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8 September 2022 11:23

Cropped, 7 September 2022: Pakistan floods; China’s food security; 100 days to COP15

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NatureCropped, 7 September 2022: Pakistan floods; China’s food security; 100 days to COP15

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.

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Pakistan’s ministers warned of a looming food crisis, as nearly half the country’s crops were washed away in extreme flooding. Economists estimated direct crop loss damage at $2.3bn; vegetable prices have spiked by 500%. The flood could force cotton- and wheat-exporting Pakistan to rely on agricultural commodity imports and aid.

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Food security has become a key issue for Chinese president Xi Jinping. The ongoing effects of the war in Ukraine mean that the country cannot rely on world markets to feed its populace, while climate change is impacting yields, pests and disease.

Less than 100 days are left until the second part of COP15, the UN’s biodiversity summit set to take place in Montreal in December. Indonesia announced it would protect 10% more of its marine protected areas, Australia announced a new biodiversity credits scheme and Indigenous groups called for a global pact to “permanently protect” 80% of the Amazon by 2025. 

Key developments

Pakistan floods

FLOODED FIELDS: The toll on Pakistan’s agricultural sector and food security because of extreme flooding is slowly “becoming apparent”, Bloomberg reported. With fields still under water and “homes and livelihoods wiped out”, Pakistan’s government has warned that a food crisis at home is “looming”. Economists Ammar Khan and Uzair Younus estimate the direct crop loss due to flood damage at $2.3bn, the outlet reported. Damage to food supplies could make Pakistan more dependent on food commodity imports and increase pressure on global agricultural markets, Bloomberg said, pointing out that the government is already in talks with Russia to supply it with more wheat. According to the story, Pakistan faced a shortfall of 2.6m tonnes of wheat “even before the floods”. Sowing next year’s crop begins in October and “will be another challenge” for the country to surmount. “The cotton crop and vegetables are completely wiped out in many key areas,” said a trade association representative who farms wheat, maize, citrus and sugarcane, adding: “Wild weather just can’t give us a break. First the heat wave, now floods.” 

ON A THREAD: Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest cotton producer and supplies 5% of the world’s demand, so flood damages could have ripple effects on the world’s cotton supply. Government officials estimated that about half of the country’s cotton crop has been washed away by the flood, according to a report by Pakistan’s planning ministry covered by the Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper. In the district of Sindh, the “entire crop has been wiped out”, along with 70% of its rice crop. According to the story, the country’s finance minister “hinted at” allowing cotton imports from India after “textile exporters demanded 2.5m bales to meet an emergent shortfall”. In July, Sindh, “which contributes over a quarter of the country’s agricultural produce”, received over 500% more rain than average, the Third Pole reported. “When it comes to Pakistan’s agriculture, women [account for] the majority [of the] workers. However, this monsoon has left farmers in general jobless, and women in particular,” said Rafia Gulani, an activist quoted in the piece. 

FOOD AID: “Skyrocketing” food prices are putting food “out of reach” for Pakistan’s most vulnerable, with vegetable prices shooting up by 500%, a separate Bloomberg story said. Food price gains that are “already at a 74-year high” are expected to surge by another 30% after the floods. According to the story, the cost of “potatoes [is] climbing four times [and] tomatoes have gained 300%, while ghee, a fat used for cooking, soared 400%”. According to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Agency, more than 727,000 cattle have died so far, leading to “a shortage of meat, milk, curd and milk products”. The loss of livestock has had livelihood impacts “in a country where “8m rural families raise cattle and 35-40% of their income last year came from livestock”, the Express Tribune reported. 

China prioritises food security

SEED INDUSTRY: Due to climate change, extreme weather, urbanisation, changing demographics and shifting diets, China’s need for a food revolution is increasing and the seed industry would be central in it, wrote Asia business editor Leo Lewis in a column for the Financial Times. “We will fall under others’ control if we don’t hold our rice bowl steady,” China’s president was quoted as saying. In March, a revised seeds law came into effect in China, aimed at toughening protections for crop- and plant-related intellectual property. The law was designed “to incentivise anyone breeding higher yield, climate-change-proof varieties for a Chinese market that has frustrated both foreign and domestic players for decades”, wrote Lewis. 

SELF-RELIANСE: Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and massive economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the west, Xi again rejected the notion that world markets could be counted on to supply the country’s needs, according to an account in a state newspaper and reported by Nikkei Asia. However, four government departments warned in August that the autumn harvest, which supplies 75% of China’s grain, is under “severe threat” due to the drought, according to the article. “Food security is clearly a priority for China’s leaders and is likely to be a prominent topic at the 20th Communist party congress later this year”, noted the outlet. It added that “new and erratic weather patterns” have led to problems with pests and diseases and a decline in biodiversity, making it harder for environments in China to adapt to climate change.

BEEF RECORD: Additionally, “China’s appetite for beef is breaking records this year”, reaching 274,000 tonnes of imports, valued at a “record” of $2.65bn, reported ABC News in Australia. Global Agritrends president Brett Stuart is quoted as saying: “I forecast that in 2023 China and Hong Kong will be the number one market for US beef, and I think it will be the number one market for the rest of my life.” He added that “citizens of China are just clamouring for beef. It’s almost like cell phones or cars, everyone wants beef”. 

Biodiversity roundup

100 DAYS TO COP15: Writing in the Guardian, columnist John Vidal pointed out that “it is touch and go 100 days before COP15” in Montreal. He described the biodiversity summit as the “little brother” nature talks and noted that it will “converge within days” of the UN climate summit, COP27. Inflation, energy crises, war and “superpower tensions” could cause “the twin engines of global environmental protection” to falter and fail, wrote Vidal, but there are “good omens” for an imperfect agreement. According to another Guardian story, while there are still “significant divisions between the global north and south”, there are plenty of “quick wins available – invasive species eradication on islands, crackdowns on pollution, money for restoration efforts”. The official text is expected to be signed off on 17 December – the eve of the men’s football World Cup final in Qatar. As per the piece, negotiations could falter on four “fault lines: money, 30×30 (a target to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030), the monitoring of targets, and a row over digital sequence information relating to biopiracy”. Separately, reported on an Indian parliamentary endorsement of a controversial biodiversity bill that excludes “codified traditional knowledge from the purview of [biodiversity] benefit claims”. Opposed by eight states, the act could deprive communities of biodiversity benefits and “defeat the purpose of the Convention on Biological Diversity”, said experts quoted in the story.

CONSERVATION CREDITS: The Australian government plans to introduce new legislation to allow conservation projects to reap credits for “projects that can deliver measurable improvements to the environment”, Bloomberg reported. These certificates could potentially be traded “in a similar way to carbon credits”, the story said. A government inquiry had earlier found that existing biodiversity offset schemes in New South Wales were “not working and, in some cases, did more harm than good”, as reported by ABC News. Critics have panned the draft law and the government’s claims that it “cannot foot the bill alone” for biodiversity, given how much Australia subsidises its fossil fuel industry. Separately, ABC News reported that top industry bosses who cashed in on Australia’s carbon markets have “spoken up for the first time”. In a letter, they called for a change in how credits are calculated and asked for “fewer carbon credits to be handed out to companies like theirs” or it would risk the integrity of the entire market. Meanwhile, Rwandan daily the New Times reported that biodiversity-rich Rwanda is “set to debut on the global carbon market”, with civil society networks urging “Rwanda [to] stand her ground and make better negotiations when it comes to carbon pricing”. 

THE 10%: In advance of COP15, Indonesia’s fisheries ministry announced plans to expand its marine protected areas to 10% of its total territorial waters by 2030, Mongabay reported. Between 2030 and 2045, the government plans to triple its marine protected area coverage, the story said. Conservation activists welcomed the plan but cautioned that it needs to square with a recent fishing policy that “threatens the sustainability of fish stocks”. Meanwhile, scientists in collaboration with Indigenous organisations from the Amazon Basin found that “swathes of the rainforest have reached a tipping point and might never be able to recover”, the Guardian reported. Brazil and Bolivia form “90% of all combined deforestation and degradation”, while only two out of nine rainforest nations – Suriname and French Guiana – have at least half of their forests intact. According to the story, Amazonian Indigenous groups who represent 511 nations and allies are calling for “a global pact for the permanent protection of 80% of the Amazon by 2025” – an uphill task given that “only 74% of the original forest remains”. Separately, the Associated Press reported that two Indigenous “forest guardians” in Brazil were shot dead this week, just as activists allege that “criminals” are on an Amazon-clearing spree ahead of next month’s presidential election, which incumbent Jair Bolsonaro is currently predicted to lose.

News and views

BECCS ARE OFF: Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is often touted as climate change’s “saviour technology”. This controversial negative emissions method involves burning biomass to generate carbon-neutral energy, and capturing the resulting emissions. However, new research published in Nature found that crop yields will decline as global temperatures rise, limiting the ability of BECCS to sequester carbon. The authors stressed the urgency of early climate mitigation to avoid “irreversible climate change and serious food crises”. See Carbon Brief’s latest for more details on the new study.

DROUGHT AROUND THE HORN: Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are all expected to receive rainfall “significantly below normal” between now and the end of the year, according to the World Meteorological Organization and reported by teleSUR. Guleid Artan, the director of the Climate Prediction and Applications Center at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, said the three nations are “on the brink of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe”. Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported that in Kenya alone, 4 million people are at risk of starvation and life has been brought “to a standstill”. RFI added that government aid – in the form of water provisions or other programmes – has not been forthcoming. A new report (pdf) from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs indicated that the ongoing drought is the worst to hit the Horn of Africa in 40 years.

PRO-FISH POLITICIANS: Self-described “pro-fish” candidate Mary Peltola won a special election to represent Alaska in the US house of representatives, besting former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Slate reported that Peltola was, “until recently”, the executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, a group whose purpose is to “address dwindling salmon returns due to climate change, increased competition and other factors”. Peltola, who is the first Alaska Native elected to Congress, has stated that she wants to amend the federal law regulating fisheries “to protect subsistence fishing and place stricter limits on trawlers”. She will serve out the remainder of former representative Don Young’s term, and will seek reelection to a full term in November.

QUORN VADIS: The plant-based meat industry in the Philippines – a historically “meat-consuming country” – remains small, concluded an article published in the Philippine Star. Data from Euromonitor showed that the Philippines lags behind neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and China in terms of meat-substitute consumption. However, industry investments in the region are ramping up, and consumer demand in the Philippines is starting to grow as well, noted the article. Irish Tanchua, the marketing director of the meat-free food production company Quorn, told the paper that the alternative-meat market is “still at its early stages”, but that there are “some positive shifts already”. Another story on alternative meat in the Philippine Star quoted Imelda Angeles-Agdeppa, director of the country’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute, saying that shifting to alternative proteins can be challenging because animal meat has a “strong cultural and gastronomic significance” in the Philippines. 

RICE ROLLBACK? India is considering banning rice exports after “a poor monsoon in key producer states” in order to “put a lid on cereal prices”, the Hindustan Times reported. India accounts for 40% of the world’s rice shipments and exported “about a sixth of its output” in 2021-22. This move could be the next in line of India’s crop export curbs after wheat exports were banned in May, followed later by wheat flour. Experts linked the drop in wheat production to climate change and said COP27 could be a “critical turning point to connect food security with climate change”, the Economic Times reported. Climate-related losses are among the reasons India’s farmers have restarted protests, Indian legal publication Article 14 reported.

COURTING CHANGE: Climate activists took the UK government to court over its food strategy, alleging that its failure to cut meat and dairy consumption violates laws including the country’s Climate Change Act, the Financial Times reported. Lawyers representing the activists said that the strategy “failed to take into account environmental advice from its own climate change committee” and that there was “something inherently wrong with…omitting any action on one of the biggest contributors” to carbon emissions, referencing “meat and dairy”. Separately, members of activist group Animal Rebellion climbed on top of milk silos and company trucks outside four facilities supplying milk to the Midlands and south England, the Guardian reported. Campaigners called on the UK government to support farmers and fishing communities to move away from animal farming as part of an “immediate transition to a plant-based food system”. A representative from dairy brand Müller UK and Ireland, quoted in the story, said: “During a cost of living crisis it is wrong to try to prevent [milk] from reaching families, including vulnerable members of society.”

Extra reading

New science

Land use change and carbon emissions of a transformation to timber cities
Nature Communications

A new study found that if 90% of the new urban population were housed in newly built urban mid-rise buildings with wooden constructions, 106bn tonnes of additional CO2 could be saved by 2100. Using an open-source land-system model, researchers found that forest plantation areas would need to expand by more than 200% in 2100 compared to 2020 to meet the necessary wood demand, which “is possible without major repercussions on agricultural production”. However, strong governance and careful planning would be required to ensure a sustainable transition to timber cities, even if frontier forests and biodiversity hotspots are protected, they wrote. The authors argued that using engineered wood to construct buildings can help avoid emissions associated with building materials such as steel or cement, which cause substantial anthropogenic CO2 emissions. 

Rebuilding fish biomass for the world’s marine ecoregions under climate change
Global Change Biology

A new study found that warming beyond 1.5C above pre-industrial levels will render many tropical marine ecosystems unable to recover from historical overfishing – even if “strong conservation” measures are put into place. Scientists used climate models and estimated populations of “exploited” fish populations to determine how different levels of warming and fishing intensity would affect these populations. They found that at 2.5C of warming, one-quarter of the studied regions were unable to rebuild biomass, compared to just 10% of regions that were unable to do so under 1.5C of warming. They stated that their work “underscore[s] the need to resolve trade-offs between climate-resilient biomass rebuilding and the high near-term demand for seafood to support the well-being of coastal communities”.

A climate risk analysis of Earth’s forests in the 21st century

Forests in western North America and parts of the Amazon are among those that are “consistently at higher risk” of significant climate-change-induced loss, a new study found. Researchers used three modelling techniques to determine how forests will be put at risk of carbon loss, species loss and disturbance through the end of the century. They found that there is “large uncertainty” surrounding these metrics in much of the world, but that clear hotspots of risk emerge. The authors wrote that “climate-driven changes in forest biomes are still quite uncertain in all these models” and called for further research to better understand forest risk. 

In the diary

Cropped is researched and written by Dr Giuliana Viglione, Aruna Chandrasekhar and Daisy Dunne. Anastasiia Zagoruichyk and Ayesha Tandon also contributed to this issue. Please send tips and feedback to [email protected].

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