Cropped 31 January 2024: French farmers and the far right; Amazon affairs; EU offsetting ban

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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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Amazon affairs

DRY SPELL: Climate change made last year’s agricultural drought in the Amazon around 30 times more likely to occur, according to a new rapid attribution study covered by Mongabay. The El Niño climate pattern “played a much smaller role” than many had assumed, the outlet said. World Weather Attribution scientists analysed data from the Amazon region between June and December last year, finding that both El Niño and climate change “contributed to reduced rainfall” during these months. But climate change “also led to high temperatures, significantly increasing water evaporation from plants and soils”, the outlet added. The report authors “predict that dry spells in the Amazon will become more frequent and harsher” under continued warming, Mongabay said. 

CRIME COOPERATION: A $1.8m Amazon rainforest security centre will open in Manaus, Brazil in the coming months, Climate Home News reported. The centre is financed through the Amazon Fund and will “bring together Amazon nations in policing the rainforest, sharing intelligence and chasing criminals”, the outlet said. Climate Home News quoted Humberto Freire, head of the Brazil federal police’s environment and Amazon department, who said the centre will “fight drug trafficking and the smuggling of timber, fish and exotic animals, as well as deforestation and other environmental crimes”. It will also focus on illegal gold mining on Indigenous land, the outlet said. 

LAND CONFLICT: Meanwhile, Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said the federal government will “help resolve” a land conflict between Indigenous people and farmers that led to the fatal shooting of a tribal leader, Reuters reported. Maria Fatima de Andrade was shot and killed after 200 land owners tried to “evict an Indigenous community” from a farm in the state of Bahia and take the land, which is claimed by the Pataxó tribe, the newswire said. Another leader was also shot and brought to hospital, Reuters said, noting that the incident “underlines years of tensions between Brazil’s Indigenous peoples and agricultural settlers over land rights”. The country’s minister for Indigenous peoples, Sonia Guajajara, said the attack was “unacceptable”, the newswire added. 

Offsets scrutinised

EU BAN: Labelling products and services as “climate neutral” or “climate positive” based on the use of carbon offsets will be banned in the EU from 2026, the Guardian reported. Carbon offsets involve a polluting entity, such as an airline, paying for emissions to be reduced elsewhere, such as by preventing deforestation. Companies often use carbon-offsetting to make claims that their products are “net-zero” or “environmentally friendly”, but evidence – previously set out in detail by Carbon Brief – shows these can be exaggerated or misleading. On 17 January, members of the European parliament voted to outlaw the use of terms such as “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “biodegradable”, “climate neutral” or “eco” without evidence. The European parliament also introduced a total ban on using carbon-offsetting to back up such claims, the Guardian reported. The NGO Carbon Market Watch called the move “a big step towards more honest commercial practices and more informed European consumers”.

GUYANA CREDITS: Elsewhere, the Financial Times reported on Guyana’s plans to generate $3bn from forest carbon offset schemes by the end of the decade. Forests currently cover 85% of the South American country’s land surface, the FT said, with the government estimating they could generate credits representing 19.5bn tonnes of CO2 – more than the annual emissions of China. However, offsetting plans could be put at risk by conflict with neighbouring Venezuela, which has threatened to annex more than half of Guyana’s territory, the FT said. It added that most of Guyana’s forests are in the mineral-rich region of Essequibo, “a tract of Amazon jungle that would be a prime target for Venezuelan loggers and miners in the event of a takeover”.

COOKSTOVE CONTROVERSY: Finally, Heatmap was among several publications covering a new study finding that carbon offset schemes using so-called “clean” cookstoves are “kind of bogus”. Clean cookstove schemes involve the distribution of more efficient cooking equipment, with the goal of cutting reliance on traditional fuels, such as firewood – leading to lower emissions. The study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that cookstove projects have generated, on average, nine times more carbon credits than they should have, Heatmap reported. The research was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

French farmers and the far right

In this spotlight, Carbon Brief looks at the ongoing EU farmer protests and how far-right political groups could latch on to the outrage ahead of the European parliament elections in June.

Farmers have used tractors to blockade the streets of Berlin, Brussels and Bucharest in recent weeks. Farmers across the EU have been protesting against “competition from cheaper imports”, tightening environmental rules and rising production costs, according to Reuters.

This week, the French farmer protests escalated. Hundreds of tractors blocked off major roads into the country’s capital in what has been dubbed the “siege of Paris” by many media outlets, including BBC News. President Emmanuel Macron is “scrambling to end an escalating political and social crisis”, the Times said.

According to Le Monde, farmers are raising issues around “pesticides, free-trade agreements and wages”. France is an EU agricultural powerhouse, producing huge amounts of meat, dairy and wheat each year. 

The nation’s newly appointed prime minister, Gabriel Attal, announced some concessions to farmers, including simplified technical procedures and a “progressive end to diesel fuel taxes for farm vehicles”, the Associated Press reported. 

But the two main farmers’ unions said these measures did not go far enough and vowed to continue the protests. 

The protests are the “first big test” of Attal’s leadership, Bloomberg noted. And, just months out from the European parliament elections, Euractiv said they are also the “first major political test for EU election candidates in France”. 

Ahead of these elections, Politico said that right-wing parties in countries – such as France, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany – are “piggybacking on farmers’ noisy outrage”. Recent polling has suggested that there could be a “sharp turn to the right” in the June vote, Deutsche Welle reported. 

Dr Gilles Ivaldi, a politics researcher at Sciences Po who has examined the far right in Europe, said that right-wing groups may use the farmer protests to “boost their electoral support” in France and elsewhere. He told Carbon Brief: 

“What we see, particularly in France, is that the far right is seeking to capitalise on public discontent with the impact of the green transition, not only among farmers but also in social groups affected most by the economic cost of environmental policies.”

He said the French far right is “clearly trying to instrumentalise” the farmer protests to “mobilise against the government and the EU”. Sky News said the protests “are being seized upon by various groups”, including Marine Le Pen’s right-wing Rassemblement National party. 

But Ivaldi noted that the far right’s EU election focus will mostly remain on topics such as immigration, the economy, the future of the EU and the bloc’s Green Deal. The “main factors” behind a potential right-wing surge will not come from agriculture alone. He added: 

“Far-right parties are currently capitalising on the economic crisis and rise in prices, on the immigration issue, particularly growing concerns about the massive influx of refugees in Germany and, more broadly, the many anxieties caused by the war in Ukraine and geopolitical instability.”

LET’S EAT BALANCED’: A £4m advertising campaign aimed at convincing young people to eat more meat and dairy has been released in the UK, with support from the government, DeSmog reported. Timed to coincide with Veganuary (a popular challenge where people go vegan for January), the “Let’s Eat Balanced” campaign – voiced by British comedian Richard Ayoade – targets cinema screens, TVs, newspapers, social media channels and major supermarkets, DeSmog said. The campaign attempts to communicate the health benefits of eating meat and dairy, which “flies in the face of science”, experts told DeSmog. It was developed by the PR agency Ogilvy, which counts BP as a former client, and is run by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, a UK government-appointed board funded by farmers’ levies.

AT SEA: Chile and Palau became the first countries to officially sign off on the High Seas Treaty, Euronews Green reported. Palau was the first to ratify the treaty governing the sustainable use and conservation of international waters since it was agreed last March, the outlet said. The Chilean senate “unanimously” voted in favour of ratification, which will become official “once it is published in the government’s official journal”. The outlet quoted Rebecca Hubbard, director of the High Seas Alliance, who said she hopes Palau “inspires” others to “redouble their efforts to ratify the treaty without delay so that it can enter force as soon as possible” once 60 nations sign off. 

COLOMBIA FIRES: Colombia, due to host the biodiversity summit COP16 later this year, is currently battling intense fires in the mountains around the capital city of Bogotá, as dozens of other blazes have burned across the country, the New York Times reported. The president, Gustavo Petro, has declared a national disaster and asked for international help fighting the fires amid the country’s hottest January in three decades, according to the publication. It comes after the UN Convention on Biological Diversity announced that six cities in Colombia have expressed interest in hosting COP16. It is not yet clear if the fire emergency could affect Colombia’s ability to host the summit.

TAKE OFF: The world’s first plant using ethanol partly made with corn to produce “sustainable aviation fuel” opened in the US, Bloomberg reported. The $200m facility in Georgia plans to use the ethanol made from “American-grown corn, as well as from advanced technologies”, the outlet said. The facility’s opening spurred industry groups in Iowa – the US state that produces the most corn – to warn farmers and ethanol producers that they risk “missing out on the chance to significantly profit from the developing market for sustainable aviation fuel”, the outlet said. A 2022 study found that corn-based ethanol is likely more carbon-intensive overall than petrol, Reuters previously reported. 

HUNT FOR POWER: Climate Home News investigated lithium mining in Zimbabwe, where Chinese companies have “flocked” to secure supplies of the lightweight metal, which is crucial for electric vehicle batteries. Lithium mining “brought the promise of jobs and a better life” for some, the piece outlined, but the country’s “poor progress on establishing robust resource governance” could prevent local communities from “seeing any of the benefits”. The country’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, “aspires to turn Zimbabwe into a battery manufacturing hub” to help “catapult the country into an upper-middle-income economy by 2030”, the outlet said. 

CAMBODIA DEFORESTATION: A Mongabay investigation alleged that a vast forested wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia is being put at risk by mining concessions granted by the government to a “timber baron” who has previously been sanctioned over corruption in relation to natural resource extraction. In 2023, the Cambodian government announced a ban on extractive practices inside the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary, a “sprawling carbon sink” home to 250,000 Indigenous peoples, according to Mongabay. However, the government made an exemption for companies that had already been awarded contracts, it added. This included the mining company of Try Pheap, “a powerful tycoon and adviser to the previous prime minister”, Mongabay said. Mongabay was unable to make contact with the Cambodian government or representatives of Try Pheap, despite repeated attempts. 

TREE GRIEF: Al Jazeera spoke to Palestinians who are grieving the loss of their olive trees, which have long been a symbol of the Palestinian spirit, amid Israel’s assault on Gaza.

HIT THE WAVES: The Climate Question, a BBC podcast, looked towards Northern Ireland and South Korea to see why tidal power is not more commonly used in renewable energy. 

TINY WILD CAT: A long read by Mongabay explored how conservationists are working to save the guina, the Americas’ smallest wild cat species, native to Chile and Argentina.

‘BLACK MOSS’: The South China Morning Post examined the Chinese new year staple “fat choy” and how its overharvesting has turned parts of China “into desert”. 

Atmospheric CO2 emissions and ocean acidification from bottom-trawling
Frontiers in Marine Science

Bottom-trawling – the fishing practice where nets are scraped along the seabed – could have caused the release of up to 370m tonnes of CO2 between 1996 and 2020, a new study found. As well as being harmful for wildlife living near the bottom of the ocean, bottom-trawling disturbs carbon that was previously locked up for millenia, the researchers said. They used a combination of satellite data tracking fishing events and carbon cycling modelling to examine how bottom-trawling could cause CO2 emissions. The researchers also found that, in heavily trawled seas, the volume of carbon released is likely to be enough to drive ocean acidification – known to be harmful to a range of ocean wildlife, from coral reefs to fish.

Multi-decadal trends of low-clouds at the tropical montane cloud forests
Ecological Indicators

New research suggested that low-cloud cover is declining over tropical montane cloud forests because of climate change, posing an existential threat to these unique mountain ecosystems. The study used climate data to study changes to the proportion of sky covered by cloud cover and other climate variables in 521 tropical montane cloud forests across the world from 1997 to 2020. The researchers found that proportional cloud cover has declined at 70% of these sites, with cloud forests in central and South America and south-east Asia most affected. Decreases in cloud cover were associated with increases in surface temperature and decreases in soil moisture, “revealing that the tropical montane cloud forests’ climate is changing”, the researchers added.

Livestock increasingly drove global agricultural emissions growth from 1910-2015
Environmental Research Letters

Emissions from agriculture in 2015 were more than three times bigger than they were around one century prior, a study found. Scientists developed a dataset of global emissions from the agriculture sector across 10 time periods between 1910 and 2015. They found that agriculture emissions from livestock, soil management and fossil energy inputs “increased continuously” during this time by an overall factor of 3.5, with methane accounting for the majority of these emissions. The study said that reduced emissions intensity, especially for livestock, “partly counterbalanced” the overall rise in emissions to varying degrees. The researchers wrote that the findings “underscore the large potential of reducing livestock production and consumption for mitigating the climate impacts of agriculture”. 

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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