Wetlands Loss Fuelling CO2 Feedback Loop

By Stephen Leahy

Uxbridge, CANADA, Jul 21 (IPS) – Wetlands are dangerous, scientists say, in the sense that they are ticking carbon bombs best left alone. To help stave off extreme climate change, existing wetlands should be enhanced and new wetlands created so they could capture more carbon.

“Wetlands hold massive stores of carbon — about 20 percent of all terrestrial carbon stocks,” said Eugene Turner, a leading wetlands expert at Louisiana State University’s Coastal Ecology Institute

However, wetlands, including peatlands, continue to be converted to other uses around the world, resulting in large emissions of carbon and methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has 21 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide. 

By itself, climate change is already degrading wetlands, especially in the Arctic and near Arctic regions where the once permanently frozen peatlands are thawing, Turner told IPS prior to the opening of the Eighth INTECOL International Wetlands Conference in Cuiaba, Brazil on Monday. 

“Researchers have been measuring huge releases of carbon and methane up there,” he said. “It’s crazy to add to that by draining or mismanaging other wetlands.” Continue reading

Cutting CO2 Only Way to Save Dying Corals

By Stephen Leahy

FORT LAUDERDALE, U.S., July 12 2008 (IPS)

The rapid decline of coral reefs around the world offers a potent warning that entire ecosystems can collapse due to human activities, although there is hope for reefs if immediate action is taken, coral experts agreed at the conclusion of a five-day international meeting Friday.

“Reefs are in serious trouble, but don’t write them off,” Terry Hughes, a marine ecologist at Australia’s James Cook University told 3,000 scientists, conservationists and policy makers attending at the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“We can save reefs if we take immediate action,” Hughes said.

More than 20 percent of the world’s reefs have died, and large areas are failing due to a combination of climate change, overfishing, pollution and sea level rise. Most of the fabulous corals that attract tourists to the Caribbean are gone and half of remaining reefs in the U.S. are in serious decline.

[Update 08/10 – Here’s a list of Stephen Leahy’s latest articles on corals Coral Reefs and Acid Oceans Series]

We may be facing ocean deserts in the future,” said Guillermo Dias-Pulido of Australia’s University of Queensland.

Continue reading

A Third of Corals Face Extinction

By Stephen Leahy
FORT LAUDERDALE, U.S., Jul 10 (IPS) – One third of reef-building corals already face extinction because of climate change, the first-ever global assessment has found.

Reefs are made up of hundreds of coral species, and a two-year study to determine the current status of corals has discovered that 231 of the 704 species assessed will be “red-listed” Thursday. This means these 231 species meet the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Criteria for species at risk of extinction in the near future.

Previously, only 10 species of corals had been red-listed, mainly because no proper assessment had been done before.

“We were not expecting the numbers to be that high,” said Suzanne Livingstone of the IUCN’s Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) in Norfolk, Virginia. The paper was published Thursday in Science.

If the same assessment of corals had been done 20 years ago, only 13 of the 704 species would have been red-listed, Livingstone told IPS at the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. However, in that short time span, climate change has warmed the oceans and begun to make them more acidic and corals are suffering.

“It’s frightening when you think about it,” she said.

Continue reading

Global Fish Catches Vastly Underestimated

By Stephen Leahy

FORT LAUDERDALE, U.S., Jul 8 (IPS) – Fish catches in tropical island nations may be as much as 17 times higher than officially reported, according to a new study released Tuesday.

“The underreporting of fish catches is of such a magnitude it boggles the mind,” said Daniel Pauly, a renowned fisheries expert at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

All of the 20 small Pacific island countries in the study underreported catches, mainly because they did not count the catch by small-scale local fishers. This is not unique — even the U.S. does not report local and recreational fishing statistics, Pauly told IPS at the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida Tuesday.

A different study also released Tuesday estimates that the unreported recreational fish catch in the Hawaiian Islands doubles the size of the official catch. It also concluded that 75 percent of reef fishes in the main Hawaiian Islands are depleted or in critical condition because of overfishing. Continue reading

Life Support Needed For Coral Reefs

By Stephen Leahy

FORT LAUDERDALE, U.S., Jul 8 (IPS) – Coral reefs need to be put on “life support” if they are to survive climate change, but their ultimate survival is dependant on major reductions in fossil fuel emissions, say experts.

“We’re going to hear lots of bad news about corals in the next few decades,” Rich Aronson, president of the International Society for Reef Studies, told 3,000 scientists, conservationists and policy makers at the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida Monday.

Climate change is making the ocean too warm and too acidic for most corals species to survive beyond the year 2050, many marine scientists now believe.

“The situation is serious to the point of desperation,” Aronson told IPS in an interview.

Past and present carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels have already altered the oceans, leading to declines in corals in many areas. This trend will continue for decades even if it were possible to eliminate all emissions today, scientists say. Current emissions are running at eight to nine gigatonnes a year and rising, resulting in dramatically altered oceans where few of the current coral species will be able to survive.

“This is a pivotal moment. We must act strongly and immediately if we are to have coral reefs as we know them,” Aronson said. Continue reading

Coming Clean on Carbon Emissions

By Stephen Leahy

JOHANNESBURG, Apr 30 (IPS) – Thousands of companies supplying some of the world’s largest corporations know climate regulations are coming and are agreeing to measure their emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases.

“Companies, including those in least developed countries, are worried about the risks of extreme weather, water shortages and so on that climate change poses,” said Paul Dickinson, CEO of the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), an independent not-for-profit organisation in Britain that is coordinating the effort.

Multinationals like Tesco and Unilever may not generate huge amounts of carbon emissions from their own stores or head offices, but their suppliers — which number in the thousands and are located all over the world — certainly do. It would be foolish to pretend these were not part of a corporation’s carbon footprint, Dickinson told IPS. Continue reading

Failure on Global Warming “Un-American”

By Stephen Leahy

KINGSTON, Ontario, Jun 25 (IPS) – North America’s abject failure to meet the challenge of climate change has been “un-American”, environmentalist and scientist David Suzuki told delegates Tuesday at the World Wind Energy Conference, the first ever in the region.

“We’re facing an ecological crisis, a crisis far, far worse than Pearl Harbour,” Suzuki said.

Twenty years ago this week, one of the United States’ leading scientists warned Congress of the imminent danger of climate change and said that waiting decades to take action was too risky. Now James E. Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has published new research indicating that greenhouse gas concentrations have pushed the climate near a dangerous tipping point that will unleash far-reaching changes in the atmosphere and oceans that could take millennia to reverse.

100% Renewable Energy Can Power Nations experts say

To prevent a climate crisis, Hansen calls for deep reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, beginning almost immediately, including a phase out of coal-fired power plants by 2030. Continue reading