Report: Increasing Carbon Storage in Smaller Private Forests in Maine   Leave a comment

In a previous post, I mentioned the challenges for small forestland owners in Maine to access carbon markets. Here’s a little background. Maine is a small state, but 89% of its land is covered by forest. The uptake of carbon by those forests equals about 60% of the total carbon emissions in the state from all sources. A large portion of that forest is owned by large private landowners, primarily forest products companies. Harvest activities in Maine forests have led to degradation of the forests, as clearly laid out in a 2019 article in Forest Ecology and Management by John Gunn (University of New Hampshire) and two co-authors (DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2018.09.046). The level degradation is reducing the amount of carbon taken out of the atmosphere and stored in Maine forests. One last piece of relevant background: small forest landowners (10-10,000 acres) account for 27% of the standing aboveground carbon in Maine forests.

This all tells us that forests are a big deal in the carbon budget of Maine, that increasing uptake in forests could further tilt the balance sheet in positive direction, that small landowners play an important role in this equation, and that improved forest management of those forests could play a key role in that process. The Maine Forest Carbon Task Force was created by the Maine Climate Council to propose solutions to these issues. To access the full report click https://www.maine.gov/future/sites/maine.gov.future/files/inline-files/MaineForestCarbonTaskForce_FinalReport.pdf

Here’s my brief and admittedly selective summary of the recommendations:

(1) Avoid the conversion of forest to non-forest by providing incentives for forest conservation

(2) Enhance forest resiliency through control of invasives, rapid post-harvest regeneration, and reducing carbon losses from disturbances, such as wildfires and insect outbreaks.

(3) Encourage better fmore so-called intermediate harvesting (e.g., thinning) aimed at accelerating remaining tree growth (and carbon uptake) and leave behind large portions of these thinning as forest-floor carbon stores.

(4) Concentrate investment in intensive management treatments in forests with high carbon value (e.g., superior soils)

(5) Increase the percentage of harvested wood that goes into long-lived products (that keep wood from decomposing, returning CO2 to the atmosphere)

(6) Improve partial harvests (i.e., harvests that neither clearcutting nor individual selection harvests) to retain quality trees and minimize stand damage. Comment: this is a major problem leading to the forest degradation mentioned previously.

(7) Let some forests grow for longer to produce longer-lived wood products (e.g., large boards used for building structures).

(8) Promote the use of foresters trained in climate-friendly forest management.

(9) Establish forest reserves that will allow the development of late-successional forests (and will promote other ecological values)

The report also lays out three key considerations/guidelines about the recommendations.

(1) It is critical that the amount of forestland in the state should not decline.

(2) Improving growth rate and regeneration of current forests through “intermediate treatment” (e.g., thinning) will require better developed markets for low quality wood (i.e.. the trees that are thinned out to promote growth of remaining trees).

(3) Following direction from the Maine Climate Council, these recommendations come with the caveat that the amount of harvested wood will either stay the same or increase, the task force’s interpretation of the governor’s order that any program must result in “maintaining current harvest levels.” Comment: there is a vigorous debate nationwide and beyond about whether the best strategy for retaining carbon in forests is to let them development into old growth forests or whether there are active management (i.e., harvesting) approaches that can lead to the same result. The task force’s recommendation here does not choose one over the other, but it could be construed as restricting the amount of forest land that could develop without harvesting. I hardly need to say that the task force is clearly trying to balance carbon retention, harvest levels, jobs, and more — a challenging task. These issues are complicated and well beyond the scope of this post. If you’d like some references for reading about the debate on different approaches to forest retention of carbon — better harvesting, no harvesting, tree planting, etc. — get in touch and I’ll be happy to send along some references.

The report goes on to recommend two key mechanisms for implementing these changes. First, there should be much more technical assistance given to small forestland owners to help them increase carbon storage in their forests. The recommendations range from training programs to the hiring of carbon and climate change specialist (Maine Forest Service) and much more. Second, current programs should be shifted to provide financial incentives for small forestland owners to shift their forest practices to enhance carbon sequestration (annual uptake of CO2) and storage (long-term storing of carbon in trees, soils, etc.) in forests. There are also suggestions for new programs that would provide incentives for this shift. Check out the full report for more on these many details.

The report is a step forward in encouraging both more carbon retention and better forest management in the forests of smaller forestland owners. The extent to which this shifts the landscape for carbon storage will depend on actual implementation of these recommendations. This was hard work developing these recommendations, and no doubt there was a lot of argument and compromise. The Maine Climate Council continues to push the state forward in both reducing our net carbon footprint and in preparing for the impacts of climate change.

Posted November 29, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

Post-COP26: Addendum 2 – Accord on Carbon Markets   Leave a comment

As a second addendum to my recent summary of COP26, I want to convey the importance of the accord on carbon markets. This accord resolves aspects of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. There had been wrangling over this issue for past five years. Not everyone is happy with all aspects of the outcome, but the rules are now better than the previous set of guidelines, which were as waterproof as a sieve. The issue was how to regulate the carbon market, that is, the selling and buying of credits for the removal of CO2 from the air.

What are carbon credits? A simple example is forest management that results in additional uptake of CO2 through photosynthesis and then storage of that carbon in the ecosystem in living and dead trees and the soil. A carbon credit could also be generated by carbon removal from the air using industrial methods, which, as I discussed in a previous post, have not been demonstrated, at least not yet at a scale that matters. In fact, any activity that takes up and stores additional carbon (or cuts emissions) can be turned into a carbon credit that can then be sold.

Who would want to pay for carbon credits? CO2 emitters such as corporations, institutions, or even countries that wish to balance their carbon sheet, that is, they want to “offset” some of their emissions by purchasing credits for the removal of carbon elsewhere. So, if an owner of 100,000 acres decides to permanently halt harvesting so that the forest can take up and store more carbon, the amount of “additional” stored carbon can then be turned into a credit that is purchased, for example, by a corporation to offset an equivalent portion of their CO2 emissions. This buying and selling of carbon credits occurs in the “carbon market.”

The benefit of carbon markets and credits is that it promotes activities increase the removal of carbon from the air, which is then stored in forests or elsewhere so that it’s not heating up the planet. Not everyone likes carbon credits and markets, however, because they argue that actually cutting emissions would be more effective and also, importantly, that carbon credits might be gamed or not well-supported by science.

That’s in part where the new accord comes in. Article 6 is meant to regulate carbon markets so that the credits are…well…credible. On the positive side, the new rules set up a centralized system for selling and buying credits. All carbon sales will also be taxed at 5%, which will go to less developed countries to adapt to climate change. Additionally, 2% of carbon credits will be retired with each transactions to make more headway on actually reducing emissions (rather than just balancing them with credits). These changes should spur growth in carbon markets, which can mean more forest land spared from harvest or managed in a more ecologically sensitive way, as well as other positive activities.

One aspect of the new agreement that was strongly criticized by a variety of interest groups is that some old, inactive credits could now be released into the market. This could depress prices and make new carbon credits less attractive. The final language was actually a compromise. Some lesser developed countries that make extensive use of carbon credits to balance their “net carbon emissions” lobbied for allowing all past credits. Others argued for allowing few. The compromise was to include those so-called “zombie” credits from 2013 to 2020.

Want to know more? For a kind of neutral view check out https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/outline-carbon-markets-deal-emerges-un-climate-summit-2021-11-13/. For a negative view check out https://carbonmarketwatch.org/2021/11/13/cop26-half-baked-carbon-market-rules-fail-to-take-heat-off-the-climate/. For a more positive view, check out https://www.ft.com/content/f13bce2b-8a2b-4289-9281-9c6acf34f472

As I mentioned above, there are contrasting views about carbon credits and markets in general. One reason is the difficulty in ensuring that they are real. Let me explain. A true, physical carbon credit must meet two criteria. First is “additionally,” which means that the emissions reduction or removal are “additional,” that is, above and beyond what would have occurred without the activity. For example, imagine that an organization owns 100,000 acres of forestland that has been harvested on a sustainable schedule for 50 years. To count and sell this land as a carbon credit, you must do something else that will remove and store additional carbon from the air. For example, you could harvest the forest half as frequently as you have been, which would allow more carbon to accumulate in the forest.

The second criterion is no “leakage,” which I can best describe with an example. If you decide not to harvest that 100,000 acres of forestland at all in order to claim a hefty carbon credit, but this results in higher levels of timber harvesting elsewhere (outside the 100,000 acres) to make up for the loss of timber products, then you can’t count your activity as a credit. This makes sense. The goal of carbon credits is a true and permanent removal of carbon from the air and into forestland for the entire planet not just your 100,000 acres. There are some other rules that I won’t cover here — for more info, see https://c402277.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/publications/1342/files/original/What_Makes_a_High-quality_Carbon_Credit.pdf?1591405169.

You can probably right off see the challenges here. One has to do some serious ecology and economics in order to verify that a claimed carbon credit is truly a carbon credit. Who does that? For the burgeoning USA carbon market, there are independent organizations that verify credits by carrying out this underlying work. I don’t know how it works at the international level, especially with respect to entire countries claiming credits. Presumably, the new carbon market accord addresses some of those aspects of this planet-wide market, which is beyond the scope of this post.

One issue that has arisen in my home state, Maine, is that accessing the carbon market for activities on forestland is only available for large landowners. That’s a big deal because Maine is 89% forested (the most of any state) and has many small forestland owners. My family owns 100 acres of forest and would be interested in exploring carbon credits, but the verification process is far beyond our financial means. As part of the deliberations of the very successful Maine Climate Council (http://climatecouncil.maine.gov), some possible avenues for small forestland owners are now being explored (https://www.maine.gov/dacf/about/news/news.shtml?id=4073426). I commend the ambitious work of the Climate Council on these and other climate change issues in the state. (Full disclosure: I serve on one of the Working Groups, although my contributions have been small.)

I’m a booster of carbon credits, but I have to admit this is partly because of the side benefits, not just the carbon removal. Carbon credits done right can lead to protection and improved management of forests and other lands as well. It also is spurring serious work on industrial carbon removal from the air, although this is not something we can count out to save us any time soon (or maybe never).

Here’s an interesting new wrinkle on carbon credits. Dr. Fabio Berzaghi, at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (LSCE-CEA) in France, is exploring ways of attaching carbon credits to elephants in Gabon. Through their activities of removing tree branches and going about their daily lives, elephants increase the uptake of CO2 (by vegetation) and storage of carbon. It turns out that, for this and many other reasons, elephants are worth much, much more alive than killed for their meat and tusks. But any child could have told you that without consulting carbon and $$$ metrics.

Posted November 18, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

Summary of COP26: Addendum 1 – Deforestation   Leave a comment

There are two points I mentioned in my summary of COP26 that bear some elaboration: deforestation and an agreement on carbon markets. I’ll take on the former here and the latter in my next post. They are both important and will have impacts on dealing with climate change.

I want to emphasize how important it is to reduce deforestation. It’s vital apart from climate change for so many reasons, but it’s also crucial for controlling climate change. The World Resources Institute illustrated this point with the following graph. It shows that deforestation results in a huge amount of carbon dioxide emissions per year on the order of all the CO2 emissions released by the entire USA. That’s huge. The release occurs as a result of burning of the forest and increases in decomposition rates of what remains. Entirely halting tropical deforestation would be like…well…like the USA cutting its emissions to zero.

The problem is in how, despite the promises of many countries, to implement the accord. There’s a strong headwind on deforestation because people make money, local communities need land, governments are corrupt, etc. Recent data also suggests that deforestation is getting worse, not better. But I witnessed lots of new ideas and initiatives aimed at cutting deforestation, while acknowledging these issues. For more on this issue, check out the World Resources Institute report (https://www.wri.org/insights/numbers-value-tropical-forests-climate-change-equation) and the following NY Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/02/climate/cop26-deforestation.html).

Posted November 17, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

Post-COP26: Where are we going now?   Leave a comment

The graph above displays our choices for the future. Do we keep the planet within livable space for everyone or not? Since the beginning of COP 26 years ago, our paths have never been so clear. More than ever, the science can tell us what different socioeconomic-emissions paths will mean in terms of future temperature. Which will humanity choose?

What agreements were forged at COP26?

(1) CUTTING EMISSIONS: 200 countries agreed to intensify efforts to fight climate change, with a consensus to return next year with more specific and stonger plans. This was a “punt”: the most forceful acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation but also a delay in actually addressing it. My interpretation is that nations still couldn’t come to full agreement, but that they didn’t want to leave empty handed. But also that they wanted to keep up the pressure for progress.

One important note is that some countries did announce more ambitious emissions cuts — see below for a couple of examples.

(2) FUNDS FOR LESS DEVELOPED COUNTRIES. There are two efforts to address this issue. One is the $100 billion per year fund developed in the past but not yet fulfilled that aims to help less developed nations TRANSITION to renewable energy. (There’s also a $25 billion climate change adaptation fund.) A second and far more controversial idea is a “loss and damage” fund to address the impacts that wealthier countries (such as the US, Japan, and western European countries) have imposed on less developed and vulnerable countries as a result of years of emitting greenhouse gases. Vulnerable countries feel they have an ethical right to help; wealthy countries fear unlimited financial responsibility.

The final agreement states that wealthy nations should at least double TRANSITION funding by 2025 for protection of less developed nations that are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. But it did not include a concrete LOSS AND DAMAGE proposal, instead calling for serious “dialog” about the issue.

Some commentators expressed disappointment but also relief that at least the “loss and damage” issue saw the light of day in the final agreement. Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist, tweeted that “#COP26 was nearly a breakthrough moment for #LossAndDamage — it seemed for a brief hopeful moment, that in Glasgow, leaders might finally commit to establishing an international #LossAndDamage fund to help vulnerable countries already losing so much to the climate crisis.”

KEY: Serious emissions cuts and loss and damage are still in play. The next year will reveal much about true progress.

Want to know the responsibility of each country for historic emissions? You’ll find an awesome NYTimes graphic here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/11/12/climate/cop26-emissions-compensation.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article (USA = 24.6%.)

(3) US AND CHINA ANNOUNCED A JOINT AGREEMENT to accelerate their emissions cuts this decade. China committed for the first time to develop a plan to reduce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The pact between the rivals, which are the world’s two biggest polluters, surprised delegates to the summit. The agreement was short on specifics and while China agreed to “phase down” coal starting in 2026, it did not specify by how much or over what period of time. Here are more details at the NYTimes: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/10/climate/climate-cop26-glasgow.html?name=styln-cop26&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=Article&variant=show&is_new=false

(4) CUTTING METHANE EMISSIONS. 103 countries, representing 70% of the global economy agreed to cutting methane emissions: “Countries joining the Global Methane Pledge commit to a collective goal of reducing global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030 and moving towards using best available inventory methodologies to quantify methane emissions, with a particular focus on high emission sources.” Here’s the pledge: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_21_5766

Cutting methane emissions is crucial because the gas is much more potent at trapping heat than CO2 (although it clears out of the atmosphere much faster). If implemented, the accord would reduce future heating by an estimated 0.2 degrees C.

(5) ELIMINATING DEFORESTATION. 101 countries, representing 91% of forestland on Earth agreed to the following: “We therefore commit to working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.” from the declaration, the full language of which can be found at https://ukcop26.org/glasgow-leaders-declaration-on-forests-and-land-use/.

Here’s the first couple of paragraphs of the accord:

This agreement was cheered, of course. But skepticism remains about its implementation. A similar agreement in 2014 has made little agreement since then. I did see many new initiatives, some large scale (e.g., LEAF), that might make a difference this time. Let’s hope so. On a related theme, one of the most hopeful signs at COP26 was the recognition, backed up by lots of recent research, that indigenous peoples across the world manage their land, as they have for millennia, in more sustainable ways than the rest of the world. Indigenous people were a force at COP26, and they stated clearly that they attended not to ask for help but instead to offer help. Obviously, the world needs their help.

(6) INDIA INCREASES ITS AMBITION in cutting emissions by pledging to reach “net zero” (combination of emissions cuts and nature-based solutions) by 2070 and to dramatically increase the use of renewable energy (up to 50%) by 2030. Here’s some insight into what this might mean: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03044-x

I’m now going to tally up the positives and negatives, using my own scorecard.

POSITIVES

(A) In the end, a durable solution must come from agreements among countries. By the end of the conference, countries were still talking, and the final agreement reflected an elevated seriousness, a clear recognition of the stakes.

(B) Less developed and more vulnerable nations were more forceful (and angrier) than ever, and the final agreement at least raised the issue of “loss and damage” for the first time.

(C) There was more authentic attention to indigenous groups and youth, and both were forceful agents at COP26.

(D) The joint announcement by the US and China surprised many and indicated that these two powerful countries have great incentive to work together.

(E) The India announcement was also a good surprise, indicating new seriousness on the part of that country.

(F) If implemented, both the methane and deforestation agreements would have very positive impacts. These were important accords, although the methane accord should have gone beyond 30%.

(G) Activism and protest was alive and well (over 100,000 in Glasgow), despite COVID and cold drizzly weather.

(H) Phasing out (“down” is the word used I think…hmm) fossil fuels was explicitly mentioned for the first time at COP.

(I) There was important progress on making carbon offset trading more transparent. It will be harder now for countries to game the system.

(J) The final agreement about cutting emissions and higher contributions to more ambitious countries kept on life support emissions cuts and support to keep warming under 1.5 degrees C…maybe.

THREE BIG NEGATIVES

(A) NOT ENOUGH EMISSIONS CUTS. Recall that climate science has progressed so far that we now can, with some certainly, estimate the climate warming effects of specific amounts of future emissions. So, what has COP26 contributed toward abating climate warming?

“The Climate Action Tracker is an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action and measures it against the globally agreed Paris Agreement aim of “holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.” If you want unvarnished views about the climate, check them out at https://climateactiontracker.org. Here’s one of their graphics below. Their calculation is that (purple box) is that with current emissions cuts pledges for 2030, the planet will warm 2.4 deg C by 2100. But notice that their optimistic scenario (light blue) could keep up below 2 deg C — above our target of 1.5 but well below some nightmare scenarios.

In other words, COP26 did not come close to the central goal of producing agreements that will limit warming to 1.5 deg. In fact, we’re on track to 2.4 deg, unless countries forge much more ambitious plans by next year.

(B) NOTE ENOUGH DETAILS. The agreements contain few details about commitments, schedules, or mechanisms for achieving the proposals. So, lots of words, few actions.

(C) NO MANDATES. A long-standing issues is that the accords generally have no clear mechanisms for mandating that countries carry out their promises. World pressure and ethical considerations have to drive most of the agreements. So, lots of promises, but no guarantee that countries will honor them.

And so, in summary, we must wait until a year from now to know whether countries will promise to make the necessary cuts in emissions to prevent the planet from warming over 1.5 or even 2 deg C. And we must wait for details on the agreements that were made. And we must hope that countries will honor their promises.

I recently zoomed with the Sustainable Campus Coalition at the University of Maine at Farmington to describe the COP26 proceedings. An SCC member, Cynthia Stancioff, remarked that we couldn’t count on politicians to change the world and that it was now up to the people. I replied that we could not succeed unless countries came to an agreement that would lead to such success.

I think I was wrong. In an opinion piece in the Manchester Guardian, Bill McKibben said the same thing as Cynthia — that in fact it WAS up to the people to force politicians, through protest and pressure, to make the right choices ((https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/nov/12/its-a-fairytale-that-world-governments-will-fix-our-climate-crisis-its-up-to-us) ). He wrote, “Unless we push hard, powerful interests don’t budge.” So, yes, it is up to the people.

Posted November 15, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

POST-COP26: Part 1 – What can we do?   Leave a comment

Working into overtime, COP26 negotiators hatched an agreement that pleased some and disappointed many. Before summarizing the positives and negatives (next blog post), I want to review how we might reduce concentrations of greenhouse gases in the future. What CAN we do? An understanding of these options is important to understanding what the new agreement might mean. There’s also a great deal of confusion about what might help and how much.

Like the science underlying the physical basis of climate change, the science of solutions has also come a long way recently. Some solutions that were highly touted as recently as 2-3 years ago are now in question, as an example. Let’s start with a taxonomy of four types of solutions to control future atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

(1) We can reduce our overall consumption…of everything. Some of this could be from higher efficiency of production and use, and some from discouraging our global hunger for more of everything. We could drive less, buy less, heat less, etc. This is a huge topic that is critical, but the solutions are diffuse and beyond what I can cover here.

(2) Even without (1), we could cut our emissions, mainly by replacing fossil fuel burning with renewable energy, but also halting deforestation (which releases gases).

(3) We can promote “nature-based solutions” to take up more carbon dioxide from the air and store it on land (or water). So, plant more trees and protect forest or other ecosystems that take up CO2 through photosynthesis and store it. Nature-based solutions also include improving soils through better agriculture (often called regenerative agriculture), so that they can take up more CO2 from the air and sequester it in the soil. There are other ways that we can invest in mechanisms by which nature can help by taking and storing CO2, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

(4) We can find non-nature-based ways to remove CO2 from the air. We’re mainly talking about industrial plants that remove CO2 from the air. Because (3) and (4) both seek to remove CO2 from the air, they are similar, but I think it’s convenient to keep them separate, as you will see soon.

So, where are we with solutions in 2-4? Let’s take them one by one.

(2) CUTTING EMISSIONS includes renewable ways of generating electricity, heat, etc. Solar power, wind power, hydropower, etc. . Many are widely supported (e.g., solar), whereas others are controversial (e.g., nuclear). As most of you know, many of these renewable technologies are very well developed and are growing rapidly. There are also combinations of technologies that have great promise. For example, shifting to all electrical vehicles, with electricity supplied by solar energy. The central idea of international efforts at controlling climate change is for countries to transition from fossil fuel based energy to these renewable strategies. No energy generating technology is completely environmentally benign, and you will read criticisms of all of these. It will be crucial for us to figure out how to minimize these negative impacts, while progressively improving their capacity, efficiency, and affordability. One other issue: although some of these technologies have become much more affordable recently, upfront costs will be expensive for countries transitioning from fossil fuel to clean energy. A key issue at COP26, in fact, was aid from rich countries (with a long history of filling the atmosphere with CO2) to less developed ones to help with this crucial shift.

There’s a special category to mention here: biomass. A decade or more ago, burning wood for electricity or heat was seen as an amazing solution for reducing CO2 emissions. Burning wood might release CO2, but when you remove a tree from the forest, so the argument went, the forest will respond by growing a new tree that will take up CO2 anew by photosynthesis, making up for those emissions from biomass burning. This would be called “carbon neutral.” Much better analyses (and thinking) have revealed that usually this is just not the case. There are special cases (regions, types of trees, types of management, etc. where it might make sense. At my own university, we heat part of the campus via a biomass plant that burns local, sustainability harvested wood (chipped), trucked over short distances. The plant employs local people and much of the money circulates in the local economy, avoiding purchases of fossil fuels purchased from far away. We haven’t done a life cycle analysis of the plant in terms of energy and climate emissions, but this is an example of biomass that might make sense as a transition to an even more environmentally benign approach in the long run. Main point, however, biomass burning for energy is probably very rarely carbon neutral, and, over the long run, there will be better large-scale solutions to the climate crisis. This is a serious issue worth raising in part because many still promote biomass as a completely carbon-neutral solution.

(3) NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS are complex, and there have been vigorous debates about them. Let me discuss just two here.

First, a paper in a scientific journal argued in 2019 that planting 1 trillion trees could make a huge dent in the climate problem by taking up ooodles and oodles (not a technical term, but hey, you know what I mean) of CO2 from the air as they photosynthesized. There was rapid science pushback in the form of five articles that revealed that serious errors in the original article. It’s not trees couldn’t help, but not nearly to the extent argued in the original paper. Nevertheless, the article started the “Trillion Tree” project around the world. Many people and countries jumped on the bandwagon, with the idea that here was a painless, feel good, feasible way to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Analyses in the past 2-3 years have produced disappointing appraisals of planting our way out of the problem. Some tree planting was in the form of harmful plantations, some trees were poorly cared for, some replaced habitat that does just fine at taking up carbon. An analysis of India’s efforts over a longer period of tine revealed very little benefit. This doesn’t mean that planting trees in the right way, in the right place can’t help fight climate change, as well as providing other ecological and local community benefits. But tree planting does not appear to be a magic bullet in our fight against climate change.

Briefly — because I’m already running long — some have argued that actually protecting current forests, restoring entire ecosystems, and allowing forests to become old growth has lots of potential for removing some CO2 out of the air, as well as protecting biodiversity and providing benefits to local communities.

Second, “regenerative agriculture” and it’s capacity to restore soils and store carbon in soils has become the new, popular kid on the climate solution block. Let me be clear: pretty much all the evidence I’m aware of conclusively shows that better agricultural practices can greatly improve the soil and its productivity and resilience to climate shocks. But soil scientists are split about it promise for substantially helping with climate change.

For both of the examples here on nature-based solutions, three points emerge. There are disagreements among scientists, the devil is in the details, and, with the exception of planting the wrong thing in the wrong way in the wrong place, most of these efforts should be strongly supported because their overall benefits can be enormous. In fact, I think that one of the attractions of nature-based solutions to climate change all along has been their many aside benefits to nature, including people.

(4) It’s pretty exciting that the first true CO2 REMOVAL plant just starting its engine (wrong metaphor, perhaps) in Iceland. It take CO2 out of the air, stores it in rocks, and buries these permanently deep in the ground. As exciting as this is, this first plant removes a minuscule amount of carbon from the air. There are others planned for the this decade that promise to greatly upscale carbon removal, but even these will not make a dent in the CO2 problem. It is possible that these technologies will take off in the future and initiate a CO2 draw-down era. And I am not at all opposed to efforts to try (why would I be…but see below). But it is crystal clear that we can not count in carbon removal to save us, at least not any time soon. And we don’t have time to wait around to see how this turns out.

So, there’s my very skeletal taxonomy of solving the climate crisis, at least the mitigation part of it. (Mitigation refers to stopping climate change; adaptation to dealing with the consequences.)

Where does this leave us? I think it becomes apparent why so many climate activities are demanding that people, businesses, and countries reduce consumption, phase out fossil fuels, adopt renewable technologies, and drastically cut emissions. Nature-based solutions should continue to receive support, and we should investigate carbon removal at larger scales. But we can’t let these efforts distract us from our chief set of solutions: cutting emissions. Many corporations and countries have used nature-based solutions as “offsets” so that they can continue to emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases. That’s been one of the hot topics at COP26: how to ensure honest accounting of emissions and nature-based solutions.

BOTTOM LINE:
CUT EMISSIONS,
IMPLEMENT NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS REGARDLESS OF THEIR CLIMATE BENEFITS,
INVESTIGATE CARBON REMOVAL.

Posted November 14, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

COP26 Day 10: China & USA Speak   Leave a comment

I’m no longer at COP26, as my “badge” took me only through the first week. But I’m still closely following events and news and querying colleagues who are still there. There are so many issues in play at the moment that it is difficult to sort out what to emphasize here. Tree planting as a nature-based solution to take up CO2 from the dioxide? Efforts to end gasoline cars? The serious fight over reparation payments to less developed nations to help with the transition to clean energy and a new climate? The problem of inadequate reporting of emissions by some nations? India’s step forward?

I’ll keep it simple by focusing on the joint announcement two days ago by China and USA of new efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions in those two countries. It was significant for the harmony between the two powerful nations, which, of course, have been at loggerheads about a range of political issues for some time. But my main question is what should we make of this announcement in regards to climate change? Is it an indication of real progress at COP26, or is it, as Greta Thunberg suggested about other COP26 announcements, just “blah blah blah.”?

I wondered whether the announcement rippled through COP. I wondered about the inside analysis of the announcement. I wondered whether we should be buoyed or crestfallen. Here are a few comments from scientists who, like me, were sponsored by the Ecological Society of America. Let me be clear, the ESA was very supportive in providing badges to us and facilitating our preparation and participation, but we don’t speak for the organization.

“There was quite a bit of pleasant surprise that I noticed among some folks here.”

“It’s good as china want to be in mainstream and political move by them and alot of benefits for climate 
Pessimistic analysis would be they are already shifting their emitting industry to their new colonies.”

“One person described it as putting boundaries on the negotiations” (I interpret that as warning from the two countries not to expect anything Earth-shattering. Of course, nothing “Earth-shattering” might lead to some “Earth-shattering consequences.)

“I heard that’s it’s a good political signal between US and China, especially since they are very high emitters, and it’s a potential start to raise ambitions among other countries. Because I think a China – US move was made at Paris and it catalyzed a lot then, and can hopefully jump start more action now. Also there of course needs to be much much stronger NDCs from China, and it might just be a “political signal or detoxifying” their global look, but it’s at least something”

“Yeah I think it’s too vague to know how good it’ll be? But I am hopeful that our countries will push each other to do better.”

At this point, it seems that it’s very difficult to parse the announcement-agreement. Glass half-full or half-empty? The devil is perhaps in the details, given the lack of such details? Better than no announcement at all?

Here is a similar analysis selected from the NY Times (11 November 2021)

Both of those quotes are certainly true. The science tells us, however, that in order to avoid the most serious climate, ecological, and economic consequences, the USA and China are going to have to commit to much more ambitious plans for reducing emissions and, along with other nations, for serious financing of less developed countries.

Posted November 11, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

The Physical Science of Climate Change: A Summary   Leave a comment

The physical science of climate change has made remarkable progress since the last IPCC Working Group 1 report. Recall that Working Group 1 publishes a report on the physical basis of climate change, Group 2 on the vulnerability of people and natural systems, and Group 3 on strategies for solving the climate crisis. Only report 1 has been released; the other two are pending. The previous IPCC reports (AR5 vs. AR6) were published in 2013.

I’ll summarize the key points of the group 1 report, which is based entirely on peer-reviewed science up to January 31, 2021. I’ll also use updated information and emphases from the IPCC presentations at the climate conference. As you might expect, there’s been even more progress since late January, including a few compelling studies about ice in Antarctica. But let’s just focus on report 1 here. My summary is selective. I may well leave out elements that you’re particularly interested in. But there’s too much for me to summarize everything here.

For many of you, the best place to view these results is the Report for Policymakers. You can challenge yourself a little more with the Technical Summary. And, if you want all the details, seek out the full report, which is comprehensive and long—well it should be given the subject matter. If you read any of the reports, you’ll notice that the scientists have provided an assessment of the level of confidence for each conclusion, which allows readers to weigh the certainty. I’m going to place a few of the graphics from the Technical Summary at the bottom. If you’d like to see more, check out one of the reports at https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/.

So, let’s dive in.

(1) What’s happened so far?

THE BASICS. The average annual global temperature in 2010-2019 was 1.1 deg C ( 1.8 deg F) warmer than in 1850-1900. That might not seem like a lot, but it’s enough to melt glaciers and ice sheets, raise sea level, lead to dangerous heat waves and droughts, and increase the water holding capacity of air, which is the energy force for major storms. Each of the last four decades was successively hotter than any previous decade since 1850 — that’s rather astounding. It has just gotten hotter and hotter and hotter for the past more than ½ century. In addition to temperature rise, global average precipitation has likely increased over the past several decades.

CAUSES OF WARMING. It is scientifically unequivocal that human activities have caused an increase in the temperature of the land, air, and oceans. Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and other activities are responsible for these changes. These emissions continue to raise the concentration of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, which has a heat trapping effect. Those atmospheric concentration of CO2 has continued to rise since the 2013 report. In 2013, it was 395 and in 2021it is 410 part per million (ppm). Increased global average precipitation also is likely the result of fossil fuel burning.

OCEANS. It is extremely likely that ocean water temperature has increased and pH become more acidic because of human fossil fuel burning. This has depleted oxygen in some areas, as deep as 700 m (2300’). Increased acidity speeds up the breakdown of marine shelled organisms and has other far-reaching effects on these ecosystems. Sea level has risen on average 0.2 m (about 8’) since 1901 and this rise has been accelerating (high levels of confidence).

ECOSYSTEMS. There is high confidence that climate and ecosystem zones have shifted poleward in response to warming.

(2) Comparing these changes to the distant past

These changes in the climate are unprecedented in terms of the following:

a. The level of atmospheric CO2 is higher than any time in over the past 2 million years (high confidence)

b. Temperatures in 2011-2019 were the highest since 125,000 yrs ago (medium confidence)

c. The retreat of glaciers and sea ice was unprecedented in the past more than 1000-2000 years (medium confidence)

d. In almost region, the frequency of heat waves has increased, cold spells decreased, and the intensity of precipitation increased.

e. There has been an increase in combined heat waves and droughts, fire weather, and flooding (medium to high confidence)

Again, these changes are attributed to increased atmospheric greenhouse gases. The extra heat trapping effect of these additional greenhouse gases has been estimated as 0.43 watt for each meter square of land (an area about 3 1/4 ‘ x 3 1/4’ = 10.5 sq ft) compared to the past.

(3) What are possible scenarios for the future?

There are two major steps to projecting the climate of the future. The first is to develop a range of future socioeconomic scenarios. These range from scenarios in which human civilization drastically cuts greenhouse gas emissions (net zero for example) to ones where greenhouse gas emissions actually rise in the future. Each scenario is given a number.

Scenario 8.5 is terrible, assuming more than a tripling of greenhouse gases emissions per year by 2100. Scenario 4.5 is much more encouraging, assuming a drastic cut in yearly emissions, although not quite down to zero. Scenario 1.9 assumes a rapid drop to negative emissions (i.e., net uptake from the atmosphere) by 2050 and then continual drops by 2100. These different scenarios — there are a total of five of them — are then used to run the complex climate models that provide projections of future atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and changes in the climate (temperature, sea level, storms, etc.). I’ll stick to just those the scenarios 1.9, 4.5, and 8.5.

TEMPERATURE. For temperature, scenario 1.9 projects less than a 1.5C rise by 2100. Yeah! Scenario 4.5 almost 2.8C. Unacceptable.  Scenario 8.5 more than a 4 deg C rise. Truly frightening! The bottom line here is that the Earth will bypass a rise of both 1.5 and 2 degrees during the 21st century unless drastic reductions are made in greenhouse gas emissions.

THIS IS PERHAPS THE KEY FINDING OF THE GROUP 1 REPORT!

OTHER CLIMATE FACTORS. The other climate shocks experienced already this century would be exacerbated by the higher emissions scenarios, 4.5 and 8.5, and would eventually abate under 1.9. A key point of the report is that each unit of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere will translate into not just higher temperature but also more extreme climate  in terms of heat waves, droughts, more intense storms, etc.

SEA LEVEL RISE. Not surprisingly, sea level rise is projected to be highly sensitive to differences in future emissions, although the effects accumulate more slowly than for temperature, storms, etc. This is because it takes a while for additional heat to melt ice, which then causes sea level rise. In all cases, sea level is expected to continue to rise until 2100. In the 1.9 scenario by 0.5 meter (20”), in the 4.5 by about 0.8-0.9 (32-35”), and for 8.5 an astounding 1.7 m (67-68”) by 2100. Imagine an additional 5 1/2 feet of sea level in your favorite low-lying coastal town. Average sea level rise is only part of the story, as well, given that a sea level rise of 3 feet for example means storm surges much higher than that.

It’s important to also describe a low-likelihood possibility, which is that a scenario such as 8.5 could actually change the dynamics of ice (shelves and sea ice) leading to extreme sea level rise by 2300, as much as 7 m or nearly 23 feet. That would wash away many large coastal cities. A few country representatives wondered if it was useful to present such low-likelihood, absolutely terrifying scenarios such as this, given that our goal is promote hope. The IPCC responded that it’s important to keep in mind all scenarios. This is especially true for those involving ice, which is perhaps the most uncertain component of the Earth system when it comes to climate change. This is, in part, because sea level rise from melting ice involves not just the thermodynamics of heat melting ice, but also the physical dynamics of ice sheet and sea ice as they shift and break up. To backtrack a bit, a large portion of the emissions are now being taken back up by the ocean and land, with a lower share staying in the atmosphere. This would also be the case with low emission future scenarios (e.g., 1.9 –> only 30% stays in the atmosphere). But the land and ocean reservoirs have only so much capacity, and with higher emissions scenarios, a larger portion will stay in the atmosphere (e.g., 8.5 –> 72%), warming the planet. This is a scary amplifying effect of high emissions scenarios.

Here are the five key messages of report 1 in my view. Others might see other key conclusions not included here.

(1) THE EARTH HAS UNEQUIVOCALLY WARMED, WHICH IS CREATING CLIMATE SHOCKS

(2) THE CAUSE IS UNEQUIVOCALLY HUMAN FOSSIL FUEL BURNING AND OTHER ACTIVITIES

(3) THIS IS CHANGING MANY ASPECTS OF THE CLIMATE AND EARTH SYSTEM

(4) EACH UNIT OF EMITTED GREENHOUSE GAS HAS A CORRESPONDING EFFECT ON THE CLIMATE SYSTEM, AND THIS EFFECT IS HIGHER FOR HIGHER EMISSIONS SCENARIOS (see last full paragraph above).

(5) TEMPERATURE WILL RISE DANGEROUSLY BEYOND BOTH 1.5 AND 2 DEG IN THE 21ST CENTURY UNLESS DRASTIC REDUCTIONS ARE MADE IN NET EMISSIONS

(6) 1-5 ARE CLEAR THAT WE MUST AVOID FUTURE HIGH EMISSIONS SCENARIOS.

Graphs below illustrate most of these conclusions.

These are the five future socioeconomic scenarios, in terms of carbon dioxide emissions
Here are the projected temperature increases based on each of the five future socioeconomic scenarios – table form.

Here are the projected future temperatures based on the five scenarios – graphical view.
Projected future sea ice based on the five scenarios
Projected future ocean pH based on five scenarios.
Sea level projections based on five scenarios, including low-likelihood sea level rise with scenario 8.5
Higher emissions scenarios involve not just higher emissions but also a higher portion of those emissions staying in the atmosphere and warming the planet.

Posted November 10, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

DAY 7: Looking back at the Demonstrations   2 comments

The news media estimate more than 100,000 demonstrators during last Friday and Saturday’s marches. I attended the march on Saturday, and my view from my soaking wet feet was of a wonderful selection of humanity protesting the lack of action on climate change. The march went from Kelvingrove Park to Glasgow Green, more than two miles that took more than two hours to traverse. The crowd was enormous, despite off and on rain and wind and gloomy skies. I was proud to be a tiny part of march that for which many people obviously invested a great deal of time and thought into. Imagine that many people protecting in a city of hardly more than 500,000 people on a chilly, windy, wet November Day.

The signs were diverse, witty, forceful, angry, and more. A child carried a sign that read, “Sorry I didn’t tidy my room, I’ve been busy saving the planet.” There were many indigenous groups, groups from less development countries, educational institutions, spiritual communities, and much more. I was happy to be joined by my AirBnB host, Linsay, and her mother, Eileen, at Glasgow Green. Thanks to everyone for showing up. The best way I can communicate what it was like is post below some photos and videos. Enjoy!

Posted November 9, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

Day 6: Is Art the Opposite of Science?   Leave a comment

Art and science demarcate opposite ends of human experience. Right? Wrong, I think. I’m a scientist and not an artist, so I should be careful in my representation of art. (By art or the arts, I mean much more than just visual art; I also mean sound, performance, and so on.) But here’s what someone who knows more than me has to say about art:

“Various theories have been advanced over the years – pleasure, beauty, expression, or the stimulation of emotion – but, as the philosopher Gordon Graham writes, “none of them can on its own explain the special value of great art.” (Philosophy of the Arts, 52.) So what does Graham propose? That art is valuable as a source of knowledge and understanding.” (From ‘Art Seeking Understanding’, https://templetonreligiontrust.org/areas-of-focus/art-seeking-understanding/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw8p2MBhCiARIsADDUFVGswZYQ44ngAA2ljUhU1TAY8HR3DDIYoMmFD8yzgzFFwuVolFGFgIwaAmqtEALw_wcB)

Of course, I wouldn’t argue that art and science are the same, but that there are parallels. Both attempt to make sense of the world. Could we even say that both begin with a hypothesis about the world? And maybe even that both test those “hypotheses,” just in very different ways?

Given that background, I was very fortunate to happen upon two arts events in the COP26 pavilion area. First, the pavilion created by MET Science (the UK weather and climate forecasting office) sponsored an event with some remarkable poets, who read their poems devoted to climate change. All four poems read referenced both the science and the deep personal effect on their psyches. I was moved, and, for me, it continued a process of personalization of environmental change — what does climate change mean to individuals. Check out the “Hot Poets” (get it?) below.

And below is a clip from of these remarkable poets.

As I prepared to leave the leave the pavilion area in general, I heard a remarkable sound coming from the neighboring pavilion, which focuses on the cryosphere, that is, the ice on the Earth. I’ll summarize what we now know about the physical science of climate change, including ice. Ice is turning out to be a key component of the Earth system in terms of future climate scenarios, and one with far less certainty (and with scary low-likelihood scenarios) than most other components. The event at the Cryosphere pavilion that I heard was a mix of story telling and throat singing. by Inuit representatives at COP26: voting members of their party but obviously also contributors to the socio-political-cultural milieu at the conference. I have to first that the four performers were natural born comedians. They had me starry eyed but also laughing hysterically at times. Back to throat singing. How to explain it. It seems to involve harmonics between singing in the usual vocal range coming directly out of the mouth with deeper sounds emanating from the throat — from the same person and with singing conversation between the two singers. Here’s a short clip below. Previous to these two women was an equally remarkable offering from a man and a drummer (the drum being very large in diameter, very shallow, and with a deep thromb).

A few caveats. So sorry for my inadequate vocabulary about the music that brought tears to my and others eyes. And for not knowing the names. By the way, the songs are, not surprisingly, about sustaining life in Inuit communities and much more. Finally, I also recognize that calling the throat singing I observed “art” may be labeling in a way that is inappropriate for Inuit culture. I’m speaking completely from my own frame of experience. Throat singing seems to play a key role in storytelling and family cohesion and love. (Maybe it’s similar to the role of the remarkable music created and freely played by my grown-up children.)

I’m not the best voice to express the role of art at COP26, so I’ll state it personally. For me, art expresses something about environmental change, trauma, and hope that science cannot reach.

Coming up soon: a physical science summary and, of course, my observations of the awesome march on Saturday, Nov 6!

Posted November 7, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized

Day 5: People   Leave a comment

In this blog, I have talked much about organizations, countries, and the planet, but not enough about individual people. I wish to correct that bias here by introducing you to a very thin slice of the many people at COP26 seeking to solve the climate problem. Sincere apologies to any mistakes I’ve made in identity and people’s stories.

Diana Mastracci works with the European Space Agency to bring space-based monitoring of climate to indigenous communities in the Arctic regions. We’re talking about information from satellites and other remote sources about climate, vegetation, fire, etc. These sources of information have great potential in helping these communities use and manage their resources. She faces challenges in implementing her projects because many of the communities do not have basic infrastructure (internet, computer devices, etc.) for accessing the technologies–a striking example of the digital divide. Funders are generally more interested in shiny new ideas than in basic infrastructure.

I’ve become much more interested in “remotely sensed” data about the world. I am currently working with Helen Poulos, Tom Kolb, George Koch, and Andi Thode on a NASA-funded project using the recently installed ECOSTRESS instrument attached to the INTL space station. We are pairing drought and water data collected by ECOSTRESS with data from field instruments measuring these same fundamental ecosystem metabolic pulses. ECOSTRESS has great potential for informing local communities about drought, heat, and even wildfire. Check out ECOSTRESS at https://ecostress.jpl.nasa.gov.

Aurora Uribe Camalich is an undergraduate in Mexico City. She is one of four youth members in the “party” from Mexico. In other words, Aurora has voting status with the rest of the official party. This is the first COP in which the Mexican government has including youth on their team. I’m not sure whether other parties similarly include youth.

I did not take down her name, but I talked with a medical student at Emory University, who is at COP26 to discuss the vital connection between climate change and health of populations around the world. After obtaining her medical degree, she’s interested in pursuing a career focusing on public health in the context of changing climate. There are now multiple organizations around the world engaging in this issue. I also talked with Eric Balaban, a doctor from Pittsburgh, PA, who is here on a fellowship from a program in global health and climate change at the University of Colorado.

I talked with two lawyers from Norway, who are part of an organization that is promoting the connection between climate change and human rights. I met them at the Science Pavilion, where they were talking with Helene Hewitt, an oceanography and one of the authors of the recent IPCC working group 1 report. The two lawyers are seeking as much information as possible about how a certain amount of emissions translates into heat, sea level rise, etc., and ultimately in human suffering. One of their many goals is to make the case that companies and countries emitting greenhouse gases bear legal responsibility in their impacts.

By the way, we owe Helene Hewitt, who is from the UK, a debt, for she and others on the IPCC have dedicated so much of their time — years — to providing an assessment of the status of climate change. Check out the IPCC AR6 Working Group 1 report, which lays out our current knowledge on the physical basis of climate change. You might start with the summary or the policy makers version, which is short but full of illuminating and clear graphics. Helene works on ocean and sea ice modelling.

Originally from Jamaica, Camille Taylor is a communication expert working on climate change and other issues for the Caribbean Development Bank. She works out of the office in Barbados, helping citizens better understand climate change and solutions.

Sigrid Bjerre Andersen is policy advisor and program developer for a non-governmental organization in Denmark, which focuses on human rights in the country and issues such as climate change, development aid, and LGBTQ rights.

I had dinner with Walid and Fabio (see below). Walid is blackchain expert, but not for public digital coins such as bitcoin. Instead, he seeks to use his skills to provide certainty in international systems of carbon offsets and other approaches to controlling emissions, promoting nature-based solutions, etc. He is working with Fabio (again see below) to figure out how to apply this to elephants as a nature-based solution to climate change. Exciting and kind of mind-blowing.

Now, let me introduce two of my fellow attendees also sponsored by the Ecological Society of America. Originally from Italy, Fabio Berzaghi is now at Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (LSCE-CEA) in France. Fabio is an ecologist who works on elephants, forests, and carbon cycling. Through their action in feeding in forests in Gabon One, elephants promote uptake and storage of carbon. One of Fabio’s conservation goals is to find mechanisms for the valuing and payment of this nature-based solution to climate change.

Finally, Kaydee Barker is a student at Colorado State University, working on soil ecology in the context of climate change. I was excited to hear that one of the leaders of that soils lab is Matt Wallenstein, my first undergraduate research student many years ago at Franklin and Marshall College! Kaydee is not only an ecology student, she is also involved in the YEAH network of youth climate education (https://www.vanderbilt.edu/climatechange/yeah-network/) and, with other students, she has a fantastic podcast with Cody Sanford, “Livable Futures” (https://www.listennotes.com/podcasts/livable-future-podcast-cody-sanford-kaydee-WP_KvtjpBi8/). See her below at the compelling COP26 press conference on the YEAH program.

This quick introduction to a few people at COP26 reveals that most people here are not natural scientists doing research on climate change. Instead, they tend to be from a diverse range of backgrounds, businesses, organizations, disciplines, countries, communities–all dedicated to contributing to solving the climate crisis. Second

I want to end with a quotation from a session I’m in on “What are some of the most powerful legal and governance mechanisms for progress on climate change”:

CLIMATE CHANGE REPRESENTS THE MOST PROFOUND FAILURE OF MARKET CAPITALISM

Posted November 6, 2021 by changingnatureofthemainewoods in Uncategorized