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How to tackle the global deforestation crisis

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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Imagine if France, Germany, and Spain were completely blanketed in forests — and then all those trees were quickly chopped down. That’s nearly the amount of deforestation that occurred globally between 2001 and 2020, with profound consequences. Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, producing between 6 and 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2009 study. Meanwhile, because trees also absorb carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere, they help keep the Earth cooler. And climate change aside, forests protect biodiversity. “Climate change and biodiversity make this a global problem, not a local problem,” says MIT economist Ben Olken. “Deciding to cut down trees or not has huge implications for the world.” But deforestation is often financially profitable, so it continues at a rapid rate. Researchers can now measure this trend closely: In the last quarter-century, satellite-based technology has led to a paradigm change in charting deforestation. New deforestation datasets, based on the Landsat satellites, for instance, track forest change since 2000 with resolution at 30 meters, while many other products now offer frequent imaging at close resolution. “Part of this revolution in measurement is accuracy, and the other part is coverage,” says Clare Balboni, an assistant professor of economics at the London School of Economics (LSE). “On-site observation is very expensive and logistically challenging, and you’re talking about case studies. These satellite-based data sets just open up opportunities to see deforestation at scale, systematically, across the globe.” Balboni and Olken have now helped write a new paper providing a road map for thinking about this crisis. The open-access article, “The Economics of Tropical Deforestation,” appears this month in the Annual Review of Economics. The co-authors are Balboni, a former MIT faculty member; Aaron Berman, a PhD candidate in MIT’s Department of Economics; Robin Burgess, an LSE professor; and Olken, MIT’s Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics. Balboni and Olken have also conducted primary research in this area, along with Burgess. So, how can the world tackle deforestation? It starts with understanding the problem. Replacing forests with farms Several decades ago, some thinkers, including the famous MIT economist Paul Samuelson in the 1970s, built models to study forests as a renewable resource; Samuelson calculated the “maximum sustained yield” at which a forest could be cleared while being regrown. These frameworks were designed to think about tree farms or the U.S. national forest system, where a fraction of trees would be cut each year, and then new trees would be grown over time to take their place. But deforestation today, particularly in tropical areas, often looks very different, and forest regeneration is not common. Indeed, as Balboni and Olken emphasize, deforestation is now rampant partly because the profits from chopping down trees come not just from timber, but from replacing forests with agriculture. In Brazil, deforestation has increased along with agricultural prices; in Indonesia, clearing trees accelerated as the global price of palm oil went up, leading companies to replace forests with palm tree orchards. All this tree-clearing creates a familiar situation: The globally shared costs of climate change from deforestation are “externalities,” as economists say, imposed on everyone else by the people removing forest land. It is akin to a company that pollutes into a river, affecting the water quality of residents. “Economics has changed the way it thinks about this over the last 50 years, and two things are central,” Olken says. “The relevance of global externalities is very important, and the conceptualization of alternate land uses is very important.” This also means traditional forest-management guidance about regrowth is not enough. With the economic dynamics in mind, which policies might work, and why? The search for solutions As Balboni and Olken note, economists often recommend “Pigouvian” taxes (named after the British economist Arthur Pigou) in these cases, levied against people imposing externalities on others. And yet, it can be hard to identify who is doing the deforesting. Instead of taxing people for clearing forests, governments can pay people to keep forests intact. The UN uses Payments for Environmental Services (PES) as part of its REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) program. However, it is similarly tough to identify the optimal landowners to subsidize, and these payments may not match the quick cash-in of deforestation. A 2017 study in Uganda showed PES reduced deforestation somewhat; a 2022 study in Indonesia found no reduction; another 2022 study, in Brazil, showed again that some forest protection resulted. “There’s mixed evidence from many of these [studies],” Balboni says. These policies, she notes, must reach people who would otherwise clear forests, and a key question is, “How can we assess their success compared to what would have happened anyway?” Some places have tried cash transfer programs for larger populations. In Indonesia, a 2020 study found such subsidies reduced deforestation near villages by 30 percent. But in Mexico, a similar program meant more people could afford milk and meat, again creating demand for more agriculture and thus leading to more forest-clearing. At this point, it might seem that laws simply banning deforestation in key areas would work best — indeed, about 16 percent of the world’s land overall is protected in some way. Yet the dynamics of protection are tricky. Even with protected areas in place, there is still “leakage” of deforestation into other regions.  Still more approaches exist, including “nonstate agreements,” such as the Amazon Soy Moratorium in Brazil, in which grain traders pledged not to buy soy from deforested lands, and reduced deforestation without “leakage.” Also, intriguingly, a 2008 policy change in the Brazilian Amazon made agricultural credit harder to obtain by requiring recipients to comply with environmental and land registration rules. The result? Deforestation dropped by up to 60 percent over nearly a decade.  Politics and pulp Overall, Balboni and Olken observe, beyond “externalities,” two major challenges exist. One, it is often unclear who holds property rights in forests. In these circumstances, deforestation seems to increase. Two, deforestation is subject to political battles. For instance, as economist Bard Harstad of Stanford University has observed, environmental lobbying is asymmetric. Balboni and Olken write: “The conservationist lobby must pay the government in perpetuity … while the deforestation-oriented lobby need pay only once to deforest in the present.” And political instability leads to more deforestation because “the current administration places lower value on future conservation payments.” Even so, national political measures can work. In the Amazon from 2001 to 2005, Brazilian deforestation rates were three to four times higher than on similar land across the border, but that imbalance vanished once the country passed conservation measures in 2006. However, deforestation ramped up again after a 2014 change in government. Looking at particular monitoring approaches, a study of Brazil’s satellite-based Real-Time System for Detection of Deforestation (DETER), launched in 2004, suggests that a 50 percent annual increase in its use in municipalities created a 25 percent reduction in deforestation from 2006 to 2016. How precisely politics matters may depend on the context. In a 2021 paper, Balboni and Olken (with three colleagues) found that deforestation actually decreased around elections in Indonesia. Conversely, in Brazil, one study found that deforestation rates were 8 to 10 percent higher where mayors were running for re-election between 2002 and 2012, suggesting incumbents had deforestation industry support. “The research there is aiming to understand what the political economy drivers are,” Olken says, “with the idea that if you understand those things, reform in those countries is more likely.” Looking ahead, Balboni and Olken also suggest that new research estimating the value of intact forest land intact could influence public debates. And while many scholars have studied deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia, fewer have examined the Democratic Republic of Congo, another deforestation leader, and sub-Saharan Africa. Deforestation is an ongoing crisis. But thanks to satellites and many recent studies, experts know vastly more about the problem than they did a decade or two ago, and with an economics toolkit, can evaluate the incentives and dynamics at play. “To the extent that there’s ambuiguity across different contexts with different findings, part of the point of our review piece is to draw out common themes — the important considerations in determining which policy levers can [work] in different circumstances,” Balboni says. “That’s a fast-evolving area. We don’t have all the answers, but part of the process is bringing together growing evidence about [everything] that affects how successful those choices can be.”

Vital forest is cleared every day, with major climate effects. Satellites have revolutionized measurement of the problem, but what can we do about it?

Imagine if France, Germany, and Spain were completely blanketed in forests — and then all those trees were quickly chopped down. That’s nearly the amount of deforestation that occurred globally between 2001 and 2020, with profound consequences.

Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, producing between 6 and 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2009 study. Meanwhile, because trees also absorb carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere, they help keep the Earth cooler. And climate change aside, forests protect biodiversity.

“Climate change and biodiversity make this a global problem, not a local problem,” says MIT economist Ben Olken. “Deciding to cut down trees or not has huge implications for the world.”

But deforestation is often financially profitable, so it continues at a rapid rate. Researchers can now measure this trend closely: In the last quarter-century, satellite-based technology has led to a paradigm change in charting deforestation. New deforestation datasets, based on the Landsat satellites, for instance, track forest change since 2000 with resolution at 30 meters, while many other products now offer frequent imaging at close resolution.

“Part of this revolution in measurement is accuracy, and the other part is coverage,” says Clare Balboni, an assistant professor of economics at the London School of Economics (LSE). “On-site observation is very expensive and logistically challenging, and you’re talking about case studies. These satellite-based data sets just open up opportunities to see deforestation at scale, systematically, across the globe.”

Balboni and Olken have now helped write a new paper providing a road map for thinking about this crisis. The open-access article, “The Economics of Tropical Deforestation,” appears this month in the Annual Review of Economics. The co-authors are Balboni, a former MIT faculty member; Aaron Berman, a PhD candidate in MIT’s Department of Economics; Robin Burgess, an LSE professor; and Olken, MIT’s Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics. Balboni and Olken have also conducted primary research in this area, along with Burgess.

So, how can the world tackle deforestation? It starts with understanding the problem.

Replacing forests with farms

Several decades ago, some thinkers, including the famous MIT economist Paul Samuelson in the 1970s, built models to study forests as a renewable resource; Samuelson calculated the “maximum sustained yield” at which a forest could be cleared while being regrown. These frameworks were designed to think about tree farms or the U.S. national forest system, where a fraction of trees would be cut each year, and then new trees would be grown over time to take their place.

But deforestation today, particularly in tropical areas, often looks very different, and forest regeneration is not common.

Indeed, as Balboni and Olken emphasize, deforestation is now rampant partly because the profits from chopping down trees come not just from timber, but from replacing forests with agriculture. In Brazil, deforestation has increased along with agricultural prices; in Indonesia, clearing trees accelerated as the global price of palm oil went up, leading companies to replace forests with palm tree orchards.

All this tree-clearing creates a familiar situation: The globally shared costs of climate change from deforestation are “externalities,” as economists say, imposed on everyone else by the people removing forest land. It is akin to a company that pollutes into a river, affecting the water quality of residents.

“Economics has changed the way it thinks about this over the last 50 years, and two things are central,” Olken says. “The relevance of global externalities is very important, and the conceptualization of alternate land uses is very important.” This also means traditional forest-management guidance about regrowth is not enough. With the economic dynamics in mind, which policies might work, and why?

The search for solutions

As Balboni and Olken note, economists often recommend “Pigouvian” taxes (named after the British economist Arthur Pigou) in these cases, levied against people imposing externalities on others. And yet, it can be hard to identify who is doing the deforesting.

Instead of taxing people for clearing forests, governments can pay people to keep forests intact. The UN uses Payments for Environmental Services (PES) as part of its REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) program. However, it is similarly tough to identify the optimal landowners to subsidize, and these payments may not match the quick cash-in of deforestation. A 2017 study in Uganda showed PES reduced deforestation somewhat; a 2022 study in Indonesia found no reduction; another 2022 study, in Brazil, showed again that some forest protection resulted.

“There’s mixed evidence from many of these [studies],” Balboni says. These policies, she notes, must reach people who would otherwise clear forests, and a key question is, “How can we assess their success compared to what would have happened anyway?”

Some places have tried cash transfer programs for larger populations. In Indonesia, a 2020 study found such subsidies reduced deforestation near villages by 30 percent. But in Mexico, a similar program meant more people could afford milk and meat, again creating demand for more agriculture and thus leading to more forest-clearing.

At this point, it might seem that laws simply banning deforestation in key areas would work best — indeed, about 16 percent of the world’s land overall is protected in some way. Yet the dynamics of protection are tricky. Even with protected areas in place, there is still “leakage” of deforestation into other regions. 

Still more approaches exist, including “nonstate agreements,” such as the Amazon Soy Moratorium in Brazil, in which grain traders pledged not to buy soy from deforested lands, and reduced deforestation without “leakage.”

Also, intriguingly, a 2008 policy change in the Brazilian Amazon made agricultural credit harder to obtain by requiring recipients to comply with environmental and land registration rules. The result? Deforestation dropped by up to 60 percent over nearly a decade. 

Politics and pulp

Overall, Balboni and Olken observe, beyond “externalities,” two major challenges exist. One, it is often unclear who holds property rights in forests. In these circumstances, deforestation seems to increase. Two, deforestation is subject to political battles.

For instance, as economist Bard Harstad of Stanford University has observed, environmental lobbying is asymmetric. Balboni and Olken write: “The conservationist lobby must pay the government in perpetuity … while the deforestation-oriented lobby need pay only once to deforest in the present.” And political instability leads to more deforestation because “the current administration places lower value on future conservation payments.”

Even so, national political measures can work. In the Amazon from 2001 to 2005, Brazilian deforestation rates were three to four times higher than on similar land across the border, but that imbalance vanished once the country passed conservation measures in 2006. However, deforestation ramped up again after a 2014 change in government. Looking at particular monitoring approaches, a study of Brazil’s satellite-based Real-Time System for Detection of Deforestation (DETER), launched in 2004, suggests that a 50 percent annual increase in its use in municipalities created a 25 percent reduction in deforestation from 2006 to 2016.

How precisely politics matters may depend on the context. In a 2021 paper, Balboni and Olken (with three colleagues) found that deforestation actually decreased around elections in Indonesia. Conversely, in Brazil, one study found that deforestation rates were 8 to 10 percent higher where mayors were running for re-election between 2002 and 2012, suggesting incumbents had deforestation industry support.

“The research there is aiming to understand what the political economy drivers are,” Olken says, “with the idea that if you understand those things, reform in those countries is more likely.”

Looking ahead, Balboni and Olken also suggest that new research estimating the value of intact forest land intact could influence public debates. And while many scholars have studied deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia, fewer have examined the Democratic Republic of Congo, another deforestation leader, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Deforestation is an ongoing crisis. But thanks to satellites and many recent studies, experts know vastly more about the problem than they did a decade or two ago, and with an economics toolkit, can evaluate the incentives and dynamics at play.

“To the extent that there’s ambuiguity across different contexts with different findings, part of the point of our review piece is to draw out common themes — the important considerations in determining which policy levers can [work] in different circumstances,” Balboni says. “That’s a fast-evolving area. We don’t have all the answers, but part of the process is bringing together growing evidence about [everything] that affects how successful those choices can be.”

Read the full story here.
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Ending native forest logging would help Australia’s climate goals much more than planting trees

Two states have banned native forest logging, but it’s still happening in the others.

FiledIMAGE/ShutterstockAustralia contains some of the world’s most biologically diverse and carbon-dense native forests. Eucalypts in wet temperate forests are the tallest flowering plants in the world and home to an array of unique tree-dwelling marsupials, rare birds, insects, mosses, fungi and lichen, many of which have not even been catalogued by scientists. Yet our country remains in the top ten list globally for tree cover loss, with almost half of the original forested areas in eastern Australia cleared. This loss has been devastating for Australia’s native plants and animals and contributes to global warming through vast amounts of carbon emissions. The global biodiversity and climate change crises are inextricably linked – we cannot solve one without the other. Earth’s ecosystems, such as forests, coastal wetlands and tundra, contain enormous amounts of carbon. But deforestation and degradation by humans is likely to send global warming past 1.5°C, even if we achieve net-zero fossil fuel emissions. Protecting native forests is a critical way to prevent emissions, which must be achieved in parallel with a rapid transition to clean energy. What is being overlooked in current international climate policy under the Paris Agreement is the crucial role of biodiversity in maintaining healthy ecosystems and their integrity, which keeps carbon stored in forests, not the atmosphere. Healthy ecosystems are more stable and resilient, with a lower risk of trees dying and lower rates of carbon emissions. The way we currently count carbon stores risk creating incentives to plant new trees rather than protect existing forests. Yet old-growth forests store vastly more carbon than young saplings, which will take decades or even centuries to reach the same size. On January 1 this year, both Victoria and Western Australia ended native forest logging in state forests. This is a good start. But the rest of Australia is still logging native forests. Extensive land clearing continues for agriculture and urban development, as well as native forest harvesting on private land. Two states down, more to go The end of native timber logging in two states is a chance for new approaches to our forests, which recognise the contribution of biodiversity to healthy forest ecosystems, as well as endangered species protection and clean water supplies. Ending native forest logging isn’t entirely simple. In Victoria, consultation on the future of state forests is ongoing. The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council is due to release its final recommendations in July. The Victorian government has also put in place a Forestry Transition Program to help forest contractors find alternative work in forest and land management. Some of these transition programs are proving controversial. In Western Australia, around 2.5 million hectares of the state’s south-west forests will be protected under a new Forest Management Plan. Protection of these landscapes is critical, as they have been hit by another die-back event due to drought and record heat. These forests hold significant cultural and ecological value. Known in Noongar as “djarilmari”, they are vital habitats for diverse plants and animals, including endemic species such as the ngwayir (western ringtail possum) and the giant jarrah trees. What about other states and territories? In New South Wales, the government is looking into proposals for a Great Koala National Park, which would bring together state forests from the Clarence Valley to south of Coffs Harbour. But with no decision yet made, logging continues along both the north and south coasts, which were also hard hit by the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20. In Tasmania, native forest logging fell sharply between 2012 and 2019. This cut emissions by around 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, equivalent to almost a quarter of Australia’s transport emissions. Recent policy changes protecting giant trees will help protect some patches of forests. But native forest logging is set to expand in other areas, including clear felling of old-growth rainforest and tall wet eucalypt forest. Native forest logging is slated to end in 70,000 hectares of south-east Queensland state forests at the end of this year, under a longstanding Native Timber Action Plan. But logging and widespread land clearing continues elsewhere in the state, ensuring Australia’s place in the top 10 deforestation hotspots. Old forests such as this karri forest in Western Australia hold much more carbon than newly established forests. Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock Can ending native forest logging help the climate? We’ll need to go further and ban logging in all native forests in Australia to help meet our net-zero emissions target, while meeting timber demand from better-managed and increased plantations. Stopping native forest logging avoids the emissions released when forests are cut and burned. It would also allow continued forest growth and regrowth of previously logged areas, which draws down carbon from the atmosphere and increases the amount held in the forest ecosystem. The natural biodiversity of our native forests makes them more resilient to external disturbances such as climate change. These forests have larger and more stable carbon stocks than logged areas, newly planted forests and plantations. If we compare forests protected for conservation with those harvested for commodity production in the Victorian Central Highlands, research shows conservation delivers the greatest climate benefits through continued forest growth and accumulating carbon stocks. There are growing calls to create the Great Forests National Park to the north and east of Melbourne, which would protect a further 355,000 hectares and more than double protected forests in the Central Highlands. Net zero: deep, rapid, sustained cuts needed The world’s nations are aiming to reach “net zero” by mid-century. Meeting this target will require deep and rapid cuts in carbon dioxide emissions as well as pulling carbon out of the atmosphere into land sinks, especially forests. The land sector is unique in that it can be both a source (logging, agriculture) and a sink (forest regrowth, for instance) for carbon. The natural way forests take up carbon can be increased through natural regrowth or plantations. Unfortunately, the current approach, based on IPCC guidelines, to counting this type of natural carbon storage can lead to perverse outcomes. The carbon sink from forest regrowth only counts towards the “removals” part of net zero when it results from changes we make, such as ending native forest logging. It doesn’t count if it’s regrowth after a natural event such as a bushfire. It’s important to count only human-induced changes in our climate targets. Tree planting, on the other hand, can be counted towards net-zero targets, despite the fact that newly planted trees will take centuries to sequester as much carbon as found in an old-growth forest. This type of accounting – known as flow-based accounting – can mean a premium is placed on planting and maintaining young forests with high carbon uptake rates, overlooking the substantial benefits of protecting larger trees in native forests. That is, this approach favours carbon sequestration (the process of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it in wood) over carbon storage (the total carbon stocks already contained in a forest). A comprehensive approach to forest carbon accounting would recognise both flows of carbon (as sequestration) and carbon stocks (as storage) contribute to the benefits that native forests offer for reducing emissions. Replanting trees is good – but protecting existing forests is better. Janelle Lugge/Shutterstock Carbon accounting needs more clarity This becomes a problem when forests and fossil fuels are included in a net accounting framework, such as the one used in Australia’s national greenhouse gas inventory. In net accounts, emissions (from fossil fuel and land sectors) within a year are added to removals, which includes the sequestration of carbon into forests and other ecosystems. Because this type of accounting only counts the flows of carbon – not existing stocks – it omits the climate benefits of protecting existing forests, whose stored carbon dwarfs the amount Australia emits from fossil fuels each year. But if we separated out targets for the fossil fuel and land sectors, we could properly treat forest carbon stocks as an asset, giving us incentives to protect them. Another problem with net accounting is it treats all carbon as equivalent, meaning a tonne of carbon sequestered in trees compensates for a tonne of carbon from burned fossil fuels. This has no scientific basis. Carbon dioxide emissions are effectively permanent, as the buried carbon we dig up and burn stays in the atmosphere for millennia, while carbon in trees is temporary in comparison. As trees grow, their carbon storage compensates for earlier logging and clearing emissions, which is an important climate benefit. But we’re not comparing apples and apples – forest carbon doesn’t compensate for fossil fuel emissions. Logging bans are important – but no substitute for ending oil and gas While ending the clearing and logging of native vegetation is vital for both climate and biodiversity, it’s no substitute for preventing emissions from fossil fuels. To make this clearer, we must urgently set separate targets for emissions cuts for fossil fuels and increased carbon removal in the land sector. This will ensure phasing out fossil fuel use is not delayed by planting trees, and that the carbon stocks of biodiverse and carbon-dense native forests are protected. Kate Dooley receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Rare birds at risk as narco-gangs move into forests to evade capture – report

Cocaine traffickers have put two-thirds of Central America’s key habitats for threatened birds under threat, study findsCocaine consumption is threatening rare tropical birds as narco-traffickers move into some of the planet’s most remote forests to evade drug crackdowns, a study has warned.Two-thirds of key forest habitats for birds in Central America are at risk of being destroyed by “narco-driven” deforestation, according to the paper, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Sustainability. Continue reading...

Cocaine consumption is threatening rare tropical birds as narco-traffickers move into some of the planet’s most remote forests to evade drug crackdowns, a study has warned.Two-thirds of key forest habitats for birds in Central America are at risk of being destroyed by “narco-driven” deforestation, according to the paper, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Sustainability.For 40 years, US drug policy has not reduced the global scale of the illegal networks, but instead driven the traffickers deeper into forests, researchers said. There, traffickers create landing strips and roads to move shipments, as well as cattle pasture to launder money and control territory.The lead author, Amanda Rodewald, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said: “That displacement is causing them to go into forests that tend to have the greatest conservation value and are disproportionately occupied by Indigenous peoples. It is affecting the most vulnerable human and non-human populations.”Millions of hectares of tropical forests are known to have been destroyed by narco-trafficking, with devastating impacts for people. Generally, when areas are invaded by drug gangs, Indigenous people are forced to accept payment for their land and cooperate with the logistics of trafficking.The paper’s co-author Nicholas Magliocca, from the University of Alabama, said: “If they resist, their land is taken and violence often follows. For those that are not forcibly dispossessed of their land, the only remaining options are to cooperate or flee across international borders.”Now, for the first time, researchers have calculated the effect that the loss of these critical habitats could have on bird populations.Lake Yojoa in Honduras. Up to 30% of the annual deforestation in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala is down to moving cocaine alone, the paper says. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/GettyThey found that 67 species of migratory birds that breed in the US and winter in Central America are at increased risk.Endangered golden-cheeked warblers are particularly threatened, with 90% of the population living in forests at risk from the narcotics trade. The paper found that 70% of golden-winged warblers and Philadelphia vireos also winter in these areas.“We were surprised by just how high of a percentage of the global population was actually affected,” said Rodewald.Remote sensing by satellite shows that 15-30% of annual deforestation in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala can be attributed to the movement of cocaine alone, the paper says. Half of Central America’s resident and migratory bird populations have fallen since 1970 and deforestation is a key driver of that decline.The largest remaining forests in Central America – known as the “five great forests” – are widely inhabited by Indigenous peoples and are experiencing growing levels of cocaine trafficking. Cartels are also looking for ways to launder money into the legal economy; buying forest and using it for cattle ranching is one of the main ways they do this.Magliocca said: “US drug policy in Central America focuses on the supply side of the equation, and law-enforcement pressure plays a significant role in the movement of trafficking routes and locations of narco-deforestation.“After 40 years, that approach has not worked. In fact, cocaine trafficking has only expanded and become a worldwide network,” he said. “You have to do more than reactively chase after the drug traffickers, who have nearly unlimited money and power in the region.”The study looked solely at drug trafficking, as opposed to drug cultivation. It looked at impacts in all countries in Central America except Belize, because the data was lacking.The researchers said creating jobs and opportunities for local communities, as well as resolving unclear land tenure, and improving monitoring and protection of forests, would help tackle the problem. This would mean that if traffickers, or criminal activity, moved into an area, there would be greater economic resilience within the community.The researchers said in the paper: “Enhancing the ability of Indigenous groups and rural smallholders to reassert their territorial control and resource governance norms has been shown to be protective against narco-trafficking and other environmental crimes, such as illegal logging or wildlife poaching.”Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on X (formerly known as Twitter) for all the latest news and features

Manuel Antonio Developers Fight Back: Will Construction Resume Near Iconic National Park?

Islas Manuel Antonio appealed the injunction that suspended the construction of an apartment tower, a beach club, and a restaurant near the National Park in Quepos. Last Wednesday, the Public Prosecutor’s Office reported that it was able to stop the works because they are allegedly being carried out within the Aguirre Biological Corridor, very close […] The post Manuel Antonio Developers Fight Back: Will Construction Resume Near Iconic National Park? appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

Islas Manuel Antonio appealed the injunction that suspended the construction of an apartment tower, a beach club, and a restaurant near the National Park in Quepos. Last Wednesday, the Public Prosecutor’s Office reported that it was able to stop the works because they are allegedly being carried out within the Aguirre Biological Corridor, very close to the iconic Manuel Antonio Park. Apparently, the project is being built within a site that is forest and is part of the biological corridor: a protected area of vital importance for the ecosystems of the Central Pacific. However, the developers objected to stopping the project.  “We were notified of the resolution the previous Friday, and within the three working days allowed by law, we filed an appeal against the precautionary measure that was requested by the Prosecutor’s Office and authorized by the Criminal Court,” said Francisco Jimenez, the company’s lawyer. According to Jimenez, there are serious defects in the resolution that we are challenging and that is the resolution on which the Prosecutor’s Office is relying to indicate that the suspension of the work has been authorized. During a hearing held in May, the developer participated and presented evidence to the judge on the basis of which it was considered that there was no merit to request or authorize the precautionary measure, and this evidence was not evaluated, according to the jurist.  The Environmental Prosecutor’s Office of Osa confirmed that it has already been notified about the appeal filed by the company against the precautionary measure. However, they maintain their position and will insist that the works be suspended for at least four months. The Criminal Court of Quepos authorized the suspension of the works as a precautionary measure since May 31.  The Prosecutor’s Office also indicated that there are three people under investigation for the alleged invasion of the protected area who are linked to the alleged crimes of ideological falsehood, prevarication, change of land use, infringement of the Forestry Law, and infringement of the Water Law. The post Manuel Antonio Developers Fight Back: Will Construction Resume Near Iconic National Park? appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

Oceans face ‘triple threat’ of extreme heat, oxygen loss and acidification

Third of world’s ocean surface particularly vulnerable to threats driven by burning fossil fuel and deforestation, new research findsThe world’s oceans are facing a “triple threat” of extreme heating, a loss of oxygen and acidification, with extreme conditions becoming far more intense in recent decades and placing enormous stress upon the planet’s panoply of marine life, new research has found.About a fifth of the world’s ocean surface is particularly vulnerable to the three threats hitting at once, spurred by human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, the study found. In the top 300 meters of affected ocean, these compound events now last three times longer and are six times more intense than they were in the early 1960s, the research states. Continue reading...

The world’s oceans are facing a “triple threat” of extreme heating, a loss of oxygen and acidification, with extreme conditions becoming far more intense in recent decades and placing enormous stress upon the planet’s panoply of marine life, new research has found.About a fifth of the world’s ocean surface is particularly vulnerable to the three threats hitting at once, spurred by human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, the study found. In the top 300 meters of affected ocean, these compound events now last three times longer and are six times more intense than they were in the early 1960s, the research states.The study’s lead author warned that the world’s oceans were already being pushed into an extreme new state because of the climate crisis. “The impacts of this have already been seen and felt,” said Joel Wong, a researcher at ETH Zurich, who cited the well-known example of the heat “blob” that has caused the die-off of marine life in the Pacific Ocean. “Intense extreme events like these are likely to happen again in the future and will disrupt marine ecosystems and fisheries around the world,” he added.The research, published in AGU Advances, analyzed occurrences of extreme heat, deoxygenation and acidification and found that such extreme events can last for as long as 30 days, with the tropics and the north Pacific particularly affected by the compounding threats.Climate scientists have been alarmed by the relentless onward rise of heat in the ocean, which has hit extraordinary heights in recent months. “The heat has been literally off the charts, it’s been astonishing to see,” said Andrea Dutton, a geologist and climate scientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who was not involved in the new research. “We can’t fully explain the temperatures we are seeing in the Atlantic, for example, which is part of the reason why hurricane season is such a concern this year. It’s quite frightening.”But on top of the heat, which forces fish and other species to move, if they are able, to more suitable climes, the oceans are also paying another heavy price for soaking up huge volumes of heat and carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions that would otherwise further warm the atmosphere for people on land. The extra CO2 is making seawater more acidic, dissolving the shells of marine creatures, as well as starving the ocean of oxygen.“This means that marine life is being squeezed out of places it is able to survive,” said Dutton. “This paper makes clear that this is happening now and that these compound threats will push organisms past their tipping points. People have to recognize that oceans have been buffering us from the amount of heat we have been feeling on land as humans, but that this hasn’t been without consequence.”Dutton said that the combination of dropping oxygen levels, rising acidification and soaring ocean heat was also seen at the end of the Permian period about 252m years ago, when Earth experienced the largest known extinction event in its history, known as the Great Dying.“If you look at the fossil record you can see there was this same pattern at the end of the Permian, where two-thirds of marine genera became extinct,” she said. “We don’t have identical conditions to that now, but it’s worth pointing out that the environmental changes going on are similar.“Oceans aren’t just a nice backdrop for your selfies in summer, we rely upon them for our lives, it’s very important to recognize this,” Dutton added.

Devastating Brazil floods made twice as likely by burning of fossil fuels and trees

Scientists say calamities on same scale as disaster that has killed 169 will become more common if emissions not cutThe unusually intense, prolonged and extensive flooding that has devastated southern Brazil was made at least twice as likely by human burning of fossil fuels and trees, a study has shown.The record disaster has led to 169 deaths, ruined homes and wrecked harvests, and was worsened by deforestation, investment cuts and human incompetence. Continue reading...

The unusually intense, prolonged and extensive flooding that has devastated southern Brazil was made at least twice as likely by human burning of fossil fuels and trees, a study has shown.The record disaster has led to 169 deaths, ruined homes and wrecked harvests, and was worsened by deforestation, investment cuts and human incompetence.The team of international scientists behind the study predicted that calamities on this scale – the worst to hit the region – would become more common in the future if there was not a sharp reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions heating the planet.Hundreds of thousands of people in the state of Rio Grande do Sul and in nearby Uruguay are still trying to rebuild their lives after a month of persistent downpours that displaced 80,000 people and left more than a million without essential services such as electricity and potable water.During the peak of the rains on 1 May, the city of Santa Maria set a 24-hour rainfall record of 213.6mm. In just three days, the state capital, Porto Alegre, was inundated with two months’ worth of rain, transforming roads into rivers, football stadiums into lakes and damaging the city’s international airport so badly it remains closed.The economic cost is expected to exceed $1bn (£780m) and the dire impact on agriculture is expected to raise prices of rice – Rio Grande do Sul usually produces 90% of Brazil’s crop – and dairy products across the country.Destroyed bridge over the Forqueta River in Rio Grande do Sul state. Photograph: Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty ImagesThe region’s focus on agriculture has come at a high cost. The authors of the study said that in recent decades, natural flood defences such as riverside forests and marshes have been cleared for fields, often in violation of weakly enforced environmental regulations.The catastrophe in Porto Alegre was worsened by weak flood defences, which were supposed to withstand 6 metres of water but reportedly started to fail at 4.5 metres.In recent years, municipal governments had cut investment in these protections despite warnings that this low-lying, deforested region at the intersection of five major rivers would be increasingly vulnerable to flooding as a result of manmade climate disruption. As well as being incapable of halting the rising waters, the state capital’s flood barriers trapped the flood waters, slowing the process of drying and recovery.Scientists from the World Weather Attribution group have confirmed the powerful human influence on the flooding disaster, the fourth to hit Brazil’s southernmost state in the past year and a half.They analysed a four-day and a 10-day period of the floods by combining weather observations with results from climate computer models. They found that human-driven climate change made the extreme rainfall two to three times as likely and about 6% to 9% more intense. This influence was similar to the natural effect of the El Niño phenomenon.As well as increasing the frequency and intensity of heavy rain, global heating has pushed the tropical belt further south, which acts as a wall across central Brazil that blocks cold fronts coming from Antarctica. As a result, flooding that once used to be more common further north in Santa Catarina is now more likely in Rio Grande do Sul. More than 90% of the state, which covers an area the size of the UK, was affected.skip past newsletter promotionThe planet's most important stories. Get all the week's environment news - the good, the bad and the essentialPrivacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.after newsletter promotionThe authors said global heating was also increasing the frequency of El Niño and La Niña events, which are associated with extreme weather. There has not been a neutral year without either in the past decade.Looking ahead at a world that will get hotter as a result of emissions from cars, factories and deforestation, they found that such a disaster would become 1.3 to 2.7 times more likely in Rio Grande do Sul if global heating rose from the current level of 1.2C to 2C, which is increasingly likely. “These events will become more frequent and severe,” the paper concludes.Lincoln Alves, a researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, said the climate in Brazil had already changed: “This attribution study confirms that human activities have contributed to more intense and frequent extreme events, highlighting the country’s vulnerability to climate change. It is essential for decision-makers and society to recognise this new normal.”To minimise the potential impact of future disasters, the authors suggest more comprehensive urban planning, greater investment in flood defences and closer attention to equitable social development because floods can create a “poverty trap” in which low-income communities are in the most vulnerable areas.A priority should be to protect and reinforce natural barriers such as forests and marshes, Regina Rodrigues, a researcher at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, said. “Changes in land use have contributed directly to the widespread floods by eliminating natural protection and can exacerbate climate change by increasing emissions.”As always, however, the most important measure is to rapidly reduce the burning of trees and fossil fuels that is causing ever more carnage across the world.

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