Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Cropped 22 May 2024: Farmland ‘grabbing’; Ocean court ‘victory’ for small islands; Pre-COP16 talks

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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.

EU nature, water and farmers

SAVING NATURE LAW: Environment ministers from 11 EU countries made a “last-ditch effort” to rally support for the bloc’s nature restoration law, the Irish Independent reported. The proposed law aiming to restore the EU’s degraded habitats has been in limbo since a final vote was shelved after pushback from several countries in March. The new letter, signed by ministers from Ireland, Germany, France and eight other countries, called on EU ministers to approve the law at the 17 June environment council meeting. The newspaper noted that this is the “last chance” for the law to be signed off in this legislative term. Failure to do so would “fundamentally undermine public faith in our political leadership”, the letter said. 

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DUTCH FARMERS: In the Netherlands, the “citizen-farmers” movement party is one member of a newly formed rightwing coalition government, Euractiv reported. The coalition also includes the Party for Freedom, which is led by far-right politician Geert Wilders. The government has pledged to “simplify” EU green rules, tackle the “manure crisis” and re-introduce tax breaks for agricultural fuel, the outlet said. The coalition agreement also “shuts the door on forced livestock cuts, which the previous government considered as a way of cutting nitrogen emissions from animal manure and fertilisers”, Euractiv noted.

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE: Environmental law charity ClientEarth welcomed the Portuguese government’s decision to not build a new Lisbon airport on an “internationally protected nature site”. Previously, NGOs launched a lawsuit against plans to build the airport “on the Tagus Estuary, Portugal’s most important wetland and a crucial safe haven for millions of migratory birds”, the press release from ClientEarth said. The new airport will instead be built on the far side of the River Tagus at a military airfield across from Lisbon, Reuters reported. Soledad Gallego, head of ClientEarth’s Iberian and Mediterranean office, said the government “should be asking itself whether building a new airport at all is in line with its climate goals and in the best interest of the health of people and nature”.

WATER DAMAGE: The EU needs to better protect people and the environment from emerging waterborne diseases and pollution as global temperatures continue to rise, according to a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) covered by Politico. The outlet listed some of the “looming threats” in the report, including “serious food poisoning from contaminated fish, drug-resistant bacteria emerging from melting permafrost and reindeer populations decimated by anthrax”. The article quotes EEA chief Leena Ylä-Mononen, who said that the EU’s existing climate, water and health policies must be “implemented more broadly and systematically”. 

Land grabs threaten farmers

COMPETITION FOR LAND: The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) recently released a report addressing farmland grabbing worldwide. The report found that the largest 1% of farms control 70% of global agricultural land. This consolidation has caused farmers, Indigenous peoples and pastoralists to lose their land, culture and livelihoods, the report said. It also makes it more difficult for young people to access farmland. It has particularly affected central and eastern Europe, Latin America and south Asia. According to the report, the world is facing “overexploitation and exacerbated competition for land around the world”, which could deepen land inequality and rural poverty, drive “the most sustainable forms of agriculture out of business for good” and threaten food security and biodiversity. 

‘GREEN’ GRABS: The report found that 20% of large-scale land deals can be classified as “green” land grabs. “Green” land grabbing refers to governments and corporations using global environmental objectives, such as carbon-offseting projects and green energy production, to “usurp” agricultural land and exclude local land users and food producers. Other reasons for land grabs are extractive industries, mega-infrastructure projects and the expansion of industrial agriculture and monocultures. The report called for “building integrated governance of land, environment and food systems to stop green grabbing”. This will be achieved by prioritising community climate and biodiversity action, helping communities map and defend their land and creating “land and agrarian reforms to return land to communities”, IPES-Food concluded.

SCEPTICISM: One of the funds that has financed carbon-offseting projects and clean energy projects is the Bezos Earth Fund, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the Guardian reported. The outlet added that the fund aims to donate a total of $10bn by the end of the decade to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss. It “has become one of the most influential voices in the climate and biodiversity sector” by having a presence in international negotiations and supporting dozens of NGOs. However, experts consulted by the Guardian cited concerns about the fund’s influence over “critical environmental institutions”, with one telling the newspaper that “there is obviously a risk of a conflict of interest”.

Road to Cali

COP16 PREP: Delegates at a technical meeting held in preparation for the COP16 biodiversity summit later this year “set the stage” for a potential agreement on how the world defines and protects ecologically or biologically significant marine areas, a press release from the Convention on Biological Diversity said. Countries also advanced details of the framework to monitor progress on the global deal for nature agreed at COP15 in 2022. The recommendations from the meeting will be discussed at the upcoming summit in Cali, Colombia in October. Further pre-COP talks on finance and other issues are taking place in Nairobi, Kenya over 21-29 May.  

CASH FOR NATURE: Meanwhile, the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund approved new grants worth more than $70m (£55m) for projects across 21 countries, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) said in a press release. This is the second round of preparation grants for projects, which range from strengthening biodiversity corridors in the Philippines to “empowering Indigenous peoples for sustainable development” in Suriname. The fund, which was set up to support the global deal for nature, is financed by six countries so far, including Canada, Japan and the UK, according to the GEF. 

VICTORY FOR ISLAND STATES: The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea found that greenhouse gases constitute marine pollution, in what Reuters described as a “major breakthrough” for small island states at risk of being submerged by rising sea levels due to climate change. The judgement is an “advisory opinion” and was requested by nine Caribbean and Pacific island nations, including the Bahamas, the newswire said. The court said that states are obliged to monitor and reduce their emissions and laid out requirements for environmental impact assessments. For climate activists and lawyers consulted by Reuters, the decision could influence two pending opinions on states’ climate obligations from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the International Court of Justice.

FOOD FOCUS: UK prime minister Rishi Sunak put forward a plan to improve food security and boost fruit and vegetable production, the Guardian said. It includes measures to ease planning rules for greenhouses and replace EU horticulture resilience funding. According to Tom Bradshaw, the president of the National Farmers’ Union of England and Wales, this will do little to restore farmer confidence after a winter of floods and other extreme weather. The Guardian reported that the government has also published its first food security index to assess the country’s ability to produce its own food. It found that the UK produced 17% of its own fruit and 55% of its own vegetables in 2022. The newspaper noted that the government was criticised by policy experts for listing climate change as a “longer-term risk”, rather than a current issue in its index.

LAND SQUEEZE: Following heavy rainfall and floods that have ravaged east Africa since March, the region is at risk of food shortages, Down to Earth reported. The outlet said that there are thousands of acres of croplands affected and thousands of dead livestock in the region. Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia and Burundi were all heavily affected by the floods. Down to Earth also reported that more than 1,465 clean water sources, such as rivers and ponds, have been contaminated, posing a risk to aquatic foods and public health. The outlet added that the World Food Programme and other humanitarian agencies “have expressed concern about disrupted food production”.

‘UNTOLD HARM’: More than 4,000 species are trafficked worldwide, causing “untold harm upon nature”, according to a new report published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and covered by the Guardian. The report found that 40% of around 140,000 wildlife seizures over 2015-21 involved threatened or near-threatened species, including mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. The Guardian said that the UN report also noted that wildlife trade permeates more than 80% of countries and is a “global problem [that is] far from being resolved”. The outlet pointed out that wildlife trafficking is often linked to organised crime and corruption. 

ENVIRONMENTAL DATA THEFT: China’s spy ministry accused two foreign NGOs of stealing environmental data “under the guise of research and environmental protection”, the South China Morning Post reported. The Chinese security ministry said those organisations collected geographical, meteorological, biological and other data from China’s nature reserves, which poses “risks and hazards to national security”. According to the outlet, China has “some of the strictest” laws for regulating the activities of NGOs. It added that the security ministry called on the public to report “suspicious activity” to the authorities. 

NO BORDERS: An Associated Press video explored how botanists from California and Baja California joined forces to record plant biodiversity along the US-Mexico border. 

CLIMATE INSURANCE: The BBC News World Service podcast Africa Daily looked at the “limitations and difficulties” facing farmers insuring themselves against climate disasters.  

GARDENING ZONES: NPR mapped the changes in the US agriculture department’s gardening zones, which help people determine which plants might thrive in their region.

DRC MINING: Mongabay investigated the extent of, and response to, pollution from the mining of cobalt and copper in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s “copper belt”.

Severe decline in large farmland trees in India over the past decade
Nature Sustainability

India lost more than 5m large farmland trees over 2018-22, a study found. This was partly due to changed farming practices “where trees within fields are perceived as detrimental to crop yields”, the study said. Researchers mapped 600m trees planted on agricultural lands in India and tracked them over the past decade. They found that approximately 11% of large trees disappeared between an earlier period of 2010 to 2018. The findings are “particularly unsettling” as the practice of planting trees on farmland is seen as a “pivotal natural climate solution”, the researchers wrote. 

Bee and butterfly records indicate diversity losses in western and southern North America, but extensive knowledge gaps remain

New research found that the western US and southern Mexico have suffered a decline in pollinator species richness over time. In contrast, eastern North America and other cooler and wetter regions saw an increase in pollinator diversity. The researchers analysed four families of bees and butterflies, for which they constructed more than 1,400 species distribution models over two time periods in North America: 1939-79 and 1980-2020. The study concluded that “changes in pollinator diversity appear to reflect changes in climate”, but added that “other factors, such as land-use change, may also explain regional shifts”.

Multi-decadal climate services help farmers assess and manage future risks
Nature Climate Change

Long-term climate projections – those which look more than 20 years into the future – can help farmers better understand future climate risks, according to new research. Researchers introduced 24 Australian farmers to an online long-term climate projection service called “My Climate View” and asked them to evaluate long-term risk management. They found that such a service helped “[reduce] complexity and potentially [reduce] psychological distance” from climate risks in farmers. As farmers are often sceptical of climate change projections – in part because of “their experience in perceptions of inaccurate short-term weather and seasonal forecasts”, the study suggests taking advantage of “the expertise of trusted service providers” to increase confidence in the data. 

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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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