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We handpick and explain the most important stories at the intersection of climate, land, food and nature over the past fortnight.
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Not-for-profit organisation Amazon Watch has accused the LEAF Coalition – a deforestation initiative widely touted at COP26 – of “greenwashing” and “carbon market colonialism”. The group published a new report that examined the implementation of the programme in Ecuador and concluded that it has enabled continued violation of Indigenous land rights.
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Soaring food prices set off by the war in Ukraine has sparked a debate on the use of food crops for fuel. But, in many countries, biofuels are seeing a boom, with the US setting the highest-ever mandate for corn ethanol and India increasing its ethanol blending targets from 10 to 20%.
New Zealand farmers have recommended paying a price for agricultural emissions, in a bid for the sector seen as the biggest polluter to avoid entering the national emissions trading scheme. Climate advocates called the proposal a “cop-out”.
LEAF Coalition concerns
‘CARBON MARKET COLONIALISM’: A new report by environmental watchdog Amazon Watch accused the LEAF Coalition of “carbon market colonialism”, claiming that the offset programmes implemented by the coalition “have rarely provided the benefits to forests or the global climate that they claim to”. The report focused on the programme in Ecuador and noted “flagrant contradictions” between the government’s focus on extractive industries and its “embrace of forest carbon markets”. Although the Ecuadorian government has a “constitutional commitment” to obtaining the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous groups, this has been in the form of “feeble gestures” towards consulting potentially affected groups, Amazon Watch wrote. The report called for true compliance with FPIC, prioritising climate finance for Indigenous-led programmes, reducing the manufacturing of “deforestation-risk commodities” and “rapidly draw[ing] down consumption of oil and gas”, including an immediate cessation of drilling on Indigenous lands.
LEAF THE FOREST ALONE: The LEAF Coalition – the acronym stands for “Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance” – is a public-private partnership aimed at mobilising funds for rainforest protection. It was launched in April 2021 at the US-led Leaders Summit on Climate. Following its announcement, Mongabay wrote that “many regard the LEAF Coalition as the first real attempt at credible REDD+ implementation at scale”. (REDD+, which stands for “Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation”, is the term given to a broad UN strategy of paying developing countries to protect their forests.) At COP26 in Glasgow, the coalition announced it had reached $1bn in funding, “billing itself as the largest-ever public-private effort to protect tropical forests”, the report wrote. In a separate piece, written during the Glasgow summit, Mongabay noted that some groups were “wary of the influx of private sector financing into an approach that has failed to deliver results in the past”, with others calling offsetting “a false solution” and “a new form of colonialism”.
A DANGEROUS DISTRACTION: Previous reports by Amazon Watch have noted violations of Indigenous land rights, “false overcounting of climate benefits” and “overpromised community benefits”. According to the new report, extractive projects pushed by governments “generate larger adverse impacts on the environment and Indigenous communities than can be tackled by offset programs” and such projects show “a lack of political commitment” to solving the structural issues underpinning climate change. It also stated that the LEAF Coalition’s minimum carbon credit pricing, at just $10 per tonne, is a “fraction” of the figure that climate economists say is needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The report concluded that “carbon market schemes are a dangerous distraction from real climate action and direct, reparative forest and climate finance for Indigenous peoples”.
New Zealand farmers’ dilemma
EMISSION PRICING POSSIBLE: In a first, a partnership between New Zealand’s farming leaders and the government – known as “He Waka Eke Noa” – has recommended imposing a price on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions from 2025, the Guardian reported. The Jacinda Arden-led centre-left government had legislated that if farmers did not come up with an emissions pricing system, agriculture “– which generates over half of New Zealand’s industrial and household emissions – would automatically enter the country’s emissions trading scheme, from which it is currently exempt”. This step is likely to widen the gap between large agricultural representatives and small farmers, who are against the environmental regulations, said the Guardian. According to the story, He Waka Eke Noa does not propose a specific emissions price, but uses an initial price of 11 cents per kilogram of methane and 0.4 cents per kilogram of carbon dioxide or nitrous oxide, noting that these prices would reduce agricultural emissions of methane by approximately 4.5% and of nitrous oxide by approximately 3% by 2030.
TECHNICAL ISSUES: However, the New Zealand Herald reported on concerns that the computer system used to calculate emissions liabilities might not be ready by 2025. The story explained that the calculations would be based on a “split-gas” model, which would take into account the differing impacts on climate of long and short-lived greenhouse gases. Farmers would also be given an “incentive discount” for actions they take to reduce emissions such as planting trees, noted the New Zealand Herald. After calculating their emissions and sequestration, farmers would then pay the net cost of those emissions through a levy, which would begin in 2025, although farms would have to calculate and report emissions in 2024, according to the article. There are still questions over what that levy would be and the extent to which it represents “the true environmental cost of those emissions”.
‘ABSOLUTE LEMON’: The proposal has been met with derision from some climate advocates. Mike Joy, a leading freshwater ecologist described it as “not ambitious”, noting that “it is a cop-out that just puts more pressure on the other sectors of society”, reported the Guardian. Meanwhile, Scoop reported Greenpeace had dubbed the agri-industry’s He Waka Eke Noa proposal “an absolute lemon” that “will fail to cut climate pollution from New Zealand’s biggest polluter [agriculture]”. It quotes New Zealand’s Greenpeace representative: “The government needs to abandon the idea of industry self-regulation, bring agri-industry fully into the emissions trading scheme and phase out the synthetic nitrogen fertiliser which drives agricultural emissions.”
FOOD VS FUEL: Food price spikes and very real risks of famine have sparked debate on using food as fuel, Financial Times reported. Before the war in Ukraine, biofuel production was at a record high, cornering 36% of US corn production, the story added. According to data firm Gro Intelligence, crops converted to fuels could cover the necessary calories for 1.9bn people. A clean transport NGO estimated that 15m loaves of bread are burnt daily as ethanol in cars in the EU, a comparison the ethanol industry said was “unfair” because most of the grain used to make fuel was wheat for animal feed. During the last global food crisis in 2007-08, the growing use of biofuels was dubbed “a crime against humanity” by Prof Jean Ziegler, then UN right-to-food rapporteur.
WILL IT BLEND: In his column in Bloomberg, David Fickling pointed out that bioenergy blending mandates have stayed in place even after an electric vehicle revolution should have made them obsolete. While household and industrial consumers can adapt to alternatives to fit their budgets, fuel blenders “must buy additional bioenergy at any price to make up the shortfall” if they fail to meet their mandated targets, Fickling wrote, leading to dirty imports and “a situation where the world’s farmland is increasingly being given over to producing road fuel”. Land-use change emissions make biofuels’ climate benefits much less significant, he noted: palm biodiesel emits twice as much as fossil fuels if deforestation was counted for and “corn-based ethanol has about two-thirds of the climate impact of gasoline”.
BOOM TIME: In the US, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has set the corn ethanol mandate “at its highest level ever” for this year, reported SuccessfulFarming. This is part of an effort to “reset and strengthen” its Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) programme, the EPA said, “reduce our reliance on oil” and “bolster our nation’s energy security”. Meanwhile, India’s minister of state for environment, forests and climate change claimed that the country had “recently achieved 10% ethanol-blending target five months in advance, saving over ₹41,000 crore worth of fuel imports”, Mint reported. Last month, India amended its National Biofuel Policy, setting a target of 20% ethanol blending for 2025-26, which was being adopted on a “war footing” by state-run oil companies, MoneyControl reported. Indian oil and energy giant Reliance announced that it would soon be making “biofuels from algae”, BusinessToday reported. Latvia, on the other hand, is reported to have scrapped biofuel blending mandates from 1 July till the end of 2023 to slow rising fuel prices, said a story in the Baltic Times
News and views
DISAPPEARED DEFENDERS: British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira disappeared in the Brazilian Amazon on 5 June while on a reporting trip, according to the Guardian. The paper noted that the pair had been “receiving threats” just days before their disappearance. In a separate piece, the Guardian wrote that Indigenous groups have been “spearheading the search” for the two men. Brazilian police found “personal items” including articles of clothing belonging to each of the pair, BBC News noted. Reports on Monday stated that a Brazilian embassy official in the UK had told Phillips’s brother-in-law that two bodies believed to be the men had been found, the Washington Post reported. However, Brazilian police have “said reports that the bodies of Phillips and Pereira had been found were inaccurate”, the Post continued. In a piece published in late May, Mongabay noted that there is a “growing wave of violence” against Indigenous leaders and environmental defenders in Latin America.
FORTRESS CONSERVATION: Ten Maasai leaders were arrested and 30 protestors wounded in protests against evictions from their land for a luxury game reserve by a UAE-owned company, the Guardian reported. One police officer lost his life in the “clashes” while hundreds of Maasai are hiding in the forests abutting the Serengeti National Park, crossing over to Kenya to seek medical help as they fear retribution from Tanzanian authorities. The protests began when nearly 700 officers arrived in Loliondo to demarcate an area of 1,500 square kilometres as a game reserve, firing on Maasai protestors to evict them, according to Survival International. Last Friday, Tanzanian prime minister Kassim Majaliwa “trashed” video clips showing evictions of Loliondo villagers and said they were “spread by people who wished the nation ill”, Daily News reported. Earlier this month, his government’s tourism ministry announced that it wanted to classify more areas as game reserves.
FAOL PLAY: Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Russia should be excluded from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) given Moscow’s role in the current food crisis, Politico reported. “What is there for Russia to do if it’s working for starvation of at least 400 million people and, at most, a billion people?” said Zelenskyy at a ministerial meeting of the OECD council. Italian prime minister Mario Draghi responded that the UN’s mediation efforts are significant steps and, “unfortunately, the only ones”. Meanwhile, former UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned that “the international system for declaring a famine is broken”, a report in the Daily Telegraph said. According to Lowcock, Ethiopia managed to block a declaration of famine in the conflict-scarred Tigray region in 2021, implying that governments can manipulate food insecurity classification to cover up rights abuses. In an op-ed in the Guardian, Nick Dearden – director of campaign group Global Justice Now – called the World Trade Organisation “a failed institution” and argued that “it’s time to bury it”, since it “cannot agree a common approach to the food crisis, the invasion of one of its members by another, or, most serious of all, the climate catastrophe”.
BASED: Diet shifts do not have to mean “going all-out vegan”, said a story in the Guardian that pointed to how eating more greens and less red meat could help emissions fall sharply. The story looked at how producers, retailers, restaurants and governments could make “plant-based foods convenient, enticing and tasty”, through measures such as linguistic nudges, supermarket sales tactics and meat taxes. Meanwhile, a review of Jayne Buxton’s The Great Plant-Based Con in Daily Telegraph said that “the anti-meat rhetoric has to stop”, bemoaning that “[y]esterday’s lentil-eating free-lovers, though, have been consumed by the big business of veganism”. According to the review, “a plant-based lifestyle isn’t better for your health and it certainly won’t save the planet” and that giving up dairy milk “has become the ultimate act of virtue signalling”.
HIGH STEAKS POLICY: A new report (pdf), commissioned by the Changing Markets Foundation and produced by environmental consultancy CE Delft, found that the EU is “unlikely to deliver” on the promises made in the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 without reducing livestock numbers. The report found that if all consumers in the EU switched to an “advised diet” containing less meat and dairy, EU methane emissions could be cut by between one-half and two-thirds. But under the “business-as-usual” scenario, emissions would only fall by around 13%, the report stated. The report also called for “accelerating” the introduction of other measures, such as reducing food loss and implementing better manure management practices. Covering the report, Bloomberg noted that even though livestock makes up about half of methane emissions, reducing agriculture emissions “remains largely taboo in Europe, with governments preferring to focus on reducing methane leaks from fossil fuel production or waste”.
FOOD INSECURITY: A study from the Brazilian Research Network showed that due to the “country’s economic crisis”, 59% of Brazilians – 125 million people – lived with food insecurity, which replicated data not seen since 1993, reported MercoPress. It quotes Kiko Afonso, one of the team members conducting the study, saying, “we have gone back 30 years in the fight against hunger, it’s scary”. Meanwhile, a report published by the world’s major food organisations warns of “multiple, looming food crises” in the next quarter of 2022, noting that the current situation is already “worse than during the 2011 Arab Spring”, said EurActiv. The report highlights 20 countries – so-called “hunger hotspots” – as being particularly vulnerable, with countries topping the list – such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen – remaining at “highest alert”.
FOOD STRATEGY FLOPS: UK prime minister Boris Johnson released a new food strategy for England, nearly one year after the second government-commissioned report on the topic was published. Henry Dimbleby, the restaurateur who led the development of the original report, “says the plan only incorporates about half of his recommendations”, according to New Scientist. A notable omission is “any mention of reducing meat consumption”, the outlet continued, and it has “been accused of falling short on plans to help nature”. BBC News reported that a “framework” will be forthcoming next year that will lay out plans “on how to help farmers grow more food while also meeting legally-binding targets to halt climate change and nature loss”.
- The race against time to breed a wheat to survive the climate crisis – Nina Lakhani, Guardian
- Crowning fury: New Mexico wildfire reignites long-standing tensions – Alicia Inez Guzmán, Searchlight New Mexico
- From tomatoes to wheat, Indian crop forecasting is in the grip of a Raja Todar Mal problem – Sayantan Bera, The Print
- In Africa, conflict and climate supercharge the forces behind famine and food insecurity – Georgina Gustin, Inside Climate News
In a new paper, researchers have put forward 10 recommendations for LGBTQ+ inclusion in restoration science, based on four ecological principles that guide restoration of degraded ecosystems – “except in this case, the degraded ecosystem is the field itself”. The authors state that while there is no data available on the specific experiences of LGBTQ+ people in restoration, the discipline poses “unique barriers” – including extended time in the field in remote locations – that pose increased risks of isolation or harassment or in countries that might have hostile laws or cultural norms. The researchers, however, argue that “restoration science is ideally positioned to build LGBTQ+ inclusion and bolster diversity in the long-term”, concluding that “restoration is a human endeavour, and as long as some humans are excluded from restoration science, the field can not reach its full potential”.
A new study found that the aesthetic value of reef fishes correlates with their endangered status, with fish ranked as “less attractive” being more likely to land on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s threatened list. Researchers had people rate the attractiveness of a range of reef fish, then used machine learning to predict how they would have rated nearly 2,500 species. They found that the highly rated fish – such as the colourful angelfish – were “tightly packed” in both the evolutionary and ecological spaces, while more distinct fish, which tended to be more drab, were rated lower. The authors wrote that their study “highlights likely important mismatches between potential public support for conservation and the species most in need of this support”.
The expansion of tree plantations across tropical biomes
A new study found that plantations have “dominated” tree cover increases in the world’s tropics, with 92% of their expansion occurring in biodiversity hotspots and 14% in arid biomes. Researchers also observed that tree plantations had expanded into 9.2% of protected areas in the “humid tropics”, most so in southeast Asia, west Africa and Brazil. To arrive at these results, they classified nearly 7m unique patches of tree cover gain between 2000 and 2012 using optical and radar satellite imagery. The authors concluded that “given international tree planting commitments, it is critical to understand how future tree plantation expansion will affect remaining natural ecosystems.”
In the diary
- 12-15 June: 12th WTO Ministerial
- 20-26 June: Nairobi biodiversity talks: Fourth meeting of the open-ended working group on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework
- 28 June: EU Council Meeting of Environment Ministers
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]