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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Growing palm oil on former farmland cuts deforestation, CO₂ and biodiversity loss

From The Conversation:

https://theconversation.com/growing-palm-oil-on-former-farmland-cuts-deforestation-co-and-biodiversity-loss-127312

Few natural products are as maligned as palm oil, the vegetable oil that’s in everything from chocolate spread to washing up liquid. On the island of Borneo, oil palm plantations have replaced nearly 40% of the native forest cover since 2000. Deforestation releases CO₂ into the atmosphere and deprives rare and endangered species with the complex habitats they need to thrive.

A new study has tried to find out if this valuable crop can be grown without destroying more forests, by converting existing pastureland into new oil palm plantations instead. Could growing more oil palm on land with already scarce wildlife be a solution to the deforestation crisis?

The oil palm tree produces two types of vegetable oil. Palm oil from the fruit is used in cooking and baking and helps feed over three billion people, mostly in Asia. The other oil comes from the palm kernel, or seed, which is used around the world to make most of our detergents, soaps and other cleaning products.

Palm oil comes from the tree’s bright red fruit and is one of the most valuable vegetable oils in the world. Eva Blue/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

The relentless increase in global demand for vegetable oil has driven the logging and draining of forests and peatland to grow soybeans in South America and oil palm in Asia. About 85% of oil palm is grown in just two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. But other tropical countries, particularly in South America and West Africa, are establishing their own oil palm plantations. These are vast monocultures that very few species can inhabit, especially compared with the tropical forest they replace.

A drainage ditch in a recently created oil palm plantation, Sarawak, Borneo. As the peat dries, it can release large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Denis Murphy, Author provided

Use farms not forests

In the recent study, researchers measured how much carbon – previously locked up in trees and other vegetation – was lost to the atmosphere when either pastureland or rainforest was converted to oil palm plantation.

The good news is that turning pastureland into oil palm plantations reduced how much carbon was released by 99.7%, compared to when rainforest was converted. Another bonus of using pastureland might be that its starting biodiversity is relatively low anyway, so the plantation may actually have a greater diversity of wildlife than the previous ecosystem.

Areas of forest that have been cleared for oil palm plantations, in Bawa village, Subulusalam, Aceh, Indonesia, July 27 2019. EPA-EFE/HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK

Converting grassland ecosystems like the Llanos in South America to oil palm plantations also released less carbon than converting forests. But in this case, the researchers found there were significant losses for biodiversity. If we have to produce more palm oil, the best outcome for wildlife and the climate would be to make former pastureland the first choice for future plantations.

But would it not be better to ban palm oil altogether? Campaigns have urged consumers to switch to products that don’t contain palm oil, while some retailers have announced plans to exclude such items from their own-brand products.


Read more: Replanting oil palm may be driving a second wave of biodiversity loss


Oil palm plantations produce 73.5 million tonnes of vegetable oil from a total land area of 27 million hectares worldwide. This might seem like a large area, but the second most important vegetable oil crop, soybean, produces 56 million tonnes from 97 million hectares – more than 3.6 times the oil palm area. This means that oil palm actually uses much less land than other crops, which is one reason why it’s so popular with growers.

Scientists measure greenhouse gas emissions and sample groundwater in an oil palm plantation in Sarawak, Borneo. Denis Murphy, Author provided

So boycotting palm oil could actually increase deforestation, since alternative tropical oil crops tend to use much more land. A better approach is to ensure that all the palm oil used in food and other products has been obtained from a “sustainable” source, and not from recently logged forests.

That’s why it’s important to base our decisions on sound scientific evidence. Oil palm will continue to be a vital crop for many developing countries in the future. Using former pastureland to grow the crop could ensure the product’s development isn’t at the expense of vulnerable ecosystems. Given how bad red meat production is for the planet, a switch from cattle pasture to oil palm plantation in the tropics could well be a marked improvement.”


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Citizen’s assembly planned for next year 2020 in Birmingham

From the UK parliament website:

https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-energy-industrial-strategy/news-parliament-2017/citizens-assembly-climate-change-19-20/

Parliament sends 30,000 invitations for citizens’ assembly on climate change

02 November 2019

From Wednesday 6 November, 30,000 invitation letters will be landing on doormats across the UK – including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – inviting people to join Climate Assembly UK.

Participants in Climate Assembly UK, which was commissioned by six cross-party House of Commons Select Committees, will look at how the UK will reach its net zero emissions climate target, and what can be done by members of the public to help reduce carbon emissions. The citizens’ assembly has been launched before the dissolution of Parliament, to ensure that the assembly’s report is available to the new Parliament as it begins its work.

In June this year, following a recommendation by independent advisors the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the UK became the first major economy in the world to adopt a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. This means that by 2050 the UK will have to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases it produces to a much lower level than today, and balance its remaining emissions by absorbing the same amount from the atmosphere.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Chair’s comments

Commenting, Rachel Reeves MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee said:

“Adopting the net zero target was a major milestone for the UK, reflecting the strong cross-party support for action on climate change.

“We now need to set out a clear roadmap for the actions to achieve net-zero. It’s very clear that we will all need to play a part in meeting this target and that we all share a responsibility to future generations to do so. Finding solutions which are equitable and have public support will be crucial. Parliament needs to work with the people and with Government to address the challenge of climate change.

“The Climate Assembly UK will advise Parliament on how people want us to meet the net zero target, and suggest policies that the Government can implement to secure success.”

Citizens’ assemblies bring together people from all walks of life to discuss important issues. They have been used all around the world, including in the UK, to help shape the work of governments and parliaments. 30,000 addresses have been chosen at random to receive invitations to participate in Climate Assembly UK which will run over four weekends between late January to the middle of March next year in Birmingham. A representative sample of the population will then be selected from those who respond to the invitation, with 110 people taking part in the assembly.

Treasury Chair’s comments

Commenting, Mel Stride MP, Chair of the Treasury Committee said:

“Public concern around climate change is as high as it has ever been and this is a chance for people from all parts of society to come together, to decide how we as a country can best meet our net zero emissions target.

“Net zero is an opportunity, therefore, for people to not just explore ways in which the UK can end its contribution to climate change, but also create a cleaner, healthier environment as well as benefit from the opportunities around creating a low-carbon economy.”

Key themes to be discussed at Climate Assembly UK will include how people travel, what people buy and household energy use. The outcomes of discussions will be presented to the six select committees, who will use it as a basis for detailed work on implementing its recommendations. It will also be debated in the House of Commons.


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UK Government “bans” fracking – or is this just an election ploy?

Environmental campaigners across the country are celebrating because of the announcement that fracking in the UK is to be banned. The Government decision was based on a report from the OGA, drawing attention to an increased risk of earthquakes.

fracking

Some are saying that it is not a ban but a “morotorium” and that there is nothing to stop the government from reintroducing subsidies for fracking companies, were they to win the December 12th election.  I personally believe that the Conservative party is trying to woo the environmentalists vote, by appearing to have a green agenda.  So, lets look at some of the evidence, much of it provided by members of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR).

First of all, what is the difference between the words ban and moratorium?  Ban means to prohibit completely, whereas a moratorium is a temporary prohibition of an activity. This is not clear on a first read on the Government website. It starts by saying it is to no longer support fracking but further down uses the word moratorium. So, there you have it. It is an election ploy or “an electoral greenwashing gambit”, as described by one SGR writer. Fracking protesters can stop rejoicing at least until after December 12th, when we know what kind of government is to be running the country.

SGR wrote: “The extent of the government’s greenwashing yesterday is becoming clearer…

As they announced the moratorium (but not complete ban) on fracking, they were also preparing an announcement on the go-ahead for a new coal mine in Cumbria. There has been a lot less media coverage of this issue than the fracking announcement – but at least the local BBC news picked up the story:

Woodhouse Colliery: First UK deep coal mine in decades to go ahead
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-50274212

SGR has been working with the campaigners against this mine and the huge carbon emissions that it would lead to here:

The return of British coal?
https://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/return-british-coal

Another source (Climate Action Network West Midlands CANWM) has pointed out that the report, on which the Government based it’s decision, came from the Oil and Gas Authority, whose role is to regulate, influence and promote the UK oil and gas industry in order to maximise the economic recovery of the UK’s oil and gas resources“. (https://www.ogauthority.co.uk/about-us/what-we-do/).  The OGA have an official policy to Maximise Economic Recovery of UK gas and oil reserves (https://www.ogauthority.co.uk/regulatory-framework/mer-uk-strategy/ ).

The MER UK policy completely contradicts efforts to migrate to renewable energy.  In addition, UK Government invests billions in fossil fuels subsidies – see https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/uk-revealed-as-eu-champion-of-fossil-fuel-subsidies/   Globally, banks have invested $1.9t in fossil fuels in three years since COP21 in Paris.  This site https://www.ran.org/bankingonclimatechange2019/#grades-panel  has a lot of detail about investment by several banks including HSBC in various aspects of fossil fuel industry – coal, tar sands, arctic exploration etc.

frackingsite



Another report in the “i” on 11th November 2019 suggests that the Prime Minister has made a U turn on the issue:

Boris Johnson accused of fracking U-turn as firms ‘could be allowed to drill for shale gas’ just days after Tories announced ban

Exclusive: The Government has slipped out a document which reveals ministers may allow more fracking in future”

The article, by Hugo Gye, includes the following:

“The Tories announced they would stop all fracking in England at the start of the general election campaign – but just three days later, they quietly issued a document which contradicts that promise, i can reveal.

Civil servants said that “future applications will be considered on their own merits” despite the supposed ban. And they also said there was “considerable merit” in loosening planning laws so local councils would no longer be able to block firms from drilling for shale gas.”

Further details can be found at:

https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/boris-johnson-fracking-ban-u-turn-shale-gas-general-election-921414



It all sounded a bit too good to be true!