Land conversion for agriculture remains the greatest driver of deforestation according to a new study in the journal Science, and in fact is an even greater factor than previously thought. Studies had suggested that agricultural production drives 80% of tropical deforestation, but the new review of the current evidence suggests that 90-99% of all deforestation in the tropics is caused directly or indirectly by land conversion. What is perhaps even more surprising is that while the land may be cleared with the intention of conversion to agriculture, only 45-65% results in actual production. The remainder is land cleared for speculation that never materialised, perhaps as a result of the land proving unsuitable for cultivation.
The study, titled “Disentangling the numbers behind agriculture-driven tropical deforestation”, makes the case for strengthening forest and land-use governance as the ultimate goal of any policy response. Policies should go beyond risk management for specific commodities towards more collaboration between producer and consumer markets. Better incentives for sustainable agriculture that discourage land conversion and support smallholder grower communities are what’s required.
Xinjiang cotton risks persist
Cotton sourced from the Chinese region of Xinjiang continues to be a risk for big apparel brands with some maintaining sourcing links with suppliers linked to the area. The Uygur minority community in Xinjiang, which produces around one-fifth of the world’s cotton, has been subject to forced labour, arbitrary custody, and worse, according to many reports. A recent UN report describes crimes against humanity in the region.
Despite this, some companies have not cut all ties with Xinjiang’s factories. For example, as reported by Eco Business, the Japanese Muji brand has clothing lines with labels that acknowledge that they originate in Xinjiang. Earlier this year German scientists found traces of Xinjiang cotton in Adidas, Puma and Hugo Boss branded apparel. The brands all have robust auditing and supply procedures of course, and the complex nature of cotton’s international supply chain means it is challenging to entirely eliminate material from specific locations. This is particularly the case when there is evidence that Xinjiang cotton is being passed off as from other locations via intermediaries based elsewhere. However, the risks of having material created through forced labour and torture remain.
Unsustainable krill exploitation?
Activist group Changing Markets has released some new research into the Antarctic Ocean based krill fishing sector. The “Krill, Baby, Krill” report highlights the impacts of intensive krill fishing on the oceans. Much of marine life in the Antarctic either directly eats krill or is one step removed and it is essential to the entire ecosystem. Intensive krill fishing has significant impact on whales, seals, penguins and other wildlife, that must compete with the fishermen. The krill is used to create a feed for aquaculture and for human dietary supplements.
Changing Markets argues that the krill fishing industry is unsustainable, threatening as it does one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet, itself under increasing pressure from climate change. The group has called for an immediate moratorium on Antarctic krill fishing, for the aquaculture sector to switch to alternative feeds, for retailers to stop stocking products linked to krill and for consumers to boycott krill-based products.
Certified carbon credits
The voluntary carbon markets and sale of carbon credits and verified emission reduction credits continue to grow and grow. Carbon credit trading was around $2bn in 2021 and some estimates suggest it will reach $50bn or more by 2030. Many argue that the use of emissions reduction credits to offset unavoidable emissions is a necessary part of achieving net zero. However, there have been concerns at the quality of some credits, operating in an unregulated market.
In a new initiative, Howden Group, a broker, carbon finance business Respira International and reinsurance investor Nephila Capital have combined to produce an insurance product that provides cover against third party negligence or fraud, helping to reduce the potential reputational risk of buying carbon credits. This is designed to boost the carbon markets by removing a potential sticking point for companies – and the fact that credits from projects are insured will of course underline their credibility for investors.
Calls to preserve 80% Amazon forest
Representatives of indigenous communities from all the nine counties in the Amazon basin have called for an international pact to preserve 80% of the Amazon forest by 2025. Plans for such a pact will be presented at the COP27 meetings in Egypt this coming November. A new report – “Amazonia: Against the Clock” – suggests that some parts of the Amazon forest are already passing tipping points where forest ecosystems degrade to savanna because of deforestation, soil degradation and intensive agriculture. Brazil and Bolivia are reported to be where 90% of total deforestation and degradation in the region occurs.
Deforestation across the Amazon has surged in recent years to record amounts – alongside violent attacks on indigenous peoples, who in many cases act as guardians of the forests.
EU deforestation due diligence
The European parliament has voted to strengthen proposals for deforestation regulation that would require companies to ensure that the products they sell in the EU are not linked to forest destruction or human rights abuses. MEPs voted to strengthen the draft proposals prepared by the European commission, widening the scope of the regulations to include rubber, maize and leather, and to include conversion or degradation of other ecosystems beyond forests, such as the cerrado grasslands in Brazil.
Indigenous people’s rights, and the duties of companies to protect them in their supply chains, are also strengthened in the revised proposals. The draft regulation now goes to the EU member state governments for final adoption in the European council of ministers.
All Patagonia profits to fight climate change
Outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia is often cited as an example of a well-run company that tackles its environmental and social impacts effectively. No doubt furthering the respect that many feel for the brand, its founder Yvon Chouinard has announced that the ownership of the company has been transferred from his family to charitable trust. Under the new ownership structure, profits will go to tackling climate change – amounting to some $100m a year, the company expects. Patagonia had already been donating 1% of annual profits to climate activism, but the founder said that he wanted to do much more.