Archive for the ‘Climate change’ Category


Friday, December 30th, 2011

On TED, Pavan Sukhdev – who lead the TEEB initiative – explains why we need to “value nature” in order to manage it sustainably.

He ends his talk on the suggestion to focus efforts on “green” and “blue” carbon as part of climate change mitigation. Green and blue carbon is the carbon stored in terrestrial and marine ecosystems respectively.

Pavan Sukhdev tells us that he strongly supports the REDD+ mechanisms, whereby emitting countries fund projects in forested countries that avoid deforestation and/or forest degradation. There is a lot of potential there for synergies between carbon sequestration goals and the continued provision of other ecosystem services (and biodiversity).

Concerning blue carbon, it is interesting to note how he explains that we, collectively, have made the ethical choice to lose coral reefs through unmitigated climate change. It was probably an implicit choice, but it is quite revealing that Pavan Sukhdev and TEEB recognize that there are critical thresholds of biodiversity and ecosystem service loss. Those thresholds can be ecological (to avoid extinction or complete loss) or social but they certainly define the boundaries of our future life support system. Good debates to be had there…

Oil palm expansion in Indonesia: the case for trade-off analyses of ecosystem services

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), Lian Pin Koh and Jaboury Ghazoul present a modelling framework for analysing trade-offs between palm oil production, biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration.

Informing policy-makers about these trade-offs is essential in the face of rapidly expanding plantations and the newly established REDD mechanisms (with a possible wildlife premium as discussed here).

Using a scenario-based approach, the authors assessed the consequences of alternative pathways of oil palm expansion on the area of primary and secondary forests, on forest biodiversity (modelled using species-area models), carbon stocks (in biomass and peat soils) and annual rice production capacity. They show that biodiversity and forest conservation are compatible with the expansion of oil palm production, through appropriate selection of planted areas.

Our results suggest that the environmental and land-use tradeoffs associated with oil-palm expansion can be largely avoided through the implementation of a properly planned and spatially explicit development strategy

This rosy conclusion is tempered by the acknowledgement that striking the balance between the goals of biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and palm oil production will require the expansion of oil palm plantations to be capped. Are we really willing to make this “sacrifice”?

The paper by Lian Pin Koh and Jaboury Ghazoul was critiqued by Sean Sloan and Nigel Stork (also in PNAS) for ignoring several spatial processes such as the aggregation of plantations. Lian Pin Koh and Jaboury Ghazoul downplayed the critique and argued for the usefulness of their tool for broad-based analyses of the issues in Indonesia.

Not totally unexpected…

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

REDD mechanisms, recently established in Cancún, laid the carpet for escalating claims of “avoided emissions”. A first major shot was fired by the director general of the UN convention to combat desertification (UNCCD), Luc Gnacadja.

He claims that slowing desertification and land degradation decreases the emission of carbon dioxide stored in the top-soil. A recent article in the Guardian (a UK newspaper) has him saying that people must be paid via global carbon markets for preserving the soil.

people must be paid via global carbon markets for preserving the soil

This claim should come as no surprise given the payments budgeted for reduced rates of deforestation in the tropics. There will certainly be other claimants soon : oceans, grasslands, wetlands…

REDD has also generated concern about its effects on biodiversity, which has led the world bank to set up a wildlife premium for wildlife friendly policies aimed at reducing deforestation.

Unfortunately, this premium only applies to emblematic species such as large mammals that require large forest areas. These species are often protected.

Does the bank’s market-based instrument mean that governments will be rewarded financially for not destroying a protected species’ habitat? Leaves you wondering doesn’t it?

I’ll never use anything but New Mexico piñon in my candy!

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

David D. Breshears, Laura López-Hoffman and Lisa J. Graumlich published an interesting paper in the journal AMBIO on adaptation to sudden ecosystem crashes that strongly affect the delivery of ecosystem services.

They argue that climate change might lead to increasingly frequent events of sudden, large and patchy ecosystem crashes were ecosystems undergo important changes in their structure and functioning. Because the particular timing, location and intensity of ecosystem crashes are generally unpredictable, and that ecosystems can rarely be made resistant to crashes (by definition), stakeholders will have to adapt to the consequences of ecosystem crashe if, when and where they occur.

The authors explore how a recent drought-induced tree die-off of piñon – juniper woodlands across the SW United States has altered the capacity of these woodlands to support human well-being. They relate scientific studies of drought impacts on the ecology of these woodlands and accounts in the media of how stakeholders are being impacted and are responding to these impacts.

The authors suggest that increasing stakeholder resilience to sudden losses of ecosystem services varies according to how strictly the particular ecosystem services are tied to particular location. They introduce the concept of “portability” to describe the degree to which an ecosystem service is tied to a particular location.

It is crucial to understand how dependency on certain types of ecosystem services may shape stakeholder flexibility in choice of location and in turn their adaptive capacity

As an example, piñon nuts are a portable service (with some limits) while the view from someone’s home is not – but this also depends on how flexible people are in terms of home location. Ecosystem service portability must be analyzed in conjunction with stakeholder or beneficiary’s mobility: i.e. how location-flexible rather than location-centric they are.

A famed Albuquerque candy makers says ‘‘I’ll never use anything but New Mexico piñon in my candy. I won’t go to the Chinese pine nut or the Nevada pine nut because it isn’t right. That would be like selling Native American jewelry that was made in Hong Kong”

The paper introduces two concepts – ecosystem service portability and stakeholder flexibility – that are interesting to consider in analyses of vulnerability to climate change in general, and of adaptation options to specific changes in ecosystem properties in particular. Stakeholder flexibility must of course be investigated in conjunction with ecosystem service substitutability: can a cactus replace your beloved piñon in your backyard?