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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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The EU’s nature restoration law passed through a “knife-edge” vote, but activists and environmentalists say it is “substantially weaker” after new amendments were introduced.
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Deep-sea mining talks resumed in Jamaica, after a crucial legal deadline for framing mining rules lapsed on 9 July. A number of countries are calling for a mining moratorium, while Chile led a proposal to reject mining bids until the rules were complete.
Extreme weather across the world is taking a toll on key crops: from spiking tomato prices and ruined apple orchards following floods in India to an olive oil industry “in crisis” in blazing southern Europe and threats to breadbasket regions in China and the US.
EU nature vote
FINAL BALLOT: The EU’s proposed nature restoration law passed through a “knife-edge vote” in the European parliament, Euronews reported. Following a first vote last month that ran out of time – which Reuters had described as “chaotic” – politicians last week pushed through an amended version of the law. The final tally was 336 votes in favour, 300 against and 13 abstentions, according to Euronews. A separate motion to outright reject the text, which Euronews said “would have dealt a heavy blow to the Green Deal”, was defeated in parliament by just 12 votes. The law aims to restore and recover nature on at least 20% of EU land and sea area by 2030, through binding habitat and species restoration targets.
KEY CHANGES: Ahead of the vote, farmers’ organisations and climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, “clashed” in protests outside the European parliament building in Strasbourg, Politico said. The vote was described by Politico’s Brussels Playbook as a “major blow” for German politician Manfred Weber, the leader of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), who “spearheaded” a campaign to “bring down the law”. Although the text was passed, it came with some amendments. Louise Guillot, a Politico reporter, outlined some of the changes on Twitter. They include the deletion of an article on restoration targets for agricultural areas and the weakening of goals on restoring terrestrial, coastal and freshwater ecosystems. The changes “watered down some elements” of the text and led to concerns that the law is “not up to scratch” to achieve its aims, Euractiv reported.
WHAT NOW?: BirdLife International said members of the European parliament “sacrificed many critical obligations and targets, ending up with a position substantially weaker” than the original proposal. “This flies in the face of the urgency of the climate and biodiversity crises,” the statement added. The New York Times wrote: “Restoring degraded land not only can provide relief from climate change, but is critical for addressing a global biodiversity crisis that threatens to drive an estimated [one] million plant and animal species to extinction.” Weber said that the EPP will “continue to argue against a law that polarises, rather than unites, our climate efforts”. (Most, but not all, EPP members in the European parliament tried to block the bill, according to Euractiv.) Final talks on the law will start on 19 July, Pascal Canfin, chair of the parliament’s environment committee, said on Twitter.
MISSED BOAT: Fraught talks on deep-sea mining resumed at the International Seabed Authority’s (ISA) headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, the Earth Negotiations Bulletin reported. On 9 July, the ISA missed “an important legal deadline” to finalise rules to rein in mining the ocean floor in international waters and are now “scrambling to complete them…before companies start applying for deep-sea mining permits”, Grist wrote. If a company, such as “the Canadian mining firm at the centre of the high seas hullabaloo”, submits a commercial mining application before a mining code is agreed, the body would be legally obligated to consider it, the story said. A comment in the Guardian by author Guy Standing called the ISA “unfit for purpose” and demanded its overhaul, pointing out that the body “has not refused any application” for exploration to date, with China holding five of 31 exploration licences issued.
RACE TO THE BOTTOM: The legal limbo “could spark an ill-advised rush to the ocean floor” in the quest for critical minerals, an activity that “risks disturbing stores of carbon locked away for millennia, with unknown consequences for a jittery climate”, said a comment in the Financial Times by science journalist Anjana Ahuja. Additionally, social justice issues do not “dissolve at the bottom of the ocean: it is unclear how spoils will be shared, given the international seabed is the common heritage of humankind”, she wrote. Efforts to finalise exploitation rules “have been mired by an array of other difficult issues” still to be negotiated in Kingston, such as marine ecosystem impacts, toxicity and establishing environmental thresholds, Hakai Magazine reported. Given the long, tricky to-do list and a likelihood of not finishing in time, Chile, France, Palau and Vanuatu have put forward a proposal “to reject all mining applications until the rules are complete”, it added. The countries are also exploring other legal options.
GROUNDSWELL: While China, South Korea, Russia, Japan and Norway are among nations “eager to forge ahead” with mining the seabed, France, Germany and Chile – “joined by Palau, Fiji, New Zealand, Panama, Samoa, Costa Rica and others” – are “spearheading calls for a pause, a moratorium or a ban on such operations”, according to Nikkei Asia. Ahuja, in the Financial Times, pointed out that Germany and France “hold exploration licences but do not currently support commercial mining”, while India is already exploring “the nodule-rich Indian Ocean” for nickel and cobalt. However, last week, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Finland, Portugal, Brazil and Canada joined in the groundswell of countries and scientists calling for a moratorium on deep sea mining, which has also found support in the seafood industry, according to the Guardian. Canada’s stance arrived even as the chief executive of Canada-registered mining firm the Metals Company told CBC News that there’s only a “0.1 of 1%” chance that governments would reject his firm’s application. Meanwhile, the Ecologist reported that the ISA banned protests and audio and video recording inside the venue, as well as parody that draws attention to environmental issues at the talks.
Climate change comes for crops
PUREE MADNESS: Tomatoes – indispensable to Indian cuisine – are “off the menu” as prices surged four-fold in the country following “crop failures driven by heatwaves and heavy rains”, CNN Business reported. The story quoted a tweet from a minister of parliament representing Delhi, who wrote: “Even McDonald’s can’t afford tomatoes any more.” These soaring prices have been a source of unrest, according to the Times, with some farmers finding their entire harvest stolen overnight. “Tomatoes are more expensive than petrol, how can I afford them?” asked a Mumbai housewife quoted in Mid-Day. She added that she wanted to punch her regular retailer “in the face”. The Times of India reported a 700% price jump during a week where flash floods have strained supply chains. The price spikes have meant windfall gains for some farmers, who, less than two months ago, “were literally forced to throw away tomatoes” due to low prices. A column in the Indian Express by deputy associate editor Udit Misra pointed out that the “the most important” solution against such spikes is to “boost India’s ability to store its produce”.
FORBIDDEN FRUIT: Tomatoes aren’t the only climate casualty: heavy rains in northern India could halve apple production in the Kashmir valley and Himachal Pradesh this season, the Economic Times reported. “Not only [were] apple orchards destroyed in landslides, but there is also a possibility of the outbreak of apple scab – a fungal disease,” a farm union leader told the New Indian Express. In southern Europe, olive farmers are bracing for a second year of ruined harvests, the Guardian said, while peach farmers in the southern US state of Georgia saw their crops fail “spectacularly” after an “abnormally mild winter, followed by a cold snap”, France 24 reported.
GRAIN DRAIN: Breadbasket states in the US midwest “are struggling to manage a drought that’s affecting some areas for a second year in a row”, NBC News reported. While farmers with access to irrigation are better off than those without, “irrigation is meant to supplement mother nature, not replace mother nature”, one Nebraska farmer told the outlet. In China, heat and drought – “the worst in decades” – threaten maize crops in the north, while much of the wheat grown in the central province of Hennan is “now unfit for human consumption”, according to the Economist. “We may be able to alleviate droughts and floods, but little can be done to help crops fight extreme temperatures except for breeding new [resilient] species,” a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences told the South China Morning Post. Bloomberg reported that India is mulling a rice ban amid rising domestic prices, while Indian Express reported that “new rice nurseries are being cultivated” to help Punjab’s farmers recover from wide-spread flood damage to their crop.The Independent wrote that such a ban could “send global [rice] prices to new highs”.
GRAIN DEAL ENDS: Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal, which had allowed safe travel for Ukrainian grain exports over the past year, the Times reported. The Kremlin said that Russia would only take up the agreement again if “its demands over western sanctions were met”, the newspaper wrote, adding that the move “renewed fears” around threats to global food security. The government of Kenya described Russia’s decision as a “stab in the back”, saying that the move “disproportionately impacts” the drought-hit Horn of Africa, BBC News reported. CNN said that the withdrawal “threatens to push up food prices” and “tip millions into hunger”. Global commodity market prices for wheat and corn “jumped” the day Russia pulled out of the deal, the outlet added.
FOOD REPORT: More than 9% of the world’s population experienced hunger last year, with 122 million more people affected compared to 2019, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) latest “State of food security and nutrition in the world” report. The increase is due to the Covid-19 pandemic, weather shocks and conflicts, including the war in Ukraine. The report noted that the global hunger figure “hides substantial differences” between various regions. Progress has been made in reducing hunger in parts of Asia and Latin America, for example, but it is still rising in western Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. The report added that food insecurity “disproportionately affects women and people living in rural areas”.
LOGGING BAN LIFTED: William Ruto, the Kenyan president, has removed a ban on logging that has been in place for six years, the Associated Press reported. The move has “sparked outrage” and put a spotlight on the “government’s mismanagement of the country’s forests”, according to Semafor. Ruto said that, even though the ban has been lifted, logging will follow “strict harvesting rules”. But Semafor added that Greenpeace Africa’s community manager, Tracy Makheti, said that Ruto “has prioritised profit over people and nature”. The lifting of the ban will reverse gains made with environmental protection, Mongabay reported. Edwin Muinga, chair of the organisation Clean Mombasa, recommended that the president “rescind the decision”. The outlet noted that logging did not fully stop in Kenya during the period of the ban.
SOP STORY: A new report by the World Bank found that agricultural subsidies are responsible for the loss of 2.2m hectares of forest per year, “a land area equivalent to 14% of global deforestation”. Titled “Detox development”, the report looked at the impact of $7tn in agricultural subsidies on air, land and oceans, estimating that inefficient subsidy use was responsible for 17% of all nitrogen pollution in water over the last 30 years, with large enough impacts on human health to reduce labour productivity by 3.5%. The authors found that richer nations spent more on agricultural subsidies than poorer ones: China, the EU, Indonesia, Japan and the US spent the most, but this “tend[ed] to be uncoupled from production” and less harmful compared to financing in low and middle-income countries. Richer farmers who spend more on damaging inputs benefited the most, versus smallholder farmers, it stated.
FUTURE OF FOOD: Food is the most “emotionally fraught” topic in environment reporting, according to Emma Gatten, environment editor at the Daily Telegraph. On 18 July, Carbon Brief attended an event held by the Spectator magazine in London, which heard from experts and journalists on the topic of the future of food. Lab-grown meat was frequently mentioned, with panellists divided on the extent to which it will help to reduce emissions and cut meat intake. UK environment secretary Thérèse Coffey said that food security is a key element of the government’s national security focus. She described the “callousness” of Putin’s decision to withdraw from the Black Sea grain deal, the effects of which will be “felt most” by people “starving” around the world, especially in the global south. Separately, former environment secretary George Eustice said that the climate impact of livestock farming has been “exaggerated and overstated”, despite widespread evidence to the contrary.
Women’s empowerment, production choices and crop diversity in Burkina Faso, India, Malawi and Tanzania: a secondary analysis of cross-sectional data
The Lancet Planetary Health
More input from women in food-production decision-making is associated with higher crop diversity in low-income agricultural households, a new study found. Researchers analysed data from four trials involving women in Burkina Faso, India, Malawi and Tanzania and assessed women’s empowerment using indicators from the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index. Their findings showed that households where women have greater input cultivated more food crops, a higher number of food groups and were more likely to produce “nutrient-dense crops”. The researchers said that the findings highlight the importance of women’s empowerment as a way to “increase farm-level crop diversity, improve food systems resilience and achieve the balance between a healthy diet and a healthy planet”.
Global climate-change trends detected in indicators of ocean ecology
Low-latitude oceans have become greener over the past 20 years, according to a new study. The authors used two decades of data from a satellite-based sensor to track changes in ocean colour. They found “significant” colour changes in 56% of the world’s ocean surface over this time period. This “greening” could result from an increase in detrital particles or from “ecosystem shifts”, such as a simultaneous increase in zooplankton and coloured dissolved material, the researchers wrote. Modelling results suggested that the observed colour trends are “indeed driven by climate change”. The findings further suggested that climate impacts “are already being felt in surface marine microbial ecosystems”, the authors concluded.
The carbon costs of global wood harvests
A new study found that the emissions from projected forest harvests between 2010 and 2050 could reach up to 4.2bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year, around the same as annual emissions from land-use change due to agricultural expansion. Researchers used a new carbon-harvest model and time-discounting to estimate carbon losses from past and probable forest-wood harvests under different supply-and-demand scenarios. They calculated that these harvests will result in emissions of 3.5-4.2bn tonnes of CO2e each year. The authors concluded that their findings were, “in a sense, good news because they imply that if people could reduce forest harvests, forest growth could do more to reduce atmospheric carbon, a potential mitigation ‘wedge’ that is rarely identified in climate strategies”.
In the diary
Cropped is researched and written by Dr Giuliana Viglione, Aruna Chandrasekhar, Daisy Dunne, Orla Dwyer and Yanine Quiroz. Please send tips and feedback to [email protected]
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