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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 world’s major economies met in India for a G20 summit, which saw new commitments on renewable energy and biofuels. It came after the first Africa Climate Summit, where climate finance dominated conversations.
The campaign group Global Witness launched a new report linking the agricultural company Cargill to deforestation in Bolivia. Cargill denied wrongdoing, responding that it is “firmly committed to ending deforestation”.
The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a landmark new report on invasive alien species that sheds light on the drivers, impacts and prevention of biological invasions.
G20 mulls renewables and biofuels
INDIA MEET: The Group of 20 (G20) nations met in New Delhi, India on 9-10 September to discuss major global issues, including those surrounding climate, energy, food production and nature. The Associated Press reported that leaders agreed to “triple renewable energy” capacity and “increase funds for climate change-related disasters, but maintained the status quo with regards to phasing out carbon-spewing coal”. Indonesian president Joko Widodo said climate-finance commitments put forward by countries were simply “rhetoric” and asked for just energy transition partnerships (JETPs) to be “expanded and enlarged”, according to the country’s state-run news agency Antara.
BIOFUELS: The summit’s host, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, announced a new global biofuel alliance, along with the US and Brazil, to “help accelerate global efforts to meet net-zero emissions targets by facilitating trade in biofuels derived from sources including plant and animal waste”, Reuters reported. In a string of tweets, India’s petroleum minister said the alliance “will definitely reduce the dependence on petrol and diesel across the world”, according to the Indian newspaper the Economic Times. However, in the Times of India, food policy analyst Devinder Sharma is quoted describing the biofuel alliance as “nothing short of historic blunder”, adding: “Political leadership must think of feeding humans first, automobiles can wait. Food should never be diverted for activities that have nothing to do with domestic food security.”
AFRICA CLIMATE SUMMIT: The meeting came days after leaders met for the first Africa Climate Summit, where the need for more finance to help African nations transition to net-zero and adapt to climate impacts dominated conversations. Several superpowers talked up the role that carbon markets could play in raising finance. Speaking at the summit, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen pitched carbon pricing and “true carbon credits” as important tools to accelerate the net-zero transition in Africa, Politico reported. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates tried to position itself as a carbon-credits leader in Africa, announcing its intention to buy $450m of credits generated on the continent by 2030, Climate Home News reported.
Cargill’s deforestation in Bolivia
CARGILL’S ROLE: The environmental campaign group Global Witness published a new report examining Cargill’s role in deforestation in Bolivia. The report found that Cargill, a global agricultural commodity company based in the US state of Minnesota, directly purchased soya from five communities that together deforested more than 20,000 hectares of land in Bolivia since 2017. Global Witness obtained documents that suggest that the company is failing to collect information about the origins of its soya supplies in the South American country. “Without this, Cargill cannot achieve its stated traceability targets or confirm purchases are deforestation-free,” the report said. The investigation also noted that Cargill “appears to be open” to sourcing soya from forests that are still standing, which might put a further 3m hectares of forests at risk.
DEFORESTATION CHAIN: Cargill, with annual revenues of $177bn, is the largest private company in the US and “the biggest agribusiness in the world by revenue”, said the report. The five regions that correspond to the farms supplying soya to Cargill are farmed by Mennonite colonies, which are religious communities dedicated to traditional farming. These communities have settled in Bolivia’s Chiquitano forest, which is a biodiversity hotspot and a transition zone between the Amazon and Chaco forests. The report revealed that several global banks “have provided financial services to the company worth billions of dollars since 2021”, despite multiple accusations linking the company to deforestation in its supply chains. Among the banks are HSBC, Santander, Barclays and BNP Paribas.
COMPANY’S RESPONSE: Cargill responded to the Global Witness investigation, arguing that it is “firmly committed to ending deforestation” and acknowledging that it does business with the Mennonite communities in the report. However, the company said the communities complied with the company’s sustainable soya policies and are regularly monitored. Cargill also suggested that the soya grown in at least four of the colonies could have been produced on lands deforested before 2017. BNP Paribas told Global Witness that it has systems in place to “identify, assess and manage the environmental and social risks and impacts of the activities of our clients” and that it “value[d] the information” provided by the group. HSBC did not respond to Global Witness and Barclays “declined to comment”, according to the report. Santander told the group that it “operates strict policies that govern our financing”. Veronica Oakeshott, the forests campaign lead at Global Witness, said in a press release that the results “cast severe doubt on Cargill’s claims about sustainability, traceability, its operations in Bolivia and its commitments to achieving deforestation-free supply chains”.
Invasive alien species report
THE THREAT: The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a first-of-its-kind report on invasive alien species. The report concluded that these species are spreading worldwide at “unprecedented and increasing rates”, posing risks to people, biodiversity, ecosystems and the world economy, Carbon Brief reported. This global report brought together more than 13,000 scientific studies and included Indigenous and traditional knowledge. Climate change and land- and sea-use change have a vital role in the spread of these species, the report found.
KEY FIGURES: Under a “business-as-usual” scenario – where the drivers of biological invasions follow historical trends – the number of invasive alien species would increase by more than one-third by 2050. Biological invasions currently cost the world at least $423bn per year, although the report said that figure was likely an underestimate. In a Q&A, Carbon Brief explained the key takeaways of this report, including the distribution of invasive alien species, the drivers of such invasions, their impacts on people and nature and management strategies and governance that could be implemented to tackle this problem.
INVASIVE SPECIES: Nearly 37,000 alien species, including plants and animals, have been introduced around the world by human activities, the report said. The Indian Express noted that, of these, 3,500 are classified as invasive. These invasive species have been at least partially responsible for 60% of plant and animal extinctions globally. It added that 22% of alien invertebrates, 14% of alien vertebrates, 11% of alien microbes and 6% of alien plants are invasive. The authors of the report pointed out that alien species only become invasive when they impact nature, the Spanish news website Climática reported. The outlet explained that many alien species have been intentionally introduced because of “perceived benefits to humans”, such as in the case of the American red crab, native to North America, which was brought to Australia and Antarctica due to its aquaculture value and then spread all over the world.
CONTROL AND PREVENTION: New Scientist reported that only 17% of countries have national laws or regulations to manage alien species, and almost half do not invest in the control and prevention of these species, according to the report. The outlet added that people can also contribute to limiting the increase of invasive species, citing an example in the UK, where citizens helped prevent the proliferation of Asian hornet nests. More than 2,300 invasive alien species live in Indigenous lands and territories, which threatens their livelihoods and even their cultural identities, Inter Press Service wrote.
UK ‘DISGRACE’: The Times reported that a target to protect 30% of England’s land and sea by 2030 is on track to be missed, according to environmental groups. Nearly all countries committed to protecting 30% of Earth by 2030 at the landmark COP15 nature summit in 2022. A report by the Wildlife and Countryside Link environmental group found that 3.1% of England’s land is effectively protected for nature, down from 3.2% a year ago. The figure for England’s seas is 8%, the Times reported. Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, called the lack of progress a “disgrace”, according to the Times.
MEDIA FIRESTORM: US researcher Dr Patrick Brown caused controversy by claiming he was forced to focus just on climate change to get his wildfires study published in the high-profile journal Nature. Despite Brown’s claims being quickly debunked by Nature, his comments have been reported widely in right-wing media, including on the frontpage of the Daily Telegraph, as well as the Daily Mail, Sun, Times and Fox News. In a factcheck, Carbon Brief explained how scientists have poured water on his claims, including a reaction from one of his co-authors.
CHINESE FARMERS ADAPTATION: Smallholding farmers have developed numerous ways to adapt to more frequent and intense droughts and floods in China, China Dialogue explained. The outlet profiled “eco-smallholders”, farmers who work on a small scale and do not use pesticides and fertilisers. These farmers have had to think up strategies for coping with extreme weather, such as using weather-monitoring technology, drawing water from reservoirs and wells to irrigate fields and prioritising irrigation of vegetable patches. Droughts in China persisted in 2022, affecting the Pearl River Basin in winter and spring, and north-western regions were hit in spring and summer. According to the World Meteorological Organization, droughts caused $7.6bn in losses to Chinese agriculture, the outlet added.
OCEAN CO2: Reuters reported that Singapore plans to expand a pilot project to remove CO2 from the ocean. Although the scientific community calls for more research into ocean carbon dioxide removal technology, Singapore’s national water agency has built a plant to remove CO2 from the sea through the use of electricity. The newswire explained that the plant extracts 100 kilograms of CO2 per day, but the agency is “aiming to secure funds by the end of the year” for building a plant with a 10 tonne-per-day capacity. Experts warn that these emerging technologies could have potential environmental impacts.
WINE FEELS THE HEAT: Extreme heat in Tunisia this summer has struck the country’s small wine industry, “damaging or destroying grapes and leaving farmers and vintners to fear for their future”, Reuters reported. According to the newswire, estimates of the total impact on wine output vary, with the country’s ministry of agriculture stating output has declined by roughly 20% and a representative of the industry claiming reductions have reached 40-50%. It comes as Agence France-Presse reported that Bordeaux winemakers have switched to harvesting grapes at night in response to rapidly rising temperatures.
TRACKING BIODIVERSITY: A Nature India podcast addressed how ecologists and citizen scientists are using their mobile phones to monitor and protect animals and plants species.
PUFFINS’ RESILIENCE: An Associated Press video showed how Maine puffins have had a second year of recovery from the impacts of climate change.
MEAT MYTH: In Time magazine, Brian Kateman from the Reducetarian Foundation, a charity encouraging people to eat less meat, explained why US supermarket shoppers should be wary of new “climate-friendly beef”.
AFRICA’S OFFSET RUSH: For Climate Home News, Power Shift Africa director Mohamed Adow argued that the Africa Carbon Market Initiative is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.
The world’s food system could switch from being a major driver of climate change to a tool for helping to remove emissions from the atmosphere through “complete food system transformation”, according to a new study. Using modelling, the researchers examined how technological and behavioural changes could help the global food system achieve “net-negative emissions”, while meeting the needs of the world’s hungry, by 2050. It found that, with maximum transformation, the global food system could remove 33bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year by 2050. The researchers highlighted a number of “promising technologies”, such as using hydrogen to power fertiliser production, agroforestry and sustainable seafood harvesting and added that “adopting flexitarian diets…has the potential to increase the magnitude of net-negative emissions when combined with technology scale-up”.
Bees exposed to climate change are more sensitive to pesticides
Global Change Biology
New research found that bees will be more affected by pesticides in a warmer world. The authors exposed female European orchard bees to three wintering scenarios: with current (2007-12), mid-term (2021-50) and long-term (2051-80) temperatures under a very-high warming scenario. They exposed the bees to three different doses of insecticide and monitored their response. They found that the combination of higher insecticide exposure and warmer temperatures reduced the bees’ lifespan by up to 70%. The study concluded that the findings “have important implications for pesticide regulation and underscore the need to consider multiple stressors to understand bee declines”.
The potential for mangrove and seagrass blue carbon in small island states
Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability
Mangroves could reduce 10% of emissions associated with agriculture and land use in 11 small island states, including Cuba, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Maldives, a new study said. The study estimated the potential climate mitigation benefits of mangrove-planting across small island states, then examined the role of “blue carbon” in those countries’ national greenhouse gas inventories. It found that although small island states hold around 1.8-2.9bn tonnes of blue carbon, less than 10% of those states have included such targets in their national accounting. “There is immense scope to implement robust blue carbon targets and actions in many small island states” through their climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, the author wrote.
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Cropped 13 September 2023: G20 meeting; Cargill deforestation investigation; Invasive species report
Read Cropped, @CarbonBrief’s fortnightly food, land and nature newsletter, here. This week: G20 meeting; Cargill deforestation investigation; Invasive species report.