KoŇ°ice Civic Protocol on Water, Vegetation and Climate Change (and COP15)

Added : 1. 12. 2009

Whole text of the protocol including explanatory text available here for download: doc / pdf

The uniqueness of the Earth from the climatic point of view is the result of a combination of favourable conditions, in particular the evolution of life over the course of several long geological periods.
It was above all micro-organisms and later also plants which over billions of years changed the physical and chemical environment of our planet, optimizing and later stabilizing certain parameters, including the climatic ones such as temperature and humidity, and the chemical composition of water, soil and the atmosphere. In this way they created the necessary conditions for the emergence of life as we know it today.

The living world influences the climate mainly by regulating the water cycle and the huge energy flows which are closely linked with it.

Natural ecosystems also develop in the long term towards the stabilization of closed cyclical processes (e.g. the water or carbon cycles), whose central medium is water and which efficiently manage solar energy with minimum material losses.

Transpiring plants, especially forest growth, demonstrate especially efficient water management. They work as a kind of biotic pump, causing humid air to be sucked up out of the ocean and transferred to dry land. Forests in the hot and moderate zones always appear cooler during sunny periods (particularly on infrared satellite photos) in comparison with their unforested surroundings. These and other aspects make for perfect climate-forming systems on the Earth.

For millions of years the self-regulating mechanisms of the biosphere have proven capable of correcting a wide range of unfavourable effects (e.g. fluctuations in solar energy, meteoric impacts, volcanic activity and the constant emergence of carbon from the depths of the Earth), which have continually disrupted the Earth’s climatic stability.

Through their activities over thousands of years, human beings have been destroying ecosystems which have the potential to actively correct those unfavourable effects. People themselves began disrupting and changing the closed cycles of nature. The combination of these effects is gradually raising them to such intensity that nature itself is not able to correct them, and in certain cases a state is being reached which is not permanently sustainable.

A prime example of opening the closed cycles of natural ecosystems is the deforestation of land, accompanied by increasingly rapid run-off of rainwater, marked acceleration of soil erosion, reduced content of organic material in the ground, and substantial reduction of its ability to hold water.

Another example of creating imbalance is the collecting of rainwater from the built surfaces of modern towns and villages and its channelling away through sewers into the rivers and the sea. This water is then lacking in that part of the land. It is lacking in the soil, the vegetation, the underground water reserves, and last but not least also in the atmosphere.

Destruction of the hydrological cycle by humans disturbs the sequestration of carbon in the soil and vegetation and by this reduces the water storage capacity of the area. Reduced water content in the ground leads to an increase in oxidation processes and to losses of organic matter. Dry periods and heatwaves reduce photosynthesis and increase the probability of incidence of large forest fires.

Draining of the land requires special attention because of its influence on local climate. The presence or absence of water has considerable impact on the distribution of energy between the two principal heat flows: latent heat of evaporation and sensible heat. If water is not sufficiently present in the land, a large part of the incidental solar energy is changed into sensible heat, and the temperature of the environment sharply rises.

Every year around 54 750 km² of the Earth’s surface is urbanized. We calculate that if evaporation from this surface is reduced by 200 mm each year, then in those same areas each year an additional approx. 6.7 million GWh of sensible heat is produced.

If we apply the same reduction in evaporation to the 127 000 km² of the Earth’s surface which is deforested every year, then we get a further approx. 17.4 million GWh of sensible heat being produced. This amount of heat alone in itself roughly corresponds to the annual production of electrical energy by the human population of this planet.

Enormous amounts of sensible heat originate from the land surfaces transformed into farmland or urban environments in the past. Fields and pastures and built areas on all continents together make up around 55 million km².

The flow of sensible heat released through draining of the land is locally several orders of magnitude higher than the effect (through amplification of radiation) of greenhouse gases, and greatly outstrips differences in the albedo.

These so-called “hot-plates” originating from the land transformed by humans prevent the condensation of water vapour in the atmosphere, thus causing a reduction in precipitation over these areas. They also produce temperature differences which trigger the development of climatic extremes. These phenomena in drained areas are often mistakenly ascribed to greenhouse effects.

There is a growing number of scientific articles bearing witness to the climatic impacts of extensive damage to vegetation and the natural water cycle by human beings.

It is shocking that the relevant leading institutions in the world have so far paid insufficient attention to the climatic function of the coexistence, formed over geological eons, between vegetation and the water cycle, and the human disruption of this relationship through land management.

If climate change science does not include all relevant parameters into its theories, models and scenarios, the adequacy of the science is threatened. In turn, the policy recommendation will be inadequate or even counterproductive. If water and vegetation are not properly included, a large part of human activity (land management) and its cooling/heating effects will be unexamined.. This may also reduce the motivation of those responsible to undertake unpopular counter-measures.

The principal mitigating and adaptive measure to combat that part of climatic change caused by human draining of the land and/or alteration of its vegetation cover is the renewal of the water cycle (through a consistent programme of rainwater retention) and vegetation in damaged areas.

The importance of renewing and protecting the natural vegetation and water cycle is in no way inferior to any other measures for the recovery of the climate. For this reason we demand that local, regional, national and international communities devote appropriate attention to these factors.

Signed in Košice, dated 26th November 2009

Whole text of the protocol including explanatory text available here for download: doc / pdf