How to Address Climate Change 40 Times Better

I’m constantly amazed by teams all over the world tackling climate change. This week’s climate story brings us all the way to Hawaii. Are you thinking about lush forests with waterfalls and beautiful sand beaches? Today we are looking at a different scenery:

North Kohala had suffered two centuries of logging that destroyed the native tropical sandalwood forest, and subsequent cattle grazing had denuded the land and degraded the soil.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/sofialottopersio/2021/06/09/former-reddit-ceos-new-startup-terraformation-raises-30-million-to-restore-forests-and-tackle-climate-change/?sh=219407566f1d

This is the area the startup Terraformation chose for their pilot project. The goal? Reforesting native forests all over the world to reverse climate change.

Their approach includes planning, training, equipment, and finding revenue opportunities with partner sites all over the world. Terraformation researched bottlenecks for forest restoration and developed a set of solutions:

On the left you see the off-grid seed laboratory. It can be used to dry, process and store seeds. In the center is a complete greenhouse with pots, trays and irrigation to grow seedlings. On the right side is a solar powered reverse osmosis system. It provides fresh water for young forest plants. And the best thing? They all fit in a shipping container and can be used off-grid, anywhere in the world. With these solutions Terraformation wants to assure long-term success:

Restoration means a lot more than putting trees in the ground. It’s about bringing back complex native ecosystems, starting with the right species and scaling up with the right tools.

https://www.terraformation.com/solutions/overview

What does all this have to do with climate change? We have to cut emissions in half by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. A new report from America All In outlines a roadmap: Drastically cut emissions for electricity and transportation. Lower emissions for buildings and industries such as steel and concrete. We have to limit the amount of new greenhouse gases going in the atmosphere.

At the same time we have to capture existing greenhouse gases. Nature based solutions such as re-growing native forests are on the forefront of these capturing efforts. Why native forests? They store carbon in leaves, tree trunks, roots, and in the soil. A study published in Nature found natural forests are 40 times better than plantations at storing carbon.

Terraformation’s goal to reforest native forests is a great approach. We need to re-create these thriving ecosystems at a large scale to draw in significant amounts of carbon.

Terraformation’s founder has a proven expertise in running and scaling successful companies. Combined with access to a huge amount of funding, their company sounds extremely promising. I hope they will be able to help locals all over the world grow and maintain native forests. This is yet another startup I can’t wait to hear more success stories from!

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!

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.

More Than Just a Snack – How Seaweed Tackles Climate Change

Imagine you are swimming in the ocean and something soft touches your leg. Startled you take a look and realize it was just some seaweed… You guessed it, this week’s climate story is about seaweed.

Did you know last Thursday was Seaweed Day? Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the United Nations Global Compact launched a seaweed manifesto. During the launch, short, inspiring talks from companies, non-profits, research institutions and UN agencies highlighted how important seaweed is.

Besides being a sustainable option for food and feed, packaging and even biofuels, seaweed could also play an important role in capturing greenhouse gases. One of the speakers at Seaweed Day was Jorunn Skjermo, a scientist at SINTEF Ocean in Norway. During her talk she covered three ways in which seaweed is beneficial to the climate.

The first way is replacing fossil-based products like fuel or plastics with seaweed-based fuels and plastic. By replacing fossil-based products with sustainable alternatives, a lot of greenhouse gas emissions can be avoided.

Her second point is about food. We need protein in our diet and meat production has a big carbon footprint. Vegetarian options such a soy protein have a much lower carbon footprint. Seaweed has by far the lowest carbon footprint. It grows in the ocean without the need of deforestation, watering, or fertilizing. Besides being an extremely sustainable food option, this superfood is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

The third way seaweed is beneficial to the climate is by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. This is how it works:

On the left side you see how carbon dioxide gets absorbed by the ocean surface. In the water, seaweed transforms carbon dioxide into oxygen, just like land plants. On top of that, seaweed stores carbon dioxide in its biomass. Pictured on the right side is what happens when seaweed dies off. It sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where it stays for hundreds of years, storing the carbon dioxide.

During her talk Jorunn showed a map of Norway with a small rectangle off the coast. The size of that rectangle was a 20.000 square kilometer area. A seaweed farm that size could offset Norway’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions.

A restored ocean and seaweed farming forests should be considered carbon sinks to mitigate climate change

http://www.seaweedmanifesto.com/

How would that work in practice? I envision offshore seaweed farms that produce seaweed for food, feed, packaging or other uses. Seaweed forests clean the ocean and make the water less acidic. If a percentage of the seaweed is cut so it can sink, big amounts of carbon dioxide could be stored.

Seaweed day was packed with insightful talks, from selling seaweed snacks in Japan to blue bonds in Portugal. What I liked most about the seaweed manifesto is how teams from all over the world worked together. It lists milestones and success criteria for a successful seaweed industry. Let’s hope we can accelerate pilot projects and build more seaweed farms soon so we can restore ocean health and mitigate climate change.