Richard Branson, left, with former US vice-president Al Gore, in London, UK. Photo: Kieran Doherty / Reuters

By Suzanne Goldenberg   
13 September 2014

(theguardian.com) – Richard Branson has failed to deliver on his much-vaunted pledge to spend $3bn (£1.8bn) over a decade to develop a low carbon fuel.

Seven years into the pledge, Branson has paid out only a small fraction of the promised money – “well under $300m” – according to a new book by the writer and activist, Naomi Klein.

The British entrepreneur famously promised to divert a share of the profits from his Virgin airlines empire to find a cleaner fuel, after a 2006 private meeting with Al Gore.

Branson went on to found a $25m Earth prize for a technology that could safely suck 1bn tons of carbon a year from the atmosphere. In 2009, he set up the Carbon War Room, an NGO which works on business solutions for climate change.

But by Klein’s estimate, Branson’s “firm commitment” of $3bn failed to materialise.

“So the sceptics might be right: Branson’s various climate adventures may indeed prove to have all been a spectacle, a Virgin production, with everyone’s favourite bearded billionaire playing the part of planetary saviour to build his brand, land on late night TV, fend off regulators, and feel good about doing bad,” Klein writes in This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs The Climate.

Klein uses Branson and other so-called green billionaires – such as the former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg – as case studies for her argument that it is unrealistic to rely on business to find solutions to climate change.

Branson routed a first pay-out of his $3bn commitment, about $130m, through a new Virgin investment company into corn ethanol.

The fuel has now been widely discredited as a greener alternative to fossil fuels, because of its climate change impacts and for driving up the cost of food. [more]

Richard Branson failed to deliver on $3bn climate change pledge

The 65th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, being held in fairytale seaside surroundings in Portoroz, Slovenia. Photo: Dr. Paul Spong

By Paul Spong
15 September 2014

(OrcaLab) – The 65th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, being held in fairytale seaside surroundings in Portoroz, Slovenia, began pretty much where the last meeting in Panama left off, with the issue of Greenland’s request to kill whales for “aboriginal” consumption. Readers who have followed the IWC story will recall that Greenland was denied its request in 2012 because its “needs” statement and explanation could not persuade a ¾ majority of Commission members.

During the interim 2 years, Denmark somehow managed to convince its fellow European Union (EU) members of Greenland’s case, so the first substantive issue debated at this meeting opened with a fait accompli. The votes of the EU members ensured the ¾ majority needed to enshrine Greenland’s “take” of 164 minke, 12 fin, 2 bowhead, and 10 humpback whales per year for the next 4 years. Denmark apparently accomplished this by coercion, threatening to leave the EU if Greenland didn’t get its way. The result was an 81% vote in favour of Greenland, despite evidence that the hunt is in part commercial, and that the real needs of Greenland’s population are smaller than the demand. Only the Latin American “Buenos Aires” group were opposed. Monaco, Australia, and Gabon abstained, and New Zealand voted yes, explaining that though it would have preferred abstaining, it wanted the issue settled. Interesting perhaps, if these 4 votes had been opposed, Greenland would have lost once again. It did not, and emerged triumphant.

The way in which Greenland obtained sanction for its objectives perfectly illustrates the way in which the IWC operates. Arms are twisted, deals are made, and the whales are pretty much left to fall by the wayside.

Falling by the wayside is pretty much what is happening to the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, one again. The proposal, fleshed out in greater detail than ever, has been on the IWC table for more than 20 years. The logic behind its creation is irrefutable in that it would not only protect whales within a huge area of ocean that were once subject to the greatest exploitation in history, thus promoting recovery of decimated populations, but it would encourage and facilitate research, education and tourism in countries around its perimeter. The opposition is knee-jerk, a response to Japan’s insistence that whales anywhere and everywhere must remain open to “sustainable use” regardless of their present circumstances. The language used by opponents invariably bears the same stamp: Japan. It will come as no surprise when the vote is held at this meeting if once again it fails to meet the ¾ majority bar. This despite a meeting in Montevideo earlier this year at which numerous African governments opposed to the Sanctuary at the IWC signed on to a resolution supporting its creation. Go figure.

One more bizarre note. The report of the Scientific Committee was dealt with in a 20’ slide show replete with “there is no time to discuss” comments by the Chair, Japan’s Toshihide Kitakado. Previously, the report of this most essential arm of the Commission was explained piece by piece throughout the meeting, as agenda items were discussed. This time, the scientists’ work was compressed such that it might as well have been garbage. The reports of the Committee exist of course, and are available to be read on the IWC web site, but if the casino next door offered the wager, I’d be willing to bet that few at this meeting have read it. Ignorance, they say, can be bliss.

Two Thumbs Down

The chart above compares our current efforts to cut 'carbon intensity' — measured by calculating the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per million dollars of economic activity — with what's actually needed to rein in climate change. According to the report, the global economy needs to 'decarbonize' by 6.2 percent every year until the end of the century to limit warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But carbon intensity fell by only 1.2 percent in 2013. Graphic: PricewaterhouseCoopers

By James West
10 September 2014

(Mother Jones) – With every year that passes, we're getting further away from averting a human-caused climate disaster. That's the key message in this year's "Low Carbon Economy Index," a report released by the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The report highlights an "unmistakable trend": The world's major economies are increasingly failing to do what's needed to to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. That was the target agreed to by countries attending the United Nations' 2009 climate summit; it represents an effort to avoid some of the most disastrous consequences of runaway warming, including food security threats, coastal inundation, extreme weather events, ecosystem shifts, and widespread species extinction.

To curtail climate change, individual countries have made a variety of pledges to reduce their share of emissions, but taken together, those promises simply aren't enough. According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, "the gap between what we are doing and what we need to do has again grown, for the sixth year running." The report adds that at current rates, we're headed towards 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by the end of the century—twice the agreed upon rate. Here's a breakdown of the paper's major findings.

The chart above compares our current efforts to cut "carbon intensity"—measured by calculating the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per million dollars of economic activity—with what's actually needed to rein in climate change. According to the report, the global economy needs to "decarbonize" by 6.2 percent every year until the end of the century to limit warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But carbon intensity fell by only 1.2 percent in 2013.

The report also found that the world is going to blow a hole in its carbon budget—the amount we can burn to keep the world from overheating beyond 3.6 degrees.

The report singles out countries that have done better than others when it comes to cutting carbon intensity. Australia, for example, tops the list of countries that have reduced the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP, mainly due to lower energy demands in a growing economy. But huge countries like the United States, Germany, and India are still adding carbon intensity, year-on-year. [more]

This Legendary Accounting Firm Just Ran the Numbers on Climate Change

A minke whale is unloaded at a port in Kushiro, Japan after it was slaughtered for 'scientific purposes'. Photo: AP

By Justin McCurry
4 September 2014

Tokyo (theguardian.com) – Japan is expected to spark a fresh round of diplomatic tension after revealing plans to bypass a UN ban on the slaughter of whales in the Antarctic with a new, scaled-down "scientific" programme that limits its catch to minke whales.

Japan was forced to end its hunt in the Antarctic in March after the international court of justice (ICJ) in the Hague challenged Tokyo's contention that its annual pursuit of hundreds of whales in the area was necessary to conduct scientific research.

The country's whaling fleet has sought to catch around 900 minke whales, and a much smaller number of fin and humpback whales, every winter after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling in 1986.

The IWC's moratorium allowed meat from the hunts to be sold on the open market in Japan, where consumption of whale meat – once a rare source of protein, in the years after the second world war – has plummeted in recent decades. Environmental campaigners claim the "scientific" programme is a cover for commercial whaling.

Having said they would abide by the UN court's ruling in March, Japanese officials are poised to submit a revised programme to the IWC's scientific committee in November.

Japanese media quoted fisheries agency officials as saying that they would present a draft proposal at the IWC's general meeting in Slovenia this month and add the final touches, including catch quotas, in the following weeks.

Reports said the hunts would probably involve catching fewer minke whales and no fin or humpback whales, as Japanese fisheries officials attempt to pass the "scientific" test set by the ICJ.

The whaling fleet would collect "data necessary to calculate the number of whale catch allowed" after the eventual resumption of commercial whaling and "construct a model of the Antarctic Ocean ecosystem," Agence France-Presse quoted an agency official as saying.

Japan's whaling fleet came close to reaching its annual target of 935 minke whales in 2006, but catches have since slumped because of poor demand and confrontations with the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd. During the 2013-14 season, Japan took just 251 minke whales in the Antarctic – a quarter of its target. [more]

Japan set to wade into diplomatic row by bypassing ban on whaling

9,400 sea turtle eggs were found in the trunk of a car outside Nicoya, Guanacaste, on 9 September 2014. Photo: Costa Rica Public Security Ministry

By Zach Dyer
1 September 2014

(Tico Times) – Costa Rica’s National Police have seized what is likely the biggest illegal stash of poached sea turtle eggs this year, just outside of Nicoya, Guanacaste.

Police officers spotted a nervous driver of a Nissan Sentra at a highway checkpoint outside Nicoya, a city on the Nicoya Peninsula, on Tuesday evening. When they tried to flag down the driver, he hit the gas and fled, along with a second suspect. Police gave chase for three kilometers before apprehending the driver and a passenger. After searching the car, authorities discovered 9,400 turtle eggs packed into the car’s trunk. Both suspects, identified with the last names Sequeira and Matarrita, were handed over to a flagrancy court in Santa Cruz on Wednesday morning.

In a separate incident, two women, including a 15-year-old girl, were caught with 223 illegal turtle eggs on Tuesday afternoon at Playa Bejuco, on the central Pacific coast. The two suspects also were taken to the Santa Cruz  flagrancy court.

National Police spokesman Jesús Ureña said the eggs likely are from olive ridley sea turtles, which come ashore to nest this time of year. Ureña told The Tico Times the eggs probably would be destroyed due to their poor condition.

Police find 9,400 sea turtle eggs in car trunk outside Nicoya

Scientists project that a temperature increase of just 1.8°F will lead to marked increases in acreage burned by wildfires in the U.S. West. This figure shows the projected percentage increase in burned area, compared with the 1950–2003 average, for different ecological regions of the West, including the Rocky Mountains. (Grey indicates areas with insufficient data for making projections.) Graphic: NRC 2011 and Littell, et al., 2009

By Trevor Hughes
10 September 2014

DENVER (USA TODAY) – The iconic pine and aspen forests of the Rocky Mountains are dying off at an alarming rate thanks to conditions exacerbated by climate change — drought, insect infestations and wildfires — a new report says.

Colorado alone could lose 45% of its aspen stands over the next 45 years, says the report released Thursday by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. Pine bark beetles alone have killed 46 million acres of trees across the west, an area nearly the size of Colorado.

"The wildfires, infestations, and heat and drought stress are the symptoms; climate change is the underlying disease," Jason Funk, the report's co-author and a senior climate scientist at Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement.

Projections by the U.S. Forest Service that were included in the report, predict that if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue increasing at recent rates, by 2060 the area climatically suitable in the Rocky Mountains for lodgepole pine could decline by about 90%, for ponderosa pine by about 80%, for Engelmann spruce by about 66% and for Douglas fir by about 58%. [more]

Climate change accelerating death of Western forests


9 Sepgember 2014 (UCS) Tens of millions of trees have died in the Rocky Mountains over the past 15 years, victims of a triple assault of tree-killing insects, wildfires, and stress from heat and drought.

Global warming is the driving force behind these impacts, bringing hotter and drier conditions that amplify existing stresses, as well as cause their own effects.

If climate change is allowed to continued unchecked, these impacts will significantly increase in the years ahead, dramatically reduce the ranges of iconic tree species, and fundamentally alter the Rocky Mountain forests as we know them.

A triple assault of forest impacts

  • Tree-killing insects have infested and killed more trees, at a faster pace, for longer periods, and over more acreage in western North America than any other known infestation.
  • Large wildfires have increased throughout the Rocky Mountains in recent decades. Wildfire season is now much longer — more than two months longer — than it used to be.
  • Extreme heat and drought have stressed trees, and scientists have observed a doubling in tree mortality in recent years, even in areas undisturbed by insects and wildfires.

Widespread forest death and damage

  • From 2000 to 2012, bark beetles killed trees on 46 million acres — an area nearly the size of Colorado.
  • The U.S. Forest Service estimates that as many as 100,000 beetle-killed trees now fall to the ground every day in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado alone.
  • Since the 1980s, the number of large wildfires in the Rocky Mountains has risen by 73 percent, or about 18 more large wildfires each year. Wildfires burned more than six times as much land each year on average from 1987 to 2003 compared to the period from 1970 to 1986.
  • The mortality rate of trees has doubled in old-growth, undisturbed forests throughout the Rockies, with no compensating increase in the number of seedlings. Scientists suggest that hotter and drier conditions are likely responsible.

Climate change: The underlying cause

  • Rising regional temperatures have led to reduced spring snowpacks, earlier snowmelt, earlier peak streamflows, and hotter summers.
  • The resulting drier, hotter conditions increase the severity of bark beetle infestations, amplify wildfire risks, and stress trees and forests throughout the Rockies.
  • Average annual temperatures have risen more in the Rocky Mountain region than in the U.S. as a whole, increasing 2.1º F since 1895.

Iconic trees at risk

  • Whitebark pines are in dramatic decline because of disease, severe insect outbreaks, and changing fire conditions. The amount of suitable habitat for whitebark pines is projected to greatly diminish with continued climate change and the species could disappear entirely from some Rocky Mountain states by the end of the century.
  • Quaking aspens have suffered severe and widespread mortality across much of the Rockies due to drought and high temperatures. Continued climate change could eliminate the species from much of its current range.
  • Piñon pines have experienced a massive die-off triggered by drought and exceptional heat and will be lost throughout much of its existing range with continued climate change.
  • Much of the current range of four other widespread species — lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, Engelmann spruce, and Douglas fir — is projected to become climatically unsuitable for them by 2060 if heat-trapping emissions continue to rise.

A call to action

  • The future of Rocky Mountain forests depends on how much and how quickly we can curb heat-trapping emissions.
  • The dramatic impacts these forests already face — and our scientific understanding of what's driving them — mean that unchecked heat-trapping emissions will bring more abrupt, damaging, and potentially irreversible effects.
  • As individuals, we can help by taking action to reduce our personal emissions. But to fully address the threat of global warming, we must demand action from our elected leaders to support and implement a comprehensive set of climate solutions.
  • The choice is stark: We can act now to preserve the cherished landscape of the Rocky Mountains — or we can sit by and watch this treasured resource degrade irrevocably. The ultimate fate of these majestic forests is up to us.

Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk

Amazon rainforest kicks up humidity that brings rain to Brazil – it's a giant water pump, but human activity is damaging it. Photo: Fernanda Preto / Getty Images

By Jan Rocha
15 September 2014

(theguardian.com) – The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” − the vapour clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the centre and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming.

This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump”, releasing billions of litres of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapour.

Meteorologist Jose Marengo, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, first coined the phrase “flying rivers” to describe these massive volumes of vapour that rise from the rainforest, travel west, and then − blocked by the Andes − turn south.

Satellite images from the Centre for Weather Forecasts and Climate Research of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) clearly show that, during January and February this year, the flying rivers failed to arrive, unlike the previous five years.

Deforestation all over Brazil has reached alarming proportions: 22% of the Amazon rainforest (an area larger than Portugal, Italy and Germany combined), 47% of the Cerrado in central Brazil, and 91.5% of the Atlantic forest that used to cover the entire length of the coastal area.

Latest figures from Deter, the real time deforestation detection system based on high frequency satellite images used by INPE, show that, after falling for two years, Amazon deforestation rose again by 10% between August 2013 and July 2014. The forest is being cleared for logging and farming.

Tocantins, Pará, and Mato Grosso, three states in the Greater Amazon region that have suffered massive deforestation, are all registering higher average temperatures.

As long ago as 2009, Antonio Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading climate scientists, warned that, without the “flying rivers”, the area that produces 70% of South America’s GNP would be desert.

In an interview with the journal Valor Economica, he said: “Destroying the Amazon to advance the agricultural frontier is like shooting yourself in the foot. The Amazon is a gigantic hydrological pump that brings the humidity of the Atlantic Ocean into the continent and guarantees the irrigation of the region.”

“Of course, we need agriculture,” he said. “But without trees there would be no water, and without water there is no food.

“A tonne of soy takes several tonnes of water to produce. When we export soy we are exporting fresh water to countries that don’t have this rain and can’t produce. It is the same with cotton, with ethanol. Water is the main agricultural input. If it weren’t, the Sahara would be green, because it has extremely fertile soil.”

Like other climate scientists, Nobre thinks the role of the Amazon rainforest in producing rain has been underestimated. In a single day, the Amazon region evaporates 20bn tonnes of vapour − more than the 17m tonnes of water that the Amazon river discharges each day into the Atlantic.

“A big tree with a crown 20 metres across evaporates up to 300 litres a day, whereas one square metre of ocean evaporates exactly one square metre,” he said. “One square metre of forest can contain eight or 10 metres of leaves, so it evaporates eight or 10 times more than the ocean. This flying river, which rises into the atmosphere in the form of vapour, is bigger than the biggest river on the Earth.” [more]

Drought bites as Amazon’s ‘flying rivers’ dry up

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 1988-2013, measured by the Projeto de Monitoramento do Desmatamento na Amazônia Legal (PRODES). Graphic: INPE

By Amel Ahmed
11 September 2014

(Al Jazeera) – The rate of destruction blighting the world’s largest rain forest spiked by nearly a third last year, according to new data released by the Brazilian government.

Satellite data showed that 2,315 square miles of forest had been cleared from the Brazilian Amazon in the 12 months through July 2013, up 29 percent from the previous year.

It reflects a reversal in the downward trend since 2009.

Despite the increased destruction in 2013, the Brazilian report showed that the area cleared is still the second-lowest annual figure since the government began tracking deforestation in 2004. In that year, almost 11,580 square miles of forest were lost.

Still, an estimated 17 percent of the Amazon has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly because of forest conversion for cattle ranching — a trend that has concerned environmentalists, given that it is home to an estimated quarter of all known land species. The Amazon also serves as a giant carbon sink, helping stabilize the planet's climate.

Aside from agricultural expansion, factors driving the rise in deforestation include illegal logging and the invasion of public lands adjacent to big infrastructure projects, such as roads and hydroelectric dams, according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

According to the government report, the states of Pará and Mato Grosso — where most of Brazil's agricultural expansion is taking place — showed the greatest increases in deforestation. More than 390 square miles have been cleared in those states.

Curbing deforestation worldwide is an integral part of reducing climate change because deforestation accounts for 15 percent of all annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to WWF.

Globally, forests are depleted by up to 58,000 square miles every year — equivalent to 36 football fields every minute, according to the WWF.

As well as the cost to curbing climate change, deforestation threatens a wide range of plant and animal species.

Destruction of Brazilian Amazon spikes by almost a third


15 September 2014 (INPE) – [Translation by Bing] The National Institute for space research (INPE) has completed the mapping and calculating the rate of deforestation in the Legal Amazon for the period August/July 2012/2013, activities carried out under the Project of monitoring the deforestation in the Legal Amazon (PRODES). The final result of the study showed a rate of 5,891 km2/year.

This value represents the second lowest rate of deforestation recorded in Legal Amazon since INPE began to measure it, in 1988. The PRODES computes how deforestation areas larger than 6.25 hectares where complete removal of forest cover – the clear cut.

The value of the consolidated rate, obtained after the mapping of the American satellite Landsat scenes 216 8/OLI, is approximately 1% higher than estimated by the INPE in December 2013, which was of 5,843 km2, calculation generated based on satellite images of the same 86 and that covered the area in which they were registered more than 90% of deforestation in the previous period (August/July 2011/2012) and also the 43 municipalities referred to in Federal Decree 6,321/2007 and updated in 2009.

The current result points exist effectiveness in combating deforestation, particularly from the creation, in 2004, the plan of action for the prevention and Control of deforestation in the Legal Amazon (PPCDAm over), coordinated by the Ministry of environment and the Civil House of the Presidency of the Republic, with a 79% reduction since 2004, as shown in the following historic series.

The table below presents the distribution of the rate of deforestation in the States that comprise the Legal Amazon:

ESTADO DESMATAMENTO (KM2)
ACRE 221
AMAZONAS 583
AMAPÁ 23
MARANHÃO 403
MATO GROSSO 1139
PARÁ 2346
RONDÔNIA 932
RORAIMA 170
TOCANTINS 74
AMAZÔNIA LEGAL 5891

INPE divulga resultado final do PRODES 2013

A green turtle in the Great Barrier Reef, which will not be listed as 'in danger'. Photo: Gary Cranitch / Brisbane Times

15 September 2014
By Amy Remeikis 

(Brisbane Times) – It's the 35-year plan designed to stave off UNESCO's "in danger" rating and save the reef, but conservationists are already doubting it will work.

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell announced the Reef 2050 plan on Monday while the government was in Yeppoon for community cabinet.

The plan, which is open to public consultation until October 27, is a joint federal and Queensland government project that aims to address all threats to the reef, and comes just days after the government announced it would not allow offshore dredge spoil dumping as part of the Abbot Point port expansion.

It is designed to address UNESCO concerns about the reef's declining health after the United Nations agency in June threatened to list the reef as "in danger" and Mr Powell defended the government's decisions regarding the reef by saying UNESCO had been "misinformed".

The government has not backed down over its reef management, but Mr Powell said its 2050 plan took in all elements threatening the reef – not just the port.

The Reef 2050 plan sets out a series of proposals, including greater protections for marine life such as dugongs and turtles and improving water quality by reducing the amount of pesticides that wash into some areas of the reef by at least 60 per cent.

But on the subject of the dumping of dredge spoil, the plan stops short of recommending limits on existing port activities.

Instead, it suggests dredging be banned in the World Heritage area and adjoining areas for new port developments, or for any ports looking to expand.

"It does address port development and it does address the work we have been doing as the Queensland government around ensuring big developments like Abbot Point are done sensibly and environmentally responsibly," Mr Powell told Fairfax Radio 4BC.

"But to focus only on ports would really do a disservice to the reef and what the plan does is look at the key causes of decline – that is water quality, but more so it is the water quality coming down from the catchments adjacent to the reef, each and every year.

"It focuses our attention on ensuring the sediment, the nutrient nitrogen that goes out to the reef, that feeds the crown of thorn starfish and the like are really reined in." […]

Australian Marine Conservation Society's Felicity Wishart said the plan was "too little" and likely "too late".

"If the reef were a sinking ship it feels like they are trying to bail it out with a thimble," she said."And the plan admits it is doing nothing to address the biggest long term threat to the reef, namely climate change which leads to sea level rise, warmer water, more acidic water and more storms, all bad news for the reef." [more]

Great Barrier Reef plan 'like saving a sinking ship with a thimble'

 

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