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The UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has released two landmark assessments. The reports point to how billions across the world rely on wild species and how the world needs a “shift away from values that over-emphasise short-term material gains”.
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Brazil’s three largest meat packing companies, which indirectly supply supermarkets across the world, have “inadequate” plans to end their illegal destruction of the Amazon, new analysis found.
At the UN Oceans Conference in Portugal, Thailand said it would stop issuing commercial fishing licences to bottom trawlers. In Oxford, experts from across the world gathered to debate the controversial concept of “nature-based solutions”.
Wild species and value of nature
VALUING NATURE: On Monday, IPBES published a landmark assessment on how nature is valued in political and economic decision-making. The report found that leaders currently undervalue nature and that this is “a key driver of the global biodiversity crisis”. However, increasing value in nature presents “a vital opportunity” to address the crisis, it added. Four years in the making and featuring contributions from scientists and experts from every region in the world, the assessment’s summary called out the “dominant global focus on short-term profits and economic growth, often excluding the consideration of multiple values of nature in policy decisions.” According to the assessment, less than 5% of studies that put a value on nature have been cited in policy decisions.The report authors also said that the “spiritual, cultural and emotional values nature brings to humans” need to be factored into policy decisions, alongside traditional indicators such as GDP.
NEW LEAF: More than 50 different methods to assess nature’s value have been used in diverse contexts the world over, the assessment said. It said the number of “nature valuation studies” being published increased by 10% each year over the past four decades. However, over the last decade, only 4% of nature valuation studies included a focus on improving the social conditions of people who live with nature. In addition, only 1% of all studies reviewed had participation at all levels. Authors stated that “transformative change needed to address the global biodiversity crisis” would need a shift away from values “that currently over-emphasise individual material gains to nurturing sustainability-aligned values across society”. They suggested four “leverage” points: undertaking valuation, embedding values in decision-making, policy reform, and shifting societal goals to “catalyse transformation towards sustainable and just futures”.
WILD WORLD: Just how much do ordinary people depend on biodiversity? A second IPBES assessment released on Friday, on the sustainable use of wild species, estimated that 70% of the world’s poorest people directly depend on wild species. In addition, 2.4bn people rely on fuel wood for cooking and more than 50,000 wild species are used for food, energy, medicine, material and other purposes by billions of people. The report, prepared over four years by 85 experts from 33 countries, also found that Indigenous and poor communities are among the most immediately affected by the overuse of wild species, the New York Times reported. “Half of humanity benefits from and makes use of wild species, and often without even knowing that they’re doing so,” said Marla R Emery, one of the co-chairs of the assessment quoted in the story.
BAD DRIVERS: According to the summary, which was approved by 139 member states, ensuring sustainable use “is critical to reverse the global trend in biodiversity decline”, of which “climate change is an increasingly strong driver”. It also pointed to inequitable distribution of the costs and benefits of wild species between companies and communities. Other drivers that impact wild species include land and seascape changes, pollution and invasive alien species. Illegal wild species trade accounts for a third of all illegal trade, estimated at $1.99bn a year. In a comment piece for the Guardian, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance wrote that the report “provides compelling evidence that humans are overexploiting wild species and habitats” and that “COP15 [the biodiversity summit in Montreal this December], provides the next critical opportunity for governments to commit to real ambitious change”. He added that “an important challenge is to define a reliable and simple integrated metric” for tracking biodiversity loss – “like carbon emissions have been used for climate goals”.
Big meat’s forest pledges analysed
AMAZON GRAZING: Brazil’s three largest meat-packing companies – which are indirectly involved with supplying supermarkets such as Tesco – have “inadequate” plans to end illegal deforestation in the Amazon, according to a new analysis by Reporter Brasil and Unearthed. At present, beef production accounts for an estimated 90% of Amazon deforestation, according to the NGO Imazon. The three companies – JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva – have all pledged to eliminate illegal deforestation from their supply chains by 2030 or earlier. However, the analysis found that the “companies’ systems for supply-chain monitoring will rely on official documents that can be susceptible to fraud, and on data provided by cattle ranchers themselves, who may have little motivation to self-report information”. In response to the analysis, all three companies said they were “working to monitor their supply chains and mitigate risks”.
CHEWING THE FAT: JBS, the world’s largest meat-packing company, has pledged to end illegal deforestation in its supply chain by 2025. But the analysis noted that this pledge only covers its direct suppliers, leaving out “tier 2 producers”, such as those involved in cattle breeding and slaughter. Reporters Naira Hofmeister and Isabel Harari explained: “That matters because these tier 2 suppliers may account for up to 11% of deforestation associated with livestock. One direct supplier to JBS, for example, might buy cattle from 10 or more ranches. But they, in turn, might buy live cattle from elsewhere in a huge network of ranches specialised in the different stages of raising and breeding cattle.”
FALLING PROFITS: The analysis comes as a report from the Independent warned that profits from the global meat and dairy industry are “under threat” from climate change. The headline is based on a survey by the Changing Markets Foundation, which found that 84% of people in the investing community say that a lack of climate action could lead to stranded assets in the sector. (“Stranded assets” are those that, at some point prior to the end of their economic life, are no longer able to earn an economic return.) The survey of 200 investors also found that 94% think reducing methane alongside carbon is important, with three-quarters thinking that companies should be reporting their methane emissions. (Meat and dairy is a major producer of human-caused methane.)
Oceans and ‘nature-based solutions’
‘OCEAN EMERGENCY’: The second-ever UN Ocean Conference took place in Lisbon from late June to July and drew more than 6,000 participants from 150 countries, including 24 heads of state, Mongabay reported. At the opening ceremony, UN secretary-general António Guterres said that humanity had “taken the ocean for granted” and that “today we face what I would call an ‘ocean emergency’”. Tuvalu’s foreign minister pulled out of the opening ceremony and conference, however, as China blocked the participation of three Taiwanese representatives in his country’s delegation list, Reuters reported. Key topics of discussion inside and outside of the venue included fisheries, blue carbon, marine protected areas and deep-sea mining.
SEA CHANGE? According to the organisers, the conference produced close to 700 voluntary commitments by countries and others. Among them, Thailand announced it would stop issuing new commercial fishing licences to bottom trawlers. Colombia, Guatemala, Uruguay and Portugal all announced plans to create or expand marine protected areas , said Mongabay. Colombia said that implementing its expansion plan would allow it to attain its goal of conserving 30% of its marine area eight years before 2030, the date by which more than 100 countries have committed to conserving 30% of their land and seas. Philanthropies, including the Bezos Earth Fund, pledged $1bn for marine conservation over the next eight years. A new alliance of countries, led by Palau and joined by Samoa and Fiji, called for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. The UN Development Programme launched its “Ocean Promise”, pledging to recover $1trn to 100 coastal countries by maximising their blue economies. At the end of the conference, member states adopted the Lisbon Declaration, which set out specific science-based ocean actions. But activists slammed the text as “noncommittal”, Deutsche Welle reported, with Greenpeace stating that “if declarations could save the oceans they wouldn’t be on the brink of collapse”.
GROUNDSWELL: Outside of the conference centre, demonstrations in Lisbon called for recognition of ocean action as climate action, as well as calling for a moratorium on deep-sea mining. At the “Martha Azul” blue climate march, organised by Salvar o Clima on 29 June, banners proclaimed “stop deep-sea mining”, “protect the high seas” and “decarbonise shipping”. On the same day, Rave Revolution, Ocean Rebellion and Sciaena hosted a dance gathering to protest inaction at the conference. Also on 29 June, Fridays for Future held a “Blue Nightwatch for Climate” at the Homem-Sol and protested until the early hours outside the conference venue. On 30 June, a dance performance by Collectif Minuit 12 and Avant l’Orage called to “defend the deep”.
‘CREDIBILITY GAP’: Meanwhile in the UK, dozens of speakers gathered together at the Nature-based Solutions Conference in Oxford to discuss the techniques’ pros and cons for tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. The key talking points included how best to “frame” the terminology around nature-based solutions, how to involve Indigenous people and how to avoid trade-offs. Carbon Brief’s detailed summary of the conference quoted former Peruvian environment minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal saying that, at the recent UN biodiversity talks, he saw lots of resistance to nature-based solutions, with people concerned that they will turn nature into a commodity”. There is a “credibility gap” that must be addressed, he added.
NBS BENEFITS: Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said at the conference that nature-based solutions can “provide 40% of the climate mitigation efforts” until 2030. The delegates also heard that nature-based solutions can lessen the harmful effects of climate change on people and the environment by reducing the impact of disasters, fostering community resilience, and assisting in addressing biodiversity loss – if executed well. As an example of successfully implemented nature-based solutions, Lorenzo Bernasconi, an investment firm representative, cited the case of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, where deforestation was reduced by more than 90% between 2004 and 2012. In addition, economist Prof Edward Barbier from Colorado State University highlighted the high potential for economic returns from investing in nature.
News and views
GOING DUTCH: Dutch farmers have been protesting against new environmental regulations on nitrogen emissions that they believe could endanger their businesses, reported Al Jazeera. It said they blockaded supermarkets, while fishers blockaded the ports in support. However, measures to curb by more than 70% the ammonia generated by livestock farming are a “significant part of government plans”, noted the outlet. It added that these measures could lead to the shutting down of about 30% of livestock farms, according to government estimates. Bloomberg reported that Dutch farmers also brought their cows to the Dutch parliament, threatening to slaughter them in protest.
ALT CROPS: In the face of food, climate and supply-chain crises, farmers are switching to alternative crops. In Senegal, which imports about 70% of its rice, the Guardian reported that fonio – one of Africa’s oldest cultivated grains – is seeing a revival. Fonio might be “laborious” to grow, but it “takes days to germinate and can be harvested in as little as six weeks”. According to the Indigenous Bedik people, fonio grows in places where wheat and rice are harder to cultivate, besides being tasty, nutritious, well-adapted to the climate and with a longer shelf life. In North Carolina, one experimental farm called the Utopian Seed Project is experimenting with tropical crops including taro (a starchy root vegetable) to adapt to rising temperatures and reduced rainfall, Grist reported. The challenge is to ensure there is a market and palate for it. Undark, meanwhile, reported on the challenges of perennial grains such as kernza replacing “live fast, die young” annual crops such as wheat.
A THOUSAND CUTS: India’s environment and climate ministry made a series of amendments to rules governing forest conservation. One such amendment allows mining companies to compensate for forest loss by buying private plantations, Hindustan Times reported. Industry would have to plant forest over even less land if these plantations were near a wildlife corridor or a contiguous forest, an official told the paper. The new rules also allow states to create “land banks” for tree-planting. In addition, they allow the central government to permit the clearing of a forest without consulting or seeking the consent of Indigenous peoples’ and other forest dwellers, pushing that responsibility onto state governments which have less oversight, News Laundry reported.
DISPUTE OVERSEAS: Argentina has officially “rejected” the UK’s decision to designate South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands a specially protected area, according to the South Atlantic news agency MercoPress. The move is part of the UK’s Blue Belt programme, an initiative that aims to create four million square kilometres of marine nature reserve across overseas territories in an effort “to tackle the serious global problems of overfishing, species extinction and climate change”. British sovereignty of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is disputed by Argentina. According to MercoPress, Argentina said the UK’s decision is not compatible with a UN resolution which calls on both countries to “abstain from adopting decisions which mean the introduction of unilateral modifications of the situation”.
OVERSATURATED: A family winery in New South Wales, Australia, has seen its vines submerged in unprecedented flooding, after already losing 80% of its crops to smoke taint during Australia’s recent bushfire season, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Lisa Margan, who has lived and worked at her family’s Hunter Valley winery and restaurant for more than three decades, told the newspaper she has never seen flooding like this: “Farmers are resilient, but it’s like, ‘Seriously?’ Not being mindful around climate change is foolish.”
‘BLOOD’ PHOSPHATES: An investigation led by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Lighthouse Reports and Syrian Investigative Reporting for Accountability Journalism (SIRAJ) found that phosphate shipments from Syria’s desert mines are making their way to fertiliser factories in Europe, the Guardian reported. According to the investigation, imports to Europe have “boomed” in recent years, with recent EU buyers including Italy, Bulgaria, Spain and Poland. Other buyers are Serbia and Ukraine, which also apply EU sanctions on Syria. The “clandestine trade” – where ships turned their tracking data off – takes advantage of “a grey area in sanctions implementation”. Both US and EU sanctions on trade with Syria’s Assad regime do not explicitly prohibit buying Syrian phosphates, although they sanction the Russian company that “appears to control much of Syria’s phosphate exports, Stroytransgaz” and its owner Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, a close friend of Vladmir Putin. Stroytransgaz has denied any connection to the Moscow-based shell companies named in the investigation. (See Carbon Brief’s new Q&A about the world’s reliance on fertilisers.)
- Should rich countries degrow their economies to stop climate change? – Ajit Niranjan, Deutsche Welle
- ‘Extinct’ parrots make a flying comeback in Brazil – Robin McKie, The Observer
- My people have lived in the Amazon for 6,000 years: You need to listen to us – Txai Suruí, Climate Home News
- A farmer’s encounter with climate change – Ajay Vir Jakhar, Indian Express
Two-thirds of tropical coastal communities in the Indo-Pacific will face threats to fisheries and agricultural production simultaneously because of climate change – although action on emissions could alleviate some of the risk, new research found. For the research, scientists combined a survey of more than 3,000 households across coastal Indonesia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Tanzania with multi-model simulations. The research also found that, overall, climate change poses a larger threat to fisheries than agricultural production in tropical coastal communities.
New research found that “nature restoration can marginally lower peak warming”, but any climate benefits from land-based restoration activities would be “dwarfed” by the scale of ongoing fossil fuel emissions. Researchers estimated how many tonnes of carbon could potentially be removed by nature restoration globally. The results point to a median of 103GtC of carbon removal over the century, “considerably less than studies assessing the biological potential” had predicted. They added that improved land-management could lower peak temperatures by approximately 0.01C and end-of-century temperatures by approximately 0.1C. They concluded that more “zero” and less “net” is required for 2050 climate targets.
The European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy must be overhauled to preserve grasslands, improve spatial planning and allocate sufficient funds for biodiversity if catastrophic nature loss on European farmlands is to be halted, according to new research. The study asked 300 experts from 23 European member states to consider how the post-2023 CAP, which for the first time includes “green architecture”, can help to stop and reverse nature loss across European farms, which the policy has not been successful at in the past. It comes as the UK’s own green farming policy for post-Brexit, known as the environmental land management scheme, is in turmoil.
In the diary
- 10-14 July: ATBC2022: 58th Annual Meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
- 11-15 July: High-Level Political Forum 2022
- 13-15 July: 75th Session of the Committee on Commodity Problems (CCP)
- 15 July: Food system transformations as 2030 Agenda accelerators
- 18 July: Coordinating policy responses to the global food crisis [webcast]
Cropped is researched and written by Dr Giuliana Viglione, Aruna Chandrasekhar and Daisy Dunne. Anastasiia Zagoruichyk and Rebecca Daniel also contributed to this issue. Please send tips and feedback to [email protected]