Good news: Africa has become greener in the last 20 years – CO2 listed as a cause

From the “blame CO2” department:

Despite climate change and a growing population, Africa has become greener over the past 20 years, shows new study.

By: Kristian Sjøgren -ScienceNordic

In Africa, a fight is happening. On one side natural forces are making the continent greener, and on the other, people are removing trees and bushes from the continent.

In densely populated regions, people are cutting down trees and forests, but elsewhere, where human populations are more thinly spread, bushes and scrub vegetation are thriving.

Now, scientists have quantified for the first time how vegetation across the continent has changed in the past 20 years.

Thirty six per cent of the continent has become greener, while 11 per cent is becoming less green.

The results show that not all is lost for Africa’s nature, say the scientists behind the new research.

“Our results are both positive and negative. Of course it’s not good that humans have had a negative influence on the distribution of trees and bushes in 11 per cent of Africa in the last 20 years, but it doesn’t come as a complete surprise,” says co-author Martin Brandt from the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

“On the other hand it’s not all negative as an area—three times larger than the area where trees and bushes are disappearing—is becoming greener, which is positive, at least from a climate point of view,” he says.

The new study is published in the scientific journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Challenges the general view of Africa

The study challenges the view that Africa is undergoing a sustained loss of trees and bushes, says Professor Henrik Balslev from the Department of Bioscience at Aarhus University, Denmark. Balslev was not involved in the study.

The new study offers a nuanced picture of how population growth in Africa influences vegetation in different ways.

“The study gives a much more nuanced picture of people’s influence on vegetation in Africa, south of the Sahara, than we had before. The study will have significant impacts on how we evaluate people’s influence on African nature in the future, as the expected population grows dramatically,” he says.

Full story here


Abstract (bold mine)

The rapidly growing human population in sub-Saharan Africa generates increasing demand for agricultural land and forest products, which presumably leads to deforestation. Conversely, a greening of African drylands has been reported, but this has been difficult to associate with changes in woody vegetation. There is thus an incomplete understanding of how woody vegetation responds to socio-economic and environmental change. Here we used a passive microwave Earth observation data set to document two different trends in land area with woody cover for 1992–2011: 36% of the land area (6,870,000 km2) had an increase in woody cover largely in drylands, and 11% had a decrease (2,150,000 km2), mostly in humid zones. Increases in woody cover were associated with low population growth, and were driven by increases in CO2 in the humid zones and by increases in precipitation in drylands, whereas decreases in woody cover were associated with high population growth. The spatially distinct pattern of these opposing trends reflects, first, the natural response of vegetation to precipitation and atmospheric CO2, and second, deforestation in humid areas, minor in size but important for ecosystem services, such as biodiversity and carbon stocks. This nuanced picture of changes in woody cover challenges widely held views of a general and ongoing reduction of the woody vegetation in Africa.

Africa’s human population has increased from about 230 million in 1950 to over 1,000 million in 2010 and is expected to grow to as high as 5,700 million by the end of the twenty-first century1. This growth has led to the expansion of agricultural land and the reduction of natural forests and other woody vegetation2,​3,​4, affecting biodiversity and carbon storage3. Severe droughts in recent decades have also had an adverse impact on humid and sub-humid forested areas5. In contrast, studies of drylands have shown an increase in vegetation productivity over the past 30 years6,​7,​8, also highlighting the importance of drylands for global carbon variability and as a land CO2 sink9. Whether this increase in vegetation productivity is driven by the growth of woody vegetation and/or by an increase in productivity of herbaceous vegetation is not clear6,​7,​8. This is because the scattered nature of woody plants in drylands is very different from forests with closed canopies and is challenging to detect with optical satellite imagery at regional to continental scales10,11. Previous studies have used vegetation indices as proxies for net primary productivity, but these indices measure the photosynthetically active part of the vegetation, and most studies do not distinguish between woody and herbaceous vegetation12,13. Furthermore, studies of deforestation in humid areas traditionally report the presence or absence of forests3 and do not assess gradual changes in forest biomass within existing forests (for example forest degradation). They are also based on temporal snapshots of satellite imagery at a higher spatial resolution and only capture forests based on given definitions, such as tree height and canopy cover percentage3,14, which substantially underestimate shrubs and scattered trees in drylands10. Consequently, little quantitative information is available about the state, rate and drivers of change in the cover of woody vegetation at the scale of the African continent. This information is crucial for ensuring that the design of natural resource management in relation to deforestation and desertification is based on observations rather than based on narratives.

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82 thoughts on “Good news: Africa has become greener in the last 20 years – CO2 listed as a cause

  1. As a committed chlorophobe, I can tell you that I and all the other members of my Phoboholics Anonymous chapter see this as anything but ‘good news.’

    The title of this post requires its own title, containing a trigger warning about the verdancy content of this terrible news.

    Yours in the war on vegetation,
    Greenpeace out yo

    • Apologies—in my sheer bilirubinical, biomass-smeared terror, I misspelt the name of Phobophiliacs Anonymous.

      Yours in the 12 Steps of Living with Fear of a Green Planet,
      Cl*ve H*milt*n,
      Phobosopher,
      Name apostrophised to protect my job as Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Phobosophy and Public Ethics and Vice-Chancellor’s Chair in Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University—Australia’s leading nullarboreal desert campus

    • Proliferation of native plant life cover driven by increases in CO 2 is driving humans out of their natural habitat; it is becoming scourge of 21st century, it is far worse than expected.

    • Of course increased CO2 helps plant growth.

      However, the hot spots are more associated with

      1. (Central hotspot) Being the most densely forested jungle and the largest contiguous rainforest on the continent on the Continent of Africa to begin with, coupled by the:
      a. Congolese Civil War
      b. the Rwandan Genocide
      c. mass refugee exodus

      you get lots of growing plants

      – after all, when you kill several million people, they tend to not cut down trees, they also flee to neighboring countries where de-vegetation is rampant Like the Sudan

      2. West Cost of Africa

      Again very dense jungle to begin with, coupled by 2 decades of civil wars , and multiple outbreaks of ebola

      • Karl

        You make an argument. Unfortunately it is just as flawed as the argument from the AGW crowds. There is no man made global warming, as proved conclusively [by myself]. Therefore your argument does not hold. There is no evidence from you to back your claims up.

        The rain in the equatorial region is increasing, greening the earth, as the global T falls.

        Unfortunately this will eventually lead to droughts at the higher latitudes.

        To give a summary of all my investigations into climate change starting ca. 2009/2010

        Concerned to show that man made warming (AGW ) is correct and indeed happening, I thought that here [in Pretoria, South Africa} I could easily prove that. Namely the logic following from AGW theory is that more CO2 would trap heat on earth, hence we should find minimum temperature (T) rising pushing up the mean T. Here, in the winter months, we hardly have any rain but we have many people burning fossil fuels to keep warm at night. On any particular cold winter’s day that results in the town area being covered with a greyish layer of air, viewable on a high hill outside town in the early morning.
        I figured that as the population increased over the past 40 years, the results of my analysis of the data [of a Pretoria weather station] must show minimum T rising, particularly in the winter months. Much to my surprise I found that the opposite was happening: minimum T here was falling, any month….I first thought that somebody must have made a mistake: the extra CO2 was cooling the atmosphere, ‘not warming it. As a chemist, that made sense to me as I knew that whilst there were absorptions of CO2 in the area of the spectrum where earth emits, there are also the areas of absorption in the 1-2 um and the 4-5 um range where the sun emits. Not convinced either way by my deliberations and discussions as on a number of websites, I first looked at a number of weather stations around me, to give me an indication of what was happening:

        The results puzzled me even more. Somebody [God/Nature] was throwing a ball at me…..The speed of cooling followed a certain pattern, best described by a quadratic function.
        I carefully looked at my earth globe and decided on a particular sampling procedure to find out what, if any, the global result would be. Here is my final result on that:

        Hence, looking at my final Rsquare on that, I figured out that there is no AGW, at least not measurable.
        Arguing with me that 99% of all scientists disagree with me is useless. You cannot have an “election” about science.
        You only need one man to get it right.

      • Karl, way too nuanced mate.

        Let’s keep it simple. Lemmae:

        1. CO2 causes climate
        2. climate causes Africans to have wars
        3. wars kill people
        4. people kill trees
        5. trees eat CO2

        I leave it as a simple exercise to the reader to derive the conclusion:

        Climate is a self-limiting “problem.”

    • Bu-bu-but aren’t you just recycling the right’s favorite meme, “carbon pollution is plant food,” which someone with a BS has already disagreed with somewhere on the Internet, thus making it a Zombie Argument??

      Because recycling is great, but not when it comes to fallacies promoting the deadly Sixth Element.

    • In a Yahoo story comments section recently, a Progressive claimed that the supposed greening of the earth was made up by a Right-wing senator.

      • I’ve one friend who dismisses this good news saying he’ll only be happy when the plants alter the balance of O2 up – believing this ongoing CO2 rise is still a bad thing because ‘even with CO2 greening, the plants are obviously not doing enough to reduce CO2’. Explaining that 0.04% is still too low and that plant increase is still limited by low levels of CO2 confuses him. I want to know how people got through not just school but through university without understanding the carbon cycle.

    • Farmers with greenhouses know. They put extra CO2 in their greenhouses to enhance growth, at considerable cost. The optimum concentration is around 1000 parts per million, or 2 1/2 times atmospheric content.

  2. I wonder how much Boko Harem, ISIS, millions in famine, more millions relocated, wars, Ebola…etc etc
    ..had to do with that…along with CO2

    • Nah. The climate change / conflict link has been debunked (said no-one who ever tried mentioning AGW at a family get-together).

      By the way, it’s Boko Haram last time I read a book. Though, as a writer myself, the image of a harem of literary groupies has a certain purdaceous appeal…

      • Brad,

        Thanks, I enjoy your comments. That’s two words that I had to look up already (what’s the saying about learning something new every day)? Unfortunately, my search didn’t find anything for “purdaceous.” It did return a lot of hits for “predaceous” though. That would also seem to work with a harem, lterary groupies or otherwise.

      • PS predaceous|predacious fills my quota of things to learn today, thanks. For those following at home, it means ~predatory, from Latin praeda ‘booty’ + -acious.

        In a sentence: ‘Rajendra liked to release his Fifth-floor Girls into the rainforest of TERI’s eco-dome with 5 minutes’ head start before he honked the Salacious Booty Horn of TATA, signifying that the predator had become predacious and the bodacious had become prey.’

      • Brad Keyes “By the way, it’s Boko Haram last time I read a book” I know but some how my brain keep hearing “beaucoup harem”

  3. Man, this greening scourge is taking over the climate chatter. Already ‘Pause’ poisoned, natural variation blugeoned, Climate Blues susceptible climate warriors are desperately battling against the heresy of a ‘cool’ development like this by heightened atmospheric CO2! Nature is cruel if CO2 turns out to be cooling us off and reducing use of water in the plant kingdom. Feeble offerings by the team like “trees cause more polution and other bad things that I will think of later”. I now believe the use of the word Kingdom re plants is much more apropos than I had thought. It’s nice to think that the cooling we get from burgeoning plant production is the price we have to pay for new coal seams for use a few tens of millions of years from now.

    • Very droll. You joke now, but this uptick in life-giving, African-feeding herbage won’t seem so great when the pollen blows across to continents where Important People are living. I mean, averting humanitarian disasters in some unpronounceable tinpot Democrat Republic is nice and all, but hayfever is nothing to sneeze at, believe me. No, all in all, this is terrible news. You just watch.

      “New Paper Shows A Greener Africa At Risk Of Eating Too Much Fibre,” retorted The Science roughly.

      • I know right! Same as the scary paper suggesting people won’t get enough protein from all this new additional food.. because everyone eats lettuce and pasta for the protein content. What will they do? I mean, sure one grub in a lettuce will easily supplement the deficient protein levels, but what about the tattoo-free, beer avoiding hipster vegans eat??

  4. That article also says:

    “On the other hand it’s not all negative as an area—three times larger than the area where trees and bushes are disappearing—is becoming greener, which is positive, at least from a climate point of view,” he says.

    At the same time, more CO2 in the atmosphere together with a wetter, warmer planet, provides conditions that help trees and bushes to grow.

    Conclusion: More CO2 in the air is good for the climate. Who knew? :)

  5. Atmospheric CO2 is an enigma here at WUWT. One day it’s an irrelevant trace gas; the next it’s the sustaining force of life as we know it.

    • Those are two different cases. Nobody thinks life, as we know it, could continue without atmospheric CO2. link

      With regard to CO2’s effect on the climate the story is different. Everyone agrees that the main greenhouse gas is water vapor. link The argument is about what effect the CO2 has on the water vapor. The climate realists think the effect is negligible. The alarmists think CO2 creates a positive feedback that leads to runaway global warming. Both sides agree that, by itself, a doubling of atmospheric CO2 would cause a temperature increase of between one and one and a half degrees C. link

      • So, let’s say that (even if it can’t be proven) going from 400ppm to 800ppm would cause an increase of between 1 to 1.5 degrees C. By when does this happen – year 2100?

      • PiperPaul May 30, 2017 at 6:55 pm

        … going from 400ppm to 800ppm …

        There aren’t enough fossil fuels. link

      • How do you know the warming isn’t Just a natural occurrence and the result is an increase in CO2 an water vapour? You know like the chicken and egg question

    • Indeed it is both:
      As it increased from about 250-280 ppm and now about 400 ppm it is very positive for photosynthesis.
      Nobody can deny this. Proven again and again. This is what we learn in middle school:photosynthesis needs carbon dioxide. Proven again and again and again.
      Now the other side. Is carbon dioxide a relevant “green house gas”? There is so little of it compared to water vapor, the primary greenhouse gas by order of magnitude, why should we worry about 400 ppm of CO2?

      • In the case of global warming, not at all. For the health of every living organism and quadrillions of more created by the nano-second it is very important for Carbon Dioxide to be in extreme excess. During the winter months of the northern hemisphere the Carbon Dioxide level increases to a high level before spring when the Flora that had been in their dormant stage in cold weather, start to come out of their sleep. They start sucking that Carbon Dioxide up as fast as they can get it until just before Fall nearly all the Carbon Dioxide has been depleted from the atmosphere, to a point where it is so thinly divided in the air that it causes the plants to start going dormant again and the cooler weather causes them to go dormant again. And the Alarmist want to put the Earth on a Carbon Dioxide Diet so it can starve to death.

        In a true greenhouse effect of an interglacial period there would be nearly zero Ice globally.

        ” (199.6 to 145.5 mya) Earth is warm. There is no polar ice. 120 mya: Global warming event starts
        Carbon dioxide levels were 550 to 590 ppm 90 mya: Global warming event ends. 55.8 mya: Major global warming episode North Pole temperature averaged 23°C (73.4°F), CO2 concentration was 2000 ppm. 35.6 mya: * Meteor impacts, 90 and 100 km craters Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, USA, and Popigai, Russia [9,10] Global temperature dropped 10°C during the Eocene. 34 mya: Global cooling creates permanent Antarctic ice sheet.”

        http://www.scientificpsychic.com/etc/timeline/timeline.html

        How do you like that “120 mya: Global warming event starts Carbon dioxide levels were 550 to 590 ppm” when for decades they have been screaming about 400 ppm.

    • DWR50

      Atmospheric CO2 is an enigma here at WUWT. One day it’s an irrelevant trace gas; the next it’s the sustaining force of life as we know it.

      Yes. That statement is true. CO2 is BOTH an irrelevant trace gas (which assumes your exaggerated false summary of a false position is correct) AND is essential to sustaining life.
      Can you understand that concept? Is that answer too complex for you?

      • Whom exactly here do you imagine suffers cognitive dissonance?

        Why is it so hard for you to grasp the meaning of “essential trace gas”? What part of those three words don’t you understand?

        CO2 is a trace gas in the atmosphere, at only four molecules per 10,000 dry air molecules. Yet the first one or two of those molecules are essential for photosynthetic life on our planet. Twelve such molecules would be better. Those same one or two molecules also help warm the planet. After that, not so much.

      • Chimp, it cannot be both “irrelevant” and “essential” simultaneously.

        [???????? .mod]

      • engarpia@gmail.com

        Chimp, please re-read RACookPE1978’s post.
        ..
        He said, ” irrelevant trace gas” not “ESSENTIAL trace gas. Do you understand the difference between the word “irrelevant” and “essential????”

        My actual statement was: “CO2 is BOTH an irrelevant trace gas (which assumes your exaggerated false summary of a false position is correct) AND is essential to sustaining life.”

        Interesting that it is the incorrect and badly truncated extract from my full quote that is the basis of his following points. When, in fact, his original statement – as I tried to indicate above by saying very clearly “BOTH an irrelevant trace gas (which assumes your exaggerated false summary of a false position is correct)”.

        CO2 plays a minor role in the atmospheric temperatures we find across the globae. NOBODY DISPUTES THAT. (There is, however, quite a bit of discussion about just how big that role actually is, and how little an effect results when that trace gas increases in concentration.)
        CO2 IS a trace gas with a very small role in global temperatures.
        CO2 IS ALSO essential for life, and, just a few geological years ago, came close to levels low enough that the planet’s life was threatened.
        Carbon is a trace element in steel, iron, and stainless steel.
        Minute differences of 0.25% of that trace element make a tremendous difference in toughness, strength, brittle resistance, rigidity, corrosion resistance, wear resistance, hardenability, heat treatment and ultimate yield strength at room temperature, annealing temperatures, and at melting temperatures.

        But those minutes differences in ALL of those other properties do NOT affect the weight of the final beam.

        Regrettably, I do not expect you to understand either the original statement of fact, nor the explanation of its analogy.

      • Chimp, it cannot be both “irrelevant” and “essential” simultaneously.

        ….oh dear

    • @DRW54
      The hair on your head is inconsequential in terms of maintaining your body temperature most days, but it might be critical for heating things up with a female friend. Same stuff, different use!

    • I think there are fewer Essos than there used to be, at least in America. Certainly, some of those will be overgrown by grass and weeds. link

  6. “””The rapidly growing human population in sub-Saharan Africa generates increasing demand for agricultural land and forest products, which presumably leads to deforestation.””
    —————————————

    Why don’t they re-plant more trees in the deforested areas. Isn’t that what we did over here?
    Re-plant the trees, please.
    Or maybe just strip the rest of the continent and see if they can make the desert bigger? Is that what it will take?

  7. Do you people not know anything?

    Excess CO2 makes the weeds grow faster and food crops less nutritious!

  8. I would like to ask the authors a simple question: What is the rainfall pattern during just before the 20 year period? In Africa the greenery associated with rainfall patterns only.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    [“During and just before” ?? .mod]

  9. This is a disaster for the Amazon rainforest.

    If Africa greens then less dust will be blown across the South Atlantic and fewer vital nutrients will fertilise South America.

    Think about the lungs of the planet!

  10. Australia as well ! I just watched a video on Youtube named something like ’15 things you didn’t know about Mad Max Fur Road’ and they say that it was planned to film Fury Road at the location of the old movies – but the desert was TOO GREEN for the desired post-apocalyptic looks, so they moved to Namibia, I believe…

  11. It seems skeptismcm has gone out of the window just as fast as the puns have floated in.
    Go on, admit it – you’re trying to show a GSOH so you can take WatsUps Climate Marching Girl Pin-Up home.
    To join your harem. Its a start, not sure she’ll be *that* impressed. Must try harder.

    So, what’s with all this ‘nuance’ business. What exactly is subtle about either a dirty great f-off desert or rainforest?
    Oh. The guy says he’s looking at the subtle difference between trees and grassland.
    But wait!! He says his (we know the one – that lo-res, dotty, pixelated & grubby satellite picture) cannot tell the difference between trees and grass a lot of the time. IOW, he’s counting faeries, the same faeries that folks have been peering at since when – 2011? sigh
    There goes Climate Marching Girl right out the door – too many fairies.

    Recall, we heard about cities not so long ago. Folks like cities. Posh peeps and others living in Ivory Towers make out that cities are horrid places. Just like children, they imagine they can lie their way through life.

    So, maybe rural folks in Africa are moving to towns & cities. That’s where the money/jobs/bright lites/nice houses/good food etc are. And so they leave their farmland, with degraded dirt after decades of grubbing about in the dirt and dust eating a tasteless diet of starch based mush. Brightened up with an occasional bit of goat.
    If anything makes deserts faster than a cr4p climate – its goats.

    And so the weeds take over the farms. Where’s this joker with his nuance there? No mention of weeds is there. Of course, not like your average Ivory Tower dweller to get his his precious little fingers dirty. The IT dept would be down on him like a proverbial ton for messing up their shiny new toys if nothing else. Oh, one more reason for moving to the city – mobile phone coverage.
    And electikery. F me, I’m slow today.

    An d The Main Point – just where exactly does he get his assertion that CO2 made the plants (I say weeds but they’re all lovely) grow.
    Not by any chance because someone else said so, and someone before that and right the way back to One Person, possibly in NASA who first saw this grubby little satellite picture. Under pressure from their boss to explain it, he/she said the first thing that came into their heads = Carbon Dioxide. Its all the rage these days innit?

    And so it will be, One Person, somewhere, under pressure, half asleep (Tiger Woods anyone?) will recall the huuuuge simplification(s) they learned in primary school and consign vast numbers of us, if not us all if Merkel has her way, to the Dustbin of History.
    Enjoy the ride while you can.

    [?? (But the mods do wonder about this one.) .mod]

  12. More vegetation means more puffy sun-reflecting cumulous clouds I believe. There should be a correlation if someone wants to look into it. In Wisconsin i I don’t really notice the puffy cumulous clouds much until the leaves pop out, which just happened (it was a late spring this year).

  13. Somewhere I saw that over forests, during the day ground level C02 is 50 ppm less than treetop CO2 levels due to photosynthesis. To me that means 100-150 years ago when C02 was 280 ppm, the ground level C02 levels in forests were below starvation limits. I wonder if how much extra vegetation is ground level stuff in forests that is now able to grow because it isnt being starved due to lack of CO2.

  14. You mean to tell me those dozens of solar cook stoves did not slow the use of wood across the continent?

  15. It is not only the increase in CO2 that is the cause of the greening, although I am sure it will help. I think it is more the increase in precipitation, especially the last 20 years. We know that the flooding of the Nile goes up and down at regular intervals and according to William Arnold and others who wrote reports about this before they started with AGW, it reached a minimum at around 1995. I am sure you will find precipitation going up around the equator in Africa since the beginning of the new millennium.
    More rain and CO2 = more greening.

  16. Oi, don’t forget the Greens have recently discovered that trees emit the dreaded VOCs and are a hazard to health, therefore this planet-greening thing is really bad news! /sarc.

  17. Of course increased CO2 helps plant growth.

    However, the hot spots are more associated with

    1. (Central hotspot) Being the most densely forested jungle and the largest contiguous rainforest on the continent on the Continent of Africa to begin with, coupled by the:
    a. Congolese Civil War
    b. the Rwandan Genocide
    c. mass refugee exodus

    you get lots of growing plants

    – after all, when you kill several million people, they tend to not cut down trees, they also flee to neighboring countries where de-vegetation is rampant Like the Sudan

    2. West Cost of Africa

    Again very dense jungle to begin with, coupled by 2 decades of civil wars , and multiple outbreaks of ebola

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