Cropped 24 May 2023: Biggest debt-for-nature swap, AIM4Climate summit; Bahamian ag minister


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Ecuador completed the world’s biggest debt-for-nature deal to date – setting the stage to reduce the country’s debt in exchange for funding nature conservation

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The AIM4Climate summit in Washington, DC brought together agriculture ministers from 50 countries, who discussed how both private and public funding can accelerate innovation in food systems. Funding for the initiative has reached $13bn, but it has been accused of greenwashing”. 

At the summit, Carbon Brief spoke to the Bahamian agriculture and marine resources minister, Clay Sweeting, about the challenges that the Bahamas faces in food systems and food security as a small island developing state.

Key developments

Biggest debt-for-nature swap 

SIGNED OFF: Ecuador launched the largest ever debt-for-nature deal, Mongabay reported. This type of deal is intended to help developing countries reduce their debt in exchange for their investment in nature conservation. The latest – and biggest – deal of this kind will allow Ecuador to convert $1.6bn of existing debt into a $656m loan, issued as a bond by global investment bank Credit Suisse. This would effectively wipe out interest on some of its debt “in exchange for its protection of the Galápagos Islands”, the outlet said. It added that the new loan would be repaid over a period of 18 years and the country would also provide around $18m annually to conserve the waters around the biodiverse islands. Reuters said that the “key appeal” was the environmental benefits of the deal and the possibility it “will be a catalyst for other highly indebted but nature-rich countries”. 

HOW DO THEY WORK?: A separate Reuters piece said that around 140 debt-for-nature deals have been reached around the world since the concept was first introduced in 1987. They have taken place in countries such as Seychelles, Belize and Barbados. The New York Times said that these deals are “a bit like refinancing a mortgage, only for government bonds”. Alice Hughes, a professor of conservation biology at the University of Hong Kong, told the newspaper that the swaps help countries in “heavy debt or at risk of debt default” to prioritise environmental protection and circumvent poor credit ratings. However, Patrick Bigger, a research-policy analyst at the University of California, Berkeley, noted in the newspaper that the debt relief represents a “tiny fraction” of Ecuador’s total debt of over $60bn.  

FUTURE SWAPS: Following the launch of the debt-for-nature deal, Bloomberg wrote that Ecuador is seeking to implement a swap within the next two years. The nation’s finance minister, Pablo Arosemena, said there are “several innovative and creative projects” that would reduce the nation’s debt and “monetise Ecuador’s great biodiversity”. The announcement came at a time of political instability in Ecuador. Facing impeachment, president Guillermo Lasso has dissolved the country’s national assembly, Al Jazeera reported. A piece in the Third Pole said debt-for-nature deals “look set to play a bigger role in dealing with both debt burdens and biodiversity conservation” in south Asia, where many countries hold “some of the world’s most important biodiversity hotspots”. Meanwhile, in the voluntary carbon market world, the head of the biggest carbon credit certifier Verra announced he will step down as CEO next month, the Guardian reported, adding: “It comes amid concerns that Verra, a Washington-based nonprofit, approved tens of millions of worthless offsets that are used by major companies for climate and biodiversity commitments, according to a joint Guardian investigation earlier this year.” 

AIM4Climate summit

DELEGATES DESCEND: Earlier this month, delegates from 50 countries gathered in Washington, DC for the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C) summit. AIM4C, launched jointly by the US and United Arab Emirates at COP26 in November 2021, is a programme aimed at increasing investment in “climate-smart” agriculture through both public and private partnerships. As of November 2021, there were $8bn in funding commitments for the initiative; at the summit, a US department of agriculture spokesperson said that commitments had reached $13bn. Of this, $10bn comes from governments and was pledged by “non-government parties funding initiatives to support smallholder farmers, emerging technologies and methane reduction”, Reuters reported. Devex Dish said there was “palpable excitement” around the conversations being had at the summit, even though “many attendees don’t seem to be expecting huge outputs from the conference itself”. 

A FOOD COP: The topic of COP28 was front of mind for many attendees of the summit, with the phrase “a food COP” being thrown around on many occasions. Jaime Adams, senior advisor for international affairs at the US department of agriculture, told Carbon Brief that “we really want our partners to help shape what AIM4Climate and what food and agriculture looks like at COP28”. UAE climate change and environment minister Mariam Almheiri told Reuters that a focus on food is necessary due to its large contribution to global emissions. The newswire reported that Almheiri said that “technology and innovation can solve food security problems”, pointing to the example of her own country’s development of a food security strategy. She added that “tackling inefficiencies of the global food system can also help address problems like malnutrition, food waste and climate change all at once”. 

‘BIG AG’: Not everyone is so sanguine about the use of technological innovations in food systems, however. As Food Navigator reported in November last year, “critics claim that the heavy influence of ‘big ag’ and a preference for tweaks around the edges rather than systematic change mean that it is largely an exercise in greenwashing”. The Food & Environment Reporting Network noted that while increasing soil carbon content was a hot topic at the summit, “a growing number of scientists say sequestering carbon in the soil may not live up to the hype”. Civil Eats reported that “representatives of organic agriculture [were] absent, [and] the conference was heavily sponsored by the chemical pesticide industry”, adding that US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack “has generally rejected agricultural approaches that limit chemical use in any way”.

Q&A with the Bahamian agriculture minister

At the AIM4Climate summit, Carbon Brief sat down with Clay Sweeting, the Bahamas’ minister for agriculture, marine resources and family island affairs. The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

CARBON BRIEF: What are the challenges that the Bahamas faces around issues of agriculture and fisheries?

CLAY SWEETING: Being a small island developing state, we obviously don’t contribute to the negative effects of climate change. We can’t mitigate, but we have to adapt. And, for us, that has a lot of challenges. Being in the hurricane belt, where our farmers, our sea life, our people are devastated on numerous occasions – and especially in the past 10 years with hurricanes. In the 90s with the Gulf War, we realised that food shortage could be a problem. Also with 9/11 and then, as of late, with the pandemic. The Bahamas at any given time has around three months’ food supply in the country. So we have to find ways to feed ourselves and we’ve been aggressive in doing that.

CB: How can you ensure that these technological innovations can make it to smallholder farmers, who are often operating on very fine margins?

CS: As global policymakers, we come to these meetings, we meet and we talk. But are the decisions that we make, the tech that we have here, translated to the people that we came here to represent? What you have to do is to ensure that you have persons that are able to meet you at these forums, not only for global leaders, but for the people that are affected, and [show them] how they can benefit. In the Bahamas, we’ve been very aggressive in ensuring that with the information that we have.

CB: What do you hope to get out of the summit?

CS: How does the Bahamas have access to these opportunities? That’s what’s important. You have to be able to create relationships, with countries and with persons who are able to bring this technological advancement to the country that you represent. So that’s what I’ve been doing – building relationships with people to bring this advancement to the Bahamas where we necessarily don’t have it. I’ve built relationships with a few of the ministers. We’ve been able to exchange ideas on how we can assist them and how they can assist us. I’m happy with where we are at this point. You know, you always want more, but at least if I’m able to go back to the Bahamas knowing that we are able to change the lives of the farmers that we came here to do, then I think that that builds a foundation to continue to work together.

News and views

COLORADO CONSENSUS: California, Nevada and Arizona have reached an agreement to “conserve an unprecedented amount” of water in response to the ongoing Colorado River drought, “after nearly a year of negotiations”, the Washington Post reported. In exchange for conserving about 3.7tn litres over the next three years, the states will receive around $1.2bn in federal funds for “farmers, Native American tribes, cities and others who voluntarily forgo their supplies”, the newspaper wrote. The Los Angeles Times called the deal “a big win for California”, which will provide the majority of the water cuts, and added that the deal was the product of “considerable cooperation”. The Biden administration still needs to analyse the proposal, the paper added.

LOGGED: Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil dropped by almost 68% in April this year compared to the same month in 2022, according to figures reported by the Rio Times. A satellite system from the Brazilian Institute for Space Studies showed that the Amazon region lost 329 square kilometres (km2) of forest cover in April 2023, compared to 1,026 km2 in April 2022. Reuters said the figures follow two months of higher deforestation levels. The newswire added that experts believe it is still too early to confirm a downward trend in deforestation, but see it as a “positive signal”. 

BRUSSELS TUSSLES: The EU would send a “dangerous” signal to other countries by rejecting its “most ambitious proposal ever to restore nature”, according to the bloc’s environment commissioner, the Guardian reported. The newspaper said the EU’s plan to restore at least one-fifth of degraded land and sea areas by 2030 has faced mounting opposition in recent months. The largest European Parliament political group, the European People’s Party (EPP), is “doubling down” its campaign against “green policies”, including the nature restoration law, Politico reported. The EPP wants to reduce the ambition of the proposed law, the outlet said, adding that non-governmental organisations have accused the group of “scaremongering” and acting in “extreme bad faith”. The European parliament’s agriculture committee voted to reject the legislation, sending it back to the European Commission, Politico reported. 

GOAT DEFENDERS: A herd of “firefighting goats” is helping to minimise forest fires and soil erosion in a city in southern Chile, Reuters reported. In Santa Juana, the grazing animals control dry pastures and other vegetation that can fuel blazes during the summer. Reuters added that goat droppings help to enrich soil and prevent further erosion. The newswire said that the goats helped to prevent the Bosques de Chacay forest from being consumed by forest fires in February. There are 150 goats involved in this particular project using a “strategic grazing” technique that has also been used in countries such as Portugal and Spain. 

SAY CHE*SE: Companies selling plant-based dairy alternatives may be banned from using words such as “mylk” and “sheese” to describe their products in the UK, according to the Times. The government told companies that it “would not stand in the way” of trading restrictions around the marketing of non-dairy milk, cheese and butter, the newspaper reported. These products are already banned from using the term milk, but under a “draft opinion” from a group of trade standards officers, “obvious misspellings, homophonic words or inserting non-alphabet symbols” also do not avoid this nod to dairy. The dairy industry has “lobbied for tighter enforcement” of these rules for years, according to documents obtained by Unearthed, Greenpeace UK’s investigative unit.

RESERVE ROAD: The prime minister of Vietnam has approved plans to build a bypass as an alternative to running a motorway through a nature reserve, according to VnExpress International. The Vietnamese news website said the transport ministry told PM Pham Minh Chinh last year that it was “not feasible” to have part of the road built through the ecologically diverse Dong Nai culture and nature reserve. A smaller road already exists in this area, but the proposal aimed to increase its size and run 40km of motorway through the Unesco biosphere reserve. The outlet said that following the prime minister’s decision, a road will instead be built around the reserve. 

OIL SPILL IMPACTS: Oil companies have spilled at least 110,000 barrels of oil in the Bayelsa region of Nigeria over the past 50 years, according to a report covered by Mongabay. The outlet said the report findings showed “startlingly high levels of toxic chemicals” in soil, air, crops and animals. It also found heightened levels of heavy metals, such as lead and nickel, in blood and tissue samples from 1,600 people across four areas. Mongabay said the findings are “damning”, but some locals “don’t expect much will change”. A farmer who leads a women’s group in an area examined in the report told the outlet: “We have been lamenting all these years about oil spills. Our livelihood has been negatively impacted in terms of damage to farmlands and poor crop yields and we are tired of these hazards.”

Extra reading

New science

More losers than winners: investigating Anthropocene defaunation through the diversity of population trends
Biological Reviews

Almost half of animal species populations are declining, half remain stable and just 3% are increasing on average around the world, according to new research. Researchers used population trend data for more than 70,000 mammals, birds, insects and other species to assess population trends. The declines in species were generally seen around tropical regions, while stable and increasing populations tended to be found in temperate climates, the study found. It concluded that a focus on IUCN red list threatened species “runs a risk of downplaying the severity of biodiversity loss”, as the study’s findings show one-third of non-threatened species are currently declining. 

Vegetated coastal ecosystems in the south-western Atlantic Ocean are an unexploited opportunity for climate change mitigation
Communications Earth & Environment

A new study found that up to 5% of global “blue carbon” stock is stored in coastal vegetation across the central and south-western Atlantic. Researchers gathered data on the amount of carbon stored in coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrasses. By assessing data for coastal areas extending from Guyana to Argentina, they found that this area is a “hotspot” for ocean and coastal carbon stocks, highlighting their importance “within the context of global carbon management and policies”. The study concluded that better information is needed to improve data on how to incorporate the carbon stored in ocean and coastal ecosystems in climate mitigation plans. 

Indigenous lands with secure land-tenure can reduce forest-loss in deforestation hotspots
Global Environmental Change

At least 44% of remaining forests in South America’s Dry Chaco region are on Indigenous peoples lands (IPL), a new study has shown. Scientists mapped IPL, measured forest cover and loss in different areas to determine whether certain factors impacted changes in forest cover. The results showed that land-tenure security can act as a key factor in the ability of IPL to reduce forest loss and stand in the way of deforestation. The researchers concluded that granting Indigenous land-tenure rights is “key for forest conservation” and highlighted the importance of Indigenous Peoples having needs, rights and leading roles in conservation initiatives on their lands. 

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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  • Cropped 24 May 2023: Biggest debt-for-nature swap, AIM4Climate summit; Bahamian ag minister

  • Biggest debt-for-nature swap, AIM4Climate summit; Bahamian ag minister

  • Cropped 24 May 2023


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