FAO Report Cites Means to Evaluate Climate Smart Agriculture Systems
A report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that reviews the monitoring and evaluation frameworks, tools and guidance documents that are available for climate smart agriculture (CSA) systems was released at an international conference last week.
The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA) is an FAO strategic partner. “Dare to Understand and Measure (DaTUM) – A literature review of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) frameworks for Climate-Smart Agriculture” focuses particularly on the second CSA pillar, adaptation and resilience.
The FAO says the overall goal of monitoring and evaluation activities, along with other assessments, is to effectively guide the transition of sound CSA policies into programs that can be successfully implemented on the ground.
The report, which was released at the Climate Smart Agriculture Science Summit in Bali, is a review of a large part of the relevant literature. And while it does not propose a new methodology, the report summarizes the main M&E frameworks.
The report represents the first step towards the development of operational guidelines for the design and implementation of national monitoring and evaluation frameworks for CSA, says Rima Al-Azar, FAO’s NACSA coordinator and lead of the Climate Smart Agriculture team at the agency.
The operational guidelines address the core constraints and needs of nations on both the design and implementation of an M&E system that can simultaneously address CSA and help nations comply with reporting requirements on climate change called for under the 2030 Agenda for the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Proposed WH Fix to RFS Waiver Issues Falls Short of Hopes
EPA sparked an outcry from the biofuel sector when it announced in August that it would grant still another 31 “hardship waivers” to small refineries who say complying with the RFS would pose and unreasonable economic hardship. The 85 waivers granted by the Trump administration over the past three years – some to refineries owned by oil giants like Exxon-Mobile and Chevron – compares to 23 SREs granted over the last three years of the Obama administration.
A long-awaited agreement announced by the Trump Administration late last month in which EPA and USDA officials said they will restore the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and address complaints over the issuance of “small refinery exemptions” (SREs) was at first met with guarded optimism by national biofuel organizations.
The waivers total some 4 billion gallons of biofuels not blended in petroleum. In the past year, at least 15 ethanol plants have been shuttered or idled, cutting demand for more than 300 million bushels of corn and resulting in the loss of 2,700 rural jobs. A study from the University of Illinois shows the damage caused by the SREs to the U.S. biodiesel and renewable diesel industry, which has seen nine producers from across the country close their doors or reduced operations and laid off more than 200 employees, could reach $7.7 billion, or 2.54 billion gallons of fuel.
Feeling the heat from disgruntled farmers – after rural America played a major factor in Trump’s election in 2016 – the president called on the EPA and USDA to come up with a fix.
The EPA said the agreement calls for the following actions from the two agencies:
- In a forthcoming supplemental notice building off the recently proposed 2020 Renewable Volume Standards and the Biomass-Based Diesel Volume for 2021, EPA will propose and request public comment on expanding biofuel requirements beginning in 2020.
- EPA will seek comment on actions to ensure that more than 15 billion gallons of conventional ethanol be blended into the nation’s fuel supply beginning in 2020, and that the volume obligation for biomass-based diesel is met. This will include accounting for relief expected to be provided for small refineries.
- EPA intends to take final action later this year.
- Building on the President’s earlier decision to allow year-round sales of E15, EPA will initiate a rulemaking process to streamline labeling and remove other barriers to the sale of E15.
- EPA will continue to evaluate options for RIN market transparency and reform.
- USDA will seek opportunities through the budget process to consider infrastructure projects to facilitate higher biofuel blends.
- The Administration will continue to work to address ethanol and biodiesel trade issues.
The president said the agreement would generate some 16 billion gallons of ethanol in 2020, but EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler later said the deal will “net out” 15 billion gallons, the amount called for by the RFS.
On October 11th, the Environmental Protection Agency released details of a new plan to account for small-refinery exemptions starting in 2020 with a three-year rolling average of the relief recommended by the Department of Energy. The proposal will not account for prior-year waivers already granted to small refiners.
This was understood to be a weakening of the previously reported agreement, which calculated the three-year rolling average by actual volumes waived. As DOE recommendations represent neither a legally binding agreement nor as significant a volume as granted by the real-world waivers, multiple stakeholders expressed disappointment with the language of the rule.
Still pending is a petition filed in July by several biofuel-related organizations with U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia calling on the EPA to revise its RFS regulations for setting annual percentage standards of renewable fuel to account for small refinery exemptions the agency issues retroactively. EPA’s current regulations factor in only future small refinery exemptions granted prior to the compliance year, despite the fact that most of the exemptions granted in recent years have been for compliance periods that had already ended.
A typical ethanol plant in West Burlington, Iowa (Big River Resources, LLC). Photo by Steven Vaughn.
Study: Climate Change Could Cause Drought in Wheat-Growing Areas
In a new study, researchers found that unless steps are taken to mitigate climate change, up to 60 percent of current wheat-growing areas worldwide could see simultaneous, severe and prolonged droughts by the end of the century.
Wheat is the world’s largest rain-fed crop in terms of harvested area and supplies about 20 percent of all calories consumed by humans.
The risk of widespread drought in wheat production areas is four times the level scientists see today, said Song Feng, associate professor of geosciences and the second author on the study published in the journal Science Advances. Such droughts would be a shock to the food production system.
Given present-day weather patterns, severe drought could affect up to 15 percent of current wheat-growing areas, the study states. Researchers found that even if global warming is held to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the target of the Paris Agreement, up to 30 percent of global wheat production areas could see simultaneous drought.
“This clearly suggests that that global warming will affect food production,” said Feng.
For the study, Feng and colleagues analyzed 27 climate models, each of which had three different scenarios.
“It was terabytes of information, and it took a couple months and multiple computers to run,” he said.
Feng and Miroslav Trnka, a professor at the Global Change Research Institute in the Czech Republic and first author of the study, came up with the idea for the study over pizza at a conference in Nebraska. They sketched out the initial ideas for the study on the back of a napkin.
The study found that historically, the total area affected by severe drought worldwide and food prices are closely related. More widespread drought has meant higher food prices in the past.
“If only one country or region sees a drought there is less impact,” Feng said. “But if multiple regions are affected simultaneously, it can affect global production and food prices, and lead to food insecurity.”
Human Actions Can Stem Economic Impacts of Climate Change: Study
Actions taken now can moderate what is otherwise projected to be a huge financial toll by climate change in the years ahead, according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The study estimates global-scale, multi-sectoral economic impacts of climate change, and suggests that a plausible range of decisions and actions by humans taken now can determine the scale of those economic impacts, even if uncertainty remains over exactly how much the climate will respond to growing greenhouse gas concentrations.
Researchers say people are less motivated to take action if its outcome is uncertain, and this could be true for climate-related issues. They note that the uncertainty in climate response to the increase in greenhouse gas concentration, which is often believed to be substantially large, makes it difficult to believe the benefit of reducing emissions or the effectiveness of making society more resilient to climate-related hazards.
“The uncertainty over response could be one of the reasons for inaction, even though urgent action is called for,” the study notes.
The authors of the study say they hope their work can relieve that uncertainty, contending the that mankind’s decisions and actions taken now can overwhelm the uncertainty in climate response by reducing the impact of climate change.
Researchers acknowledge that estimating the economic impacts of climate change is itself extremely challenging because it can affect society in many ways.
However, collaboration between researchers in a diverse range of fields enabled the team conducting the study to undertake a global-scale assessment covering the economic impacts associated with climate change for nine impact sectors: agricultural productivity, undernourishment, heat-related excess mortality, cooling/heating demand, occupational health costs, capacity of hydroelectric power generation, capacity of thermal power generation, fluvial flooding, and coastal inundation.
More than 200 Iowa Scientists Issue Sobering Extreme Heat Warning
Just weeks after July 2019 was named the hottest month in 140 years of record-keeping, more than 200 science faculty and researchers from 38 Iowa colleges and universities endorsed a statement making clear the urgency of preparing for dangerously hot summers in the decades to come
Iowa Climate Statement 2019: Dangerous Heat Events to Become More Frequent and Severe, released Sept. 18, cites the most up-to-date scientific sources in warning Iowans and Midwesterners of sobering extreme heat projections for the region.
“It’s time to get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the next 10 to 15 years,” said Jerry Schnoor, co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. “It is our best hope for lessening the impact of these dire predictions for people in Iowa.”
“Heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S, said Peter Thorne, director of the University of Iowa Environmental Health Sciences Research Center. “Iowans that work outside will need to take special precautions.”
Key findings shared in the statement include:
- By midcentury, temperatures in Iowa will exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit 67 days per year, compared to a 23-day average in recent decades.
- By midcentury, the average daily high temperature for each year’s hottest five-day period will be 98 degrees, compared to 92 degrees in recent decades.
- Once per decade, five-day average high temperature will be 105 degrees.
- Extreme heat is the leading weather-related cause of death in the United States. Low-income neighborhoods, the elderly, outdoor workers (especially construction and farm labor) and domestic animals are especially vulnerable.
- Confined livestock are at increased risk for death and widespread productivity loses. Producers will need to adjust their operations to deal with extreme heat events.
- Adaptations to increasing heat waves will require expanded disaster preparedness, increased energy use and curtailment of outdoor work and recreation during times of extreme heat.
“Many homes, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, are not equipped with air-conditioning,” said David Courard-Hauri, Chair of Environmental Science and Sustainability, Drake University. “More 90-degrees-Fahrenheit days will place a greater burden on low-income families paying higher energy bills to stay cool in the summer.”
“Our furry pets are also vulnerable just like people are,” said Peter Levi, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Science and Sustainability, Drake University. “Pet kept outdoors or in homes without climate control will be negatively affected, and pets left in vehicles will succumb to the heat more rapidly.”
The UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research has released annual climate statements since 2011. These statements, vetted by Iowa’s top experts, place pivotal climate change research into an Iowa-specific context, encouraging preparedness and resilience in the face of a climate crisis.
Study Finds Rising Ozone a Hidden Threat to Corn
Like atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide, ground-level ozone is on the rise. But researchers say ozone, a greenhouse gas (GHG) that is a noxious chemical byproduct of fossil fuel combustion, has received relatively little attention as a potential threat to corn agriculture.
A new study begins to address this lapse by exposing a genetically diverse group of corn plants in the field to future ozone levels. The study, reported in the journal
Global Change Biology, found that some members of the corn family tree are more susceptible than others to yield losses under high ozone air pollution. Discovering the genetic underpinnings of those differences could help plant scientists develop ozone-resistant corn, the researchers said.
“Ozone enters plants the same way carbon dioxide does: It diffuses from the atmosphere into the leaf,” said Lisa Ainsworth, a USDA scientist who led the research with University of Illinois plant biology professor Andrew Leakey; University of Florida molecular genetics and microbiology professor Lauren McIntyre; and University of California, Davis plant sciences professor Patrick Brown. Ainsworth and Leakey are affiliates of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and the department of crop sciences at Illinois.
The Free Air Concentration Enrichment facility at the University of Illinois’ South Farms allows scientists to dose agricultural fields with varying levels of atmospheric gases, including ozone.Photo by James Baltz, Univ. of Ill.
Carbon dioxide is a nutrient for plants, Ainsworth said. “All the carbon that ends up in the grain comes through the leaf first,” she said. But ozone is a highly reactive molecule that damages biological tissues and impairs photosynthetic carbon capture in plant leaves.
“Basically, ozone accelerates the aging of the leaf,” Leakey said.
Even background levels of ozone do some damage, Ainsworth said.
“Our research suggests that current ozone levels decrease corn yields by as much as 10 percent,” she said. “That’s as much as drought or flooding or any single pest or disease, but this is a relatively unstudied component of yield loss in the U.S.”
The researchers used the Free Air Concentration Enrichment (FACE) facility at the University of Illinois to track the real-world consequences of higher atmospheric ozone levels in an agricultural field. The FACE facility uses a sophisticated emission system that monitors wind direction and speed to dose a field with specific levels of a variety of gases, including ozone.
“The level that we’re fumigating to in this study is a level that is commonly found today in China and India,” Ainsworth said. “So, it’s not excessively high, even though we’re using a concentration that is 2 1/2 times the level of background ozone in central Illinois.”
The researchers planted 45 hybrid corn plants representing all the major types of corn – popcorn, sweet corn, dent, flint and others – to look for variation in their responses to high ozone levels. They found that some hybrids were more sensitive to ozone stress than others.
“We found two maize lines whose offspring were more sensitive to ozone pollution, regardless of which other types of corn we bred them with,” Leakey said. “Their genetic deficiencies manifested in different ways when exposed to the high ozone conditions.”
The genetics of commercial corn are a trade secret, so “we don’t know if these corn varieties have the same Achilles’ heels,” Leakey said. “Breeders would not know about these differences since they are not apparent under clean-air conditions.”
More genetic analysis and more experiments like those conducted at the FACE facility will be needed to determine how today’s plants will respond to future conditions, Leakey said.
“It’s important to understand how plants are going to respond to climate change before the climate changes,” he said. “That is the only way we can find the solutions that will be needed in the future.”
The National Science Foundation supported the research.
Researchers See Need for Action on Forest Fire Risk
How do humans affect forest fires? And what can we learn from forest fires in the past for the future of forestry in a changing climate?
An international team of researchers provides new answers to these questions, showing a region in northeastern Poland where forest fires increasingly occurred after the end of the 18th century and during a change to organized forestry. Among other findings, the conversion of forests into pine monocultures played a role, with an increased number of fires subsequently making it necessary to manage and maintain the forests differently.
In the new study, the researchers examined the extent to which forest management influenced the fire regime in a temperate forest landscape in the Tuchola Forest, located in north-eastern Poland and designated as one of the largest forest areas of Central Europe.