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NATURE
2 November 2022 15:22

Cropped 2 November 2022: Brazilian election results; Africa’s weather extremes; Food systems at COP27

Multiple Authors

11.02.22
NatureCropped 2 November 2022: Brazilian election results; Africa’s weather extremes; Food systems at COP27

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.

Snapshot

Former Brazilian president Lula bested incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in the country’s runoff election last weekend. Lula’s victory was seen as a victory for the environment, and the president-elect promised to combat deforestation and address hunger.

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Many parts of Africa continued to face devastating extreme weather, with floods in central and western parts of the continent affecting 3.4 million people and destroying more than 1m hectares of cropland.

It is just days until representatives from nearly every country in the world will meet in Egypt for the climate summit COP27 – and agriculture is billed to feature more prominently than ever before.

Key developments

Lula defeats Bolsonaro in Brazil

AMAZON AFFIRMATION: “Brazil is back,” proclaimed former – and now, future – president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (better known as “Lula”) after defeating the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil’s runoff election last weekend. South American broadcast company teleSUR carried several portions of Lula’s victory speech, in which he promised to “reconquer the credibility, predictability and stability of the country”, as well as “reindustrialise and invest in the green economy”. He also affirmed his commitment to combatting climate change, saying: “Brazil is ready to regain its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis by protecting all our biomes, especially the Amazon rainforest.” A spokesperson for Lula’s party has confirmed that the president-elect will attend the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. Reuters noted that he “would not be part of Brazil’s official government delegation”, as he will not have assumed office yet, adding that “Bolsonaro is not expected to attend”. According to MercoPress, Lula pledged to “combat any illegal activity” in the Amazon while “promot[ing] the sustainable development of the communities that live there”. He also called the fight to end hunger his “most urgent commitment”. Lula won 50.9% of the vote and will assume office on 1 January. On Tuesday afternoon, after a prolonged period of public silence since the election, Bolsonaro “did not acknowledge defeat”, BBC News reported, adding that “he did not contest the result either, as some had feared he would”.

LIFE ON MARS?: Back in September, Carbon Brief asked Izabella Teixeira, a former Brazilian environment minister under Lula, about the implications of a Bolsonaro victory. “If Bolsonaro wins the next election, I think that you need to go to Mars,” she said. Others Carbon Brief spoke to in the run-up to the election were equally pessimistic. Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of Brazilian NGO network Climate Observatory, described Bolsonaro’s environmental agenda as “dismantling governance, deregulating everything and teaming up with organised crime to devastate the forest and dispossess Indigenous peoples”. This is the political landscape that Lula has inherited. Recent analysis conducted for Carbon Brief suggested that if, unlike his predecessor, Lula implements Brazil’s Forest Code, Amazon deforestation could be cut by 89% over the next decade. However, with the nation’s environmental institutions in tatters, experts emphasised that enforcing such legislation will not be an easy task.

‘A TREMENDOUS CHALLENGE’: Environmental issues had been “central to [Lula’s] pitch” throughout the “bitterly fought campaign”, the Washington Post reported. Across his first two terms, from 2003-10, “deforestation fell by about three-quarters from a peak in 2004”. But his spokesperson on environmental issues, Marina Silva, told the Post that the “challenge is greater” than when Lula first assumed office. The newspaper pointed out the “record highs” that Amazon deforestation has reached under Bolsonaro, as “more than 2bn trees in the Amazon have been cut down or burned” during his presidency. “​​Given the scope and impact of policies passed under Bolsonaro and the accumulated damage,” the Washington Post wrote, “Lula faces a tremendous challenge”. An interactive by InfoAmazonia illustrated the destruction of the Amazon under Bolsonaro’s rule.

Extremes engulf Africa

FLOODS TO FAMINE: Many parts of the African continent have continued to face devastating extreme weather events over the past two weeks. In central and west Africa, floods have affected 3.4 million people and destroyed more than 1m hectares of cropland, according to the UN. In Nigeria – one of the countries most affected by the extreme events – more than 600 people have died in floods in October, according to BBC News. This includes 76 people who were killed when a boat carrying flood victims capsized, Al Jazeera reported. Last week, Carbon Brief published an in-depth investigation into weather extremes in Africa in 2022, including an interactive map detailing the impact of storms, floods, droughts and famine, wildfires and landslides across the continent. Carbon Brief analysis of disaster records found that extreme weather events in Africa have killed at least 4,000 people and affected a further 19 million since the start of 2022. However, the impacts of extreme events in Africa often go unrecorded – especially for heatwaves – and so the true figures are likely to be much higher, scientists told Carbon Brief.

CLIMATE ROLE: As part of its investigation into Africa’s extremes, Carbon Brief spoke to scientists about the possible drivers and role of climate change. The influence of warming on the current floods in Nigeria and neighbouring countries is currently being calculated by scientists working with the World Weather Attribution initiative, its co-leader Dr Friederike Otto told Carbon Brief. She added that the team is examining whether climate change could have played a role in current abnormalities observed in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a belt of stormy weather that encircles the planet near the equator and brings seasonal rainfall to tropical regions. She told Carbon Brief: “[The ITCZ] has stayed north a bit longer this year than it would normally do, and that is clearly visible in the rainfall; there is above-average rainfall in northern parts of western Africa. We will be hopefully looking into whether there is a climate change signal in that.” However, she and other scientists noted that other factors, such as relative lack of development and poor planning, were also likely to be large factors in the severity of the flooding in west Africa. “The take-home message is that, in light of increasing climate change, current adaptation and mitigation interventions in west Africa are failing,” Dr Frederick Dapilah, a climate researcher from the Simon Diedong University of Business and Integrated Development Studies in Ghana, told Carbon Brief.

LOSS AND DAMAGE: The deluge of extremes comes just days before the UN climate summit COP27 begins on African soil in Egypt. Speaking to Carbon Brief, Nigerian climate activist Adenike Oladosu said Africa’s recent extremes demonstrate that it is on the frontlines of “loss and damage” – a term to describe how climate change is already harming people, especially the world’s most vulnerable. Loss and damage is expected to feature heavily at COP27, where global-south nations will call on developed countries to provide funds for the climate impacts they are already experiencing. (See Carbon Brief’s recent special series on loss and damage for more details.)

Negotiators chew the fat

COP27 CALLING: The world’s annual UN meeting aimed at navigating and negotiating a way out of climate change will begin in Egypt on 6 November – with agriculture and food security likely to feature more prominently than ever before. COP27 will be the first UN climate summit to host a dedicated Food and Agriculture Pavilion, which will aim to “advance a shared understanding of the most pressing food and agriculture issues facing people and planet and share knowledge and innovative solutions”, according to its organisers, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In a press statement, FAO chief Qu Dongyu said: “The pavilion will convene local, national and global actors including farmers and youth to seek solutions for transforming agrifood systems to make them more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable, and ensuring that no one is left behind in our efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition.”

EGYPTIAN PRIORITY: At a press briefing attended by Carbon Brief, ambassador Mohamed Nasr, lead climate negotiator at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told journalists that the host country had a “strong preference” for progress on food security and agricultural issues to be achieved at the summit. He told reporters: “We know that this is one of the challenges that the international committee is facing this year. And we know that in the negotiations, it is not [usually] one of the core elements.” To “deal with this”, Egypt is organising a summit roundtable on climate change and food security, as well as a thematic day dedicated to adaptation and agriculture, he said. Egypt will also lead calls in the negotiations for an agricultural work programme to be extended, he added.

LAND GAP: As the world gears up for COP27, a new analysis led by the University of Melbourne found that countries would collectively use up 1.2bn hectares of land if they fully enacted the measures laid out in their national climate plans. (For comparison, global food production currently uses around 5bn hectares of land.) This is because many countries plan on meeting their climate targets by growing bioenergy plantations or by drawing down carbon through tree-planting – both of which require vast amounts of land. Dr Kate Dooley, lead author of the “land gap report” and a researcher at the University of Melbourne, said in a statement: “This study reveals that countries’ climate pledges are dangerously over-reliant on inequitable and unsustainable land-based measures to capture and store carbon. Clearly, countries are loading up on land pledges to avoid the hard work of steeply reducing emissions from fossil fuels, decarbonising food systems and stopping the destruction of forests and other ecosystems.”

News and views

FISHING FRENZY: An investigation by the Guardian and several German news outlets revealed the “chaos” leading to overfishing in the north-east Atlantic. According to the newspaper, although European coastal states meet every year to discuss quotas, “they almost always end up allocating themselves quotas that are far too high”, with potentially “catastrophic” effects. The investigation found that “the negotiations are heavily influenced by the fishing industry” and that the situation has gone “from bad to worse” following Brexit. The exit of the UK from the EU has complicated the situation by adding “a new and fractious negotiator into the mix”, the Guardian wrote, pointing out that “fishing was a key plank of the campaign to leave the EU”. The paper adds: “Last year, north-east Atlantic countries caught almost 20% more mackerel, 50% more herring and one-third more blue whiting than scientists say is sustainable.”

BIG AG FUNDS ACADEMIC: A prominent US academic who has been critical of scientific research showing the need for dietary change to meet global climate goals receives funding from the meat and dairy industry, an investigation by Unearthed has revealed. The investigation was also carried on the frontpage of the New York Times. Correspondence uncovered through freedom-of-information requests show that that the Clarity and Leadership for Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR) Center at the University of California, Davis, set up in 2019 by agricultural scientist Prof Frank Mitloehner, receives almost all of its funding from industry donations and coordinates with livestock lobbyists on communications, according to Unearthed. In a blog post responding to the story, Mitloehner said: “I am proud to work with farmers, ranchers and organisations that feed us, just as I’m proud to say that I have a role in helping improve the environmental impact of the food they produce. I can’t help but be sensitive to the fact that those in agriculture are portrayed as bad guys in many articles criticising industry efforts aimed at sustainability.”

PAPUAN DROUGHT: Thousands of people across Papua New Guinea are without sufficient food and water due to a prolonged drought, leading to “a fear of people dying from lack of water and food if no help is forthcoming”, the Pacific Islands News Association reported. Several regions of the country have experienced “four months of severe sun and heat”, which has “dried up food gardens and water sources”. Papuan prime minister James Marape reportedly said that “his government will look at how best they can help those affected by the prolonged drought”, urging district authorities to look into “providing immediate relief assistance” in the meantime.

UK BURNING FOOD: British farmers are burning food “as a shortage of workers means they cannot make a profit on food left in fields”, the Daily Telegraph reported. According to a report by WWF, enough food to provide nearly 7bn meals goes to waste each year in the UK, with much of it left to rot in fields, used for energy or simply burned, the Daily Telegraph said. It added that food waste from farms is not currently considered in official UK statistics, despite accounting for around 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.  A spokesperson for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the Daily Telegraph that the government was committed to cutting “both emissions and food waste by 50%” by 2030.

COME TO YOUR CENSUS: Bolivia has halted the export of “some agricultural products” in the interest of protecting domestic food security, teleSUR reported. The export ban will “continue as long as there are no normal supply conditions across Bolivian territory”, the website wrote. Nestor Huanca, the country’s minister for productive development, blamed the shortages on right-wing politicians and other figures in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz department. teleSUR explained that “Santa Cruz elites” have been on strike over the country’s census, and are demanding it be carried out “before the end of this year”. It continued: “The allocation of economic resources for regions and municipalities depends on the results of the census.” The census has been postponed until 2024 due to “technical problems”.

FRANCE PLANTS: French president Emmanuel Macron has promised to plant 1bn trees by 2030 – 10% of the country’s current forested area – in a bid to meet climate and nature goals, EurActiv reported. Macron announced his new forest strategy in a speech to firefighters on 28 October. It came after wildfires amid record heat destroyed 72,000 hectares of forest this summer, six times more than the average of the last 10 years, according to EurActiv. 

Extra reading

New science

Tiger sharks support the characterisation of the world’s largest seagrass ecosystem
Nature Communications

New research revealed the extent of a seagrass ecosystem off the coast of the Bahamas – totalling at least 66,000 square kilometres – and demonstrated how important the region is for carbon storage in the ocean. Researchers combined satellite data with diver surveys and images taken from cameras mounted on tiger sharks to gather data on the underwater ecosystem. They estimated that the seagrass ecosystem off the Bahamas contains around 0.5bn tonnes of organic carbon. The authors noted that their work “provides evidence of major knowledge gaps in the ocean ecosystem…and underscores support for rapid protection of oceanic carbon sinks”.

Deforestation drives desiccation in global monsoon region
Earth’s Future

Large-scale global deforestation would lead to a reduction in rainfall in the global monsoon region, an area supporting two-thirds of the world’s population, new research found. The study used high-resolution modelling to examine what would happen if 38% of the global forest area was deforested. It found that this level of deforestation would cause rainfall to decline by 15mm a year in global monsoon regions and 26mm a year in land-based monsoon regions. The authors concluded: “Our results show that the drying monsoon region in response to deforestation is fairly consistent among the models implying the adverse effects of large-scale deforestation beyond the region of land-use change.”

Snowmelt risk telecouplings for irrigated agriculture
Nature Climate Change

A new study found that changes in snowmelt due to a warming climate will imperil agricultural products around the world, due to the global nature of the agricultural market. Researchers combined the output from crop models, climate models and global trade models to analyse how changing snowmelt may put irrigation-dependent farming at risk. They found that, under 2C of warming, 10% of agricultural products sold in the UK that are dependent on irrigation would be put at risk. They concluded that for some products and parts of the world, “consumption may be vulnerable to changing snowmelt even if their domestic production is not”.

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