The evacuation and the dismantling of the migrant camp nicknamed 'the Jungle' in Calais began, Monday, 24 October 2016. Thousands of people are pressed before dawn to get registered. Photo: Emilio Morenatti / AP / SIPA

By Matthias Blamont, with additional writing by Leigh Thomas and Andrew Callus; Editing by Robin Pomeroy
25 October 2016

CALAIS, France (Reuters) – French workers began demolishing the "Jungle" shanty town in Calais on Tuesday, wielding sledgehammers to tear down makeshift dwellings as former residents - migrants seeking entry to Britain - were moved out.

Police equipped with water canon stood guard as hundreds of migrants - some of whom have lived in the scrubland on the northern French coast for months or years - waited for busses to take them for resettlement across France.

"The migrants have known for a long time this was going to happen," the Calais region's prefect, Fabienne Buccio, told Reuters after arriving at the camp escorted by between 150 and 200 riot police.

"We are making sure it is done properly. We define an area, and then we go in."

Groups of young men who have fled war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, kept warm around piles of burning rubbish in the camp, a filthy expanse that has become a symbol of Europe's failed migration policies.

A large fire blazed at one point, but then appeared to be brought under control, and there was no repeat of the minor skirmishes with security forces seen over the weekend.

Officials said the operation was going peacefully.

For many of the migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and other conflict zones, the closure of the Jungle marked the end of a dream to reach Britain, which lies a tantalizingly short sea crossing away.

"We know the Jungle is over," said Aarash, a 21-year-old Afghan as he made his way to the hangar where immigration officials were processing the migrants.

"We will see if we can get on a bus today, but we want a good city, like one near Paris. If we can't go there we will come back to the Jungle." [more]

Workers wield sledgehammers to tear down Calais 'Jungle'

A woman and her daughter are evicted from the massive migrant camp in Calais, France, known as 'the Jungle', 25 October 2016. Photo: Nnoman Cadoret / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

By Bryony Jones
25 October 2016

Calais, France (CNN) – A team of workers in France began the long-awaited demolition of the "Jungle" migrant camp on Tuesday, pulling down tents, shacks and other makeshift shelters that thousands have called home over the past two years.

CNN journalists saw a team of "cleaners," as French officials call them, in orange jumpsuits and hardhats tearing down the temporary structures and disposing of migrants' possessions, dropping mattresses, pillows and blankets into a dumpster with an excavator.

Thousands are still left in the camp, and aid workers traveled tent to tent to make sure no one was left inside before workers come in.

Refugees get ready to leave Calais as demolition begins at the Jungle migrant camp Tuesday.

More than 3,100 migrants have been bussed out of the Jungle since authorities began a sweep Monday, sending them to regions around the country to begin a months-long resettlement process. Among them were more than 500 children.

Workers were scheduled to move in at 8 a.m. local time, but Calais officials delayed the operation until the afternoon to have a security cordon placed around the camp.

France has for more than a year vowed to raze the 4 square-kilometer camp, but its requests to do so had been shot down several times in court.

Authorities dismantled part of the camp early this year, but it failed to stop more and more migrants from arriving, with high hopes of crossing the Eurotunnel from Calais to reach the UK, just over 30 miles away.

The Jungle has become a gritty symbol of Europe's migrant crisis and has been a thorn in the French government's side. But to a tight-knit community there, it is also a symbol of determination and resilience -- more than 70 business have sprung up in the Jungle, including restaurants, cafes, bars, hairdressers and barbers, and leaving is not as simple as packing up and moving on.

One shabby home with a sleeping bag for a door had the words "Please do not destroy my home" scrawled across its front. [more]

Calais 'Jungle': Demolition of massive migrant camp begins

A series of satellite photos shows the expansion of the massive migrant camp known as 'the Jungle' in Calais, France, from 2002 to 2016. Photo: CNN / Google Earth

By Damian Collins
24 October 2016

(CNN) – French authorities have begun the process of demolishing the migrant camp known as the Calais Jungle, and it is clear that the final few hours of this center are going to be just as big a disgrace as its previous existence.

I visited the Jungle earlier this month, just after President François Hollande had said that the camp would be closed down.

    In light of this announcement, you might have expected that there would be official information points for the migrants, telling them about the alternative accommodation that the French authorities said they would provide, what they needed to do in order to be moved there, and encouraging them to leave straight away.

    Yet, the only government representatives I saw were a couple of officials in red jackets, whom migrants could approach for information.

    Very few migrants had received -- or knew how to get -- any information about where they would be moved. Many, rightly, feared that the camp would be demolished before all of the migrants had been moved out.

    The consequence of this would be to scatter people across the region, leaving them prey to the dangerous human trafficking gangs that operate in the area. When part of the Jungle was cleared by French authorities earlier this year, it is believed that around 100 children disappeared.

    Some politicians in France have stated that the only reason the Jungle exists is because the people there want to come to the UK.

    Yet, when I was there I met families with young children who had already claimed asylum in France, but were still waiting, after five months, to be offered accommodation by the authorities in that country. They had been told that there was nowhere else for them to go.

    There were also migrants living in Calais who had previously been moved to alternative centers in France, but had found the conditions there so bad that they had decided to return to the Jungle, even though it is little more than a shantytown with only the most basic facilities.

    Standing next to people queuing for food and firewood in the Calais Jungle, you had to keep reminding yourself that you were in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. [more]

    How failure after failure let down refugees in the Calais 'Jungle'

    By Sharon Livermore
    25 October 2016

    (IFAW) – Today, at the second day of plenary meetings at the 66th International Whaling Commission in Portorož, Slovenia, a proposal from Latin American countries to form a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary again failed to pass with the needed three-quarters majority vote.

    At the conclusion of the voting session, Matt Collis, IFAW IWC Team Leader said,

    “It is very disappointing that once again, a proposal for a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary has been harpooned. A sanctuary in this region would have provided strong protection to a wide range of whale and dolphin species. A victory for this proposal would have sent a clear signal that the IWC is capable of becoming a truly modern day conservation body for whales instead of an old whalers’ club.

    “Non-lethal whale research in this area has already provided valuable data on whales and a sanctuary would have built on this further, giving us far more useful and precise information than has ever been gained from so-called scientific whaling.”

    Whales inhabiting the South Atlantic include fin, humpback, blue, sei, minke, right, orca, and sperm whales.

    We expect this issue will be raised again at the 67th International Whaling Commission meeting likely to be held in Brazil in 2018.

    IWC Meeting: The South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary Harpooned Again

    People hold a protest against whaling outside the venue for the 66th International Whaling Commission meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia, on Monday, 24 October 2016. Photo: AFP-JIJI

    PORTOROZ, Slovenia, 25 October 2016 (Kyodo) – The International Whaling Commission on Monday opened a five-day meeting in Slovenia, with Japan's resumption of what it calls "research whaling" in the Antarctic Sea in December firmly in the spotlight.

    The biennial IWC meeting is the first since Japan restarted its whaling for "research" purposes late last year despite a 2014 international court ruling banning the practice.

    Japanese delegates will defend their country's whaling operations, according to Japanese government officials, as anti-whaling nations such as Australia and New Zealand step up their campaigns opposing the practice.

    The 88-member economies of the IWC are almost equally divided between pro-whaling and anti-whaling camps, although allegations that countries on both sides of the argument lobby for support from nations with little history of whaling, including some that are landlocked, are common.

    The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled in March 2014 that Japan's whale hunts lacked scientific grounds and ordered it to stop.

    The decision resulted in a hiatus, but Japan later submitted a new plan that included a drastic cut to its whale catches.

    Australia and other members in the anti-whaling bloc have presented to the conference a resolution that would require Japan or any IWC member to get approval from the international whaling body to continue hunting.

    Currently, an IWC member can conduct research whaling after it presents its plan to the IWC's Scientific Committee in advance for assessment. [more]

    Japan's return to 'research whaling' in spotlight as IWC meeting opens

    21 Oct 2016 (AAP) – Australia will push for a permanent end to all forms of whaling at an international meeting in Slovenia.

    Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg will ask the International Whaling Commission to take greater responsibility for how it deals with so-called scientific whaling, a camouflage used by Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Ocean.

    "For too long, the commission has deferred responsibility for so-called scientific whaling to its scientific committee," Mr Frydenberg said ahead of travelling to the commission's biennial meeting.

    "The commission must be more engaged on this important and divisive issue and form its own conclusions."

    The minister plans to build support for two Australian-led resolutions aimed at getting the commission to better deal with "scientific" whaling and bring it more in line with best practice for multilateral treaty bodies.

    This year marks the 30th anniversary of the global moratorium on commercial whaling and 70 years since the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was made.

    At least 45 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises are found in Australian waters and Mr Frydenberg says the government takes seriously its obligations to protect them.

    Australia wants 'scientific whaling' ended

    Protesters face off with police in El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego, California on 28 September 2016, in response to a police shooting the night before of Ugandan refugee Alfred Olango. Protesters marched in a California town following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man said to be mentally ill, as local officials urged calm and pledged a full investigation. Photo: Bill Wechter / AFP Photo

    20 October 2016 (UN) – Warning that the freedom of expression is under the widespread assault, a new United Nations human rights report has found that governments worldwide, wielding the tools of censorship, are “treating words as weapons.”

    “Governments are treating words as weapons, adopting vague laws that give officials massive discretion to undermine speech and opinion,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, in a news release about his report to be presented to the UN General Assembly tomorrow in New York.

    He said that governments are punishing journalists for their reporting, silencing individuals for posting opinions on social media, shutting down debate and the flow of information on grounds of counter-terrorism, protecting public order, sheltering people from offense.

    “The approach that many governments adopt towards freedom of expression today is abusive and unsustainable,” Mr. Kaye stressed. “Governments must not only reverse course, but also take the lead in ensuring its protection.”

    “Censorship in all its forms reflects official fear of ideas and information,” the expert noted. “And it not only harms the speaker or reporter or broadcaster, it undermines everyone’s right to information, to public participation, to open and democratic governance.”

    The report involved a survey of hundreds of official communications Mr. Kaye has issued to governments, which resulted from allegations of violations of well-established international human rights law received from individuals and non-governmental organizations worldwide. The trend lines are stark, he said.

    “I am especially concerned that many governments assert legitimate grounds for restriction, such as protection of national security or public order or the rights of others, as fig leaves to attack unpopular opinion or criticism of government and government officials,” he stated. “Many times governments provide not even the barest demonstration that such restrictions meet the legal tests of necessity and proportionality.”

    The Special Rapporteur drew attention to increasing instances where governments assert rationales having no basis in human rights law. “For example, it has become routine for governments to explicitly target political criticism, journalism, and the expression of singled-out groups such as LGBTI communities and artists,” he said.

    One of the biggest threats to online expression is the use of Internet ‘kill switches.’ More than a dozen network shutdowns have been recorded in the last year. Internet shutdowns are just one form of digital censorship among many adopted by governments today.

    The report noted areas of positive developments as well. The Special Rapporteur welcomed examples where governments, legislatures, and domestic and international courts have taken strong steps to promote freedom of expression or carefully evaluate restrictions.

    Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

    Free expression under worldwide assault, UN human rights expert warns in new report


    In the present report, submitted in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 25/2, the Special Rapporteur addresses contemporary challenges to freedom of expression. He assesses trends relating to the permissible restrictions laid out in article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and concludes with recommendations that the United Nations, States and civil society may take to promote and protect freedom of opinion and expression.

    Conclusions and recommendations

    In the present report, I have sought to describe trends working against freedom of opinion and expression around the world today. Those trends are sobering.

    Individuals seeking to exercise their right to expression face all kinds of limitations. Rationales are often unsustainable. Some of the limitations involve assertions of a legitimate objective — typically national security or public order — without the barest demonstration of legality or necessity and proportionality. Other limitations are based on objectives that are not legitimate under international human rights law. Old tools remain in use, while others are expanding, as States exploit society’s pervasive need to access the Internet. The targets of restrictions include journalists and bloggers, critics of government, dissenters from conventional life, provocateurs, and minorities of all sorts. Our communications have revealed allegations relating to all of these issues, and reporting from civil society suggests that the problems are more pervasive and extensive than even our communications illuminate.

    In the coming years, I urge States to be particularly mindful of the context of digital rights, the integrity of digital communications and the roles of intermediaries, regardless of frontiers. It will be particularly critical for States to avoid adopting legal rules that implicate digital actors — including, but not limited to, data localization standards, intermediary liability and Internet security — that undermine the freedom of expression, and I will be monitoring such legislation closely. I see ongoing deterioration of online rights, even as the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly urge that rights offline be respected online. The coming years will test just how genuine the commitment to that proposition is.

    Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

    Eni Norway and Statoil's Goliat rig in Arctic waters. Photo: Statioil

    The Earth Institute, 475 Riverside Drive, 520, New York, New York 10115
    18 October 2016

    Dear Prime Minister Solberg,

    A year ago I wrote an open letter urging you to carry out an act of transformational climate leadership. I held the faint hope that your government might yet waken to the realities of climate change, heed the call of thousands of Norwegians and rescind the 23rd licensing round, which allows oil companies to exploit massive fossil resources in the Barents Sea. That act of responsible stewardship – pulling out of an Arctic oil race that puts all of humanity at risk – would have salvaged Norway’s reputation as an environmental champion and set a bold example for the rest of the world. It would also have secured your legacy as one of a handful of political leaders reacting decisively to the greatest threat civilization has ever faced.

    Clearly my hopes were misplaced. Over the past year your government has not only upheld plans to drill for oil in the Arctic, but doubled down by announcing a 24th licensing round. This happened only months after Norway signed the Paris Agreement and paid lip service to the moral imperative of our time: keeping the climate within a safe threshold of 1.5°C. For years, scientists have warned governments that climate stability is unattainable unless most of the world’s remaining fossil fuels are left in the ground. Those democracies that have benefited most from fossil fuel production must be the first to rise to the challenge. Coal, tar sands, and Arctic oil must be the first resources left untouched in a rapidly warming world.

    A recent report by Oil Change International shows how there is simply no room for new fossil fuel exploitation within humanity’s remaining carbon budget. As a scientist, I understand that the worst climate consequences will not be on the timescale of the current electoral cycle, but we risk unleashing catastrophic climate events within the lifetimes of your children. I will not mince words, Mrs. Solberg. Your government’s actions are utterly at odds with the scientific consensus that underpins the Paris Agreement. Norway appears hell-bent on sabotaging the treaty before it has even come into effect.

    Fortunately, there may be a way to block the actions of what many are beginning to consider a climate rogue state. Over the past few years, I have been in touch with Norwegian lawyers and climate activists who are making the case that large-scale oil production in the Arctic is unconstitutional according to Norwegian law. In Oslo over the next few days, I’ll be meeting with friends, allies and young people who are filing a law suit to stop the 23rd licensing round based on Article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution. Article 112 states that “Every person has a right to an environment that is conducive to health and to a natural environment whose productivity and diversity are maintained. Natural resources should be managed on the basis of comprehensive long-term considerations whereby this right will be safeguarded for future generations as well.”

    Few nations have codified rights of future generations in such a powerful, binding way. And few nations show such blatant disregard for these rights.  Norway’s own per capita fossil fuel CO2 missions exceed those of Sweden by about 70 percent and Norway’s fossil fuel production is about 20 times its own use.  This excess production yields a tidy revenue stream, but makes Norway a disproportionate source of global climate change.

    Article 112 further states that: “Citizens are entitled to information on the state of the natural environment and on the effects of any encroachment on nature that is planned or carried out.” Your government has failed to provide this information to Norwegian citizens, thus undermining the legitimacy of the Arctic oil rush over which you preside. During the next few days, I will do my best to convey to the Norwegian public the folly of Arctic oil exploration. Getting the information out is a prime objective of the lawsuit now being filed by a broad movement of Norwegian citizens. They will have my wholehearted support.

    Dr. James E. Hansen
    Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions
    Columbia University

    Dear Prime Minister Solberg: Letter to Norway [pdf]

    Deforestation and forest degradation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest in September 2016. In September 2016, Imazon's Deforestation Alert System (SAD) detected 387 square kilometres of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. This represented an increase of 69 percent compared to September 2015. Degraded forests in the Amazon rainforest totaled 2,592 square kilometers in September 2016, a 272 percent increase compared to September 2015. Graphic: Imazon

    [Translation by Bing Translator.]

    By Antônio Fonseca, Marcelo Justino, Carlos Souza Jr., and Adalberto Veríssimo
    20 October 2016

    (Imazon) – In September 2016, Imazon's Deforestation Alert System (SAD) detected 387 square kilometres of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. This represented an increase of 69% compared to September 2015, when deforestation totaled 229 square kilometers. In September 2016, deforestation occurred in Mato Grosso (42%), Pará (25%), Rondônia (16%), Amazonas (15%), and Tocantins (1%).

    Degraded forests in the Amazon rainforest totaled 2,592 square kilometers in September 2016. Compared to September 2015, there was a 272% increase, when forest degradation scored 697 square kilometers. The degradation occurred in Mato Grosso (94%), Amazonas (2%), Acre (1%), Pará (1%), Rondônia (1%) and Tocantins (1%).

    Boletim do desmatamento da Amazônia Legal (setembro de 2016) SAD

    Total aboveground net primary production (ANPP, black line) and the component from annual plants (red line) and perennials (blue line) averaged across all treatments, from 1998 through 2014. Treatments comprised full-factorial warming, added precipitation, elevated CO2, and nitrogen deposition. Graphic: Zhu, et al., 2016 / PNAS

    STANFORD, California, 5 September 2016 (Carnegie Science) – One of the world’s longest-running, most comprehensive climate change experiments produced some surprising results. The extensive experiment subjected grassland ecosystems to sixteen possible future climates and measured many aspects of ecosystem performance and sustainability. This study, appearing in the September 5, 2016, Early Online Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reports on 17 years of plant growth, an important bellwether of ecosystem health. Plant growth varied tremendously from year to year, reaching a peak under conditions near the average over the last several decades. As conditions move away from the averages, as happens with climate change, plant growth fell.

    The findings are from the Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment, which is directed by Chris Field, the founding director of Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology. Unlike most climate-change experiments that altered one or maybe two aspects of the environment, the Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment altered four aspects of climate change—temperature, precipitation, atmospheric composition (carbon dioxide concentration), and atmospheric deposition (nitrogen pollution). With all possible combinations of ambient and elevated levels of the four factors, the study explored ecosystem responses to sixteen different possible futures.

    The study ecosystem, a typical California grassland, is ideal for this kind of experiment because it has many species, even small plots express a wide range of ecosystem processes, and the short lifetime of most species means that an experiment can encompass many generations of the most important organisms.  

    “Plant growth varied by more than three times over the years and the range of treatments,” remarked lead author Kai Zhu who was at Carnegie and Stanford when the work was conducted and is now at Rice University. “Good conditions tend to look like the recent past, and bad conditions look more common in a world of climate change. But we did not see progressive effects, meaning that we did not see that one bad year makes the next year bad as well. We think year-to-year variability acts as a reset button.”

    Field said, “For understanding impacts of climate change and options for dealing with it, one important result was the absence of a strong response to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide. Data from some ecosystems indicate that elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide might compensate for negative effects of warming or drought, sustaining ecosystem health and potentially removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The absence of such compensation in this long-term, comprehensive experiment emphasizes that solving the carbon dioxide problem will require cutting emissions and planting forests. We can’t count on a free helping hand from nature.”

    Analysis of the impacts of individual factors showed that warming had negative effects on plant growth. Plant growth peaked when precipitation was close to historic averages. There was no consistent response to elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide. Nitrogen pollution led to a 23% increase in plant growth, a typical response in nitrogen-limited ecosystems.

    Scenarios with combined factors mostly resulted in this same pattern, but with a few surprises. Specifically, the response to combined warming and increased precipitation was larger than the sum of the individual responses when they happened in isolation. But the response of plant growth to warming and nitrogen pollution was smaller than the sum of each individual effect occurring alone. The maximum plant growth occurred when both temperature and precipitation were at levels typical of average conditions over the last several decades. Plant growth declined with rising temperature and with precipitation either lower or higher than long-term averages.

    Field commented, “In Jasper Ridge grasslands, we see an ecosystem finely adapted to historic conditions. Providing a chance for places like this will require ambitiously tackling climate change so that we stabilize warming at the low end of the possible range. That is our challenge for the future.”

    Grassland tuned to present suffers in a warmer future

    ABSTRACT:Global changes in climate, atmospheric composition, and pollutants are altering ecosystems and the goods and services they provide. Among approaches for predicting ecosystem responses, long-term observations and manipulative experiments can be powerful approaches for resolving single-factor and interactive effects of global changes on key metrics such as net primary production (NPP). Here we combine both approaches, developing multidimensional response surfaces for NPP based on the longest-running, best-replicated, most-multifactor global-change experiment at the ecosystem scale—a 17-y study of California grassland exposed to full-factorial warming, added precipitation, elevated CO2, and nitrogen deposition. Single-factor and interactive effects were not time-dependent, enabling us to analyze each year as a separate realization of the experiment and extract NPP as a continuous function of global-change factors. We found a ridge-shaped response surface in which NPP is humped (unimodal) in response to temperature and precipitation when CO2 and nitrogen are ambient, with peak NPP rising under elevated CO2 or nitrogen but also shifting to lower temperatures. Our results suggest that future climate change will push this ecosystem away from conditions that maximize NPP, but with large year-to-year variability.

    SIGNIFICANCE: Global environmental change involves many factors that occur simultaneously, yet they are usually studied in isolation. Here we report a long-term global change experiment that subjected California grassland to multiple individual and simultaneous changes in temperature, precipitation, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen. Our analysis revealed nonlinear and interactive effects of temperature and precipitation on grassland net primary production (NPP), which defined a ridge-shaped NPP response surface to these two variables. Added nitrogen raised the peak of the NPP response surface, and added CO2 shifted the peak to lower temperatures. Our approach was validated by tests showing an absence of progressive effects over the years. In other ecosystems, our approach may be similarly powerful for probing the effects of multifactor global change.

    Nonlinear, interacting responses to climate limit grassland production under global change

    In July and August 2016, the Roaring Lion fire devoured more than 8,000 acres of forest, along with over 60 homes and outbuildings in eastern Montana's Bitterroot Range. Here, the fire burns through dense conifers on 31 July 2016. Photo: Mike Daniels

    10 October 2016 (University of Idaho) – Human-caused climate change has nearly doubled the amount of land burned in western U.S. forest fires over the past three decades, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Idaho and Columbia University.

    The researchers estimate that human-caused climate change caused an additional 16,000 square miles of western forest lands to burn between 1984 and 2015. That’s about the size of the Bitterroot, Clearwater, Kootenai, Panhandle and Nez Perce National forests combined, or more than 30 times the size of the city of Los Angeles.

    “We’re no longer waiting for human-caused climate change to leave its fingerprint on wildfire across the western U.S. It’s already here,” said John Abatzoglou, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of geography in UI’s College of Science. “Over the last several decades we’ve seen longer fire seasons, larger fires and more area burned — and those observations led us to ask, ‘Why?’ What we found was that human-caused climate change played a resounding role in observed increases in forest fire activity.”

    The study, which was published today in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to quantify the degree to which human-caused climate change has increased wildfire activity in western U.S. forests. The study examined forested regions of the lower 48 states from the Rockies to the Pacific.

    “Knowing that human-caused warming is responsible for approximately half of the western U.S. forest fire area in the past few decades, and understanding that this effect is becoming increasingly dominant, helps us better anticipate continued changes in forest fire activity in the coming decades,” said co-author Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “This knowledge will allow us to make more educated fire and land management decisions.”

    The United States has seen dramatic fire seasons in recent years. In 2015, 10.1 million acres burned across the country — the largest since the National Interagency Fire Center began documenting wildland fire area in 1983. Federal firefighting costs for the 2015 fire season hit a record-high $2.1 billion.

    The uptick in fire activity over the past decade has led to some calling recent wildfire seasons the “new normal.” Abatzoglou and Williams goal was to parse out how much of the observed increase in the extent of forest fires was due to natural climate variability and other factors, and how much was rooted in human-caused climate change. They chose to focus on forest fires, since grassland fires respond differently to climate variability.

    Abatzoglou likened the many factors that lead to forest fires to instruments in an orchestra: When any instrument plays louder, the volume of the whole orchestra increases. His and Williams’ research finds that both human-caused climate change and natural variability have been playing with increasing volume in recent decades, leading to record-breaking fire seasons.

    The history of fire suppression and forest management practices in parts of the West has also played an important role in the increase. Fewer fires have led to overgrowth in many forests, so there is now more fuel available to burn when conditions get dry.

    "The legacy of fire suppression has probably amplified the effect of climate change on forest fire. Opposite to how climate change would have zero effect on forest fire activity if there was zero fuel to burn, climate change probably has had an amplified effect of forest fire activity due to an artificially high number of trees in many forested areas due to past fire suppression,” Williams said.

    Increased temperature and reduced relative humidity facilitate fire activity by drying out timber. Such conditions allow fires to start and spread and make them more difficult to suppress.

    “Wildfire is a function of several processes, some natural and some human. But what we know is on a year-to-year basis, warm, dry summers enable large fire seasons,” Abatzoglou said. “There is a remarkable relationship between the extent of forested area burned and fuel dryness that allows us to implicate climate as the preeminent driver of annual variability in forest fire over the past three decades.”

    Abatzoglou and Williams complied data from eight measures of aridity, or dryness, in western U.S. forests. They then used climate model experiments to identify how human-caused climate change influenced these aridity measures.

    They found that spring and summer temperatures warmed by 2 to 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius) since 1950, which is in agreement with the warming that climate models attribute to human-caused climate change. This warming led to significant drying within western U.S. forests, accounting for approximately 55 percent of the documented increases in forest aridity from 1979 to 2015. The remaining 45 percent was due to natural climate variations that caused reductions in humidity and precipitation in some regions.

    This influence has been particularly notable since the turn of the century: Abatzoglou and Williams estimate that since 2000, human-caused climate change led to a 75-percent increase in the extent of forested lands with elevated aridity and contributed about nine additional days per year with exceptionally dry fuels and high fire potential.

    While human-caused climate change and natural climate variability have conspired to increase aridity in recent decades, natural variability could possibly revert and reduce aridity in coming decades, Abatzoglou said. However, unmitigated human-caused climate change will likely have a growing effect on fire seasons — like the drum section of the orchestra growing louder and louder.

    “Is this the new normal? I’d say no, but we’re heading there,” Abatzoglou said. “We expect that the effects of human-caused climate change will intensify over the next several decades. So long as there are trees in our forests, climate change will continue to set the table for large fire seasons.”

    “The impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forests” is available upon request from the authors or from PNAS through EurekAlert.

    The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Terrestrial Ecology Program and Columbia University’s Center for Climate and Life.


    John Abatzoglou
    University of Idaho Department of Geography

    Park Williams
    Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

    Tara Roberts
    University of Idaho Communications

    Kevin Krajick
    Senior editor, science news, The Earth Institute/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

    Study: Human-Caused Climate Change Has Doubled Western U.S. Forest Fire Area

    10 October 2016 (LDEO) – A new study says that human-induced climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the U.S. West over the last 30 years. According to the study, since 1984 heightened temperatures and resulting aridity have caused fires to spread across an additional 16,000 square miles than they otherwise would have—an area larger than the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. The authors warn that further warming will increase fire exponentially in coming decades. The study appears today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger, and the reason is really clear,” said study coauthor Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns. We should be getting ready for bigger fire years than those familiar to previous generations.”

    Fires in western forests began increasing abruptly in the 1980s, as measured by area burned, the number of large fires, and length of the fire season. The increases have continued, and recently scientists and public officials have in part blamed human-influenced climate change. The new study is perhaps the first to quantify that assertion. “A lot of people are throwing around the words climate change and fire—specifically, last year fire chiefs and the governor of California started calling this the ‘new normal,’ ” said lead author John Abatzoglou, a professor of geography at the University of Idaho. “We wanted to put some numbers on it.”

    Warmth drives fire by drying out the land. Warmer air can hold more moisture, and the air ends up sucking it out of plants, trees, dead vegetation on the ground, and soil. Average temperatures in forested parts of the U.S. West have gone up about 2.5 degrees F since 1970, and are expected to keep rising. The resulting drying effect is evident in the rise of more fires. Williams published a study last year showing how climate-driven removal of moisture from land worsened the recent California drought, which was accompanied by widespread fires.

    The overall increase in fire since the 1980s is about twice what the researchers attribute to climate change; the rest is due to other factors, they say. One has been a long-term natural climate oscillation over the Pacific Ocean that has steered storms away from the western United States. Another: firefighting itself. By constantly putting out fires, authorities have allowed areas they “saved” to build up more dry fuel, which later ignites, causing ever more catastrophic blazes, the researchers say. The costs of fire fighting have risen sharply in step; last year the federal government alone spent more than $2.1 billion. “We’re seeing the consequence of very successful fire suppression, except now it’s not that successful anymore,” said Abatzoglou.

    The authors teased out the effects of climate warming from other factors by looking at eight different systems for rating forest aridity; these included the Palmer Drought Severity Index, the MacArthur Forest Fire Danger Index and the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System. They then compared such measurements with observations of actual fires and large-scale climate models that estimate manmade warming. The crunched data showed that 55 percent of the increase in fuel aridity expected to lead to fires could be attributed to human-influenced climate change. Climate’s role in increasing such aridity has grown since 2000, the researchers say, and will continue to do so.

    Williams and Abatzoglou say they do not account for some factors that could be offshoots of climate warming, and thus they may be understating the effect. These include millions of trees killed in recent years by beetles that prefer warmer weather, and declines in spring soil moisture brought on by earlier snowmelt. There is also evidence that lightning—the usual initial spark—may increase with warming.

    The study does not cover western grasslands. These have seen more fires too, but there is little evidence that climate plays a role there, said Abatzoglou; rather, the spread of highly flammable invasive grasses appears to be the main driver.

    Mike Flannigan, a fire researcher at the University of Alberta, said that previous studies have tried to understand the effects of climate on fires in parts of Canada, but that nothing had been done for the United States on this scale. “What’s great about this paper is that it quantifies this effect, and it does it on a national scale,” he said.

    Worldwide, wildfires of all kinds have been increasing, often with a suspected climate connection. Many see a huge fire that leveled part of the northern city of Fort McMurray, Alberta, this May as the result of a warming trend that is drying out northern forests. Fires have even been spreading beyond, into the tundra, in places where blazes have not been seen for thousands of years. That said, fires are not expected to increase everywhere. “Increased fire in a lot of places agrees with the projections,” said Jeremy Littell, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska. “But in many woodlands, the relationship between climate and fire is not as tidy.”

    So far, this year has seen huge, though not record, fires. Over the summer, some 3 million acres burned across the United States, mostly in the West, from Washington state across to the Dakotas and down into Texas. Some scientists say the worst could be yet to come; in some places, the most dangerous conditions often occur from September to December, when desert winds interact with fuels that have been drying for five or six months.

    The effects go beyond loss of trees and other vegetation. A 2012 study estimates that smoke from fires worldwide causes long-term health effects that kill some 340,000 people each year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia. Carbon released to the air adds to the burden of greenhouse gases already there, thus producing even more warming. Soot settling on snow and ice causes them to absorb more heat and melt faster.    

    Many scientists studying the issue believe the growth in U.S. western fires will continue for many years. Williams and others say that eventually, so many western forests will burn, they will become too fragmented for fires to spread easily, and the growth in fire will cease. But, he says, “there’s no hint we’re even getting close to that yet. I’d expect increases to proceed exponentially for at least the next few decades.” In the meantime, he said, “It means getting out of fire’s way. I’d definitely be worried about living in a forested area with only one road in and one road out.”


    Kevin Krajick
    (212) 854-9729

    Climate Change Has Doubled Western U.S. Forest Fire Area, Study Says

    ABSTRACT: Increased forest fire activity across the western continental United States (US) in recent decades has likely been enabled by a number of factors, including the legacy of fire suppression and human settlement, natural climate variability, and human-caused climate change. We use modeled climate projections to estimate the contribution of anthropogenic climate change to observed increases in eight fuel aridity metrics and forest fire area across the western United States. Anthropogenic increases in temperature and vapor pressure deficit significantly enhanced fuel aridity across western US forests over the past several decades and, during 2000–2015, contributed to 75% more forested area experiencing high (>1 σ) fire-season fuel aridity and an average of nine additional days per year of high fire potential. Anthropogenic climate change accounted for ∼55% of observed increases in fuel aridity from 1979 to 2015 across western US forests, highlighting both anthropogenic climate change and natural climate variability as important contributors to increased wildfire potential in recent decades. We estimate that human-caused climate change contributed to an additional 4.2 million ha of forest fire area during 1984–2015, nearly doubling the forest fire area expected in its absence. Natural climate variability will continue to alternate between modulating and compounding anthropogenic increases in fuel aridity, but anthropogenic climate change has emerged as a driver of increased forest fire activity and should continue to do so while fuels are not limiting.

    SIGNIFICANCE: Increased forest fire activity across the western United States in recent decades has contributed to widespread forest mortality, carbon emissions, periods of degraded air quality, and substantial fire suppression expenditures. Although numerous factors aided the recent rise in fire activity, observed warming and drying have significantly increased fire-season fuel aridity, fostering a more favorable fire environment across forested systems. We demonstrate that human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984. This analysis suggests that anthropogenic climate change will continue to chronically enhance the potential for western US forest fire activity while fuels are not limiting.

    Impact of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire across western US forests

    In the Liptako-Gourma region, Niger, an area that has experienced large-scale land degradation and water scarcity, a villager takes extra precautions to keep her supply of water clean. Photo: Rabo Yahaya / UNDP

    18 October 2016 (UN) – The head of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification told delegations gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, to assess the treaty’s implementation, the impacts of land degradation affect the sustainability of the entire world, so a global effort is needed to tackle it, including through the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

    Monique Barbut, the Executive Secretary of the Convention, known by its acronym UNCCD, opened meeting by stressing: “Ignoring land degradation neutrality (LDN) could be political suicide.”

    Moreover, she stressed that LDN remains a Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target – under Goal 15 – and populations will experience real benefits in terms of climate change, rural employment and food security.

    The Committee for the Review of Implementation of the Convention was established as a subsidiary body to the Conference of the Parties (COP). LDN will constitute a part within the CRIC15 Strategic Framework, under the Convention from 2018-2030. It is scheduled to be adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD next year.

    “Ten billion people on Earth by 2050 will require food production to increase by 70 per cent, and that means expansion and exploitation of at least four million hectares of new land each year,” she said. However, there are only two billion hectares of degraded land at our disposal, 500 million of which can be restored, she added. In order to recover the ecosystems and feed the entire population, just 300 million hectares need to be restored.

    “We would be able to sequester a significant amount of CO2 as well. It is the fastest and most cost-effective way to do so.” Ms. Barbut said.

    Tackling impacts of land degradation vital to achieving Global Goals – senior UN treaty official

    18 October 2016 (UN) – “Ignoring land degradation neutrality (LDN) could be political suicide,” said Monique Barbut, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), emphasizing the real benefits populations will feel in terms of climate change, rural employment and food security. LDN is one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    At the opening of the fifteenth session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC15) being held in Nairobi, Barbut explained why LDN is so important.

    CRIC, the Committee for the Review of Implementation of the Convention, was established by decision 1/COP 5, as a subsidiary body to the COP.  CRIC15 will consider LDN within the Strategic Framework that will guide action under the Convention from 2018-2030 and is set to be adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the UNCCD next year.

    “Ten billion people on earth by 2050 require food production to increase by 70%. That means expansion and exploitation of at least 4 million hectares of new land each year. But we have 2 billion hectares of degraded land out there, of which 500 million ha can be restored. If we restored just 300 million hectares of that, we would be able to recover lost ecosystems and feed the entire population.  We would be able to sequester a significant amount of CO2 as well.  It is the fastest and most cost-effective way to do so.” Barbut said. 

    Over 100 countries have begun setting their own practical and ambitious LDN targets. Kenya who hosts CRIC15 is among them.

    Opening the session, Charles Sunkuli, the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources announced, “In September, 2016 the country launched an ambitious land restoration programme targeting 5.1 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes for restoration by 2030.”

    He underlined that the pressure on households to meet their immediate and urgent needs makes pushes them to prioritize the short term over long term interests and sustainable development. He said Kenya is working with the local and county governments in order to meet its targets to control land degradation, and other initiatives such as the Bonn Challenge.

    Barbut also confirmed China is set to host the 13th session of the Conference of the Parties in Ordos, Inner Mongolia in 2017.

    CRIC15 will be held in Nairobi until 20 October 2016. 

    (Relevant links)

    CRIC15 web page

    Statement by the UNCCD Executive Secretary

    Statement by the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Kenya

    CRIC15 begins in Nairobi

    Ivory trinkets. Photo: Kate Brooks / Redux

    21 September 2016 (EIA) – UK Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom today announced plans for a ban on ‘modern day’ ivory sales, a move she claimed would put the country’s rules on ivory sales among the world’s toughest.

    But the proposal outlined by the Government does not go nearly far enough and is effectively only a tightening of the present outdated regulations – the ivory trade in Britain will not be banned, nor even be further restricted.

    Meanwhile, elephants throughout Africa will still be killed in their tens of thousands every year as domestic markets mask the illegal trade.

    Other countries, including the US and France, have gone much further than the UK’s proposals and have enacted near-total bans on the ivory trade, despite survey data showing that 85 per cent of the British public supports a total ban.

    The UK must pull its weight in global conservation efforts and close its domestic ivory market as well as voting in favour of a resolution to close all domestic ivory markets which will be tabled next week at the 17th Conference of Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in South Africa.

    Reacting to the Environment Secretary’s statement, EIA Executive Director Mary Rice, in Johannesburg for CoP17, said: “Now is not the time for Britain to be shy in its global leadership. It’s time for a decisive announcement of substantive action at home and meaningful leadership on the global stage to ensure elephant populations are not wiped out across Africa.

    “A ban on all ivory trade in the UK has been in the Conservative Party’s manifesto for some years now and it’s clear the British public wants the trade shut down. Botswana, which holds the world’s largest elephant population, announced this week that it wants to see a global ban on all international and domestic ivory markets – as clear a signal as could be wanted for all governments, including the UK, to follow.

    “The evidence shows that the UK’s legal market provides cover for the illegal international trade, a wholly unacceptable state of affairs for a country which has shown strong leadership on elephant conservation over the last three years in particular.

    “The only meaningful way the UK can stop contributing to the killing of elephants is to close its ivory market and in so doing show others the way forward.

    “Elephants no longer have time for these kind of half-measures. It is to be hoped that the Government ultimately announces a far stronger and more meaningful commitment.”

    UK’s ivory trade ‘ban’ just so much smoke and mirrors


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