Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.
Scientists last week said that large-scale projects to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will be needed within two decades to hold the line against climate change, Laurie Goering (@lauriegoering) reported for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Read more here.
The story: With efforts to cut global warming emissions having (so far) fallen short of targets needed to keep average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, scientists gathered at a meeting at Chatham House called for technological solutions to capture and store carbon from the air. “It’s an unavoidable truth: We will need (negative emissions) by the mid-2030s to have a chance at the (1.5-degree) goal,” one expert said.
The big picture: Forests already provide large-scale carbon capture and represent at least 30 percent of mitigation action needed to keep average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C, but a recent study showing that deforestation is preventing tropical forests from absorbing more carbon highlights the urgency of finding a technological option for carbon capture and storage (CCS). For years, CCS tech has largely failed — though a recent project offers some hope (see next item).
In a case of uncanny timing, CCS took a potentially massive leap forward last week, Akshat Rathi (@AkshatRathi) writes in Quartz. The technology, called direct-air capture, uses machines that work like trees, sucking carbon dioxide out of the air but capturing thousands of times more carbon in the same amount of time. Read more here.
The story: “On Oct. 11, at a geothermal power plant in Iceland, [a] startup inaugurated the first system that does direct air capture and verifiably achieves negative carbon emissions. Although it’s still at pilot scale — capturing only 50 metric tons of [carbon dioxide] from the air each year, about the same emitted by a single U.S. household — it’s the first system to convert the emissions into stone, thus ensuring they don’t escape back into the atmosphere for the next millions of years.”
The big picture: As promising as this technology may seem, questions remain. Can this technology be improved and scaled up quickly? If so, could it create perverse incentives to continue fossil-fuel use or deforestation?
Surviving “only on the slimmest of margins,” as Conservation International’s M. Sanjayan (@msanjayan) writes on Medium.com, mangrove forests are, arguably, the planet’s most important ecosystem. Read more here.
The story: In this piece, Sanjayan ventures into the heart of a Brazilian mangrove forest — a still, steamy swampland of roots and mud where a small boat can only barely navigate. These forests are a bulwark against climate change, storing up to 10 times more carbon than terrestrial forests. Yet they mean much more to the communities that depend on them.
The big picture: Humans have no greater ally in the fight to curb climate change than forests, mangroves in particular — yet the world has lost half its mangrove habitats to coastal development such as fish farms. Building on mangrove conservation successes in northern Brazil will be critical to showing the world that these ecosystems are worth more to humanity if they are intact.
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CI’s mangrove restoration projects are critical to addressing climate change impacts — and protecting communities.
Bruno Vander Velde is CI’s editorial director.