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An Unexpected Ingredient for Climate Action

This week’s climate story brings us all the way to the island Tasmania in Australia. Imagine standing next to a beautiful bay overlooking the Tasman Sea, this is where the company Sea Forest is headquartered.

Have you heard that cows release the potent greenhouse gas methane? Have you also heard that mixing a little bit of seaweed in their diet reduces their emissions greatly? Research teams all over the world are racing to find out more: What type of seaweed works best? How much is needed? How can it be grown and mixed into feed sustainably?

Asparagopsis is an edible red seaweed, native to Australian waters. Sea Forest is the first company to produce and scale Asparagopsis at a commercial scale. They are developing innovative ways to cultivate the seaweed on land and in the ocean. This is how it works:

On the left side you can see how a boat farms seaweed in the ocean. Alternatively it can be grown in tanks on land. After it is harvested, the seaweed needs to dry. Sea Forest then produces a feed supplement for cattle.

No, the milk and meat don’t taste like seaweed. And amazingly, the cows are more productive with this supplement. They need less feed because they are saving energy by not producing methane. A 2020 study found that methane emissions from cattle can be reduced by up to 98%:

Animals whose diets contain 0.2% Sea Forest’s supplement will have methane reductions up to 98%.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652620308830?via%3Dihub#ack0010

That is a very impressive reduction of methane! There are still a lot of open questions and scientists say there is not enough seaweed for all the cattle in the world. What I like most about Sea Forest is that they are acting now. We need climate solutions now and Sea Forest is one of the teams delivering. They are planning to sell the first supplements later this year.

As with so many other amazing teams all over the world, Sea Forest is producing climate solutions right now. Their rapid and innovative approach is inspiring and I hope they succeed!

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!

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.