Drought emergencies across the globe
: The Environment Agency declared an official drought across nine regions of England on 12 August following prolonged dry conditions and lack of rainfall, the Guardian
reported. Another article from the Guardian
stated that “despite the heavy rain and thunderstorms that have hit the UK this week, several areas of the country remain in drought”. It carries satellite footage which shows how the UK “has been scorched, turning from green to brown in a matter of months”. BBC News
reported experts’ warnings that the heatwave and drought had pushed trees into survival mode, with leaves dropping off or changing colour due to stress, calling the situation in the UK a “false autumn”. Heatwave conditions hit the UK again this summer, with Sky News
reporting a high temperature of 34.5C in the village of Wiggonholt, West Sussex, on 13 August. In an opinion piece for the Guardian
, Green MP Caroline Lucas accused the UK government of inaction concerning the drought.
Due to drought, major European waterways such as the Rhine, Danube and Po “are warming and at critically low levels, threatening agriculture, commerce, drinking water and natural ecosystems”, reported Deutsche Welle
. “When water levels fall, living space is restricted, and plant and animal populations struggle to coexist,” Jose Pablo Murillo
, programme officer at the Stockholm International Water Institute
, told DW. Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden’s administration announced that water shortages along the Colorado River had passed a threshold for the first time that will require “unprecedented water cuts” in Arizona and Nevada, the Washington Post
reported. In addition, “a record-breaking drought has caused some rivers in China – including parts of the Yangtze – to dry up, affecting hydropower, halting shipping and forcing major companies to suspend operations”, according to the Guardian
. Finally, as CNBC
reported, Thames Water in the UK put in place a temporary hosepipe ban for millions of residents in London and the south.
As a result of water shortages and high temperatures, half of the UK’s potato crop is expected to fail as it cannot be irrigated, and even crops that are usually drought-tolerant, such as maize, have been failing, the Guardian
reported. Additionally, BBC News
reported that according to experts, “fruit and vegetables on the shelves will be smaller and look different as the summer’s hot and dry weather hits crops”. Nearly three-quarters of US farmers say this year’s drought is hurting their harvest with significant crop and income loss, according to a new survey
by the American Fаrm Bureau Federation, noted CNN
reported that Chinese farmers are also struggling with drought, sending specialist teams to vulnerable regions to allocate water resources better and devise action plans for the autumn harvest. Authorities will “try to increase rain” by seeding clouds with chemicals and spraying crops with a “water retaining agent” to limit evaporation, reported the Associated Press
US takes on farming emissions in climate bill
On Tuesday 16 August, US president Joe Biden signed a bill into law that he described
as “the most significant legislation in history to tackle the climate crisis”. As Carbon Brief
reported in an in-depth media summary, the Inflation Reduction Act contains $437bn of spending – mostly on climate and health measures – and was agreed after months of haggling with Democrat senator and coal-industry supporter Joe Manchin. The IRA devotes most of its climate spending to scaling up renewable power, including $177bn for “clean electricity”, according to an interactive breakdown of the bill in the New York Times
. However, the bill also contains nearly $17bn in “funding for agricultural practices that improve soil carbon, reduce nitrogen losses and decrease emissions”, says the paper – with almost $5bn for forest protection and restoration, and $4.6bn for drought resilience. Overall, just over 5% of the IRA’s spending is earmarked for changing farming practices, according to Vox
, which added that the US food system accounts for 11% of its total greenhouse gas emissions.
In a blog post
, Karen Perry Stillerman, deputy director of the food and environment programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the bill gave her “renewed hope for climate action on farms”. She wrote: “The IRA would invest $20bn to help the nation’s farmers respond to climate change. This is less than the $23bn investment we advocated for in last year’s House-passed legislation. But $20bn is still a big investment, the largest since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.” Harvest Public Media
reported that the bill addresses “past wrongs” against “Black and brown farmers” in the US. The bill repeals and replaces a section of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which offered funds to farmers of colour who have been discriminated against by the US agricultural department, according to the publication. It explained: “Since it passed in March 2021, the funding has fallen into legal limbo due to multiple lawsuits from banks and from white farmers alleging discrimination…Instead, the IRA provides $3.1bn for economically ‘distressed’ farmers – of any race – ‘whose agricultural operations are at a financial risk’. It also includes $2.2bn for farmers who have experienced discrimination and can prove it.”
Despite new measures to address farming emissions, some commentators warned the bill also contains funding for projects that could worsen environmental issues on land. Mother Jones
reported that the IRA “doubles down” on a policy to expand biofuels, which could require more crop production in the US corn belt. The outlet explained: “The corn belt is dominated by just two crops, corn and soybeans, which are both harvested in the fall, leaving the ground bare until the spring planting. This leaves the soil vulnerable to fierce storms, ramped up by warming temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, that pummel the region during the off season, washing enormous amounts of precious topsoil into streams.” The IRA pledges $500m to help gas stations retrofit pumps to take fuel containing ethanol, a biofuel that already consumes a third of US corn, according to Mother Jones. Incentivising more ethanol production could lead to further expansion of corn crops, causing further harm to soils and local ecosystems in the US corn belt, the outlet said. Elsewhere, Reuters
reported that the bill “could help to expand a burgeoning but controversial industry that seeks to capture gases from rotting food and farm waste and convert them into fuel and other forms of energy”.
Pantanal peat fires
Fresh fires blazed through the Pantanal – the world’s largest tropical wetlands – which sprawls across the borders of Brazil
, Paraguay and Bolivia, Mongabay reported
. More than 10,000 of 78,000-hectare Pantanal do Rio Negro state park have been affected in the blaze, the story said, with 26% more area burned than in the “devastating blazes” of 2021, according to the Pantanal Observatory
. In 2020, fires engulfed an area “larger than the size of Belgium”. The park is “a maze of swamps, lagoons and submerged forest [t]reasured by biologists” and is home to species such as the jaguar and hyacinth macaw. Between 1 May and 26 July, NASA satellites recorded 677 fire alerts in the park.
The wildfires escalated from a “handful” of small fires in the wetlands’ southern stretch in May to a blaze that spread over 450 square kilometres in two months, according to data from the University of Maryland, NASA and Global Forest Watch
. While firefighters worked around the clock in mid-July to contain the flames, 13% of the park was already burned to ash. The fires restarted in August and were reportedly quelled on 14 August, according to recent satellite images, but “the fire season is only just beginning”. While the wetlands are typically nourished by rains between December to March, the region has seen back-to-back droughts. Forecasts suggest September will see 40-50% less rain than usual, ruling out the chances of naturally extinguishing the fires. While natural fires are common, researchers said these wildfires are a combination of “human actions and climate conditions”, as ranchers are known to start small fires to clear land for pasture, which can quickly spread.
Brazil’s state of Mato Grosso approved legislation allowing extensive cattle ranching and tourism in the Pantanal’s protected areas earlier this month, Mongabay
reported in another story. While the bill has sparked an outcry from 43 environmental organisations
in Mato Grosso who say Indigenous communities were not consulted, ranchers say the amendments will allow them to add “a million additional head of cattle to the region”. Meanwhile, non-profit the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned
the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to include the Pantanal site on the list of world heritage sites in danger over the fires, alleging that Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s promotion of policies to enable land-clearing and livestock expansion, along with cutting funds, are compromising “the government’s ability to prevent and fight fires”. According to the World Heritage Convention
, sites can be listed as in danger
if threatened by “serious and specific dangers”, including but not limited to “disappearance caused by accelerated deterioration”.