IFCE Global Environmental Weekly Events [8/11 - 8/17/2018]

Release time:2018-08-21

01 How millions of miraculous trees are reining in the Sahara desert

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, and farmers there live with the threat of their land being swallowed by the desert. But now the land is fighting back: tens of millions of gao trees – known as winterthorns in English – have emerged in recent decades, nurtured by thousands of farmers and revitalising the soil.

“It’s a magic tree, a very wonderful tree,” said Abasse Tougiani of Niger’s National Institute of Agricultural Research.

Shielded from the sun, crops planted under the canopy of a tree usually do not do well in the short term, although there can be longer-term benefits. That’s one reason why many west African rainforests have been decimated. But with gaos, it’s the other way round. The root system of the gao is nearly as big as its branches, and unusually it draws nitrogen from the air, fertilising the soil. And unlike other trees in the area, gao tree leaves fall in the rainy season, allowing more sunlight through to the crops at a key moment.

Used along with mineral fertilisers, crop yields double under gaos, and the gao-nourished soil holds water better, ensuring a better crop in drought years.

02 Trees Are Migrating West to Escape Climate Change

An individual tree has roots and, of course, it doesn't move. But trees, as a species, do move over time. They migrate in response to environmental challenges, especially climate change. Some species such as evergreens are heading to the Poles to escape the heat. But others, like certain oaks and maple, are going west in search of rain.

Both trends are a consequence of climate change, which is producing more heat and heavier rainfall, fueling deforestation. This is worrisome, as the migration of trees may help preserve individual species, but also threatens to destabilize forest ecosystems.

Researchers compared the distribution of trees in 1980 and 2015, calculating the distance and direction of the trees' movement. During the more than three decades covered by the study, the mean annual temperature in the eastern United States, where they collected the data, rose around 0.3 degrees F on average. The northern areas of that region saw among the largest temperature increases. Precipitation patterns in the regions also changed during those years, as increasing heat spurred in widespread droughts, another reason for trees to gravitate toward the rain.


03 After Plastic Straws, Are Balloons Next To Go

Balloons are fun and make great decorations. But they can be a big problem when they are deliberately released into the environment.The litter is not only a blight on landscapes, waterways, trees and power lines, but balloons and balloon strings can entangle, choke or kill marine life and other animals. That's not to mention the wasteful use of helium, a non-renewable resource.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that much like recent efforts to ban plastic straws and plastic bags, balloons could similarly be on the way out as the general public becomes more environmentally conscious.

Balloons are usually made of latex, which is considered biodegradable. However, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) pointed out on a web post that it can take months or years for the rubber to break down, meaning animals have plenty of time to come in contact with the debris.Balloons made of other materials such as Mylar can last even longer in the environment because they are made of plastic, which never fully degrades.

04 New pesticides 'may have risks for bees'

Attempts to find a new generation of pesticides to replace neonicotinoids have been dealt a potential blow. Neonicotinoids are the most commonly used insecticide in the world, but had been linked to bee declines.

Studies suggest a new type of pesticide seen as an alternative to the chemicals, which have been banned in many countries, may have similar risks.The new insecticides may reduce bumblebee reproduction in the wild, according to a study by UK scientists.

"Our results show that sulfoxaflor can have a negative impact on the reproductive output of bumblebee colonies under certain conditions," said study researcher Harry Siviter of Royal Holloway, University of London.

05 Next few years 'may be exceptionally warm'

The next few years could be "anomalously warm", according to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications.Researchers have developed a mathematical model to predict how average global surface air temperatures will vary over the next few years.The results suggest that the period from 2018 to 2022 could see an increased likelihood of extreme temperatures.

In the early years of the 21st Century, scientists pointed to a hiatus in warming. But several analyses show that the five warmest years on record all have taken place since 2010.Now, a new method for trying to predict global temperatures suggests the next few years will be hotter than expected.

Rather than using traditional climate simulation techniques, English scientists developed a statistical method to search through simulations of climatic conditions in the 20th and 21st Century and look for situations that are comparable to the present day.

"The findings suggest it's more likely we'll get warmer years than expected in the next few years. But their method is purely statistical, so it's important to see what climate models predict based on everything we know about the atmosphere and the oceans.” said Gabi Hegerl, professor of climate system science at the University of Edinburgh.

Source: BBC

06 Particulate pollution's impact varies greatly depending on where it originated

Aerosols are tiny particles that are spewed into the atmosphere by human activities, including burning coal and wood. They have negative effects on air quality -- damaging human health and agricultural productivity. Some aerosols can have a cooling effect on the climate. This occurs because the aerosol particles cause more of the Sun's light to be reflected away from the planet. Estimates indicate that aerosols have offset about a third of greenhouse gas-driven warming since the 1950s.

Caldeira and Persad found that the impact these fine particles have on the climate varies greatly depending on where they were released.

"Not all aerosol emissions are created equal," Caldeira said. "Aerosols emitted in the middle of a monsoon might get rained out right away, while emissions over a desert might stay in the atmosphere for many days. " Their models show that aerosol emissions from Western Europe have 14 times the global cooling effect that aerosol emissions from India do. Yet, aerosol emissions from Europe, the United States, and China are declining, while aerosol emissions from India and Africa are increasing.

Caldeira and Persad's work demonstrates that the climate effects of aerosol emissions from different countries are highly unequal, which they say means that policies must reflect this variation.

07 Palm oil: A new threat to Africa's monkeys and apes?

Endangered monkeys and apes could face new risks if Africa becomes a big player in the palm oil industry.

53 million hectares of land will be needed by 2050 to grow palm oil in order to meet global demand. Many companies growing palm oil are looking to expand into Africa. Oil palm expansion means that native trees have to be cut down to make way for palm trees.

This is a worry for conservationists, as potential plantation sites are in areas of rich biodiversity. They are particularly worried about Africa's primates. Most areas suitable for growing the oil crop are key habitats for primates, while nearly 200 primate species are found in Africa, many of which are already under threat.

Dr Giovanni Strona of the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Ispra said primates are already in steep decline in Africa due to habitat loss and poaching.

"The main message is that, due to the large overlap between areas that are suitable to grow oil palm and areas that host many vulnerable primates, it will be extremely challenging to reconcile oil palm expansion and African primate conservation," he explained.

08 Could China’s waste mountains of corncobs fuel a greener future?

Corncobs,a farm by-product that usually goes to waste in China could be the fuel of the future, helping to cut greenhouse gas emissions throughout the country, according to research by US-based scientists.

In a study published this week, scientists at Iowa State University in the United States said that corncobs could be used to produce the biofuel ethanol more efficiently and generate less greenhouse gases than other sources such as corn grain.

Blending ethanol with petrol can reduce vehicle emissions, something China plans to do nationwide by 2020 to meet its commitment to limiting its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

“Ethanol produced from corncob emits about 50 percent less greenhouse gas than from corn [grain],” said Wang Yu, an energy policy researcher at the university and the lead author of the study.

10 Germany’s coal challenge

Germany is investing over $500 billion in clean energy but is still struggling to curb its reliance on coal power. As a result, it’s now in danger of missing its ambitious targets for cutting planet-warming emissions.

Getting rid of coal power is a huge challenge. Even as Germany has scaled up wind and solar, it has also been shutting down its low-carbon nuclear plants. Coal — the most carbon-intensive energy source — has been largely left untouched, and now generates 40 percent of the country’s electricity. Much of that is from lignite, a low-grade and particularly dirty form of coal.

And politicians have been reluctant to confront the influential coal industry, which employs some 32,000 workers and has been the backbone of the country’s industrial base. They are facing with a choice between cutting emissions rapidly or avoiding social disruption.

Germany has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and another 15 percent by 2030. Many analysts think the country will miss those targets unless most coal plants either shut down or start capturing and burying their emissions by 2030.

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