New Sustainability Reports Forest & Wetland Carbon Storage
1. U.S. DOI Reports on Natural Carbon Storage of Forests & Wetlands
(www.doi.gov) – Forests, grasslands, shrublands and other ecosystems in the Western United States sequester nearly 100 million tons (90.9 million metric tons) of carbon each year, according to a U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) report. Carbon that is absorbed or “sequestered” through natural processes reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The 100 million tons sequestered in western ecosystems is an amount equivalent to – and counterbalances the emissions of – more than 83 million passenger cars per year in the United States or nearly 5 percent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2010 estimate of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
The report, authored by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists, is part of a congressionally mandated national assessment of carbon storage and sequestration capacities by ecosystems. This assessment estimates the ability of different ecosystems in the Western United States to store carbon – information that will be vital for science-based land-use and land-management decisions. The first report on the Great Plains was released in December 2011; reports on the eastern United States, Alaska and Hawaii will follow.
“This report contains 12 original chapters of new science that will enable land managers to track and to calculate carbon storage and greenhouse gas fluxes over time for the American West’s varied ecosystems,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “With more than 300 references of the latest work relevant to how biological systems cycle carbon, this report is a scientific tour de force.”
The fine level of detail in the report means decision-makers can examine their region of interest, whether a national park, ecosystem or entire state. For example, data in the report allow resource managers to evaluate effects of land-management practices on carbon storage and sequestration in and near Yellowstone and other national parks. It also could be used to understand how the rate of carbon sequestration increases as forests regrow following a large wildfire.
The major ecosystems USGS evaluated were terrestrial – forests, wetlands, agricultural lands, and shrublands and grasslands – and aquatic – rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters. Terrestrial ecosystems accounted for more than 95 percent of the estimated total carbon sequestered between 2001 and 2005 in the West. Although the ecosystems varied widely in their potential for storing carbon now and in the future, the study found that forests are by far the largest carbon-storing pools, accounting for about 70 percent of the carbon stored in the West. Forests occupy 28 percent of the land in the West, contain the most carbon per unit area and have the second-highest rate of sequestration of ecosystem types. Wetlands had the highest rate of sequestration of all ecosystem types, but because they cover less than 1 percent of the West, the amount of carbon they sequester is far less significant from a regional perspective.
Grasslands and shrublands also store much of the West’s carbon: This land type covers nearly 60 percent of the West and contains 23 percent of the region’s carbon stored between 2001 and 2005. Agricultural lands, which comprise about 6 percent of the West, contain 4.5 percent of the carbon stored during the same period.
Although the ecosystems of the West serve as a strong carbon sink now, the study estimates that by 2050 the region could experience a decline of the storage potential depending on future changes in land-use, climate and wildfires. Future carbon stocks, USGS authors noted, will be inextricably linked to these drivers because as ecosystems, forests or agricultural lands are converted for other uses their ability to capture and store carbon is affected.
Other major report findings include:
- Wildland fires generated significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions in the West with such emissions equivalent to 13 percent of the estimated rate of the recent annual carbon sequestration by terrestrial ecosystems in the West. This amount could increase to up to 31 percent in the future.
- Water bodies in the western United States emitted even more CO2 than fires. Emissions from water bodies are equivalent to more than 30 percent of the recent annual carbon sequestration rate of terrestrial ecosystems in the West.
- Land-use and land-cover change will continue in the future, but USGS authors projected a much slower rate of change on an annual basis throughout the next 45 years than occurred between 1992 and 2005. Such change, one of the primary drivers of regional climate change and the ability of ecosystems to sequester carbon, is mostly the result of demands for forest products, urban development and agriculture.
- The West sequesters nearly one and one-half times as much carbon as the Great Plains, the focus of the first DOI carbon sequestration report.
The report is available online at pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1797.
2. Natural Resource Report Stresses Overuse Risks to Sovereign Bonds
(www.footprintnetwork.org) – Consideration of environmental risks and natural resource constraints is becoming increasingly important in assessing a nation’s credit risk, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) and Global Footprint Network in collaboration with leading financial institutions. The project calculated natural resource risk profiles for five pilot countries. To date, tightening constraints on resources and their impacts on national economies have been largely absent from financial analyses.
The E-RISC report fills this gap by exploring to what extent resource risks can impact a nation’s economy, what factors can drive and hamper economic health in the short, medium and long term, and how these affect a nation’s ability to pay its debts. The E-RISC work deepens understanding of investment risk by providing insight into how environmental criteria can be factored into sovereign credit risk models and, hence, in the selection and weighting of sovereign bonds as well as sovereign credit ratings.
“The time has come for a better understanding of the connection between environmental and natural resource risk and sovereign credit risk. Only then will investors, credit rating agencies and governments be able to plan throughout the medium to long term with the kind of insight aimed at ensuring long-term economic health and stability,” said Susan Burns, founder and senior vice president of Global Footprint Network.
At the previous E-RISC report launch in London, Bloomberg announced that Global Footprint Network’s country-level natural resource risk data (National Footprint Accounts) will now be available on its terminal. The data will help users integrate natural resource risk into sovereign debt, economic growth and company valuation models. The E-RISC report includes an analysis of five nations’ natural resource-related risks throughout short-, medium- and long-term risk horizons, thus providing a simple framework to compare and rank countries. Two options are discussed for embedding these risks into conventional sovereign credit risk models.
Among the report’s findings:
- Natural resource constraints are financially material for nations. The mechanisms include price volatility, loss of income due to environmental degradation and potential costs due to future climate change policies.
- Countries that depend heavily on natural resources and services from other regions may find their resource supply becoming unreliable or costly, and this has economic implications. For example, a 10 percent variation in commodity prices can lead to changes in a country’s trade balance equivalent to more than 0.5 per cent of GDP.
- Analysis of five countries (Brazil, Japan, France, Turkey and India) reveals that countries with similar credit ratings from the three major credit rating agencies have very different environmental risk profiles.
- Risks due to environmental degradation are also significant for the five countries considered (Brazil, Japan, France, Turkey and India). A 10 percent reduction in the productive capacity of soils and freshwater areas alone could lead to a reduction in trade balance equivalent to more than 4 percent of GDP.
- Environmental risks are, therefore, potentially of a large enough magnitude to affect countries’ economies in ways that could influence their willingness or ability to repay sovereign debt.
3. Experts Urge Halt to U.S. LNG Fracking to Allow Medical Research
(www.psehealthyenergy.org) – A substantial number of top U.S. medical professionals, scientists and engineers unveiled a petition on Dec. 13, 2012, urging the Obama Administration to halt the rush toward large-scale export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) until the health impacts in the U.S. of dramatically expanded fracking can be resolved. In the petition, experts pointed out the ample grounds for concern about the potential harm posed to humans by the hydro fracking of shale gas and that additional research must be done in order to know more about such impacts. In the absence of needed testing, the Obama Administration could expose Americans to potential health harms, according to the joint statement from the experts organized by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE).
Members of the group and those concerned about fracking include: Seth B. Shonkoff, PhD, MPH, executive director, Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy (PSE) and environmental researcher, University of California, Berkeley; Adam Law, MD, Cayuga Medical Center, Ithaca, NY; Madelon L. Finkel, PhD, professor of clinical public health and director of the Office of Global Health Education, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York City and Louis W. Allstadt, former executive vice president, Mobil Oil Corporation, Cooperstown, NY.
For more information, a streaming audio replay of the information news event is available on the Web at www.psehealthyenergy.org/.
Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy is dedicated to supplying objective, evidence-based, scientific information and resources on unconventional gas development (high-volume hydrofracking) and other novel energy production methods. PSE’s mission is to bring transparency to the important scientific and public policy issues surrounding energy, thus helping to level the playing field for citizens, scientists, advocacy groups, media and policy-makers. For more information, go to www.psehealthyenergy.org/.
4. Rising Water Management Challenges in Europe as Ecosystems Weaken
(www.eea.europa.eu) – Water pollution and excessive water use are still harming ecosystems, which are indispensable to Europe’s food, energy and water supplies. To maintain water ecosystems, farming, planning, energy and transport sectors need to actively engage in managing water within sustainable limits. “European Waters – Current Status and Future Challenges” brings together findings from nine other European Environment Agency (EEA) reports published during the course of 2012 and early 2013. The report shows a mixed picture for the status of Europe’s water bodies while the findings are worrying when it comes to ecosystems’ ability to deliver essential services.
Strong ecosystems should be maintained partly because they provide vital services often overlooked, the report says. For example, restoring a wetland is not only good for biodiversity but also for water filtration, water retention and flood prevention. Although essential, these services are not accounted for in current financial and economic systems.
“Water cannot continue to absorb limitless amounts of pollution without damaging the resources and ecosystems we rely on,” said EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade. “Farmers, planners and companies need to cooperate more to make sure the combined pressures on ecosystems do not pass harmful limits.”
- Ecosystems are under pressure. Less than one-half (48 percent) of Europe’s surface water bodies are likely to be in good ecological status by 2015, as specified by the Water Framework Directive (WFD). To meet this target, water bodies must further reduce nutrient pollution and restore more natural features. Effects of these problems are clear; 63 percent of lake and river habitats in the European Union (EU) are reported to have an “unfavourable” conservation status.
- Modification of water bodies is harming ecosystems. The extent of modification of water bodies – the “hydromorphological status” – is also a problem in 52 percent of surface waters. Artificial modifications like dams or reservoirs can prevent plants and animals from migrating or reproducing.
- Pollution problems are occurring in European waters. Nitrate pollution from agricultural fertilisers is the most long-term pollution problem for European surface waters. At the current rate of improvement, nitrate levels will still be too high for several decades to come, the report notes. Phosphates and ammonia pollution are reducing more quickly due to better waste water treatment. This improvement is visible in the improving water quality at bathing sites across Europe – in 2011, 92.1 percent of sites met minimum standards.
- Agriculture and other sectors are using water inefficiently. Water scarcity is caused by human demands exceeding available freshwater resources, thus adding to the “water deficit” during summer droughts in many parts of Europe.
- Drought is increasing across Europe. The number of countries affected by drought per decade increased from 15 in the period 1971-1980 to 28 in the period 2001-2011. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this problem.
- Flooding is becoming more frequent, especially in Northern Europe. More than 325 major river floods have been reported in Europe since 1980 of which more than 200 have been reported since 2000. This is partly caused by increased building in flood prone areas. Projected climate change is expected to lead to more floods in many areas.
Solutions to many of Europe’s water problems have been analysed in the European Commission’s Water Blueprint document, published in 2012. The EEA report underpins the Blueprint’s recommendations and provides a baseline for monitoring progress. New incentives can help Europe reduce the amount of water that is wasted. Suggested measures include reconsidering pricing structures for water use or domestic metering. However, incentives introduced with other policy objectives can also encourage wasteful behavior. For example, some governments subsidise water use or encourage water-intense crops in dry areas.
Farming remains one of the largest pressures on Europe’s water resources, thus making agriculture and the food industry major actors in significantly improving the situation. In the future, payments to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy should consider their overall effect on water resources, the report says. Energy production is another sector with a high impact on water in Europe. Biofuel production can be water intensive while hydropower plants often divert water used for other sources. Extracting non-conventional oil and gas resources can also lead to water pollution. Careful planning can balance these demands against the needs of ecosystems, the report says.
Overall, river basins need to be further managed with constructive dialogue between the many stakeholders in the area. Public participation and the development of a strong knowledge base are paramount to engage into this dialogue. The report states that the river basin is the best geographical scale for making accurate “water accounts” – in effect, asset management to balance incoming and outgoing resources. Upcoming challenges for water resource management can only be met when water managers have the right information at their fingertips