A recent study published in journal Science highlights some concerns about quantifying the benefits of soil carbon sequestration practices that farmers are being paid to carry out, including reduced tillage and cover cropping. The research cites research from 2004 that suggested soil-based carbon capture could offset up to 15% of annual carbon emissions – and quotes McKinsey’s estimate that it could be worth $50bn by 2030 particularly if some carbon market customers include soil-based investments alongside forest projects. However, the new study argues that the science of how soils actually store and release carbon remains uncertain, with companies selling credits at risk of over-exaggerating the benefits.
On the positive side, analysis published in May 2023 found that no-till and cover cropping increased top-soil carbon by an average of more than 11%, if the practices were applied for at least six years. Other studies have found increased losses from crop residues decomposing on the surface and releasing carbon rather than being incorporated into the soil through tilling. The new Science paper says that the biggest impediment is the lack of effective ways to properly measure the soil carbon gain and the related emissions of nitrous oxide, a harmful greenhouse gas, from digestion of nitrogen fertilisers. An expert quoted in the paper says that while the climate benefits of regenerative practices are likely to be greater than zero, they may not be as large as current estimates suggest.
Big business reporting rules
The European commission has voted to adopt the new European Sustainability Reporting Standards, leading into a review period with member governments. Some 50,000+ big companies are estimated to be affected initially by the standards that give guidance around the 2022 corporate sustainability reporting directive and help companies align with the international climate reporting standards that emerged in June. The standards are also designed to complement the global standards being worked on by the International Sustainability Standards Board. Large companies in the EU will have to include environmental disclosures in their annual reports from 2024, with medium-sized businesses being phased in from 2026.
Materiality assessments are a key part of the new process, with companies obliged to determine the environmental issues that are most relevant for their operations and supply chains. Businesses will need to track both their own impacts and their exposure to risk. Crucially any company that says climate change mitigation is not material will need to explain why. A similar, if lesser, explanation will be required if some other areas of risk, including water and biodiversity, are deemed non-material.
No firm Amazon 2030 deforestation commitment
Leaders of the eight Amazon rainforest countries gathered in Brazil for the first major summit in 14 years, with the aim of agreeing on a common goal for ending deforestation by 2030. The nations, who make up the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation, agreed to a list of unified environmental policies and measures to enhance regional cooperation, including an alliance for combating forest destruction. However, they failed to all agree on the 2030 goal, which the Brazilian government under President Lula has already adopted.
Of the Amazon countries, Bolivia and Venezuela are the only ones not to sign a 2021 agreement of over 100 countries to work toward halting deforestation by 2030. Reuters has reported that a Brazilian government source accused Bolivia, of being reticent to make this commitment. The final joint statement underscored the importance of indigenous rights and protections, and agreed to cooperation on water management, health, shared negotiation positions at future climate summits, and sustainable development.
Californian food emissions cut
A new rule in greater Los Angeles is set to transform commercial food manufacturing by reducing carbon emissions. The pioneering rule, effective from 2027, will require around 100 facilities operating a total of 218 commercial ovens to meet a zero-emissions limit for nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are harmful pollutants. Finished foods that are prepared in these kinds of large commercial ovens include baked bread, various kinds of crisps, including tortilla chips, and roasted nuts. The new law will mean replacing gas-burning ovens with electric alternatives.
The initiative aims to eliminate a major source of natural gas demand in California – with the food and beverage sector accounting for over 38% of industrial gas demand served by SoCalGas in 2021. It will also help to tackle harmful pollution produced by the ovens, to help reduce smog and levels of fine particulate matter in the greater Los Angeles region. While companies have argued that the electric-oven market isn't fully developed, this move is expected to encourage the production of all-electric models and eventually, to promote the adoption of zero-emission technology nationwide.
UK climate roll-back
The UK government has been roundly criticised for its apparent rolling back of commitment to pursue world-leading action on climate change and other environmental commitments. Described as measures to improve energy security and consumer prices, the UK government has announced a series of new licences for energy companies to develop new North Sea oil and gas fields or to expand existing ones. Given the oil and gas will be exploited largely by non-UK companies and then traded on the international commodity markets there will of course be little direct impact on either supply security or user costs.
Many energy experts and green campaigners have argued that this is little more than a politics as the unpopular UK government attempts to win back voter support. Whether that will work at a time when southern Europe has been experiencing record heat, with resultant wildfires impacting UK holidaymakers, remains to be seen.
More disease in a warmer world
A number of news outlets have highlighted yet another downside from a warming planet: increasing spread of infectious disease, not least cholera. A new report has shown how an outbreak in Malawi from August 2022 peaked at over 700 cases a day in February 2023 with fatality rates at three times higher than average. Through to March there had been more than 1,600 deaths, the highest ever in a similar timeframe.
The World Health Organisation says that while poverty and conflict remain the primary drivers of cholera, climate change and the resulting more frequent intense storms are a significant aggravating factor. Heavy rain and other infrastructure damaging weather impact sanitation – cholera is of course a diarrheal bacterial disease that spreads in places without access to clean water when people ingest infected food or water.