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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 “green” ambitions of the EU are facing significant political opposition, with the bloc’s nature restoration law at the forefront of the controversy. Many farmers’ groups have spoken out against the law, but scientists say it is necessary to achieve the EU’s biodiversity targets.
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A UN Latin America regional group has endorsed Brazil’s government to host the upcoming climate summit in 2025, but the country still faces internal challenges to reducing deforestation of the Amazon rainforests.
The Innovate4Climate conference in Bilbao brought together 1,500 attendees from the public and private sectors and financial markets to discuss scaling up climate action through financial flows. Carbon Brief was on the ground to ask: how can these flows decarbonise agrifood systems?
EU nature law battles
2030 VISION: The European Commission is “fighting to keep intact its vision for Europe’s green transition” in the face of “increased political resistance” to its laws focused on environmental protection, Reuters reported. The newswire noted that “unfinished laws are piling up” as the EU heads towards parliamentary elections next June – laws whose “fate would be unclear under a new EU Parliament with a different composition”. More than 30 environmental laws have been proposed by the Commission over the past two years and “most have been successfully passed”. But two remaining “landmark” bills – one with “binding targets for countries to restore damaged natural habitats” and one setting a goal to halve the use of chemical pesticides by 2030 – are facing strong opposition.
SPLIT SUPPORT: The proposed nature legislation “aims to restore at least 20% of the EU’s degraded ecosystems by 2030”, Politico reported. It noted that the issue is “splitting the federal government” in Belgium, with the prime minister seeking to “hit the pause button” and the climate minister pushing for the law’s passage. Meanwhile, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature wrote to Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, European Parliament president Roberta Metsola and the Swedish presidency of the EU Council urging “EU institutions to ensure the adoption of an ambitious regulation for the restoration of nature”. And more than 150 scientists published a “declaration of support” for the law. The declaration read, in part: “If the EU is to restore the health, productivity and resilience of its lands and seas, and have nature continue supporting European food security, employment, climate change mitigation and the economy, it must approve and implement its nature restoration law.”
TRADE TALK TENSION: Meanwhile, Indonesia and Malaysia – the top two producers of palm oil – are continuing to contest the EU’s new deforestation law, which “they believe could be detrimental to small farming businesses”, Reuters wrote in a separate piece. The two countries “have accused the EU of discriminatory policies targeting palm oil” and paid Brussels a visit at the end of May to “discuss ways of minimising negative impacts of the law, especially on smallholders”. Following the visit, the Financial Times reported that the countries “will delay trade talks with the EU while they seek fairer treatment”. Separately, EurActiv reported that the EU’s proposed rules to “slash industrial emissions, including from the largest farms” has split the European Parliament, with the environmental committee in favour of stricter thresholds for defining industrial farms and the agricultural committee in favour of looser ones.
Amazon in focus
REGIONAL ENDORSEMENT: A UN Latin America regional group has endorsed the Brazilian city of Belém, close to the Amazon rainforest, to host the COP30 climate summit in 2025, the Associated Press (AP) reported. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva posted a social media video in which he said: “I went to COPs in Egypt, in Paris, in Copenhagen, and all people talk about is the Amazon. So I said, ‘Why don’t we go there so you see what the Amazon is like?’”. The AP noted that the final decision on the host city will not be made until COP29, next year.
COP CONCERNS: Climate Home News reported that Belém, in the state of Pará, is considered “the gateway to the Amazon river and rainforest”. But the outlet cited concerns from both campaigners and former government officials. Marcio Astrini, the executive secretary of Climate Observatory, was quoted as saying: “Pará is the state that deforests the most in the Amazon”. Former Brazilian environment minister Izabella Teixeira voiced concerns about the city’s infrastructure and its ability to host 30,000 COP attendees. AP added that Lula’s environmental agenda is facing a setback from Brazil’s congress, who recently approved a measure that “eroded the environment ministry’s authority over construction in forested and coastal areas”.
BEEF DEMAND AND DEFORESTATION: A new investigation by the Guardian, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Repórter Brasil and Forbidden Stories found that the Amazon rainforest lost more than 800m trees to meet beef demand in six years. The investigation found that 1.7m hectares of the Amazon were cleared between 2017-22 to expand the production of meat, which is then exported to other countries – despite the fact that the “beef industry in Brazil has consistently pledged to avoid farms linked to deforestation”, the Guardian wrote. The researchers looked at deforestation-associated slaughterhouses in the states of Mato Grosso, Pará and Rondônia, which the Guardian noted are “important frontiers of deforestation associated with ranching”.
SAVING THE AMAZON: In a separate piece, the Guardian explored “seven steps to save the Amazon” rainforest. It cited boosting political and Indigenous leadership, implementing land reforms to compensate for forest stewardship or investing in sustainable agriculture and holding foreign countries, businesses and consumers accountable for “the destruction of the Amazon, which has accelerated to sell more beef, soya and iron ore to Europe, China, the US and other industrialised markets”. The other proposed steps were “radically” reforming the beef industry with more transparency and accountability for meat producers, building intelligent infrastructure to create “more sustainable communication and energy networks”, creating a “bioeconomy” to incentivise protecting the forest and prioritising state power towards battling climate threats.
SCALING UP: The World Bank hosted the Innovate4Climate (I4C) conference in Bilbao, Spain, which aimed to scale up climate action by finding innovations and financial solutions. The summit brought together 1,500 representatives on 23-25 May from the public and private financial sectors worldwide. The conference spotlighted three themes – climate finance, carbon markets and just transition – but it also had sessions on finance for adaptation and agrifood systems. Several speakers highlighted the need to increase global finance to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, to decarbonise the global economy and to increase resilience to climate change. Carbon Brief attended the conference and looked at some opportunities the agrifood system has to lead a just transition.
OPPORTUNITY: Agrifood systems make up around 30% of global emissions and require many inputs, such as fertilisers, water and machinery, to grow food and transport it to consumers. But the sector receives just over 4% of global climate finance. Alexander Lotsch, senior climate change specialist at the World Bank, said at the conference that the sector requires a deep system transformation, pointing out that “it’s hardly connected to carbon markets”. Carbon Brief spoke to Cecilia Jones, the climate change advisor at Uruguay’s ministry of agriculture. She gave an example of a successful transformation in her country where the government has carried out a project financed by the Global Environment Facility that reduced 10% of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production and restored degraded lands in three years. They achieved this success thanks to good practices, such as modifying the breeding season, monitoring the cow’s body condition and working with natural pastures to improve the animal’s diet, Jones said. She explained to Carbon Brief that “working with more pasture and giving beef cattle a better diet means that they will have better procreation rates and higher production for equal emissions, [and it also allows] plants to grow and accumulate carbon”.
NEXT STEPS: During the I4C conference, Carbon Brief also interviewed William Sutton, global lead for climate-smart agriculture at the World Bank. He said that, according to World Bank analysis, governments around the world spend more than $600bn each year in supporting their agricultural sectors, but a lot of that money goes towards subsidies that do not necessarily benefit the environment or increase productivity. Sutton added that the World Bank is trying to support climate-friendly investments. As part of its 2021 climate change action plan, the bank is committed to making all of its investments aligned with the targets of the Paris Agreement, starting on 1 July this year. During the conference’s closing ceremony, a group of young protesters took to the stage to express their doubt that climate solutions would come from the financial sector. The protesters demanded the cancellation of developing countries’ debts.
News and views
BIODIVERSITY LOSS & DAMAGE: Rich countries should pay global south countries “for the effects of biodiversity loss”, five academics argued in a comment piece in Nature Ecology & Evolution. They wrote that “there is no direct biodiversity equivalent” to the dynamics seen in climate change impacts between the global north and south, “but there are some uncomfortable similarities”, such as the fact that “global biodiversity loss has been disproportionately driven by consumption of people in rich nations”. The authors wrote that global north-global south relationships “often originate in historical colonial relationships and have become entrenched in neocolonial financial dependency, leav[ing] global south countries…at a disadvantage”.
WEAKENED WETLANDS: The US Supreme Court ruled against the country’s Environmental Protection Agency in a “decision [that] will remove federal protection from half of all wetlands in the continental US”, the Washington Post reported. The environmental law firm Earthjustice estimated that the ruling will prevent federal protection on as many as 118m acres (more than 447,500 square kilometres) of wetlands, according to the Post. Prof Ellen Wohl, a river researcher at Colorado State University, told Mother Jones: “It doesn’t reflect reality, or the scientific understanding of how watersheds and the river networks within them function.” Prof Mark Squillace, a University of Colorado natural-resources-law professor, told the Food & Environment Reporting Network that the decision “probably gives farmers some assurance that they’re a long way from being regulated by the government”.
TECH FOR NATURE: Innovative technology already contributes to monitoring marine areas and can help protect the vast, biodiverse “high seas”, China Dialogue reported. For instance, it said, satellite imagery and machine learning are being used by several organisations to detect illegal fishing or identify anomalies in the ocean. The outlet also wrote that the use of GPS to track sea animals allows scientists “to understand migration patterns and habitats” and to identify potential marine protected areas. Nature reported that China is implementing a satellite-based, automated monitoring system to prevent illegal development in crucial habitats for the country. But this has raised questions among scientists about the criteria being used to define the protected areas, Nature wrote.
STICKER SHOCK: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Price Index trended downward in May for the 11th time in the past 12 months, down more than 22% since it reached an all-time high in March 2022. The indices measuring cereal, vegetable oil and dairy prices all declined in May, but the meat and sugar price indices both increased for the fourth consecutive month, the FAO reported. But the Financial Times noted that “this positive development has not benefited European consumers”, positing that it may be because “the energy price shock was bigger than elsewhere and added more persistent costs to European food production”. It called on governments to “ensure that their lowest-paid citizens can afford enough and healthy food”.
FULL POTENTIAL: In the Conversation, Wandile Sihlobo – the chief economist of South Africa’s agricultural business chamber – wrote that the country’s agricultural sector “is not reaching its full potential”, despite having “great consecutive seasons since 2019/20”. He listed several factors that are holding the sector back – power cuts, increasingly deteriorating infrastructure and rising crime rates. Sihlobo wrote: “These challenges highlight the effects of weak governance across all spheres of government in South Africa.” Addressing these weaknesses at the local level “should be a top priority” for president Cyril Ramaphosa, the piece concluded.
Mapping potential conflicts between global agriculture and terrestrial conservation
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
A new study found that, globally, one-third of agricultural production takes place in areas that are considered “high priority” for conservation. Researchers used maps of conservation-priority areas and agricultural trade data to determine “potential conservation risk hotspots” for nearly 50 products and almost 200 countries. They found that cattle, as well as maize, rice and soya, “pose the greatest threat” overall to high-priority conservation sites, but a single commodity “can cause dissimilar conservation threats in different production regions”. They concluded that the work “could help prioritise conservation activities and safeguard biodiversity in individual countries and globally”.
The effectiveness of global protected areas for climate change mitigation
Restricting deforestation and degradation in protected areas has helped avoid the equivalent of one year of global fossil-fuel emissions, a study found. Researchers used more than 400m samples from high-resolution satellite data to estimate the total carbon held above ground in protected areas. They found a global carbon stock of 61.43bn tonnes (Gt) in protected areas, of which 9.65Gt of additional carbon was attributed to those areas’ protected status. The study concluded that “these results underscore the importance of conservation of high biomass forests for avoiding carbon emissions and preserving future sequestration”.
How many metazoan species live in the world’s largest mineral exploration region?
More than 5,000 unnamed species call the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) – an important region of the Pacific seabed – home, according to a new review of seafloor biodiversity research. A group of scientists conducted the first comprehensive biodiversity record review of the CCZ, a 6m square kilometre region in the central and eastern Pacific. They found that of nearly 5,600 species recorded in the scientific literature, around 90% were “new to science” – that is, unnamed. The authors wrote that their findings can contribute to estimating the environmental impact of deep-sea mining, which “has been almost completely lacking” despite the global demand for metals coming from marine ecosystems such as the CCZ.
In the diary
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