How a Small Grain Can Make a Big Impact

This week’s climate story brings us to the green rice fields of Thailand. As in many other countries, rice is a staple food here. But did you know growing rice causes a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions?

Traditionally, rice is grown on flooded fields called rice paddies. These paddies create ideal conditions for bacteria that emit methane. Why is methane bad? Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.

Today’s story shows how rice farmers in Thailand and all over the world tackle global warming. Reducing and interrupting the period of flooding reduces emissions. This method is called “alternate wetting and drying” and this is how it works:

Traditionally, rice fields are continuously flooded as you can see in the left picture. When irrigation is stopped, the water level slowly decreases, as shown in the center. On the right, the water level is about 15 cm below soil level, where the roots still get water. Once the water level gets lower, the fields gets flooded again and the process of alternate wetting and drying starts all over. This actually increases yields while farmers safe water and electricity to pump the water.

Let’s get back to Thailand. A project funded by the climate finance program NAMA Facility will outreach to 100,000 rice farming households to shift from conventional to low-emission farming. They are implementing best practices from the sustainable rice platform :

  • Alternate wetting and drying: Mid-season drainage alone reduces methane emissions by 35 to 70 percent.
  • Laser land leveling: Fields are leveled with the help of lasers to reduce water usage and increase grain yield and quality.
  • Site specific nutrient management: Farmers reduce the amount of fertilizer and apply it based on local conditions and only when needed.
  • Straw and stubble management: Instead of conventional burning, rice straw and stubble get removed from the field and used for other purposes or incorporated back into the soil.

In Thailand, rice farming has long traditions. The NAMA rice project works with the government and directly with rice farmers to change to new, sustainable farming methods. Here is a quote from Rampha Khamhaeng, a rice farmer from central Thailand:

To be honest, at first I didn’t buy it….Now I tried it and it works — it’s the best way

https://www.ft.com/content/8ff2b454-9390-11ea-899a-f62a20d54625

What I like most about this project is that it reduces emissions and the same time safes farmers money by using less water, fertilizer, and energy. This is another climate solution that is not only more sustainable, but also safes money. Let’s hope many more farmers all over the world are switching to sustainable rice growing practices soon!

Ambitious Corporate Climate Action

Imagine sitting in a minibus while the radio plays the latest Bollywood songs. Through the open window you see palm trees rustling in the wind, and a beautifully decorated, sand- colored temple. This week’s climate story brings us to Rajasthan in India, where India’s largest zinc-lead mining company Hindustan Zinc Limited has its operations.

But let me back up… We all know that we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically. But how do we do that? This is where the Science Based Targets initiative comes into play. They are helping companies to assess and then lower their emissions.

Greenhouse gas emissions must drop to net-zero by 2050. We have limited time for action and the private sector has a crucial role to play – every sector in every market must transform

https://sciencebasedtargets.org/

This inspiring partnership between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Resources Institute, and the World Wide Fund for Nature tackles ambitious corporate climate action. This is how it works:

First, a company commits to the process and develops an emission reduction target. This can look something like this: “We commit to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 from a 2019 base year.” The target then gets submitted, validated, and publicly announced. In the third step, company wide emissions are reported and yearly progress is tracked.

Now back to our story in India. Over 1300 companies from all over the world are taking climate action and Hindustan Zinc is one of the case studies from the science-based targets initiative. They developed an emission reduction target and specific solutions how to get there. Here are some of the steps Hindustan Zinc is taking:

  • Reduce power consumption
  • Improve energy efficiency
  • Establish more efficient cooling methods
  • Increase responsible waste management
  • Become a water-positive company
  • Shift towards green power generation such as a waste heat recovery boiler, wind power plants and solar power

Hindustan Zinc will cut their 2016 greenhouse gas emissions by 14% by 2026. They also commit to cut indirect emissions such as purchased goods, travel and distribution by 20% in the same timeframe. Like other smart companies, Hindustan Zinc realized that climate action helps the company:

“The reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will help to reduce the company’s overall energy consumption, safeguard its future, and improve its brand value”

https://sciencebasedtargets.org/companies-taking-action/case-studies/hindustan-zinc-limited

What I love most about this case study is the realization that climate solutions and running a successful business go hand in hand. Let’s hope they inspire more companies to commit to drastic emission reductions.

A Surprise Hero Taking on Global Warming

This week’s climate story brings us to Central Africa. Imagine walking through a dense rainforest. Suddenly you hear a cracking noise and between the tree trunks you detect movement. And then, from the protection of the trees, a majestic forest elephant emerges.

One of the natural ways to capture greenhouse gases and avoid more global warming are trees. Trees capture and store carbon in their trunks, branches and leaves, but also in their vast network of roots. Not all trees are equal when it comes to carbon capture. Big, mature trees in primary forests are able to capture the most amount.

Central Africa has the second biggest rainforest in the world. How can we protect it? And how can we regrow forests we have lost? Turns out, we have a superhero who specializes on this job: The African forest elephant. This amazing animal thins out forests, optimizing light and water supply for trees to grow bigger and stronger.

This week’s climate story features an IMF article by Ralph Chami, Connel Fullenkamp, Thomas Cosimano and Fabio Berzaghi. They describe how elephant activities increase carbon storage, what benefits they bring, and what value African forest elephants have. This is how it works:

While foraging for food they thin out the forest, creating a healthy forest environment. One forest elephant can stimulate a net increase in carbon capture of 9,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per square kilometer. That’s an equivalent of nearly 2000 passenger cars driven for a year.

What I like most about this article is that it connects environmental systems with a monetary value. The authors calculate the carbon value of a single forest elephant as $1.75 million.

Unfortunately, these elephants are fighting an existential threat, with poaching and deforestation pushing them to extinction.

So how does a monetary value help with protecting and increasing the forest elephant population? One example is a UN program that swaps debt for nature. Lenders agree to reduce a developing economy’s debt and in exchange the developing country protects specific natural resources. This sounds amazing! Let’s hope these programs gain traction soon and help protect and restore these vital ecosystems.

The Road to Net Zero: Detecting and Measuring Emissions

Grab your hat and mittens, it’s going to be cold outside. Imagine going for a walk on a sunny winter day while your lungs fill with cold and crispy air. This week’s climate story brings us up north, to Canada.

We have been introducing many amazing organizations from around the world that develop solutions towards a low carbon future. Today we are highlighting the Montreal based startup GHGSat.

Countries, cities and organizations have been setting targets for a low carbon future. In order to meet these targets, we need to understand where and what type of emissions occur. Today we measure emissions through reporting, earth based sensors, and satellite based sensors. Back to our story of GHGSat in Montreal. While other satellites measure carbon dioxide emissions GHGSat develops satellites to detect methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas:

Over the course of a century, methane has 34 times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide.

https://drawdown.org/solutions/landfill-methane-capture

Some of the biggest sources of methane emissions are coal mining, gas and oil extraction, landfills, and livestock. To get to a low carbon future we need to avoid methane emissions. Where we can’t avoid them we need to capture them. To better understand operational emissions and accidental leaks GHGSat has developed high resolution mapping of methane emissions. This is how it works:

GHGSat detects and measures emissions from industrial sites across the globe. While the satellite orbits the earth spectrometers measure gas concentrations and provide high resolution heat maps of human caused emissions.

Their progress since launching their first satellite in 2016 has been amazing. The high resolution images are getting more and more detailed. Where they detected methane emissions from a coal mine before, they can now map emissions to individual vents.

What I like most is GHGSat’s bold vision to become the global reference for remote sensing of greenhouse gas emissions from any source in the world.

It is inspiring to see how startups all over the world tackle climate change. From drone startups to cultivating seaweed. GHGSat is another example of an amazingly dedicated group of people addressing climate change.

How Do We Keep Track of Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

You guessed it: This week’s climate story leads us all the way to outer space. But let me back up…

Under the Paris Agreement most countries announced to cut down greenhouse gas emissions. Norway, for example, wants to reduce emissions by 55% below 1990 levels by 2030. Each country set their own specific target. But is each country on track? How do we know how much greenhouse gas emissions a country is emitting?

To calculate yearly emissions each country completes a complex inventory. It follows a bottom up approach of counting emissions for different sectors such as transportation, farming, industrial sites etc. for each region. The regions and sectors are then added up to understand national emissions. Unfortunately, there are many uncertainties and unknowns with this bottom up approach.

In recent years satellites have been developed to measure emissions from space. This top down approach has also many uncertainties. For example, one big challenge is to separate human made emissions from natural occurring emissions. So how do we best calculate a county’s yearly emissions? Both bottom up and top down approaches have pros and cons, and it looks like a combination is the way to get to the most accurate numbers.

OK, so let’s get back to outer space. Imagine a group of satellites circling the earth and measuring accurate real time emissions. This is what the European Space Agency is planning to do with its new Sentinel satellites. They are planning to launch the satellites in 2025 to map global carbon dioxide emissions. This is how it works:

Different spectrometers measure atmospheric carbon dioxide. The data is then processed to better understand emissions caused by human activities. The goal is to understand small scale regional emissions as well as overall emissions of big cities. This is how ESA puts it:

  • Detect emitting hot spots, such as megacities & power plants
  • Monitor hot spot emissions to assess emission changes
  • Assess emission changes against local reduction targets
  • Assess the national emissions and changes in 5-year time steps

Decarbonizing our economies is an enormous undertaking. To get there in time we need to get all the help we can get. Let’s hope the Sentinel sensors can help us reach and exceed our emission targets and motivate us to substantially reduce emissions.