More than 95% of world’s population breathe dangerous air, major study finds

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More than 95% of the world’s population breathe unsafe air and the burden is falling hardest on the poorest communities, with the gap between the most polluted and least polluted countries rising rapidly, a comprehensive study of global air pollution has found.

Cities are home to an increasing majority of the world’s people, exposing billions to unsafe air, particularly in developing countries, but in rural areas the risk of indoor air pollution is often caused by burning solid fuels. One in three people worldwide faces the double whammy of unsafe air both indoors and out.

The report by the Health Effects Institute used new findings such as satellite data and better monitoring to estimate the numbers of people exposed to air polluted above the levels deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. This exposure has made air pollution the fourth highest cause of death globally, after high blood pressure, diet and smoking, and the greatest environmental health risk.

Experts estimate that exposure to air pollution contributed to more than 6m deaths worldwide last year, playing a role in increasing the risk of stroke, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung disease. China and India accounted for more than half of the death toll.

Burning solid fuel such as coal or biomass in their homes for cooking or heating exposed 2.6 billion people to indoor air pollution in 2016, the report found. Indoor air pollution can also affect air quality in the surrounding area, with this effect contributing to one in four pollution deaths in India and nearly one in five in China.

Bob O’Keefe, vice-president of the institute, said the gap between the most polluted air on the planet and the least polluted was striking. While developed countries have made moves to clean up, many developing countries have fallen further behind while seeking economic growth.

He said there was now an 11-fold gap between the most polluted and least polluted areas, compared with a six-fold gap in 1990. “Air pollution control systems still lag behind economic development [in poorer nations],” he said.

But he added: “There are reasons for optimism, though there is a long way to go. China seems to be now moving pretty aggressively, for instance in cutting coal and on stronger controls. India has really begun to step up on indoor air pollution, for instance through the provision of LPG [liquefied petroleum gas] as a cooking fuel, and through electrification.”

The number of people exposed to indoor air pollution from burning solid fuels has fallen from an estimated 3.6 billion around the world in 1990 to about 2.4 billion today, despite a rising population.

Emissions from transport are a growing concern, however, as road traffic increases. Diesel fuel is a leading cause of air pollution in some rich countries, including the UK, but in poorer countries the often decrepit state of many vehicles means petrol-driven engines can be just as bad in their outputs, especially of the fine particulate matter blamed for millions of deaths a year.

O’Keefe said governments were under increasing pressure to deal with the problems through regulation and controls, and hailed internet access as having a significant impact.

Social media has been very important, as a growing number of people have access to it and to data and discussions [on air pollution]. People now have the ability to worry about not just the food they eat and a roof over the head, but they have the means to discuss [issues] in public,” he said.

Tuesday’s report reinforces an increasing volume of data in recent years that has shown how air pollution is increasing and causing deaths. More data has become available in the past decade from satellites and on-the-ground monitoring, while large-scale studies have revealed more of the health risks arising from breathing dirty air, which rarely kills people directly but is now known to contribute to other causes of death.

Source: theguardian.com

(Dipla Katerina)

Mountain erosion may add CO2 to the atmosphere

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Scientists have long known that steep mountain ranges can draw carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere—as erosion exposes new rock, it also starts a chemical reaction between minerals on hill slopes and CO2 in the air, “weathering” the rock and using CO2 to produce carbonate minerals like calcite.

A new study led by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), however, has turned this idea on its head. In paper released on April 12th in the journal Science, the scientists announced that the erosion process can also be a source of new CO2 gas, and can release it back into the atmosphere far faster than it’s being absorbed into newly-exposed rock.

“This goes against a long-standing hypothesis that more mountains mean more erosion and weathering, which means an added reduction of CO2. It turns out it’s much more complicated than that,” says Jordon Hemingway, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and lead author on the paper.

The source of this extra CO2 isn’t entirely geological. Instead, it’s the byproduct of tiny microbes in mountain soils that “eat” ancient sources of organic that are trapped in the rock. As the microbes metabolize these minerals, they spew out .

The researchers came to this realization after studying one of the most erosion-prone mountain chains in the world—the central range of Taiwan. This steep-sided range is pummeled by more than three major typhoons each year, each of which mechanically erode the and rock through heavy rains and winds.

Hemingway and his colleagues examined samples of soil, bedrock, and river sediments from the central range, looking for telltale signs of organic carbon in the rock. What they found there surprised them.

“At the very bottom of the soil profile, you have basically unweathered rock. As soon as you hit the base of the soil, layer, though, you see that’s loose but not yet fully broken down, and at this point the present in the bedrock seems to disappear entirely,” notes Hemingway. At that point in the soil, the team also noticed an increase in lipids that are known to come from bacteria, he adds.

“We don’t yet know exactly which bacteria are doing this—that would require genomics, metagenomics, and other microbiological tools that we didn’t use in this study. But that’s the next step for this research,” says WHOI marine geochemist Valier Galy, senior author and Hemingway’s advisor in the MIT/WHOI Joint Program.

The group is quick to note that the total level of CO2 released by these microbes isn’t severe enough to have any immediate impact on climate change—instead, these processes take place on geologic timescales. The WHOI team’s research may lead to a better understanding of how mountain-based (or “lithospheric”) carbon cycles actually work, which could help generate clues to how CO2 has been regulated since the Earth itself formed.

“Looking backwards, we’re most interested in how these processes managed to keep the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere more or less stable over millions of years. It allowed Earth to have the climate and conditions it’s had—one that has promoted the development of complex life forms,” says Hemingway. “Throughout our Earth’s history, CO2 has wobbled over time, but has remained in that stable zone. This is just an update of the mechanism of geological processes that allows that to happen,” he adds.

Source: phys.org

(Dipla Katerina)

New Solar Capacity Exceeded All Other Fuel Sources Combined in 2017, Study Finds

In 2017, the world invested more in solar power than it did in any other energy technology and installed more new solar capacity than all other energy sources combined, including fossil fuels.

Those are the bright findings of a UN-backed report Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018, published Thursday.

The report, a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, found that investors committed $279.8 billion to renewable energy overall, excluding large dams, and $160.8 billion to solar specifically.

“The extraordinary surge in solar investment shows how the global energy map is changing and, more importantly, what the economic benefits are of such a shift,” UNEP head Erik Solheim said in a UN press release about the report.

Solheim added that those benefits included the creation of more better paying, higher quality jobs.

China was the decided leader in solar and renewable investment. It was responsible for more than half of the 98 gigawatts of solar capacity added last year and 45 percent of the dollars invested in renewables over all.

The U.S. followed China as No. 2 in the top 10 list of renewable-investing countries, but it lagged far behind. It invested $40.5 billion in renewable energy, down six percent from 2016. China, on the other hand, upped its investments by 30 percent to $126.1 billion.

Overall, 2017 continued a trend begun in 2015 of developing countries investing more in renewable energy than developed countries. Developing countries increased their investments by 20 percent to $177 billion, accounting for 63 percent of total investments, while developed countries decreased their investments by 19 percent to $103 billion.

Renewable energy investment in the UK, Germany and Japan all took major hits, falling by 65 percent, 35 percent and 28 percent, respectively. The countries still ranked seventh, fifth and third for overall investments.

Mexico, Australia and Sweden, meanwhile, increased their commitments by substantial amounts: 810 percent, 147 percent and 127 percent, in order. They were ranked ninth, tenth and sixth overall.

Rounding out the top 10 list were India at No. 4 and Brazil at No. 8. Together with China, the three emerging economies accounted for just over half of global renewable investments.

While they didn’t make it onto the top ten, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates made impressive strides, increasing their renewable investments by six times and 29 times, respectively.

As solar investments rose, costs fell. The cost per megawatt-hour for a solar installation dropped by 15 percent to $86.

However, while the reported investments bode good things for the future, the report found that present energy use shows we still have a ways to go. The proportion of energy generated by renewable sources in 2017 was 12.1 percent, up from 11 percent the year before.

Climate change is moving faster than we are,” Solheim, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, and Frankfurt School President Nils Stieglitz wrote in the report’s foreword. “Last year was the second hottest on record and carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. In electricity generation, new renewables still have a long way to go. While renewable generating costs have declined, and governments are phasing-out fossil fuel subsidies — they amounted to a total US$260 billion in 2016 — the transition needs to accelerate and be complemented by strong private finance that can make sure this global momentum continues,” they wrote.

Source: desmogblog.com

(Dipla Katerina)

Underwater melting of Antarctic ice far greater than thought, study finds

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Hidden underwater melt-off in the Antarctic is doubling every 20 years and could soon overtake Greenland to become the biggest source of sea-level rise, according to the first complete underwater map of the world’s largest body of ice.

Warming waters have caused the base of ice near the ocean floor around the south pole to shrink by 1,463 square kilometres – an area the size of Greater London – between 2010 and 2016, according to the new study published in Nature Geoscience.

The research by the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds suggests climate change is affecting the Antarctic more than previously believed and is likely to prompt global projections of sea-level rise to be revised upward.

Until recently, the Antarctic was seen as relatively stable. Viewed from above, the extent of land and sea ice in the far south has not changed as dramatically as in the far north.

But the new study found even a small increase in temperature has been enough to cause a loss of five metres every year from the bottom edge of the ice sheet, some of which is more than 2km underwater.

“What’s happening is that Antarctica is being melted away at its base. We can’t see it, because it’s happening below the sea surface,” said Professor Andrew Shepherd, one of the authors of the paper. “The changes mean that very soon the sea-level contribution from Antarctica could outstrip that from Greenland.”

The study measures the Antarctic’s “grounding line” – the bottommost edge of the ice sheet across 16,000km of coastline. This is done by using elevation data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 and applying Archimedes’s principle of buoyancy, which relates the thickness of floating ice to the height of its surface.

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The greatest declines were seen in west Antarctica. At eight of the ice sheet’s 65 biggest glaciers, the speed of retreat was more than five times the rate of deglaciation since the last ice age. Even in east Antarctica, where some scientists – and many climate deniers – had previously believed ice might be increasing based on surface area, glaciers were at best stable and at worst in retreat when underwater ice was taken into account.

“It should give people more cause for concern,” said Shepherd. “Now that we have mapped the whole edge of the ice sheet, it rules out any chance that parts of Antarctica are advancing. We see retreat in more places and stasis elsewhere. The net effect is that the ice sheet overall is retreating. People can’t say ‘you’ve left a stone unturned’. We’ve looked everywhere now.”

The results could prompt an upward revision of sea-level rise projections. 10 years ago, the main driver was Greenland. More recently, the Antarctic’s estimated contribution has been raised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But its forecasts were based on measurements from the two main west Antarctic glaciers – Thwaites and Pine Island – a sample that provides an overly narrow and conservative view of what is happening when compared with the new research.

The study’s lead author, Hannes Konrad, said there was now clear evidence that the underwater glacial retreat is happening across the ice sheet.

“This retreat has had a huge impact on inland glaciers,” he said, “because releasing them from the sea bed removes friction, causing them to speed up and contribute to global sea level rise.”

Source: theguardian.com

(Dipla Katerina)

Land degradation pushing planet towards sixth mass extinction

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More than 100 experts from 45 countries have published a three-year study of the Earth’s land degradation, calling the problem “critical” and saying that worsening land conditions undermine the well-being of 3.2 billion people.

The report was published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) on March 26. Providing the best-available evidence for the dangers of land degradation for policymakers, the report draws on more than 3,000 scientific, government, indigenous and local knowledge sources.

Rapid expansion and unsustainable management of croplands and grazing lands is the most extensive cause of land degradation, creating significant loss of biodiversity and , which include food security, water purification, energy sources and other contributions essential to people, the report says. The problem is so critical that a co-chair of the report said, “The degradation of the Earth’s land surface through human activities is pushing the planet towards a sixth mass species extinction.”

Land degradation is also an underappreciated factor contributing to global conflict and migration, among other problems, according to study co-author Matthew Potts, UC Berkeley associate professor in forest economics in the College of Natural Resources.

“Land degradation presents unique and persistence challenges to humanity,” Potts said. “This assessment shows that we are at a crossroads and must take urgent action to combat and restore if we want to create a happy and healthy planet for all humanity.”

Source: phys.org

(Dipla Katerina)

Land degradation threatens human wellbeing, major report warns

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Land degradation is undermining the wellbeing of two-fifths of humanity, raising the risks of migration and conflict, according to the most comprehensive global assessment of the problem to date.

The UN-backed report underscores the urgent need for consumers, companies and governments to rein in excessive consumption – particularly of beef – and for farmers to draw back from conversions of forests and wetlands, according to the authors.

With more than 3.2 billion people affected, this is already one of the world’s biggest environmental problems and it will worsen without rapid remedial action, according to Robert Scholes, co-chair of the assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “As the land base decreases and populations rise, this problem will get greater and harder to solve,” he said.

The IPBES study, launched in Medellín after approval by 129 national governments and three years of work by more than 100 scientists, aims to provide a global knowledge base about a threat that is less well-known than climate change and biodiversity loss, but closely connected to both and already having a major economic and social impact.

The growing sense of alarm was apparent last year when scientists warned fertile soil was being lost at the rate of 24bn tonnes a year, largely due to unsustainable agricultural practices.

Cattle shelter from the sun under a small tree in Mato Grosso, Brazil.

The new assessment goes further by looking at vegetation loss, forest clearance, wetland drainage, grassland conversion, urban sprawl and pollution, as well as how these changes affect human health, wealth and happiness.

Drawing on more than 3,000 scientific, government, indigenous and local knowledge sources, the authors estimate land degradation costs more than 10% of annual global GDP in lost ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and agricultural productivity. They say it can raise the risks of flooding, landslides and diseases such as Ebola and the Marburg virus.

There are also geopolitical implications. The authors cite evidence of a strong association between land degradation, migration and instability. In dryland regions, years of extremely low rainfall have been associated with an up to 45% rise in violent conflict. Depending on the actions taken by governments to address climate change and the decline in soil quality, the authors estimate between 50 to 700 million people could be driven from their homes by 2050. The worst affected areas are likely to be the dry fringes of southern Iraq, Afghanistan, sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.

To counter this, the authors call for coordination among ministries to encourage sustainable production and for the elimination of agricultural subsidies that promote land degradation. They urge consumers to reduce waste and be more thoughtful about what they eat. Vegetables have a much lower impact on land than beef. Farmers are encouraged to raise productivity rather than clear more land. Companies and governments are advised to accelerate efforts to rehabilitate land. There have been several successful projects on China’s Loess plateau, in the Sahel and in South Africa.

The economic case for land restoration is strong, according to the report, which says benefits (such as jobs and business spending) are 10 times higher than costs, and up to three times higher than price of inaction. But in most regions, remedial work is overdue. National governments are not living up to a global commitment to neutral land degradation by 2030.

Participants compared the rundown of land to the 2008 financial crisis. “Back then, people borrowed more money than they could repay. Now we are borrowing from nature at a rate that is many times higher than the world can sustain. The day of reckoning will come,” said Christian Steel, director of Sabima, a Norwegian biodiversity NGO. In Europe, he said, the industrialisation of forest and agriculture is degrading the land. “We are also importing more food and, by doing so, displacing the impact of our consumption. We are fooling ourselves. Disaster doesn’t hit suddenly like in a Hollywood movie. It is already happening gradually.”

Action has been held back by a lack of awareness of the problem and the often wide gulf between consumers and producers. The report notes that many of those who benefit from over-exploitation of natural resources are among the least affected by the direct negative impacts of land degradation and therefore have the least incentive to take action.

“This is extremely urgent,” said another of the co-chairs, Luca Montanarella. “If we don’t change lifestyles, consumption habits and the way we use land, then sooner or later we are going to destroy this planet. Looking for another one is not an option.”

A 10-square-kilometre expanse of toxic waste on the edge of the Gobi desert, inner Mongolia.

The land degradation assessment is the latest in a recent suite of global studies that highlight the deterioration of humanity’s home. In 2016, IPBES highlighted the demise of the planet’s pollinators, which are vital for agricultural production. On Friday, it released a global biodiversity study that warned human destruction of nature is rapidly eroding provision of food, water and security to billions of people.

Separately, the United Nations last week released a global water study that forecast more than half of the human population could struggle to secure supplies for drinking, cooking and sanitation for at least one month a year by 2050 as a result of pollution, climate change and rising demand.

Source: theguardian.com

(Dipla Katerina)

Solving Deforestation

Sorted timber from an Intact forest landscape
Штабель древесины


В Европейской части России, на севере, еще остались массивы крупных малонарушенных лесов - диких природных территорий, имеющих огромное значение для сохранения биоразнообразия не только в России, но и на всей планете. Сейчас мы стремительно теряем эти леса, в первую очередь из-за того, что, с одной стороны, это источник большого объема хозяйственно ценной хвойной древесины для лесопромышленников, а с другой стороны, остальные леса на давно освоенных человеком (или давно обжитых) землях истощены пожарами, незаконными рубками, кривым и неправильным хозяйством, и, соответственно, лесопромышленникам эти территории уже мало интересны. Поэтому, чтобы сохранить МЛТ, нужно не просто добиваться какого-то формального охранного статуса для этих территорий, но правильной организации лесного хозяйства (когда рубится не больше, чем прирастает). И при этом прирастать должна именно хозяйственно ценная хвойная древесина, а не лиственная быстрорастущая и малоценная береза и осина.

The causes of deforestation and degradation vary from region to region. In the tropics, agribusiness clears forests to make space for things like cattle ranching, palm oil and soy plantations for animal feed. Demand for wood products can threaten forests around the world, whether it is for throw-away paper products or hardwood flooring.

In too many parts of the world, ineffective or corrupt governments make things worse by opening the door to illegal logging and other crimes. Deforestation and degradation are complex problems. While there are no silver bullet solutions, these approaches can make a big difference to save our forests.

 

Collaboration

The forestry industry in Canada’s boreal forest not only provides local and international markets with valuable forest products, but also employs thousands of people in local communities across the country. Some paper producers take seriously their responsibility to carefully and sustainably manage, harvest in, and source from these forests, while also supporting local economies.

Greenpeace works in collaboration every day with First Nations, governments, other forest products companies, and unions to foster a responsible forest products industry and healthy local communities. Numerous global companies and household brands have embraced Greenpeace’s critiques and ultimately adopted more sustainable practices. We’ve secured strong and lasting collaborations with countless companies who have traveled the path from conflict to solutions.

So there’s no reason why Canada’s largest forestry companyResolute Forest Products, can’t do the same. Instead, Resolute is trying to silence criticism by meritlessly suing Greenpeace and other forest defenders like Stand.earth.

 

The Power of the Marketplace

If corporations have the power to destroy the world’s forests, they also have the ability to help save them.

Companies can make an impact by introducing “zero deforestation” policies that clean up their supply chains. That means holding their suppliers accountable for producing commodities like timber, beef, soy, palm oil and paper in a way that does not fuel deforestation and has a minimal impact on our climate.

Companies should set ambitious targets to maximize the use of recycled wood, pulp, paper and fiber in their products. For the non-recycled products they buy, they should ensure that any virgin fiber used is certified by a third party certification system such as the Forest Stewardship Council. But these corporations haven’t taken action on their own. That’s why we’re investigating, exposing and confronting environmental abuse by corporations. Thanks to your actions, major companies are changing their ways and building solutions to protect jobs and our forests.

 

Standing with Indigenous Peoples

Forests around the world have been home to Indigenous peoples for tens of thousands of years. Evidence shows that when Indigenous peoples’ rights to traditional lands and self-determination are respected, forests stay standing. But too often, corporations and governments overlook or intentionally trample the rights of Indigenous peoples.

For example, the Waswanipi Cree of Northern Quebec are fighting to keep the last wild forests on their traditional land intact, and the Munduruku people of the Amazon are battling a proposed mega-dam that threatens rainforests, a river, and their way of life.

 

Promoting Sustainable Choices

You can make a difference in the fight to save forests by making informed daily choices. By using less stuff, eating sustainable food, and choosing recycled or certified sustainable wood products, we can all be part of the movement towards zero deforestation. Using your voice to speak for forests matters, too. When people join together and demand forest conservation, companies and governments have to listen.

 

Changing the Politics

If we’re going to stop deforestation, we need governments to do their part. That starts with cracking down on corruption and ensuring fair enforcement of forest conservation rules. Corruption fuels illegal logging and unsustainable forest management, which in turn can fuel organized crime or even armed conflict. Beyond the rule of law, we need world leaders to embrace ambitious domestic and international forest conservation policies based on the latest science.

In the United States, laws like the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, the Lacey Act and the Roadless Rule help protect our forests and stop illegal wood products from entering the U.S. marketplace. We also support and use regional rules like the Amazon Soy Moratorium and global treaties like the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to protect forests and the endangered species that rely on forest habitats.

Globally, we need commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation in developing nations, especially those with tropical forests. Forests for Climate is one way to make that happen. Forests for Climate is an innovative proposal for an international funding mechanism to protect tropical forests. Under this initiative, developing countries with tropical forests can make commitments to protecting their forests in exchange for the opportunity to receive funding for capacity-building efforts and national-level reductions in deforestation emissions. This provides a strong incentive for developing countries to continually improve their forest protection programs.

 

Take Action for a Deforestation-Free Future

If you’re ready to join the movement for a deforestation-free future, here’s how you can start:

  • Make sure that the forest-derived products you buy are made from 100 percent post-consumer content materials.
  • Make informed food choices. Eating a plant-based diet or reducing your consumption of animal products like meat and dairy can help save forests.
  • Buy from companies that have a commitment to reducing deforestation through forest-friendly policies.
  • If you are buying products made from virgin forest fiber, make sure that it bears a seal from a credible forestry certification system, like the Forest Stewardship Council.
  • Educate your friends, family, and community about how our everyday actions can impact forests around the world.

 

Source: www.greenpeace.org

(Georgia Skiada)