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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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More than 1,200 delegates met in Rome for the second UN Food Systems Summit. It had a top-level focus on climate change, but overall progress was “mixed”, observers said.
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Fires swept the southern EU and northern Africa, destroying forests and causing deaths in Algeria, while heatwaves heavily hit cereal crops and other commodities in both regions.
At a technology summit in Toronto, Carbon Brief interviewed an 18-year-old Indigenous water defender about her work protecting natural resources.
Slim pickings at food summit
UN MEETING: More than 1,200 delegates from 161 countries met in Rome from 24 to 26 July for the second UN Food Systems Summit. Food systems currently account for around one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions and are the leading cause of biodiversity loss. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the aim was to “build on the momentum of the 2021 Food Systems Summit” and allow “countries to review progress on commitments to action and identify successes, enduring bottlenecks and priorities” for food-systems transformation. In reality, there were few new announcements at the summit. The media platform Devex said that climate change was “top of mind” at the summit, but overall it was plagued by “mixed messaging”.
FOOD ROADMAP: Despite a general lack of new commitments, the summit did see some piecemeal progress on transforming food systems. Speaking at the summit, FAO director general Qu Dongyu confirmed that the organisation is currently creating a “roadmap” for how food systems can reach climate and nature goals this century, the sustainable business publication Edie reported. This would be akin to the influential roadmap for how the energy sector can reach net-zero by 2050 created by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The food roadmap is due to be released at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai in December.
CLIMATE PLEDGES: The summit also saw Mariam Almheiri, minister of climate change and environment in the United Arab Emirates, invite countries to sign a food-systems declaration, which includes integrating food into their international climate pledges, according to Edie. Dr Helena Wright, a policy director at the FAIRR Initiative, an investor network that raises awareness of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks in the global food sector, told the publication that countries including food within their international climate pledges could “necessitate a step-change in governing how we produce and consume food”.
GRAIN DEAL: Aside from climate change, the other major topic of discussion at the summit was the Black Sea Grain Deal, the now-collapsed agreement between Turkey, the UN and Russia that aimed to ensure that Ukraine – one of the world’s breadbaskets – could ship grain from its southern ports. During his address to the summit, UN secretary general António Guterres called on Russia to return to the deal, Reuters reported. He told the summit: “With the termination of the Black Sea initiative, the most vulnerable will pay the highest price. When food prices rise, everybody pays for it.”
Amid fires and heatwaves
FIRESTORM: More than 100 fires hit Greek forests, releasing over 1m metric tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere – “the most in at least two decades”, Bloomberg wrote. The outlet added that those emissions are equal to 5.5% of Greece’s annual total and, furthermore, the fires “destroyed” forests with the potential to remove carbon. Likewise, Sicily, in southern Italy, reported higher-than-usual temperatures and fires that have affected the Palermo airport and an archaeological park, according to El País. At the same time, the northern part of the country suffered torrential storms. In a separate piece, El País reported that at least five people in Sicily had died and 2,000 people were forced to evacuate due to the fires. Sicilian president Renato Schifani declared a state of crisis and is planning to request that prime minister Giorgia Meloni “declare a state of emergency for the Mediterranean island”, El País wrote.
FIRES SWEEP NORTH AFRICA: In July, more than 30 people died and thousands fled their homes due to the forest fires that ravaged 16 provinces in Algeria, Al Jazeera reported. The deaths were reported as parts of the country reached up to 48C. Fires in a pine forest near the Tunisia-Algeria border forced at least 300 people to evacuate from the Tunisian village of Melloula, the outlet said. But, it added, other north African countries, such as Morocco and Libya, experienced “relatively normal” temperatures. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) considers the Mediterranean region to be a climate change “hotspot”, and has warned of increasingly frequent extreme events in the coming years, such as heatwaves and crop failures, the outlet added.
EU CROPS DAMAGED: Cereal crops and other commodities, including olives and tomatoes, are being “decimated” by recent heatwaves in Europe, the Grocer reported. Copa-Cogeca, the EU’s largest farming lobby, expects cereal production to fall by up to 60% from last year’s yield, and the quality is likely to be affected due to the extreme weather conditions, according to the magazine. In northern Italy, a farmer’s fruit and corn crops faced frost, torrential rains, floodings and a blistering heatwave in what he called “a disastrous year”, which will likely produce only one-third of its typical annual crop, reported Reuters. In Tunisia, in northern Africa, farmers are suffering worsening weather conditions and water scarcity as the country has had four consecutive years of drought, Al Jazeera wrote. On 24 July, the temperature there reached 50C.
Indigenous water defender Autumn Peltier
At the Collision Conference 2023 in Toronto, Carbon Brief’s special correspondent Daisy Dunne sat down with 18-year-old Autumn Peltier – who is the chief water commissioner of the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario, Canada – to hear more about her work raising awareness about how humans are affecting water resources.
Currently, two billion people – one-quarter of the global population – do not have access to safe drinking water, according to the UN.
Carbon Brief: What motivates you to speak out about lack of access to clean water?
Autumn Peltier: These issues aren’t talked about, they are swept under the carpet. That’s one of the main reasons that I do my advocacy, to talk to people and make them part of the conversation. Being able to speak at the UN, the World Economic Forum or to world leaders, I find that empowering – because that’s something they’re usually not talking about at all. And they’re the people that really need to be talking about this issue.
CB: People often describe you as a ‘youth climate activist’, but this is a term you reject. Why is this?
AP: I don’t like to compare myself to other individuals. The issues that I care about aren’t based on what anyone else has or hasn’t done. I’m trying to get things done in my own way and get my own people’s views across. My work is really about empowerment and that requires a lot of self reflection – mentally, emotionally and physically. It’s really important to try to achieve a balance between protecting your emotional health and your work. There are times where I think: “Oh my gosh, this is so hard, I want to give up.” But finding things you enjoy doing, as well as your work, is also really important.
CB: What change would you like to see happen?
AP: I would love to see the perspectives that Indigenous people have listened to on a global stage. We’re not prioritised. It’s really an issue of equality – because it’s the children and babies of Indigenous and marginalised people that don’t have access to safe drinking water. Supplying people with clean drinking water should be a priority.
NO DEEP-SEA MINING: A UN summit held in Jamaica to negotiate rules for mining the deep sea has ended with an effective block on the extractive practice, after “an 11th-hour agreement to hold formal discussions next year”, according to the Guardian. The agreement came at the end of fraught week-long talks. The proposal to effectively ban deep-sea mining until further talks are held next year was spearheaded by Chile, France and Costa Rica and backed by a dozen countries. It was initially blocked by China, a country keen to see mining go ahead, but they relented at the last moment, according to the Guardian.
BOILING CORALS: A marine heatwave broke out across a 2,000km-stretch of the coast of Queensland, Australia in late July, the Guardian reported, “raising concerns for the health of corals on the Great Barrier Reef”. According to satellite data from the US National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA), the heatwave emerged at the end of June and lasted until the end of July, the Guardian said. It came as water temperatures in the Florida Keys hit 38C (101F) – around the same as a hot tub, Smithsonian Magazine reported. The publication reported: “The prolonged hot temperatures could have devastating effects on the Florida Keys’ already vulnerable coral reefs, some of which are suffering from bleaching because of the heat; a few have already died.”
‘EXTRAORDINARY CHALLENGE’: The UK – one of the countries that spearheaded efforts to achieve an ambitious framework for restoring biodiversity at the COP15 nature summit in 2022 – will face an “extraordinary challenge” to protect 30% of its land and seas by 2030, according to a report by the House of Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee. (The House of Lords is the second chamber of UK parliament, alongside the House of Commons for elected members of parliament.) Only 6.5% of England is effectively protected for nature at present, according to the report. More than 3m hectares of land must be protected in order to meet the “30 by 30” target – an area roughly equal to one and a half times the size of Wales, the report said.
FUNDING AMAZON DEFORESTATION: Eight banks from the EU, US and Brazil provided most of the funds that support oil and gas production into the Amazon rainforest, Inter Press Service reported. The analysis, by the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin and the non-profit organisation Stand.earth, shows that 160 banks designated around $20bn to fossil projects during 2009-23. JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup were the major banks responsible for financing fossil fuels in the Amazon, Bloomberg reported. The outlet quoted Angeline Robertson, lead researcher at Stand.earth, who said that “banks have a critical role to play in shifting the energy economics behind the climate crisis”. JP Morgan declined to comment, while Citigroup told Bloomberg that it is continuing to strengthen its environmental policies “to protect sensitive areas like the Amazon”.
SIDE EFFECTS: Farmers in northern Nigeria “have seen an ‘alarming’ increase in heat” in the last three years, Abubakar Salisu, a local leader of wheat farmers, told the Independent. His wheat yield has halved due to the “unpredictable rain pattern” and heat, which have both been worsened by climate change, the outlet says. However, violence and conflict – along with the Russian decision not to allow grain exports from Ukraine – are also contributing to the food security crisis in the African country. Nigerian reliance on imported grain drives people to spend more on food. The outlet pointed out that the government has launched programmes intended to boost domestic grain production and provide loans to farmers. Still, climate change, violence and corruption are obstacles to becoming self-sufficient, the Independent added.
RICE EXPORT BAN: The Daily Telegraph reported that India’s rice export ban might threaten global rice stocks, taking 10m tonnes of rice off the global market. This would put millions of people reliant on such exports at risk of suffering hunger due to “skyrocketing rice prices”, according to the FAO. Panic buying has begun in Canada and Australia, the newspaper said. It noted that the rice market could be additionally destabilised by El Niño, which affects seasonal weather worldwide and contributes to reduced rainfall and higher temperatures in Asia. The Indian government has banned the export of non-basmati white rice; however, it did not impede the export of basmati and parboiled rice, the Hindu wrote.
DEEP-SEA PROMISES: A feature in Hakai Magazine investigated the tactics that deep-sea mining companies are using in an attempt to win over locals in the Cook Islands.
COLOMBIAN NATURE UNVEILED: Nature published an interactive piece on how the peace between the Colombian government and guerrilla forces has allowed scientists to study diverse ecosystems and species in Colombia.
COCONUT FARMS: China Dialogue looked at how coconut farming is having a “revival” in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
DRONES FOR CONSERVATION: A Q&A by Mongabay explored how one company uses drones to help scientists track up to 40 animals simultaneously.
Warning of a forthcoming collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
New research examined the possibility that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a large system of ocean currents that carries warm water from the tropics northwards into the North Atlantic, could collapse this century. Using a new statistical approach, the research found that “a collapse of the AMOC [could] occur around mid-century under the current scenario of future emissions”. It added that, according to the findings, such a collapse could occur around 2025-2095. A collapse of the AMOC would have catastrophic consequences for the world’s climate, but previous research has found that a collapse is “very unlikely” to occur this century. In its coverage of the study, New Scientist noted that “other researchers have doubts about the accuracy of the projections”. The Daily Telegraph reported that the UK Met Office has urged caution over the interpretation of the findings.
Spatial database of planted forests in east Asia
A new study presented the first spatial database of planted forests in east Asia, a region that contains 36% of the global planted forest area. The researchers used in situ and remote-sensing data and then modelled the distribution of planted forests and associated tree species to develop the database. The results show that east Asia has nearly 949,000 square kilometres of forest, and 87% of this is in China. Most of China’s planted forests lie in the tropical and subtropical regions and Sichuan Basin. According to the paper, these findings “enable accurate quantification of the role of planted forests in climate mitigation” and can help “inform effective decision-making in forest conservation”.
Rebound effects could offset more than half of avoided loss and waste
Efforts to reduce food loss and waste may be diminished by rebound effects, wherein increased efficiency lowers prices and leads to increases in consumption, according to new research. The authors modelled these rebound effects, then determined the environmental and food-security impacts of the rebounds. The study projected that rebounds could offset 53-71% of avoided food loss and waste. Such rebounds could increase carbon emissions and land and water use, but would improve food security, “highlighting a tension between these two objectives”, the study notes.
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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