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11 January 2023 15:18

Cropped 11 January 2023: Brazil under Lula; COP15 reaction; EU deforestation law

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NatureCropped 11 January 2023: Brazil under Lula; COP15 reaction; EU deforestation 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.

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Newly installed Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has pledged to reach net-zero deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon by 2030, in contrast to weakened environmental policies under previous president Jair Bolsonaro. Leaders and researchers expect positive gains for rainforests and Indigenous peoples of the South American country.

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Reaction to the UN biodiversity summit that dominated nature headlines in December continued into 2023. There has been a mixed response to the way in which the final deal was agreed, but the overall framework has been widely welcomed. Experts are clear that action over the next seven years will determine the success of COP15. 

EU lawmakers agreed on a landmark anti-deforestation law. The law is likely to be formally approved in spring and covers key commodities, but excludes financial institutions and critical ecosystems, such as savannahs. Brazil, Indonesia, Ghana, Colombia and other producer countries complain they were not adequately consulted.

Key developments

Lula sworn in 

BOLSONARO’S INHERITANCE: At the end of December, far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro left Brazil’s presidency after four years in office and amid strong criticisms over his forest policies. That month, the Brazilian Amazon saw an increase in deforestation of 150% as compared to the previous year, resulting in a deforested area covering almost 220 square kilometres, reported Al Jazeera. The outlet added that the deforestation was driven by “farms and land grabbers clearing the forest for cattle and crops”, according to experts. The New York Times reported on the greenhouse gas emissions emitted by the world’s largest tropical rainforest during the past years. The newspaper profiled Dr Luciana Vanni Gatti, an atmospheric chemist who studies the concentration of CO2 above the Brazilian rainforest. Her research has found that the Amazon releases around 272m tons of CO2 annually, “roughly the emissions of the entire nation of France”, which “suggested that emissions from the slashing and burning of trees… were actually exceeding the forest’s capacity to absorb carbon”, the New York Times wrote.

NEW LULA’S ERA: Several outlets pointed out that new Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva led to a decrease in deforestation when he previously held the office between 2003 and 2010. During his new governmental period he has promised to “reboot Brazil’s environmental protection programs [and] fight for zero deforestation”, reported Al Jazeera. Nature noted some of the pledges Lula has made to “fight climate change by protecting Amazon rainforest”. For example, at the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Lula committed his country to reaching net-zero deforestation by 2030. But, Nature continued, researchers and leaders are watching to see if Lula will fulfil his climate promises. Lula’s former environment minister, Marina Silva, is reprising her role under his new administration. Silva was been described as “an unflinching campaigner to save Brazil’s rainforest” by the Financial Times, which pointed out that she reduced deforestation by 70% during her first term in office by including “new management of public forests, the creation of a forest service and a biodiversity institute and several funds for the maintenance of the Amazon”.

FINANCING THE NEW CLIMATE PLEDGES: One of the key elements to achieving Lula’s pledge on net-zero deforestation by 2030 will be financing. The World Bank lent Brazil $500m to meet its climate goals by “strengthen[ing] the private sector’s capacity to access carbon credit markets”, Reuters wrote. In another article, the newswire reported on the revival of the Amazon Fund to reduce deforestation in Brazil. The fund “still holds about $620m”, noted Reuters. Norway, the fund’s major donor, highlighted Brazil’s “clear ambition to stop deforestation by 2030” and said that the new president has “reinstated strategies” and appointed experienced ministers to reach that goal.

COP15 reaction 

DONE DEAL: The biggest news in nature at the end of 2022 was the global targets agreed at the COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal. Almost every nation in the world signed up to a new set of goals to “halt and reverse” biodiversity loss by 2030. Carbon Brief published a detailed piece on the key outcomes from this UN biodiversity conference, covering all the ins and outs of the lengthy negotiations. The response to the resulting framework was generally positive. UN secretary general António Guterres said: “We are finally starting to forge a peace pact with nature.” The International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity celebrated the “timely recognition” of Indigenous peoples and local community contributions, roles, rights and responsibilities to nature in the text. Civil society groups were overall satisfied with the deal, but clear that measures to hold countries to account for their promises could have been strengthened. 

POST-SUMMIT OPINIONS: The final outcome received wide news coverage alongside some editorials and columns. But, as opinion writer David Wallace-Wells wrote in his newsletter for the New York Times, it “received only a fraction of the press coverage lavished on the COP27 climate conference” in November. Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, wrote in a column for the Guardian that he left COP15 “feeling rather more optimistic than I did only a fortnight ago”. A Times editorial called the deal a “rare piece of good news in gloomy times”. Allison Hanes wrote in the Montreal Gazette that “the hoped-for ‘Montreal moment’ materialised”. Writing in the Scotsman, environmental campaigner and consultant Dr Richard Dixon said that the new framework is a “really big step forward for nature and human rights”, but that countries have been “slow to deliver on promised actions” and funding in past agreements. “The world has seven years to show it can do better for nature,” he concluded. 

CONTROVERSIAL ENDING: Although the response was widely positive, many countries objected to the way in which the final deal was pushed through. Near the end of the final plenary session to adopt the text, the Democratic Republic of Congo said it was unable to support adopting the framework due to issues over financing. But several minutes later, COP15 president Huang Runqiu proposed to adopt the package of texts, pausing for just two seconds before dropping the gavel after seeing no objections. The DRC and other countries spoke out against this move. Later that day, the Guardian quoted the DRC’s environment minister as saying: “We didn’t accept it. We didn’t have the agreement…I am sad to see that they didn’t respect the procedure.” These issues were smoothed over hours later and the deal was ultimately signed off. 

EU deforestation law

LANDMARK LAW: In the early hours of 6 December – and right before the start of COP15 – the European legislators agreed on a landmark anti-deforestation law, EurActiv reported. The law will require all producers and traders to prove that their products were “produced on land that was not subject to deforestation after 31 December 2020” and furnish due diligence statements, or else risk import and export bans. The law also directs companies to collect “precise” geographic coordinates of the land where their commodities were raised. The European Commission plans to set up a benchmarking system that would assess countries’ deforestation risk. The law “ has yet to be formally approved”, Vox reported, adding that it “is a really big deal…and could help clean up the supply chains of multinational companies”. It also has the potential to “inspire anti-deforestation regulations in other large economies, such as China and the US”, Vox continued. 

FOREST COVERED: The EU law currently extends to a wide range of commodities: from beef and chocolate to coffee, soy and wood, as well as products derived from these commodities, such as leather or furniture, per EurActiv. EU lawmakers managed to expand the scope of commodities to include palm-oil derivatives, rubber, charcoal and printed paper, but biodiesel and maize are currently not included in the regulation. Significantly, the law’s definition of forest degradation also applies to primary forests being converted to plantations. However, it excludes areas such as scrublands and biodiverse savannahs, such as the Cerrado. But EurActiv pointed out that the included areas can be reviewed two years down the line.

RIPPLE EFFECTS: Not every country received the news with open arms. A week before the law was passed, Indonesia and Brazil circulated a letter signed by 14 major commodity-producing countries to the EU’s agriculture committee. These countries – including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Ghana and the Ivory Coast – complained that they were not adequately consulted, questioned the “uncertain and discriminatory nature of the scope of products” and pointed out “costly and impractical traceability requirements”. They added that the “EU has chosen unilateral legislation instead of an international engagement to deal with these shared objectives, reflected in the Paris Agreement and the [Sustainable Development Goals], to which we have all subscribed.” While Indonesian small-scale palm oil farmers described the law as a “great opportunity” for deforestation-free palm oil, Mongabay reported that it is “unlikely they will be able to meet the legality and sustainability criteria set by the EU”. The Guardian reported that US lawmakers were encouraged by the EU ban and already “accelerat[ing]” efforts to pass a similar but “significantly weaker” forest act.  

News and views

BIRD FLU CRISIS: Almost 10m birds have been culled in recent months in Japan as authorities continue efforts to control the avian flu epidemic, Bloomberg reported. Japan’s agriculture ministry said that the culling surpassed a previous record in 2020, according to the news outlet. The global bird flu outbreak is at its worst level since records began, Bloomberg reported last month. Writing in the Guardian, a National Trust countryside manager described the “horrors of bird flu” on the Farne Islands. She wrote: “In total, we picked up around 6,000 dead birds. We just couldn’t keep up. What we collected was the tip of the iceberg.”

RIVER RUNNING DRY: The year 2023 will be “critical” for the Colorado River basin, CNN wrote. The river needs the states that draw water from it to make “unprecedented” cuts to their water usage against the backdrop of a “deep, multi-year drought”, the outlet continued. The commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees water management programmes in the western US, has set a deadline of 31 January for states to make voluntary cuts to water usage, after which “top federal water officials have said they would step in and make mandatory cuts to save the system”. But CNN also noted that intervention from the federal government “would almost assuredly be greeted with a court challenge”.

FOOD PRICE HIGH: Global prices for food commodities, such as grain and vegetable oil, reached a record high in 2022 amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, widespread drought and other extremes, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index, which tracks food commodity prices, averaged 143.7 points for 2022 – more than 14% above the average score in 2021, according to AP. It comes as the Irish Times reported on ongoing famine in Somalia, where children are dying of hunger in the country’s worst drought in four decades. The newspaper reported: “Banadir Hospital is one of Somalia’s biggest mother and child hospitals. It currently has beds for 40 malnourished children, while work has started on an extension that will fit another 28. But hospital staff say they are at capacity and turning children away.”

GM CORN BAN: During the North American Leaders’ Summit, from 9-11 January, US and Mexican presidents met to work on several issues, including a previously announced proposal by Mexico to phase out genetically modified corn for human consumption by January 2024. “The issue appears to have faded into the background behind more pressing concerns like energy, security and migration,” the New York Times reported. The proposed ban has created friction with the US government and farmers as the US is the main exporter of corn towards Mexico, selling 15m tonnes of corn to the Latin American country in 2021, according to El País. The outlet explained that Mexico depends on imports to cover 75% of its yellow corn needs, which is mostly used for animal feed. In response to the US pressure, a Mexican delegation offered to delay the ban to 2025, while environmental groups and farmers from the US, Mexico and Canada warned that huge transnational companies are pushing Mexico to abandon its right to food sovereignty and reverse the ban. It is expected that the US government will release a response by 15 January, Progressive Farmer wrote.

NO, CHUBB: An independent review of Australia’s “controversial” carbon-credit scheme recommended “significant changes”, but rejected claims by leading experts that these markets lack integrity and are failing to deliver “real” emissions cuts, the Guardian reported. Led by Australia’s former chief scientist Prof Ian Chubb, the report suggested that the state-run Clean Energy Regulator “should be stripped” of some of its roles and that its current integrity body be abolished to “enhance confidence”. Chubb commented in a press conference that the system was “a bit frayed at the edges” but “not as broken as has been suggested”. Writing in the Conversation, the academics who blew the whistle on the scheme and the serious flaws in its methods called the review “bewildering”. In a statement, the thinktank the Australia Institute said that the assessment failed to provide an estimate of “how many dodgy credits have been issued”. The Institute had earlier pointed out that two of the four members on the panel “are linked to companies that profit from current carbon offsetting arrangements.”

WYE OH WYE: The Welsh government is under pressure from campaigners to block the construction of a new “mega chicken farm” that would house up to 100,000 birds at a time, according to the Guardian. The “life or death” of the River Wye hangs in the balance, environmentalists say. The river is “synonymous with the intensive poultry industry”, the newspaper wrote, and scientists recommend cutting poultry manure production by 80% to protect it. Natural Resources Wales has “recently accepted publicly that poultry manure is harming rivers in the Wye area”, the Guardian reported, but local councils are still approving the construction of new farms. The government has sent a “holding direction” to pause the approval of the “mega” farm, but ministers must “now decide whether to…rule on the chicken farm at government level”. 

Extra reading

New science

Grassland conservation and restoration in India: a governance crisis
Restoration Ecology

A new study found that the conservation of India’s grasslands is impeded by a “governance crisis” and is negatively affected by India’s commitment to global goals – including its climate pledges – that have quantified targets of increasing tree cover. Researchers reviewed historical accounts of Indian grasslands to understand how contemporary conservation and restoration policies are framed. They found that the involvement of multiple government bodies, misleading nomenclature – the classification of grasslands as “waste lands”, for instance – and “flawed interventions” were fuelled by “strong forest bias within government bodies” and non-governmental organisations. The authors concluded: “India needs a more cohesive national policy framework and a robust ecosystem classification system to successfully conserve and restore grasslands.” 

Navigating sustainability trade-offs in global beef production
Nature Sustainability 

Changing production areas, feed types and making informed land-use changes can help to significantly reduce emissions in global beef production without increasing costs, according to a new study. Researchers developed a model to assess the best locations and methods for producing beef around the world, taking into account both costs and greenhouse gas emissions. The researchers found that making certain changes can keep costs static while slashing emissions by 34-85% each year. The approach used in the paper can help to identify different trade-offs between production costs and minimising emissions, the authors said.

Pollinator deficits, food consumption and consequences for human health: a modelling study
Environmental Health Perspectives

Inadequate pollination results in 427,000 excess deaths annually due to reductions in healthy food consumption and associated diseases, a study found. Researchers modelled the impacts of insufficient pollination on human health in Honduras, Nepal and Nigeria using data on yield gaps for animal-pollinated foods and changes in dietary risks and mortality by country. They found that inadequate pollination leads to yearly losses of 3-5% of fruit, vegetable and nut production in these countries. They noted that insufficient pollinators play an important role in noncommunicable diseases and pointed out the importance of promoting “pollinator-friendly practices for both human health and agricultural livelihood”.

In the diary

Cropped is researched and written by Dr Giuliana Viglione, Aruna Chandrasekhar, Daisy Dunne, Orla Dywer and and Yanine Quiroz. Please send tips and feedback to [email protected]

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