EDF Talks Global Climate

'Feeding 9 billion' requires facing up to climate change

This post was co-authored by Kritee, Senior Scientist, International Climate; Richie Ahuja, Regional Director, Asia; and Tal Lee Anderman, Tom Graff Fellow – India Low-Carbon Rural Development

National Geographic's May cover story, “Feeding 9 billion,” offers valuable insights into how to feed a growing global population while reducing agriculture’s environmental impacts. But it omits some key connections with a critical issue: climate change.

Corn withered by drought in America. (Photo credit: Ben Fertig, IAN, UMCES)

Drought in the U.S. causes withering of corn. (Photo credit: Ben Fertig, IAN, UMCES)

As the Food and Agriculture Organization recently documented in great detail, climate change is likely to fundamentally alter the structure of food systems around the globe. With about 43% of the world’s population employed in agriculture, it’s vital that farmers have the knowledge and tools they need both to adapt to climate change and to help mitigate it.

Author Jonathan Foley, who directs the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, lays out several steps for “Feeding 9 billion.” Though he starts by acknowledging that agriculture emits “more greenhouse gases than all our cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes combined,” he doesn’t explicitly mention how his plan relates to a changing climate.

The first of his steps – halting conversion of additional forests and grasslands to agriculture – is crucial to stopping climate change, given the vast quantities of greenhouse gases released in these conversions. As the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on mitigation noted, protecting forests and increasing carbon content of the soils can decrease global emissions by as much as 13 gigatons CO2eq/year by 2030 – more than a quarter of current annual global emissions.

Foley also highlights the need to reduce meat consumption, because only a very limited portion of calories consumed by animals yield edible food for humans, and to reduce food waste. According to the IPCC, these consumer-level steps have the potential to decease agricultural emissions by 60% below the current trajectory. While Foley didn’t acknowledge these mitigation potentials, we agree that these are important steps to feeding the world’s population and protecting our environment.

But it’s his steps calling for improving productivity – both by growing more food on existing farms, and by using fertilizer, water and energy more efficiently – where the interactions with climate are more complex and need special attention.

Climate adaptation and resilience in agriculture

Foley rightly points out that to feed the world’s future population, more food needs to grow on existing farms. However, he doesn’t note that some of the effects of climate change – droughts, floods and heat waves in many parts of the world – are already reducing crop yields, and these effects and their consequences are expected to worsen.

The IPCC’s recently published 5th Assessment Report on adaptation concludes that:

  • Climate change is already negatively affecting yields of crops and abundance of fish, and shifting the regions where crops grow and fish live
  • Future changes in climate will increase competitiveness of weeds, making it difficult and more expensive to control them
  • By 2050, changes in temperature and precipitation alone will raise global food prices by as much as 84% above food prices projected without these two climatic factors
  • Major grains like wheat, corn, and rice could see as much as a 40% decrease in yield from a 20C increase in local temperatures. That’s because of the changing rainfall frequency and intensity, unpredictability and irregularity of growing seasons, and higher ozone levels that often accompany high CO­2 levels

To deal with these consequences and ensure food security and livelihoods, adaptation to climate change is essential. Indeed, adopting carefully chosen adaptation and resilience measures could improve crop yields as much as 15-20%. The IPCC recommendations include:

  • Altering planting/harvesting dates to match the shifting growing seasons
  • Using seed varieties that might be more tolerant of changing climatic patterns
  • Better managing water and fertilizer use
A farmer training session, led by EDF’s partner NGO in India (Photo credit: Accion Fraterna)

A farmer training session, led by EDF’s partner NGO in India (Photo credit: Accion Fraterna)

Achieving high yields requires enabling farmers all over the world to adapt, build and restore the resilience of agricultural ecosystems in the face of continued climate change. Given that many farmers in developed countries have already reached what are currently maximum possible yields, it’s particularly urgent to work with farmers in the developing world.

A vast majority of these farmers in developing countries own small-scale farms (less than two acres in size) and have limited resources, and as a result are on the frontline of experiencing the unfolding impacts of climate change. These farmers are already growing the majority of the world’s food – more than 90% of the world’s rice, over 65% of its wheat and 55% of its corn. Notably, as opposed to our recommendations for farmers in the developed countries, some of them might need to increase their fertilizer use to achieve better yields as opposed to decreasing it. Feeding a world of 9 billion thus requires facing the disproportionate effect that climate change has on the 2 billion people who depend on small-scale farms for their livelihood.

Barriers to climate adaptation & mitigation in agriculture

The latest IPCC report also noted that the “nature” of the agriculture sector means:

“there are many barriers to implementation of available mitigation options, including accessibility to … financing, … institutional, ecological, technological development, diffusion and transfer barriers.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Many farmers, especially small scale land-owners in developing parts of the world, lack access to reliable scientific information and technology. In some cases, relevant information has not even been generated.

An Indian peanut farm where EDF is monitoring yield and greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: Richie Ahuja)

An Indian peanut farm where EDF is monitoring yield and greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo credit: Richie Ahuja)

For example, small-scale rice farmers in Asia lack access to information enabling them to determine what amounts of water, organic and synthetic fertilizer will optimize yields while also minimizing release of the greenhouse gases methane (which is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released), and nitrous oxide (which is nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide). EDF is working with the Fair Climate Network in India and with Can Tho University and other partners in Vietnam to help generate that information and facilitate its use by farmers.

More generally, agricultural institutions at all levels – international, regional, national and local – need to work closely with farmers to learn and promote evidence-based, locally appropriate agricultural adaptation and mitigation technologies and practices. Farmer access to finance can further help improve the adoption rate of these technologies. Larger investments in farming infrastructure and science from government and private sector also need to be channeled to promote food security through low-carbon farming.

Our food system cannot achieve high yields without building and restoring the resilience of agricultural ecosystems, and the system won’t be sustainable if agriculture doesn’t do its part to mitigate climate change.

To feed 9 billion people, we must overcome barriers to reducing climate change’s effects on agriculture, and agriculture’s effect on climate.

Posted in Agriculture, Deforestation, Forestry, India|: | 4 Responses

Indonesian ministries draw on EDF to advance greenhouse-gas accounting capabilities

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made one of his most urgent pleas yet to stop climate change last month, calling climate change “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” — and it was no coincidence he chose to do it in Indonesia.

The island nation is, as Secretary Kerry said, “one of the most vulnerable countries on Earth.” It is already prone to storms, floods, droughts, forest fires, and other extreme weather events, all of which could be exacerbated by climate change. A changing climate could also trigger catastrophic sea level rise that could contaminate Indonesia’s drinking and irrigation systems, and, in some of the worst case scenarios, swallow many of its islands whole.

Indonesia degree of exposure to natural hazards

Indonesia’s vulnerability to climate change. Source: UNOCHA, 2006 in UNDP, 2007.

Needless to say, those sorts of impacts would have dire consequences on the human beings living in Indonesia, the fourth most populous country on earth. However, the nation’s ecosystem would also be in grave danger. Indonesia harbors large reserves of carbon and biodiversity, and is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest and widespread peatlands, flooded soil that stores carbon from thousands of years ago.

But Indonesia also ranks among the top ten countries for its greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of which come from land-use change and forestry. The nation has experienced the greatest increase in forest cover loss from 2000 to 2012, with a high of 20,000 km2 per year (or about 4.9 million acres) between 2011 and 2012 (including harvest of timber and palm oil plantations). The main “driver” of deforestation in Indonesia is clearing for agriculture, particularly for palm oil plantations. Haze from slash and burn agriculture has caused respiratory infections, asthma and other illnesses in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.

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Experts from EDF and Indonesia’s National Council on Climate Change conducted workshops with the Ministry of Agriculture.

The good news is these emerging challenges have prompted Indonesia to recognize the dangers of climate change and its responsibility to act. In 2011, President Yudhoyono committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent below its current trajectory by 2020, or even 41 percent if the country receives international support. The bulk of emission decreases are to come from reducing deforestation and forest degradation.

To demonstrate that they are honoring their commitments, the country needs to collect and analyze data on greenhouse gas emissions following guidelines set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and submit this data in its National Communications for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Indonesia’s National Council on Climate Change (DNPI) asked EDF to help conduct training workshops for two of the agencies primarily responsible for the data, the Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Agriculture. The workshops detailed each step involved in creating for the UN an inventory of the country’s emissions and removals of greenhouse gasses from agriculture, forestry and other land uses and the mitigation activities it has undertaken. These workshops also facilitated our collaboration and data-sharing capabilities with the Indonesian government, who worked with EDF’s Chief Natural Resource Economist, Ruben Lubowski, and colleagues from other non-governmental organizations to analyze the carbon reduction potential of different policies.

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Delegates from the Ministry of Forestry fill out IPCC worksheets to calculate gains and losses of carbon from forests for each province, while EDF and DNPI experts look on.

Accurately accounting for emissions will help Indonesia’s government demonstrate its progress toward reaching its reduction target by 2020, and could position the country to receive international funding for its efforts, including through Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), a program that provides economic incentives to protect forests.

In 2010, Norway committed to a $1 billion agreement with Indonesia, with most of the funds contingent on verified emissions reductions from forest protection. Indonesia also prolonged its forest moratorium, which prohibits new licenses for clearing forests after 2011. On the private-industry end, a number of companies that source commodities from Indonesia recently have made their own commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, including Unilever, Wilmar, Kelloggs, and Asia Pulp and Paper.

This alignment between public and private sectors in protecting forests should be reinforced by good quality data, well-structured economic incentives and policies, and ambition. However, much work remains to be done on land-use issues to protect forests and biodiversity, improve livelihoods and food security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Until then, Indonesia remains, in the words of Secretary Kerry, a country on the “front lines of climate change.”

Posted in Deforestation, REDD|: | 2 Responses

California and Mexico: Valuable teammates in the fight against climate change

en español  |  For nearly a decade, California’s landmark climate change law, AB 32, has been widely recognized for its efforts to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and build a low-carbon future.

Mexico flag and palm tree

Working together, California and Mexico can maximize the mutual benefits of setting high environmental standards to build low-carbon economies for the future. (Photo credit: Flickr user gabofr)

While climate action in Washington, D.C. continues to be stymied, our neighbor to the south is a key player and emerging leader on the global climate stage and is willing and able to join California in the fight.

Mexico has been a leader in advancing UN global climate change talks and recently passed its own historic climate change law.

These actions have garnered much attention from the international community, including Governor Jerry Brown.

In fact, his administration has indicated it is reaching out to Mexico on climate change, and just this week we’ve learned that Mexico’s President, Enrique Peña Nieto, is planning a visit to the Golden State.

The opportunities here can’t be overstated. As Governor Brown pointed out in his 2014 State of the State Address, if we want to move the needle on cutting carbon pollution, California can’t do it alone.

The collaboration between California and Mexico could be a powerful force to move global action on climate change forward, while creating mutual benefits. And, the partnership is both a natural and practical one.  California and Mexico have deep cultural, political, and economic ties that bind their histories, and climate change represents an opportunity for leaders on both sides of the border to work together to shape our collective future.

There are five primary areas where Mexico’s and California’s existing efforts to curb climate change align:

Climate efforts in California and Mexico
 CaliforniaMexico
1. Comprehensive climate change lawsPassed in 2006, AB32, the state’s landmark climate law, sets a declining cap on emissions in sectors producing the most GHG pollution. The law confirmed California's commitment to transition to a sustainable, clean energy economy, helped put climate change front and center on the national agenda and spurred similar action by states and regions across the U.S.In 2012, Mexico passed a broad climate change law with ambitious goals for reducing GHGs. Mexico’s climate change law does not yet mandate its GHG targets, but rather establishes voluntary targets comparable in scale to California’s mandatory limits. It also sets a comprehensive institutional, technical, and legal plan to help achieve those goals. This historic program is being built right now.
2. Climate policy strategiesAB 32 lays out a strategy and a comprehensive set of actions including:

  • Expanding and strengthening energy efficiency programs and building and appliance standards.
  • Achieving a statewide renewable energy mix of 33% by 2020.
  • Developing a California cap-and-trade program that links with other partner programs to create a larger market system.
  • Establishing targets for transportation-related GHG emissions for regions throughout California.
  • Adopting and implementing direct measures to reduce emissions and protect public health, including California's clean car standards, goods movement measures and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
Mexico’s climate change strategy focuses on areas that align with California’s vision of a lower carbon future:

  • Accelerating a transition toward clean energy sources
  • Reducing energy intensity through energy efficiency and conservation
  • Building sustainable cities
  • Reducing particulate pollution and short-lived climate pollutants.
  • Improving management of agricultural and forest lands
3. Economic efficiencyCalifornia’s successful carbon market provides a great example of how environmental and economic policy can work hand in hand.  It is also spurring innovation and investment in a clean and efficient economy while benefiting the state’s most disadvantaged communities.Mexico is laying the groundwork for market mechanisms. From the potential for emissions trading to renewable energy markets, the country’s law prioritizes economically efficient means to achieve its climate goals, but more work is needed.
4. Historic energy reformA majority of California’s emissions come from its energy sector, including transportation fuels. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) uses a market-based cap and trade approach to lowering the greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum-based fuels like reformulated gasoline and diesel. The LCFS slowly changes the California fueling system by providing opportunities for all fuel types to improve and grow.Energy reform is creating an unprecedented host of opportunities in Mexico. The majority of Mexico’s emissions come from its energy sector, including electricity generation and the production and burning of transportation fuels. An overhaul of long-standing energy monopolies creates new opportunities for developing renewable energy, cleaning up energy production and producing cleaner transportation fuels.
5. Natural resource protectionCalifornia’s climate law may permit a small number of credits from Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) to be used in its carbon market. This would reward indigenous and forest-dwelling communities, potentially including those in Mexico, with incentives for ecosystem protection.Mexico is building models for comprehensive programs to reduce emissions from forest destruction through REDD. The cutting and burning of tropical forests worldwide contributes more GHG emissions each year than the entire global transportation sector. Mexico’s forests are a vital resource for its rural population and home to some of the world’s richest areas of biodiversity. Incentivizing best practices in agricultural production also targets a significant source of emissions from land use.

It’s become abundantly clear that international partnerships are key to effectively reducing GHG emissions, preventing the most disastrous effects of climate change, and building resilient economies that will help protect the planet for future generations.

Ultimately, California can catalyze action outside of its borders with partners like Mexico, amplifying the impact of our efforts to cut carbon pollution. Working together, California and Mexico can maximize the mutual benefits of setting high environmental standards to build low-carbon economies for the future.

(This post originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog on Mar. 4)

Posted in Mexico, United States|: | Leave a comment

How Mexico’s reforms open new doors for reaching clean energy and climate goals

(This post originally appeared on Foreign Policy Blogs on Feb. 24)

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With a new climate change law and President Enrique Peña Nieto's overhaul of federal oil and electricity monopolies, Mexico now has important opportunities to meet renewable energy and emissions reduction goals and grow its economy. Credit: Edgar Alberto Domínguez Cataño

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s major policy reform proposals, on everything from new taxes on soda pop to amending the 70-year constitutional prohibition on foreign investment in Mexico’s petroleum sector, have swept through that nation’s congress with breathtaking speed.

The reform agenda did not come as a surprise to anyone paying attention. Peña Nieto had campaigned on a platform of increasing economic growth and jobs through major (and controversial) reforms. The energy reform restructures and opens up Mexico’s federal energy monopolies to foreign investment — a major goal being to boost the country’s oil and gas production.

But in all the discussion of shifting the global energy map, a critical potential is being overlooked: The overhaul of Mexico’s federal oil and electricity monopolies also breathes new life into prospects for making the energy sector cleaner and opening the door to green growth in the long run.

Mexico now has important opportunities to meet renewable energy and emissions reduction goals and grow its economy.

Energy and climate goals

Mexico’s new climate change law, which I’ve written about previously, sets voluntary national targets to reduce Mexico’s total emissions to half of 2000 levels by 2050 and requires Mexico to get over a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2024.

At present, Mexico’s energy sector is responsible for roughly 65 percent of its national greenhouse gas emissions and renewables make up a small fraction of electricity production. Over the last decade, multiple independent analyses have shown certain measures in the energy sector could save or even make Mexico money while keeping millions of tons of carbon out of the atmosphere.

So, if Mexico’s energy sector could make money while modernizing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (seemingly a win-win), what’s the hold up? Some of the most significant barriers have been a shortage of new capital to invest in modernization, efficiency, and long-term upgrades, as well as old-school inertia and institutional resistance to doing things differently.

But much of that old system, without a doubt, is changing now.

Moving toward a greener future

The latest reforms and the 2012 climate change law lay the groundwork for the country’s transition from relying on an aging infrastructure, old technologies and heavy fossil fuel dependence to a green growth future.

1. Emissions reduction targets

Mexico has committed to reducing its emissions 30 percent below business-as-usual levels by 2020 and 50 percent below 2000 levels by 2050. While voluntary, the targets it set at the U.N. climate negotiations in 2009 and reiterated in its climate law are a serious commitment on an international stage, and Mexico’s high-profile leadership on climate change should not be taken lightly. Experts from Mexico’s environment ministry and National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change based these targets on extensive analysis — and they were put on the table precisely because they can be achieved with the right incentives.

2. National emissions registry and green light on emissions trading

Mexico’s climate change law created the national emissions registry as part of its National Climate Change System; polluting industries’ reporting is mandatory, standardized and public. Addressing emissions across an entire national economy through the integrated measurement, reporting, accounting and transparency required by the national registry helps establish the building blocks for emissions trading. (The law also explicitly authorized, but did not require, the development of a voluntary emissions trading system.)

3. Price on carbon in fossil fuels

Fiscal reforms by the Peña Nieto administration include a tax on carbon in fossil fuel products, which aims to reduce Mexico’s emissions by seven million tons annually, and applies to everything, from diesel, to coal, to propane. The amount of the tax is based on the carbon content and linked to global market prices for carbon tons.

Built in to the tax legislation is eligibility for companies to pay the carbon tax through carbon offsets projects of an equivalent number of tons.

4. Pilot trading of carbon credits

The passage of the new carbon tax coincided with the announcement of a new offset trading platform on the Mexican stock exchange where credits for carbon emissions reductions (in tons) can be purchased either for the voluntary market, or in lieu of paying the carbon tax for those tons. This would create, in essence, a mini-compliance market for carbon credits.

It’s unclear what the scale and rules around offsets under the tax law will be, but the platform will mean developing key precursors to a future emissions-trading system — accountability, transparency, tracking of credits and transactions.

While Mexico may be tip-toeing into the emissions-trading-system arena, analysis by Environmental Defense Fund shows developing a full-scale emissions-trading system would be profitable and effective for meeting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions targets. Legally binding targets would be a necessary step in getting there.

5. New opportunities for capital, technology, and transparency

Most of Mexico’s energy infrastructure to meet demand beyond 2020 is yet to be built and it is widely acknowledged that the potential for renewable energy in Mexico vastly outweighs the current development. Opening Mexico’s major energy producing sectors to private investment provides capital, pressure to reduce waste and increase transparency to attract investment, and — particularly in the electricity sector — opens the field to a wide array of clean energy players who previously could not break in to Mexico.

Key pieces of the policy outlined have been driven by different goals and approaches, and of course, spanned a presidential election. But they do provide essential ingredients for a cohesive climate and energy policy and an effective mechanism to get to Mexico’s climate and development goals, and the time is ripe to put them together.

The Peña Nieto administration has already issued its climate change strategy (see my analysis from last June), and a roadmap for implementing climate policy between now and 2018 — just approved by its high-level commission — is due to be released this spring. Legislation to implement the Peña Nieto reforms is being crafted now.

Mexico will face the challenge of balancing the much-hyped economic potential of tapping its fossil fuel reserves with the climate change leadership it has established over the last decade. But as the world aspires to transition toward low-carbon economies that are no longer dependent on the fossil fuel reserves so keenly eyed in Mexico, there is significantly underappreciated opportunity here — to reduce the environmental impact of old, dirty sources of energy, while taking the long view and building a sustainable future economy.

Posted in Mexico, News|: | 4 Responses

California's carbon market could help stop Amazon deforestation

(This post appeared in Point Carbon North America on Feb. 7)

By Juan Carlos Jintiach, Shuar indigenous leader from the Amazon basin, and Derek Walker, Associate Vice President for the US Climate and Energy Program at Environmental Defense Fund

Credit: Dylan Murray

California has a role to play in keeping Amazon deforestation on the decline and giving indigenous and forest communities the recognition and support they need. Credit: Dylan Murray

A recent article in the Journal of Climate predicts that destroying the Amazon rainforest would cause disastrous drought across California and the western United States. Californians are already no strangers to drought – the state is suffering one of its worst on record.

But the research adds an interesting dimension to what we already know from numerous studies about deforestation: that greenhouse gas pollution in California and around the world makes forests, including the Amazon, drier and more susceptible to widespread fires. California may be thousands of miles away from “the Earth’s lungs,” but how we treat our diverse ecosystems directly affects the one atmosphere we all share.

It is good news for everyone that California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) – which includes the world’s most comprehensive carbon market – is already helping reduce the state’s greenhouse gas pollution. Amazon states and nations have also greatly reduced their greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, which collectively accounts for as much greenhouse gas pollution as all the cars, trucks, and buses in the world. California now has a terrific opportunity to show global environmental leadership by helping Amazon states keep deforestation rates headed for zero while helping save money for companies and consumers in the Golden State.

The current world leader in greenhouse gas reductions is Brazil, which has brought Amazon deforestation down about 75% since 2005 and kept almost 3 billion tons of carbon out of the atmosphere. Indigenous peoples and forest communities have played an essential role in this accomplishment. Decades of indigenous peoples’ struggles against corporate miners, loggers, ranchers, and land grabbers and advocacy in defense of their land rights have resulted in the legal protection of 45% of the Amazon basin as indigenous territory and forest reserves – an area more than eight times the size of California.

These dedicated indigenous and forest lands hold about half of the forest carbon of the Amazon, and have proven to be effective barriers against frontier expansion and deforestation. In a real sense, indigenous and forest peoples are providing a huge global environmental service, but that service is almost entirely unrecognized, let alone compensated. And in Brazil, where agribusiness is pushing back hard against law enforcement and reserve creation, deforestation is back on the upswing – increasing nearly 30% last year.

California has a role to play in keeping Amazon deforestation on the decline and giving indigenous and forest communities the recognition and support they need. A program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) gives countries or states that commit to reducing deforestation below historic levels “credits” they can sell in carbon cap-and-trade markets. Getting these programs recognized by California’s carbon market would send a powerful signal that forests in the Amazon and around the world are worth more alive than dead, and would also provide real incentives for further reductions.

Forest community and indigenous leaders from Latin America visited California to engage state leaders and policymakers on the issues of deforestation, indigenous and local peoples’ rights, and potential partnership with the state's carbon market. From left: Juan Carlos Jintiach (Shuar indigenous leader), Megaron Txucarramae (Kayapo indigenous leader) and Lubenay (of a Chiapas forest community).

A few weeks ago, indigenous leaders from Brazil, Ecuador, and Mexico were in California engaging state leaders and policymakers on the issues of deforestation, indigenous and local peoples’ rights, and potential partnership with California’s carbon market. California should insist that only jurisdictions that respect indigenous and local peoples’ rights, territory and knowledge, and ensure that they benefit from REDD+ programs get access to its market.

The successful adoption and implementation of AB 32 is proof that California is leading the nation on effective, market-based climate change policies. But it’s time to take that another step forward. By allowing credits from REDD+ to play a role in the AB 32 program, the Golden State can be a world leader on one of the most significant causes of climate change and take action to protect the health and prosperity of a threatened land and its people.

 

Learn more about REDD+ and California:

Posted in Brazil, Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD|: | 1 Response

Passengers on India’s largest airline can now invest in low-carbon rural development

Airline travelers in India who fly the country’s largest airline now have an opportunity to support low-carbon rural development programs across the country.

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A new partnership will allow passengers on India's largest airline to invest in offsets that promote low-carbon rural development programs, including low-carbon farming. Credit: Richie Ahuja

The landmark partnership was unveiled this weekend between the Fair Climate Network (FCN), a consortium of Indian groups that is committed to improving health and livelihoods in rural communities, promoting climate resilience and reducing climate pollution, and IndiGo, the country’s largest and fastest growing airline.

The company will use the funds collected through this voluntary program to purchase some of the offsets generated by more than 300,000 Indian families from 36 climate mitigation projects. The projects, being developed and implemented by FCN, help families in rural India gain access to clean, reliable energy and improve farm income while cutting carbon emissions.

These climate adaptation and mitigation activities include innovative and sustainable low-carbon farming techniques and cooking with clean methane power instead of highly polluting traditional wood stoves. The families produce the methane fuel by using biogas digesters to process livestock manure.

Why this is a big deal for India – and Indians

It bears repeating that this is an Indian company buying carbon offsets created in India. We’ve seen other projects in India create offsets that have been purchased by, for example, European organizations. But this project is truly an effort of and for the people of the world’s largest democracy.

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300,000 Indian families participate in programs under the Fair Climate Network, a consortium of Indian groups committed to improving health and livelihoods in rural communities. Credit: Tal Lee Anderman

In offering this program, Indigo is providing its customers an opportunity to support its commitment to shared prosperity and “inclusive” growth – growth that benefits not only rural families that are members of the Fair Climate Network, but also IndiGo’s passengers and all Indians, who will benefit from a healthier environment.

Ram Esteves, the Convener of FCN said addressing rural development is a "high priority," adding:

We need programs that support economic development and deliver social, health and environmental co-benefits, including climate adaptation and mitigation. IndiGo has reposed faith and trust in this understanding of inclusive development where a stable and healthy economy is good for business. This partnership is a strong step in this direction.

IndiGo’s President and Executive Director Aditya Ghosh called the move a “momentous opportunity” for the company, saying:

We strive to make a difference each day and find solutions that help manage our carbon footprint. We are delighted to partner with FCN on this initiative which not only helps us and our passengers achieve just that, but goes far beyond by creating a sustainable positive impact and improving many individuals’ livelihoods.

The company is showing leadership by making this commitment to inclusive growth and offsets, along with other green technology investments, an integral component of its future growth. This partnership can serve as a model for Indian business leaders looking to make a difference in their communities.

Learn more at:

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Does the future of the Amazon rainforest lie in California?

Derek and CA delegation Jan 2014

From left to right: Lubenay, Juan Carlos Jintiach, Derek Walker and Megaron Txucarramae (a leader of Brazil’s indigenous Kayapo tribe).

This post was co-authored by Steve Schwartzman, EDF's director of tropical forest policy, and originally appeared on EDF Voices.

Over the past year, California’s new carbon market has held five auctions, generating $530 million for projects that reduce climate pollution in the state. This is just the start, however, as we believe the program has potential to achieve substantial environmental benefits half a world away in the Amazon rainforest.

We are working with community partners, scientific and business leaders, and California policy makers to craft a rule that permits credits from REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) to be used in California’s carbon market, rewarding indigenous and forest-dwelling communities with incentives for ecosystem protection.

California is leading the way

Using California’s new carbon market to reward rainforest protection would be a powerful signal to Brazil, Mexico, and other tropical countries—and to the world—that leaving forests standing is more profitable than cutting them down.

With the right rules in place, California could create an international gold standard for REDD credits that could be adopted by emerging carbon markets in China, Mexico and beyond.

The right technology

There’s a misperception about how hard it is to measure whether forests are being destroyed or protected. Current technology makes it possible, right now. Satellite and airplane-based sensors are already capable of recording what’s going on with high accuracy. This technology enables us to measure emissions reductions across whole states or countries, the best way to ensure that the reductions are real.

The right partners

We need to help pull together the best policy experts, scientists, and environmental organizations to help California government officials write model rules for REDD that can create a race-to-the-top for forest protection around the world. We need to show that trailblazing states – like Acre in Brazil and Chiapas in Mexico – are ready to be partners with California and can deliver the rigorous level of enforcement and program implementation that California requires.

The right time

There’s real urgency to linking California’s carbon market with REDD. Even though Brazil, home to the world’s largest tracts of tropical forests, has cut deforestation by about 75% from its 1996-2005 levels and consequently become the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that progress is fragile. Over the past year, agribusiness has been pushing back hard against law enforcement and the creation of protected reserves, and deforestation increased nearly 30%. If we want Brazil to continue reducing its deforestation towards zero, we must provide economic incentives to protect the Amazon, and California can be an important catalyst in doing that.

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Posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD, United States|: , | Leave a comment

25 years after assassination, activist Chico Mendes' vision for change lives on

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Chico Mendes and Steve Schwartzman in the late 1980s at the Nazare rubber estate (in Xapuri, Acre), where they were accompanying American journalists doing a story on the Amazon. (Photo credit: J. B. Forbes)

On December 22nd, it will be 25 years since rubber tapper and environmental leader Chico Mendes was assassinated in his home in Xapuri, Acre in the Brazilian Amazon.

I had met Chico three years before, and on repeated trips to Acre and Xapuri learned from him about the lives of the rubber tappers – workers who collect latex from cuts they make in the trunks of rubber trees – and their struggle to save the forest and their livelihoods from ranchers’ hired guns and chainsaws. It totally changed how I thought about environmentalism and tropical forests.

I organized his two trips to the United States, in 1987 and 1988, set up meetings and interviews, translated for him and generally did whatever I could think of to get the media, policy makers, environmentalists and the public to understand that Chico Mendes’ story and ideas held the key to the future of the biggest remaining rainforest in the world.

No one at the time imagined how profound and far-reaching the consequences of Chico’s life and death would prove to be – but we were friends and I still miss him.

Chico’s life

Chico led rubber tappers in stopping ranchers from cutting down the forest from which local communities lived, as well as resisting and denouncing hired gunmen who threatened leaders of the rubber tappers’ union and drove families from their homes.

After I met Chico in 1985, he worked with EDF and other environmental groups and researchers to hold up and reformulate an internationally financed road-paving project that he feared would exacerbate deforestation and conflicts, and to develop the concept of “extractive reserves” – protected forest areas where government would secure local communities’ land rights, provide health care, education, and invest in sustainable alternatives for generating income.

He was killed by a rancher after stopping him from clearing forest where he and the local community wanted government to create one of the first extractive reserves.

Chico at times sounded hyper-idealistic, but he was politically brilliant.

On learning what scientists and environmental organizations were saying about tropical forests – that they were central to creating the rain that agriculture depends on, stabilized the global climate, and that their destruction was causing the extinction of more plants and animals than at any time in the last 60 million years – he was immediately able to see the global implications of the rubber tappers’ local struggle, and the potential for the local struggle of the global environmental movement. He formulated a vision that brought together unlikely allies for transformative change.

Social activists and environmentalists have both claimed Chico, and sometimes have acted as if he could only have been one of those things. They are wrong.

He clearly understood the political advantages of environmentalism in the rubber tappers’ fight to the death for the forest, but also the importance of the rubber tappers’ fight for environmentalism and the future of the forest as a global good, as environmental historian Jose Augusto Padua has recently noted.

Chico told an interviewer shortly before he was killed:

Our biggest assets are the international environmental lobby and the international press… It was only after international recognition and pressure that we started to get support from the rest of Brazil. (p.51)

He told the same interviewer:

We realized that to guarantee the future of the Amazon, we had to find a way to preserve the forest while at the same time developing the region’s economy… we knew it was important to stop the deforestation that is threatening the Amazon and all human life on the planet… So we came up with the idea of the extractive reserve. (p.41)

Chico’s legacy

The extractive reserve was an idea that Chico launched and is now flourishing. The idea of the extractive reserve comes down to making the forest worth more alive than dead, in the first instance for the people who live in it, and this idea is very much alive.

Chico died, but his vision for transformative change won anyway.

Before Chico, people in Brazil, if they thought about it at all, thought that slashing and burning the Amazon forest was the price of progress. Today, not even the head of the agribusiness caucus of the Brazilian Congress – who fought very hard to relax legal restrictions on forest clearing – will say that Brazil needs to cut down more forest to grow, and the overwhelming majority thinks that deforestation has to stop.

Chico would be heartened by the good news about Amazonian deforestation. It is down, about 75% below the 1996–2005 average, in large part because of the policies designed and put into practice by Chico’s close friend and colleague, former Environment Minister Marina Silva. Agricultural production is up over the same period.

Because of this, Brazil is the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, at over three billion tons of carbon. Creating more extractive reserves and other protected areas, and recognizing indigenous territories was central to the plan.

In Acre, Chico’s colleagues, politically marginal during his lifetime, came to power ten years after his death. They have stayed in power ever since, and made the state a sustainable development leader in the Amazon and the world, reducing deforestation, increasing GDP, agricultural production and greatly improving healthcare and education for the population.

Just last month, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change approved rules for countries and states that reduce their deforestation below historical levels to sell those emissions reductions in carbon markets or to public sector donors.

The fight for the forest in the Amazon, and elsewhere, is far from over, and there has been huge pushback against environmental law enforcement, forest protection and indigenous land rights.

Chico believed that out of conflict and struggle could come transformative change, and so it has, even if not just as he thought. We should believe it too, and keep Chico’s vision and ideas alive.

 

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UN talks produce a strong agreement on forest protection, but otherwise déjà vu

Around midnight on Friday, November 25 – several hours after the annual UN climate conference was scheduled to have ended – I stood in the hallway of a temporary conference center erected on the soccer pitch of the National Stadium in Warsaw, watching the scrum of the climate talks in their final hours.

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Nat Keohane is EDF's Vice President for International Climate and a former economic adviser to the Obama administration.

NGO representatives were pitching stories and sharing intelligence with reporters, negotiators were huddling in groups or dashing off to last-minute bilateral meetings, and everyone was scrounging for coffee or late-night sandwiches to power another all-nighter.

The talks appeared on the brink of failure as countries deadlocked over the core questions of which countries should be obligated to reduce emissions and who should pay for it. In the end, as nearly always happens, an agreement was reached and the talks didn’t fall apart. That has become a typical pattern at these annual UN talks.

If the scene was familiar, the headlines that came out of the talks were familiar as well: Developing Nations Stage Protest at Climate Talks (NY Times); UN presses rich nations to act on climate funds (FT); Modest deal breaks deadlock at UN climate talks (AP); UN talks limp towards global 2015 climate deal (Reuters); Climate Finance Battle Shows Expectation Gap at UN Talks (Bloomberg).

But despite the dulling sense of déjà vu that Friday night in Warsaw, there was already reason for celebration. That’s because earlier that same evening – in a break with past years – the Conference of the Parties (or COP, as the talks are formally labeled) had already held the first part of its closing plenary to formally adopt decisions on areas in which negotiators could agree.

During that session, the COP agreed on a comprehensive agreement on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) – leading to what the UN, countries, media outlets and NGOs all identified as a bright spot in the negotiations.

Forest protection remains a crucial part of the climate action toolkit

With deforestation responsible for about 15% of the world’s manmade greenhouse gas emissions – that’s more than all the cars and trucks in the world – we can’t solve climate change without saving our forests. REDD+ creates economic incentives to reward countries and jurisdictions that reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation below rigorously defined baselines.

The Warsaw Framework for REDD+ Action, as it’s formally known, sets down deep roots for REDD+, and sends a clear signal that it will continue to be a crucial tool for protecting forests and the people who depend on them, by:

  1. ensuring a rigorous, transparent framework for measuring emissions reductions from reduced deforestation;
  2. affirming that financial flows will be “results-based,” meaning that REDD+ compensation will be tied to demonstrated results; and
  3. creating a structure for forest nations to share views on the effectiveness of REDD+ implementation.

The REDD+ outcome was a “big step forward,” my colleague and EDF REDD+ expert Chris Meyer told E&E News, explaining:

We had a foundation for the house; now we have the walls, the plumbing, the electricity and the roof for REDD+.

On the issue of forest protection, at least, the UN talks did exactly what they are supposed to do: they reaffirmed work that had been done in previous years, built upon it in negotiating sessions held over the past twelve months, and made the final push to resolve key issues of disagreement in the two weeks of talks in Warsaw.

This comprehensive package of decisions provides a structure for countries to develop REDD+ programs at a national level, and take advantage of the approximately $700 million per year already pledged for REDD+ program preparation and to pilot results-based payments.

The REDD+ agreement also opens a path for the International Civil Aviation Organization and other bodies that are considering developing market-based mechanisms, whether multi-lateral, national or regional, to bring REDD+ into their systems with an imprimatur of a multilateral standard.

Beyond REDD+, little formal progress

Outside of REDD+, the talks were notable more for what didn’t happen than what did. The talks didn’t make significant progress, although they managed not to collapse.

With two years until a new agreement is supposed to be reached in Paris, countries didn’t set a clear template for what they need to announce in terms of emissions reductions targets, or when they need to announce the targets. Nor did they make much progress on the key issue of climate finance – although surprisingly constructive talks on the difficult issue of compensating the world’s most vulnerable countries for the impacts of climate change reached a compromise agreement to create the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage to address the issue going forward.

On two important but lower-profile issues, there appeared to be signs of common ground behind closed doors – but these didn’t translate into movement in the formal negotiations.

On the issue of agriculture, useful conversations occurred that could help integrate agriculture into a more holistic discussion of the role of the land sector in responding to climate change, even if no formal progress were made in the context of these negotiations.

On the critical question of how to construct an international climate architecture that promotes and supports ambitious national action through carbon markets, countries put some useful options on the table – but could not reach a decision, instead deferring further discussion until next June.

To be sure, we never expected much to happen at these Warsaw talks. They were always going to be more about headaches than headlines.

But it’s hard to escape the sense that countries spent two weeks reopening issues that we thought had been resolved and fighting the same battles that have been fought before, only to make a last-minute lunge in the final hours to finish barely ahead of where they started.

A good example is on the key question of participation. Since the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which listed the world’s advanced economies in an appendix or “annex,” the distinction between “Annex I” and “Non-Annex I” countries has been a central point of contention. Five years later, the Kyoto Protocol assigned emissions reductions only to “Annex I” countries. Eliminating the so-called “Kyoto firewall” has been a red line of the U.S. and other advanced economies, which point to the rapid growth in major emerging economies such as China and India, and the concomitant rise in their greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2011, at the UN talks in Durban, South Africa, countries declared that a new agreement, to be finalized in Paris in 2015, would be “applicable to all Parties” – a phrase widely understood to mean that the Annex I/Non-Annex I distinction would be erased. But the first draft of the negotiating text in Warsaw hardly referred to Durban and instead used the different term “broad participation.” That opening salvo didn’t last, and the final text reaffirmed the Durban agreement – but not before significant energy had gone into re-fighting that battle.

The world outside the UN talks

With little to show for their two weeks of long days and all-nighters, negotiators have left themselves a lot to do over the next two years to reach a meaningful outcome in Paris.

However, countries and other actors don’t need to wait for an international agreement in 2015 to start addressing climate change. It was clear, through events on the sidelines of the negotiations and conversations with other attendees at the conference, that cities, states, countries and regions around the world have already started moving to cut their emissions and adapt to climate change.

Some of the most interesting side events highlighted the progress made in China on provincial carbon trading pilots and explored how the Chinese experiments could learn from California’s experience in building a successful carbon market. And the Climate and Clean Air Coalition – a group of more than 70 state and nonstate partners working together to reduce short-lived super-pollutants like methane, black carbon, and HFCs – also announced important progress. Those side events were a reminder that the UN talks, while they remain important, are not the only game in town.

That’s a good thing, and a reason for optimism. Because with the damaging impacts of climate change already apparent in the United States and around the world, the world urgently needs near-term action to turn the corner on global emissions and put us on a downward trajectory toward climate safety.

Read EDF's press release on the outcome of the Warsaw negotiations: Strong agreement to protect forests highlight of UN climate talks.

Posted in Deforestation, REDD, UN negotiations, Warsaw (COP-19)|: | 3 Responses

First-of-its-kind map of the Amazon's indigenous lands and forest carbon will empower indigenous communities to protect their forests – and the climate

Para español, vea el blog del Instituto del Bien Común

On the last day of our meeting in Lima, Peru last month, five consultants from indigenous organizations across the Amazon were hunkered down at their computers.

WHRC's Alessandro Baccini (center) teaching Peruvian indigenous participants how to use software to analyze satellite imagery. (Photo credit: Dylan Murray)

Three of them represented the Madre de Dios region in eastern Peru, where illegal mining threatens their forests and rivers. Another was from the Ecuadorian Amazon, which is grappling with the implications of a recent presidential decree to open up the land for oil and gas exploration. The fifth worked with tribes in rural Colombia, where a dearth of ways to make a living has both fueled a decades-long insurgency and the isolation of indigenous peoples there.

The three-day workshop was the latest effort facilitated by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to inform Amazonian indigenous communities about REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), a program that would provide forest-dwellers with economic incentives to keep their forests standing.

In Lima, EDF brought together a top-notch team to begin finding answers to some of the larger questions about REDD+.

For example, if a program were created where communities could be paid for not deforesting, just how much would the forests in all Amazonian indigenous reserves and protected areas be worth? And, would the economic and social benefits from such a program compare to the rewards reaped from deforestation, mining, or other unsustainable activities that often fail to benefit indigenous communities?

Since about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the carbon released by deforestation, incentive programs such as REDD+ that can keep the carbon locked in forests will be a key part in stopping climate change. Determining how much carbon a given forest owner or community holds is necessary to determine compensation.

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EDF's Chris Meyer explains how satellite imagery and on-the-ground measurements by indigenous participants helped to improve estimates of forest carbon in indigenous territories. (Photo credit: Dylan Murray)

During the workshop, indigenous consultants representing COICA, a pan-Amazonian indigenous coordinating body, worked with scientists from Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) and RAISG, a network of remote-sensing scientists from Amazon countries, to quantify how much “forest carbon” was being stored in these territories.

WHRC provided a trove of satellite data that gives estimates of how much carbon is stored in tropical forests around the globe – crucial information in and of itself, as some forests hold much more carbon than others. Meanwhile, RAISG brought to the table a painstakingly detailed map of all indigenous lands and protected areas in the Amazon. WHRC and RAISG’s work yields a tool that is nothing less than state of the art.

By merging the content from the two organizations, the team has created a first-of-its-kind map* that simultaneously shows the density of forest carbon throughout the Amazon and where the indigenous and protected areas are relative to it.

So what does this mean for indigenous peoples?

Maps could inform indigenous groups’ interactions with government, buyers of REDD+ credits

The new map that shows how forest carbon aligns with indigenous territories means indigenous groups will better understand the climate benefits of preserving their tropical forests.

The five consultants are preparing detailed maps for specific regions in their countries in the hopes that they may be REDD+-eligible in the future, and plans are in the works to disseminate the complete maps and their underlying data to communities throughout the Amazon Basin. This will in turn allow communities that want to participate in REDD+ to represent themselves more effectively to governments and REDD+ credit buyers when REDD+ markets come on-line.

The consultants are optimistic that their efforts in specific regions in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia might lead to their countries’ inclusion in an eventual “Jurisdictional REDD+” system. Whereas most REDD+ efforts function at the smaller project-level, the increasingly popular jurisdictional approach allows for areas at the sub-national scale (for example, the Madre de Dios region) to be certified as having zero net deforestation.

Indigenous lands have less deforestation, but face political pressures

These maps also illustrate what’s at stake if we lose sight of indigenous people’s proven record of environmental stewardship.

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Indigenous participants and collaborators from RAISG, WHRC and EDF at the workshop. The maps being held illustrate the indigenous reserves and protected areas throughout the Amazon Basin. (Photo credit: Instituto del Bien Común)

Past studies, including one co-authored by EDF’s Director of Tropical Forest Policy Steve Schwartzman, have proven that indigenous lands suffer from much less deforestation than non-indigenous lands.

Recent political winds in Brazil and Ecuador, though, suggest that politicians are leaning towards unbridled agricultural expansion and resource extraction in the Amazon, even if this means violating or scaling back indigenous rights.

These maps can help make the case that indigenous management of tropical forests makes both environmental and economic sense. With such a tool, indigenous communities can convince their countries that they do not have to sacrifice environmental protections and the well-being of indigenous communities for economic growth.

*Note: The maps are still being finalized, and are expected to be done by early 2014.

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