USA– In the wake of the COP21 international climate negotiations that culminated in the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise, the Obama administration looked to its Clean Power Plan (CPP) as the centerpiece of its emissions reduction approach. But with the recent Supreme Court motion to stay, the CPP is at a temporary halt. As the CPP makes its way through the courts, it is important to consider an alternative and achievable policy that can help the U.S. meet its long-term climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Is redefining renewable biomass the answer?
One solution that has the potential to substantially curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a change in the Energy Independence and Security Acts (EISA) definition of renewable biomass. Renewable biomass is an energy source that can be used for heat, electricity or to power transportation through its conversion into liquid fuel, known as biofuel. Energy from biomass represents close to half of all renewable energy production. In practical terms, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines biomass as live or dead organic matter. But, for legal purposes, biomass can have much more specific definitions.
Since 2004, either federal law or the tax code has incorporated 14 different biomass definitions. EISAs definition of renewable biomass determines what raw materials qualify for credits known as Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs). RIN credits serve as a compliance currency for fossil fuel producers to buy or sell to meet their annual renewable fuel obligation. Today, EISAs definition contains several biomass sources, but the one with the greatest potential for solving multiple environmental challenges is tied to woody debris from forestry operations. Unfortunately, the specific biomass definition that qualifies for RIN credits is woody debris that originates from non-federal forestland including forestland belonging to an Indian tribe or an Indian individual This limits the more than 251 million acres of national forestland that could provide additional woody debris into the renewable fuel stream. A small tweak to EISAs language can ascribe RIN credits to renewable fuel derived from woody biomass that originates across all lands. An all-lands approach that expands the amount of biomass that qualifies for RIN credits can offer a pathway to GHG emission reductions, greater innovation in low carbon fuels, and stronger support for U.S. Native American communities.
In 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives considered a change to EISAs definition of renewable biomass through the American Energy Opportunity Act (AEOA). The AEOAs proposed change in definition would have expanded renewable biomass to include woody debris from forestry operations on all lands (including federal forestlands). The potential impact of an all-lands definition for renewable biomass would have been substantial. This bill did not pass, so federal lands continue to be excluded as a source of renewable biomass under EISA.
What are the policy outcomes for a resilient, low-carbon and prosperous future?
Emission reductions: Increasing the economic value of biomass can reduce emissions and wildfires by promoting forest fuel reduction. Today, markets for forest residues are largely undeveloped, so the biomass is waste that is commonly disposed of by burning. The ability to retrieve the monetary value of RINs from biomass removed from federal lands will encourage additional forest thinning to curb catastrophic wildfires, GHG emissions, and improve the environment. The potential for impact is substantial; about 4-6 percent of the continental U.S.s annual emissions come from forest fires, and healthy forestlands can sequester approximately 12 percent of the national emissions annually. Through the expansion of forest thinning, a larger fraction of our forestlands can become more fire resilient. The receipt of RIN credits from renewable fuel generated from all forest lands could motivate more fuel reduction efforts by offering a new stream of monetary support.
Innovation in low-carbon fuels: The growth in available feedstock that qualifies for RINs can contribute to attainment of national biofuel and renewable energy production goals. Biofuel production benefits from economies of scale. Substantially increased supply of biomass will promote further investment to encourage the development of more renewable energy. Under EISAs Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), cellulosic biofuel producers have chronically fallen short of the mandates; this year 230 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel is ordered to be blended with transportation fuel.
The proposal to redefine biomass to include federal lands can only help cellulosic biofuel producers meet their RFS mandates. Investment and growth of the cellulosic biofuel industry has been slow to develop for several reasons, including biomass supply risks. Access to one of the nations largest potential sources of forest biomass federal lands will lower the cost of RIN-eligible renewable fuel. Biomass generated from an incentivized-expansion of forest thinning activities on federal land would reduce supply risk and fire risk. The 2.2 million tons of woody biomass made available through collaborative efforts by the Forest Service last year is modest compared to the amount needed to restore fire-resilience in federal forests. By offering producers an expanded supply of biomass, there is greater incentive to invest in the infrastructure necessary to increase biofuel production.
Support Native American communities: RIN credits linked to federally-sourced biomass can enhance partnerships between the U.S. government and tribal nations. Tribes have special access to active management of federal lands. The Tribal Forest Protection Act (TFPA) is one mechanism that enables tribes to manage adjacent federal lands in partnership with federal entities. The TFPA empowers tribes to partner with public agencies to protect their own landscapes from environmental threats originating on adjacent federal lands. Forest fires in federal forests pose a real threat to tribal nations. In 2003, nearly 20 Indian reservations were overwhelmed by wildfires that originated on federal lands. In August 2015, President Obama issued a wildfire disaster declaration in Washington State that included four tribes.
Budgetary constraints for tribes and their federal partners have hindered TFPA progress. By allowing woody debris from federal lands to be included in the RIN program, the new biomass markets could generate revenues that help tribes and federal partners implement more active management projects with less public funding. Additional land could be treated, the resilience of federal and tribal forests could be improved, and the environmental threats from climate change could be reduced across landscapes. This would also allow tribes to use RIN value to catalyze economic development and employment opportunities.
All three of these benefits show how a simple change in policy can create larger scale cross-jurisdiction cooperation to address climate change. The Paris commitment calls on the worlds nations to pursue sweeping changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While the Clean Power Plan is a comprehensive policy to help the U.S. do this, a more immediate approach could be a small policy change in EISAs definition of renewable biomass.Cities and tourist areas such as Catalonia, Madrid and Valencia are among those most at risk of catastrophic damage from wildfires in Europe, according to research led by the University of Leicester.
An international research team has put together a map using satellite data that details the countries in Europe with the highest likelihood of experiencing wildfire damage – with large fires occurring more frequently near WUI areas in the countries of Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Italy and Spain.
The map is published in theJournal of Environmental Management and is the first European-scale map of wildland/urban areas.
For the first time, the researchers set out to map the extent of wildland areas around cities all over Europe to find out where they create a risk for large wildfires threatening people.
Using satellite maps of land cover and of the extent of large fires, they used statistics to find areas where large fires have happened more frequently and where wildland areas are close enough to cities to make them vulnerable.
The distance from the nearest wildland/urban areas explained the occurrence of large fires in many regions across Southern Europe, where fires are the biggest problem.
Professor Heiko Balzter, Director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research at the University of Leicester, said: “In the regions we have identified as high-risk, local authorities need to prioritise fire risk control and develop better forest fire risk management strategies.
“This study was exciting, especially when we had our Eureka moment as it became clear that were onto something. We did not know what to expect when we started this work. To map the extent of wildland/urban areas all across Europe was already quite new. But to find that we can use that map to predict fire risk was a real breakthrough.”
The overall study area covered the entire European Union, including the non-member states of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Montenegro, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina Kosovo.
WUI mapping and the cross-national scale statistical analysis between WUI distance and large forest fires were performed for the whole study area.
Amongst the included countries, forest fires are strongly concentrated in the Mediterranean countries.
Dr Beth Cole from the University of Leicester’s Centre for Landscape and Climate Research, a co-author of the study, added: “A European wide approach to mapping the interface of wildland and urban areas has really allowed us to see the relationship between land cover and fire risk at a continental scale. This opens up a great opportunity forland management practices to reduce the risk of costly and dangerous wildfires in these populated areas.”
In many regions of Europe the rapid changes in the global economy have led to dramatic changes in land use.
Many farmers have given up production and shrubs encroach on abandoned land and these changes have altered the landscapes around many large cities, particularly in the Mediterranean.
Where such wildland areas meet the city boundaries, wildfires are a serious risk. This is especially the case in Southern Europe where summers can be hot and dry.
Such conditions lead to sometimes catastrophic wildfires resulting in the loss of human lives and damage to property.
Wildland areas around cities are landscapes where urban land use makes people and properties very vulnerable to disasters and at the same time woody plants act as fuel for massive fires.
With the recent extreme weather in Europe such fires have been called ‘mega-fires’ by researchers.
They can be self-fanning, some have fire tornadoes throwing embers high up into the air and spreading themselves across vast landscape very quickly. They are notoriously difficult to extinguish and are feared by many fire-fighters.
The study, which is supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), was carried out by the University of Leicester’s Centre for Landscape and Climate Research and National Centre for Earth Observation, the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, both in Italy.
Dr Sirio Modugno, researcher from the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, lead author of the study and an Honorary Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research of the University of Leicester, said: “Theland cover use well reflects the interaction between human activity and the surrounding environment. The increase of wildland urban interface areas, with the associated forest fire risk, could be interpreted like an intrusion of the urban model in the wild areas. The rural abandonment, the touristic pressure and the urban sprawl have determined an increase of contact between urban and wildlandareas.
“This study highlights the importance of the geographic data availability. The presence of a homogeneous and standardized European database supports the environmental analysis. The use of digital cartography and the viable production of thematic maps opens several possibilities not only to the scientific research sector but to territorial operators involved in planning actions too.”
Dr Paquale Borrelli from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, added: “Wise land management can provide a valuable ecosystem service of fire risk reduction that is currently not explicitly included in ecosystem service valuations. The results reemphasise the importance of including this ecosystem service in landscape valuations to account for the significant landscape function of reducing therisk of catastrophic large fires.”
This day is of particular significance to Indonesia, home to the worlds third largest tropical forested area, and offers a great opportunity to highlight existing solutions to address one of the countrys most challenging issues: annual forest fires and forest-related crimes.
As part of its commitment to protect national natural resources, UNDP and UN-REDD Program, with support from Norway, have worked with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the National Police Forces and the Attorney General Office to pursue a new effective approach to tackle environment-related crimes in forest areas and peatlands, including forest fires.
This approach is called the multi-door approach and attempts to both prevent offenders from violating Indonesias environmental laws and to ensure that corporate accountability, recovery of state losses and restoration of the environment are incorporated into every investigation for forest-related crimes.
This approach can be an effective tool to combat forest fires, often triggered by the clearing of land for agricultural purposes.
Illegal land clearing by burning is an example of a natural resource and environment-related crime that requires systematic investigations and mutual cooperation between various government and law enforcement agencies.
The full enforcement of these environmental protection laws are an essential step toward better protection and management of forests and peatlands in Indonesia.
The financial and environmental losses of environment-related crimes are staggering. According to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, an average of 0.7 million hectares of forest were lost every year from 1990 to 2013, through illegal actions that is a total of over 16 million hectares, which is nearly the size of Cambodia.
They also have a cost to State revenues; in 2015, the Corruption Eradication Commission estimated that the shortfall in State revenue due to these illegal actions amounts to US$6.47 to $8.98 billion from 2007 to 2013. ______________________________
The multi-door approach has not yet been integrated into performance-based indicators of relevant institutions.
In May 2013, the national police, the Attorney General, the Ministry of Forestry, and the Ministry of Environment signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to adopt the multi-door approach when handling natural resources and environment-related crimes in forest areas and peatlands.
UNDP Indonesia has recently presented findings of an assessment undertaken at the governments request on the effectiveness of the Multi-Door Approach.
The results of our assessment show that, in practice, the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of law enforcement agencies were not yet aligned with the guidelines under multi-door approach, despite the formal agreement signed in 2013.
The UNDP assessment recommends three key elements for improved law enforcement for forest related crimes: (1) the establishment of guidelines and inter-agency coordination via the Multiple-Door Approach; (2) the need for capacity building for informed and knowledgeable enforcement personnel and (3) to ensure that all enforcement agencies explicitly incorporate the Multi-Door Approach into their daily operations to incentivize compliance.
Firstly, the handling of crimes in forest areas and peatlands require increased coordination between law enforcement agencies and government institutions mandated to investigate natural resource and environment-related crimes.
This includes civil servant investigators in the environment, forestry, taxation and plantation sectors.
If there are indications or reports of crimes such as violations of the Plantation Law and the Law on Spatial Planning, corruption or money laundering, following the multiple-door approach, the first institution that receives the report should then inform other relevant law enforcement agencies to trigger appropriate action.
Therefore, agencies can complement each other by bringing in witnesses and including experts from outside ministries or agencies, when required by the police or prosecutors investigating environmental crimes.
The second element is capacity building for informed enforcement personnel. In addition to understanding specific environmental laws, investigators must also be knowledgeable of interrelated regulations, which may be indirectly related to a forest fire case, such as the Plantation Law that regulates the scope of a plantation area.
This also includes capacity building for judges to increase their technical skills when overseeing legal proceedings for forestry-related crimes, which UNDP is addressing with the support of the European Union.
Lastly, the multi-door approach has not yet been integrated into performance-based indicators of relevant institutions.
This fact diminishes the incentives for each institution to implement the approach. It would be much more effective if the multi-door approach was incorporated as one of the performance indicators for the signatories of the MOU.
Taking action on the three aforementioned elements is expected to significantly improve law enforcement for natural resource and environment-related crimes throughout the country. Such improvement can lead to the prosecution of the relatively untouchable masterminds, companies and individuals who engineer the illegal actions that lead to annual burning of Indonesias forests.
As just last week, hotspots signifying forest fires began to reappear in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan. In response, the Indonesian government has pledged swifter responses to tackle the annual forest fires that cause a choking haze and blanket these two islands.
The multi-door approach offers an opportunity to make a significant breakthrough in addressing peatland and forest crimes, through increased coordination and inter agency cooperation.
What is urgently needed now is the full implementation of this approach by all relevant law enforcement and governmental agencies to prevent a reoccurrence of last years historic levels of ecological and economic losses, caused by Indonesias annual forest fires.
Strengthened cooperation and coordination will make a real difference to effectively tackle this complex issue and improve the wellbeing of Indonesias people, environment and economy. – See more at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/03/21/multi-door-approach-address-forest-related-crimes-indonesia.html#sthash.7UIq6Xis.dpufOfficials of the Department of Game and Wildlife have called for a thorough cleaning of the environment to ward off reptiles, following preliminary investigations and assessment they conducted in Essienimpong and Kwaaso in the Ejisu municipality which have been invaded by snakes.
The team, who visited the two communities and interacted with the people, believe that the recent long drought coupled with the destruction of the natural habitat through bushfires might have forced the reptiles to invade these towns, since their habitat had been destroyed.
Speaking to the Daily Graphic, the Regional Manager of the Wildlife Division for Brong Ahafo and Ashanti, Mr Charles Haizel, said preliminary assessment by his men indicated that the snakes moved to the communities and laid their eggs as a result of a bushfire in a forest in the area.
He said samples of the snakes had been taken for further studies and identification, adding that it could also be that the recent heavy rains might have washed them from where they were hatched to the communities.
The two communities were gripped with fear and panic after the invasion of their homes and shops by hundreds of the snakes.
Since last Monday, the residents have been living in great trepidation, especially when the snakes, three different types, emerged from holes in homes and street sides, usually after 7p.m. each day.
As many as 87 snakes were killed one night in a single house.
It became worse last Wednesday night when the lights went off. Most of the members of the community, especially the youth, went out on a snake-killing spree.
– See more at: http://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/60481-bushfire-caused-movement-of-snakes.html#sthash.cul66mFs.dpuf