The message from Earth is clear.
We can no longer ignore the effects of climate change. Increased frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions across the globe clearly indicate that weather patterns are changing.
Climate change occurs when abnormal variations to the climate have effects on other parts of the earth. Heatwaves, droughts, floods and current devastating bushfires have us all concerned, and more and more pressure is being placed on governments to take action to save our planet. School students right through to businesses, insurance sectors and researchers, are all calling for emissions reductions.
Co2 is a greenhouse gas that plays a significant role in influencing Earth’s surface temperature through the greenhouse effect.
But increases, caused by deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels, have upset the balance to dangerous levels and scientists across the globe are grappling with ways to take Co2 out of the atmosphere. Professor Matthew England from the University of New South Wales said the message is coming together and the problem is being taken seriously.
“Treating it as an emergency – a global health scare or a flu epidemic – has big benefits because it mobilizes action,” he said. “The reason why we’re calling it an emergency is because it does need urgent action – like responding to a terrorist threat or a global health threat.”
The Professor said we can learn from the past what we need to implement for the future.
“The 1987 Montreal protocol is well known for getting rid of CFCs and has been hugely beneficial for the ozone hole but also for ongoing climate change. Omissions of CFCs were going through the roof back then, and saving our ozone hole was seen as a genuine environmental emergency.
“Studies show that without that protocol in place, we would already be pushing up to the Paris threshold of 1.5°C temperature increase and looking at two big problems.
The next three quarters of our challenge is the carbon emissions that are now themselves out of control and posing a big risk to future climate change,” he said.
Planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways to tackle the climate crisis according to latest research from Swiss scientists at ETH Zurich University. Professor Bastin and colleagues say time is of the essence as climate change progressively diminishes the available areas for tree restoration. Based on their model, over 220 million hectares of potential forests could be lost by 2050 if climate change continues at the current rate.
There are arguments that such a scheme would not be supported by politicians who would see countries lose economic potential as land gets covered by trees. It would also take many decades before new forests would be mature enough to store large amounts of carbon.
Others warn against monoculture plantation of forests saying respect for local and indigenous people are crucial to ensuring reforestation succeeds in cutting carbon and boosting wildlife. The implications of putting trees where they don’t belong could be serious; misplaced flora could kill local ecosystems, weaken biodiversity, dry up water supplies and make areas more prone to fires. [Carrington, 2019]
Meanwhile Australian scientists are testing our amazing diversity of tree flora to find plants that will have the capacity to adapt to our changing climate.
Professor David Ellsworth from Western Sydney University is one of the chief investigators for the project, aptly named ‘Which Plant Where’. He said plants that might make good candidates are more from inland areas or bioclimatic regions where there has been historical drought and heatwaves of intensities expected for the future.
“We expect drought tolerators such as Emu Bush, Wilga, Brachychiton, to be the sort that we can plant more in urban areas in the future. However, heat and drought tolerance of tree species in an Australian context are not sufficiently understood. Hence, our project incorporates a comprehensive research program to help us minimise losses and ensure future street tree and urban plantings will successfully grow in place for the coming decades.
“We want to create confidence among the general public, gardening and nursery communities to be able to see their plants survive through the long term,” he said.
The university has large advanced climate control glasshouses where they can manipulate moisture and temperature. Plants are put through simulated drought and heatwave conditions. Bioclimatic modelling work looks at the relationship where a species occurs and the climate of that region. Maps are developed to show which areas are suitable for the species both now and in future climates. Traits of particular plants will also be listed including depth of roots, shape of tree, canopy cover, flammability, biodiversity co benefits.
This information will be developed into an online tool for people when they are deciding what to plant in a particular setting. See more on this project and others in future issues.