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29 June 2022 23:08

Cropped, 29 June 2022: Biodiversity talks; WTO subsidies; EU nature law

Multiple Authors

NatureCropped, 29 June 2022: Biodiversity talks; WTO subsidies; EU nature law

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.

Carbon Brief is hiring a section editor to help expand our coverage of food, land and nature. See here for all the details.


The UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) latest round of talks concluded in Nairobi over the weekend. The negotiations were meant to simplify a once-in-a-decade framework for nature. The talks yielded few outcomes: confirmation that the COP15 summit would be held in Montreal and not Kunming, a new gender target, consensus on urban biodiversity and technology transfers, but many key issues remain unresolved.

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed a landmark new set of rules governing fishing subsidies, after more than 20 years of negotiations. The new agreement aims to improve the sustainability of the world’s fisheries and provide support to vulnerable communities – but there is still work to be done, environmental organisations say. 

A new law to reverse nature loss in the EU was set out by the European Commission, including legally binding targets and €100bn for ecosystem restoration.

Key developments

Nairobi nature talks conclude 

NAIROBI NEGOTIATIONS: The week-long nature talks convened by the UN CBD and held in Nairobi’s UNEP headquarters concluded over the weekend. The aim of the talks was to speed up and simplify a draft of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), which aims to reverse nature loss before the end of the decade. The talks were scheduled after previous in-person talks in Geneva were plagued by a “glacial pace” of progress, with issues including digital sequence information and access-and-benefit sharing holding up consensus. On the first day of the conference, executive director of the CBD Elizabeth Maruma Mrema announced that the much-delayed second part of the COP15 summit would be held in Montreal rather than Kunming. Chinese observers called the venue shift a “missed opportunity”, China Dialogue reported. Meanwhile the Globe and Mail reported that Canada’s deputy executive secretary David Cooper said the decision to relocate “follows weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions with China, Canada and other UN centres”. Because the CBD secretariat is based in Montreal, “the city serves as an automatic fallback location”, Mrema told the outlet, but its headquarters were small and the relocation of a major conference needed Canada’s “readiness to speedily step in” to provide a location for the remainder of COP15. Cropped’s Aruna Chandrasekhar attended the talks, and has written a detailed explainer on what happened.

BIODIVERSITY BACKTRACKING: The CBD secretariat had hoped that Nairobi negotiations would “resolve as much as 80% of the square brackets” around the GBF’s then-21 targets, but “the text of only two of the targets could be cleaned”, reported the Indian environmental publication Down To Earth. The two targets agreed related to increasing urban biodiversity and enabling technology transfers and scientific cooperation – especially in developing countries to help them implement the framework. But fights over targets surrounding harmful subsidies for agriculture and fishing, as well as pesticide and fertiliser pollution drew divergent views, given current global food shortages. India opposed the term “eliminate” in the target on harmful subsidies. However, it was not active during the negotiations, the story said, with microphones dominated by “representatives from the EU, Norway, Canada, the UK, Australia, Russia, Switzerland, Brazil, New Zealand, Japan, Philippines and Iran”. Gender was neglected at the start of biodiversity negotiations, IndiaSpend reported, but eventually became the 22nd target in the GBF after sustained campaigning.

POLITICAL WILL IN BRACKETS: The talks meant to resolve disagreements made “very slow and not significant” progress, co-chair Francis Ogwal told Reuters. While co-chair Basile van Havre warned that “we cannot afford to spend hours discussing one line of text”. Conservation group WWF accused Brazil of “blocking” negotiations and using “delay tactics” to hold up the GBF, the story said, while the Campaign for Nature pointed out that with more than 190 countries “each trying to use their own wording, it becomes incredibly cumbersome”. On Monday, NGOs including Greenpeace and the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity sent an open letter to UN chief Antonio Guterres and world leaders saying that “the talks lacked high-level political engagement”, the Guardian reported.

WTO subsidy agreement

SIGNIFICANT SUBSIDY DEAL: At the 12th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Geneva, the organisation “reached a string of deals and commitments” including, among other things, an agreement around limiting fishing subsidies, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The outlet added that the fishing agreement was the WTO’s “first significant deal” in nearly a decade. WTO director-general Nzogi Okonjo-Iweala called the commitments an “unprecedented package of deliverables”. Politico noted that the WTO had “previously had produced only one new multilateral agreement between all 164 members in its 27-year existence” and wrote that the new agreement would “breathe new life into the moribund organisation”. At this week’s UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Okonjo-Iweala praised the agreement, saying that “at the time when global solidarity is lacking, to conclude a multilateral agreement with 164 countries says something about the importance of multilateralism”.

CONSERVATION CONCESSIONS: The agreement puts in place a framework to limit “harmful” fishing subsidies, including those for “illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, for fishing over-depleted populations and for vessels fishing on the unregulated high seas”, the Guardian reported. The paper noted that “much fishing on the high seas would not be profitable” without subsidy. In the push to get the negotiations across the finish line, some key parts from previous text were eliminated, with the result that “subsidies that encourage overfishing remain”, the Guardian wrote. The AP reported that “India and some allies won concessions” that removed a whole chapter from the agreement that “could have threatened some types of subsidies favouring small-scale, artisanal fishing”. Furthermore, a “late addition” sought by countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific “will limit [the agreement’s] validity to four years unless new rules to fight overcapacity and overfishing are addressed”.

‘A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT’: The agreement was met with praise by some groups, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, but received scepticism from others. Daniel Skerritt, a senior analyst at the not-for-profit ocean-conservation organisation Oceana, told the Guardian that “there were too many carve-outs for developed nations” and that the agreement would end only a “trivial” portion of the world’s $22bn harmful subsidies annually. And Prof Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia told the paper that the dropping of language around certain subsidies was “a big disappointment”. Down to Earth wrote that some parts of the agreement “will impact developing nations and benefit the developed”. It added: “With no provision for special and differential treatment for developing countries, the poor, small-scale fishers would still suffer at the hands of bigger fishermen.”

EU plans ‘landmark’ nature law

RESTORATION DRIVE: A new law to reverse nature loss in EU countries has been put forward by the European Commission, including legally binding targets and €100bn for nature restoration in agriculture, forests, oceans and urban areas, EurActiv reported. The aim of the proposal is to restore degraded ecosystems, “in particular those with the most potential to remove and store carbon”, EurActiv said. At present, 81% of EU protected areas are in poor condition, according to the European Environment Agency. The proposed EU Nature Restoration Law sets an overarching target of restoring 20% of the EU’s land and sea by 2030 and to have all ecosystems in a state of restoration by 2050, according to EurActiv. The proposal also includes seven additional targets for 2030, such as reversing the decline of pollinators, ending net loss of urban green spaces and cutting pesticide use in half. Under the plans, EU member states will have two years to prepare their national restoration plans, 

BOOST FOR COP15?: In its coverage of the news, the Guardian reported that the goal to restore 20% of the EU’s land and sea by 2030 will be a boost for UN efforts to reverse biodiversity loss (see above). One of the flagships of a draft UN deal to reverse nature loss is to protect 30% of the world’s land and sea by 2030. This proposal has already been backed by at least 73 countries, including the UK. Speaking to the Guardian, Ariel Brunner, head of EU policy at the NGO BirdLife International, said the EU Nature Restoration Law could put the bloc in a “much more credible” position when entering biodiversity negotiations. “This would in a sense position the EU legitimately as a biodiversity frontrunner,” he said. (Carbon Brief recently released an in-depth report on how climate change and biodiversity loss can be tackled together, including through ecosystem restoration.)

FOCUS ON FARMING: The EU Nature Restoration Law also covers farming, with an aim to achieve an overall increase in biodiversity in agricultural ecosystems by 2030, according to EurActiv. The publication added that the proposal also targets “a positive trend for grassland butterflies, farmland birds, organic carbon in cropland mineral soils and high-diversity landscape features on agricultural land”. Elsewhere in EU farming news, a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned that the EU’s current agricultural spending is not leading to emissions reductions, according to a separate EurActiv story. It carries a quote from the OECD report, which reads: “Despite a large part of its budget earmarked for climate action, the current [Common Agricultural Policy] CAP programme has not seen significant reductions in EU agricultural emissions in the last decade.” EurActiv also published a report on how Czech ministers plan to make climate and biodiversity goals the drivers of an upcoming EU Council presidency bid.

News and views

FORCED FARMING: A new report (pdf) from the UN special rapporteur on trafficking in persons shone a light on human trafficking in the agriculture sector, calling it a “serious concern” and noting that it affects adults and children alike. The report warned that climate change has exacerbated the risk of trafficking in the agriculture sector, “reflecting the wider nexus between trafficking in persons, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and the climate crisis”. An accompanying press release from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted that “temporary, seasonal and migrant workers are provided with limited protection and remain at risk of exploitation” and noted the “crucial role trade unions and workers’ associations play in combatting trafficking in persons”.

SOMALIA FAMINE: Immediate financial aid is needed to save more than 200,000 people in Somalia from famine, the Guardian reported. Across the whole of east Africa, 89 million people are currently considered “acutely food insecure” as the region faces its worst drought in four decades, according to the publication. It added that the climate shock – fuelled by four consecutive failed rainy seasons – is being exacerbated by “ongoing conflict and price rises caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine”. The paper carries a quote from Claire Sanford, deputy humanitarian director of Save the Children, who said: “I can honestly say in my 23 years of responding to humanitarian crises, this is by far the worst I’ve seen, particularly in terms of the level of impact on children.”

COP27 FOOD ALLIANCE: Countries including France, Germany and the UK are in talks with food campaigners about launching a climate-friendly food alliance, to be unveiled at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt in November, New Scientist reported. The magazine added that the United Arab Emirates has been identified as a “prospective leader” for the group. It added that the plan is “modelled” on the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, a group of countries pledging to end all fossil fuel use, which launched at COP26 in Glasgow last year.

HOT MESS: An “unprecedented shortage” of red jalapeño peppers is squeezing the supply of Huy Fong Foods’ sriracha, the New York Times reported. A “persistent drought” in northern Mexico caused a massive crop failure earlier in the year. Guillermo Murray-Tortarolo, a climate scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told the paper that climate change was “a possible factor”, adding that the drought was “likely to intensify and cause future production supply issues”. Restaurants and consumers alike are having difficulty sourcing the spicy sauce, the outlet noted, adding that customers have been “clearing grocery store aisles and rationing the last of their stash”.

BAN AND REWILD: UK government is planning to create five highly protected marine areas ruled by stricter regulations to ban all fishing and rewild the sea, the Guardian has learned. Around a quarter of Britain’s territorial waters are covered by marine protected areas, the article noted. However, they are being criticised as “paper parks” because of weak fishing restrictions. Highly protected marine areas are considered to be “no-take” zones for fishing, but research has shown that one of these zones has led to a “spillover” effect with more lobsters caught by fishers near restricted areas. Nevertheless, the Guardian quoted environment minister Rebecca Pow saying that “highly protected marine areas will offer the highest levels of protection in our seas”.

G7 & FOOD: G7 countries will pledge to fight back against Vladimir Putin’s war on food with $5bn to help protect supplies, according to a senior US official, the Daily Mail reported. More than half of this amount will come from the US. The article also reported on “the rise of China and its impact on global markets”, noting that the leaders agreed to develop a joint approach to remedying Beijing’s “non-market” international trade practices, according to the official. Meanwhile, the Independent reported that Boris Johnson wants G7 leaders to temporarily cut the amount of grain produced for biofuels, claiming the process is pushing up the cost of food. Germany supports this move – but the US and Canada are against it, the paper said. 

Extra reading

New science

Long-term evidence for ecological intensification as a pathway to sustainable agriculture
Nature Sustainability

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”.

Ecological intensification (EI) of agricultural systems, such as by increasing crop diversity and applying natural compost, could help to boost long-term yields while providing a “safe operating space for humanity”, a new study said. The research investigated the impacts of ecological intensification by analysing the results of 30 long-term agricultural experiments from Europe and Africa. The results “confirmed that EI practices have generally positive effects on the yield of staple crops”, the scientists said. They added, however, that the success of EI practices are dependent on nitrogen fertiliser use, with low levels of fertiliser use associated with boosted crop yields and high fertiliser use associated with minimal or no crop yield increase.

Risks to biodiversity from temperature overshoot pathways
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

A new study found that even a temporary overshoot of global temperatures beyond 2C could have lasting effects on biodiversity, persisting long after temperatures retreated below the target. Researchers modelled the effects of an overshoot period lasting around 60 years on 30,000 different species around the globe. They found that while the peak exposure to hostile climates occurs around the same time as the temperature peak, both marine and terrestrial biodiversity continues to be threatened for decades beyond the end of the overshoot period. The authors concluded: “Avoiding any temperature overshoot must be a priority for reducing biodiversity risks from climate change.”

Projections of future forest degradation and CO2 emissions for the Brazilian Amazon
Science Advances 

CO2 emissions from forest degradation in the Brazilian Amazon could reach 23bn tonnes from 2020 to 2050 if unsustainable land use practices continue, a new study found. By comparison, the world’s total annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels were around 35bn in 2020. The study noted that, at present, more land in the Brazilian Amazon is being affected by forest degradation than deforestation. (Forest degradation is when ecosystems are altered by human activities such as logging or mining, but are not completely destroyed.) From August 2006 to July 2019, more than 194,000 square kilometres (km2) of the Brazilian Amazon was degraded, while nearly 100,000km2 was degraded, the authors said.

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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