Canada Leading ‘Deforestation Nation’ In Race to Destroy Planet’s Last Wilderness Areas

Canada's tar sands projects visible from space
Canada’s tar sands projects visible from space

Forest Loss Results in Massive Emissions of CO2

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 5 2014 (IPS) 

The world’s last remaining forest wilderness is rapidly being lost – and much of this is taking place in Canada, not in Brazil or Indonesia where deforestation has so far made the headlines.

A new satellite study reveals that since 2000 more than 104 million hectares of forests – an area three times the size of Germany – have been destroyed or degraded.

Since 2000 more than 104 million hectares of forests – an area three times the size of Germany – have been destroyed or degraded.


“Every four seconds, an area of the size of a football (soccer) field is lost,” said Christoph Thies of Greenpeace International.

The extent of this forest loss, which is clearly visible in satellite images taken in 2000 and 2013, is “absolutely appalling” and has a global impact, Thies told IPS, because forests play a crucial in regulating the climate.


The current level of deforestation is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the world’s cars, trucks, ships and planes together, he said, adding that “governments must take urgent action” to protect intact forests by creating more protected areas, strengthening the rights of forest communities and other measures, including convincing lumber, furniture manufacturers and others to refuse to use products from virgin forests.

Greenpeace is one of several partners in the Intact Forest Landscapes initiative, along with the University of Maryland, World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia among others, that uses satellite imagery technology to determine the location and extent of the world’s last large undisturbed forests.

The new study found that half of forest loss from deforestation and degradation occurred in just three countries: Canada, Russia and Brazil. These countries are also home to about 65 percent of world’s remaining forest wilderness.

However, despite all the media attention on deforestation in the Amazon forest and the forests of Indonesia, it is Canada that has been leading the world in forest loss since 2000, accounting for 21 percent of global forest loss. By contrast, the much-better known deforestation in Indonesia has accounted for only four percent.

Brazil's Amazon forest - 2013. Credit_Courtesy of Global Forest Watch

Massive increases in oil sands and shale gas developments, as well as logging and road building, are the major cause of Canada’s forest loss, said Peter Lee of Global Forest Watch Canada, an independent Canadian NGO.

A big increase in forest fires is another cause of forest loss. Climate change has rapidly warmed northern Canada, drying out the boreal forests and bogs and making them more vulnerable to fires.

In Canada’s northern Alberta’s oil sands region, more than 12.5 million hectares of forest have been crisscrossed by roads, pipelines, power transmission lines and other infrastructure, Lee told IPS.

Canada’s oil sands and shale gas developments are expected to double and possibly triple in the next decade and “there’s little interest at the federal or provincial political level in conserving intact forest landscapes,” Lee added.

The world’s last remaining large undisturbed forests are where most of the planet’s remaining wild animals, birds, plants and other species live, Nigel Sizer, Global Director of the Forest Programme at the World Resources Institute, told a press conference.

Animals like Siberian tigers, orangutans and woodland caribou require large areas of forest wilderness, Sizer noted, and “losing these top species leads to a decline of entire forest ecosystems in subtle ways that are hard to measure.”

While forests can re-grow, this takes many decades, and in northern forests more than 100 years. However, if species go extinct or there are too few individuals left, it will take longer for a full forest ecosystem to recover – if ever.

In just 13 years, South America’s Paraguay converted an incredible 78 percent of its remaining forest wilderness mainly into large-scale soybean farms and rough pasture, the study found. Satellite images and maps on the new Global Forest Watch website offer see-it-with-your-own eyes images of Paraguay’s forests vanishing over time.

The images and data collected for the study are accessible via various tools on the website. They reveal that 25 percent of Europe’s largest remaining forest, located 900 km north of Moscow, has been chopped down to feed industrial logging operations. In the Congo, home of the world’s second largest tropical forest, 17 percent has been lost to logging, mining and road building. The Global Forest Watch website also shows details of huge areas of Congo forest licensed for future logging.

Deforestation starts with road building, often linked to logging and extractive industries, said Thies. In some countries, like Brazil and Paraguay, the prime reason is conversion to large-scale agriculture, usually for crops that will be exported.

The new data could help companies with sustainability commitments in determining which areas to avoid when sourcing commodities like timber, palm oil, beef and soy. Market-led efforts need to gain further support given the lax governance and enforcement in many of these forest regions, Thies said.

He called on the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – a voluntary certification programme that sets standards for forest management – to “also play a stronger role” and to improve those standards in order to better protect wilderness forests.

Without urgent action to curb deforestation, it is doubtful that any large-scale wild forest will remain by the end of this century, concluded Sizer.

First published on IPS

Hunt for Metals, Minerals, Gas and Oil Triggers Global Land Rush: No Place Is Off Limits

 Need global moratorium on new large-scale mining, extraction and prospecting

 The average U.S. citizen uses an astonishing 22,000 times their weight in minerals, metals and fuels in their lifetime 

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada – March 1 2012, IPS

A global scramble for land and mineral resources fuelled by billions of investment dollars is threatening the last remaining wilderness and critical ecosystems, destroying communities and contaminating huge volumes of fresh water, warned environmental groups in London Wednesday.

No national park, delicate ecosystem or community is off limits in the voracious hunt for valuable metals, minerals and fossil fuels, said the Gaia Foundation’s report, “Opening Pandora’s Box”. The intensity of the hunt and exploitation is building to a fever pitch despite the fact the Earth is already overheated and humanity is using more than can be sustained, the 56-page report warns.

“We’re calling for a global moratorium on new, large-scale mining, extraction and prospecting,” said Teresa Anderson of The Gaia Foundation, an international NGO headquartered in London, UK that works with local communities.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has recently warned of the threats to World Heritage Sites from planned mining and oil and gas projects. One in four iconic natural areas in Africa is negatively affected, the report notes.

“No matter where you live, land acquisitions for mining, oil or gas are coming,” Anderson told IPS following the report’s launch in London.

The easy-to-get resources are gone. Now the extractive industries, funded by pension funds and commodities speculators, are using new technologies like fracking for natural gas to get at previously unprofitable resources. Continue reading

Indigenous Peoples Needed to Meet the Challenge of Climate Change

Gimuy Wallabarra Yidinji Dancers performing Welcome to the Country in Cairns, Australia .Photo: Gleb Raygorodetsky

By Stephen Leahy

First published at National Geographic NewsWatch

“Planning is not part of our culture. You just get up in the morning and do what you need to do for the day,” said Marilyn Wallace of the Kuku Nyungka ‘mob’ (aboriginal nation) in northern Queensland, Australia.

“Bama” or caring for their local territory is an important part of aboriginal culture and identity Wallace told participants at a mini-workshop in Cairns, Australia today Sunday March 25th prior to the start of the main workshop Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous peoples on Monday.

Caring for the land includes monitoring the impacts of climate change and using traditional knowledge to keep or sequester carbon she said.

Click here for full article plus a video visit with Marilyn in her home country.

Faith Groups Call for African Spirit of “Ubuntu”; End Sinful, American-style Greed

South African Bishop Geoff Davies (L) and Mardi Tindal, Moderator of the United Church of Canada

By Stephen Leahy

DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 9 (IPS)

African and international faith leaders urged governments attending the final day of climate change negotiations to do what is right and necessary to keep global temperature from rising no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“The two degrees Celsius target is unacceptable because temperatures in much of Africa will be far higher,” said South African Bishop Geoff Davies.

Oil and coal companies along with other major polluting corporations are engaged in “crimes against humanity and the planet” because they continue to pollute the atmosphere when they have ability to do otherwise, said David Le Page of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI).

More than 130 African faith leaders have signed a declaration offering specific recommendations based science, honesty, morality and equity. They called on delegates negotiating a new climate treaty here at the 17th Conference of Parties to live up to the African spirit of “ubuntu” – a way of living focused on people’s allegiances and relations with each other.

The current economic system encourages “people to get as rich as they can and forget about anyone else,” said Davies. “It’s an immoral system.”

“Historic polluters like the United States have to reduce their emissions dramatically” and their position here is “shocking” and “reprehensible”, he said. The children and grandchildren of U.S. congressmen will ask what they were doing to be so selfish and irresponsible, Davies said.

The U.S is the most religious society in the world but their behaviour is “sinful” in their refusal to reduce emissions that causing so much suffering among people, he said.

“When lifestyles of the wealthy hurt the lives of the poor….and future generations it is wrong,” Mardi Tindal, Moderator of the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

“Climate change is a moral, ethical and spiritual issue. We need moral leadership not political leadership,” Tindal told IPS.

“South Africa has had courageous, moral leaders like Ghandi and Mandela. If our leadership shows the same moral courage the people will follow them.” Continue reading

Toxic Electronic Waste Grows by 40 Million Tonnes a Year — Poisons Kids in Africa

A worker cooks computer motherboards over solder to remove chips and valuable metals at a makeshift e-waste workshop.

‘Public largely unaware of the e-waste impacts on human health and environment’

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 1, 2011 (IPS)

Mountains of hazardous waste grow by about 40 million tons every year. This waste, mostly from Europe and North America, is burned in developing countries like Ghana in a hazardous effort to recover valuable metals.

A children’s school in Accra, Ghana’s capital, was recently found to be contaminated by lead, cadmium and other health-threatening pollutants at levels over 50 times higher than risk-free levels. The school is located directly beside an informal electronic waste salvage site.

“Poor people in Africa cannot afford to process Europe’s or America’s electronic wastes,” said Ghanaian researcher Atiemo Sampson.

“Those wastes are poisoning our children,” Sampson told IPS from Accra.

Ghana does not regulate the importation and management of electronic waste, or e-waste. The government hopes to have rules in place next year, he said.

Sampson, a Ph.D. student at the University of Ghana, was involved in testing the school and other areas in Accra near the Agbogbloshie scrap metal site, where more than 100 people break apart and burn electronic trash by hand to obtain valuable metals like copper.

Schoolchildren as young as six years old work around bonfires of circuitry, plastic and other leftover high-tech trash, he said.

A nearby produce market, a church headquarters and a soccer field were similarly polluted, to varying degrees. The soil around the school site had measurements for lead 12 times higher than the levels at which intervention is required. Lead is acutely toxic to children and can permanently damage their growing brains and nervous systems, even at very low levels of exposure.

“We don’t know what the immediate health impacts are. We are hoping to test the children’s blood for contaminants but we have not secured the necessary funding,” Sampson said.

International shipments of electronic trash are outlawed by the Basel Convention. However, European and North American e-waste is often shipped as “electronics for reuse” or hidden with legitimate cargo.

Continue reading

Durban May Be Last Chance to Stabilise Climate Under Two Degrees — Africa, Russia To Cook by 2020; Most of Canada and China by 2030

By Stephen Leahy

The International Energy Agency estimates that 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in.

CHANGWON, South Korea , Oct 23, 2011 (IPS)

The window to limit global warming to less than two degrees C is closing so fast it can be measured in months, a new scientific analysis revealed Sunday.

Without putting the brakes on carbon emissions very soon, large parts of Africa, most of Russia and northern China will be two degrees C warmer in less than 10 years. Canada and Alaska will soon follow, the regional study shows.

“If one is sincerely committed to limit global temperature increase to below two degrees C… (governments) committing to a global peak emission level and peak year makes sense from a science perspective,” said Joeri Rogelj of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, who headed the analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change. [See NCC editorial “Crossing the threshold”]

Governments will be meeting in Durban, South Africa starting Nov. 28 to launch the next round of climate treaty negotiations, which so far have failed to ensure their goal of less than a two-degree C increase will be achieved.

IPS asked Rogelj if government delegates in Durban ought to set a specific year by which global emissions will peak and then decline to ensure the two-degree C target will be met.

“Committing to such targets would ensure that we embark globally on a technologically and economically feasible low-emission path,” Rogelj said.

Rogelj and a group of leading experts show in this state-of-the-art analysis that to have a 66-percent or better probability of staying below two degrees C this century, global carbon emissions must peak before 2020. Global emissions ought to be around 44 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2020. That is four billion tonnes (also called gigatonnes, Gt) less than the estimated emissions for 2010.

After 2020 emissions must decline rapidly, about two to three percent less each year until they fall to 20 Gt by 2050, according to the computer models. This is an emissions “pathway that will be very challenging to achieve”, Rogelj and colleagues conclude in their study.

Very challenging” is scientist-talk for something that will be extremely difficult to do. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today.

“This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than two degrees C,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA, last May. Continue reading

Looking to the Sahel for Lessons in Pushing Back Deserts To Feed Billions

By Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea, Oct 17, 2011 (IPS)

Nearly all our food comes from the Earth’s limited food- producing lands, but those lands continue to be degraded, guaranteeing far higher food prices and less food in the future, experts warn.

But degradation and desertification can be halted and reversed, as evidenced by once barren parts of Africa’s dry Sahel Region that are now green and thriving thanks to local efforts.

“Without reversing ongoing land degradation, studies show food prices will be 30 percent [higher] and 12 percent less food available” by 2035, said Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which is meeting here in Changwon, South Korea.
We can’t afford to deplete our food-producing lands when there will be nine billion people by 2050,” Gnacadja said.

Food security is a major theme at this 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) under the UNCCD, the international governmental convention charged with finding ways to end desertification and land degradation.

Although the world can produce enough food for everyone, roughly one in seven people will go hungry. Why? They simply cannot afford to buy enough food. World food prices remain 15 percent higher than a year ago, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Food commodity speculation and climatic change that is bringing increased heat and changes in precipitation patterns, along with increasing demand for biofuels, have been blamed for rising food prices in recent years.

Largely unseen in the growing concern about feeding the world is the decline in the fertility of soils due to erosion and overuse. Every year, this results in the effective loss of some 12 million hectares of land. Continue reading