Earthwatch Lecture, London, May 2012
Climate Change and Forests: Earthwatch and the HSBC Partnership.
Three climate change scientists presented five years of findings from the largest ever employee engagement programme on climate change and forests to an audience of 600 at London's Royal Geographical Society on Thursday evening, 17 May.
TV presenter Kate Humble speaks with Earthwatch climate change scientists.
Chair and Earthwatch ambassador Kate Humble opened the evening with the observation “There is something wonderful about an Earthwatch evening. It’s about energy. Everybody who is involved with Earthwatch has a kind of positivity”.
Presenting the results of Earthwatch’s five-year partnership with HSBC, which explored the relationship between climate change and forests, were Earthwatch’s Dr. Dan Bebber, Prof. N H Ravindranath of the Indian Institute of Science and Prof. Yadvinder Malhi of Oxford University.
Guests take their seats for the Earthwatch Lecture: Climate Change and Forests
Dr. Bebber began his talk by assuring the audience that “the Earth is warming”, before discussing the fieldwork carried out in Oxfordshire’s Wytham Woods by Earthwatch researchers, Oxford University, and HSBC employees – known as ‘Climate Champions’. Over the course of the programme, teams measured and mapped trees in areas of forest that have been impacted to varying degrees by human disturbance.
Dr. Bebber then discussed the validity of ‘citizen science’. Over the course of the partnership, 2267 non-scientists from HSBC worked in forest research plots in Brazil, China, India, UK and USA. He asked if we could trust the data collected by non-scientists – before revealing that after validation, the rate of error was found to be less than 1%.
Dr. Bebber also presented the results of a moth survey carried out in Wytham Woods and headed by Dr. Eleanor Slade of WildCRU, Oxford University. Believed to be the biggest ever mark-recapture study on moths, the project examined how moths dispersed through a landscape being altered by climate change. 14,719 moths from 87 species were captured and released. The study found that dispersal was related to wingspan, habitat affinity and wing type, and found that lone trees in hedges were important to dispersal as they served as ‘stepping stones’ for the moths.
Prof. N H Ravindranath discussed the work carried out by HSBC ‘Climate champions’ in the Western Ghats of India where a total of 65,648 trees were mapped and measured. Prof. Ravindranath stressed the need for the long-term monitoring of forests in response to climate change, but remained positive. Despite the dependence of communities on forests for resources including food, fuel and building materials biodiversity, biomass and carbon stocks in the Western Ghats remain high. The data that was collected by the HSBC Climate Champions will inform how communities continue to manage these forests as they respond to climate change.
Prof. Yadvinder Malhi discussed further the work carried out at Wytham Woods. He explained how researchers were able to measure the forests ‘breathing’ – how the quantities of carbon that they capture and release change in response to the seasons.
Prof. Malhi also illustrated how species within ecosystems can impact climate change: In the 1950’s, he explained, an outbreak of myxomatosis led to a significant reduction in the rabbit population in Wytham Woods, meaning that many more trees - that rabbits would previously have eaten before they got established - were able to grow to maturity, and hence increase the amount of carbon that is locked up in the forest 60 years later.
During the event’s question and answer session, one member of the audience asked what members of the public can personally do to help the fight against the impacts of climate change. In response, Dr. Bebber highlighted the importance of those living in a democracy to vote wisely, and to vote with our money by only buying from organisations who take environmental concerns seriously.
Chairman of Earthwatch, Prof. David MacDonald CBE, wrapped the lecture up by noting how “although it’s said you can’t please everyone all of the time, the HSBC climate partnership has got jolly close in terms of its dimensions, such as the relationship between business and biodiversity, and the importance of education, and emerging scientists”.
Finally, Prof. MacDonald announced that just this week, the Climate Partnership won the Business Charity Awards’ Charity Partnership (Financial and Professional) Award for an outstanding partnership between companies providing financial or professional services and a UK charity.
Sue Alexander (HSBC) holds the Business Charity Award with Glyn Davies (WWF) and Earthwatch staff.
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