Saturated trees and carbon rationing
This is an ABC podcast at the foot of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. Belinda Midland in her research colleagues having mucking about with trees and carbon. Hello Anthony Fennell here. Professor Midland has turned small forest of Red Gums into a rather large field laboratory. Sorry the idea behind. This research is trying to understand how that rising co to concentration affects carbon storage by forests. There's been a lot of studies looking at young trees and plantations and in general when you give them extra Sierra two concentrations in the atmosphere growth rights. Do go up. But there's been some studies that heat at the possibility that as trays get larger older they might not be as response. You cite the study was really the first in the world to look at a mature forest ecosystem and say how responsive is it to the rising. Co Two concentration understanding our relationship with trees and their relationship with carbon. That's where we begin. Today's edition of the program. Welcome to future tense now. The Linda Midland's four year experiment involved deliberately pumping large quantities of C o two into specific parts of the old growth forest using a complicated system of pipes their K. Result THAT WE FOUND. Is that once? We gave these trees extra. Siri to they did. Take up some common dog. Sohn's but they didn't stores it didn't stay in ecosystem. It basically passed through really rapidly so some of it came out as respiration from the plants themselves but a lot of it actually passed into the soil and then was restarted back out of the soil so although the plants were taking up extra common it wasn't staying there and that is really quite important on a global scale because calculations of the carbon balance of the planet going into the future actually a shoe that mature forests when get extra carbon dioxide. Who stole some of it? So at the moment it seems to be the case that forests tied up about twenty five to thirty percent of the extra carbon dioxide that we emit so the answer jenny emissions of crtv three fossil fuel emissions only about fifty percent of what we amidst is in the atmosphere and at the moment about thirty percent of it seems to be going into the land into forest ecosystems but what our results suggest is that that think that capacity for forest to keep taking up extra carbon dioxide is really quite limited and he's not going to persist into the future which is quite concerning because it means that the forest aren't going to help us to take up those extra two missions and Murat in suggesting that you found that it's actually soil quality that plays a determining role. Here yeah exactly. So one thing to say about our forest is that it is growing on soil typical for Australian soils they quite old and therefore there's not a lot of nutrition in the soils and that limits the capacity of the plants to take up extra cowan dockside when it's given to them because they need that nutrition out of the soil to grow as well so our best understanding at the moment is the reason that the plants didn't grow more when they were given extra carbon dioxide was because I didn't have sufficient nutrients available to them in the soil and so I've used that extra carbon to basically go mining to try and take up extra soil nutrients but they've not been able to so I results are really principally applicable to forests growing on poor nutrient soils but that actually covers quite a lot of the globe particularly the tropics to do additional experiments to keep confirming results. But I think our results are quite consistent with our understanding and our predictions so unfairly. Sure it's not a one-off and that if they were to be additional experimentation it would likely confirm the results that we have Belinda Midland from western Sydney University. Now tammy Amazon. Also in the forest of Central Africa research is have been observing similar phenomenon. The vast forests of both continents are often referred to as the Wills Carbon sinks but it seems their ability to sequester carbon has declined significantly varmus. Hobo is with the University of gained the forest carbon sink has been stable for about three decades but the thing is that since two thousand on tense the sink in Africa is also declining although more weakly than in the Amazon. When did we start to say the initial stages of this decline and the Amazon alrighty sends a ninety ninety s guard started a few decades later only in the two thousand ten? So just to be clear. Are we saying that wall? The forests are still thankful of absorbing carbon that these particular forests have basically just being saturated. They've absorbed so much carbon now that continue to absorb the same amount of carbon at the levels that they did in the past. Yes in the past. They have been absorbing so much carbon now been triggered so much climate change by do actually have been growing very fast but now they reached their limits. We actually see a mortality trees are dying now can compare it to overfeeding animal. For example. The animal is going to benefit. I from the food is going to grow but In the long term it's going to be very harmful for the animals as well so they significant forests are no long acting carbon sinks in the way that they used to. But your concern is. Isn't it that the evidence suggests that they will soon start? Admitting large amounts of carbon they'll become sources of carbon into the atmosphere. Is that correct? Yes of course. We need far more data in the future to continue monitoring to be able to confirm these trans but with all we have. Now we see this see this fearsome trend time did do first prediction of the Amazon sank is actually gonNA reach zero. And when I'm going to start emitting carbon. We'd predicted this data. This is already happening. Two Thousand Thirties. That what my colleagues also tried to do is sort out. Which part of the forest are still sequestering? More carbon non other part of the photos so he has to reason not studebaker Transferred to refine the Trans actually but yes parts of the forest are definitely going to become a source pretty soon and we're talking about the twenty thirties. That's not very far away whole. That's really really worrisome. And that's also the reason why you really need to continue on adoring expanded to Erica The the date on that tour on what particular forests are still significant garments on which ones are not. Why dot is exactly. We have already a pretty good idea but am of course. We need to continue refining. Data is done by changing our climate. We accelerated forest dynamics. The natural forest does have natural cycles off more. Grouts followed by more mortality. Mid Me did by pumping so much. Co Do in the Air Sea food for the trees. We accelerated the whole thing. So it's all going much faster now. The peaks and growth are far bigger than for Sidon passed and also the Done will in the past. So what we should do is slow down. Climate Change so that these dynamics also go back to normal now many of us have long had this idea that undisturbed natural forests virgin forests pristine but from what you're suggesting there that that's being fallacy. That hasn't been correct. These forests have even though they haven't been touched by humans in the way that others have been they have still been affected by the activities that humans engaging yes that's actually a very sharp survey. Shin that one thing that I often say to people is that we see the effect of climate change directly on forest that are changed actively by humans. I'm talking forest fires for example but it indeed like we'll be doing with our our data's is a retried to to show the effects of climate change on pristine forests which is really effective. Grima changes real dot is something. That's very hard to capture something. That's very hard to observe for the naked-eye an old researcher. It's almost impossible to see trends. You need as long term monitoring networks to be able to observe this so yes actually we show is that pristine forests are also affected by climate change so actually affected by humans so if all of that research by the USTRALIA and overseas indicates that our understanding trees in their ability to absorb carbon has been incorrect. What does that mean for future projections? Our ground-based day does quite unexpected for models. The researchers will have to refine models to capture the feedback between mortality and Groucho than forests. So they cop to decline and the carbon sink but also because we have showed that. Those models are depressant models are probably correct. It means that we have to change climate policy because policy has made mostly based on those models. We'll have to reassess or climate change goals based on on actually worse case scenario. So we will have to cut down emissions quaker done correctly anticipated. We will have to invest and reforestation planting a tree and a forest owls cut before. It's always a gain. The ferry young forest of a huge capacity of absorbing carbon in it very very quickly. So we'll be seen over. The last decade says it very very deforestation and a lot of deforested area could be reforested again then. Yesterday will be a huge gain in carbon station but apart from reforestation we always dressed up. We also read any conserve our existing forests. They are still huge reservoirs of carbon even though their capacity to absorb a bit more carbon is now declining. They still represent huge amounts of carbon stored in the trees on the soil. So we need to keep that carbon there so we really need to do investing conserving existing forests as well yet. Another thing to be worried about von Assu Bell from the University of Kent. Let's pick up on that idea of preserving the forest. We have and trying to add more one of the key. Advantages of investing economic stimulus through the conservation and land management sector is that you can target the investment both in time and in space. Pippi clock deputy director outback to oceans for the Pew charitable trusts so unlike some large infrastructure projects which may take some years to come online or other policy measures which are better suited to particular places like an open environment for example the capital cities conservation and land. Management is unusually flexible. It's practical in labor intensive in its nature. It's something that you can start quickly and wind down when you need to it. Something you can target to the prices way you need now pepsi. Coke is spearheading a coalition of some seventy conservation farming and landcare groups who've put together a pitch to government both state and federal for agreeing corona virus stimulus package. The idea is to provide work for those who've recently lost their jobs during the current crisis engaging them in activities that strengthen the environment including tree planting so when we're looking at the predicted unemployment loss strum coronavirus. There are a few things we were saying coming through one. Is that the largest numbers of unemployment likely to be in the lodge capital cities but the highest percentage proportion of unemployment is likely to be in K. regional centers particularly where they've got high depended on tourism and thirdly you have rural and remote communities with the numbers of newly unemployed people may be smaller but those communities in those economies reluctantly fragile and so conservation and Land Management has the advantage that you can do it across all of those geographic areas or targeted to specific geographic areas. If you want we certainly not arguing that this is the only thing that we should do very far from it. That rather that is a part of broader economic recovery missions. This is actually a very useful tool to have in the toolbox because can talk to the places and the Times innate it and it's also very cost effective because of a very large proportion of the money just goes straight into into lighter into the work his pockets and you're talking about a full billion dollar stimulus package. How high return on investment would that offer and how many jobs would that create roughly talking to people across the sick to consulting them in and the development of this proposal with estimated that an investment of of that amount would deliver around twenty four thousand jobs over two year period? You'd start to taper off after that as the economy recovered in terms of the return on investment and flown effects throughout the economy. There's a lot of variables that affect that but some of the things that we do know is that money from this kind of work does tend to stay largely in the local community. So that the people who were doing hands on conservation and land management work tend to spend most of their paycheck in their local community. But also the non-salary costs things like fencing materials and that sort of thing trae planting those tend to be purchased in the local area than benefit local contractors and and microbusinesses multiplier effect. Then that's absolutely right. So we've seen that. There's a significant multiplier effect and that a lot of those indirect benefits tend to be relatively localized that desirable limits on rights for small communities. But also it means policy tool you can get quite a high degree of geographic targeting. If you want. We're talking about conservation and land management. So what sort of jobs would you be creating with this kind of package? And what type of work would those people undertake conservation and land management is a? I guess quite a broad way use it to encompass a range of practical hands on activities that deliver benefit Phoenicia for example that might be planting trees. It might be removing waits to allow native native trees and plants to recover. It might be actions to monitor recover. Ninety wildlife populations including threatened species. It can be across the range of environments as well so we might be talking about forests or replanting planting along rivers and creeks but also coastal and marine environments so we use the Chen pretty expensively but generally what we mean is is some practical hands on activity the benefits Niger by allowing it helping to recover so that might be particularly relevant or is particularly relevant in areas. That have been hard hit by bushfire summer. So we're not just talking about utilizing under employed people at the my middle unemployed people to Help us with the struggle with Corona Virus. But this is also about dealing with some of the damage from last. Bushfires is it. That's absolutely right. Sh that's why we're really drawn to this idea. I guess is a gives us an opportunity for win win. We can provide people that need work work when they need it and where they need it about we can also deal with some of legacy impacts of some Bush FIS and also elsewhere in in Areas. That have not been affected by which fi to contribute to some of those long term conservation gains which were committed to at the national and state level and also a lot of communities are very focused on. So that's been one of the tensions in this I think is the economic stimulus of its nature is fixed term you make that public investment during the period of economic crisis to help to push the economy back through a recovery is but conservation challenges for the mice powder actually long notwithstanding the acute impacts bushfires so getting that balance right. Is it a really interesting piece of it. So you promoting this idea. What and it's timely. Obviously but what sort of response have you had from state and federal government so far at the state and territory level. Governments are very much channing. They mind to practical measures. That can be taken to provide employment during the recovery phase and so in most states and territories. Now we're in dialogue with state environmental agencies in an environment ministers offices in most states and territories. Now there is at least some skyping work underway. Identify what type of what could be delivered in the conservation and land management arena. The might help to provide employment so for example the agency's Pack Model Life Services. What are some of the things that they could be doing unpack? So that's encouraging their yet to be any public formal announcements. But this some some greg being done behind the scenes we're encouraging governments state territory and federal to think about how they might be to work with non government organizations as well organized. Actions like landcare greening Australia and so on to partner to deliver work in the community and at the federal level would been having some really positive and constructive conversations much of the focus of the federal government as it should be as it must be has been on the response to the health crisis and management of the immediate economic crisis but the discussion is beginning to tend towards Lanka ten recovery in. That's the context in which we decided it will be considered and you're listening to future tense exploring the world around US looking for the pathways ahead and signposting future. I'm Antony Fennell as honest. Who Bow said earlier? If we're talking about the environment and carbon dioxide levels we as humans conscious rely on nature and particularly forest to do the heavy lifting we also need to explore new ways to reduce emissions the idea of carbon trading has been around for at least the last two decades but now there's a growing coal for individuals to start becoming more responsible for their own carbon footprints UK based Adam. Hardy is an advocate for what's called carbon rationing a radical idea. With his start President Carbon rushing is essentially a wider all encompassing version of petrol rationing. The we had during the war so everything that comes from fossil fuels that had Duggal pumped out of the ground would be rationed in the same. Petrol was rushing On in digital carbon rationing system. Everybody is allocated the same number of carbon rations which equate to say one carbon Russian would be a kilo of co two so that means essentially that the system stops carbon emissions by restricting the amount of fossil fuels that you Are Allowed to Bunn while I cannot personally bundle your personally responsible for the burning of and how would that work in a practical sense? How would that work in an average person's day under this kind of system it would operate pretty much along the same lines as as money? So you would have your Carbon Russians on your carbon God and you would have your your normal money and you go to buy something. Like for instance tank of petrol and you pay whatever it cost in Australia. Australian British Pounds. And you have to swipe your carbon cod and now take the amount of rations equivalent to the amount of petrol that you're putting in your tank and the amount of co two. That will then release when she used it all up. And what's the benefit of that kind of system in trying to reduce the world's carbon footprint? What is very direct benefit? If you ration the amount fossil fuels they're are allowed to be pumped out of the ground. Then there's absolutely no doubt about the fact that you can to reduce the amount of co two submitted Adam Hardy policy analyst for the organization carbon rationing dog in the Finnish city of lactate. That taking Olis' radical approach. The city has a compilation of around two hundred thousand and late. Last year they began trialing the idea of giving citizens a carbon allowance manage fire a smartphone. App. The initiative is called City. Cab and is project manager. Is Anna Hooton? Those to get project is a three year. Project has been funded by the European Union from the funding program. Coal urban innovative actions and this is very good program for cities because they are really funding projects that are doing very innovative and very radical things in their cities. So what we have done. We have developed a city application that automatically detects your mobility so basically the idea. Is that when you download the application you will be allocated our weekly personnel carbon budget and then you travel around you choose if you take the foss. Sorry take the car. If you're cycle a walk whatsoever and then basically based on your mobility choices the APP will automatically detect and track your mobility and calculate the co two emissions of your based on your choices and then by the end of the week you know if you like date below your carbon budget or if you surpassed it and then if you saved some of your personal carbon budget than you will earn virtual credits and then further on if you have been making basically that good choices than if you have been traveling more sustainably. You can then exchange the virtual credits into discounts or city services on the marketplace of the application. So the idea is to incentivize like positively incentivize the people to take more into consideration holiday travel so we are kind of want to provide the carrot in this option. Yeah how is the weekly Kaban budget? The personal weekly and Budget for Citizens. How is that calculated? Well the carbon cap off. Our system is defined based on the emission reduction targets that are set by the city of plotting and of course then it adjusted by amount of parts depends and The carbon cap it stands for the total amount of allowances and these are then allocated to the participants and basically the base line when you start using the APP S. seventeen kilos for week. And then of course we also want to make it personalized in a way that you have to answer some questions in the beginning. So if you for instance live very far away from the city centre or if you have several children if you are somehow disabled things like that then you can get more carbon allowances for the week. I'll paypal surprised by how much travelling they do. How much carbon they use up in the course of the normal week. Yeah I think it can be very surprising if you consider how much it causes when you choose to take your car so basically with like the baseline budget that we allocate if you like live very near the city centre don't have any kids and Blah Blah Blah. Then you can basically drive your car around ninety kilometers per week we'd all looked surpassing your weekly budget. So that's not that much you know if you think about it and I think it's one of the biggest things in our APP that it really. It tells you it shows you visualize you how you travel and what's your footprint and I think that really can be like I according to the people. Now tell us about the trials that you started last year. The the basic phase of this project. We started the trial in September Scores we need lot of communications awards the citizens and marketing towards the citizens and we invited them to start using the Beta version of the application. By that time we had the android worship ready. Now we also have the IOS worship already and then they started using the application and then we after four weeks. We started collecting feedback from them. So we have been kind of figuring out. What are the technical box that you of course have loads of them when you you develop this kind of application than we have been collecting feedback. Like what do they people think about? The APP is like easy to use. Is it nice to us what they think about it? And I presume that the coronavirus crisis has also impacted on the test at the moment. Yeah so basically. All our original plan was to do like the actual lounge by the end of March hearing lofty but of course now since the corona affected. We haven't been able to do that. But on the other hand we are going to get very interesting. Data in a local level up all the mobility of the people during the Coroner Times so basically we are GonNa know how much more they woke. And how much more they cycle because of course like the level of car traffic has been produced a lot during the last weeks. So that's going to be very very interesting as well. What sort of broad potential do you see for this? I mean obviously if it said funding there is at least a suggestion that this could be a kind of system that the sort of system that could be used. In in other cities and towns there is a lot of potential in the idea of personal carbon trading. Lot of cities have been very interested. The words the idea and towards our application and we have been introducing in many occasions in many conferences already so there is a lot of interest and I think maybe the time is now the right. Timing is old time of discussion ball. Toll can incentivize how we can guide. Of course we need regulations but we also need incentives in this sense of course our APP is more incentive based on just following up on that what do you do you. Hope will be the benefits of this kind of system over other forms of trying to get people to reduce their carbon footprint or societies to reduce their carbon footprint. Yeah I think here like the educational value. That's very important to make your choices. I mean there's also a lot of possibilities doing this on different living areas. Not just like mobility for instance. Living food what you eat. What's your food brands? The old friend of your consumption for instance. That also like yeah. I think we should have carbon tax. We should have like more stricter regulations for the companies. And things like that but this is also somehow to make people in wool engage the people you know because I think also for you to change easier to change. If you feel that you're somehow part of the change if you can show that also my actions they mean something. Hooton in Finland and her initiative is called city cab. We also heard today from Adam. Hardy from carbon rationing dot org. Belinda Midland from western Sydney University and Vannice who battle at the University of get current. Events is my colleague and Co producer. I'm Antony Fennell you've been listening to future tense to next time cheese. You've been listening to an ABC podcast. Discover more great. Abc. Podcasts live radio and exclusives on the ABC listen APP.