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.
Around the world, rising food costs are hard to swallow.
The story: From droughts that are withering wheat in North America to frosts damaging coffee in Brazil, climate-driven extreme weather is wreaking havoc on farmers’ crops — and consumers’ wallets, reported Matt Egan for CNN Business. World food prices are up 31 percent over the past year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
"Climate change is coming right into our dining room tables," Cynthia Rosenzweig, an agronomist and climatologist, told CNN Business.
And a recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that extreme weather events are getting worse because of human-induced global warming. For example, droughts that used to only occur once in a decade are now 70 percent more frequent than in the preindustrial era.
The big picture: Agriculture is responsible for the majority of tropical deforestation — making it both a climate victim and culprit.
As countries work to meet the mounting demand for food, sustainable farming practices that protect and restore carbon in the soil can enhance agricultural production — while also helping to slow climate change, according to research co-authored by a Conservation International scientist.
“Soils hold three times more carbon globally than the atmosphere. This is not only good for our climate, but also good for the health and productivity of our soils,” Conservation International’s Bronson Griscom told Conservation News. “Protecting and restoring soil carbon is an example of a natural climate solution — any action that protects ecosystems or restores them to more natural conditions while increasing carbon storage or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions.”
- Further reading: To stop climate catastrophe, look to soil: study
“Climate emergency is intensifying, we are on the front lines.”
The story: The recent IPCC report warned that even in a best-case scenario — if carbon emissions were halted and global warming stopped — sea levels would continue to rise, putting coastal communities in low-lying nations at risk of flooding, reported Patrick Smith for NBC News. For example, sea-level rise of just 0.9 meters (3 feet) could submerge as much as two-thirds of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati by the end of the century, according to the IPCC.
The Alliance of Small Island States — which represents 39 countries, including Singapore, Seychelles and Fiji— called on “global powers and major emitters” to take action.
"This report is devastating news for the most climate-vulnerable countries like the Maldives,” Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives, said on Twitter. “It confirms we are on the edge of extinction. Climate emergency is intensifying, we are on the front lines.”
The big picture: Though climate change is caused by the world’s wealthiest nations, its consequences are felt disproportionately in developing countries that have almost no responsibility for releasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Nature-based solutions that protect, restore and improve the management of carbon-rich ecosystems — like mangroves and other forests — are helping some of the world’s most at-risk communities transform their local economies, while reducing global emissions.
“Investments in nature provide immediate climate action for the global community, and climate justice for some of the world’s most vulnerable local communities,” Dr. M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International said in a recent statement. “These investments reduce global emissions from deforestation — the second leading cause of climate change — and help usher in an economic transformation.”
Models can’t predict the future, but they do offer alternative climate paths.
The story: Despite its grim warnings, the landmark UN climate report released last week found there is still a window of opportunity for humanity to take drastic action and avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. But where does this note of optimism come from?
“That hopeful pathway, in which dangerous changes to the world's climate eventually stop, is the product of giant computer simulations of the world economy,” wrote Dan Charles for NPR. So-called “integrated assessment models” developed in Europe, Japan and the United States looked at what it would take to cut net greenhouse gas emissions to zero within about 40 years — considering current sources of emissions and assumptions about the costs of new technologies.
“The good news is that the models found a way to meet that target, at least in scenarios where world governments were inclined to cooperate in meeting their Paris commitments,” Charles wrote. “Different models, using different assumptions, arrive at contrasting visions of the future world.”
The big picture: The data and computer models underpinning the most recent IPCC report have become more precise since 2013, when the UN issued its last climate report. From weather balloons that test aerosol levels in the atmosphere to buoys that measure ocean temperatures, new technology allows researchers to offer definitive assessments of the science behind climate change and its cause: human activity. Experts say that this information could help countries map out new ways to reach their climate goals and reduce global emissions.
Cover image: Farmers in Tanzania (© Benjamin Drummond)