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The world lost an area of tropical forest the size of Bangladesh in 2017

Hans Nicholas Jong, Mongabay
Waking Times

OSLO, Norway — It has been a decade since the United Nations launched REDD+, an ambitious program to incentivize forest restoration and conservation in developing countries, as a part of a global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The program has been heralded as an integral part of the solution to climate change as tropical forests and wetlands can deliver 23 percent of the total mitigation needed between now and 2030.

As a result, billions of dollars have been poured into this scheme, and countless projects have been initiated to enable tropical countries to receive money in exchange of them reducing their deforestation rates.

Norway, for instance, has invested about $2.8 billion into the program in the past decade, more than any other wealthy nation.

On the other side of the equation, Brazil in particular has been lauded as a champion in REDD+ as it managed to slow down its deforestation rate nearly 80 percent in 10 years between 2004 and 2014.

This week, representatives from these countries are gathering to celebrate the 10thanniversary of REDD+ at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum in Norway.

But instead of being celebrated for their achievement, these countries are in the hot seat as the conference came on the heel of new data from the University of Maryland (UMD) showing how tropical tree cover loss in many countries has been ramping up in recent years, including in Brazil.

Brazil’s Atlantic Forest is one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems – and one of its most threatened

According to the data, tropical countries lost 158,000 square kilometers (39 million acres) of tree cover in 2017 – an area about the size of Bangladesh. The 2017 number is the second highest since UMD stared collecting data in 2001, and only a bit lower than the record high in 2016.

Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based think-tank World Resources Institute (WRI), who also serves as the program committee chair for the Forum, said that the conference provides a moment for reflection on what’s going wrong with REDD+ in these countries.

“It’s a really good opportunity to celebrate all of the many real achievements that have taken place, as well as take stock of where we are, and see the road ahead,” she said during the opening of the forum in Oslo on Wednesday. “But it’s also important that we pause and reflect for what we haven’t achieved.”

Seymour then proceeded to cite the new set of data, published on Global Forest Watch, a forest monitoring site run by WRI.

“The 2017 tree cover loss numbers, which were released today by my colleagues at Global Forest Watch are not encouraging. 2017 is only slightly better than 2016, and that was a record bad year,” she said. “So you have to pause for a minute and think are we doing something wrong? I think we need to open to that possibility over the next two days.”

Commenting on the recent deforestation trend in the tropics, Norway minister of climate and environment Ola Elvestuen said during the opening of the Forum it is “a crisis of existential proportions,” and reminded participants that “We either deal with it or we leave future generations and planet in ecological collapse.”

Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment Ola Elvestuen at the opening of the 2018 Oslo Tropical Forest Forum. Photo by Mats Bakken

Seymour and Elvestuen’s opening speeches set the tone for the rest of the forum, where government officials, activists, researchers and indigenous communities will discuss why REDD+ doesn’t seem to be working as well as hoped after 10 years despite initial progress made in countries like Brazil.

What went wrong?

Seymour said just because tree cover loss rate is on the rise, it doesn’t mean that there’s no effort to save intact forests.

“In fact, we implement a number of strategies to address this problem, including offering climate finance, to the Paris Agreement to reward reduced forest emissions,” she said. “We’re getting companies to stop buying products grown on recently deforested lands. We’re cracking down on illegal logging and securing indigenous rights.”

But she said these efforts pale in comparison to pressure from the agriculture sector, which is often supported by mainstream policies and financing and which is considered the leading single cause of deforestation worldwide.

A breakdown of the new UMD data shows Brazil experienced by far the most tree cover loss in 2017. Indonesia, while currently in the top three, nearly halved its tree cover loss between 2016 and 2017.

According to Seymour, the amount of climate financing committed for forest conservation has averaged about a billion dollar a year over the last decade, while the amount of funding being poured into agriculture and other investments is 100 times greater.

“As long as mainstream policies and finance continue to support deforestation as usual, we’re trying to put out a house fire with a teaspoon, even while more gas are being poured on the flames,” she said.

Seymour attributed the upward trend in tree cover loss primarily to continued land clearing for agricultural purposes.

“There’s really no mystery to the main reason why we’re seeing tropical forests disappear,” she said. “Vast areas continued to be cleared for soy, beef, palm oil and other globally traded commodities.  Much of this clearing is illegal and linked to corruption.”

Seymour also cited lack of protection for environmental activists and indigenous communities as one of the reasons why forest conservation seemed to be failing.

“Forest defenders continued to be murdered when they work to protect forests,” she said. “Most indigenous people still don’t have secured land rights, even though their territories have the lowest rate of deforestation.”

Lastly, she said that other factors such as natural disasters like fires are also playing an increasing role in tree cover loss as climate change makes such events more frequent and severe. Adding to this is political and economic instability that could shift government focus away from conservation, like what’s happening in Brazil.

The case of Brazil

In the early 2000s, Brazil’s deforestation rates started to decline. However, its tree cover loss began to spike upward in recent years, and in 2017 Brazil experienced its second-highest rate of tree cover loss, losing 45,000 square kilometers of tree cover.

According to Mikaela Weisse, a research analyst at WRI, much of Brazil’s tree cover loss can be attributed to a strong fire season in the Amazon, with the region having more fires in 2017 than any year since recording began in 1999.

The UMD data indicate fires caused 31 percent of the South American country’s tree cover loss. The university was able to come up with the figure as it recently added a new function that enables researchers to distinguish tree cover loss due to fires.

Weisse said that the fires in the Amazon are mostly caused by humans who clear land using fires as they take advantage of the lack of enforcement on prohibitions of fires and deforestation, political and economic uncertainty, and the current administration’s roll-back of environmental protections.

“As climate change and human land use interact to make forests more vulnerable to fire, many are concerned that extensive fires will become the new normal in the Brazilian Amazon,” Weisse said during a teleconference last week.

She also pointed out that the blazes are likely to cancel out the climate impact of reduced deforestation in Brazil.

Therefore, analysts believe that tackling forest fires not only in the Amazon, but also in other parts of the world, is crucial.

Carlos Nobre, Brazil’s leading climatologist, said during the forum that if no action is taken to address this issue, then Brazil is at risk of going over the tipping point where so many of its forests have been burned and turned into savannas.

And since savannas are much more tolerant to fire, he worries they will remain in that state indefinitely and forests will not return, even if deforestation is reduced to zero.

“If the system tips into this other side of equilibrium, we will have savanna there, with much less biodiversity and carbon,” Nobre said during the opening of the forum.

To avoid that from happening, Nobre recommends Brazil’s deforested area not exceed 25 percent of the country’s total land mass. Currently, Brazil has lost 18 percent of its total area.

“We are very close to the limit because global warming is still operating and deforestation is still going on and forest fires are becoming more serious,” Nobre said. “So basically, urgent action is needed to stop Amazon deforestation completely.”

Deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

New deforestation hotspots and a few bright spots

Besides Brazil, which has historically suffered from high rate of tree cover loss, the data set also shows Colombia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as emerging hotspots of tree cover loss.

Colombia faced one of the most dramatic increases in tree cover loss of any country, with nearly 4,250 square kilometers (around 1.1 million acres) of tree cover loss in 2017. That number represents a 46 percent jump above to 2016, and more than double the average rate of loss between 2001 and 2015.

Almost half of the increase happened in just three regions on the border of the Amazon biome (Meta, Guaviare and Caquetá), with new hotspots of loss advancing into previously untouched areas.

This sudden spike in tree cover loss coincided with the peace process that happened in the country last year, when the government signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest rebel group.

FARC used to keep tight control over land use and allowed little commercial use of resources. But with the peace deal, FARC was pushed out of large amounts of remote forest they previously controlled.

“The increase seems to be related to the peace process,” Weisse said. “The demobilization of the FARC left behind a power vacuum, which has led to illegal clearing for pasture and cocoa, mining and logging by other armed groups, as well as rampant land speculation.”

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) also had record high tree cover loss in 2017, with the UMD data indicating 14,680 square kilometers (more than 3.6 million acres) lost, surpassing Indonesia for the first time.

“DRC has had an increasing trend over the past 17 years, which is a cause for concern,” Weisse said.

According to Weisse, the main drivers of tree cover loss in DRC include shifting agriculture, artisanal logging that is often illegal, and charcoal production.

“Given the trend in 2017, it’s critical that DRC improves land use planning and critical law enforcement moving forward,” Weisse said.

The DRC’s rainforests are home to many species such as the okapi (Okapii johnstoni), which is listed as Endangered by the IUCN and found nowhere else in the world.

A bright spot in the new set of data is Indonesia, which managed to reduce its tree cover loss by a considerable amount, including a 60 percent decline in primary forest loss, bucking the trend in other tropical countries. The University of Maryland registered 13,000 square kilometers of tree cover loss in 2017 compared to more than 24,000 square kilometers of loss in 2016. (It should be noted that the UMD dataset lumps in tree plantations with natural forest cover, so some of this loss may be attributed to plantation clearing.)

While some provinces in Sumatra still saw increased primary forest loss—including 7,500 hectares (18,500 acres) in Kerinci Sebat National Park— provinces in Kalimantan and Papua experienced a reduction.

Weisse said the fact that there was no El Nino in Indonesia last year helped the Southeast Asian country significantly in reducing its tree cover loss rate.

“The decrease can also be related to a national peat drainage moratorium, which has been in effect since 2016,” she said. “This year’s data shows an 88 percent decrease in tree cover loss on protected peatland, which suggests that the policy may be working.”

The Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry said the declining rate of tree cover loss in Indonesia is a proof that the government’s set of policies is working.

The ministry’s acting director-general for climate change, Ida Bagus Putera Parthama, said that the UMD data is in-line with the deforestation data published by the government, which reported a second straight annual decline in the country’s deforestation rate.

The ministry recorded 4,790 square kilometers (1,850 square miles) of deforestation in 2017. That’s down 24 percent from the 2016 figure, which in turn represented a 42 percent reduction from 2015.

“It’s not surprising because we have data indicating the same figure,” Ida said. “It means our efforts are successful. We will maintain the effort and this positive trend, including moratorium of the peat licensing and virgin forest licensing, improvement in peat management and more effective law enforcement and REDD+ implementation.”

**This article was originally posted at Mongabay.com and is re-posted here with permission.**

Image Credits – Mongabay.com

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In a Historic Move, Vote to Federally Legalize Marijuana to Take Place in Congress—This Week

Matt Agorist, The Free Thought Project
Waking Times

Washington, D.C. — As countless individuals across the land of the free are rotting in cages for possessing a plant deemed illegal by the government, a historical bill is making its way through Congress that could change everything. A congressional committee reportedly plans to vote on a bill this week that would end the federal prohibition of marijuana.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). But that is not all. It would go one step further and seek to undo the horrific damage caused by the state’s war on this plant.

According to the legislation, the act would:

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More than 5,000 birds die suddenly from a mysterious death

Wildlife experts are trying to understand the cause of the massive deaths of birds on the shores of Sambar Lake – India’s largest salt lake. 

Sambar Lake is located 80 km southwest of Jaipur (Jaipur). It covers an area of ​​190 to 230 square kilometers, depending on the season.Many migratory birds, marsh birds, gather at the lake shores at certain times of the year (Wader), flamingos, storks, ducks and dozens of different species. But, about two weeks ago, locals often began to see carcasses of birds.

To date, more than 2,000 dead birds have been found on the coastal stretch, about 12 km wide, and more than 5,000 on unofficial ones. According to locals, the former lively shores of the lake have now become a bird cemetery, among which there are rare species.

According to one resident, there are so many bird carcasses in some places that they look like a large pile of manure from afar!

The cause of the death of the birds has not yet been clarified. They were not killed with a firearm or other weapon. No wounds or signs of disease were found on their bodies. Large piles of dead birds in one place indicate that they died suddenly, exactly at the same place they were in groups overnight.

Local ornithologist Abhinav Vaishnav tells reporters:

“We have never seen anything like this here. About 5,000 birds have died here from a mysterious death …! “

Environmentalists and animal rights activists have voiced several versions of the mass deaths of birds – from a severe hailstorm to pesticides used in nearby agricultural fields. There is also a version for mass infection.

But for the locals, all of these versions seem like a pitiful attempt to put what’s going wrong. For them, such bird death is a mysterious and abnormal phenomenon.

Ramesh Chandra Road says:

“I have not seen anything like this in my 40 years of service in the forestry department. At first, I also thought it might be due to hail, but here every year there are strong hail storms. I also don’t believe in the pesticide version. No trace of them was found in the water samples. “

Some of the dead bird carcasses were sent for analysis to a laboratory in Bopal.

The locals gather the rest of the carcasses in piles, then bury them in deep holes near the beach.

Expect to be informed if further information is available on what is happening.

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Former Apollo Astronaut Pushes for International Commitment to Protect Earth from Killer Asteroids

There are few astronauts more respected and remembered than those who served on the Apollo missions – thirty-two military jet and test pilots who made or died training for the three-man Apollo missions that eventually sent humans to the Moon and back. When they have spoken – about space travel, the Moon, future missions, UFOs and other subjects – the world has listened. Rusty Schweickart, the Lunar Module pilot on Apollo 9, spoke recently about the need for an international commitment to protect Earth from killer asteroids. As usual, his comments are worth listening to.

“During the Apollo 9 mission we were dark-adapted for an experiment, looking at the spectacular night-time Earth, watching weather fronts, thunder storms and lightning, a really great sight out of the window. Then, who knows who said it first, but one of us said they saw a little flash down there and someone else says ‘yeah, I saw it too,’ but you wouldn’t have mentioned it if the first person hadn’t said it. And then we realized: that was a meteor, burning up below us. Wow, below us – which meant it came down through our altitude!”

A close encounter of the worst kind – an asteroid impact in space – instead became an experience that forever influenced Russell “Rusty” Schweickart. When he was selected in 1963, Rusty Schweickart was a unique member of NASA Astronaut Group 3 – the fourteen astronauts selected by NASA to succeed the two-man Gemini missions in the three-man Apollo flights that would eventually lead to a walk on the Moon. Those names are well-known to the public today — Collins, Cunningham, Gordon, Aldrin, Cernan, Chaffee to list a few – but back then they were better known in the military as fighter pilots and test pilots. Schweickart was an experienced Air Force pilot, but he was also a research scientist at the Experimental Astronomy Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fields of upper atmospheric physics, star tracking and stabilization of stellar images.

Astronaut Group Three announced on October 18, 1963. They are (seated, left to right) Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., William A. Anders, Charles A. Bassett II, Alan L. Bean, Eugene A. Cernan, and Roger B. Chaffee. Standing (left to right) are Michael Collins, R. Walter Cunningham, Donn F. Eisele, Theodore C. Freeman, Richard F. Gordon Jr., Russell L. Schweickart, David R. Scott and Clifton C. Williams Jr. (Credit: NASA)

The 1969 flight of Apollo 9 was the first flight of the lunar module, piloted by Schweickart, and the first spacewalk of the Apollo missions, also by Schweickart. During a recent ESA Open Day at the European Space Agency’s ESTEC technical center in Noordwijk, The Netherlands, the former astronaut heard about the latest plans to stop asteroids like the one the Apollo 9 crew encountered before they destructively impact Earth. In 2022, NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirect Test will hit the smaller member of the Didymos binary asteroids. Then, if approved this month by Europe’s space ministers, the ESA’s Hera mission will perform a close-up survey of the asteroid and crater after impact. Schweickart says he likes the idea of a multi-spacecraft mission rather than a single asteroid-seeking rocket.

“And one of the key unknowns of the kinetic impactor technique is a term we call ‘beta’ – when we hit the asteroid, how much stuff is going to come flying off? If it’s moving at greater than escape velocity, then that adds to the momentum shifting the orbit, boosting the technique’s effectiveness. That factor depends on the asteroid’s composition and structure, and we need a close-up look to find out what that is.”

In 2002, Schweickart helped found the B612 Foundation (named for the planetoid in The Little Prince), whose primary mission is “protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts and informing and forwarding world-wide decision-making on planetary defense issues.” Since asteroids can hit anywhere on Earth, Schweickart has long advocated international cooperation in both deflecting space rocks and in determining which ones to hit. He sees the NASA/ESA tandem as the first example of this cooperation. Unfortunately, we’re barely into asteroid defection business and have no idea what an impact will do – it could actually push the space rock into a higher likelihood of impact.

“In that case the observer spacecraft would have another job to do – to switch to gravity tractor mode, using altimeters and ion engines to stay just away from the asteroid, and nudge its orbit enough to miss the keyhole as well as the planet.”

Astronaut Rusty Schweickart (Credit: NASA)

Rusty Schweickart makes it sound so easy and doable, but the former Apollo and Skylab astronaut knows the dangers of space. He was the backup pilot for Roger B. Chaffee on Apollo 1, which ended in the tragic deaths of the crew members in a ground test accident. He also knows how expensive a worldwide asteroid deflection system would be and how difficult it is to get nations to agree on anything, let alone unseen dangers from outer space. That’s why he stays involved in both the technology and the politics of space.

At 84, Rusty Schweickart is still influenced by that near-impact experience on Apollo 9. For that, we should all be grateful.

Source: Mysterious Universe

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