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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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At COP27, more than 25 countries joined a Forest and Climate Leaders’ partnership with an aim to end deforestation by 2030. Brazil was missing from this partnership – along with several other notable forested nations – but incoming president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) “recommitted” to zero-deforestation of Brazil’s biomes by 2030 in his first election speech abroad at COP27.
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Food security, rivers and nature-based solutions made the frontpage of the COP27 cover decision for the first time ever at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, even as fossil fuels were left out. Countries agreed to continue work on agriculture and climate change for four more years as part of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture.
The European Commission released its long-awaited communication on fertilisers, aimed at addressing the availability and affordability of the critical agricultural inputs. The communication has been criticised by farmers’ associations and environmental groups alike.
Forest pledges and funding
AMBITION AND OMISSION: As was the case at COP26 in Glasgow last year, deforestation was high on the agenda at COp27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, with several ambitious new pledges made throughout the two weeks. (Carbon Brief has just published an in-depth summary of all of the key takeaways for forests, food, land and nature from COP27.) Reuters reported that “more than 25 countries” had banded together to form the Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, which plans to meet twice-yearly to “ensure they hold each other accountable for a pledge to end deforestation by 2030”. The new group is jointly chaired by the US and Ghana. Reuters wrote: “Notable omissions from the group are Brazil with its Amazon rainforest and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) whose vast forests are home to endangered wildlife”. (The DRC’s forests are also home to a vast peatland complex that stores large amounts of carbon; Carbon Brief carried a guest post several weeks ago detailing new research on the vulnerability of those peatlands.)
‘FIRST STEP’: Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo said the new partnership is a “key and first step” towards creating a “dedicated space, globally, to provide the needed support and accountability checks to countries that are committed to delivering the Glasgow Leaders Declaration”, Climate Home News reported. The outlet pointed out that the “notably absent” countries from the pact “hold nearly half the world’s forests” between them. The new pact came with a promise from Germany to “double its international aid for forests” by 2025, up to €2bn. This was the “only new public finance expected” as part of the pact, Climate Home reported.
OPEC FOR RAINFORESTS: Meanwhile, the “big three tropical rainforest nations” of Brazil, the DRC and Indonesia – home to more than half of the world’s tropical forests – formed their own “strategic alliance” for rainforest conservation, the Guardian reported. Dubbed the “Opec for rainforests”, the newspaper wrote that “the alliance could see the rainforest countries make joint proposals on carbon markets and finance, a longtime sticking point at UN climate and biodiversity talks”. The joint statement was signed by the three nations in Indonesia ahead of the G20 meeting, Reuters noted. The newswire – which had previously reported on president-elect Lula’s plan to form such an alliance – wrote that Brazil “would seek to get the involvement of other countries in the Amazon basin”.
FINDING THE FUNDS: Mongabay wrote that the summit was “long on pledges, [but] short on funds for forests”. It noted that the “funding pledged to fight deforestation [in Glasgow] is far from enough and has often failed to arrive”, adding that the “international funding measures already on the books are not near enough to stop global deforestation, and in some cases have not been paid out”. Climate Home News reported that of the $12bn of public finance pledged towards halting deforestation in Glasgow, nearly a quarter has been spent already. Mongabay also noted that there was “hope” that incoming Brazilian president Lula will soon end the “rampant destruction of the Amazon rainforest”. The site added: “But while deforestation declined 6.3% globally in 2021, countries need to reduce it 10% every year from 2021 to meet the Glasgow goal, according to the recent Forest Declaration Assessment.”
Food systems on the menu
FOUR MORE YEARS: In a year of supply chain issues, record levels of hunger and heatwaves, drought and floods affecting key crops, agriculture and food security were expected to be a priority in COP27 discussions. The Koronivia Joint Work for Agriculture (KJWA), the only formal UNFCCC workstream for food, was renewed for another four years at the summit. Parties agreed to continue working on “implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security”. In a video on Twitter, Julia Wolf from the UN’s FAO said it was one of the first COP summits that “really managed to put agriculture and food systems high on the agenda”.
‘NARROWLY FOCUSED’: Many welcomed the decision on Koronivia’s future. Teresa Anderson, global lead on climate justice at Action Aid, told Carbon Brief that the conclusions on Koronivia “points us in the right direction for agriculture”.However, others, including WWF, stated that Koronivia remained “narrowly focused on agricultural production” with not enough recognition of the “importance of food systems transformation to prevent the most severe impacts of climate change”. The “disappointing results” of the Koronivia process “provide us with impetus as we enter next month’s CBD COP15 in Montreal”, WWF global food practice leader, João Campari, said in a statement, adding that “we can’t miss a second opportunity to deliver an agreement that can regenerate our planet”.
FOOD FINANCE: Meanwhile, the Egyptian presidency and the FAO jointly launched the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation Initiative (FAST), which aims to improve the “quantity and quality of climate finance contributions” towards food systems by 2030 and to “support adaptation and maintain a 1.5C pathway whilst supporting food and economic security”. Speaking at a side-event held at COP27, FAO deputy director-general Maria Helena Semedo, said that, while climate finance has increased over the past decade, the share going to agriculture has been steadily decreasing.
MEAT ON THE STREET: Every day at COP27, vegan protestors stood outside the summit venue dressed in pig and cow costumes, despite the blazing sun. Their demands varied from calls for a “Plant-Based Treaty”, which championed cell-based meat through to highlighting what they viewed as meat and dairy greenwashing at the conference. For the first time ever, COP27 hosted pavilions dedicated solely to food and agriculture in an attempt to turn the spotlight on the relationship between climate change and food systems, a topical issue in the middle of a global food crisis.
EU combatting the fertiliser crisis
UNDER PRESSURE: The European Commission released a communication addressing “the availability and affordability of fertilisers” both in the EU and around the globe. According to the Commission, the document “presents a wide range of actions and guidance” on how to combat the fertiliser issues that farmers are currently facing. It laid out suggested steps to support EU farmers in “reducing their dependencies” on fertilisers, as well as actions that can be taken “to support vulnerable countries and improve global food security”. Frans Timmermans, the executive vice-president of the European Commission, said the plan laid out in the communication “will also help ease pressure on global fertiliser supplies”, declaring that “the sustainable way forward is to focus on efficiency and alternatives”.
GLOBAL CRISIS: EurActiv noted that “European countries are heavily reliant on imports of fertilisers due to limited local availability of essential inputs” and that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has “sparked a global mineral fertiliser crisis”. Together, Russia and Belarus are responsible for about 60% of the EU’s fertiliser production. And since nitrogen fertiliser production is reliant on fossil gas, “skyrocketing energy prices render [fertiliser] production uneconomical with prices soaring as much as 149% in September”, EurActiv wrote. It also noted: “EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA has warned that the true cost of this price surge will only be revealed next spring, when their lower inventories will be tested.” In a separate piece, EurActiv outlined the details of the new communication. Although it “offers no legislative proposals”, the site wrote, it does announce two new initiatives to be launched in 2023: a resilient agriculture challenge and a market observatory aimed at improving transparency. EurActiv also reported that the communication “leans heavily on state aid to offer specific support to farmers and fertiliser producers”.
‘NO RELIEF’: Politico wrote that the so-called “rescue plan” provides “no relief” for farmers, “while equally disappointing scientists and environmental groups”. The site reported that, while an earlier draft of the communication “call[ed] on national capitals to ensure fertiliser manufacturers can obtain natural gas to keep their production lines running”, the text that was ultimately adopted was “no longer as explicit” in its calls. In a statement (pdf), COPA-COGECA wrote that “this new communication simply failed to provide concrete answers to the shortcomings faced by European farmers”. Meanwhile, the Center for International Environmental Law tweeted that the communication “misses the mark”. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy also expressed disappointment with the communication on Twitter, writing that it “doubles down on a business-as-usual path of dependency that the world can no longer afford”.
News and views
FARM BILL FRICTION: US president Joe Biden’s ambitions to cut agricultural emissions may be stymied by the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, Reuters reported. The newswire explained that negotiations will soon begin on the Farm Bill, a “massive farm spending bill” that directs US agricultural policy over a five-year period. It added that “anti-hunger and environment groups may have to scale back policy proposals they had hoped to get included in the bill, such as rewarding farmers for climate-friendly practices and expanding food benefits”. The presumed next leader of the House’s agricultural committee has previously criticised spending on climate-related programmes.
INDUS INITIATIVE: Pakistan officially launched its Living Indus Initiative at COP27, combining new and existing programmes “to increase flood resilience in the Indus basin in Pakistan, while restoring it to good ecological health”, the Third Pole reported. It will be the country’s “biggest series of climate adaptation projects”, totalling between $11-17bn, according to Pakistani climate change minister Sherry Rehman. Former climate minister Malik Amin Aslam “welcomed the approval” of the initiative, the Third Pole said. Aslam told the site that “reviving [the Indus River Valley’s] dying ecology is critical if we are to cope with the enhanced climate stress”.
MOROCCO DROUGHT: The impacts of climate change are acutely hitting agriculture in North Africa, with water resources declining and agriculture left under drought stress, Al Jazeera reported. A 2022 World Bank report said that Morocco is among the world’s most water-stressed countries. Moroccan farmers have said the dwindling water resources are mismanaged and prioritised for expanding industries, rather than smallholder farmers. Three sectors in the southeast of Morocco consume significant amounts of water, according to Al Jazeera: mining companies, agricultural monocultures and a massive solar power plant that generates thermal energy. One anti-mine protester told Al Jazeera that the “groundwater is running out” while companies continue to pump. Dozens of activists have been arrested for protesting, the site added.
MADAGASCAR ON THE MEND: Devastating drought and cyclones have hit Madagascar in the past year, with recovery still ongoing on the island, the UN’s resident coordinator in Madagascar, Issa Sanogo, said in an interview published on the UN website. Sanogo outlined the extreme weather faced by the island nation, including drought, sandstorms, cyclones and storms. Almost two million people required humanitarian assistance in the past year, he said. Sanogo added that the country is “nowhere near repairing the damage caused by the cyclone”, but that a “famine-like situation was averted”. The Madagascar government is pushing for water investment, road-building and disaster risk reduction, he added, noting that boosting biodiversity finance is also an “opportunity for Madagascar and an investment in our planet”.
ILLEGAL FISHING UNDER FIRE: 100 countries have signed an agreement to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, according to a press release from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The treaty denies port access to foreign vessels that engage in or support IUU practices, the press release said. Angola, Eritrea, Morocco and Nigeria are the latest countries to back the agreement. The UN said that 60% of port states around the world are now committed to the deal. FAO director general Qu Dongyu stated that there is “broad recognition of the need to step up the fight against IUU fishing”. Globally, the UN estimated that one in every five fish caught each year originated from IUU fishing.
- Livestock is a form of climate justice in the global south – Simplice Nouala, Al Jazeera
- How Nepal grew back its forests – Karan Deep Singh and Bhadra Sharma, The New York Times
- How a warming Yukon forced its farmers to adapt – Adam Minter, Bloomberg
- How the forest dies – Terrence McCoy, Alexandre Cruz-Noronha, Simon Ducroquet and John Muyskens, The Washington Post
Land- and-sea use change have been the biggest drivers of recent biodiversity loss around the world, new research found, followed closely by direct exploitation of natural resources through activities such as fishing or hunting. Researchers used data from 163 studies after screening more than 45,000 published since 2005 that compared the impacts that multiple direct drivers have on biodiversity. They found that climate change and invasive alien species were “significantly less important” drivers but noted that climate change is “probably the most rapidly intensifying threat to biodiversity” despite other issues still causing more damage.
Fires were responsible for almost one-quarter of burned biomass each year on average in tropical regions across the world, according to new research, affecting 1.4% of the total tropical dry forest (TDF) area globally. Researchers examined the Global Fire Emissions Database, which is part-funded by Nasa, alongside other metrics. They found that fires are a key driver of disturbance and biodiversity loss in the TDF. The study findings also showed variations in fire severity due to the influence of El Niño and La Niña weather patterns. The researchers concluded that the degree of TDF degradation brought on by fires is “serious” and will worsen unless “effective protective and remedial actions are done”.
A new study found that large-scale adoption of a high-yield dairy cow variety in Tanzania “is essential for reducing dairy import dependency” in the country. Researchers used household survey data and a livestock model to assess how policies laid out in Tanzania’s Dairy Development Roadmap could affect the country’s dairy industry and greenhouse gas emissions. They found that switching to a higher-yield breed of cattle would help to avoid land-use change and thereby reduce the dairy sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, while improving income for dairy farmers. They concluded: “Our findings demonstrate the importance of bottom-up development policies for sustainable food system transformations.”
In the diary
- 29 November: Rome water dialogue
- 3-5 December: Fifth meeting of the open-ended working group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework
- 7-19 December: COP15 on the Convention on Biological Diversity