A high-level international workshop convened by International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) met at the University of Oxford earlier this year. It was the first inter-disciplinary international meeting of marine scientists of its kind and was designed to consider the cumulative impact of multiple stressors on the ocean, including warming, acidification, and overfishing.
The 3 day workshop, co-sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), looked at the latest science across different disciplines.
The 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats — and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.
Delegates called for urgent and unequivocal action to halt further declines in ocean health.
The report summary (released 21 June 2011) outlines the main findings and recommendations. The full report will be released at a later date.
Title: Rogers, A.D. & Laffoley, D.d’A. 2011. International Earth system expert workshop on ocean stresses and impacts. Summary report. IPSO Oxford, 18 pp. For a full list of participants, please see table at the end of the long version.
Report Summary ...
Meanwhile, Study sinks Libs’ tree-planting remedy for global warming
PLANTING trees will make very little difference to global warming even if done on a vast scale, and in some places it could worsen the problem, a study has found.
Tree planting is a key plank in Tony Abbott’s climate policy, but the study by scientists in Canada, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, casts doubt on schemes under which governments, businesses and individuals seek to offset their emissions by paying for trees to be planted to absorb an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.
If half the world’s cropland were planted with trees - an impossible scenario with the global population expected to top 9 billion - it would cancel out less than 10 per cent of the warming predicted for this century from continuing to burn fossil fuels.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, the UN’s treaty on climate change, countries can help to meet their emissions targets by funding the creation of new forests. The study suggests this element of the treaty is flawed because it may overestimate the benefits of planting trees.
Replacing cropland with trees can have a net warming effect because forests are less reflective than crops and absorb more solar radiation, the study says.
The benefits of tree-planting to the climate also vary enormously, depending on where they are grown. The study found that the cooling impact per hectare of planted forest was three times greater in the tropics than in northern temperate regions.
Planting 20 million square kilometres of trees, the amount of land presently covered by crops around the world, would reduce the global average temperature by only 0.45C. Planting 10 million sq km would reduce it by 0.25C.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts the average temperature will rise by up to 4C by 2100 if emissions continue to grow.
The study’s findings were contrary to the belief of many governments that new forests can act as major “carbon sinks” - soaking up carbon emissions - to mitigate climate change.
Adelaide conservationist Leonard Cohen said it was hard to argue with the results of the Canadian study.
The value of forests as a carbon sink was “far less than the ocean”, Mr Cohen, the head of Adelaide-based not-for-profit The Canopy Project, said.
“The greatest carbon sinks of all are the micro-organisms that die in the ocean.”
Renewable energy at the crossroads
by Christopher Dann, Sartaz Ahmed, and Owen Ward, strategy+business
The wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy sector has grown in fits and starts during the last 30 years — but now may finally have the momentum to become a self-sustaining industry.
In 2007, renewable energy sources were poised for accelerated growth. Then the global economic downturn intervened, depressing energy demand in general and casting particular doubt on the business case for wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy. Now that the sector is beginning to grow again, some industry observers are still questioning whether the market is resilient enough to continue that growth, considering the volatile energy prices and a shifting political climate. The answer is more optimistic than one might expect, because the market has evolved in several important ways during the last few years, to the point at which it is unlikely to experience the periods of decline or stagnation we have seen in the past. One of the hallmarks of the renewables sector today is its structural diversity in terms of technologies, players, and geographic regions — and that will make all the difference.
The story of the new wave of renewables begins in 2005, when a number of diverse factors came together to accelerate the growth of new renewable energy generation in the United States. The first was an incentive for change: Power prices jumped as natural gas prices reached a historical high. The second was an opportunity: Technology advances led to significant reductions in renewable energy costs. Finally, the investment community, at that time flush with capital and in hot pursuit of the next boom market, began to invest in the sector in earnest.
But by far the biggest driver behind the growth of renewables during this time was meaningful policy support, at both federal and state levels in the United States, and also around the world. With a focus on fighting climate change and jump-starting new industries, legislators adopted a wide range of incentive mechanisms to support the development and adoption of renewable energy technologies.
Recognizing a favorable investment environment, private equity and venture capital firms committed more and more money to the clean-tech sector, which is heavy in renewables, between 2006 and 2008, exceeding US$10 billion in North America alone at the peak. These investors felt sure that predictable revenue streams arising from federal and state policy support would help outweigh the technology risk. Investments were also influenced to some degree by a fear of missing out on the “next big thing,” which created a herd mentality in the market — at least before the global financial crisis hit.
From Boom to Bust to Balance
During the first year of the crisis, pessimism about the sector returned. Many of the underlying factors that had converged to drive demand for renewables faded, and others became highly uncertain. For example, one of the key elements supporting the business case for renewables was the high power prices anchored to high natural gas prices. That dynamic shifted with the development of unconventional gas resources; most analysts forecast that natural gas prices will remain below $7 per million Btus for the foreseeable future.
The worsening economic conditions have also brought a shift in political priorities, one that favors budgetary restraint over fresh spending on environmental issues. Some federal subsidies supporting renewables may be sacrificed in forthcoming cutbacks. State and local support could likewise fall prey to state budget reductions.
The economic slowdown also caused overall electricity demand to decline, resulting in overcapacity in most U.S. power markets. Less generation translated into lower power prices, which weakens the business case for renewables, and there is little reason to add new capacity when the market is oversupplied.
Yet despite this uncertainty, the market continued to evolve in important ways, setting the stage for a return to economic viability and growth. This evolution took place along several dimensions.