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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The Global Environment Facility ratified the creation of a new fund to finance the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, agreed at COP15 last year.
Ecuadorians voted to stop oil drilling in the Yasuní national park. The country’s conservative government is now challenging the constitutionality of the referendum.
Controversial amendments to India’s Forest Conservation Act are being opposed by the country’s biodiversity-rich north-eastern states and communities.
Global Biodiversity Framework Fund
DEPOSIT OPENED: On Thursday in Vancouver, the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) assembly ratified the creation and initial funding of the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund, the main mechanism to deliver a new global deal for nature agreed at the UN biodiversity summit, COP15, last year. Canada and the UK announced “they would provide a combined $160m in seed money”, Agence France-Press reported. But campaign group Avaaz pointed out that another $40m was “still needed to operationalise the fund by the end of 2023”, the newswire said. Canada and the UK have pledged initial contributions of C$200m ($147.3m) and £10m ($12.6m), respectively, Climate Home News reported. However, Japan, the US and others have “indicated they will support the fund, but haven’t committed any money yet”, the outlet added. The fund needs to be seeded with $200m from at least three donors by the end of this year to become operational, per GEF rules.
FINE PRINT: At COP15, as Carbon Brief reported, finance was a source of bitter disagreement, with countries eventually agreeing to mobilise $200bn a year from all sources, public and private. Developed countries agreed to contribute “at least $20bn per year by 2025, and to at least $30bn per year by 2030”. However, developing countries wanted a new fund that was separate from the GEF, objected to funding coming from “all sources” instead of no-strings public finance and fought for a larger contribution from rich countries with much higher consumption footprints. According to the Climate Home News story, “some developing countries” called for a “simplified process” to access the money at the assembly’s plenary, with a representative from the Democratic Republic of the Congo saying the fund “must be accessible to all”.
FRONTLINE SUPPORT: As much as 20% of the funds are intended for supporting Indigenous-led initiatives to protect and conserve biodiversity, making it the “first time” ever that funds would be “channelled to non-state actors” such as Indigenous communities, the Indian environmental publication Down to Earth reported. “At least 36% of the fund’s resources” are aimed at supporting small island developing states and least-developed countries, Mongabay reported. Indigenous groups, often sidelined from climate and biodiversity funds, welcomed the approval of the fund with a specific commitment to locally-led biodiversity conservation, the outlet wrote. It also noted that 25% of the fund will be delivered through international finance institutions.
Ecuador’s referendum on oil
YASUNÍ WON: In a historic referendum, Ecuador voted to ban oil drilling in the Yasuní national park in the Amazon, CNN reported, with nearly 59% of voters in favour of conserving Yasuní. The referendum has been 10 years in the making, with the campaign group Yasunidos pushing for the vote. Around 2,000 Yasunidos volunteers helped observe the process to prevent fraud, according to the group. Pedro Bermeo, the spokesperson of Yasunidos, told Carbon Brief that the public consultation is binding and the state is mandated to halt extractive activities in Yasuní within the next year. The government is also required to start a process of environmental remediation in the region. Bermeo added that the vote “send[s] a message that the world can do [referendums] like this”.
GOVERNMENT’S OBJECTION: The Ecuadorian government has “rejected the result” of the referendum, “cast[ing] doubt over its implementation”, SciDevNet reported. The country’s energy and mines minister, Fernando Santos, told local press that the government will continue to produce oil and gas in the region “as usual”, arguing that the constitution says that only people living in the Yasuní territory can make a decision on resource exploitation there, the outlet added. In the province where the oil block is located, nearly 58% of the population voted “no” to stopping oil exploitation, according to Deutsche Welle. The minister said that the government would “continue to operate [the block] normally”, but “will prepare the dismantling plans for the facilities in case the next ruler decides to stop the exploitation”, the outlet added. Activists are urging Ecuador’s government to respect the referendum results, SciDevNet noted.
ENVISAGING A NEW ECONOMY: Ecuador’s referendum is seen as an opportunity to set a new oil-free economic model, Climate Home News reported. Luis Suárez, executive director at Conservation International Ecuador, told the outlet that the country could boost tourism or develop a “bioeconomy” to generate new income. In a Yasunidos press conference, Monserrat Vásquez, spokesperson of the National Anti-mining Front, said that “the people are proposing a different development model than the one proposed by the elites, valuing nature and the lives of the Indigenous and black population”. Esperanza Martínez, representative of the civil-society organisation Acción Ecológica, said an international commission will oversee the next steps and that a close observation of policies must accompany the transition.
Challenges to India’s controversial new forest act
In this spotlight, Carbon Brief examines how controversial amendments to India’s Forest Conservation Act are being opposed by the country’s biodiversity-rich north-eastern states.
On 4 August, India’s president Draupadi Murmu gave her assent to controversial amendments to the country’s Forest Conservation Act. A joint parliamentary committee cleared the bill without notes, despite wide-ranging dissent from states, ecologists, opposition members, citizen groups and Indigenous communities.
The amendments have been justified by the Indian government, citing India’s 2070 net-zero target, the carbon sink target in its Paris pledge and “the need to maintain or enhance forest carbon stocks”. As Carbon Brief reported last year, there is still no clarity on what India’s carbon sink target means, even to government authorities.
Enacted in 1980, the Forest Conservation Act is India’s main law to regulate deforestation and to determine when and why forests can be “diverted” for development projects.
Experts say that the amended act, however, only affords protection to forests legally notified in government records. It allows deforestation without approval from authorities for national security projects, roads and railway lines within 100km of India’s international borders, including in the Himalayan region. The changes could leave up to a third of the country’s natural forests in resource-rich regions without protection, incentivising private plantations – such as those for palm oil – that will count as forest cover.
Concerted political opposition to the changes has been mixed. Members of national opposition parties, such as the Indian National Congress, staged a walk-out and were largely absent from parliamentary debates where the amendment act was approved. India’s former environment minister Jairam Ramesh tweeted later to say the amendments had been “bulldozed through parliament…reflect[ing] the vast gap that exists between [the Modi government’s] global talk and domestic walk on the environment”.
Ramesh, however, told Carbon Brief that the Congress party had no plans to challenge the act in court and that forested, mineral-rich states where it is in power were not planning to pass resolutions against the act because it “makes no difference”. (Both state and central governments have decision-making powers on forests.)
In contrast, opposition has been acute from the country’s biodiversity-rich north-eastern states, which have additional constitutional protections around land. On 23 August, the state of Mizoram, which borders Bangladesh and Myanmar, passed an unanimous resolution “to protect the rights and interest of the people of Mizoram”.
TJ Lalnuntluanga, the state minister for environment, forests and climate change who put forward the resolution, told Carbon Brief that “Mizoram is special; 85% of our state is under forests”.
Lalnuntluanga noted that “all of Mizoram lies within 100km of international borders and is vulnerable under these amendments”, adding that “we want to conserve our forests and green cover for future generations and prevent climate change”.
In the state of Nagaland, which borders Myanmar to the east, four village assemblies in community-conserved areas vowed to oppose the act, which they said is “designed against the interests” of Indigenous communities. “If the government takes our forests away, how will we survive? This is why we’re opposing this act together,” Shusimvu Kent, village chairman of New Sendenyu, told Carbon Brief.
While the act has been published, it is yet to come into force. Many of its implications are still unclear, say lawyers. “Just because there isn’t litigation right away, it doesn’t mean there won’t be litigation down the road,” Shomona Khanna, a supreme court lawyer, told Carbon Brief. Indigenous consent, she says, would still need to be sought, but the law creates challenges in making sure this happens before permits are given. “They’ve made a labyrinthine mess out of a simple law and turned it into a paradise for lawyers,” she added.
AFRICAN AGROECOLOGY: The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, a coalition of farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists and other groups, will meet in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week to discuss “reorienting food production systems and agricultural policy” in the Congo Basin to alleviate food insecurity and ecological damage, Mongabay reported. The outlet explained that agroecology is considered a kind of sustainable agriculture that combines Indigenous knowledge and science to make “the best use of nature to create healthy communities”. One of the organisers told Mongabay that the Congo Basin “is bearing the brunt of climate change” and needs to have common policies to address this challenge.
GREASY PALMS: Meat producers in the US spent 190 times more on lobbying politicians than makers of plant-based alternatives, while livestock farmers in the US and EU got between 800 and 1,200 times more in public funding, the Guardian reported. The story reports on a new study that showed how the “gigantic” power of the meat and dairy industries is blocking the development of food alternatives that could help “tackle the climate crisis”. The researchers found that almost all food and dietary guidelines downplayed the impact of meat production. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported on how an “angry backlash” from farmers against the EU’s proposed new rules on nature restoration and reining in livestock farming “has begun reshaping the political landscape before [Dutch] elections in the fall”.
UNHAPPY FEET: An estimated 10,000 emperor penguin chicks were killed last November in a “catastrophic die-off” in the Antarctic’s central and eastern Bellingshausen Sea, as the sea ice beneath them melted before they could develop waterproof feathers to swim, wrote BBC News. Covering a new study, the outlet noted that 2022 saw record low sea ice extent and climate change is considered “the only major driver” of emperor penguins’ long-term population decline. Dr Peter Fretwell from the British Antarctic Survey, who led the research, told BBC News that the wipe-out was a “harbinger of things to come”, but “there is hope: we can cut our carbon emissions that are causing the warming”.
FUKUSHIMA WATER FLOWS: Last Thursday, Japan started releasing wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, the Spanish-language outlet El País reported. The government plan to decommission the nuclear power plant wrecked by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami aims to release 1.34m tonnes of treated radioactive water, which will “take decades to complete”. China rejected the plan, claiming that the Japanese government had not proved the discharge was safe, and announced a “blanket ban on all aquatic products” from Japan, Reuters wrote. The newswire added that the International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded the discharge will have a “negligible” impact. During several meetings with the Japanese government, a national fisheries federation reiterated its rejection of the discharge plan, Spanish newswire EFE Verde reported.
WILDFIRES AFTERMATH: Hawaii’s wildfires have not just resulted in loss of human lives and displaced people, but have impacted crop cultivation and reduced short- and long-term agricultural productivity, Axios reported. The outlet pointed out that although Hawaii imports up to 90% of its food, the state grows a range of crops, including bananas, sweet onions, coffee and papayas. The blazes have also threatened the US’s most endangered bird: the ‘akikiki, a species with only five individuals living in the wild, the Washington Post added. In early August, wildfires also hit California’s Mojave national preserve. An ecologist told the Los Angeles Times that the region had experienced drought, and that climate change is threatening the “iconic” Joshua trees in nearby Joshua Tree national park.
PLANT PANDEMIC: The next pandemic could come for the world’s crops, thanks to monocultures and climate change, per a new story published in Grist.
ADAPTATION, UPSCALE: China Dialogue looked at how farmers, particularly women, in China’s mountainous regions are using traditional planting as a “survival strategy” to adapt to limited land resources and climate change.
HUNT FOR VEERAPPAN: A new Netflix series examined the larger-than-life legacy of Veerappan, an Indian sandalwood smuggler and elephant poacher who evaded capture for decades, raising troubling questions about the rule of law in India’s forests.
BLAND FUTURE: The Atlantic delved into the sriracha shortage and why even the jalapeno crop – “the poster child of heat tolerance” – is facing the heat on a parched planet.
Biodiversity confusion: the impact of ESG biodiversity ratings on asset prices
Social Science Research Network
A new study found that companies’ biodiversity ratings within their environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores do not affect their asset and profit margins. Researchers examined the relationship between stock returns and the characteristics of individual firms against ESG biodiversity disclosures, and found that institutional investors and analysts “ignore biodiversity ratings” in their decision-making. However, the authors found that this is not always the same across industries, as “biodiversity ratings predicted negative returns in mining, but positive returns in utilities”. The authors concluded: “It is difficult to see how, on its own at least, the measurement and disclosure of biodiversity via ESG ratings currently helps achieve any target related to biodiversity and nature recovery or improves the management of nature-based risks.”
Heat is associated with short-term increases in household food insecurity in 150 countries and this is mediated by income
Nature Human Behaviour
Particularly hot weeks are associated with household food insecurity because they make working and earning an income more difficult, according to new research. The author carried out a household survey across 150 countries and explored variations in heat levels. She found that the effect is mediated by income and household health; therefore, low-income countries with precarious forms of employment are the most affected. The research predicted that “if a country with the population of India were to experience a particularly hot week, an additional 8.07 million people would be likely to experience moderate-to-severe food insecurity”. The results highlight the need to include labour market disruptions in heat action plans and food policies, the author concluded.
Global risk of heat stress to cattle from climate change
Environmental Research Letters
More than one billion cows globally – 80% of domesticated cattle – are exposed to heat stress for at least one month of each year, a new study found. The researchers documented cattle heat stress across 164 underlying studies and then projected future heat stress for two different emissions pathways. They found that 2C of global warming would lead to 180 days of heat stress annually in sub-tropical regions, and the tropical regions will suffer the most from heat stress. The study concluded: “These results highlight how societal choices that expand cattle production in tropical forest regions are unsustainable, both worsening climate change and exposing hundreds of millions more cattle to large increases in severe, year-round heat stress.”
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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