Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
Score one for science and policy: The forests that line Brazil’s Atlantic coast — and which had lost nearly 80 percent of their original area — are regrowing rapidly.
The story: An international agreement to restore the Atlantic Forest — home to three-quarters of Brazil’s people and a wealth of wildlife — is on track to regenerate 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of formerly deforested land, writes Daniella Silva for Forests News. That’s 50 percent more than had been originally pledged by this time — and if these forests can survive two more years without being cleared, the pact will be on track to meet its final goal of reforesting 15 million hectares (37 million acres) of the Atlantic Forest by 2050.
The big picture: Good things happen when committed people work together — in this case, the nonprofit organizations, policymakers, local landowners and others who make up the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact. This agreement builds on recent developments in this region, where rural populations have thinned in the past two decades as people abandoned their lands to move to cities to find work. The result? Left alone, these forests started to grow back on their own.
This is good news not just for the biodiversity in the region, but also for the supply of freshwater in São Paulo: Research suggests that the Atlantic Forest is critical to ensuring sufficient rainfall in the Amazon rainforest on the other side of Brazil.
Thanks to decades of work by scientists, we all know what it means when a species is considered “endangered.” But do we know what it would take for that species to recover?
The story: This week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature — the intergovernmental organization that oversees the “Red List of Threatened Species” — will formally introduce the Green Status of Species, writes Michelle Nijhuis for Yale Environment 360. This “green list” will aim to describe the prospect of recovery of each species on the Red List.
The big picture: By revealing that thousands of species were closer to extinction than anyone realized, the Red List kept many of them from oblivion, Nijhuis writes. But the Red List says nothing about how to actually protect them, or how to decide if they have recovered. The new “green list” provides a complementary tool to reveal — and build on —conservation successes.
“So many people think about species in terms of how close to endangerment or extinction they are, but actually, what we want to do is recover species,” Barney Long, director of conservation strategies for the environmental non-profit Re:Wild, told Nijhuis. “We don’t want to only be preventing extinctions. We want to be getting species closer and closer to full recovery.”
- FURTHER READING: New tech could help bring threatened species back from the brink
Does it, though? While the number of projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere is growing, major hurdles remain to scale up this climate-stabilizing technology.
The story: This month, a much-hyped industrial facility will come online in Iceland, where it will absorb and sequester climate-warming carbon from the atmosphere, writes Jon Gertner for Yale Environment 360. While this in itself is unremarkable, what is noteworthy, Gertner writes, is that it represents a step toward commercial viability, with customers who will pay for the project’s permanent carbon removals.
The big picture: Direct air capture, as the technology deployed in Iceland is called, works. The problem? It does not yet have the scale needed to make a significant dent in atmospheric carbon. The chief problem is cost, for which there is no guarantee of viability: Physical and thermodynamic limits could make it difficult to get below US$ 100 per ton of carbon removed from the air, Gertner writes, even amid mass production or less-expensive materials.
While further investment and development is needed to implement direct air capture, an existing technology is effective, scalable and free: trees. Protecting and restoring old-growth forests, mangroves and other ecosystems could get us at least 30 percent of the way to slowing the climate crisis, while providing additional benefits — filtering fresh water, providing breathable air — that other approaches to climate change don’t offer.
- FURTHER READING: What on Earth are ‘natural climate solutions’