Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Cropped 27 March 2024: Bankrolling meat and dairy; EU nature restoration pushback; Missing cherry blossoms

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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.

This is an online version of Carbon Brief’s fortnightly Cropped email newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

Bankrolling meat and dairy

LIVESTOCK GROWTH: Banks provide “billion-dollar support” for the “unsustainable” expansion of meat and dairy production around the world, according to a new report covered by the Guardian. Over 2015-22, financiers provided the world’s top 55 industrial livestock companies with “average annual credit injections of $77bn (£60bn)”, found the report produced by Feedback, a campaign group in the Netherlands and UK. Some banks “appeared to compromise their own anti-deforestation policies to do so”, the newspaper said. This credit “is designed to help companies expand”, the report noted, adding that meat production rose by 9% globally and dairy by 13%, between 2015 and 2021. 

AGRI ROADMAP CRITIQUE: A 2023 UN roadmap to end hunger while limiting agricultural emissions lacked transparency in how it was produced and did not include recommendations to “reduc[e] animal-sourced food production and intake”, according to a Nature Food comment article by a group of researchers. The roadmap, released by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last December, is a “welcome step” towards food system changes, the article said, but it did not include a list of authors and lacked information around the reasons for its recommendations. David Laborde, the director of the FAO’s agrifood economics and policy division, told the Guardian that the report emphasises the “importance of dietary shifts” and said a methodology and author list are in the full version of the report, which is not yet available online. 

‘CLIMATE-FRIENDLY’ BEEF?: Sentient, a not-for-profit news outlet focused on intensive farming, looked at a range of ongoing efforts to “make beef more climate-friendly” – such as seaweed feed for cows and the use of “regenerative agriculture”. The outlet noted that research into feeding cows “a type of red kelp” in an attempt to cut methane emissions received “plenty of media attention”, but it “isn’t as effective” as some initial reports claimed. The piece also analysed “holistic grazing” techniques, a “methane mask” to convert cow burps into other gases and a US “climate-friendly” label for beef. 

Forest clearing

TICKET TO RIDE: More than 7m trees were felled between 2019 and 2023 to build the Maya Train, a railway in the ​​Yucatán peninsula in south-east Mexico, according to news website Animal Politico. The controversial train project connecting tourist sites has been “criticised by environmental groups for its damage to caves, cenotes [natural sinkholes] and aquifers”, the outlet said. Last year, the website reported that at least 3.4m trees had been removed. Fonatur Tren Maya, the country’s tourism agency responsible for the project, said at the time that each tree and more would be re-planted. Fonatur did not respond to a new request for comment before publication, Animal Politico said. 

TAKING FLIGHT: Meanwhile, Mongabay reported on concerns from experts and locals in south-east Peru regarding the paving over of a famous bird-watching “winding dirt road” to allow more traffic to pass through. The Manu Road is a “once-in-a-lifetime experience for many bird-watchers who come here for the rich biodiversity”, according to the outlet. It passes along the edge of the Manu National Park – one of the world’s most biodiverse protected areas. Last year, authorities “quickly paved the road, allowing for greater motor vehicle traffic”, Mongabay said. Experts and locals now believe that the area’s “wildlife, its ecotourism industry, and even bird-watchers” are at risk due to increased vehicle speeds and road accidents. 

BRAZIL DEFORESTATION: A separate Mongabay piece looked at the details of a new report showing that deforestation from soy is ongoing in Brazil’s Cerrado and Amazon rainforest. The report from Mighty Earth, an environmental group, found evidence of almost 27,000 hectares of deforestation and forest degradation in the Cerrado biome between September and December 2023, Mongabay said. In the Amazon, around 30,000 hectares were affected during this time. Mongabay said the deforestation was “located near grain silos used by the seven biggest soy traders in Brazil”. The report used satellite imagery to monitor short-term deforestation and degradation linked to soy and cattle ranching. Meanwhile, the presidents of Brazil and France launched an Amazon “green investment plan” to raise €1bn in public and private funds over the next four years, Le Monde said. 

World water roundup

DRY DAYS: Zimbabwe’s maize harvest is expected to be 70% less than last season – and the lowest since 2016 – after an El Niño-induced drought “decimated crops”, newZwire reported. As 2.7m Zimbabweans face hunger, DeutscheWelle reported that national authorities have declared the 2024 farming season “a total failure” and have urged families to conserve food. The World Food Programme (WFP) said it “might not be able to assist families in Zimbabwe facing food insecurity”, DW added, even as locals in rural areas pin their hopes on WFP aid, according to allAfrica. As Zimbabwe mulls declaring a state of emergency, Malawi and Zambia have both declared a state of disaster over drought, the Press Trust of India reported. It noted that, according to the WFP, last month was the “driest February in 40 years for Zambia and Zimbabwe”, while Malawi, Mozambique and parts of Angola had “severe rainfall deficits”. Voice of America News reported that Russia donated 25,000 tonnes of grain and 23,000 tonnes of fertiliser to Zimbabwe, but “the fertilisers may not work…as most crops have been dried out by a lack of rain”. 

WATER FOR PEACE?: As drought and conflicts rage on, women and girls are the “first to suffer” when drought impacts poor or rural areas across the world, the UN said “in a plea to countries to mend conflicts over water resources, the Guardian reported. As climate change, pollution and over-use are exacerbating conflicts over water, the benefits of including cooperation over water in peace strategies are “often overlooked”, according to the UN’s annual report on water and development covered in the story. The report did not delve into “politically sensitive” conflicts, despite its “water for peace” theme, the outlet noted. Elsewhere, a comment article in the New Humanitarian called on the international community to “take a stand against weaponising water”, and the Financial Times ran a special series on the future of water.

URGENT CONFLUENCE: Climate change needs to be “the urgent catalyst for collaboration” for three major river basins in Asia and the future of a billion people and the ecosystems on which they depend, said the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Along with the Australian Water Partnership, the eight-nation Hindu Kush Himalaya body released three major new studies on the Ganga, Indus and Brahmaputra basins. Researchers called on governments to “build fresh consensus” and focus on shared challenges, despite collective action being fraught and “mistrust and power asymmetry among countries” being high. “The humanitarian, economic and environmental cost of our failing to embrace these new approaches now hugely outweighs the risks: and this is one arena in which science can galvanise action,” ICIMOD’s Arun Shrestha told Carbon Brief.

GAZA FAMINE: On 18 March, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned that famine in the Gaza Strip was “imminent”, the Middle East Eye reported, citing new analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) global initiative. According to the report, Gaza’s entire population of 2.3m people was “enduring acute food insecurity”, while over half were experiencing hunger levels classified as catastrophic. FAO’s deputy director general Beth Bechdol told the Washington Post: “This is 100% a man-made crisis. There’s no hurricane, there’s no cyclone, there’s no 100-year flood. There’s no protracted year-on-year drought.” According to Al Jazeera, a new Oxfam report found that Israel was “deliberately” blocking food and other aid, while EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borell accused Tel Aviv of using “famine as a weapon of war”. UN chief António Guterres – who described the IPC report as an “appalling indictment” – called once again for a humanitarian ceasefire “amid urgent efforts to avert famine”, the Guardian reported. 

NATURE STANDSTILL: A final vote by EU ministers on the bloc’s embattled nature restoration law was shelved after growing pushback from individual countries, Euronews reported. The law, detailed in a Carbon Brief Q&A, was approved by the European parliament in February. The EU council vote – which requires a “qualified majority” to pass – is usually a straightforward next step, but governments in Sweden, Italy, Finland, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium indicated they would oppose or abstain from the vote, which was due to take place on 25 March, the outlet reported. Hungary, whose newly raised opposition led to the deadlock, said it was concerned about a “lack of leeway to pursue national policies”, the outlet said. The EU’s environment chief, Virginijus Sinkevičius, said this “raises serious questions about the consistency and stability of the EU decision-making process”, the article reported. He added: “The EU’s and its member states’ international reputation is at stake.” Meanwhile, farmer protests also continued in Brussels this week, Politico reported.

COCOA CRISIS LATEST: Cocoa prices rose above the cost of copper as the continued “supply crunch grips the market”, Bloomberg said. The poor cocoa harvest, previously covered in Cropped, comes after “bad weather and crop disease” hit growers in west Africa where “most of the world’s cocoa is grown”, the outlet said. This will cause, among other things, “Easter egg prices hikes” around the world, another Bloomberg piece noted. A recent rapid attribution study found that the “dangerous humid heat” that engulfed western Africa in mid-February was made 10 times more likely by human-caused climate change, Carbon Brief reported. The heatwave potentially affected millions of people, the study said.

CARBON WITHOUT CONSENT: The state of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo declared its intent to press ahead with an “opaque nature conservation agreement”, despite concerns flagged by UN special rapporteurs, Mongabay said. In 2021, Sabah state officials signed over “rights to carbon and other marketable ecosystem services from more than half of [its] forests in secret” to Singaporean firm Hoch Standard, the article reported. The company has “no record in carbon trading” and is controlled by a “myster[ious]” company in the British Virgin Islands, it added. According to the letter by the UN special rapporteurs, the deal grants “100 years of monopoly rights” over 2m hectares of forest, “fails to acknowledge the presence of Indigenous Peoples in the area” and was signed without their free, prior, informed consent (FPIC). Sabah state, in its response, reiterated its “commitment to uphold FPIC”, special rapporteur Prof Surya Deva told Mongabay. But, he added that he believes “the government [and] the relevant company should do more to obtain a social licence from affected Indigenous Peoples”. Separately, a new study found Australia’s main method to generate carbon offsets to be “a failure on a global scale”, the Guardian wrote.

WALK THE PLANK: The International Seabed Authority’s (ISA) member states are considering “strip[ping] Greenpeace of its observer status”, as the body met again to decide on rules for deep-sea mining, BBC News reported. Canada’s The Metals Company – which has a mining joint venture with Nauru – “claims Greenpeace activists disrupted a research expedition when they boarded its vessel in the remote Pacific” last year, the article explained. In response, Greenpeace said the incident “was a peaceful protest aimed at protecting a pristine ecosystem”, it noted. Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported that hundreds of former US government and military officials, including Hilary Clinton, are calling for the US Senate to ratify the ISA’s parent treaty: the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As a non-voting member of the ISA, the US “can’t be awarded exploration contracts to mine the seafloor in international waters”, the newspaper said, unlike China which currently has five contracts. The Financial Times reported that Chinese and Russian diplomats at the talks called a “US claim to an extended area of seabed…unacceptable”, given its current position on UNCLOS. Separately, a Nature editorial warned that deep-sea mining talks “should not be rushed”, as “too little is known about the deep-sea ecosystem”. 

SAKURA MATATA: The Korea Times reported that South Korea’s “iconic” cherry blossom festivals in the south of the country have been significantly set back by “[t]he delayed blooming of seasonal flowers primarily attributed to climate change”. Local governments that moved their dates up to respond to last year’s “abnormally early blooming caused by warming” have found themselves “grappling with flowerless venues” this year, it added. Cherry blossom festivals are a major part of the local economy and, according to one report in the story, “create ripple effects of some 300% surges in sales” in tourism district shopping revenues. Last month, South Korea recorded its highest average February temperature since 1973, followed by “abnormal” sub-zero weather and low rainfall, failing to give the spring flowers what they needed to fully bloom, the article explained. Meanwhile, a new study estimated that climate change could drive cherry blossoms to extinction in Japan by 2100, reported the South China Morning Post.

AMBANI’S ARK: A two-part Himal Southasian story investigated a new wildlife “rescue” centre run by petrochemical giant Reliance, housing critically endangered species “at the world’s largest [petroleum] refinery complex”.

ATE LEGS: A Yale Environment 360 piece looked at the wider questions around controversial plans from a Spanish company to “factory farm octopuses for their meat”. 

FOREST RIGHTS: The Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast examined the “growing movement” to give legal rights to nature. 

FEET IN WATER: On World Water Day, a comment piece in Nature featured reflections from four scientists on what it takes to build better access to water and justice.

Climate change impacts and adaptations of wine production
Nature Reviews Earth & Environment

Research found that as much as 70% of the world’s wine-producing areas face “substantial risks” of being less suitable to make wine at a global temperature rise above 2C. The researchers extensively reviewed other studies of the effects of climate change on grape growing and wine production around the world. They found that climate change poses “huge challenges” for wine production. They noted that a temperature rise below 2C may benefit wine-growing in some regions, indicating that this limit could be a “safe threshold” for just over half of traditional vineyards. The study outlined the risks of increased heat and drought, extreme weather and the unpredictability of pests and disease in key wine-producing areas such as northern California, France, Spain, Chile and Argentina. 

Spillover effects of organic agriculture on pesticide use on nearby fields

Pesticide use in organic croplands reduces when there are other organic fields nearby, a study found. However, it said pesticide use in conventionally grown fields increases when they are close to organic fields due to pest “spillover” when tackled using different methods. The researchers looked at pesticide use and crop data from around 14,000 fields in Kern County in the US state of California between 2013 and 2019, alongside wider US data to help simulate how organic agriculture affects pesticide usage. The findings of this analysis suggest that “clustering” organic croplands together could help to reduce the overall use of pesticides.  

Elevation modulates the impacts of climate change on the Brazilian Cerrado flora
Diversity and Distributions

A new study found that about half of all plant species in the ecologically-rich Brazilian Cerrado “will experience a net range loss due to climate change” and two-thirds of its landscapes will face species losses by 2040. Using species distribution models, the study estimated how warming temperatures might cause more than 7,000 species in the region to move. The researchers found that elevation “exerts a central role” in how plants respond to climate change, with lowlands more likely to “become local extinction hotspots” as many species move upslope, but mountaintop species will have “nowhere-to-go”. The authors concluded that climate change mitigation “is key for safeguarding the integrity of Cerrado ecosystems in the long term” and “urge[d] the incorporation of climate adaptation measures into conservation and restoration decision-making to increase climatic resilience”.

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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