Thursday, October 28, 2021

New study: How UNESCO's World Heritage forests play a vital role in mitigating climate change

Paris, 28 October – The first ever scientific assessment of the amounts of greenhouse gases emitted from and absorbed by forests in UNESCO World Heritage sites has found that forests in World Heritage sites play a vital role in mitigating climate change by absorbing 190 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. However, ten forestsreleased more carbon than they sequestered due to pressure from human activity and climate change, which is alarming.

World Heritage forests absorb 190m tons of CO2 each year

By combining satellite-derived data with monitoring information at the site level, researchers at UNESCO, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) were able to estimate the gross and net carbon absorbed and emitted by UNESCO World Heritage forests between 2001 and 2020 and determine the causes of some emissions.

The research found that, as a whole, UNESCO World Heritage forests in 257 separate sites, absorbed the equivalent of approximately 190 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, comparable to roughly half the United Kingdom’s annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. “We now have the most detailed picture to date of the vital role that forests in World Heritage sites play in mitigating climate change,” said Tales Carvalho Resende, from UNESCO who co-authored the report.

World Heritage forests, whose combined area of 69 million hectares is roughly twice the size of Germany, are biodiversity-rich ecosystems. In addition to absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere they also store substantial amounts of carbon. Carbon sequestration by these forests over long periods has led to total carbon storage of approximately 13 billion tons of carbon, which is more than the carbon in Kuwait’s proven oil reserves. If all this stored carbon were to be released into the atmosphere as CO2, it would be akin to emitting 1.3 times the world’s total annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.

Findings from 10 World Heritage forests are cause for concern

However, given that World Heritage sites are highly prized and protected, the fact that 10 of 257 forests emitted more carbon than they captured between 2001 and 2020 due to different anthropogenic disturbances and pressures is alarming.

At some sites the clearance of land for agriculture caused emissions to be greater than sequestration. The increasing scale and severity of wildfires, often linked to severe periods of drought, is also a predominant factor in several cases. Other extreme weather phenomena, such as hurricanes, contributed at certain sites.

“All forests should be assets in the fight against climate change. Our report’s finding that even some of the most iconic and best protected forests such as those found in World Heritage sites can actually contribute to climate change is alarming and brings to light evidence of the severity of this climate emergency”, said Tales Carvalho Resende.

In the coming years, ongoing sequestration and carbon sinks are likely to be affected at a growing number of sites worldwide as a result of increasingly fragmented and degraded landscapes, and more frequent and intense climate-related events.

Better management of sites can yield results

The report urges strong and sustained protection of UNESCO World Heritage sites and their surrounding landscapes to ensure their forests can continue to act as strong carbon sinks and stores for future generations. To achieve this, the report recommends rapidly responding to climate-related events, as well as maintaining and strengthening ecological connectivity through improved landscape management.

For example, in Indonesia, government agencies have been using near real-time fire alert systems to significantly reduce their average fire response time. Rapid response is integral to preventing fires from developing into destructive conflagrations that produce extensive CO2 emissions.

At the Sangha Trinational World Heritage site, located within Cameroon, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo, the creation of a buffer zone around the site has kept some human activity farther from this important carbon sink.

The report also recommends integrating the continued protection of UNESCO World Heritage sites into international, national and local climate, biodiversity and sustainable development strategies in line with the Paris climate agreement, the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals.

“This analysis of iconic World Heritage sites shows that combining satellite data with on-the-ground information can improve local decision-making and strengthen accountability, thereby helping forests, climate, and people,” said David Gibbs, WRI Research Associate and co-author of the report.

“Protecting World Heritage sites from increasing fragmentation and escalating threats will be central to our collective ability to address climate change and biodiversity loss,” added Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

New biotech firm launched to develop ‘revolutionary’ treatment for one of world’s rarest neurodegenerative diseases

A new biotech business SynaptixBio has been launched to tackle one of the world’s rarest neurodegenerative diseases.

SynaptixBio is working to develop the world’s first disease-modifying treatment for TUBB4a leukodystrophy, including H-ABC - a debilitating and potentially life-limiting condition.

Founded by a worldwide team of leading medical and pharmaceutical experts, the Oxford-based research company has entered into a sponsored research agreement with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in the US related to a new method for treating TUBB4a leukodystrophy.

SynaptixBio also has an option to exclusively license CHOP research related to this project. Antisense Oligonucleotides (ASOs) therapy, which has previously been used to treat conditions such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy, is also hoped to dramatically improve the quality of - and extend – the lives of leukodystrophy patients.

Dr Dan Willams, CEO and co-founder of SynaptixBio, said the treatment had the potential to “modify the disease, increase survival and significantly improve motor skills development.

“The new approach provides the potential to stabilise, improve quality of life and extend life expectancy in children suffering from the condition.“Successful prevention of leukodystrophy progression would be a revolutionary life-saving and life-enriching treatment.”

TUBB4a leukodystrophy causes hypomyelination in the brain, which can lead to developmental delays in motor skills such as walking, sitting, speaking and swallowing; learning difficulties, seizures, paralysis and an early death.

Research has already begun, with the firm aiming to launch clinical trials in 2024.“This project will change people’s lives,” Williams said. “The research and development of a clinically-proven treatment for TUBB4a would be a real game-changer for patients and their families.

“There is a real chance to improve the lives of leukodystrophy sufferers. We want to ensure that dream becomes a reality.”