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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.


    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.


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Friday, October 17, 2008

UN Foundation report: Bioenergy can lift West-Africa out of poverty

A very important report released by the United Nations Foundation, the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Energy and Security Group finds that bioenergy can provide significant economic and environmental opportunities for rural areas in West Africa, where 70% of the region's poor make a living. The report, "Sustainable Bioenergy in UEMOA Member Countries", released at FAO Headquarters in Rome, finds that donor and host country investments in bioenergy can reduce the exposure of West African countries to high food and oil prices and open up new economic opportunities in clean energy development.


Biomass can also expand agricultural production across the UEMOA (the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa) nations of Benin, Burkina-Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo (map, click to enlarge) which have been hit hard by the food crisis and rising oil prices. Sound bioenergy production policies can help drive a coordinated approach to poverty reduction and reduce the impact of climate change on these already vulnerable areas.
This report takes on the twin challenges of energy and agriculture and explores how bioenergy crops and modern uses of biomass in rural areas of West Africa could play a role in alleviating poverty while protecting food production. It is vital that policies and technologies are developed and implemented to better use agricultural and forest residues. If used correctly, these energy feedstocks hold great potential for efficient and affordable locally-produced fuels and this can be done in a sustainable and responsible way that ensures the world’s most vulnerable populations have access to clean fuels and are not put at further risk. - Melinda Kimble, Senior Vice President with the UN Foundation.

Commissioned by UEMOA and the Rural Hub for Western and Central Africa, a key regional NGO promoting rural poverty alleviation, the report finds that these oil-import dependent countries possess enough arable land (table 1, click to enlarge) and forests to cultivate sufficient foodstocks and harvest biomass to produce expanded amounts of bioenergy. But less than two percent of these arable acres are irrigated, leaving them vulnerable to erratic weather patterns. The report concludes that greater investment in irrigation, as well as fertilizer and farm equipment are all needed if agricultural yields are to increase in line with a growing population.


Better yields are essential in order to improve standards of living in UEMOA countries, since roughly 70% of the population depends on agricultural or forestry-related jobs (table 2, click to enlarge). Conversely, only seven percent of the rural population has access to electricity, greatly limiting economic growth, the report finds.
Access to affordable energy is a critical factor in the development of rural communities, and one that is often forgotten. Bioenergy offers African farmers a unique opportunity to generate the energy that they need to grow food crops and improve agriculture productivity. With the right public policies in place and the blueprint for action included in the report, UEMOA countries can harness that potential and win the fight against both rural poverty and climate change. - Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, Executive Director of the Rural Hub
According to the report, key factors to guide sustainable bioenergy include improving agriculture and forest productivity, and protecting watersheds, which would also put governments in a better position to fight against climate change and cope with inevitable impacts. Traditional wood biomass production – 73% of primary energy used in the region – must be adapted to create more efficient and cleaner fuel.

Bioenergy can be transformative for the region – greatly expanding electricity and energy access, creating more jobs and better income in rural communities and growth across national and regional economies:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Innovative crop management, farmer training, and consistent investment are needed to improve agriculture productivity in this region. Land use, protection of small producers, infrastructure improvement, data collection, and women’s roles are some of the critical points which must be taken into account by governments in order to secure sustainability, the report found.
Achieving the Millenium Development Goals demands well-integrated agricultural and energy policies if progress is to be sustained. It is my hope that this report provides a new view of the potential of agriculture to help millions of Africans get out of the dark and out of poverty. - Kandeh K. Yumkella, Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
The United Nations Foundation is an advocate for the UN and a platform for connecting people, ideas and capital to help the United Nations solve global problems. We build partnerships, grow constituencies, mobilize resources and advocate policy changes to support the UN’s work for individual and global progress. The UN Foundation’s work — focused on select global problems — is decreasing child mortality, improving disaster relief, protecting diverse cultures and environments, creating a clean energy future, empowering women and girls, and improving U.S.-UN relations. The UN Foundation is a public charity.

The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) was established in Geneva in September 1996 to contribute to a better understanding of development and environment concerns in the context of international trade. As an independent non-profit and non-governmental organisation, ICTSD engages a broad range of actors in ongoing dialogue about trade and sustainable development. With a wide network of governmental, non-governmental and inter-governmental partners, ICTSD plays a unique systemic role as a provider of original, non-partisan reporting and facilitation services at the intersection of international trade and sustainable development.

The Rural Hub for Western and Central Africa is a non-governmental organization whose goal is to assist West and Central African stakeholders (States, Inter-governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organisations and Development Partners) to promote coherence in rural development programmes worldwide.

References:

UN Foundation: Sustainable Bioenergy Development in UEMOA Member Countries - October 2008 [separate chapters in *.pdf format - full report in one *.pdf file, here].


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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Forest peoples' rights key to reducing emissions from deforestation - high risk of backlash


Unless based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities, efforts by rich countries to combat climate change by funding reductions in deforestation in developing countries will fail, and could even unleash a devastating wave of forest loss, cultural destruction, corruption, land grabs and even civil conflict, warned a leading group of forestry and development experts meeting in Oslo this week.

The experts are gathering in Oslo with policymakers and community leaders for a conference on rights, forests and climate change. The conference was organized by two non-profits, Rainforest Foundation Norway and the US-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

Speaking at the meeting, Norway's Minister of Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, says efforts towards reduced emissions from deforestation in developing countries should be based on the rights of indigenous peoples to the forests they depend on for their livelihoods, and provide tangible benefits consistent with their essential role in sustainable forest management.
In addition to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation [REDD], early action, pilot projects and demonstrations should safeguard biodiversity, contribute to poverty reduction and secure the rights of forest dependent communities in order to achieve any degree of permanence, legitimacy and effectiveness. - Erik Solheim
Deforestation is responsible for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing it is seen as one of the most straightforward ways of cutting emissions. But if care is not taken, new initiatives to reduce deforestation could even make matters worse.
Moves to finance reductions in tropical deforestation and forest degradation are necessary and welcome. But on their own they won't solve the problem. Poorly devised, they could even make it worse. If such initiatives are well designed they can not only secure carbon but present a global opportunity to address the underlying causes of poverty and conflict in many developing countries. - Andy White, Coordinator of RRI
Globally, climate change negotiators are considering the introduction of a new financial mechanism, known as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), that could generate billions of dollars for reducing forest loss in the tropics. Meanwhile, the Government of Norway has already pledged up to 3 billion Norwegian kroner annually (US$ 500 million) to cut emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in tropical countries:
To achieve long-term reductions in deforestation and forest degradation, it is absolutely necessary to respect and strengthen the rights of indigenous and other forest dependent communities. Many of these schemes are still being developed, and major decisions on how to spend the money will be made in the next few years. For us, the question is whether this money will result in a great deal of good or a great deal of harm to the environment and forest communities. - Lars Løvold, director of Rainforest Foundation Norway
Previous attempts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation have largely failed, often due to a lack of attention to human rights, property rights and transparency:
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There are growing conflicts between indigenous peoples and both forestry companies and conservation organizations. Imposed forest management initiatives are only viable if they respect the customary rights of forest peoples and ensure they have control about what happens on their lands. Indigenous peoples must be accepted as full and fair participants in all climate negotiations. - Joji Carino, Director of TEBTEBBA, the Indigenous Peoples' International Center for Policy Research and Education
Conference organizers worry that REDD could fuel corruption and provoke tensions and land grab situations unless good governance, policies and the rule of law are first put in place.
Indigenous peoples are rightly concerned about how these new investments could affect their access to the forests that they depend on for their livelihoods. This is precisely why we are fully supportive of a role for indigenous peoples and other forest dependent communities in the development and monitoring of climate plans and investments at the national and global level. These rights need to be respected, not just for moral reasons, although that is vital. It is also a matter of pragmatism and effectiveness. - Erik Solheim
Experience from Brazil, the country in the world with the most advanced monitoring of its forests, gives valuable insight to the discussion on how forests can be protected. According to research from the Brazilian NGO Instituto Socioambiental, 19 percent of unprotected forest areas in Brazil have been deforested, while deforestation inside federal national parks is 2 percent. In indigenous territories, however, only 1.1 percent have been deforested.

The Oslo conference will discuss the Four Foundations for Effective Investments in Climate Change:
  1. Recognize rights - establish an equitable legal and regulatory framework for land and resources.
  2. Prioritize payment to communities – ensure that benefits and payments prioritize indigenous and local communities, according to their potential role as forest stewards.
  3. Establish independent advisory and auditing processes to guide, monitor and audit investments and actions at national and global levels.
  4. Monitor more than carbon to keep track of the status of forests, forest carbon, biodiversity and impacts on rights and livelihoods. Secure a role for indigenous peoples in monitoring of emissions, making full use of their knowledge of the state of forest ecosystems, something which could be particularly relevant to keep track of forest degradation.
New research to be presented at the conference demonstrates that the costs of recognizing local rights and tenure systems are low relative to the projected costs of REDD, and that indigenous and other forest communities own or manage a major portion of the global forest carbon stock. The research also shows that communities have proven to be good stewards of the forest.

A new study by RRI and Intercooperation, a Swiss development organization, finds that the average direct cost to legally recognize traditional community tenure rights is around $3 per hectare – an insignificant investment to make when the minimum estimates needed to pay for elements of a global REDD scheme are somewhere between $800 and $3500 per hectare each year for the next 22 years.

Another study that will be released at the conference, by Professor Arun Agrawal of the University of Michigan, uses data from 325 sites in 12 countries to show that community ownership of forests provides the best possibility for increasing carbon stocks and improving livelihood outcomes. This is the most robust research to date at a global scale on the relationship between forest tenure and carbon sequestration, livelihood benefits and biodiversity.

Agrawal's study also finds that the larger the property owned by communities, the better the chances for maintaining and sequestering carbon. This research shows the tremendous scope for cost-effective investments that strengthen local land rights, reduce poverty and conflict, and protect remaining natural forest areas.

To help ensure effective investments to combat in climate change, Rainforest Foundation Norway and RRI have called for the formation of independent bodies to advise and monitor the UN Convention on Climate Change.

Major decisions on REDD, as well as other measures to combat climate change, are likely to be made at the 15th Conference of the UN Convention on Climate Change, which will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009.
In the next fifteen months, the world will have to make a choice. We can continue to ignore the legitimate rights of forest dwellers, which will exacerbate conflict in forests and make REDD ineffective. Or we can learn from the lessons of the past, recognize the property and human rights of forest dwellers, and almost immediately start reaping the benefits. - Lars Løvold
The mission of the Rainforest Foundation is to support indigenous peoples and traditional populations of the world's rainforests in their efforts to protect their environment and fulfill their rights by assisting them in: securing and controlling the natural resources necessary for their long-term well-being and managing these resources in ways which do not harm their environment, violate their culture or compromise their future; and developing the means to protect their individual and collective rights and to obtain, shape, and control basic services from the state.

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) in a new coalition of organisations dedicated to raising global awareness of the critical need for forest tenure, policy and market reforms, in order to achieve global goals of poverty alleviation, biodiversity conservation and forest-based economic growth. Partners currently include ACICAFOC (Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Agroforestry Communities of Central America), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Civic Response, the Foundation for People and Community Development (FPCD), Forest Peoples Programme, Forest Trends, the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), Intercooperation, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the Federation of Community Forest Organisations of Nepal (FECOFUN), and the Regional Community Forestry Training Center for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC).

References:

Interested readers can find background information and follow the Oslo conference discussions, here.

RRI: Beyond Tenure: Rights-Based Approaches to People and Forests - Some lessons from the Forest Peoples Programme - July 2008.


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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Learn to estimate soil texture-by-feel, with the aid of a new computer program

Healthy soils and their efficient management are key to any society's long-term survival. Soils cycle carbon, nitrogen, nutrients and help produce energy in the form of biomass. But there is only a handful of soil scientists around who can help us make the most of this important natural resource. In fact, a lot damage can be done to soils by non-experts working them on a daily basis. And many land-use decisions would be changed if knowledge about soils was put into practise more often. Some basic soil science techniques and skills can be learned by anyone willing to put in some effort, though. An interesting article in the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education explains how you can learn to estimate soil texture-by-feel. A new computer program will help you acquire the necessary skills.

Many soil properties depend largely on soil texture, and texture impacts most land-use decisions. Soil texture strongly influences the nutrient holding ability of a soil, the amount of water the soil can store, the amount of this water that is available to plants, how fast water moves through the soil, the effectiveness of soil in cleaning up waste water, the shrink-swell nature of soil, and many other properties.

D.P. Franzmeier and P.R. Owens of Purdue University write about how soil texture can be determined by using the texture-by-feel method.
Soil texture can be determined in the field using the texture-by-feel method or the samples may be sent to a laboratory for particle-size analysis. The laboratory option is more accurate, but it is more expensive and slower because it can take weeks or months to get the results. - P. R. Owens, lead author
The field method is less accurate than the lab method, but much faster. Soil scientists use texture-by-feel to provide quick reliable estimates of soil texture in the field. This method is used by researchers where numerous samples are required to capture variability, developing soil surveys, and consultants for sizing on-site wastewater disposal systems.

When the texture-by-feel method is used, the estimator takes a soil sample about the size of a marble up to the size of a golf ball. The person estimates the texture by rolling, squeezing, flattening, and pressing the soil between his fingers. Each person develops his own technique for estimating texture. The important point is that while learning the technique, he must always compare his results with laboratory data.

A computer program assesses student performance for estimating particle-size distribution and soil texture. If the estimate coincides exactly with laboratory results, the score is 100%. If the estimate and laboratory results are as far apart as possible, at opposite corners of the texture triangle (click to enlarge), the score is zero:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
Students appreciate the fairness of grading. Also, we can use the method to let a student or professional know if their estimates are consistently above or below the laboratory values, which helps them calibrate their fingers. - Owens
Franzmeier adds that they have used this tool to help registered soil scientists improve their field skills and that they seem to enjoy the challenge.

The program is available on the IRSS website: http://www.isco.purdue.edu/irss/. Select Resources, then Texture Estimate Calculator.


Today's educators are looking to the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education for the latest teaching techniques in the life sciences, natural resources, and agriculture. The journal is continuously updated online during the year and one hard copy is published in December by the American Society of Agronomy.

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive, international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, and founded in 1936, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.

SSSA supports its members by providing quality research-based publications, educational programs, certifications, and science policy initiatives via a Washington, DC, office.

SSSA is the founding sponsor of an approximately 5,000-square foot exhibition, Dig It! The Secrets of Soil, which opened on July 19, 2008 at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum in Washington, DC.


Chart
: soils are classified by analysing their texture, which depends on the amount of clay, sand and silt they contain. Pictured here is the U.S. classification system. There are other systems with some important differences, but the classification principles and the techniques to measure soil texture are the same. Credit: USDA.

References:

D. P. Franzmeier and P. R. Owens, "Soil Texture Estimates: A Tool to Compare Texture-by-Feel and Lab Data" [*.pdf], Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education, N° 37 (2008).

Soil Science Society of America.


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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

EU invests €1 billion into hydrogen R&D - consequences for biomass industry

The European Union and European Industry today announced plans to make fuel cells and hydrogen one of Europe's leading new strategic energy technologies of the future. According to some, fuel cells, as an efficient conversion technology, and hydrogen, as a clean energy carrier, have a great potential to help address energy challenges facing Europe. The European Commission, European Industry and the European Research Community, which compose this public-private Joint Technology Initiative (JTI), will invest together nearly €1 billion over six years in fuel cells and hydrogen research, technological development and demonstration. The goal is to achieve mass-market rollout of these promising technologies before 2020.

In practise, an emphasis on hydrogen means a commitment to bio-hydrogen, which, according to the EU's 'hydrogen roadmap', is seen as both the most efficient, cost-effective and most practical hydrogen production pathway. It is possible to produce hydrogen from the electrolysis of water, with the electricity coming from sources such as solar and wind power. But the costs of these pathways are prohibitive. Hydrogen from biomass also has the largest absolute potential of all the renewable sources. And it has the largest longterm potential of all sources (except coal), when a reference price equivalent to $50 per barrel of petroleum is set (see the recently published EU HyWays report, previous post).

The main goal of the Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) on Fuel Cells and Hydrogen (FCH) is to speed up the development of fuel cells and hydrogen technologies in Europe and enable their commercialisation between 2010 and 2020. The JTI's activities will reduce time to market for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies by between an estimated 2 and 5 years.
By investing in such a results-oriented scientific project, we are putting our money where our mouth is: the development of new technologies is crucial if we are to meet EU objectives to address climate change and energy challenges. This requires the commitment of all actors. Gathering more than 60 private companies, from multinationals to SMEs, together with the Commission, an equal number of universities and research institutes is therefore a great success. This JTI brings together the most significant players to put Europe ahead of the game in new energy technologies. I hope we will see a snowball effect in other strategic research areas. - Janez Potočnik, EU Commissioner for Science and Research
The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative is the best possible vehicle to accelerate the development of technologies and bring the commercialisation of hydrogen and fuel cells forward. The JTI provides us with the unique opportunity to implement our plans on a large European scale. To prepare the market for these strategic technologies it is necessary to ensure the cooperation of all stakeholders: it is not only needed for the relevant industrial sectors to develop the supply chain but it is also critical to ensure the cooperation between Research, Industry and Government, at regional, national and European level. - Gijs van Breda Vriesman, Chairman of the Governing Board of the Joint Undertaking
The JTI partnership will implement an integrated and efficient programme of basic and applied research and technology development, demonstration and support activities, focused on the most promising applications:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

This JTI can be also seen as a first working example of future European Industrial Initiatives, as foreseen by the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-plan) which is to play a vital role in accelerating the development and implementation of low carbon technologies.

The first call for proposals with an indicative budget of 28.1 million Euros was published on 8th October 2008. It covers areas such as transportation and refuelling infrastructures and the production, storage and distribution of hydrogen.

The legal entity, the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, will be led by a Governing Board. Daily management and operations will be the responsibility of an Executive Director supported by the Programme Office seated in Brussels. A Scientific Committee will advise the Governing Board. The Member States will closely follow the activities via the States Representatives Group. The Stakeholders' General Assembly will be held on an annual basis.

Background

Scenario analysis, undertaken in the EU-funded project "HyWAYS" indicates that hydrogen, if introduced with suitable policy measures, could reduce the total oil consumption by the road transport sector by 40% between now and 2050. Furthermore, by 2050, CO2 savings from road transport of up to 50% compared to peak levels are possible. Comparing overall spending for hydrogen production, supply and vehicles with the savings to be gained from replacing conventional fuel and conventional vehicles over time, the break-even point could be most likely reached between 2025 and 2035. Nevertheless European Industry needs additional stimulation to invest in the technology of hydrogen and fuel cells.

On 30 May 2008, the Council of Ministers adopted the regulation setting up the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking. It is the result of 6 years' effort, involving the main stakeholders in the sector and the Commission to prepare this new type of public-private partnership.

References:
The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative : MEMO/08/617 [Overview of the project].

European Commission: "Europe to be in a pole position for the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Race" - October 14, 2008.

Memo "JTI Frequently asked questions": MEMO/07/570.

Memo on Fuel Cell and Hydrogen JTI: MEMO/07/404.

European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform.

Biopact: EU HyWays report concludes biomass least costly and preferred renewable for hydrogen production; hydrogen can replace 40% oil by 2050 - February 26, 2008



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UN to launch 'Green New Deal'

The Independent writes that top economists and United Nations leaders are working on a "Green New Deal" to create millions of jobs, revive the world economy, slash poverty and avert environmental disaster, as the financial markets plunge into their deepest crisis since the Great Depression.

The ambitious plan will call for a massive redirection of investment away from the speculation that has caused the bursting financial and housing bubbles and into job-creating programmes to restore the natural systems that underpin the world economy. Far from restricting growth, healing the global environment will be a desperately needed driving force behind it.

The Green Economy Initiative - which will be spearheaded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – draws its inspiration from Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, which ended the 1930s depression and helped set up the world economy for the unprecedented growth of the second half of the 20th century.

It, too, envisages basing recovery on providing work for the poor, as well as reform of financial practices, after a crash brought on by unregulated excesses of the free market and the banking system.

The new multimillion dollar initiative – which is being already funded by the German and Norwegian Governments and the European Commission – arises out of a study commissioned by world leaders at the 2006 G8 summit into the economic value of ecosystems (previous post: Green Economy could create tens of millions of jobs). It is backed up by a report by the New Economics Foundation, titled: A Green New Deal: Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices.

Over the last quarter of a century, says UNEP, world growth has doubled, but 60 per cent of the natural resources that provide food, water, energy and clean air have been seriously degraded. Restoring these ecosystem services can become the engine of the Green New Deal.

Achim Steiner, UNEP's Executive Director, adds that new research shows that every year, for example the felling of forests deprives the world of over $2.5 trillion worth of such services in supplying water, generating rainfall, stopping soil erosion, cleaning the air and reducing global warming . By comparison, he points out, the global financial crisis is so far estimated to have cost the world the smaller one-off sum of $1.5 trillion:
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Switching direction and concentrating on 'green growth' will not only prevent such catastrophes, but rescue the world's finances.
The new, green economy would provide a new engine of growth, putting the world on the road to prosperity again. This is about growing the world economy in a more intelligent, sustainable way. The 20th century economy, now in such crisis, was driven by financial capital. The 21st century one is going to have to be based on developing the world's natural capital to provide the lasting jobs and wealth that are needed, particularly for the poorest people on the planet. - Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director
Steiner says for example, that it makes more sense to invest in preserving forests, peatlands and soils, which naturally absorb carbon dioxide, than destroying them and then developing expensive technology to do the job.

He points out that the world market for environmental goods and service already stands at $1.3 trillion and is expected to double over the next 12 years even on present trends.
There is an enormous opportunity to ride on this increasing global demand for environmental improvement and turn it into the driver of economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction that is now so desperately needed. And in some places it is already beginning to happen. - Achim Steiner
Mr Steiner will launch the initiative in London a week on Wednesday, October 22nd, with the announcement of three projects, concentrating on how investing in the world's natural systems, in renewable energy and in other green technologies would stimulate growth and provide jobs, and giving examples of where it is already taking place.
Hundreds of millions of jobs can be created, there is no question that traditional industries like steel and cars cannot provide them. But this is a really huge business opportunity. - Pavan Sukhdev, chair of Deutschbank's Global Market Centre, leading the initiative
References:
Biopact: UN report: green economy could create tens of millions of new jobs - September 25, 2008

UNEP: Green Jobs: Towards Decent work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World - September 2008.

UNEP: Green jobs initiative.

New Economics Foundation: A Green New Deal: Joined-up policies to solve the triple crunch of the credit crisis, climate change and high oil prices [*.pdf] - October 2008.


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Monday, October 13, 2008

Wireless soil sensors to help farming, improve understanding of carbon, nitrogen cycles


Researchers from Iowa State University are developing wireless soil sensors that will improve farming and may help grow our understanding of the increasingly important carbon and nitrogen cycles. The sensors could also help determine the effects of biochar added to soils. Interestingly, the sensors can be buried deep in the soil and transmit data without above-ground antennas. The technology could play an important role in precision farming.

Researcher Ratnesh Kumar leads the team that's developing transceivers and sensors designed to collect and send data about soil moisture within a field. The scientists are tweaking the sensors in such a way that they will also collect data about soil temperature and nutrient content.

A major goal is to build small sensors (the prototypes are about 2 inches wide, 4 inches long and less than an inch thick) that can do their work entirely underground. The sensors won't need wires or above-ground antennas, so farmers could work right over the top of them. The sensors would also be able to report their locations. That would make it easy to find sensors if a plow were to move them or when batteries need to be replaced.

Kumar, an Iowa State professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the sensors are designed to be buried about a foot deep in a grid pattern 80 to 160 feet apart. The sensors would relay data along the grid to a central computer that would record information for researchers or farmers.

The sensors could help researchers understand precisely how water moves through a field. They could help them develop better models to predict crop growth and yield. And they could help them understand the carbon and nitrogen cycles within soils.

And those sensors could help farmers manage their nutrient and water resources. That could maximize yields and profits. In turn, this could minimize environmental impacts, because if nutrients are in excess of what is needed, it does not help the yield. Those resources just drain into the environment:
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Stuart Birrell, an Iowa State associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and a part of the sensor research team, said the project will provide the kind of real-time, high-resolution data that researchers and producers have been looking for:
A challenge of precision agriculture is collecting data at a high enough resolution that you can make good decisions. These sensors would provide very high resolution data for producers and researchers. They would give us another data layer to explain differences in yield and help us make management decisions. - Stuart Birrell
Kumar adds that the sensors have worked underground in preliminary, point-to-point tests. A network of multiple sensors will be buried in a research field later this fall for more testing and development.

Also working on the project are Ahmed Kamal, a professor of electrical and computer engineering; Robert Weber, the David C. Nicholas Professor of electrical and computer engineering; Amy Kaleita, an assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and graduate students Candace Batts, Giorgi Chighladze, Jing Huang and Herman Sahota.

The project is supported by a three-year, $239,999 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The goal is to have these sensors in production agriculture. But first the researchers need to develop them and answer more questions about how cost-effective they could be.

Large picture: These nine researchers are working to developing a wireless network of soil sensors that could one day help farmers collect and track soil data. In the back row, left to right, are Amy Kaleita, Candace Batts, project leader Ratnesh Kumar, Jing Huang, Robert Weber, Ahmed Kamal and Stuart Birrell. In the front row, left to right, are Herman Sahota and Giorgi Chighladze. Credit: Bob Elbert.


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