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One-third of the world’s nature reserves are under threat from humans
by The Conversation, agencies
In the 146 years since Yellowstone National Park in the northwestern United States became the world’s first protected area, nations around the world have created more than 200,000 terrestrial nature reserves. Together they cover more than 20 million km², or almost 15% of the planet’s land surface – an area bigger than South America.
Governments establish protected areas so that plants and animals can live without human pressures that might otherwise drive them towards extinction. These are special places, gifts to future generations and all non-human life on the planet.
But in a recent study published in Science, we show that roughly one-third of the global protected area estate (a staggering 6 million km²) is under intense human pressure. Roads, mines, industrial logging, farms, townships and cities all threaten these supposedly protected places.
It is well established that these types of human activities are causing the decline and extinction of species throughout the world. But our new research shows how widespread these activities are within areas that are designated to protect nature.
We assessed the extent and intensity of human pressure inside the global protected area estate. Our measure of human pressure was based on the “human footprint” – a measure that combines data on built environments, intensive agriculture, pasturelands, human population density, night-time lights, roads, railways, and navigable waterways.
Astoundingly, almost three-quarters of countries have at least 50% of their protected land under intense human pressure – that is, modified by mining, roads, townships, logging or agriculture. The problem is most acute in western Europe and southern Asia. Only 42% of protected land was found to be free of measurable human pressure.
Across Earth, there is example after example of large-scale human infrastructure within the boundaries of protected areas. Major projects include railways through Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks in Kenya, which are home to the critically endangered eastern black rhinoceros and lions famous for their strange lack of manes. Plans to add a six-lane highway alongside the railway are well underway.
Many protected areas across the Americas, including Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta in Colombia and Parque Estadual Rio Negro Setor Sul in Brazil, are straining under the pressure of densely populated nearby towns and rampant tourism. In the US, both Yosemite and Yellowstone are also suffering from the increasingly sophisticated tourism infrastructure being built inside their borders.
In highly developed, megadiverse countries such as Australia, the story is bleak. A classic example is Barrow Island National Park in Western Australia, which is home to endangered mammals such as the spectacled hare-wallaby, burrowing bettong, golden bandicoot and black-flanked rock-wallaby, but which also houses major oil and gas projects.
While government-sanctioned, internationally funded developments like those in Tsavo and Barrow Island are all too common, protected areas also face impacts from illegal activities. Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra - a UNESCO world heritage site that is home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, orangutan and rhinoceros - is also now home to more than 100,000 people who have illegally settled and converted around 15% of the park area for coffee plantations.
Protected areas underpin much of our efforts to conserve nature. Currently, 111 nations have reached the global standard 17% target for protected land outlined in the United Nations’ Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. But if we discount the supposedly protected land that is actually under intense human pressure, 74 of these 111 nations would fall short of the target. Moreover, the protection of some specific habitat types – such as mangroves and temperate forests – would decrease by 70% after discounting these highly pressured areas.
Governments around the world claim that their protected areas are set aside for nature, while at the same time approving huge developments inside their boundaries or failing to prevent illegal damage. This is likely a major reason why biodiversity continues to decline despite massive recent increases in the amount of protected land.
Our results do not tell a happy story. But they do provide a timely chance to be honest about the true condition of the world’s protected areas. If we cannot relieve the pressure on these places, the fate of nature will become increasingly reliant on a mix of nondescript, largely untested conservation strategies that are subject to political whims and difficult to implement on large enough scales. We can’t afford to let them fail.
But we know that protected areas can work. When well-funded, well-managed and well-placed, they are extremely effective in halting the threats that cause species to die out. It is time for the global conservation community to stand up and hold governments to account so they take conservation seriously. This means conducting a full, frank and honest assessment of the true condition of our protected areas.
Globally, the real-life footprint of habitat loss is spreading, by Michelle Chen.
Globally, the real-life footprint of habitat loss is spreading; more than half the areas designated over the past quarter century have seen increased human pressure. Overall, researchers warn we may be vastly underestimating both the ecological damage that’s already taken place, and the threats looming on the horizon.
The “protected” designation covers everything from rain forests to grasslands to icy tundras. As a political instrument, the protected designation serves as the last line of defense in the effort to conserve nature and maintain biodiversity in an era when human societies are intermeshing with nearly every terrain around the planet.
Though the study doesn’t go so far as to suggest the label of “protected” is useless, it’s a call to environmental authorities to incorporate more extensive data mapping into their environmental monitoring to gain a more realistic picture of the nature and scale of surrounding environmental threats.
Though the United States has historically been a leader in wildlife conservation efforts, the Trump administration and EPA chief Scott Pruitt have steamrolled Clean Air and Clean Water Act regulations, while championing policies to spur the commercialization of public lands.
The administration has directly attacked wilderness areas by working to strip protections from national monuments, such as the Bears Ears and Grand Escalante sites in Utah—which cover several million acres of iconic Western landscapes—while conservative lawmakers last year moved to promote oil drilling on the coastal plain of the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Trump is mirroring the assault on protected areas now trending across the globe: a steady creep of commercialization and deregulation, promoted by governments that seek to exploit and privatize whatever land has not yet been consumed.
The gap between formal maps and the actual landscape suggests that current laws and regulations are wildly out of sync with what’s happening on the ground. This is in part because of arbitrary, widely varying legal definitions of protection across national and regional borders. Moreover, the study’s analysis does not include longer term trends influencing the terrain, including human-induced climate change or conflict, which might have even more extreme long-term environmental impacts.
Yet, in every area impacted by humans, local air and water quality could be undermined by the sprawl of industry and transportation and the overarching pressures of continuous population growth. The impact of a single road’s cutting into a forested area could have a profound impact on soil and pollution levels. Even settling a small town could eliminate crucial range lands that grazing species rely on.
Razing forests for farmland could displace critical species and stifle local biodiversity. When food chains are disrupted, animal and plant life could be devastated, and the consequences eventually reverberate in human communities, destabilizing societies and economies locally and then globally.
According to researcher and co-author of the study Kendall Raward Jones of University of Queensland, “The impacts we are finding are in many cases not sustainable—we’re talking about cities, massive road and railway projects, industrial agriculture, etc.” Often these are government-supported infrastructure projects aimed at boosting economic development, and their conflict with regional ecosystems attests to the challenges of sustainable development in areas where populations keep demanding more space, resources, and transit networks.
It may be too late to turn back the clock on human development, but researchers hope the new data help governments chart a course toward a more sustainable regulatory regime. The more accurate data authorities have on the real human impact in protected lands, the better equipped society is to restructure environmental protections to place appropriate limitations on industrial and social activity in conservation areas dynamically, not just on a piece of paper.
According to Jones, regulators need to take a more three-dimensional approach to assessing the level of human activity on an area designated for official conservation: “I don’t think that human encroachment is inevitable. We know that protected areas, when well-funded and well-managed, can be very effective at stopping human activities which threaten biodiversity. The problem is that by focusing mainly on the size of the area under ‘protection,’ global conservation targets allow nations to get away with designating land as ‘protected’ while not actually following through with the regulations and enforcement needed to make these areas effective.”
We manage what we measure: Real conservation is possible only if policy-makers, scientists, and the public share an understanding of collective responsibility and how to balance human needs and ecological imperatives. It may seem virtuous for governments to label a piece of nature for “protection,” but it means nothing when the stroke of an executive pen can just as easily erase it into oblivion.
* Michelle Chen is a contributing writer for The Nation, and co-producer of the “Asia Pacific Forum” on Pacifica Radio in New York.

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Climate stress continues in 2018
by UNFCCC News, PBS, MercyCorps
May 2018
Deadly storms in India and record temperatures in Pakistan are an indication that more extreme weather events are happening globally owing to climate change, United Nations weather experts said this week.
Amid flash-floods in the East and Horn of Africa - and sand and dust storms in the Arabian Gulf - Clare Nullis from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) told journalists at UN headquarters in Geneva that this week’s storms in northern India had reportedly left more than 100 dead.
What may well be the hottest temperature ever recorded for April, was registered this week in Pakistan, she added. A weather station in the city of Nawabshah registered 50.2 degrees Celsius on Monday; or 122.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
“This is April - not June and July - this is April,” she exclaimed. “We don’t normally see temperatures above 50 degrees: in fact, as we’re aware, we’ve never seen a temperature above 50 degrees C in April.”
“We are witnessing the severe impacts of climate change throughout the world”, said the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa. “Every credible scientific source is telling us that these impacts will only get worse if we do not address climate change and it also tells us that our window of time for addressing it is closing very soon,” she added. “We need to dramatically increase our ambitions,” stressed the UNFCCC chief.
May 2, 2018
Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere hits record High. April monthly average exceeds 410 parts per million for the first time in recorded history.
The average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 410.31 parts per million (ppm) for the month of April, according to the Keeling Curve measurement series made at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.
This marks the first time in the history of the Mauna Loa record that a monthly average has exceeded 410 parts per million. This also represents a 30-percent increase in carbon dioxide concentration in the global atmosphere since the Keeling Curve began in 1958. In March, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego observed the 60th anniversary of the data series, the first measurements of which were 315 ppm.
Prior to the onset of the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels had fluctuated over the millennia but had never exceeded 300 ppm at any point in the last 800,000 years.
Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent among all greenhouse gases produced by human activities, attributed to the burning of fossil fuels.
Apr. 2018
Scientists are now worried that unless accelerated action is taken by 2020, the Paris goal may become unattainable, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters at the UN’s New York Headquarters.
The Paris Climate Change Agreement, adopted by countries in December 2015, aims to keep global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further, to 1.5 degrees.
“I am beginning to wonder how many more alarm bells must go off before the world rises to the challenge,” Mr. Guterres said on 29 March, noting that 2017 was filled with “climate chaos” and “2018 has already brought more of the same.”
“Climate change is still moving much faster than we are,” he warned, calling the phenomenon “the greatest threat facing humankind.”
Recent information from the World Meteorological Organization, the World Bank and the International Energy Agency shows the relentless pace of climate change.
For instance, the UN chief noted, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 per cent, to a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes in 2017.
Weather related disasters caused some USD 320 billion in economic damage in 2017, making the year the costliest ever for such losses.
In social and economic terms, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was devastating, washing away decades of development in an instant, according to the World Bank.
In South Asia, major monsoon floods affected 41 million people in 2017, while severe drought drove nearly 900,000 people from their homes in Africa.
Wildfires caused destruction across the world. Arctic sea ice cover in winter is at its lowest level, and the oceans are warmer and more acidic than at any time in recorded history, according to the WMO.
“This tsunami of data should create a storm of concern,” Mr. Guterres said, noting that next year he will “convene a climate summit in New York aimed at boosting global ambition to meet the level of the climate challenge.”
“The Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stones. It ended because there were better alternatives. The same applies today to fossil fuels,” he said, stressing the need for a global transition to a low-carbon economy.
Apr 2018
How climate change affects people living in poverty (MercyCorps)
Around the world, people are experiencing both the subtle and stark effects of climate change. Gradually shifting weather patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events are all clear and devastating evidence of a rapidly changing climate.
The impacts of climate change affect every country on every continent. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like hurricanes, wildfires and droughts threaten food supplies, drive people from their homes, separate families and jeopardize livelihoods. And all of these effects increase the risk of conflict, hunger and poverty.
Visible evidence and climbing numbers demonstrate that climate change is not a distant or imaginary threat, but rather a growing and undeniable reality.
Climate change places compounded stress on our environment, as well as our economic, social and political systems. Whether it comes in the form of unbearable heat waves, harsh winters, or extreme weather events like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, climate change undermines development gains and leads to shortages in basic necessities.
Climate change threatens the cleanliness of our air, depletes our water sources and limits food supply. It disrupts livelihoods, forces families from their homes and pushes people into poverty.
One-third of the planet’s land is no longer fertile enough to grow food. More than 1.3 billion people live on this deteriorating agricultural land, putting them at risk of climate-driven water shortages and depleted harvests. These circumstances lead to worsening hunger and poverty.
And they’re facing more disasters than ever. The number of people affected by natural disasters doubled from approximately 102 million in 2015 to 204 million in 2016, although there were fewer natural disasters.
They must also learn to adapt to more gradual changes, such as climbing temperatures and declining rainfall. Droughts alone have affected more than 1 billion people in the last decade. Since 2001, droughts have wiped out enough produce to feed 81 million people every day for a year — equivalent to the population of Germany.
Climate change is also one of many root causes of conflict around the world: it leads to food shortages, threatens people’s livelihoods, and displaces entire populations.
Where institutions and governments are unable to manage the stress or absorb the shocks of a changing climate, threats to the stability of states and societies will only increase.
While everyone around the world feels the effects of climate change, people living in the world’s poorest countries — like Haiti and Timor-Leste — are the most vulnerable.
Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, shifting seasons, and natural disasters disproportionately threaten these populations, increasing their risk and their dependency on humanitarian aid.
Three out of four people living in poverty rely on agriculture and natural resources to survive. For these people, the effects of climate change — limited water and food sources and increased competition for them — are a real matter of life and death. Climate change has turned their lives into a desperate guessing game.
Conflict is the primary cause of poverty and suffering in the world today. And it’s exacerbated by climate change.
By amplifying existing environmental, social, political and economic challenges, climate change increases the likelihood of competition and conflict over resources. It can also intensify existing conflicts and tensions.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, shifts in the timing and magnitude of rainfall undermine food production and increase competition for remaining arable land, contributing to ethnic tensions and conflict.
And in Karamoja, an area of land that straddles the border of Kenya and Uganda, where resource scarcity has been a long-standing challenge, climate change has further reduced pasture and water resources, increasing competition and resulting in violence, such as cattle raiding.
But while climate change can lead to conflict, it can also provide an opportunity for collaboration. These challenges present a unique opportunity for collective action and cooperation in order to mitigate the impacts. For some communities, food, health and lives will depend on cooperation over conflict.
Floods and droughts brought on by climate change threaten food production and supply. As a result, the price of food increases, and access becomes more and more limited, putting many at higher risk of hunger.
Undernutrition is the largest health impact of climate change in the 21st century. The number of undernourished people in the world has been on the rise since 2014, reaching an estimated 815 million in 2016. And the vast majority live in developing countries. Much of the increase is linked to the growing number of conflicts, which are often exacerbated by climate-related shocks.
Rising sea levels, extreme weather events and prolonged drought force millions of people to move away from home every year in search of food, water and jobs.
Since 2008, climate change-induced disasters like Hurricane Maria have displaced an average of 21.7 million people each year — 59,600 people every day, 41 people every minute. Millions more have been forced to leave their homes behind to escape severe drought.
In 2016, there were 24.2 million new internal displacements due to disasters, which accounted for nearly 80 percent of all new displacements for the year.
Meanwhile, gradual changes brought on by deforestation, overgrazing and drought slowly transform pastures to dust, destroy crops and kill livestock, effectively challenging the livelihoods of millions of farmers. These families are forced to leave their homes behind in search of basic necessities and new work.
And as sea levels continue to rise, those living near the ocean — about 40 percent of the world’s population — will be left with no choice but to move inland.
Almost all of these displacements are occurring in developing countries, where people have fewer resources on hand to cope with progressive shifts or sudden disasters.
The impacts of climate change continue to exceed previous scientific forecasts, worsening and multiplying at dramatic rates that will only be amplified in the years to come.
Access to clean water is likely to become even more limited, and the risk of hunger and famine will become even greater than it is today. By 2050, climate change has the potential to increase the number of people at risk of hunger by at least 20 percent. The majority of those at risk live in Africa.
Tens of millions of people are expected to be forced from their homes in the next decade as a result of climate change. This would be the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen.
* PBS Interactive: Rising seas are threatening the Marshall Islands, a low lying nation in the Pacific ocean:

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