By Chris Lang
This week’s REDD notes. Follow @reddmonitor on Twitter for more links to news about forests, the climate crisis, natural climate solutions, the oil industry, greenwash, carbon offsetting, etc.
A new study in Nature Communications highlights the problem of over-consumption – in particular the over-consumption of the rich (obviously, because the rich consume a great deal more than anyone else):
the world’s top 10% of income earners are responsible for between 25 and 43% of environmental impact. In contrast, the world’s bottom 10% income earners exert only around 3–5% of environmental impact. These findings mean that environmental impact is to a large extent caused and driven by the world’s rich citizens.
The paper exposes sustainable or green consumption as a myth:
Since the level of consumption determines total impacts, affluence needs to be addressed by reducing consumption, not just greening it.
Journalist Nafeez Ahmed points out that “Capitalism is destroying ‘safe operating space’ for humanity”:
the biggest takeaway is that those who bear most responsibility for environmental destruction — those who hold the most wealth in our societies — urgently need to wake up to how their narrow models of life are, quite literally, destroying the foundations for human survival over the coming decades.
Reuters reports that seven European investment firms are threatening to divest from beef producers, grain traders, and government bonds in Brazil, if Brazil’s government fails to address deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon hit an 11-year high last year. In the first five months of 2020, deforestation has risen a further 34%.
The investment firms include Nordea Asset Management in Finland, Storebrand, DNB Asset Management, and KLP in Norway, AP7 in Sweden, Legal & General Investment Management in the UK, and Robeco in the Netherlands.
In May 2020, British supermarkets warned Brazil they might boycott its products if a land speculation bill was passed in Congress. The bill would have rewarded land speculators for past illegal deforestation, and allow further clearing of forest. The bill is now delayed indefinitely.
The investment firms are looking at the environmental policies of Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and Bunge, to determine whether they are adequate. KLP’s head of responsible investment, Jeanett Bergan, told Reuters,
“If our conclusion is negative, divestment can be the likely result, potentially as soon as this year and we’d expect such a move to trigger other larger investors to follow our lead.”
I have contradicatory thoughts about this. One the one hand, Bolsonaro is determined to trash Brazil’s forests as quickly as possible. And he is not listening to NGOs, governments, or the UN on deforestation. He may have no choice other than to listen when investment firms threaten to pull out their money. And the investors should not be profiting from destruction. So it’s good that they are threatening to pull out.
On the other hand, I’m extremely uncomfortable with a group of investors (who have more than US$2 trillion under management) dictating policy to a foreign government. In this case, I happen agree with their aim – reducing deforestation would be a good thing. But I have lots of questions. How much money have these investors made from deforestation in the Amazon in the past? Shouldn’t they be paying reparations on this? What happens if ADM, Cargill, and Bunge manage to greenwash their operations? And what if the investors start pushing policies in Brazil that are socially and environmentally destructive? Let’s face it, that is pretty much what they have done to date.
A paper published in Science shows that “exotic plants accelerate carbon loss from soils through their interactions with invertebrate herbivores and soil biota”.
The scientists set up 160 experimental ecosystems in New Zealand, and used different combinations of native and exotic plants.
The findings have implications for initiatives like the Trillion Trees Programme, the authors write. “Fast-growing exotic plants may be ideally suited for plantings when the goal is to sequester C aboveground, but exotic plants may have more variable effects belowground compared with native plants.”
Two of the authors sum up their findings on The Conversation:
non-native plants often grow faster compared to native plants, but they also decompose faster and this helps to accelerate the release of 150% more carbon dioxide from the soil.
In an very good interview with Scientists for Global Responsibility, climate scientist Kevin Anderson says he’d “like to hear much more of what many academics say in private being said in public. This is also true of many others I engage with across the climate change community – from those in NGOs to more informed policy makers, business types, journalists, and more.”
In private, many academics have been telling Anderson for years that, “there’s no hope of staying below 2 degrees centigrade, that we’re heading to three or four degrees”. Anderson disagreed, arguing that if we make “very difficult but doable cuts in emissions” a “thin thread of hope remained”. Today, the emissions cuts needed are “completely unprecedented and far beyond anything in the public and political debate”.
What I find most disturbing, is that many of those who previously had told me, away from any microphones, that 2°C was not viable, are now coming out in support of meeting 1.5°C. Worse still, they repeatedly point to idealised technical solutions, yet often with little understanding of either the technologies or their practical delivery, let alone the timelines for making wholesale shifts in technologies and associated infrastructures.
Anderson points out that the the “climate great and good – from Gore to DiCaprio, Attenborough to Goodall, Musk to Branson – all have been party to a greening of business as usual”.
According to a new report by the Insitute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, the 13 biggest dairy companies in the world are in total responsible for greenhouse gas emissions as high as those from the UK. The 13 dairy companies emitted more GHGs in 2017 than BHP or ConocoPhillips.
Shefali Sharma, European director at IATP, told the Guardian that,
“Unlike growing public scrutiny on fossil fuel companies, little public pressure exists to hold global meat and dairy corporations accountable for their emissions. Few of these companies are even reporting their emissions.
“As governments ratchet up their climate goals, the rise of large-scale dairy and public incentives that further increase corporate dairy power, production and emissions must be stopped. Rural livelihoods and our planet’s future depend on it.”
In 2019, more than one million hectares of land in Indonesia burned. The exact area is controversial. In December 2019, CIFOR Forests News reported that 1.6 million hectares burned between January and October 2019, based on satellite data. A few days later the post was taken down, after the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) complained and CIFOR’s scientists were invited to a meeting in the Ministry.
Raffles Panjaitan, the director of forest and land-fire management at KLHK said CIFOR’s “number just doesn’t make any sense”. KLHK later revised its estimate of the area burned closer to CIFOR’s analysis, Science reported. But in January 2020, immigration authorities kicked a CIFOR researcher out of the country on a “visa violation”.
This week, the Jakarta Post reported that “Ministry data show that 1.65 million ha of forest and land burned in 2019, second only to the 2.61 million ha that burned during the 2015 massive fires.”
KLHK has been creating artificial rain in Riau, Jambi, and South Sumatra in the hope of preventing fires this year.
Mongabay reports that Sumatra was particularly affected by fires in 2019, including in National Parks such as Berbak-Sembilang National Park. Illegal logging and industrial plantations has rapidly changed the park and the land around the park. Peat swamps have been drained and are more susceptible to fire.
The Peatland Restoration Agency was set up in 2015 with the aim of restoring degraded peatlands. But in a September 2019 interview with Tempo, the head of the Agency, Nazir Foead acknowledged that “progress has not been optimal”. As Tempo pointed out, the percentage of burned peatland in 2019 was “not very different from that of the 2015 disaster”.