Australian Wildfires Reinforce The Need To Protect Forests. Here’s How

By Justin Adams, Executive Director, Tropical Forest Alliance
Jan 23, 2020

 

Forests don’t make headlines; forest fires do. Unfortunately, in the past year, forests have been in the news for the wrong reasons.

Wildfires are common during dry seasons in many forests around the world and contribute to the health of the forest by making way for new life. But the frequency and ferocity of fires is increasing. Major fires have burned across all continents except Antarctica in the past year. These fires are a harbinger of a new normal in a changing climate as scientists have longed warned.

Three damaging wildfires stood out: In Australia today, the scale of the fires is unimaginable. They are affecting an area bigger than small European countries and having enormous impacts on people and wildlife. They still aren’t extinguished, and future fire seasons could be even worse.

2019 also saw an uptick in fires in the Amazon Basin. There was a concern that the fires were following an increase in deforestation, which was later confirmed by official Brazilian data, and a deeper concern that parts of the forest may be reaching a tipping point.

In the Arctic, we saw troubling images of fires in Siberia and Alaska. Fires in the great boreal forests that circle the entire northern hemisphere are natural, but the scale of the fires in 2019 was unprecedented, with record high temperatures north of the Arctic Circle.

While different in scale, each of these fires has had significant effects: more and more people are being killed as fires become the new norm in many countries. Air quality is impacted as fires blanket whole regions with haze cities – Australia has recorded the worst pollution levels in the world – and wildlife is increasingly impacted. This all contributes to more carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

But this is not a story of despondency. Nature may be on the front lines of a changing climate. But it can also be one of our strongest allies to reduce emissions globally as well as enhance resilience for communities and landscapes. Nature-based solutions can deliver up to a third of the emission reductions needed to keep temperatures below 2oC. To harness this potential there are three strategies that the world must urgently prioritise:

1.      Stop deforestation

Deforestation remains at near-record highs despite significant investment from the private sector to reduce deforestation in supply chains. The challenge is significantly more complex than any single actor can solve alone. Heading into 2020, it’s clear that companies need to redouble their efforts but also work more closely with governments and the finance sector to eliminate commodity driven deforestation.

We also need to recognise that an increasing amount of deforestation is driven by illegality and criminality in many countries, as well as by poverty. We must increase the political will to eradicate criminality, and we need to support greater investment in development and creation of economic alternative for smallholder farmers in situations where converting forest may be the difference between hunger and health.

None of this is easy that is why there is an urgent need for concerted collective action – looking at and working to improve all parts of the whole. That is how we stop deforestation.

2.      Work together to manage fires

Learning to better manage fires will be critical for enhancing resilience and reducing the impacts of more intense and frequent fires. But there are few mechanisms to share knowledge and practices globally. Global Forest Watch and other platforms now offer more interactive tools for monitoring fires, but we are not learning nor celebrating the success of fighting fires.

For example, Indonesia has experienced several catastrophic forest fires, often made worse by peat land with a huge carbon store, which once ignited is difficult to extinguish. The fires of 2015 were estimated to have killed 100,000 people. The dry season of 2019 also threatened to be difficult, but improved fire management from both the government, which established a Peat Restoration Agency in 2016, and leading private companies like APRIL and APP, who run Fire Free Village programs around their estates have been successful at reducing instances and severity of fires.

In addition, indigenous communities around the world have worked with fire for centuries in many countries around the world to manage their landscapes. By setting fires early in the season, they can avoid catastrophic fires in the height of the dry season. I had the honour to spend a week with Aboriginal Rangers in the Kimberly and saw the pride and cultural significance of this work. There is potential to scale these efforts.

3.      Accelerate restoration

Last, but by no means least, we need to unleash a global restoration movement. There is growing understanding that reforestation and better land management is one of the best solutions we have to actively drawdown carbon from the atmosphere and lock the carbon up in our forests, grasslands and wetlands. Scientists estimate there were 6 trillion trees after the last ice age, but we are now down to a little over 3 trillion.

The World Economic Forum launched a new platform 1t.org, a multistakeholder effort to support efforts to grow, restore and conserve 1 trillion trees around the world. By growing, restoring and conserving a trillion trees or more over the course of the next decade, we have the chance to reduce climate risk, enhance water security, reverse biodiversity declines and create millions of rural jobs.

None of these strategies are easy. But by eliminating deforestation, improving fire management investing in restoration, we have the chance to enhance our resilience in the face of changing climate, reducing climate risk, reversing biodiversity declines and enhancing water security. Most importantly we also have the opportunity to create millions of jobs for rural communities.

As we start new decade, it is imperative that we commit together to co-create a forest-positive future.

This article is related to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 21-24 January 2020.

Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/worldeconomicforum/2020/01/23/australian-wildfires-reinforce-the-need-to-protect-forests-heres-how/#2099db675452

Australian Coal Company Says Bush-Fire Smoke Is Slowing Production

By | Jan. 21, 2020

 

The poor air quality is making equipment harder to operate, and some workers have had to take leave to fight fires. The irony was not lost on many in Australia.

SYDNEY, Australia — Australia’s biggest mining company, BHP, announced on Tuesday that coal output was down at one of its large mines. The reason? Smoke from the country’s ferocious wildfires — a crisis fed by climate change, which is caused in no small part by the burning of coal.

The reduced air quality in New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, has helped slow the company’s production of electricity-generating coal by 11 percent there, BHP said in a review of its midyear financial results.

“We are monitoring the situation, and if air quality continues to deteriorate, then operations could be constrained further in the second half of the year,” said the company, which ends its fiscal year on June 30.

The irony was not lost on many in Australia.

The country, which just endured its hottest and driest year on record, has been dealing for months with bush fires that have killed at least 29 people, ravaged tens of millions of acres, and left residents in its largest cities wheezing from the most polluted air in the world.

“You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!” Terry Serio, an actor and musician, said on Twitter.

“I did roll my eyes,” Bill Hare, chief executive of Climate Analytics, a policy institute, said in an interview.

The smoke, Dr. Hare said, was most likely a minor inconvenience in the supply chain for BHP, the globe’s biggest mining company. But, he added, it served as a “wake-up call” to BHP that the world needs to wean itself off coal to avert the most damaging effects of climate change.

“You can see the mood is changing in Australia,” Dr. Hare said. “Sooner or later, the companies are going to run out of social license.”

A BHP spokesman said that smoke from the bush fires had reduced visibility and made equipment harder to operate at the Mount Arthur coal site 150 miles north of Sydney.

In addition, some employees have taken leave from work to protect their properties from fires or to serve as volunteer firefighters.

While the fires have affected production, the spokesman said, the slowdown was also the result of a shift to mining higher-quality products. But even as the company investigates options to reduce its climate impact, he said, coal will remain a major part of its energy production mix.

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal, and the industry wields wide influence on the country’s political leaders. The country has annual coal exports worth 67 billion Australian dollars, or about $45 billion, including to major nations like China, Japan and India.

Although Australia emits only about 1.2 percent of global greenhouse gases, its economic reliance on fossil fuel extraction makes it the sixth-biggest producer of fuels that release carbon. Those emissions are expected to double by 2030, according to a 2019 report from the United Nations Environment Program.

Under Australia’s current conservative leadership, emissions have been rising, and renewable energy targets have stagnated, even as the government says it will meet its carbon reduction targets under the Paris climate agreement. Climate scientists say the targets were among the weakest of those proposed by developed nations.

Link: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/21/business/coal-company-bhp-smoke.html

Australia fires: NSW towns cut off by bushfire as Queensland residents told to leave

Fire north of Batemans Bay on the New South Wales south coast doubles in size, burning through more than 11,560 hectares
‘Absolutely suffocating’: how are you affected by smoke haze from Australia’s bushfires?

 

Residents face a nervous wait on Monday night as gusty, strong winds whip-up a blaze in the New South Wales Shoalhaven area which remains at emergency warning level.

The fire north of Batemans Bay has burnt through more than 16,000 hectares and was spreading quickly in a north-easterly direction towards coastal communities.

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Forest Fire Emissions From Indonesia Worse Than Amazon, EU Says

Fires that destroyed Indonesian rainforests pumped out more carbon dioxide than the blazes in the Amazon this year, according to the European Union’s atmosphere observation program.

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South America forest fires could disrupt rainfall in region’s farm belt: experts

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia (Reuters) – Forest fires that swept across Bolivia and Brazil this year could disrupt rainfall distribution across South America’s grains-and-beef producing regions in unpredictable ways for years to come, a scientist and meteorologist said

Recent rains in both countries have helped put out the wildfires, which were likely started by farmers and ranchers using slash-and-burn agricultural methods.

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Bolivia Is Fighting Major Forest Fires Nearly As Large As In Brazil

Six volunteer firefighters use machetes to cut a path through the vines and underbrush of the Chiquitano forest in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands. They’re approaching the leading edge of a fire that’s been burning for hours.

They attempt to smother it with shovelfuls of dirt and water they carry on their backs in tanks normally used to fumigate crops. But the smoke is getting thicker, the heat stronger and swirling winds push the flames forward. Realizing they are overmatched, José Zapata, the only trained firefighter among the group, orders his men to pull out.

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This Is How The Million-Dollar Business Of Criminal Deforestation In The Amazon Works

BuzzFeed News visited one of the regions worst affected by fires in the Amazon to see how illegal deforestation is paving the way for a global environmental crisis.
| September 4, 2019

 

APUÍ, Brazil — A vigorous and incredibly lucrative trade in land for livestock is fueling the fires that have devastated the Amazon and caused an international outcry.

BuzzFeed News toured one of the areas most affected by fires in the Amazon and found that, according to farmers, one hectare of land cleared for cattle is changing hands for 20 times the price of the same area with standing forest.

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The Amazon, Siberia, Indonesia: A World of Fire

By 
The growing intensity of wildfires and their spread to new corners of the globe raises fears that climate change is exacerbating the dangers.

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In South America, the Amazon basin is ablaze. Halfway around the world in central Africa, vast stretches of savanna are going up in flame. Arctic regions in Siberia are burning at a historic pace.

While the Brazilian fires have grown into a full-blown international crisis, they represent only one of many significant areas where wildfires are currently burning around the world. Their increase in severity and spread to places where fires were rarely previously seen is raising fears that climate change is exacerbating the danger.

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Amazon fires: Brazilian rainforest burning at record rate, space agency warns

21 August 2019

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has seen a record number of fires this year, according to new data from the country’s space research agency.

The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) said its satellite data showed an 83% increase on the same period in 2018.

It comes weeks after President Jair Bolsonaro fired the head of the agency amid rows over its deforestation data.

Smoke from the fires caused a blackout in the city of Sao Paulo on Monday.

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Forest fire destroys over 1,200 acres of land

İZMİR-Anadolu Agency | 19 August 2019

 

Forest fires have consumed some 500 hectares (over 1,200 acres) of land in İzmir, Turkey’s Aegean coast, an official said on Aug. 19.

On Aug. 18, the fires broke out in four different regions- including two in the southwestern Muğla province and others in Izmir province, according to Agriculture and Forest Ministry.

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