This article by Austrian Science Fund (FWF) about Saving the world with Christmas cookies? is serious about all matters of people continuing to ruthlessly exploit land resources around the world and to how to counterbalance that, especially during those especially festive days.
Despite all warnings, people continue to ruthlessly exploit land resources around the world, planting monocultures and setting up large-scale infrastructure. Social ecologist Anke Schaffartzik analyses the political and economic interests that precede these developments and their impact on society. The snapshots of global material and energy flows, but also the power gradient of which they are a symptom, reveal that thoughtful consumption in Austria alone stands little chances against oil palm plantations in Indonesia.
Every year, Austrians produce and buy tons of Christmas cookies. Depending on the individual budget and mind-set, more and more people opt for the product on the shelf that claims to be “palm-oil free.” For today, many people know: Palm oil plantations are being operated on a large scale in countries such as Indonesia, crowding out orangutans living in the tropical rainforests. Anke Schaffartzik, Hertha Firnberg Fellow of the Austrian Science Fund FWF, can well understand that people want to improve the world. Unfortunately, unequal participation in the economy, unequal access to resources and to political co-determination already have an impact on land use even before the consumers can choose a suitable cookie brand in Austria.
In the context of her project at the Institute of Social Ecology in the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna, Schaffartzik analyses worldwide material and energy flows in order to explore the dual nature of inequality: “Inequality as cause and effect of non-sustainable development is easy to observe wherever nature is being exploited to make commercial use of land and resources,” she explains. “Some countries ensure high consumption and economic growth while preserving their resource base or having long since exhausted it. But others are using up more and more land for the export of raw materials or energy sources, thereby making socio-ecologically sustainable development impossible.”
Who decides on land use?
After the first year of her research, Schaffartzik understands that global inequality cannot be quantified exclusively in terms of money. It is informed a great deal by how processes are designed, and the imbalance is already apparent in terms of access to land and decision-making processes. The global data analysis along a time series from 1960 to 2010 suggests to Schaffartzik that the “valorisation” of land is a key process in this growing and deepening use of resources: what counts is the desired economic development, not the needs and voices of the local population. The above-mentioned cultivation of oil palms in Indonesia is one case in point. Before the plantations could be exploited on a large scale, the land first had to be re-zoned accordingly. Palm oil can be used for cooking, as a lubricant and animal feed, for biodiesel or highly processed foods such as Christmas cookies and chocolate. Nowadays, almost the entire volume of crude palm oil is exported from Indonesia, but the processing that generates added value takes place elsewhere.
Cheap and diverse
In the 1980s, palm oil production began to take off in Indonesia, a vast nation of many islands. This not only encroached on the rain forests, but also crowded out other crops and areas used for subsistence farming. “The progressive land grabbing that we are witnessing was initially based on political decisions: There was a wish to see the resources being used in a way that yields money and political control over remote islands,” Anke Schaffartzik notes. Hence, political decisions about land use had to be taken before various big corporations could buy palm oil cheaply as a basis for goods of higher value and before local land was exposed to land grabbing. The “valorisation” of land that previously contributed nothing to the national GDP is the first step in the process. “Countries increasingly look to agricultural goods for economic growth and they consider that to be more important than the food supply for their own population,” explains Anke Schaffartzik. In this context, one can observe that commodities that use up a lot of land for their cultivation or extraction are not generating more money than those that require little land. Today, the local population work either on the plantations or in nickel mining, and meanwhile cooking oil has to be imported.
For her further research, Anke Schaffartzik is cooperating with various institutes in Europe. Together with Julia Steinberger from the University of Lausanne she is working on the relationship between infrastructure, its social status and how infrastructure decisions are being taken. At the Universidad Rovira y Virgili in Spain, she is collaborating on a case study of the construction boom during the Spanish economic crisis, and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona maintains a global atlas of environmental conflicts that provides a tangible picture of the processes leading up to a critical decision.
Approaches to improving the world
Hence, it is not enough, unfortunately, to read the small print and spend a little more money on palm-oil free biscuits. There are always many factors at local level that cannot be influenced downstream by ecologically minded consumers. Once the path to unsustainable development has been taken, there is hardly a way to retrace it. While consumer responsibility is something that people call for, they actually have very little influence.
The focus should therefore be on political processes and decisions that lead to social and ecological inequality and thus promote destructive land use. This is the case not only in Southeast Asia and Latin America, but also on our own doorstep. Where do we see the privatisation of land that was previously subject to shared use? Where is land being re-zoned to build infrastructure? What changes in legislation will affect who gets to decide on land? Who are the beneficiaries? These are important questions. Whose needs are served by the third runway at Vienna Airport, one may wonder, when the actual priority is an expansion of the railway network? Projects such as urban gardening or the sharing economy gain importance if they are understood as a counter-movement to these processes.
Overview: Transforming Land and Sea for a More Sustainable World
Aerial photos often document the destruction of the natural world. But these striking satellite images show how countries are beginning to respond to the global environmental crisis by restoring ecosystems, expanding renewable energy, and building climate resiliency infrastructure.
17 December 2020
As the global population nears 8 billion, the human footprint can be seen in almost every corner of the Earth. Logging roads cut deep into the Amazon rainforest. Plastics swirl in remote parts of the ocean. The world’s largest gold mine is carved out of the mountains of Indonesia.
Satellite and aerial images have captured much of this destruction, often in startling and unsettling images. But a new collection of photos offers a different view: Images of places where efforts are underway to slow or even reverse the damage we have done to the planet — massive wind and solar energy facilities being built on a vast scale; sea walls erected to hold back rising waters; an ambitious tree planting campaign to help stop the advance of desertification in sub-Saharan Africa. When seen from above, these cutting-edge projects are stunning and starkly beautiful.
These early markers of a transformation to a more sustainable world are captured in a new collection of photos published in the book Overview Timelapse: How We Change the Earth. Co-author Benjamin Grant says the scale of the innovation on display is indicative of how quickly society can tackle environmental challenges when it is motivated. “If you get the right momentum and the right belief behind a certain idea, change can happen quickly,” says Grant. “And it’s not necessarily all change for the negative, there can be change for the positive as well.”
The Oosterscheldekering, translated as the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, is the largest of a series of 13 dams designed to protect the Netherlands from flooding from the North Sea. It was constructed in response to the widespread damage and loss of life due to the North Sea flood of 1953. The barrier spans approximately 5.6 miles and uses large, sliding gate–type doors that can be closed during surging tides.
A year of progress (2018-2019) in the Great Green Wall initiative, a massive tree-planting initiative that aims to stop the march of desertification in Africa’s Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara. In an area impacted by worsening droughts, food scarcity, and climate migration, the project intends to restore 250 million acres of degraded land by 2030 by planting a 5,000-mile tree line, such as this section along the border of Mauritania and Senegal.
Blades for wind turbines grouped together at a manufacturing facility in Little Rock, Arkansas. Individual blades are transported from this facility on top of trucks to wind farms and then assembled on-site. The longest blades seen here are 350 feet long, or 1.3 times the length of a New York City block.
For decades, the waters of Nanri Island in the South China Sea have been cultivated for the growth of kelp and seaweed and the raising of abalone (large sea snails). Since 2015, offshore wind turbines have been operating amid the fishing nets that surround the Chinese island, with minimal effect on aquaculture production.
The Fântânele-Cogealac Wind Farm in Romania is the largest onshore wind farm in Europe. The facility is constructed in the midst of canola fields, demonstrating the type of dual-land use possible with renewable energy. With 240 turbines, the wind farm generates 10 percent of Romania’s renewable energy production.
A before and after look at the installation of solar panels atop the Westmont Distribution Center in San Pedro, California. The 2 million square feet of panels have a bifacial design, meaning they can collect reflected light from the surface of the roof in addition to direct sunlight. This enables the panels to generate up to 45 percent more power than traditional rooftop solar panels and power 5,000 nearby homes.
An aerial view of the $6-billion MOSE system in Venice, Italy, a network of 78 steel gates designed to hold back sea level rise and protect the city from storm surges from the Adriatic Sea. Venice, built on top of a lagoon, already experiences regular flooding as high tides bring water into the city’s streets. The MOSE system, scheduled for completion in 2022, will be capable of stopping tides up to 9.8 feet.
The Sustainable City is a complex in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, built to be the first net-zero-emissions development in the country. The area is home to roughly 2,700 people with housing, offices, retail, health care, and food shopping all on-site. Eleven “biodome” greenhouses generate produce for the complex’s residents, a passive cooling system keeps energy requirements low, and all houses come with solar panels and UV-reflective paint to reduce heat buildup.
The Region is wrestling with oil demand slowdown but construction recovery is predicted for 2021 and 2022, GlobalData report as per Dominic Ellis of Construction Global who elaborates on the MENA construction output growth forecast sees 4.5% drop.
18 December 2020
Region wrestling with oil demand slowdown but construction recovery predicted for 2021 and 2022, GlobalData report says
The construction output growth forecast for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for 2020 predicts a contraction of 4.5 percent this year, before a recovery with growth of 1.9 percent in 2021, and 4.1 percent in 2022, according to GlobalData.
The region is wrestling with two distinct but related issues: climate change, and the slowdown in oil demand.
The data and analytics company reports that the 2020 contraction reflects the severe impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as other restrictions on construction activity. Much will depend on its ability to embrace digital transformation.
Yasmine Ghozzi, economist at GlobalData, said: “The construction sector will face headwinds in 2021 with a slow recovery, but the pace of recovery will be uneven across countries in the region. Throughout 2020, and running to 2021, spending on real estate megaprojects, especially in the GCC, is likely to take a backseat as a result of budget revisions.
“However, large-scale projects in the oil, gas, power and water sectors have gained traction against the downturn in market conditions this year, and this is likely to continue. As a result, some local contractors are pursuing development in these sectors to replace the loss of real estate work.
“There is also a push towards decoupling power and water production across the region to reduce energy consumption continuing to provide the impetus for Independent Water Projects (IWP) implementation and in the future, there will be a lot of contract awards in that respect as the region pushes its renewable energy programme, particularly solar photovoltaic and wind.”
GlobalData has slightly revised up its forecast for Saudi Arabia’s construction output to -1.9 percent from -2.8 percent and expects a recovery for the sector of 3.3 percent in 2021. This revision reflects an improvement in economic performance and the Kingdom ending a nationwide curfew at the end of September, lifting restrictions on businesses after three months of stringent curbs and a notable decrease in infection rate.
Recovery is also underlined by the crown prince’s announcement in mid-November that the Public Investment Fund (PIF) is to invest £29.5 billion (5% of GDP per annum) in the economy in 2021-22.
Nearly half of the construction of the five minarets of the Grand Mosque in Makkah is now complete.
GlobalData still maintains its forecast for construction output growth in the UAE of -4.8 percent, with a rebound in 2021 of 3.1 percent and a promising medium-term outlook.
Ghozzi adds: “The recent approval of a new Dubai Building Code is a positive development for the UAE. The new code outlines a revised set of construction rules and standards and seeks to reduce construction costs by streamlining building rules.”
The UAE is proceeding with plans to expand its production capacity with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) announcing its five-year investment plan worth £90.1 billion.
Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman
GlobalData has not changed its estimated growth rates for Qatar and Kuwait in 2020, at -4.5 percent and -9.5 percent, respectively. However, it has further cut the growth forecast for Oman to -10.3 percent from an earlier estimate of -8.1 percent, as the construction industry struggles with the challenges presented by the outbreak of COVID-19, low oil prices and the impact of sovereign credit rating downgrades.
Ghozzi adds: “The new fiscal plan launched by the Omani Government to wean itself off its dependence on crude revenues through a series of projects and tax reforms is a good step which will aid the construction sector recovery in the medium term”.
GlobalData expects construction in Egypt to grow at 7.7 percent in 2020, slowing from 9.5 percent in 2019 – given a short-term slow down due to the pandemic – and 8.9 percent in 2021. The industry is also expected to continue to maintain a positive trend throughout the forecast period.
Ghozzi continues: “Egypt has become the first sovereign nation in the MENA region to issue green bonds with a £553.9 million issuance. Bonds’ earnings will be used to fund projects that meet Egypt’s commitment to the UN goals for sustainable development.”
Egypt’s comprehensive development plan provides varied opportunities for construction companies, such as the national project to develop the countryside which targets 1,000 villages nationwide.
GlobalData expects Israel’s construction industry to contract by 8.9 percent in 2020, reflecting the significant fallout from the pandemic, with growth expected to resume at a modest pace in 2021.
Ghozzi said containing a second wave of the virus, while trying to revive the economy and approve budgets for 2020 and 2021, are the government’s top priorities. “However, difficult decisions will be postponed, with the deadline to pass the 2020 budget being pushed to the end of 2020,” he said.
In the Arab Maghreb, GlobalData maintained its forecasts for construction growth in 2020 for Morocco and Algeria to -5.5, and -3.4 percent, respectively.
Ghozzi adds: “Amid a second wave of COVID-19 with restrictions placed on public mobility along with increasing public sector doubt about economic prospects and social tensions continuing to cause shutdowns at oil and phosphate-manufacturing facilities, GlobalData has further cut its forecast for Tunisia to -13.3 percent from an earlier estimate of -12.5 percent.
“Recovery in the sector is expected to be very slow and expectation of an early legislative election is likely in 2021 but is unlikely to reduce political volatility.”
Patrick Galey in 2020 emissions: precedent-setting or bucking the trend? summarised the planet’s current dilemma in the subsequent response, adaption and mitigation strategies of all countries, notably of those of the MENA region. Who is responsible for what and who is doing what and to what extent.
DECEMBER 16, 2020
For a few moments in late April of 2020, oil—normally the lifeblood of the world economy—became more expensive to store than to pay someone to take it away.
Crude oil’s wildly fluctuating futures prices reflected the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with record falls in greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel demand making 2020 an unexpectedly good year for the climate.
The United Nations and the Global Carbon Project both said this month that planet-warming carbon pollution was set to fall seven percent this year, the largest single-year drop in history.
As pressure mounts on governments to match action to their promises to slash emissions, such a historic drop is welcome even if it only came about due to the pandemic.
It puts 2020 roughly in line with what the UN says is needed to keep the Paris climate deal goal of limiting warming to 1.5C within reach.
But with distribution of several COVID-19 vaccines ramping up in 2021, enabling an anticipated global economic rebound, will 2020 be the start of an annual downward emissions trend, or just a momentary blip?
“I am afraid that if governments do not take major new policies we may well see that the decline we are experiencing in emissions this year will rebound,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, told AFP.
“If governments do not put clean energy policies in their economic recovery packages we will go back to where we were before the pandemic.”
Birol pointed to China, the world’s largest polluter, which he said was an “important test run” for how other nations power their COVID-19 recovery.
“We all know China was the first country to have the coronavirus, the first where there was a lockdown and where the economy declined,” he said.
“But China is also the first country where the economy rebounded and as of today Chinese emissions are higher than levels before the crisis.”
The UN in its annual Emissions Gap report said last week that 2020’s dip in emissions would have only a “negligible impact” on long-term warming without a profound shift towards green energy.
It said emissions hit a record high in 2019 of 59.1 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent—a whopping 2.6 percent higher than the year before.
Yet the countries that pollute the most have prioritised sectors heavily reliant on fossil fuels in their stimulus packages.
In October, a study by manufacturer Wartsila and Energy Policy Tracker found that G20 nations had earmarked $145 billion for clean energy solutions as part of their recovery funding.
This compared with $216 billion that had been pledged for fossil energy, the analysis showed.
The UN said this month that production of oil, gas and coal needed to fall 6 percent annually through 2030 to stay on a 1.5-C course.
Its Production Gap assessment showed however that countries plan to increase fossil fuel production 2 percent per year this decade.
This is despite record low costs for renewable energy technology such as solar and wind.
Kingsmill Bond, energy strategist at the market watchdog Carbon Tracker, said he was confident that 2019 would turn out to have been the peak in emissions, as industry wakes up to the new economics of power.
He said the “cyclical shock” of COVID-19 had brought forward a downwards trend in carbon pollution which was set to happen anyway, pandemic or not.
“Global coal demand peaked in 2013. Fossil fuels going into electricity peaked in 2018, even before the crisis. It’s been happening all the while,” Bond told AFP.
He said renewables could now accommodate all global energy demand growth—roughly 6 exajoules per year—meaning that fossil fuel demand should peak “by definition”.
To square the circle between the needed six-percent annual cut in fossil production and countries’ two-percent growth plans, Bond pointed to a fundamental economic principle: supply and demand.
“The supply is continuing to churn because the incumbents haven’t realised what’s going on—there’s just not going to be demand for it,” he said.
“Imagine you’re the Canadian government. You can subsidise production of oil as much as you like, but if the Chinese don’t buy it, tough.”
Filling the bathtub
Subsidies—in the form of financial support, tax breaks and underwriting—remain a significant impediment to greening the economy.
IEA chief Birol said the G20 currently spends a total of over $300 billion in “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies.
“Fossil fuels today enjoy a significant amount of subsidies from governments, mainly in emerging economies, which creates unfair competition for clean energy sources, distorts the markets and leads to inefficient use of energy,” he said.
As well as an unprecedented drop in emissions, 2020 saw numerous large emitters—including China and Japan—commit to achieving carbon neutrality for the first time.
Climate Action Tracker has calculated that countries’ current net-zero plans, if enacted, could limit warming to 2.1C—not Paris-compliant, but better than the current course of more than 3C of heating by 2100.
Corinne Le Quere, a climatologist and co-chair of the Global Carbon Project, said she expected emissions to rebound in 2021 and to plateau in the years to follow.
She said 2019 could be the peak-emissions year “in an optimistic scenario, but not in the most realistic scenario”.
“We will either see a plateau or growth in emissions for some years before green investments” begin to pay off, said Le Quere.
And although emissions tumbled in 2020, the climate responds to greenhouse gas levels already in the atmosphere.
The Global Monitoring Laboratory at the Mauna Loa Observatory on December 8th measured CO2 concentrations at 412.87 parts per million—0.36 percent higher than the same day last year.
“It’s like water in a bathtub,” said Le Quere.
“For the last 100 years we have had the tap open and the water running, increasing the volume of CO2 in the atmosphere.
“In 2020, we turned the tap down a little, but the water level continues to rise.”
Industrialization, rapid growth and usage of certain natural resources supporting new technological development caused and seemed to continue causing global warming that ultimately impacted the planet’s climate to change. In a recent move to counter that, the greening of the earth was incepted and put into implementation with inventions put into action actually to help fight climate change. Recover from climate change seem these days to be approaching its limit as demonstrated by Mauricio Luque in the greening of the earth is approaching its limit.
Vegetation on earth has a key role in mitigating the climate crisis because it reduces the excess CO2 from the atmosphere that we humans emit. Just like when athletes are doped with oxygen, plants also benefit from the large amounts of CO2 that accumulate in the atmosphere. If more CO2 is available, they make more photosynthesis and grow more, which is called the fertilizing effect of CO2. When plants absorb this gas to grow, they remove it from the atmosphere and it is sequestered in the branches, trunk or roots.
An article published in Science, co-directed by the Professor of the Higher Council for Scientific Research at CREAF Josep Peñuelas and Professor Yongguan Zhang of the University of Nanjin, with the participation of CREAF researchers Jordi Sardans and Marcos Fernández, shows that this fertilizing effect of CO2 is decreasing worldwide.
The study, developed by an international team, concludes that the reduction has reached 50% progressively since 1982 due to two key factors: the availability of water and nutrients.
“The formula has no mystery, plants need CO2, water and nutrients to grow. However much the CO2 increases, if the nutrients and water do not increase in parallel, the plants will not be able to take advantage of the increase in this gas,” explains Professor Josep Peñuelas. In fact, three years ago he himself warned in an article in Nature Ecology and Evolution that the fertilizing effect on the soil would not last forever, that plants cannot grow indefinitely because there are other factors that limit them.
If the fertilizing capacity of CO2 in the soil decreases, there will be strong consequences on the carbon cycle and therefore on the climate. Forests have been ‘doped’ with the extra CO2 for decades, sequestering tons of carbon dioxide that allowed them to do more photosynthesis and grow more. In fact, this increased fixation has managed to decrease the accumulated CO2 in the air, but now it is over.
“These unprecedented results indicate that the absorption of carbon by vegetation is beginning to become saturated. This has very important climate implications that must be taken into account in possible strategies and policies to mitigate climate change at the global level. Nature decreases its capacity to sequester carbon and with it increases society’s dependence on future strategies to curb greenhouse gas emissions,” warns Peñuelas.
The study has been carried out with satellite, atmospheric, ecosystem and modelling information. It highlights the use of sensors that use near-infrared and fluorescence and are thus able to measure the growth activity of vegetation.
Less water and nutrients
According to the results, the lack of water and nutrients are the two factors that reduce the ability of CO2 to improve plant growth in the soil. To reach this conclusion, the team based itself on data obtained from hundreds of forests studied over the past forty years. “These data show that the concentrations of essential nutrients in the leaves, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, have also decreased progressively since 1990,” explains researcher Songhan Wang, first author of the article.
The team also found that water availability and temporary changes in water supply played a significant role in this phenomenon. “We have found that plants slow down their growth, not only in times of drought, but also when there are changes in the seasonality of rainfall, which is increasingly happening with climate change,” adds Yongguan Zhang.
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