Climate strongly influences global wildfire activity

Climate strongly influences global wildfire activity

People of the Mediterranean countries know only too well that every summer coincides with mighty forests fires that sometime take days to put out. These peoples have always lived within the Mediterranean Woodland and Forest ecoregion stretches from the coastal plains to the hills of northern Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and eventually surrounds of the Atlas Mountains. The variety of substrates and climates leads to a diverse mix of vegetation including holm oak forests, cork oak forests, wild olive and carob woodlands, as well as extensive Berber ‘thuya’ forest. This old, endemic North African conifer species is representative of the great diversity and endemism of both flora and fauna in this ecoregion. This article of Fabrizio Manco, Anglia Ruskin University is about the same phenomenon occurring in the United Kingdom where it is customarily unheard of for Millenia. What is it then? Would it be as put by nature communications, Climate strongly influences global wildfire activity, and recent wildfire surges may signal fire weather-induced pyro geographic shifts. 

How climate change is increasing the risk of wildfires

Fabrizio Manco, Anglia Ruskin University

The army has been called in to help firefighters deal with a huge wildfire on Saddleworth Moor, Greater Manchester, where residents have been forced to evacuate. Wildfires are also blazing across Northern California while the issue of bushfires in Australia calls for constant vigilance from the emergency services there. These fires are becoming more common and one of the reasons for this is climate change.

Warmer temperatures in the summer and associated drier conditions desiccate plant materials and create more vegetation litter, providing more fuel for these fires. Several studies have linked the increase of wildfires with climate change in various parts of the world, such as North America and Southern Europe.

For example, a study in California from 2004 found that the warmer and windier weather (brought about by an atmosphere with higher levels of CO2) produced fires that burned more intensely and spread faster in most locations. Despite enhanced firefighting efforts, the number of escaped fires (those exceeding initial containment limits) increased by 51% in the south San Francisco Bay area, 125% in the Sierra Nevada.

This image, captured by NASA’s Terra satellite, demonstrates the scale of the Saddleworth fire.
University of Dundee

It has also been demonstrated that increases in rainfall during winter and spring – which are also known consequences of climate change – provide more favourable conditions for plant growth and therefore more potential fuel for the fires later in the summer.

Even though climate change increases the vulnerability of dry environments to wildfires, a source of ignition is still required. In the UK, it can be natural (such as bolts of lightning) or caused by man either deliberately or accidentally. Various studies have shown that the number of recreational visits to “risky” sites, such as the English Peak District, increase the occurrence of wildfire.

Human activities have shaped heathlands and moorlands in the UK over the centuries, keeping them open and slowing down the natural succession towards more closed forest habitats. Despite the human impact on their origin, moorlands represent important ecosystems for numerous endangered species including reptiles, insects and birds.

Moorland management

But historic poor management has caused a lot of damage in moorland habitats. The introduction of non-native species for the moor, such as Rhododendron or planted conifers, has affected biodiversity. Overgrazing and drainage has increased the risks of erosion and flooding by reducing vegetation cover and limiting the ability for the soil to absorb precipitations. This, in turn, as lead to an increase in aridity of the habitat – which is the perfect environment for wildfires.

Nowadays, most of the UK’s moorlands are associated with red grouse shooting and are managed in relation to that activity. Procedures include rotational burning and control of predators. Some of these processes are controversial with some environmentalists claiming it can turn the moorland into a “monoculture” of low heather which can be highly susceptible to wildfires. But the evidence on this is not clear and a report by the RSPB found little proof of the negative effect of grouse moor management on biodiversity, flooding and wildfires.

The ecological role of fire

Landscapes and their plant and animal communities are not fixed in time. They are under the influence of dynamic processes that can be recurrent (such as marine tides and seasonal flooding) or catastrophic (volcanic eruptions or storms). Fire – whether natural or man-made – is an important factor that will drive the structure and wildlife composition of ecosystems.

Some areas, such as the Mediterranean region or the African savannah, have been shaped by fire for thousands of years. Plants and animals have evolved to cope with the periodic perturbations due to it. For example, some seeds can only germinate after they have been burnt.

There are even some plants and animals that are contributing in the propagation of wildfires. In Australia, some raptor birds have been observed picking up burning sticks and dropping them in unburned areas to force potential prey out of their burrows.

Despite its destructive power, fire is an important ecological process that can benefit several endangered species by maintaining their habitat. It is an important tool in the management and preservation of heathlands and moorlands in the UK when used appropriately and in a controlled way.

The ConversationBut climate change and human activities increase the vulnerability of those habitats to uncontrolled wildfires and higher population densities near these areas will potentially put more people and houses at risk. In addition to the global battle against climate change, appropriate management procedures are necessary to maintain those habitats and ensure the risks of uncontrolled fires are minimised and the potential spread of them reduced.

Fabrizio Manco, Senior Lecturer in GIS and Ecology, Anglia Ruskin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation


Welfare and Prosperity of People now and in the future

Welfare and Prosperity of People now and in the future

Human Wrongs Watch posted this article of the United Nations on the International Diversity Day that was celebrated yesterday May 22nd, 2018 quoting Secretary-General António Guterres’s message that highlighted that the welfare and prosperity of people now and in the future, depends on a “rich variety of life on earth”. For that to happen, would it  not be a good idea if similarly, all linguistic and cultural differences were to be respected, hence our proposed featured image above.

International Biological Diversity Day: Rich Variety of life on Earth Essential    

Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR/UNEP | Coral reef ecosystems house 25 per cent of all marine life, feeding hundreds of millions of people. A healthy reef at Molinere Bay, Marine Protected Area in Grenada.

Since December 1993, when the Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force, its parties have acted to conserve the earth’s flora and fauna, in a sustainable and fair way, said the UN chief.

“Achieving these objectives is integral to meet our goals for sustainable development,” Guterres stressed, underscoring the importance of protecting, restoring and ensuring access to ecosystems to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger: Goals 1 and 2 of what are known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To mitigate climate change, he notes that deforestation and land degradation must be reduced while at the same time, enhancing carbon stocks in forests, drylands, rangelands and croplands.

He said it was also critical to protect the biodiversity of forests and watersheds to support clean and plentiful water supplies.

Yet, despite these and other benefits, biodiversity continues to decline globally.

“The answer is to intensify efforts and build on successes,” stated Gutteres. He explained that in 2018, Parties to the Convention will begin work on a new action plan to ensure that, by 2050, biodiversity is preserved to the best of our abilities.

“The entire world needs to join this effort,” he emphasized: “I urge governments, businesses and people everywhere to act to protect the nature that sustains us.  Our collective future depends on it,” concluded the Secretary-General.

In her message, Cristiana Paşca Palmer, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), noted that biodiversity is at the heart of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Its decline compounds other challenges, including climate change, water and food security, and public health, which “can potentially lead to catastrophic outcomesfor human existence on this planet,” she warned.

“It is therefore, imperative to do everything in our power to halt the destruction of nature,” she emphasized.

“We have two more years to go to redouble our efforts, […] to design a new deal for nature that will take us from 2020 to the middle of this century,” she said, adding: “We don’t have much time. But we have a lot of power if we work together, in a collaborative manner to change the way we use nature and biodiversity.

Martha Rojas-Urrego, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, drew attention to wetlands as being among the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth – from which almost all freshwater supplies are drawn.

“Given the increasing human population and its dependence on water and wetlands, we must work together in a collective, concerted and sustained effort to conserve wetlands for the planet’s biodiversity and human wellbeing,” she said.

For his part, David Morgan, from the UN-administered Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), reiterated that “biodiversity loss has an enormous impacton our planet, for both the natural environment and human beings.”

“Safeguarding biodiversity is among the key elements of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he said.

“While we are still facing tremendous challenges, with the political will of the world’s governments, we can protect the world’s biological diversity,” he asserted, affirming CITES’ continued collaboration with CBD “to save our common heritage for this and future generations.” (SOURCE: UN).


‘Living Skin of the Desert’ and the Environment

‘Living Skin of the Desert’ and the Environment

The MENA region is made at 90% of arid lands with harsh climate. Arable lands have since time immemorial been receding before a desertification that is increasingly visual despite the commendable efforts to contain it and or even through operations such as Greening the world’s deserts.  This gives a particular view on the engaged fight against desertification notably through turning desert lands into fertile productive agricultural lands. Such operations do apparently have ways unknown till now of affecting this ‘Living Skin of the Desert’ and the Environment.
Meanwhile, desertification is a worldwide phenomenon afflicting countries all over the world according to ecoMENA  and the desert is making a comeback in the Middle East, with fertile lands turning into barren wastes. According to United Nation’s Development Program’s 2009 Arab Human Development Report, desertification is threatening around one-fifth of the MENA region.
The proposed WEF article written by Daniel Stolte, Science Writer, University of Arizona and published in April 2017 brings in yet another aspect of the desert morphology that is to definitely be taken into account. Although this has empirically been known to all indigenous populations, it lacked, like many other things any scientific substantiation. At the same time, rain making on demand through cloud seeding in the UAE’s Dubai, is held as an achievement that should be encouraged for a better and green future.

The ‘living skin of the desert’ helps protect the environment. Now it needs our protection

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms.  Image: REUTERS/Stringer

This article is published in collaboration with Futurity

Scientists have discovered that the desert’s biocrust plays a previously unknown role in regulating the arid climate.

This “living skin of the desert” goes by different names. You may have seen signs in parks and protected areas advising you not to step on “cryptobiotic soil,” or read about “biocrusts.” Each refers to the same thing: a community of mosses, lichens, and sometimes cyanobacteria in various proportions that is critical to human and ecosystem health and climate in the Southwest and other dryland areas.

Biocrusts have many benefits, not only to drylands but also to human health, explains study leader Austin Rutherford, a doctoral student in the University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment.

“They stabilize the soil against erosion, and they reduce the occurrence and impact of dust storms, which are a human health issue, as airborne particles can affect people suffering from asthma and other respiratory problems,” he says. “And now that we are finding that we are losing some of these organisms that make up that soil surface to climate change, we have reason to believe that the loss may have drastic consequences for future climate.”

Arid and semiarid ecosystems are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, which may affect soil organisms in ways that cause surfaces to become lighter in color and thus reflect more sunlight, according to the new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports.

This change will bounce more energy back into the atmosphere, which, considering that drylands make up more than 40 percent of the Earth’s land surface, can alter global climate.

“The discovery that climate-change impacts on biocrusts could feedback to future climate is a critical factor that hasn’t been considered in the past,” says Rutherford, who did much of the data collection on this project while working for the US Geological Survey. “This information is an important step in understanding dryland climate, and may be helpful in developing future global climate models.”

Measuring ‘albedo’

Rutherford and his coworkers created outdoor testing plots located on the Colorado Plateau, where large squares of biocrusts were exposed to different warming and precipitation factors over time.

The researchers not only looked at how the biocrusts responded, but also measured the amount of energy that the different biocrust communities reflected back into the atmosphere relative to how much energy came in from the sun. This effect is known as albedo.

The study is the first to quantify the albedo on a small scale in the context of other characteristics such as biocrust cover, soil moisture, and the roughness of the soil cover.

“Unlike previous studies that examine large expansive areas using remote sensing data,” Rutherford explains, “we brought it down to the small scale and studied the finer processes that might be influencing the change in albedo.”

Warming and watering treatments had large impacts on biocrust communities, transforming them from the dark to light-colored communities, and causing energy that previously was absorbed by the dark surfaces to reflect back into the atmosphere. These factors led to large increases in albedo and may represent a previously unidentified effect on future climate by slowing how fast the Earth warms.

Watch your step

The replacement of biocrust mosses and lichens with light-colored cyanobacteria also may result in increased soil erosion, decreased soil fertility, and decreased removal of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air.

“You can make the claim that because in drylands we have more energy input from the sun and fewer cloudy days, even a slight change in albedo might have a much larger impact on the global energy balance than, say, a boreal forest or a temperate forest,” Rutherford says.

Many human activities can be unintentionally harmful to biological crusts. The biocrusts are no match for the compressional stress caused by footprints of livestock or people or the tracks from vehicles.

“Our study shows that effects of human activity may not only alter soil stability and fertility, but also the way energy is exchanged between the planet and its atmosphere,” Rutherford says.

Source: University of Arizona and the US Geological Survey

Original Study DOI: 10.1038/srep44188


New Types of Stranded Asset Risks

New Types of Stranded Asset Risks

In the aftermath of the COP21 of last December, it is felt that for the Agreement on Climate Change to bear fruits, many things need to be looked after. Numerous think-tanks, researchers and investors debated the risks related to a low-carbon world economy.  These New Types of Stranded Asset Risks are, needless to say, as real for any part of the world as can be assessed at this stage.  The MENA region although being the location of the world’s main fossil oil production and reserves grounds, does with respect to Climate Change, know similar faith.  We have already touched on the matter shortly after the end of the Conference; i.e. “Judging the COP21 outcome and what’s next for climate action . . .” , please refer.

Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs published this article written by Alison Hoare, Senior Research Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources and Eleanor Glover, Website and Digital Coordinator, Energy, Environment and Resources on 11 July 2016.

Paris Climate Agreement Brings New Types of Stranded Asset Risks

Governments and companies should plan now to navigate the potential for lost investment in the forest and agriculture sectors as climate action comes into force.

As countries and businesses seek to find ways to meet the emissions targets laid down in the Paris Agreement, it’s not only the energy sector that may find itself out on a limb, struggling with the prospect of stranded assets.

Usually associated with fossil fuels, stranded assets are investments made in a commodity that at some point down the line loses its economic value.  This can occur through physical impacts, like the recent El Nino-fuelled drought in southern Africa or rising sea levels, technological advancements, such as the hydrogen car, or regulatory changes, as countries implement low-carbon policies.

With global investment in agriculture and forestry increasing, new research from Chatham House finds that while there are significant regulatory and physical stranding risks due to climate impacts (and actions to mitigate               climate change), such risks are not being considered in national low-carbon development plans − or by investors.

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has highlighted the ‘tragedy of the horizon’; referring to the short-sighted five- to 15-year timeframe most investors are unwilling to look beyond. As the United Nations meets in New York this week to discuss the progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be achieved by 2030, the financial community also needs to consider the effects sustainable development policies might have on their investments further into the future.

Regulatory risks

Efforts to achieve the SDGs – particularly in relation to food security, halting deforestation and taking action to mitigate climate change – together with the Paris Agreement, will increase the regulatory risks of stranded assets in the forest and agriculture sectors.

In Brazil, where the expansion of ethanol production is part of its emission reduction strategy, land competition between biofuels and food is likely to be exacerbated by physical climate impacts. It is estimated Brazil could lose 11 million hectares of cropland over the next 15 years due to changes in rainfall patterns and soil moisture. Such land competition may lead to asset stranding for investments in biofuel production as demand for food increases. External policy initiatives like the EU’s action plan on deforestation could affect the value of other agricultural commodities in Brazil, such as soy.

In Malaysia, there are a number of policies to promote economic transformation as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  However, these ambitious strategies include some potential contradictions, and so their implementation is likely to be a challenge for the government. In particular, a failure to recognize the regulatory changes that could affect the palm oil sector in the future increases the chances of stranded assets. This will have implications for investors as well as the government, which may ultimately face many of the costs of stranding.

However, the financial implications of stranding, estimated to effect $6.3 trillion to $11.2 trillion worth of agricultural investments, should not deter regulatory efforts to combat climate change. Turning back on climate commitments would only exacerbate the physical climate risks and mean more drastic losses for investors and the planet in the long run.

Physical climate risks

Even if governments stay on track to meet the two degrees target laid out in the climate agreement,  major physical climate impacts will be inevitable, including rising sea levels and increased frequency of extreme weather events.  The Paris Agreement sets out a global goal to enhance adaptive capacity and highlights the importance of addressing loss and damage associated with climate change including through more comprehensive risk assessment, insurance and pooling solutions.

However, there is little evidence that these physical climate risks have yet been considered either by investors or governments.  For example, in Malaysia, sea-level rise is expected to inundate low-lying oil palm plantations in the next 20 years.  In Liberia, climate change is already affecting agricultural productivity. Given that future investments focus on perennial crops such as palm oil and rubber, physical climate risks should be high on the agenda of investors, but they aren’t.

With consensus on climate change now widespread, further research should be undertaken to look at how future climate impacts and mitigation strategies might create stranded assets in the forests and agriculture sectors.

An understanding of these risks is essential for governments and investors to design frameworks to manage these risks and lessen their impacts.  The Paris Agreement and SDGs could act as a springboard for further thinking in this area, as awareness of climate change among governments and investors is greater than ever.

To comment on this article, please contact Chatham House Feedback

Small Variations in Earth’s Orbit . . .

Small Variations in Earth’s Orbit . . .

As rightly elaborated on by NASA, “The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization.  Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.”  Or, is it only Small Variations in Earth’s Orbit, could it be something else like say, the Brexit referendum outcome ? 

The Guardian of 28 June 2016 published an article on the consequences of the EU out vote that put UK commitment to the Paris climate agreement in doubt.  Excerpts of the article are proposed herewith.  We are tempted to ask this question that derives from the proposed article below.

Would we let politics and / or economics play fool with our common future that is best represented by our common goal of mastering our impact on the earth climate change.

Brexit is not a vote against climate change says UN’s climate chief

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was not a vote against climate change, nor was it a vote against the innovation key to fighting climate change, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres told an audience of business and policymakers at the annual Business & Climate summit in London today.

Leave victory risks delaying EU ratification of the Paris deal, leaving the door open for Obama’s successor to unpick the pact

In her last speech as the head of UN’s climate change body the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Figueres said, “It’s absolutely clear that should article 50 be triggered, the UK would have to reconfigure trading relations with the EU … there’s going to be quite a bit of volatility and uncertainty for at least about two years.” But, she added, “there’s no reason to upset the apple cart on this,” she urged the UK to “stay calm and transform on.”

The second annual Business & Climate Change summit, convened by The Climate Group, focuses on businesses’ role in implementing the targets set out in the Paris climate agreement, the first legally binding commitment to curb carbon emissions to keep global temperature rises below 2C.

. . .

During an earlier press conference, Figueres, who steps down from the IPCCC in July, did not deny rumours that she is gearing up for a bid to become the next UN secretary general to replace Ban Ki-moon. She maintained she was keeping her “full focus” on her current role until her term ends.

Read more on The Guardian of June 28th, 2016


Buildings with Sustainable Features

Buildings with Sustainable Features

Sustainability all over the GCC . . .

A Dubai-based developer company is looking to acquire land in Dubailand to start its sustainable and affordable residential project this summer. The project of to construct buildings with sustainable features such as solar power with 10 MW peak and water recycling.  No details on the project cost and timelines are available yet.

The first phase of the project comprised of the construction of a biodome greenhouse, a community mall, equestrian centre, as well as cycling and jogging tracks.

Meanwhile, a memorandum of understanding has been agreed between Masdar and Dubai Electricity and Water Authority for the implementation of an 800MW third phase that will be constructed based on the Independent Power Producer contract model.

This confirms the growing contribution to the development of the renewable energy industry, both domestically and internationally.

The Al Maktoum Solar Park – the largest single-site solar park in the world will produce 1000MW of power by 2020 and 5000MW by 2030 and when complete, it will reduce 6.5 million tonnes / year of carbon emissions.

Encouraged by this and Dubai’s present legislation that allows private sector partnerships in power production projects, the 800MW third phase of the Maktoum Solar Park is the first project of its kind in the region with this capacity.  It is planned to produce 5,000MW by 2030, for a total investment of $13.6bn.

At almost the same time, Energy giant Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) has relocated its central Abu Dhabi headquarters to the same Masdar City.

First built in 2008, Masdar City is said to be one of the world’s most sustainable urban developments, playing host to the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, alongside a handful of multinational companies and start-ups.  It is by any measure, the only sustainable development in the whole of the GCC.

Elsewhere however, a multi-billion-dollar metropolis city of 250,000 people is being built in Kuwait, phased in 10 periods of time, all within 25 years.

The drop in oil prices, Kuwaitis are, in this operation trying to ascertain their post-oil future, investing in assets to secure their country’s future.  Also, traffic congestion and all negative aspects of urban life in Kuwait City, will make the new development fairly attractive for residence and business.  Sea City, engineered by British consultants. is also a yachting marina as well as a retail centre.Kuwait new Sea City

To better illustrate our point, we reproduce here the 3 most sustainable on-going developments in the GCC, curtesy of DesignMENA

  1. Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, UAEMasdar City

In 2008, Masdar City broke ground and started the journey of developing the world’s most sustainable eco-city in the UAE.

A mix of educational and recreational, housing, retail, manufacturing, and office spaces give commuters and residents easy access to everything they need, reducing transport needs.

The city is designed to maximize convenience and reduce environmental impacts.

When complete, 40,000 people will live in Masdar City, with an additional 50,000 commuting every day to work and study.

  1. King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, Saudi Arabia


In June 2010, the sustainable architecture of the KAUST campus earned a Platinum rating on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) scale, produced by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The university buildings have been specifically constructed to utilize natural light and ventilation. Also, the buildings support a roof capable of carrying 12,000 sqm of solar thermal and photovoltaic arrays.

High levels of recycled products can be found in the campus construction materials, and 75% of the construction material.

The physical campus and its operations will minimize the environmental footprint through efficient use of water, electricity and other resources, and through materials reuse and recycling.

  1. Msheireb Downtown Doha, QatarMSHEREIB Development

Msheireb Downtown Doha will have one of the highest concentrations of LEED certified sustainable buildings, making it the world’s first sustainable downtown regeneration project.

With a 32% energy reduction goal, all buildings are targeting LEED Gold certification, with some buildings targeting LEED Platinum.

Buildings are massed to shade one another and light coloured to reduce cooling requirements.

Integration with Doha’s new Metro and a safe and convenient public realm will encourage both cycling and walking.