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Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Category Archive: Adaptation and Nature-based Solutions

  1. Small-scale farmers in a 1.5°C future: The importance of local social dynamics as an enabling factor for implementation and scaling of climate-smart agriculture

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    • Small-scale farmers can contribute to a 1.5°C future while adapting to climate change.
    • By using adaptation as an entry point, climate-smart ag (CSA) mitigation co-benefits can help reduce GHG.
    • Social capital generated through social networks can promote CSA scaling.
    • Social networks enable interactions across scales that can support spreading of CSA.
    April 2018 Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability
    Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) has the potential to help farmers implement both adaptation and mitigation practices. The mitigation aspect of CSA is often not considered by farmers due to a high discount rate and, as such, adaptation is usually the priority concern…
    …Approaches such as climate-smart agriculture (CSA) [8] are intended to help to reorient agricultural systems to support food security under conditions of climate change and increased climate variability. Successful CSA consists of simultaneously achieving three goals or pillars according to FAO [8]: (i) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity to support equitable increases in incomes, food security and development; (ii) adapting and building resilience to climate change from the farm to national levels; and (iii) reducing or removing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions where possible…

    …In agricultural research, scaling out is the objective to reach a wide number of farmers with improved practices [14], and scaling up occurs when institutional buy-in and policies are influenced at higher levels [15]. Though there are a wide array of challenges to scaling CSA, many of these can be addressed through technical, social, economic, and policy innovations [16]. Many of these are social processes and, though much of the work on adaptation has built on the ideas of capabilities associated with the “five capitals” (financial, natural, human, physical and social), we have perhaps lost sight of many of the complexities and nuances associated with social capital in particular [17]….

    ….In order to achieve a 1.5°C scenario, consideration of the characteristics of local networks should figure into the design of any community engagement effort [26••; 51 ;  52]. This is especially the case now that the call for “mainstreaming” synergistic adaptation-mitigation practices into development policy has become part of the standard refrain [24 ;  53]. With an understanding of how adaptation strategies synergize across scale as a function of the existing networks, a goal should be to leverage community strengths and design strategies that maximize mitigation as a direct co-benefit of the implementation of adaptation practices. This is even more important where “…motivation to pursue long-term, broad-based plans, and/or to respond to community priorities, may be constrained” [54••] (p.17). An examination of local networks thus has the potential to serve as something of a first pass for establishing both the relevance and transferability of different CSA practices at different scales, while simultaneously serving as basis for designing the corresponding institutional arrangements that will better facilitate the uptake of practices with mitigation co-benefits depending on local socio-ecological circumstances [49]…

    …We argue that achieving a 1.5°C scenario requires small-scale farmers’ contributions through the implementation of strategies that provide mitigation co-benefits and synergies linked to adaptation but that additional understanding of farmers network context is a critical first step. A 1.5°C future could consist of small-scale farmers increasing their resilience through low carbon adaptation to climate change, contributing to the global mitigation efforts. However, this will require CSA options to be implemented widely and rapidly, meaning uptake by most of the small-scale farmers as soon as possible. Explicit acknowledgement of how social capital and networks operate in relation to climate challenges thus has the potential to be a critical ingredient when designing and implementing CSA at scale.

    Social networks are likely a key to facilitate scaling up and out processes by enabling individuals and institutions to interact across scales, guiding their decision making processes [34••], and building social capital that spreads CSA strategies….

    Deissy Martinez-Baron, Guillermo Orjuela, Giampiero Renzoni, Ana María Loboguerrero Rodríguez, Steven D Prager.

    Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Volume 31, April 2018, Pages 112–119,
  2. Digging deep: Harnessing the power of soil microbes for more sustainable farming

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    • Farm of the future’ project marries microbiology and machine learning
    March 14, 2018 DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Read full ScienceDaily article here
    How will the farms of the future feed a projected 9.8 billion people by 2050? A ‘smart farm’ project marries microbiology and machine learning in an effort to reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and enhance soil carbon uptake, thus improving the long-term viability of the land while increasing crop yields….
    …this project brings together molecular biology, biogeochemistry, environmental sensing technologies, and machine learning, will revolutionize agriculture and create sustainable farming practices that benefit both the environment and farms. If successful, they envision being able to reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and enhance soil carbon uptake, thus improving the long-term viability of the land, while at the same time increasing crop yields.A central piece of the research is understanding the role of microbes in the health of the soil….”By understanding how microbes work and modifying the environments where they function, we can eventually engineer microbial communities to enhance soil productivity. What’s more, Berkeley Lab’s research is showing that healthy soils are more resilient to system shocks such as climate change, drought, and insects.”

    …The world’s population is forecast by the United Nations to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050; feeding that many people will require raising food production by more than 70 percent. Yet industrialized farming practices have depleted a majority of the country’s agricultural land of active carbon and a balanced microbial ecosystem. This is reflected in measurements of organic matter that average only 1 to 2 percent in most farmland, compared to historic levels of around 10 percent…

    …”There are millions of species of microbes per cubic centimeter of soil,” Brown said. “As you approach the plant root and its interior tissues, you go from millions to dozens. So plants do an exceptional job of farming their microbiomes. They release materials, including antimicrobial compounds, to selectively kill undesirable microbes, and they release food to incentivize beneficial microbes. It’s a highly symbiotic and enormously complex interaction, and we understand almost nothing about it.”

    …Hyperspectral sensors on the drones will be able to detect light reflectance from the plants and see hundreds of channels of spectra, from the visible to near infrared. “The human eye has only three channels — red, green, and blue,” said Wainwright. “You can see if a leaf looks yellow or green. But with hundreds of channels you can measure carbon and nitrogen content, and you can tell a lot about plant health, plant disease, or leaf chemistry, all of which affect crop yield.”

    In addition, surface geophysical techniques are used to map soil electrical properties in 3-D, which greatly controls soil microbial activities.

    Machine learning is the tool that will tie all the data together…

    …Currently farmers have no such information, even though services and products have sprung up providing various “big data” solutions. “All the private companies have a big incentive to lock their own data sets, so they can’t be used in conjunction with other data sets,” Wainwright said. “That’s where the public sector, like Berkeley Lab, can step in. We’re not incentivized by profit.”…

  3. Crowded cities search for nature-based solutions for residents’ well-being

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    • As urban migration increases, cities are increasingly searching for ways to provide more greenery.

    • A 11.4 million-euro project, Connecting Nature, which runs until 2022, is developing ‘nature-based solutions,’ such as street trees, parks, and green roofs and walls, across 11 European cities.

    ….Cities are increasingly looking for ways to provide more greenery, as migration to urban areas rises and a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that being close to nature is good for people.

    Vegetation also sucks up planet-warming carbon dioxide, and is key to efforts to combat climate change.

    Some 750 climate scientists and urban planners are gathered in Canada this week at a United Nations-hosted conference to discuss how to help cities reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and become more resilient to extreme weather and rising seas.

    Vertical Forests, Milan, Italy 2017  Luca Bruno APVertical forests in Milan, Italy 2017 Luca Bruno AP

    The proportion of the global population living in urban areas has risen from half in 2000 to 55 percent now, and is predicted to reach two-thirds by 2050….

    From Connecting Nature:

    Bringing Cities to Life, Bringing Life into Cities

    Connecting Nature is an innovation-oriented partnership of 32 institutions from 18 countries. It brings together urban local authorities and communities, Small and Medium Enterprises, voluntary organisations, and diverse academic partners in order to scale-up nature-based solutions for building resilient and sustainable cities. Connecting Nature is working with 11 European cities who are investing in the large-scale implementation of nature–based solutions. As an innovative action, part-funded by Horizon 2020, Connecting Nature is mapping nature-based solution exemplars and measuring measuring the efficacy and impact of these initiatives on climate change adaptation, health and well-being, social cohesion, and sustainable economic development. We are also devising new business models and novel mechanisms for financing nature-based solutions as well as identifying key performance indicators. This will foster the creation of commercial and social enterprises for scaling-up nature-based strategies, processes, and products.

  4. Sea level rise urgently requires new forms of decision making- social choice model

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    • A new decision-making model — a social choice model — adds additional criteria to the economic– including environmental, cultural, or recreational, through public discussion.
    • By using a social choice model, the city would have a richer source of options and ideas to work with. Something that puts all available options on the table and requires that they be evaluated with a more comprehensive and long-term perspective.
    • In the research study, the option of relocating coastal infrastructure would likely provide the most benefit to the city in the long-run, as it would protect both the beach and vulnerable infrastructure.

    March 6, 2018 Lund University read full ScienceDaily article here

    US cities facing sea level rise need to look beyond traditional strategies for managing issues such as critical erosion and coastal squeeze, according to new research. Civil society initiatives must now play a crucial role in adapting society to climate change, the study argues.

    The three options that have been considered in Flagler Beach are: constructing a sea wall, beach re-nourishment, or relocation of coastal infrastructure…

    ….The study instead proposes, that from a scientific, environmental and societal perspective, it is the option of relocating coastal infrastructure that would likely provide the most benefit to the city in the long-run, as it would protect both the beach and vulnerable infrastructure. Relocation has been promoted as the only viable long-term sustainable approach to beach management by coastal scientists; since it would provide for the beach to naturally adapt to sea level rise. Implementing this solution, however, is not likely to be an easy task.

    …The study argues that a new decision-making model — a social choice model — could be one way forward. By taking primarily economic criteria into account, a wide variety of other concerns citizens have, including those of far-away tax payers and future generations, are left out. Therefore additional criteria, whether environmental, cultural, or recreational, should be identified through reasonable public discussion.

    This would require not only more effective collaboration between federal, state and local governments, but also the ceding of more decision-making power to citizens and civil society organizations.

    “By using a social choice model, the city would have a richer source of options and ideas to work with. Something that puts all available options on the table and requires that they be evaluated with a more comprehensive and long-term perspective.”…

  5. Urban Heat: Can White Roofs Help Cool World’s Warming Cities?

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    • It has long been known that installing white roofs helps reduce heat buildup in cities. But new research indicates that making surfaces more light-reflecting can have a significant impact on lowering extreme temperatures – not just in cities, but in rural areas as well.
    • There can be unintended consequences, both on temperature and other aspects of climate, like rainfall. Even local geoengineering needs to be handled with care

    ….Keith Oleson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado looked at what might happen if every roof in large cities around the world were painted white, raising their reflectivity — known to climate scientists as albedo — from a typical 32 percent today to 90 percent. He found that it would decrease the urban heat island effect by a third — enough to reduce the maximum daytime temperatures by an average of 0.6 degrees C, and more in hot sunny regions such as the Arabian Peninsula and Brazil.

    Other studies suggest even greater benefits in the U.S. In a 2014 paper, Matei Georgescu of Arizona State University found that “cool roofs” could cut temperatures by up to 1.5 degrees C in California and 1.8 degrees in cities such as Washington, D.C….

    …But things might not always be quite so simple. Reducing local temperatures would, for instance, limit evaporation, and so potentially could reduce rainfall downwind. A modeling study by Irvine found that messing with the reflectivity of larger areas such as deserts could cause a “large reduction in the intensity of the Indian and African monsoons in particular.” But the same study concluded that changing albedo in cities or on farmland would be unlikely to have significant wider effects. ..

    …Solar panels “cool daytime temperatures in a way similar to increasing albedo via white roofs,” according to a study by scientists at the University of New South Wales. The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports last year, found that in a city like Sydney, Australia, a city-wide array of solar panels could reduce summer maximum temperatures by up to 1 degree C. …

    …The urban heat island can be a killer. Counter-intuitively, the biggest effects are often at night. Vulnerable people such as the old who are stressed by heat during the day badly need the chance to cool down at night. Without that chance, they can succumb to heat stroke and dehydration. New research published this week underlines that temperature peaks can cause a spike in heart attacks. …

    …A combination of rising temperatures and high humidity is already predicted to make parts of the Persian Gulf region the first in the world to become uninhabitable due to climate change. And a study published in February predicted temperatures as much as 10 degrees C hotter in most European cities by century’s end. No wonder the calls to cool cities are growing….

    …Whitewashed walls, arrays of photovoltaic cells, and stubble-filled fields can all provide local relief during the sweltering decades ahead. But policymakers beware. It doesn’t always work like that. There can be unintended consequences, both on temperature and other aspects of climate, like rainfall. Even local geoengineering needs to be handled with care.

  6. Eroding coasts need protection — and new solutions are at hand

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    • Seawalls and other common strategies to control erosion don’t always protect the land. Another possibility? Living shorelines.
    • If trends continue, researchers estimate up to one-third of U.S. shorelines could be armored by 2100.

    by Maria Dolan March 2018  Read full ensia article here

    Graphic courtesy of NOAA

    …shorelines with seawalls, rip-rap (jumbled boulders) or other forms [are] what’s often called shoreline armoring. A 2016 paper describes detailed research …that shows how Puget Sound armoring can change everything from the texture of the beach (beaches get coarser, with less sand and more cobble) to the presence of logs and washed up plant life. The more armoring along a stretch of beach, the more impact it has.

    …In many cases, armoring can temporarily protect land — and structures — from erosion. But …armoring puts a wall between the upland shore and the water, creating a disconnect and often loss of important habitat such as wetlands. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)–funded study found that shoreline hardening, particularly rip-rap, was associated with a reduced abundance of vegetation even below the water’s surface, such as the eelgrass that shelters juvenile fish, crustaceans and shellfish and helps ecosystems function in other ways. Along beaches with seawalls, researchers find less diversity in fish and invertebrates….

    Some 14 percent — or 14,000 miles (23,000 kilometers) — of U.S. tidal shoreline is currently behind some form of shoreline armoring, put in place by both local and federal governments and private landowners. This number is projected to grow as sea levels rise and more severe storms give shoreline property owners more to worry about and as more properties are built in shoreline locations that are vulnerable to erosion. If trends continue, researchers estimate up to one-third of U.S. shorelines could be armored by 2100. 

    …the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, known in the past for canals, dams and other distinctly “hard” structures, has been supportive of the concept and in 2017 issued a streamlined permit specifically for living shoreline projects. The Department of Defense has used hybrid living shoreline techniques to stop erosion while improving habitat at several sites, such as installing shell-based reefs for oysters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa…

    ….According to research published last year by University of California, Santa Cruz, civil and coastal engineer Siddharth Narayan and colleagues, coastal wetlands have protected many properties from flood damage during storm events, specifically helping property owners avoid US$625 million in direct flood damages during Hurricane Sandy. The researchers estimate a 16 percent average reduction in annual flood losses — and up to 70 percent in some locations — in Ocean County, New Jersey, due to the presence of salt marshes, indicating that wetlands help protect shorelines outside major storm events, too.

    Additionally, salt marsh meadows may help slow climate change — one of the drivers of some storms — by storing carbon dioxide. According to NOAA researcher Jenny L. Davis and colleagues, salt marshes can store more carbon per acre over the course of a year than mature tropical forests….

  7. Living in a fire-adapted landscape: Priorities for watershed resiliency in Sonoma County’s natural and working lands

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    February 12 2018 Living in a Fire-Adapted Landscape

    In the wake of the North Bay fires, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors directed the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space District to convene a coalition of organizations and agencies to identify short-term actions for watershed recovery and long-term strategies for watershed resiliency. This Watershed Collaborative included the active engagement and participation of nearly 160 individuals representing over 65 local nonprofits [including Point Blue Conservation Science], RCDs and community groups, as well as state and federal agencies. Together, this group developed a set of short-term recovery and long-term strategies for watershed resiliency. The report, Living in a Fire-Adapted Landscape, was delivered to our Board in January, and will be a foundational document for the Natural Resources position in the County’s newly-formed Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

    THE REPORT: Living in a fire-adapted landscape: Priorities for resiliency in Sonoma County’s natural and working lands (pdf) Jan 2018

    Overall Priorities
    1. Support landowners and land managers in assessing and mitigating watershed impacts from the 2017 North Bay fires.
    2. Increase community awareness and preparedness for living in fire-prone landscapes.
    3. Evaluate the response of natural and working lands to the fires to inform recovery, vegetation management, and fire-preparedness efforts.
    4. Identify and implement practices – including land conservation, fuel-load
    management – that maximize the resiliency of natural and working lands to
    climate change and future disasters.
    5. Ensure long-term attention to community and ecosystem resiliency through policy, long-term funding, and established working groups.
    6. Permanently protect a network of lands that support biological diversity through changing climate conditions and prevent development in high risk areas.
  8. Managing land to be cooler- including changing crops, moving to no till agriculture and lightening infrastructure – can reduce heat extremes by 2-3 degrees Celsius

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    • The researchers modeled how changing only the radiative properties of agricultural land and high population areas across North America, Europe and Asia would impact average temperatures, extreme temperatures and precipitation. The results showed small impacts on average temperatures, little change in precipitation — except in Asia — but significant reductions in extreme temperatures.
    • Albedo-related climate benefits of land management should be considered more prominently when assessing regional-scale climate adaptation and mitigation as well as ecosystem services.

    January 29, 2018 University of New South Wales read full ScienceDaily article here

    New research shows how simple, proven land-based geo-engineering measures can reduce the hottest days by 2-3 degrees C. Lightening buildings, roads and infrastructure in densely populated areas and changing crop types and using no till agricultural practices over farmland can all take the edge off the hottest days as climate change raises extreme temperatures…
    …Unlike many other climate-engineering methods proposed to tackle climate change, many of these regional modifications have already been tested and proven to work. Critically, this method has fewer risks compared with injecting aerosols into the atmosphere.“Extreme temperatures are where human and natural systems are most vulnerable. Changing the radiative properties of land helps address this issue with fewer side effects,” said Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, Prof Andy Pitman.”This research suggests that by taking a regional approach, at least in temperate zones, policy and investment decisions can be pragmatically and affordably focused on areas of greatest need…….The researchers gained their results by modelling how changing only the radiative properties of agricultural land and high population areas across North America, Europe and Asia would impact average temperatures, extreme temperatures and precipitation.The results showed small impacts on average temperatures, little change in precipitation — except in Asia — but significant reductions in extreme temperatures…..”We must remember land-based climate engineering is not a silver bullet, it is just one part of a possible climate solution, and it would have no effects on global mean warming or ocean acidification. There are still important moral, economic and practical imperatives to consider that mean mitigation and adaption should still remain at the forefront of our approach to dealing with global warming.”…

    Sonia I. Seneviratne, Steven J. Phipps, Andrew J. Pitman, Annette L. Hirsch, Edouard L. Davin, Markus G. Donat, Martin Hirschi, Andrew Lenton, Micah Wilhelm, Ben Kravitz. Land radiative management as contributor to regional-scale climate adaptation and mitigation. Nature Geoscience, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41561-017-0057-5

    ABSTRACT: Greenhouse gas emissions urgently need to be reduced. Even with a step up in mitigation, the goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 °C remains challenging. Consequences of missing these goals are substantial, especially on regional scales. Because progress in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions has been slow, climate engineering schemes are increasingly being discussed. But global schemes remain controversial and have important shortcomings. A reduction of global mean temperature through global-scale management of solar radiation could lead to strong regional disparities and affect rainfall patterns. On the other hand, active management of land radiative effects on a regional scale represents an alternative option of climate engineering that has been little discussed. Regional land radiative management could help to counteract warming, in particular hot extremes in densely populated and important agricultural regions. Regional land radiative management also raises some ethical issues, and its efficacy would be limited in time and space, depending on crop growing periods and constraints on agricultural management. But through its more regional focus and reliance on tested techniques, regional land radiative management avoids some of the main shortcomings associated with global radiation management. We argue that albedo-related climate benefits of land management should be considered more prominently when assessing regional-scale climate adaptation and mitigation as well as ecosystem services.

  9. Towards natural capital accounting in the Netherlands

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    • Companies, government officials and other stakeholders in the Netherlands are piloting approaches to more accurately measure their dependence and impact on natural capital.
    • in 2016 they began developing a system of National Natural Capital Accounts…
    5 Jan 2018 Read the full UN Environment Program article here

    By Joop van Bodegraven, policy adviser on nature conservation for the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality

    ….Only 14 per cent of the land in the Netherlands is covered in natural or semi-natural vegetation or forests; little is left of the region’s original biodiversity. The practices of Dutch companies and the consumption patterns of Dutch consumers are also putting a heavy burden on land resources in other countries around the world.

    To reverse this development, the Dutch government and partners are making considerable efforts to conserve high-value biodiversity and natural landscapes, which provide society with many services. Policies are promoting nature-inclusive land use and nature-based solutions to meet people’s needs and halt biodiversity loss…

    ….a transition is needed towards a future where companies, government officials and other stakeholders more accurately measure their dependence and impact on natural capital. This will help create a more sustainable society.

    …Since 2014 the government has been investing in:

    • International cooperation and standardization, working alongside the Natural Capital Coalition, the World Bank, IUCN, and the European Union’s Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems as well as their Services working group
    • Setting up coalitions of companies to speed up the deployment of natural capital accounting in certain economic sectors. Part of the approach is creating community platforms on natural capital, where challenges and experiences are shared and matched.
    • Further development of data and tools for businesses (especially small and medium-sized enterprises)
    • Tools, knowledge and guidance to integrate natural capital accounting in policy-related issues, like National Natural Capital Accounts, NCA guidance in societal cost-benefit analysis, and criteria for sustainable procurement.                             

    Building on two local pilots and a pilot for the province South-Limburg, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and Wageningen University started a project in 2016 to develop a system of National Natural Capital Accounts, following the guidelines of the UN System of Environmental Economic Accounts – Experimental Ecosystem Accounting…

    The project is looking primarily at the ecosystems part of natural capital: woodland, heathland, but also ecosystems in agricultural and built-up areas. High resolution Land Cover Ecosystem Unit (LCEU) maps have been developed, as have tables for the physical supply and use of 15 or more ecosystem services.

    One output was the recent publication of a full carbon account. Further work in 2018 aims to finish accounts for the supply and use of ecosystem services, and for the state of ecosystems and biodiversity….

  10. 20 percent more trees in megacities would mean cleaner air and water, lower carbon and energy use

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    18 Jan 2018   read full ScienceDaily article here

    Planting 20 percent more trees in our megacities would double the benefits of urban forests, like pollution reduction, carbon sequestration and energy reduction. The authors of the study say city planners, residents and other stakeholders should start looking within cities for natural resources and conserve the nature in our urban areas by planting more trees….

    T. Endreny, R. Santagata, A. Perna, C. De Stefano, R.F. Rallo, S. Ulgiati. Implementing and managing urban forests: A much needed conservation strategy to increase ecosystem services and urban wellbeing. Ecological Modelling, 2017; 360: 328 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2017.07.016