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NATURE
19 October 2022 16:55

Cropped, 19 October 2022: Gabon’s carbon credits; Living Planet report; Agriculture investigations

Multiple Authors

10.19.22
NatureCropped, 19 October 2022: Gabon’s carbon credits; Living Planet report; Agriculture investigations

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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Snapshot

Gabon announced that it had completed verification of more than 90m tonnes of  emission reductions from forests that could enter carbon markets. These credits could fetch an estimated price “between US$25-35” and would go to the second-most-forested nation’s sovereign wealth fund.

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The annual Living Planet Report – published by WWF – found that monitored animal populations have seen an average relative decline of 69% since 1970. The report’s bleak picture of rapid biodiversity loss was widely covered by the media, but some reporting was criticised by experts for misinterpreting the headline findings.

New analysis reveals the bias towards the global north in the AIM4Climate initiative, one of the major announcements made by the US at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. A separate investigation finds that pension funds in Europe are investing in commodity markets, risking pensions and contributing to the global hunger crisis.

Key developments

Gabon REDD+ receipts

VERIFIED STATUS: Gabon, the world’s second-most-forested nation, completed the verification of 90m carbon credits under the UN programme to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). The news was tweeted by Prof Lee White, the country’s minister for forest, oceans, environment and climate change. White estimated that in the eight-year period over which these credits were calculated, Gabon’s forests “net removed just over a billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere”. The UN’s experts on Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) who assessed Gabon’s technical information on its forest carbon stocks and removals “commend[ed]” the country for “using a transparent and mostly consistent approach” and for “its significant long-term efforts” to monitor its forests. The assessment also noted that there are additional areas for improvement, such as data on fuelwood, soil organic carbon and other greenhouse gases.

CREDIT WHERE DUE: What shape would these credits take, what price could they fetch and how would they be marketed? “My own ballpark would be $25 to $35,” said White during a webinar organised by the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN) on “sovereign carbon”, Bloomberg reported. Akeem Daouda, the chief executive of Gabon’s sovereign wealth fund (SWF), also spoke at the webinar, which was attended by Carbon Brief. Daouda said that the fund had been designated as the receiver of the proceeds from the sale of credits and laid out that 10% of the revenue would go into a biodiversity fund, 15% to community empowerment and 25% for climate-resilient infrastructure. These 90m credits will be marketed by Gabon’s SWF and sold on the voluntary carbon market on a new platform called redd.plus, Bloomberg added.

SOVEREIGN OR VOLUNTARY CARBON: However, going forward, CfRN and investors including Deutsche Bank are planning to count REDD+ credits as “sovereign carbon” that they deem to be a new “financial asset class” that will allow corporations and other investors “to align their net-zero targets with the Paris Agreement”. As Carbon Brief reported last year from Glasgow, among the last “huddles” holding up the penultimate plenary at COP26 was one between CfRN, the US and others. This fight, reportedly led by Papua New Guinea, was to allow the use of legacy REDD+ credits as well as fast-tracking the use of credits from 2021 onwards under Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement. While this effort failed, the COP26 decision left the door open to REDD+ schemes being used to generate credits that countries can voluntarily trade as “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” (ITMOs). “We’re part of the Congo basin, a block of rainforest that is best resisting climate change. We’re not just in a self-interested money grab here, not just that we want funding for ecosystem services. We’re talking about the lives of people and ecosystems,” he continued, pointing out that Gabon and Bhutan had already achieved their Paris goals “and some”. “We’ve committed to staying carbon-neutral unconditionally. Subject to carbon market rules, we can do more”, he said. 

‘JUST’ CARBON PRICE: During the webinar, CfRN’s executive director Kevin Conrad, said that “what is missing is a 1.5C-aligned carbon price”. Conrad likened “a just carbon price” to a just transition for developing countries, adding “we can’t keep giving pennies for dollars of emissions reductions”. When asked if Gabon would exclude oil and gas firms from purchasing the credits, White responded by saying that Gabon doesn’t have “a particular moral for who we sell these credits to”. White said: “60% of our economy comes from oil and gas which we offset. As a sovereign nation which is an oil producer, we can’t exclude them from buying our credits. Who’s going to buy our oil and gas in 30 years?” At the same time, all three speakers said they would not sell to the airline industry’s offsets programme Corsia, calling it “a waste of time”. 

Biodiversity claims blame game

LIVING PLANET: The release of the Living Planet Report – a flagship report of WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) – led to a flurry of headlines about biodiversity loss and debates over what the metric actually means. Yahoo carried a piece with the headline “Humans have wiped out 70% of animal populations in last 50 years”. The Guardian carried the headline “Almost 70% of animal populations wiped out since 1970, report reveals”, which it later amended to “Animal populations experience average decline of almost 70% since 1970, report reveals”, after online criticism pointing out that the outlet had carried a similarly simplistic headline in the past. “It’s clear that wildlife is suffering mightily on our planet, but scientists don’t know exactly how much,” said a story in the New York Times, adding that “the report has repeatedly resulted in inaccurate headlines when journalists misinterpreted or overstated its results”. 

SAMPLE THIS: “Counting wild animals – on land and at sea, from gnats to whales – is no small feat,” said the NYT piece. It pointed out that the report focused only on vertebrates and not “creatures without spines [that] make up the vast majority of animal species (scientists have even less data on them)”. Our World in Data head of research Dr Hannah Richie wrote that the Living Planet Index “measures the average change in the number of individuals across the world’s animal populations…but this does not tell us anything about the number of individuals, species or populations lost, or even the share of populations that are shrinking”, and that “effective conservation means we have to look past the average”. She notes that while the report’s authors have “significantly increased” the number of studies included from other languages as well as species coverage from Asia, Pacific, Africa and Latin America, the tropics are “still underrepresented relative to Europe and North America”, and these are highly biodiverse places “where wildlife is most threatened”. 

SNOWED IN: Separately, Alaska’s snow crab fishing season was cancelled “for the first time ever”, after shellfish surveys showed “startling population collapses”, Gizmodo reported, with state scientists reporting a 90% decline in populations in the Bering Sea over 2019-21. While “the exact cause of the crab crash is currently unknown”, scientists “think climate change is likely to blame”, Gizmodo said, given that “the Bering Sea has endured record-breaking, massive marine heatwaves in recent years, with a particularly catastrophic one known as ‘the blob’ occurring between 2014-16”. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries lab director Michael Litzow told CNN that “human-caused climate change is a significant factor” and that “we call it overfishing because of the size level, But it wasn’t overfishing that caused the collapse, that much is clear”. However, journalist Spencer Roberts on Twitter cautioned that NOAA’s explanation could let overfishing off the hook, noting that “evidence suggests melting sea ice created an opportunity for fishing vessels to wipe out crabs in habitat that was previously inaccessible in winter”.

Agriculture investigations

TAKING AIM: The US- and United Arab Emirates-led Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C) has come under renewed scrutiny in the run-up to COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, DeSmog reported. The site wrote that the initiative has been “criticised for favouring big business and promoting uncertain techno-fixes”. A DeSmog analysis found that of AIM4C’s 300 or so “knowledge partners”, two-thirds are US- or Europe-based, with only 7% based in Africa and “not a single group representing Indigenous communities”. Looking ahead to COP27, DeSmog said the summit “is shaping up to be a battleground for two visions of the future of farming”, meaning an intensive, industrial farming system or an approach that centres sustainability and smallholder farmers. It noted that participants in AIM4C include meat industry groups and agrochemical groups. A spokesperson for the US department of agriculture told DeSmog: “AIM for Climate recognises the wide range of participants necessary to achieve the AIM for Climate goal. Each participant adds value, and AIM for Climate draws on all knowledge, experiences and cultures, and embraces inclusive excellence.”

QUESTIONABLE CLAIMS: In a separate piece, DeSmog examined one such “knowledge partner” – the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), an industry association representing US meatpackers and processors. DeSmog noted that NAMI has “pushed back against measures to address climate change” and claims on its website that “the degree to which human activities lead to climate change is ‘unknown’”. Chloe Waterman, a senior programme manager at the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth, said that AIM4C’s association with groups such as NAMI “undermined” the credibility of the initiative. She told DeSmog: “Meat industry trade groups use the same playbook as Big Oil to spew climate disinformation and obstruct even basic climate policies…Their membership in AIM4C indicates a total lack of standards within the initiative and undermines its legitimacy”. NAMI pointed to a “recent pledge” by its members “to put in place science-based targets to reduce emissions by 2030”.

FUTURES FEARS: Investigative outlet Lighthouse Reports analysed 75 major European pension funds and found that around 15 of them are “currently investing” in commodity futures markets and “may be contributing” to the current food-price crisis. The site wrote: “Rising commodity prices are good news for the fund’s commodities portfolio, but in day-to-day practice fund members will have to pay more for goods and services.” EU Reporter, which collaborated on the investigation, quoted Prof Jayati Ghosh, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, as saying the funds are “engaging in actions which destroy the living standards of those workers”. Ghosh added: “Whether it is in food or energy, both are equivalently terrible from the point of view of workers and developing countries because a fuel price increase translates into prices of all other prices going up.” EU Reporter wrote that the funds in question “have defended their actions as having no connection to spiralling food prices”, but also noted that other funds analysed “have taken an unequivocal position against such speculation”.

News and views

‘CATASTROPHIC’ HUNGER IN HAITI: Hunger has reached “catastrophic levels” in Haiti, warned the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme in a joint statement, with a “record” 4.7 million people faced with “acute hunger”. The release also noted that 19,000 people in the country are in the “catastrophe” phase – the highest level of food insecurity – for the first time ever. In Cité Soleil, an urban neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince where record hunger was observed, “the poorest and most vulnerable” are in “urgent need” of humanitarian assistance. Conditions have significantly worsened in rural Haiti, said the organisations, with “harvest losses due to below average rainfall” and the 2021 earthquake leading to deteriorating conditions”. According to the New York Times, “gangs…have all but shut down Haiti’s economy by cutting off the flow of fuel and food”.

AGGRO-FOSSIL PLAYBOOK: Fertiliser and fossil fuel industries are “increasingly” collaborating to “launder fossil fuels – particularly gas – as an ever-expanding source of both ‘clean’ energy and ‘clean’ agrochemicals”, warned a new report by the Center for International Environmental Law. According to the Geneva-based watchdog’s analysis, oil, gas and agrochemical companies are partnering on “a rapidly growing wave of new projects” that rely on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and other technologies to manufacture fossil-based ammonia (and its hydrogen precursor) “not only as a critical fertiliser input, but as a combustible fuel for transport and energy”. The report concluded that “it would not be a stretch to view these initiatives as little more than greenwashing [and] despite its claims of becoming cleaner, the fertiliser industry is as emissions-intensive as ever.”

DON’T HAVE A COW: In New Zealand, a proposed tax on methane has stirred “controversy” among farmers, MercoPress reported, noting that the plan is “allegedly…a first in the world”. The plan aims to cut methane emissions from farms by 10% by the end of the decade and by nearly half by mid-century. Major lobby groups oppose the tax, while “legislators warned that the scheme would instead raise emissions because agriculture would shift to nations with less-efficient farming practices”, MercoPress wrote. Revenue from the tax will “be reinvested in the sector to finance new technologies, research and incentive payments for farmers”, the site added.

BRAZIL IN THE BALANCE: As Brazil braces for a runoff vote on 30 October, presidential candidate Lula da Silva remains ahead but saw his lead drop marginally against Jair Bolsonaro, Reuters reported. Izabella Teixeira, Lula’s environmental spokesperson and former minister told Climate Home News that, if elected, Brazil would update its “insufficient” climate plan and “once again become an instrument for the country’s credibility for Brazilians and the international community”, including prioritising curbing deforestation. “If Bolsonaro is re-elected, the rainforest is doomed, and with it, all of humanity,” said Sônia Guajajara, newly-elected Indigenous congresswoman for São Paulo, commenting in TIME. Prior to this election, only two Indigenous people had been elected to congress in the 522-year history of Brazil, but “in spite of that good news, the newly-elected parliament includes a large pro-Bolsonaro cohort, which champions opening Indigenous lands to mining, agricultural monocultures, reducing conservation areas and relaxing environmental legislation”, TIME wrote. For those “in the crosshairs of climate risks, the election boils down to two platforms: one more, and the other less irresponsible when it comes to climatic disaster risk prevention and management”, Mongabay said. Meanwhile, in a piece in the Americas Quarterly, Cristina Vollmer Burelli – founder of the Venezualan Amazon advocacy group SOS Orinico – asked “why don’t environmentalists give the same attention to Maduro as to President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil?”

SCUPPERING SOLAR: UK prime minister Liz Truss continued her campaign against ground-mounted solar on farmland. Her environment secretary, Ranil Jayawardena, is pushing to “redefine ‘best and most versatile’ land (BMV), which is earmarked for farming, to include the middling-to-low category”, the Guardian reported, noting that doing so “would scupper most new developments of the renewable energy source”. Conservative MP Angela Richardson tweeted her opposition to the proposed policy, saying: “A blanket ban on solar farms would be unwise. Should be looked at on a case by case basis.” Bloomberg wrote that the proposal “is also taking fire” from the Labour party. (For more on why solar is not a threat to UK farmland, see Carbon Brief’s factcheck.)

Extra reading

New science

Warming reduces global agricultural production by decreasing cropping frequency and yields
Nature Climate Change

A new study found a “robust negative association” between global warming and cropping frequency, or the number of productive agricultural seasons per year. Using historical crop productivity and weather data and climate models, researchers projected how increasing temperatures will affect future cropping frequency and the resulting calorific yields. They found that although cropping frequency will increase in cold regions as the climate warms, this will be “offset by larger decreases in warm regions”. They noted that irrigation is an “effective” adaptation method, but that irrigation in warm areas would have to expand by more than 5% by 2050 “to fully offset climate-induced production losses”.

Concentration and crises: exploring the deep roots of vulnerability in the global industrial food system
The Journal of Peasant Studies

A new paper by Prof Jennifer Clapp – vice-chair of the High-Level Panel of Experts at the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) – explored “the origins of the high degrees of multi-level concentration in the industrial food system – at the field, country, and global market levels”, through the lens of three food crises in the last 50 years. Clapp pointed to three “structural features of the food system that make it prone to volatility on a global scale in the face of shocks”. These include reliance on a “small number of staple grains produced using highly industrialised farming methods”, reliance on “a small number of countries specialised in the production of staple grains for export” and the domination of “the global grain trade by a small number of firms in highly financialised commodity markets prone to volatility.” She concluded that the “history of concentration at multiple scales also raises important insights and questions for the current agenda for food systems transformation toward greater diversity and resilience in the face of increasingly frequent shocks”.

Global hotspots for soil nature conservation
Nature

Researchers have published a new map cataloguing biodiversity in soils, highlighting “hotspots” that they found are both ecologically important and “vulnerable in the context of several scenarios of global change”. Scientists compiled more than 600 soil samples from 23 countries and analysed them for biodiversity of organisms and several parameters relevant to ecosystems, such as nutrient and carbon content. They found the highest species richness in temperate ecosystems, but identified high-latitude ecosystems as the “hotspots of ecosystem services”. The authors wrote that their approach “highlights the importance of accounting for the multidimensionality of soil biodiversity and ecosystem services to conserve soils for future generations”.

In the diary

Cropped is researched and written by Dr Giuliana ViglioneAruna Chandrasekhar and Daisy Dunne. Please send tips and feedback to [email protected]

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