Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Biodiversity: Mass die-off may already be underway, experts warn

From: , The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), More from this Affiliate


AFP, 3 October 2008 - Earth's animal and plant species are vanishing at unprecedented rates, evidence that the planet is facing a tsunami of mass extinction, experts gathering for a global conservation conference next week have warned.

Whether through habitat loss, pollution, hunting, or indirectly by global warming, humans are squarely to blame for what may be the first major die-off in 65 million years, they say.

From Sunday, more than 8,000 ministers, UN officials, NGOs, scientists and business chiefs will brainstorm for 10 days in the Spanish city of Barcelona on how to brake this loss and steer the world onto a path of sustainable development.

The World Conservation Congress, held every four years, will also release an update on Monday of the famous "Red List", deemed the global standard for conservation monitoring.

It will include the most comprehensive study ever made on the survival status of Earth's more than 5,000 mammals species.

The new biodiversity "bible" is the fruit of 1,700 experts, and scientists who took part in the effort say it will make for grim reading.

The 2007 edition already shows more than a third of 41,000 species surveyed are facing extinction: a quarter of all mammals, one out of eight birds, one out of three amphibians, and 70 percent of plants.

Our closest evolutionary cousins, primates, are especially vulnerable.

Hunted for food and traditional medicines, their habitat dwindling, more than 70 percent of known species in Asia, for example, are under threat.

Science has identified more than 1.9 million species to date. If microbial organisms are included, this is probably only a tenth of the life forms on Earth.

"Biodiversity is disappearing at an accelerated rhythm and we have to act quickly to slow and prevent the extinction crisis," said Julia Marton-Lefevre, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which organising the October 5-14 congress.

With 11,000 volunteer scientists and more than 1,000 paid staff, the IUCN runs thousands of field projects around the globe to monitor and help manage natural environments.

"No species is superfluous -- each one is the product of millions of years of evolution and plays a role in the ecosystem," explained Wendy Foden, head of the IUCN's climate change and species programme.

There are many reasons to protect the diversity of life on Earth, under pressure from loss of habitat, pollution, climate change and over exploitation, scientists say.

One is the sheer scope of the change underway.

"The evidence is overwhelming -- and we have really good data now -- that what we are seeing is probably a mass extinction," the sixth in 450 million years, said Michael Hoffman, a mammal expert at IUCN who worked extensively on the Red List.

The current pace of dieoff is 100 to 1,000 times higher than the so-called "background rate" of extinction -- the average rate, over millions of years, at which species bite the dust.

"Species extinctions across all these groups will have very far-reaching consequences on human beings," he said.

Large and small mammals, for example, play critical roles in the regeneration of forests and savannahs by spreading plant seeds through their excrement. Forests, in turn, help blunt the impact of global warming.

Marine coral reefs, dying off due to pollution and acidification driven by climate change, support thousands of species of fish upon which hundreds of millions of humans depend for food and livelihood.

"If you have no coral reefs, you have no fish," Hoffman said.

Many plant species provide valuable medicines. Others can act as a buffer against natural disasters.

Many lives could have been saved in the Asian tsunami of 2004 and the typhoon that struck Myanmar last May if protective coastal mangroves had not been ripped up.

"There should also be a moral obligation to conserve biodiversity, if not for ourselves then for future generations," said Hoffman.

He said he was just back from a field trip in the Kruger National Park of South Africa, where he witnessed awe-struck children seeing giraffes and elephants close-up for the first time.

"We should want our children, and their children, to be able to see these giants walking the Earth," he said.

This article is reproduced with kind permission of Agence France-Presse (AFP) For more news and articles visit the AFP website.

One in four mammals risks extinction

From: Reuters


BARCELONA, Spain (Reuters) - A quarter of the world's mammals are threatened with extinction, an international survey showed on Monday, and the destruction of habitats and hunting are the major causes.

The report, the most comprehensive to date by 1,700 researchers, showed populations of half of all 5,487 species of mammals were in decline. Mammals range in size from blue whales to Thailand's insect-sized bumblebee bat.

"Mammals are declining faster than we thought -- one in four species is threatened with extinction worldwide," Jan Schipper, who led the team, told Reuters of the report issued in Barcelona as part of a "Red List" of threatened species.

He said threats were worst for land mammals in Asia, where creatures such as orang utans are suffering from deforestation. Almost 80 percent of primates in the region were under threat.

Of the 4,651 mammals for which scientists have data, 1,139 species were under threat of extinction. Schipper said the data was far broader than the previous review of mammals in 1996.

Threats to species including the Tasmanian Devil, an Australian marsupial, the Caspian seal or the fishing cat, found in Asia, were among those to have worsened. At least 76 mammals have gone extinct since 1500.

"Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions," said Julia Marton-Lefevre, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the Red List and is meeting in Spain.


Of the 2008 total, 188 were listed as "critically endangered," the worst category before extinction, including the Iberian lynx of which there are just 84-143 adults left. Cuba's rat-like little earth hutia has not been seen in 40 years.

Habitat loss and hunting -- for everything from food to medicines -- "are by far the main threats to mammals," Schipper and his team wrote in the journal Science. "The population of one in two is declining," they said.

Among other threats, global warming blamed by the U.N. Climate Panel on human use of fossil fuels, was hitting species dependent on Arctic sea ice such as the polar bear.

But the report, issued during an Oct 5-14 IUCN congress, was not all gloom. Five percent of species were recovering because of conservation efforts, including the European bison and the black-footed ferret, found in North America.

The African elephant was also moved down one notch of risk, to "near threatened" from "vulnerable," because of rising populations in southern and eastern Africa.

And a total of 349 species have been found since 1992, such as the elephant shrew in Tanzania, it said. Schipper said some species may be vanishing before they are even described.

The report focused on mammals but the situation for some other types of animals and plants is even worse, according to the IUCN, comprising governments and conservation organizations.

An updated "Red List" said that 16,928 species, or 38 percent, were threatened out of a total of 44,838. Among animals most at risk are amphibians, such as frogs and toads.

Schipper said governments urgently needed to work out ways to protect life on earth. "Conservation action backed by research is a clear priority," he said.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Frogs face extinction: Goodall

From: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au


ARMAGEDDON is approaching for frogs throughout the world, warns internationally renowned primatologist Jane Goodall.

The 74-year-old conservationist visited Adelaide Zoo yesterday to discuss the potential mass extinction of frogs and how an international breeding program, dubbed the Amphibian Ark, might be the only hope for hundreds of species.

Frogs are "the canary in the coalmine", Dr Goodall told The Australian yesterday.

"When you see frogs disappear at this rate, then you realise there's something very wrong with the ecosystem where they live."

Of about 6000 amphibian species worldwide, it is estimated close to 2000 are now threatened with extinction.

Dr Goodall, who spends at least 300 days a year travelling to promote environmental issues, blames climate change, pollution and a disease spreading throughout the world for the decline in frog populations. "It's armageddon for frogs," she said.

Dr Goodall is best known as aprimatologist and for establishing the Jane Goodall Institute in 1971. The institute aims to protect the habitats of chimpanzees and other animals.

She said frogs were particularly vulnerable to shrinking water supplies caused by climate change and poor agricultural practices, as well as pollution run-off.

The Amphibian Ark project is being established as an insurance policy against mass extinction in several countries.

Zoos, botanic gardens and aquariums are now taking different frog species into specially designed biosecure shipping containers to ensure they can breed safely.

Adelaide and Monarto Zoo chief executive Chris West, who moved to Australia two years ago after heading the London Zoo, is preparing a biosecure facility "just in case" a fungus that is killing frogs around the world spreads to South Australia.

The zoo is helping to finance a biosecure facility in Central America. "We're working on the battlefront -- right around the world there are species that are going extinct," Dr West said. "It's the biggest extinction crisis since the dinosaurs."

Dr Goodall is encouraging people to make small changes to their lifestyles in an effort to combat climate change and help save amphibians.

"The cumulative effect of people around the planet making small changes every day -- you have to think how does this choice I'm making help the environment."

The amphibian crisis will top the agenda at the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums annual conference, which will be held in Adelaide later this month.

Dr Goodall will return to Adelaide to address the conference on frogs.

Along with British naturalist David Attenborough, Dr Goodall has been named a patron of the Year of theFrog.

Sir David will make a video address to participants at the Adelaide conference.

Flightless birds airlifted to cooler waters after finding themselves adrift

Flightless birds airlifted to cooler waters after finding themselves adrift


Penguins are gathered together in Brazil ready to be airlifted to cooler waters Photograph: AP

More than 370 young penguins, who were mysteriously washed up on tropical beaches in Brazil, have been airlifted to safety in cooler water.

A Hercules military aircraft flew the flightless birds to Pelotas, in south Brazil, where they were released to cheers from a group of spectators.

The young birds were among a thousand Magellanic penguins, which have appeared on Brazil's warm north-east shores over the last few months.

The other birds either died or were too unhealthy to send back.

The healthy penguins, which had been kept at an animal rehabilitation centre in Salvador, north-east Brazil, were flown 2,500km (1,550 miles) south on a plane usually used for transporting military hardware.

They were released with a smaller group of adult penguins that had been rescued after being caught in an oil slick.

Experts from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, who helped organise the airlift, hope these older birds will guide young ones south to the Patagonia.

Magellanic penguins breed in large colonies in southern Argentina and Chile, and migrate north as far as south-west Brazil between March and September.

Environmentalists have said it is not known why the penguins were stranded so far north, but suggest they could have been carried beyond their usual range by a flow of warm water.

"We are overjoyed to see these penguins waddle back to the ocean and have a second chance at life," said Valeria Ruoppolo of IFAW.

"Hundreds of penguins died in this unusual event and while media reports have often linked global warming to the penguins' demise, at this point there is no way to know for certain why these animals stranded."

Met Office's bleak forecast on climate change

The head of the Met Office centre for climate change research explains why the momentum on emissions targets must not be lost

When it comes to climate change, the scientific evidence has to be at the core of any decision-making. Governments need to understand the consequences of choosing particular targets, but they also need to understand what will happen if targets are missed or if they cannot be agreed on by all countries. Failures could have far-reaching consequences.

The latest climate model projections from the Met Office Hadley Centre show clearly that such failures could have worrying and significant consequences for the world's climate. Even with large and early cuts in emissions, these projections indicate that temperatures are likely to rise to around 2C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. If action is delayed or is slow, then there is a significant risk of much larger increases in temperature. The uncertainties in the science mean that even if the most likely temperature rise is kept within reasonable limits, we cannot rule out the possibility of much larger increases. Adaptation strategies are therefore needed to deal with these less likely, but still real, possibilities.

Temperature rises

Jason Lowe, a climate scientist, and other colleagues at the Hadley Centre have conducted a series of "what if" climate projections, to give a better understanding of the temperature rises we could expect if action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is slow or delayed.

In the first scenario, emissions continue to rise throughout the century. In the other scenarios, emission reductions have been imposed at various times and at various rates.

In the most optimistic scenario, emissions start to decrease in 2010, and reductions quickly reach 3% per year. This contrasts sharply with current trends, where the world's overall emissions are increasing at 1% per year - faster than even the worst cases used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emissions scenarios.

What is very clear is that some increase in temperature is inevitable in the next century, and that the decisions and actions that the world takes now will have a profound impact on the climate later this century.

Even if emissions start to decrease in the next two years and reach a rapid and sustained rate of decline of 3% per year, temperatures are likely to rise to 1.7C above pre-industrial levels by 2050 and to around 2C by 2100. This is because carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere will be around for many years to come and the climate takes some time to respond to these changes. Only an early and rapid decline in emissions gets anywhere close to the target of 50% reduction in emissions by 2050 put forward by the G8.

Contrast that with a world where no action is taken to curb global warming. Then, temperatures could rise as high as 7C above pre-industrial values by the end of the century. This would lead to significant risks of severe and irreversible impacts.

Lowe's two other scenarios are also significant. The consequences of a late decline in emissions are apparent by 2050. Delaying reduction of emissions until 2030, results in a further 0.5C of warming by 2050 compared with early, if slow, reduction from 2010. By the end of the century the differences are even greater - more than 1C.

The consequences of an early but slow decline in emissions of 1% per year, compared with a rapid decline, appear to be small in 2050. However, they increase to 0.8C by the end of the century.

Overall, a delayed and slow decline in emissions would probably lead to nearly 2C more warming than an early and rapid decline in global emissions - a total temperature rise of 4C above pre-industrial levels.

The implications of these levels of temperature change are very serious, but the central projections are not the only things we should be worried by. When commentators look at these projections, they tend to concentrate on the most likely temperature rises. However, if we are concerned about keeping to a minimum the risks of avoiding dangerous climate change, we should also consider the worst case outcome. This will occur if the climate turns out to be particularly sensitive to increases in greenhouse gases and the Earth's biological systems cannot absorb very much carbon.

Dangerous impacts

The risks for worst case outcomes amplify much more quickly than the risks for most likely outcomes. For an early and rapid decline in emissions, the worst case outcome is around 0.7C higher than the most likely temperature rise. With much slower action taken much later, the difference between the most likely and worst case outcome is almost twice as wide, at 1.2C. This takes a worst case temperature rise of less than 3C to one just above 5C by the end of this century, bringing with it significant risk of dangerous impacts to our environment, society and economy.

A major reason for this amplification is the so-called "carbon cycle effect". Plants, soils and oceans currently absorb about half of the carbon dioxide emitted by humankind's activities, limiting rises in atmospheric CO2 and slowing global warming. As temperatures increase, this absorption is very likely to decrease.

For example, plant matter in the soil breaks down more quickly at higher temperatures, releasing carbon more quickly, and amplifying the warming trend. Methane released from the thawing of permafrost will add to the warming. This methane release is currently not included in the calculations, and becomes more of a risk for larger temperature rises.

Hence, the risks of dangerous climate change will not increase slowly as greenhouse gases increase. Rather, the risks will multiply if we do not reduce emissions fast enough.

• Vicky Pope is head of climate change for government at the Met Office's Hadley Centre.

Is There a Green Upside to the Economic Meltdown?

From: , Triple Pundit, More from this Affiliate
Published October 7, 2008 09:14 AM

Is There a Green Upside to the Economic Meltdown?


The economic meltdown could be good news for the area of clean energy investing, according to Steven Fraser, a senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the recently published "Wall Street: America's Dream Palace." Fraser believes that backlash to the recent economic crisis will result in a new era of enlightened regulation and investment akin to Roosevelt's New Deal, which helped America climb out of the Great Depression. Fraser offered these opinions in a recent interview on WHYY's Fresh Air program.

In the interview, Fraser said he felt "very confident" that "real anger at Wall Street" will result in better regulation and more oversight of commercial and investment banking. The steady deregulation of these sectors over the past 25 years has created an "orgy of speculation" and brought us to the current crisis. The future of our economy will depend on rebuilding our infrastructure and a shift to new forms of clean energy, according to Fraser. Any overhaul of our banking and investment sectors should move capital into these areas and away from highly leveraged speculation.

America Doesn't Make Anything Anymore

The growth of the financial sector as the engine of the economy over the past 25 years has corresponded with a "de-industrialization" of our economy. The result: we don't make anything anymore. Instead, we've become infatuated with highly speculative forms of investment that don't produce anything except bubbles and burst bubbles. America must re-industrialize its economy based on high technology, environmentally responsible industries.

What can a government do to encourage this? Any new or revised regulations should provide incentives to move capital resources in to productive means. An example Fraser cited would be to change the asset reserve requirement that a bank must meet to receive a license to operate and insurance coverage by the federal government. A new regulation could require investment banks to invest at least 5% of their assets in clean energy projects. Or an example of a dis-incentive would be to tax gains from speculative paper transactions.

The Free Market?

Many of the rules put in place during the New Deal of the 1930s prevented banks from engaging in risky activities and encouraged investment in to productive enterprises. The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in the United States and included banking reforms, some of which were designed to control speculation, and an attempt to bring Wall Street under some level of supervision. Starting in the Reagan era, many of these reforms were repealed by the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act of 1980, and further in 1999, by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which was signed by President Clinton. This steady march of deregulation eliminated much of the oversight or gutted enforcement agencies like the SEC. Many trace this version of the free market mindset back to the ideas of Milton Friedman, who launched a counterrevolution against the New Deal from his perch at the University of Chicago economics department.

The freewheeling "free market" movement launched by Friedman, introduced by Ronald Reagan and entrenched under Clinton has produced massive wealth for some, but also gave us the savings and loan default (and bailout), the junk bond scandal, Enron, the housing bubble, the sub-prime bust and now the credit crisis. This version of the free market is a fallacy, according to Fraser, because the great speculators never pay for their mistakes. Instead this free market "created privatization of reward, but socialization of risk" where the government freely uses taxpayer money for bailouts. Is there any mystery why the income gap has accelerated during this period? According to theCongressional Budget Office, from 1979 to 2005, the after-tax income of the top 1 percent of U.S. households soared 139 percent, while the income of the middle fifth rose only 17 percent and the income of the poorest fifth climbed just 9 percent. Last year American CEOs earned 262 times the average wage of their workers—up tenfold from 1970!

Stay Angry!!

We are certainly ready for an energy-based New Deal, but who will be the next Roosevelt to lead us out of this mess? McCain's economic advisor is the former Texas Senator Phil Gramm - the ultimate free market maven. During his time in the Senate, Gramm authored several of the bills that further deregulated the financial industry. Barack Obama's chief economic advisor isAustan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist. He is known as a centrist, not necessarily a disciple of Milton Friedman, so perhaps he has some ideas about how government can creatively fiddle incentives and regulations controlling the market.

Obama called the government's proposed $700 billion Wall Street bailout "sobering" and blamed the deregulation generally favored by Republicans. Is this a firm stance or campaign rhetoric? Clinton also favored reform until he did a U-turn on the economy just before his inauguration. He met with then-Goldman Sachs chief Robert Rubin, who convinced him to embrace more liberalization. Rubin is now an adviser to the Obama campaign.

If you are angry about the current crisis, stay that way! Use this anger to motivate our next government to begin this period of enlightened investing in America's infrastructure and industry described by Steven Fraser. There will be a lot of losers as a result of this meltdown, will the clean energy sector be one of the winners?

Jim Witkin is a marketing and content consultant focusing on ICT4D and social enterprise. He is also pursuing an MBA in Sustainable Management. You can reach him at jameswitkin at yahoo dot com


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