Because of its growing impact on society, global warming has taken centre stage in the public debate. While most of us have not read the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), heat waves, intensifying storms and the multiplication of extreme events remind us of the scale of climate disruption and the urgency of action.
Despite being documented by the Intergovernmental Sciences Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the equivalent of the IPCC for biodiversity, we know little about how biodiversity erosion might affect us and the rest of the planet. Its links and interactions with climate change are underestimated, and any policy to address either in isolation will miss the mark. It’s impossible to take effective action against global warming without addressing our impact on the rest of the living world, and vice versa.
Fossil carbon, living carbon
IPCC scientists have been explaining since their first assessment report (1990) that climate change is a stock problem. To halt global warming, it is not enough to slash greenhouse gas emissions. We need to stabilise their stock in the atmosphere. To achieve reach net zero we must reduce emissions – the inflow into the stock – to the level of the outflow, which is made up of CO2 absorption by carbon sinks (forests and oceans) and the elimination of non-CO2 greenhouse gases at the end of their life cycle.
This requires that we adopt a two-pronged plan, aimed both at cutting down our reliance on both fossil and living carbon. The former feeds the vast majority of the world’s pollution, with coal, oil and natural gas accounting for 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Tackling it will require that we take on the so-called energy transition.
On the other hand, a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come from “living carbon”, mainly as a result of specific agricultural emissions (unrelated to fossil fuel use) and tropical deforestation and other land use changes that erode carbon sinks. There is no way to achieve carbon neutrality without a profound transformation in the use of living resources, to ensure the reflux of agricultural emissions and better protection of carbon sinks. This is the challenge of what we might call the agroclimatic transition.
One of the major difficulties of the ecological transition is to carry out these two transformations simultaneously, as they involve distinct economic mechanisms. For fossil carbon, we need to introduce scarcity by reducing the use of coal, oil and natural gas to the absolute minimum. For living carbon, we need to reinvest in the diversity of ecosystems to reduce agricultural emissions and protect carbon sinks as part of a bioeconomy.
From adding to subtracting
Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, energy transitions have followed one another. They have all involved adding new energy sources to a system initially based on the use of biomass. The result has been a massive increase in the amount of energy used worldwide.
The climate is forcing us to break with this logic. Lowering emissions is not a matter of adding decarbonised sources to the energy system. It’s about removing fossil fuels. We need to switch from a logic of addition to one of subtraction.
From an economic viewpoint, this means massively reconverting brown assets linked to the production or use of fossil fuels, through a double movement of investment in green and disinvestment in brown. The heaviest cost for the economic system is not the hundreds of billions invested in wind or solar farms, battery gigafactories or hydrogen electrolysers. It’s the cost of disinvestment that forces us to downgrade or reconvert brown assets: financial assets, of course, but also physical assets and, above all, the human assets on which the energy transition depends.
Multiple instruments will have to be called upon to bring about such a transformation. Pricing carbon from fossil fuel use is a key way to reflect the increasing scarcity of the atmospheric capacity to store carbon. Whether obtained through taxation or emission trading schemes, such taxation raises the cost of using fossil fuels, without returning the resulting rents to producers, as happens, for example, when oil prices soar on energy markets. On the demand side, it is a powerful stimulus to energy efficiency and sufficiency; on the supply side, it encourages a shift away from carbon assets.
The main difficulty with fossil carbon taxation lies in controlling its distributive impact. As the “gilets jaunes” protests in France showed, fossil carbon taxation without redistribution to the most vulnerable poses more problems than it solves. Only a redistributive carbon tax will be socially acceptable. Similarly, if carbon pricing is to be extended on an international scale, the proceeds must be returned on a massive scale to the countries of the South.
The distributional impacts of regulated carbon markets should also not be underestimated. Within the European Union, the extension of the emission trading scheme to the transport and buildings sector will increase household energy bills. This is why the proceeds from allowances sales at auction must be redistributed to the most vulnerable households via a “social fund” which will be the pillar of the regulation to be put in place.
While fossil carbon taxation accelerates the energy transition, negative carbon taxes – in other words, fossil fuel subsidies – delay it. Following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, these subsidies reached unprecedented levels in the European Union, with the multiplication of “tariff shields” erected as a matter of urgency to protect Europeans from the worst of the cost of living crisis.
Another pernicious form of subsidy to fossil fuels is the free allocation of CO2 allowances in the European trading scheme, which hampers the emergence of a green industry, a lever for the competitiveness of tomorrow’s Europe.
Investing in the diversity of living beings
Let’s imagine for a moment that the world has eradicated all use of fossil fuels in 2050. Would we automatically be in a situation of climate neutrality? Everything depends on what has been achieved on the second front of the transition, that of living carbon, the source of a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Pricing fossil carbon is hardly useful for the agroclimatic transition. Worse, it could even prove counterproductive: using a CO2 price based on energy criteria, it would become profitable to transform the Amazon rainforest (or the centuries-old oaks of the French Tronçay forest) into short rotation coppice to produce energy! The reason is simple. Agro-climatic transformation means finding ways to reinvest in biological diversity, in other words, in the abundance of living things. But the price of CO2 does not reflect the value of this diversity. We therefore need to use other instruments, which are more complex to implement.
On land, forests are the main carbon sink. Their capacity to soak up atmospheric CO2 is weakened by a combination of climatic and anthropogenic factors. In France, for example, the CO2 storage capacity of forests has been divided by three since 2005, mainly due to climatic factors. There is therefore an urgent need to adapt forest management methods in anticipation of the severity of tomorrow’s climates. Worldwide, the main anthropogenic impact on forests is tropical deforestation. Its main cause is the expansion of land for crops and livestock. This is why the key to halting deforestation lies in changing agricultural practices.
The key issues of agriculture and food
The impact of farming systems on the net balance of greenhouse gas emissions is not limited to deforestation. Depending on the techniques used, farming systems may themselves release carbon into the atmosphere (deep ploughing, draining of wet soils, etc.) or, on the contrary, store it in living soils (conservation agriculture, agroforestry, etc.). The former erode biodiversity by specialising farmers according to industrial-type logics. The latter use living diversity to intensify production and regenerate the natural environment.
These agroecological techniques also make it possible to better withstand tougher climatic conditions, while reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural sources. In economic terms, their promotion requires investment in innovation, research and development, the establishment of dedicated farm advisory networks and, above all, incentivisation to reward farmers for the ecosystem services they provide to society. This is not something that happens spontaneously on the market. It requires public intervention and dedicated funding.
As in the case of energy, the agroclimatic transition implies, on the demand side, that we consume smarter and less. The foods we eat have contrasting climate footprints. There can be no successful agroclimatic transition without finding ways to dramatically reduce emissions associated with the most polluting ingredients, including industrially processed foods and animal products, especially those from ruminant breeding. The use of food rations might be one way of achieving this, according to the recommendations of the world’s health authorities.
Remembering the ocean
Last but not least, the agroclimatic transition will have to take into account the management of the oceans and marine biodiversity, which are currently the blind spots of climate policies. Global warming and certain human practices (overfishing, pollutant runoff, etc.) are altering marine biodiversity, a crucial component in the storage of CO2 by the oceans. Protecting the ocean sink is vital to stabilise tomorrow’s climate: it is estimated that the continental biosphere contains four times more carbon than the atmosphere. For the oceans, it’s 47 times.
The authors thank Frank Convery for his insightful review
The Climate Economics Chair of Paris Dauphine-PSL University is organising, in partnership with the Toulouse School of Economics and the National Museum of Natural History, the 24th Global Conference on Environmental Taxation, which will take place from September 6 to 8, 2023 and will have as its theme “Climate & Biodiversity: Tackling global footprints”.
The MENA region, where the Desert covers most of its lands, has never been known for its Farming Markets, Competition, Forecasts & Opportunities. The exception is actually recorded by Research and Markets.
view shows the ground of the Rialb reservoir as drinking water supplies have plunged to their lowest level since 1990 due to extreme drought, in the village of Bassella, Spain May 6, 2023. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo
22% of Europe under drought warning
Spain worst-hit, already in severe drought
Some farmers expect worst harvest for decades
Climate change fuelling drought conditions
BRUSSELS, May 17 (Reuters) – Southern Europe is bracing for a summer of ferocious drought, with some regions already suffering water shortages and farmers expecting their worst yields in decades.
As climate change makes the region hotter and drier, years of consecutive drought have depleted groundwater reserves. Soils have become bone dry in Spain, southern France and Italy. Low river and reservoir levels are threatening this summer’s hydropower production.
With temperatures climbing into summertime, scientists warn Europe is on track for another brutal summer, after suffering its hottest on record last year – which fuelled a drought European Union researchers said was the worst in at least 500 years.
So far this year, the situation is most severe in Spain.
“The situation of drought is going to worsen this summer,” said Jorge Olcina, professor of geographic analysis at the University of Alicante, Spain.
There’s little chance at this point of rainfall resolving the underlying drought, either. “At this time of the year, the only thing we can have are punctual and local storms, which are not going to solve the rainfall deficit,” Olcina said.
Seeking emergency EU assistance, Spain’s Agriculture Minister Luis Planas warned that “the situation resulting from this drought is of such magnitude that its consequences cannot be tackled with national funds alone,” according to an April 24 letter sent to the European Commission (EC) and seen by Reuters.
A vegetable patch is affected by the prolonged drought, in Ronda, southern Spain May 11, 2023. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo
CLIMATE CHANGE TREND
Southern Europe is not alone in suffering severe water shortages this year. The Horn of Africa is enduring its worst drought in decades, while a historic drought in Argentina has hammered soy and corn crops.
More frequent and severe drought in the Mediterranean region – where the average temperature is now 1.5C higher than 150 years ago – is in line with how scientists have forecast climate change will impact the region.
“In terms of the climate change signal, it very much fits with what we’re expecting,” said Hayley Fowler, Professor of Climate Change Impacts at Newcastle University.
Despite these long-held forecasts, preparation is lagging. Many farming regions have yet to adopt water-saving methods like precision irrigation or switch to more drought-hardy crops, such as sunflowers.
“Governments are late. Companies are late,” said Robert Vautard, a climate scientist and director of France’s Pierre-Simon Laplace Institute. “Some companies are not even thinking of changing the model of their consumption, they are just trying to find some miraculous technologies that would bring water.”
France is emerging from its driest winter since 1959, with drought “crisis” alerts already activated in four departmental prefects, restricting non-priority water withdrawals – including for agriculture, according to government website Propluvia.
Portugal, too, is experiencing an early arrival of drought. Some 90% of the mainland is suffering from drought, with severe drought affecting one-fifth of the country – nearly five times the area reported a year earlier.
In Spain, which saw less than half its average rainfall through April this year, thousands of people are relying on truck deliveries for drinking water, while regions including Catalonia have imposed water restrictions.
Some farmers have already reported crop losses as high as 80%, with cereals and oilseeds among those affected, farming groups have said.
“This is the worst loss of harvest for decades,” Pekka Pesonen, who heads the European farming group Copa-Cogeca, said of Spain. “It’s worse than last year’s situation.”
Spain is responsible for half of the EU’s production of olives and one third of its fruit, according to the Commission.
With its reservoirs at on average 50% of capacity, the country last week earmarked more than 2 billion euros ($2.20 billion) in emergency response funding. It is still awaiting a reply from the Commission on its request for a 450-million-euro crisis fund to be mobilized from the bloc’s farming subsidy budget.
The Commission said it was monitoring the situation closely.
“Severe drought in Southern Europe is particularly worrying, not only for the farmers there but also because this can push up already very high consumer prices if the EU production is significantly lower,” Commission spokesperson Miriam Garcia Ferrer said.
Similar struggles are expected in Italy, where up to 80% of the country’s water supply goes toward agriculture. But with this year’s thin mountain snow cover and low soil moisture, Italian farmers are planning to cut back – sowing summer crops across an area 6% smaller than last year’s planting area, according to national data on sowing intentions.
After two years of water scarcity, northern Italy has a 70% deficit in snow water reserves and a 40% deficit of soil moisture, said Luca Brocca, a Director of Research at Italy’s National Research Council.
Such deep shortages set the stage for a repeat of last year’s summer, when Italy suffered its most severe drought in 70 years.
“2022 was really exceptional. And also this year, it seems to be really exceptional,” Brocca said.
($1 = 0.9084 euros)
Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by Katy Daigle and Sharon Singleton
We all know technology could turn one of the greatest challenges of today into one of the greatest opportunities for sustainable socio-economic development to maintain economic progress while dramatically reducing emissions, but beyond Tech: Prioritising water and food security in smart City Development would be a must, especially in certain regions of the globe.
Beyond Tech: Prioritising water and food security in smart City Development
By Chandra Dake,
May 14, 2023
Dake Rechsand’s Chandra Dake examines why water and food security networks are equally essential for the smart cities of the future.
Smart city projects dominate the development vision of economies across the world. In the Middle East, such developments are gaining momentum by the day. Therefore, a future where the word “smart” prefixes every city in the developing world is not too far away. However, at this juncture, the question remains: What are smart cities beyond their obvious technological underpinnings?
By definition, smart cities are urban centres where infrastructure, such as power grids, water utilities, and traffic control, is connected via different information and communication technologies (ICT). In the Middle East, smart city developments must prioritise food and water networks due to long-standing scarcities. Due to systemic challenges, including but not limited to an arid climate, high soil salinity, unreliable rainfall, and desert conditions, the region has not made progress toward sustainable water and food security.
Systems thinking approach to food security
Food scarcity has many causal factors as well as consequences. In the regional context, it has led to a trade deficit, with nearly 90 percent of food being imported. Such supply-chain dependencies are not sustainable in the long run. While the obvious solution is local food production through agriculture, it is anything but easy due to desert conditions, soil salinity, and water scarcity, among other detriments. This complex situation calls for a “systems thinking” approach.
Systems thinking posits a multidimensional assessment of a problem, as well as a strong focus on how various constituents interrelate. For example, due to soil salinity, local food production requires excessive irrigation, which further aggravates existing water scarcity. The adoption of smart agriculture technologies (AgriTech), such as irrigation sensors and precision farming, carries merit. However, their impact is limited to increased efficiency in irrigation and yield measurement; they cannot address systemic challenges such as soil salinity.
Water-retentive mediums such as ‘Breathable Sand’ make a compelling case here. Through its permeability, it ensures effective nutrient supply to the roots, leading to optimal yield with nearly 80 percent less water usage. Combined with smart AgriTech, such solutions can enhance food security without compromising water goals, characteristic of systems thinking. Concurrently, smart cities, through the effective use of sensors and networks, must make provision for a reduction in water usage, reuse, and recycling.
Sponginess adds to smartness in cities
As part of smart city projects, developers can implement Sponge City solutions like ‘IDer’ across public areas. In application, they absorb rainfall runoffs, keep surfaces free from waterlogging and skidding, and even filter and store the water in underground reservoirs. The harvested water can enhance the city’s water security, as well as supercharge its agriculture-led food security efforts. Instead of traditional carbon-intensive techniques, such as the construction of canals and sewers, urban master planners can explore Sponge Cities to address flooding incidents associated with increasing rainfall.
Thanks to smart cities’ ICT capabilities, stakeholders can effectively measure the positive outcomes. The “measurability” is paramount because, in the short term, it enables regional economies to show accountability and transparency in key conventions such as COP28 and, in the long term, helps stay on track to achieving ambitious goals like net-zero emissions.
The bottom line is that the standalone capabilities of ICT in smart cities need on-the-ground, practical solutions to contribute to sustainable development goals.
Chandra Dake is the Executive Chairman and Group CEO of the Dake Group.
ROME, May 8 2023 (IPS)* – Less than a decade ago, Africa was home to 60-65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and 10% of renewable freshwater resources, as reported by the African Union in 2016, while concluding that African farmers could feed the world.
Is it still the case?
Droughts are a growing threat to global food production, particularly in Africa. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS
A major consequence is that that very percentage (60-65%) of the world’s uncultivated and arable land is now affected by degradation, with nearly three million hectares of forest lost… every single year.
The steadily advancing degradation and desertification of major African regions have led the continent to build great green walls.
One of them – the Great Green Wall, is the largest living structure on the Planet, one that stretches over 8.000 kilometres across Africa, aiming at restoring the continent’s degraded landscapes and transforming millions of lives in the Sahel, and ushering in a new era of sustainability and economic growth.
Launched in 2007 by the African Union, this African-led Great Green Wall Initiative. The project is being implemented across 22 African countries and is expected to revitalise thousands of communities across the continent.
It is about “helping people and nature cope with the growing impact of the climate emergency and the degradation of vital ecosystems, and to keep the Sahara desert from spreading deeper into one of the world’s poorest regions,” according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
Vast tracts of land along the Great Green Wall have already been restored by local communities. And so far, 80% of the 19 billion US dollars have been pledged, as reported by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
But not enough…
The extraneous factors that have been pushing Africa towards the abyss of extremely severe droughts, unprecedented floods, the advancing degradation of its land and water resources, have led this continent on Earth to rush to build more and longer and larger walls.
For instance, the Southern Africa region is currently busy preparing a similar programme, with all 16 countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) committed to accelerating multi-sectoral transformation through a regional initiative inspired by the Great Green Wall in the Sahel, or SADC Great Green Wall Initiative (GGWI).
The SADC member countries are: Angola, Botswana, Comoros, DR Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A wall for Southern Africa
Their Initiative aims to create productive landscapes in the Southern Africa region that contribute to regional socially inclusive economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.
Together with member countries and key partners the goal is to initiate multi sectoral partnerships and to acquire pledges of an indicative 27 billion US dollars by 2025.
10 Million square kilometres at risk of desertification
Covering a total land area of 10 million square kilometres, Southern Africa faces immediate effects of desertification, land degradation and drought, as well as challenges driven by climate change, biodiversity loss, and unsustainable development practices in agriculture, energy and infrastructure sectors, reports the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
“The Great Green Wall is part of a broader economic and development plan – if we restore land but are not able to reap the benefits of that healthy and restored land due to lack of access to renewable energy and infrastructure, hindering access to markets and livelihoods, then we are only halfway there with our vision,” on this said UNCCD’s Louise Baker.
And a great wall for the Middle East
In addition to the above two new natural wonders, there is another one: the Middle East Green Initiative, a regional effort led by Saudi Arabia to mitigate the impact of climate change on the region and to collaborate to meet global climate targets.
Across the Middle East and North Africa, extreme weather events including droughts and heavy rains will become more common in the region if global temperatures continue to increase, according to the Saudi-led project.
A green corridor for East Africa… and elsewhere
In addition to developing an Eastern Africa corridor soon, other similar initiatives under the umbrella of the African Union’s NEPAD are ongoing, such as the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100).
In 2015, AFR100 was founded in Durban by a group of 10 African countries, each committing to restore a certain number of hectares of degraded landscapes within their borders.
Twenty-eight African countries have now committed to restoring 113 million hectares, which, if achieved, will exceed the initiative’s namesake goal of 100 million hectares across the continent under restoration by 2030.
Not only trees
Forest landscape restoration is more than just planting trees,” said Mamadou Diakhite, leader of the AFR100 Secretariat.
On a continent that is expected to account for half the global population growth by 2050, reducing and sequestering greenhouse gas emissions is a welcome byproduct of returning those natural landscapes to health and profitability; but it’s not the first focus, reported Gabrielle Lipton, Landscape News Editor-in-Chief.
“Restoring landscapes that have been degraded by the effects of climate change and human development through planting trees and encouraging sustainable farming and herding must first and foremost provide food, jobs and homes for people, as well as preserve their cultures that are based on the products of their lands.”
Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
Traditional construction methods were no match for the earthquake that rocked Morocco on Friday night, an engineering expert says, and the area will continue to see such devastation unless updated building techniques are adopted.
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