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1 June 2022 15:00

Cropped, 1 June 2022: Fears for UN biodiversity summit; Food as a war weapon; Commodity flip-flops

Multiple Authors

NatureCropped, 1 June 2022: Fears for UN biodiversity summit; Food as a war weapon; Commodity flip-flops

Welcome to Carbon Brief’s Cropped. 
We handpick and explain the most important stories at the intersection of climate, land, food and nature over the past fortnight.

This is an online version of Carbon Brief’s fortnightly Cropped email newsletter. Subscribe for free here.


A vital set of biodiversity talks face being postponed until 2023 – after already being delayed several times since their initial scheduled time of October 2020. This could put a major deal to reverse nature loss in jeopardy.

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Several world leaders have accused Russia of using food as a weapon of war by blockading Ukrainian ships full of wheat and sunflower seeds in the Black Sea.

In a series of “protectionist” policy moves that have commodity markets “confused”, the governments of India and Indonesia have both announced and repealed restrictions on the export of commodities including wheat, palm oil, sugar, with fears that rice could be next. 

Key developments

Biodiversity roadblocks

COP15 DELAYS: A major deal to reverse widespread nature loss risks being put in jeopardy by further delays to a key round of UN biodiversity talks, Reuters reported. The UN summit COP15 was originally scheduled to take place in Kunming, China, in October 2020. At the meeting, countries are due to approve the “post-2020 global biodiversity framework” – a deal often described as the “Paris Agreement for nature”. However, the meeting has already been delayed four times amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Reuters reported. And now China, which is currently enforcing lockdowns across the country under its zero-Covid strategy, has sought to delay the talks even further – until 2023, Reuters said. Oscar Soria, campaign director of the activist group Avaaz, told the Guardian that China’s refusal to provide a date for COP15 “sends the wrong message”. He told the newspaper: “It’s unbelievable that China is not able to provide any answers. It sends the wrong message – that this is not important and can be postponed, even though we are in an ecological emergency and this cannot wait.”

NEW HOST NEEDED?: Reuters reported that calls for COP15 to be held outside of China – [present since the delays first occurred] – have grown louder amid the fresh roadblocks. Susan Lieberman, vice president of international policy at the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, told the newswire: “The best outcome would be to have COP15 in 2022 and for China to recognise it can’t be in China due to Covid.” But a decision to relocate the meeting would require China’s approval – which is unlikely, Nature reported. The publication added that some believe waiting for China could still deliver the best outcome for biodiversity. Ma Keping, an ecologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Botany in Beijing, told Nature: “The Chinese government has worked very hard to prepare such a meeting. It should happen in China.”

WHAT’S AT STAKE: Carbon Brief has previously reported in depth on the global biodiversity framework, from the last set of biodiversity talks which took place in Geneva in March. The ultimate aim of the framework is for people to “live in harmony with nature” by 2050. One of the flagships of the deal is a pledge for countries to ensure that at least 30% of the world’s lands and marine areas are protected for nature by 2030 – often referred to as “30 by 30”. Many of the other targets also have implications for efforts to tackle climate change, ranging from the role for nature-based climate solutions to the removal and redirection of fossil fuel subsidies. The overall importance of the agreement “cannot be overstated”, Aban Marker Kabraji, an adviser to the UN on biodiversity and climate change, told Nature. He said such agreements spur action and that governments might hold off updating or developing strategies until after they are settled. “It is extremely important that these meetings take place in the cycle in which they’re planned,” Kabraji told Nature.

Food as a weapon of war

‘BLACKMAIL TOOL’: Russia is using food supplies as a weapon with global repercussions by blockading Ukrainian ships full of wheat and sunflower seeds in the Black Sea, said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at the annual World Economic Forum held in Davos, according to Reuters. She said “global cooperation” was the “antidote to Russia’s blackmail”. Ukrainian media outlet TSN quoted presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych saying that “Russia is resorting to blackmail and manipulation to lift sanctions and obstruct arms supplies to Ukraine”. According to BBC News, Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Vladimir Putin is “weaponising Ukraine’s crops” as “a blackmail tool” for the rest of the world, noting that it was like what “Stalin did in 1933“. US secretary of state Antony Blinken also accused Russia of using food as a weapon in Ukraine by holding “hostage” supplies for not just Ukrainians but also millions around the world, EurActiv reported. 

‘PROTECTIVE CORRIDOR’: The UK is discussing with allies sending warships to the Black Sea to protect freighters carrying Ukrainian grain, the Times reported. A “coalition of the willing” would aim to break Russia’s blockade in weeks by providing a “protective corridor” from Odesa through to the Bosphorus. Russian deputy foreign minister Andrei Rudenko said the country was ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine in return for lifting some sanctions, the Interfax news agency reported. However, Britain’s defence secretary Ben Wallace rejected the idea of lifting sanctions and welcomed the suggestion of Black Sea nations, such as Turkey, escorting the Ukraine grain shipments after Moscow ruled out the involvement of Western forces, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that “while Russia is weaponising hunger by preventing the export of grain from Ukraine’s ports, the US will not employ military resources to this end”, reported the Kyiv Independent.

GRAIN STEALING: The Russians exported almost half a million tonnes of grain from the occupied Ukrainian territories to Russia, said first deputy minister of agricultural policy and food, Taras Vysotsky, reported Ukrainian media outlet The occupiers are trying to sell stolen grain in Egypt and Lebanon, but these countries have refused to buy it, according to the publication. However, Russian ships with Ukrainian grain were recorded in Syria. The theft was recorded by satellite photos of the Crimean port of Sevastopol, where two Russia-flagged bulk carrier ships are shown docking and loading up with what is believed to be stolen Ukrainian grain, CNN reported. Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of “gradually stealing” Ukrainian food products and trying to sell them.

Commodity flip-flops

PALM OIL FACEPALM: After banning palm oil exports on 28 April – “one of the biggest acts of crop protectionism since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” – Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo said exports could resume from 23 May, Bloomberg reported. Vegetable oil prices have been registering record highs, with labour restrictions, climate change and conflict contributing to this latest oil crisis, said an article in the Conversation. The story noted that the export ban “temporarily quieted domestic critics”, while causing immediate repercussions in importing nations, such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Egypt. While the reversal might bring these importers relief, it “may lead to new protests on the streets of Jakarta”.

CEREAL BANS: In mid-April, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi promised Joe Biden that India could feed the world, but by mid-May, he had imposed a “hasty ban” on wheat to protect its own food security, wrote Bloomberg columnist Andy Mukherjee. Likening the export repeal to a repeat of pandemic promises “about how India, the world’s pharmacy, will save humanity”, Mukherjee pointed to a climate-driven chapati crisis at home where there may be 6.5% fewer chapatis for the same crop as previous harvests. The Guardian reported that India’s wheat farmers “on the frontline of the climate emergency” are finding themselves with at least 50% less grain to sell. Global wheat prices jumped by 6% after India announced its wheat export ban, with Germany’s agriculture minister warning that “if everyone starts to impose export restrictions or to close markets, that would worsen the crisis”. Another Bloomberg story speculated that a rice export ban might be next on the cards, which the Indian government refuted, Mint reported.’s Shoaib Daniyal observed in The India Fix that “export bans are an implicit tax on farmers in order to subsidise the Indian food consumer” and that “high prices can be lethal for a ruling party at election time”. 

SUGAR WITHDRAWAL:​​ Barely a week after it capped trade on wheat, India restricted sugar exports at 10m tonnes for the current marketing year that ends in September, Bloomberg reported. The story described the move by the world’s largest producer and second-largest exporter as “an extreme case of precaution”, given that domestic supplies are abundant. The decision to curb sugar exports – the first such move in six years – comes at a time when India clocked record sugar production and sales in global markets, the Hindu BusinessLine reported, and pointed out that restrictions would not apply to US and EU markets. It added that the Indian government announced these restrictions to maintain domestic availability and prevent a surge in prices amid rising global food and oil prices, to “safeguard interests of the common citizens of the country”.

News and views

NO GREEN BREXIT: The UK government’s plans to pay farmers to restore land and boost carbon stores risk being scrapped amid opposition from far-right Conservatives, the Guardian reported. The UK drew up its “environmental land management scheme”, which plans to pay farmers for social goods, such as carbon storage and nature restoration rather than food production, to replace the EU’s common agricultural policy after Brexit. Sources told the Guardian that right-wing minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, believed to be behind the government’s U-turn on banning foie gras, is among MPs pressuring the government to drop the scheme. Joining him is Steve Baker, the hardline Brexiteer who is a trustee of the climate-sceptic lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Baker told the Guardian: “Multiple government ambitions on land use have taken land out of food production. Food security should be as much a national priority as energy security. We must prioritise food security and food chain resilience – cutting unnecessary regulations and interventions.” 

KING SALMON DIE-OFFS: New Zealand’s biggest king salmon company is shutting three of its farms due to “increasingly warm summer seas” killing “up to 42% of company’s fish this year” compared to 17% in 2018, the Guardian reported. The fish are dying en masse before reaching maturity, leaving farmers dumping thousands of tonnes of dead fish into local landfills. The story explains that New Zealand is the world’s largest producer of a king, or “chinook” salmon. “The country’s farms account for about 85% of global supply”, New Zealand King Salmon chief executive Grant Rosewarne said, warning “climate change is a slow process but faster than many people think – certain industries are…canaries in the coalmine”.

MANGO BLUES: The extended heatwave in South Asia claimed another victim: the “universally loved and as eagerly anticipated” summer mango crop, the New York Times reported. In India – which accounts for nearly half the world’s mango produce and exports “tens of millions of dollars’ worth of mangoes each year” to the UAE, UK and US – “heat has far exceeded the optimal temperature for fertilisation of mango trees”. According to a third-generation mango farmer in the state of Uttar Pradesh, his yield was only 5% that of previous years, adding that “with a heavy heart, I will have to start chopping these trees down if this pattern continues”. In Pakistan, mango production is expected to decline by around 50% this year because of the heat and water shortages, Reuters reported, where one grower pointed out that “there is no water in Sindh”. 

SLAUGHTER-FREE TEN: US cultivated meat giant Good Meet is building 10 of the world’s biggest bioreactors for cultured meat, each four storeys tall with a capacity of 250,000 litres, the Guardian reported. These giant vats – whose US location will be finalised in three months and will be operational in late 2024 – are expected to grow “more than 13,000 tonnes of chicken and beef a year”, using cells from cell banks or eggs, the company said. Meanwhile, climate scientists on Twitter debated how many mega-factories would be needed and what it would cost to replace all of a country’s meat supply with cell-cultured meat.

KENYAN CONFLICT: Rising droughts, floods and invasive species are fuelling violent armed conflicts between pastoralists in Kenya’s central Baringo county, Mongabay reported. The publication added there have been 24 violent clashes in the region in the first four months of 2022, leading to 16 deaths. Half of these clashes were to conflict over livestock, according to Mongabay. Dr Yazan Elhadi, an agriculture and resource economist at the University of Nairobi, told the publication: “Drylands like Baringo are particularly susceptible to environmental degradation, which directly [impacts] pastoralists’ resilience given their dependence on the land.”

Extra reading

New science

Future reversal of warming-enhanced vegetation productivity in the Northern Hemisphere
Nature Climate Change

A boost to plant growth in the northern hemisphere caused by climate change, sometimes called “global greening”, could be reversed in the second half of this century, new research found. This “could negatively impact the global land carbon sink”, the authors say – meaning ecosystems could release more CO2 into the atmosphere. Global greening has occurred since the 1980s as rising CO2 levels have provided more “food” for plants to grow. However, the new research found that, in temperate and boreal regions, the relationship between plant growth and temperature is likely to become “significantly negative before 2070”. This is because temperatures are projected to become hotter than what is optimal for plant growth.

Predicting habitat suitability and range shifts under projected climate change for two octocorals in the north-east Atlantic

“Vulnerable” pink sea fan corals found in the UK could expand their range due to climate change, according to a new study. Using models, researchers revealed that “the species could spread northwards by 2100 – including around the British coast – as global temperatures rise”. Pink sea fans add complexity to reef systems and support marine biodiversity. Researchers also found that “existing habitat across south-west Britain, the Channel Islands and north-west France is predicted to remain suitable for this species over the next 60-80 years”. The study examined another soft coral species called dead man’s fingers, future predictions for which revealed an overall decrease in suitable habitat in the southern area and increase in the northern area of the Atlantic.

Livestock, methane, and climate change: The politics of global assessments
WIREs Climate Change 

A new article looks at the politics of global assessments of livestock-derived methane emissions and their framing. The author argues that these assessments “include inadequate data due to a focus on industrial not extensive systems” as well as errors, debates and questions about emission baselines and how global warming potentials are derived. According to the study, “by failing to differentiate between livestock systems, global assessments may mislead” and “result in interventions that can undermine the livelihoods of extensive livestock-keepers in marginal areas, including mobile pastoralists”. It concludes that a more disaggregated, nuanced approach is required, if climate change and food systems are to be effectively addressed. 

In the diary

Cropped is researched and written by Dr Giuliana Viglione, Aruna Chandrasekhar and Daisy Dunne. Anastasiia Zagoruichyk also contributed to this issue. Please send tips and feedback to [email protected]

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