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Carbon markets can power climate action: 3 stories you may have missed

© Onmer Cenepo

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.

1. Carbon dioxide will have to be removed from air to achieve 1.5C, says report

Carbon markets could help countries meet their climate goals. 

The story: To prevent an irreversible climate catastrophe, humanity must emit fewer greenhouse gases, but reducing emissions won’t be enough. Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is essential — and well-regulated carbon markets can play an important role in financing projects that protect nature and its ability to absorb and store carbon, according to a new report from the think tank Energy Transitions Commission. These projects can include reforestation initiatives and mangrove restoration — although scientists stress that carbon offsets must complement other methods to reduce emissions, such as switching to renewable energy sources, reports Fiona Harvey for The Guardian. 

The big picture: Currently, highly cost-effective solutions to climate change — like protecting, restoring and sustainably managing old-growth forests — receive less than 3 percent of all global climate funding. Without the use of carbon offsets, it will be difficult to raise the funding needed to protect and grow the ecosystems that store massive amounts of carbon, says the report’s lead author Adair Turner. 

Carbon offsets have faced scrutiny in the past, but the report stresses that if they are effectively managed and regulated, they can directly support projects that are providing genuine emissions reductions.  

“It would be very unfortunate to take the past problems of the carbon markets and use that to say we should not use them at all,” Turner told The Guardian. “This is potentially a very large flow of money. So we should try to make sure that financial flow, which is valuable, is provided.”

Tree experts are taking on timber trafficking — one microscopic sample at a time. 

The story: It may come as no surprise that drugs and counterfeit goods are the two largest criminal sectors in the world. Trailing closely behind is the illegal timber industry, which is worth more than US$ 150 billion a year. To fight it, a group of 15 tree experts have created a task force to investigate the origins of timber in seemingly innocuous wood products — like umbrella handles and coat hangers — from companies around the world, reports Peter Yeung for National Geographic.

Equipped with microscopes, these “timber detectives” compare traded wood to the 41,000 tree samples within the extensive archive at the Thünen Institute’s wood library in Germany. When the group identifies a wood sample from a protected or endangered tree that is illegal to source, they alert the German authorities or the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a multilateral treaty to protect plants and wildlife.

The big picture: Illegal timber accounts for more than half the wood harvested from Amazonia, central Africa and Southeast Asia, research shows. This pervasive problem has been notoriously hard to track: “One notebook could be made of wood from eight countries in three continents — the hard cover, front pages, and inner pages could all be different,” John Hermanson, a tree researcher, told National Geographic. 

Fortunately, scientists are training artificial intelligence software to quickly identify different types of wood — doing in one night what would normally take the team a month, according to the project experts. 

Read more here

A rapidly spreading disease is jeopardizing eelgrass — and the species it supports. 

The story: In the northeast Pacific Ocean, eelgrass is experiencing its own pandemic caused by a microscopic pathogen, reports Grace Hunter for Hakai Magazine. The sickness, known as seagrass wasting disease, is rapidly spreading across underwater meadows. Although the disease is rarely lethal to eelgrass, it could jeopardize its ability to grow during the winter by degrading its root systems. 

The big picture: Eelgrasses — which are a type of seagrass — are essential “underground neighborhoods,” providing shelter and food for crabs, salmon, herring, mussels and more, Hunter writes. As climate change accelerates, these meadows are becoming even more important because of the vast amounts of carbon they store.

Although seagrasses account for less than 0.2 percent of the world’s ocean ecosystems, they sequester approximately 10 percent of the carbon buried in ocean sediment each year. Unfortunately, it’s a race against time because climate change could also be exacerbating the spread of seagrass wasting disease, which thrives in warmer conditions

Read more here.


Kiley Price is the staff writer and news editor at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Alto Mayo forest, Peru Onmer Cenepo)