    Houghton and his team recently published four papers which set out their argument, with one of the publications suggesting that one billion tonnes of annual carbon emissions could be removed by stamping out tropical deforestation across the globe.

    The report said: "Achieving the target will therefore be challenging, even though it is in the self-interest of the international community."

    It also called for a shift away from the "dependence on natural resource depletion toward recognition of the dependence of human societies on the natural capital that tropical forests represent, and the goods and services they provide".

    Rolled out over the course of a decade, this focus on cutting deforestation could help to avoid global warming in excess of two degrees celsius, the team of scientists found.

    Forests across the globe are being recognised as playing an increasingly important part in the welfare of land for future generations, something which is assisted by reports such as this one. Organisations including Greenwood Management have been working for years to encourage the protection of precious forests all over the world.

    Calls for better US forest management

    2015 - 12.09

    There are calls for congress to help deliver a solution to improve forestry management in the US.

    Reports from Capital Press have highlighted the need for better management practices in order to protect the 188.4 million acres of national forests that the state is responsible for through the US Forest Service.

    While historically congress has done a good job, the report accuses the Clinton and Obama administrations of shifting to a “doctrine of benign neglect”, which is seeing timber sales fall and the incidences of wildfires grow.

    The problem appears to have been created in part by budget constraints. The more disasters and wildfires that need tackling, the more they eat into the forestry budget. As these funds are depleted, the less money there is to put preventative measures in place to tackle wildfires.

    Nick Smith, executive director of Healthy Forestry, Healthy Communities, commented: “Depending on funding, it can take a couple of years to complete projects and they can take up to 250 pages of environmental review.”

    Indeed, millions are spent every year just to get through hoops set by government. Travis Joseph, president of the American Forest Resources Council, added that the called for revisions in the service aren't “about taking away environmental protections, but making them faster and more efficient”.

    It is hoped that a bill currently in the US House will provide a turning point for the problems.

    The Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2015, HR2647, would enable the Forest Service to access funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in order to fight wildfires. The bill has passed the House, but it is currently uncertain how the Senate will choose to move forward.

    Africa starts $1.6 billion forestry initiative

    2015 - 12.07

    A major new forestry initiative has kicked off in Africa with $1.6 billion set to be invested in the restoration of forestry.

    The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative – dubbed AFR100 – aims to restore 100 million hectares of forest across Africa over the course of the next 15 years. The efforts will see more than a dozen countries come together for the sake of the land.

    Money for the initiative is coming from the World Bank as well as $600 million of private sector investment.

    Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Niger, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have already committed more than 42 million hectares between them ready for reforestation. Madagascar, Malawi, Liberia, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville and Togo have also committed to their involvement in the scheme and will set aside hectares ready for reforestation to meet the AFR100 targets.

    Dr Vincent Biruta, minister of natural resources for Rwanda, commented: “Restoring our landscapes brings prosperity, security and opportunity. With forest landscape restoration we’ve seen agricultural yields rise and farmers in our rural communities diversify their livelihoods and improve their wellbeing.”

    This is not the first scheme of its kind in Africa. It follows the Bonn challenge, which aimed to revitalise 150 million hectares by 2020 and the New York Declaration on Forests which is aiming to take this target even further and bring back 350 million hectares by 2030.

    The efforts are being made in order to reduce desertification and improve soil fertility. In turn, these should help with food security and water resources in the continent, as well as increasing biodiversity.

    Organisations around the world are increasingly realising the need to prioritise forests in order to protect the land for the future. Companies like Greenwood Management have been working for years to encourage investments in forestry in Brazil, Canada and elsewhere.

    Tropical forest nations 'must follow Brazil's example'

    2015 - 12.02

    Countries with tropical rainforests are being urged to follow Brazil’s example to reduce deforestation and cut carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

    Despite new figures showing that clearances in the Amazon rainforest rose again in 2014/15, the long-term trend in Brazil has seen a reduction in the practice, which is paying major dividends for the environment.

    Now researchers are calling for other nations to adopt similar tactics with better enforcement of regulations designed to protect their tropical forests. As well as reducing forest clearances, there is a programme of forestry investment in Brazil to sustainably manage timber supplies and plant trees.

    Research published in Global Change Biology journal suggests that global tropical forest clearances could be halved by the end of the decade if other countries took similar steps to Brazil. The report, which looked at satellite images of the Amazon, said that an almost 80 per cent cut in clearances in the rainforest since 2003 has helped reduce Brazil’s greenhouse gas emission by more than one billion tons.

    However, it said that increased forest clearances in countries including Peru and the Democratic Republic of Congo is offsetting the good work being carried out in Brazil and could cancel out the global difference it is making.

    Report author Daniel Zarin told Reuters: "Forests are cut down because someone profits from selling the wood, or the cattle or crops that are grown on the deforested land, or from speculating in poorly regulated land markets.

    "Market failures and governance failures are part of the problem."

    The report found that despite the longer-term pattern of reducing forest clearances, Brazil had still been able to grow its agricultural production. It argued that tackling issues that lead to climate change and boosting the economy should not be seen as mutually exclusive practices.