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22 April 2019 | Movements like Extinction Rebellion have ignited a global passion for reducing greenhouse gasses, but this passion will come to nothing if we don’t harness the energy to implement viable solutions that work. Here’s a quick look at some of the tools we can’t forget this Earth Day:

The Paris Climate Agreement

It may seem odd to list the Paris Climate Agreement as a “forgotten solution”, but this groundbreaking achievement is still given short shrift in mainstream media because it doesn’t provide a top-down, one-size-fits-all emission-reduction target. That’s by design, because such targets are meaningless without agreement on more mundane issues such as what constitutes an emission, what constitutes an emission-reduction, and how to account for them.

The Paris Agreement provides near-universal agreement on these and other critical issues while letting each country create its own “Nationally Determined Contribution” (NDC) to the climate challenge. It also calls for increased ambition every five years – beginning in 2020.

That’s where groups like Extinction Rebellion and the Green New Deal become so critical: they create the momentum to ratchet up ambition, while the Paris Agreement provides a framework within which those ambitions can be realized.

Related Podcasts:

Natural Climate Solutions

Even if we eliminated fossil fuels tomorrow, the forests, farms, and fields of the world would continue to generate greenhouse-gas emissions – in part because of unsustainable agriculture practices, but also because climate change has already destabilized our living ecosystems to such a degree that they are in danger of emitting massive amounts of greenhouse gas as they decay.

Analysis from 2017 shows that natural climate solutions, such as agroforestry, permaculture, and sustainable forest management, can get us 37 percent of the way to meeting the Paris Agreement’s two-degree Celsius (3.7 ºF) target, and at a very low cost. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that we must increase natural carbon sinks if we’re to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5ºC (2.7ºF) above pre-industrial levels.

Despite this, natural climate solutions get just 3 percent of global climate finance and 1 percent of media coverage. They are, in other words, the ultimate forgotten solution.

Related Podcasts:

Supply Chain Transparency

Deforestation generates between 10 percent and 18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, depending on the year, and most of that deforestation comes to make way for farms to feed our ravenous appetites for soy, beef, and other deforestation commodities.

Over the past decade, hundreds of leading companies have pledged to reduce their emissions by reducing their impact on forests, but such voluntary won’t solve the problem.

They have, however, led to a complete restructuring of the world’s supply chains, which are now more transparent than ever. This transparency provides an entry point for prudent regulations and government licensing programs that truly can end deforestation once and for all.

Related Podcast:

A Price on Carbon

Governments around the world are implementing a price on carbon, and Article 6 of the Paris Agreement provides rules for transferring emission-reductions internationally. Such international transfers can’t be used to meet existing NDCs, but they can be used to drive emissions even deeper.

Negotiators, however, still need to finalize that article, and they’re scheduled to do so at year-end climate talks in Argentina. The ultimate aim is to create a “Paris Rule Book” for implementing the Paris Agreement from 2020 onward – a critical task, because even if every country completely implemented its current NDC, global temperatures would still rise more than 3.7 degrees Celsius, which is deep into the danger zone, according to global scientific consensus as articulated through the IPCC.

Related Podcast:

The Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 global goals set by all 193 countries of the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, on the eve of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Taken by themselves, the SDGs are easy to dismiss as mere words, but they don’t exist by themselves: they’re woven into the Paris Agreement and into the lending guidelines of development banks around the world.

There are 17 of them, and they include things like ending poverty, ensuring a good education, and building pipes, bridges, roads, and flood-plains that will work in a changing climate.

Related Podcast:


Another issue is how emissions from international flights are handled. Because such emissions are generated between countries, they were not included in the Paris Agreement, but instead come under the prevue of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is the UN body charged with overseeing international air travel.

ICAO members have agreed to cap greenhouse-gas emissions from international flights at 2020 levels from the year 2021 onward, and airlines that can’t reduce their emissions internally can offset them through a program called the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

Related Podcast:

Farmers and Indigenous People Ascendant

Finally, perhaps the most obvious sign of the growing emphasis on natural climate solutions is the growing profile of indigenous people and farmers in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In 2017, the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture formalized the role of farmers, and in 2018 the Platform for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities formalized the role of indigenous people. It’s difficult to imagine two constituencies more critical to implementing natural climate solutions than these two.

Related Podcast:

The post Remembering Forgotten Climate Solutions this Earth Day appeared first on Ecosystem Marketplace.

15 April 2019 | Every few years, New York University’s Institute for Policy Integrity surveys economists who have expertise on climate change, and it always finds overwhelming support for putting a price on carbon to drive down emissions — support that ideologues on the right routinely dismiss, usually on unfounded “economic” grounds, while those on the left decry the folly of letting emitters “buy their way out” of their commitments.

As the US House of Representatives moves forward with legislation following in the wake of the Green New Deal (which isn’t dead, by the way), here is a look at some interesting findings from our 2017 report: Unlocking Potential/State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets: Buyers’ Analysis. In this survey, we looked at companies that buy carbon offsets voluntarily, because that’s where much of the US action has been these past few years.

In cap-and-trade systems like the US has in California and the Northeast, companies buy offsets to comply with the law, which is how true carbon pricing drives emissions lower. The drivers may be different, but the mechanisms are the same.

MYTH 1: Companies that buy offsets are just buying their way out of their obligations.

Our research shows the opposite: namely, companies are purchasing offsets as one of many ways to fulfill their carbon reduction obligations. Those companies that do buy offsets are doing so as part of an overall carbon management strategy and they mostly use offsets to tackle emissions they can’t eliminate internally. Some companies, like Disney and Microsoft, have created an internal “price on carbon,” where the company charges itself for every ton of carbon it produces and uses that income to purchase offsets. The idea is that incorporating carbon into the company’s bottom line will focus attention on emissions and accelerate reductions.


MYTH 2: Offsets don’t represent real reductions.

In the early days of carbon markets in the early 2000’s, voluntary offset quality was a mixed bag—some projects were well-planned and some were not. A few unscrupulous “carbon cowboys” made headlines after their offsets were found to be double-counted or illegitimate. But carbon markets have come a long way since then. Carbon standards require developers to demonstrate that their emissions are:


MYTH 3: Offsetting barely makes a dent—it’s not sufficient for the large-scale change we need.

This one might be sort of true, but that’s because offsets are designed to be part of an overall reduction strategy and not a substitute for one. Companies surveyed in the report typically offset less than 2% of their total emissions, usually because they’re using offsets to compensate for just one segment of that total, like employee travel or the carbon footprint of a single product. Even the small percentage, however, represents a tangible impact on the climate. As more companies sign on to initiatives like the Science Based Targets or the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), the percentage of emissions they offset may go up.


MYTH 4: Offsetting is niche or arcane.

A lot of prominent brands use offsetting, including household names like General Motors, Delta Air Lines, and Microsoft, all of whom were among the top five buyers on the voluntary market in 2014.

Of the nearly 2,000 companies who publicly disclosed emissions data to CDP in 2014, 248 (17%) invested in projects to reduce carbon emissions outside of their immediate operations.

Of the 140 MtCO2e in offsets reported to the CDP, companies purchased nearly 40 MtCO2e (with the remaining companies either producing offsets for sale externally or offsetting internally within their suppy chain). This is equal to the carbon sequestered by 1 billion tree seedlings grown over 10 years.



The post Carbon Markets Back in Limelight as US Finally Joins the Global Climate Effort appeared first on Ecosystem Marketplace.

1 April 2019 | In 2017, the US state of Maryland put out a call for proposals to restore 19 miles of degraded stream. They did so because that’s about how much stream the Department of Transportation (DoT) fears it will damage if it goes ahead with planned or projected highway projects.  The DoT, however, won’t pay for the restoration up-front, but will instead “pay for success,” meaning it will pay only when certain milestones are met.

It’s called “pay for success” (PfS), and it looks a lot like mitigation banking, where green entrepreneurs restore patches of degraded countryside in the hope of “banking” environmental credits that they can sell to developers and DoTs down the road. PfS, however, is broader than mitigation banking, and it generally applies to any service that governments contract for – including, now, ecological restoration.

Environmental scientist Tim Male has been following PfS almost since its inception – first as a scientist working in restoration, and then as an elected councilman paying to have it done right, and then as a senior adviser to the Obama administration.

He now runs the Environmental Policy Innovation Center, and in 2017 he took a look at four PfS programs emerging across the United States, and published his findings in a report called “Nature, Paid on Delivery.”

We caught up to him at the Ecological Restoration Business Association’s (ERBA) second annual policy conference, which took place last year in Washington, DC, and the interview is now available on the latest edition of the Bionic Planet podcast.

Bionic Planet is available on iTunesRadio PublicStitcher, or directly on this device here:

The post Nature, Paid on Delivery: Is Pay for Success the Future of Ecological Restoration? appeared first on Ecosystem Marketplace.

29 March 2019 | In the United States, more people earn their living restoring nature than do so mining coal or milling steel, and a good many of those jobs exist because of laws and regulations that require companies to fix any part of nature they break. For that reason, the Trump administration’s myriad environmental policies loomed large over the Ecological Restoration Business Association’s (ERBAs’s) third annual policy conference in Washington, DC, earlier this month.

Most participants, surprisingly, shrugged off the administration’s plan to create new rules for determining what are and are not protected “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) – a plan that would roll back protection of wetlands that filter water and regulate flooding. That plan, which we covered in a five-part series, as well as in an episode of the Bionic Planet podcast, would impact thousands of miles of downstream waters, and most of the attendees felt that it, like most of the president’s policy initiatives, would fail to hold up in court.

“I think there’s a good chance that they will go through all these iterations, and in the meantime we’ll stay at the status quo,” said Murray Starkel of Ecological Service Partners. “That could be four, five, or six years.”

Of more concern was the high cost of compliance – a cost, ironically, pushed upward by an unwillingness to adequately fund regulators, as we’ll see below.

On the other hand, the administration has floated a handful of new proposals that could, in theory, streamline the tedious process of getting restoration projects approved – but only if those proposals are themselves implemented.

Here’s a rundown of the policy issues that loom largest in the restoration sector this year – issues we hope to revisit in the months ahead in the form of deeper, stand-alone articles and podcasts. For now, we’ll also be rolling out at least three episodes of the Bionic Planet podcast drawn on interviews conducted at the ERBA event. Bionic Planet is available on iTunesRadio PublicStitcher, or directly on this device here:

In Regulation, Cheap is Expensive

Mitigation banks are companies that proactively restore degraded rivers, wetlands, and other patches of nature, with the aim of generating environmental credits. These credits are then sold to developers, such as departments of transportation that want to build roads or private landowners who want to build shopping malls. Developers buy these credits to reduce – or “mitigate” – their impact on nature, and they usually do so to comply with federal, state, or local laws.

At the federal level, the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for approving mitigation banks that restore rivers, streams, and wetlands, while the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is responsible for approving banks that restore the habitat of endangered species. Both agencies work in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as local, state, and tribal authorities.

The EPA, Army Corps, and FWS all operate under the executive branch, and all three face a combination of flat budgets and rising costs – austerity measures that have, as I alluded to earlier, made it more expensive for developers to mitigate their impacts. The issue isn’t direct costs, but indirect ones incurred because fewer people are available to inspect and approve mitigation banks, which draws out the time it takes to get banks approved and then to get credits issued.

In the case of the Army Corps of Engineers, for example, bank approvals that should take 225 days often take five years or longer – leaving multi-billion-dollar projects in limbo for years instead of months.

“The frustration here is both bank approval timelines, which can take two to five years, plus the release of credits, which could take an additional 10 years,” says ERBA Executive Director Sara Johnson. “Sponsors find it frustrating that they are subject to 10 to 15 years of regulation to do something good for the environment.”

Participants overwhelmingly agreed that increased funding for responsible agencies would shrink approval times and slash the cost of compliance, but they also pointed to improvements that could be achieved without such an increase – many of which could come as part of a massive update to existing rules that the administration is currently undertaking.

Updating the 2008 Wetland Mitigation Rule

In addition to WOTUS, the administration is updating the Compensatory Wetland Mitigation Rule, which the EPA and Army Corps jointly promulgated in 2008 to regulate the establishment of mitigation projects and outline how companies can mitigate for damages.

The Rule, which we covered at its inception, emerged after decades of trial and error and years of consultation. It created a clear preference for mitigation banks over other forms of mitigation, such as less regulated in-lieu fee programs and nearly unregulated permittee-responsible mitigation.

Ten years on, the rule has dramatically slashed the cost of compliance, and the administration says it sees room for improvement – in part by improving interagency cooperation.

Coordination, Clarity, and Acceleration

Ryan Fisher, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works), and Lee Forsgren, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Office of Water, EPA, both spoke at the DC event, and both stressed the need for better cooperation among agencies, as well as among divisions within the same agency.

“I know a common complaint is you talk to one Corps district, you get one answer, but you talk to another one, you get a different answer,” said Fisher, who argued that the administration’s effort to rewrite the WOTUS Rule and revise the Compensatory Wetland Mitigation Rule would provide more consistent guidance across districts.

On the water front, the 2008 Rule requires approval by Interagency Review Teams (IRT) that are led by the Corps but include other federal and state agencies who work with the bank sponsor. Earlier this year, the Trump administration proposed eliminating IRTs to accelerate the permitting process, arguing that the public participation process provides a de facto review.

Participants at the ERBA conference, however, pushed back on this proposal, with many arguing that IRTs provide a critical focal point and are needed to generate early coordination, but that the process needs to be improved.

“Before IRTs existed, you’d take your permit to the Corps, and the Corps would say, ‘OK, now take it to the EPA,’ and the EPA would say, ‘OK, now take it to Fish and Wildlife,’” said David Groves, of The Earth Partners, a mitigation banking group. “IRTs are supposed to be a One-Stop shop, but they don’t work that way.”

In an upcoming episode of Bionic Planet, Groves and other participants offer a deeper take on improving IRTs.

Participants also welcomed new Army Corps guidance for banks and in-lieu fee programs to issue credits before they hit their final performance milestone for restoration of the wetland or stream they’re working on. The guidance to district commanders makes it clear that early credits can only be released if the bank’s sponsor puts up money to buy other credits if the bank fails to deliver.

WOTUS be Unto the States

As for WOTUS, the Obama Administration had overseen the creation of a new rule designed to provide clarity following a muddled 2006 Supreme Court ruling that offered conflicting guidance – one that protected wetlands, and one that didn’t. Every court test since then has upheld federal wetland protection, but the Trump Administration recently proposed a new rule that rolls it back substantially by withdrawing protection for isolated wetlands and intermittent streams.

In defending the Trump proposal, Forsgren argued that any regulatory gaps would be picked up by the states.

“[The Trump administration proposal] rebalances the federal and state relationship by recognizing the importance of section 101(b),” he said, referencing a paragraph in the Clean Water Act that says Congress should “recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of States” in matters related to clean water.

The current rules, however, evolved because states did a poor job of regulating interstate waters, while coordination was non-existent.

“When the states had primacy, you ended up having 50 different sets of functional assessment methodologies, or 50 different sets of rules for how you actually do the work,” said Starkel.

Busting Dams and Breaking Bottlenecks

Another issue on the horizon is how to restore streams by breaking up millions of old dams – often called “drowning machines” – that were built roughly a century ago and now serve no purpose other than disrupting waterflows, drowning children, and choking off once-thriving species.

“Most stream restoration is done on farms, but these old abandoned dams are both hazardous and hydrologically disruptive,” says George Howard of Raleigh-based Restoration Systems.

After more than a decade of false starts, the Army Cprps last year issued guidance on how to recognize and quantify improvements generated by removing dams, and Forsgren says the EPA is interested in expanding the practice.

Multi-Credit Banks

Environmental markets have always faced one fundamental flaw: namely, they’re based on payments for distinct ecosystem services, while ecosystems are holistic entities that generate multiple services. A wetland, for example, filters water and controls flooding, but it might also sequester carbon and provide habitat for endangered species.

Regulators have struggled to find ways of letting banks generate multiple credits from the same piece of land without double-counting, but that requires strict rulemaking coupled with intricate mapping, data sharing, and coordination among regulators.

Several states have experimented with multi-credit banking, and Forsgren says the EPA is ramping up efforts to develop practices at the federal level.

Water Quality Trading

Finally, Forsgren said the EPA is ramping up federal support for programs that use water quality trading (WQT) – which is something akin to cap-and-trade, but for water pollution – to address the vexing problem of agricultural runoff.

“The biggest environmental water quality issue that’s facing this country right now is nutrient loading in our waters,” he said. “The only way we’re ever going to address that is to find creative ways to stop the flow of nutrients into the waters.”

Recent Ecosystem Marketplace analysis found pollution flows ripe for WQT in California’s Central Valley, the Greater Chicago region and the Great Lakes, Colorado’s Front Range, Kansas City, and cities along the Gulf Coast, but states have been reticent to move forward without federal guidance, especially on waters that cross jurisdictions.

In December, the Army Corps’ Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, Ricky “PD” James, issued a Corps-wide directive to create guidance on WQT, and Ryan said he expects something by year-end. Both he and Forsgren said the forthcoming guidance is expected to align with EPA’s February 2019 memo on water quality trading promoting market-based approaches to reduce nutrient pollution in the nation’s waterways.

The EPA memo follows a joint letter sent by EPA and USDA to state and tribal regulators in December 2018 which also encouraged market-based strategies for improving water quality.

Both are clear signals from the current administration in support of trading. A federal show of support was one key recommendation made in a recent action agenda for scaling up water quality trading, co-authored by the National Network on Water Quality Trading and Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace.

But water quality trading faces other barriers: the action agenda also recommends backstopping state agencies with sufficient capacity and resources, simplifying trading program rules, and making trading less risky for buyers.

The post In Ecological Restoration, High Costs Trump Regulatory Rollbacks appeared first on Ecosystem Marketplace.

This story first appeared on the EDF blog.

26 March 2019 | Presidents Trump and Bolsonaro had a lot of common ground to share when they met in Washington last week – racism, misogyny, conspiracy theories, and contempt for science and journalism (the high quality type). They also converge on an early 1900’s view of development and environment as a zero-sum game. The more you have of one, the less there is of the other.

The economics don’t add up for either of them. Trump crows about “beautiful” coal, but the market says coal is a loser compared to renewables and cleaner fuels. Bolsonaro wants to get out of the Paris climate accord and roll back indigenous land rights in favor of agribusiness and mining. Meanwhile, the executive director of the powerful Brazilian Agribusiness Association says “Whoever wants to leave the Paris Agreement has never exported anything.”

Climate denial is central to Trump’s and Bolsonaro’s mindsets, and here the conspiracy theories really go to town. Trump thinks climate change is a Chinese conspiracy to strangle the US economy. Bolsonaro’s Foreign Minister thinks climate change is part of a “cultural Marxist” plot to keep down western democracies and build up Marxist China (he also thinks the “cultural Marxists” want to criminalize red meat and heterosexual sex). Interestingly, former President Dilma Rousseff’s first Minister of Science and Technology, former Communist Party of Brazil Congressman Aldo Rebelo, thought climate change was a capitalist conspiracy to crush Brazilian development. Why let political differences spoil a good conspiracy theory?

You can really only hold on to that early 20th century dichotomy if you ignore the costs of climate change – and the economic opportunities that arise from fixing the problem.

Case in point: continued deforestation in the Amazon is getting ever closer to a “tipping point,” at which much of the region would become savanna, with enormous consequences for the rains that agriculture in Brazil (and other places as far away as California) depends on – and for the numerous other environmental services that large continuous expanses of tropical forest provide.

There’s a better way forward. Presidents Bolsonaro, who says he admires the US, and Trump could both look to California as a great example of a state that is protecting the environment while growing its economy.

California approved emissions reductions policies in 2006, in spite of polluters’ dire warnings of economic ruin. Since then, the state has exceeded its emissions reductions targets, while growing from the eighth to fifth-largest economy in the world and creating jobs faster than the US. Because of the carbon constraints, renewable energy and green jobs are booming.

Countries from Mexico to China are partnering with California and looking at how they might link up with the state’s strong carbon market. The California Air Resources Board, an environmental agency that increasingly plays a global leadership role on climate, recently released a standard that would help California send a powerful signal of support for the people and nature most threatened by Bolsonaro.

The California Tropical Forest Standard lays out rigorous criteria for states and provinces that want access to carbon markets, like California’s, for jurisdiction-wide reductions in deforestation. These include transparent guarantees that indigenous peoples’ rights – including land rights and rights to free, prior and informed consent in development initiatives – are respected and that indigenous and traditional peoples benefit from deforestation reduction programs.

The most important thing California can do right now to support the indigenous peoples who are on the front line of defense against Bolsonaro’s war on the forest and forest peoples would be to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard. It would be a concrete demonstration that indigenous territories and their vast social and biodiversity are assets in the emerging 21st century low-carbon economy.

California’s leaders — unlike Trump and Bolsonaro – are addressing the realities of the 21st century and finding ways to make climate action the basis of sustainable growth. This is good news for the people of California and the global atmosphere. There’s probably not much hope for Trump. But California’s endorsement of the Tropical Forest Standard could get Bolsonaro’s team thinking about how to leave their time warp and join the 21st century.

The post AnalysisDefending the Amazon, and the Earth, from “Trump of the Tropics” appeared first on Ecosystem Marketplace.

This post is excerpted from a recent Forest Trends Communities Initiative publication, The Surui Forest Carbon Project: A Case Study.

26 March 2019 | The Surui Forest Carbon Project was the first indigenous-led conservation project financed through the sale of carbon offsets. It dramatically reduced deforestation within the territory during its first five years of operation (2009-2014), but was suspended in 2018 after the discovery of large gold deposits in the territory sparked a surge in deforestation.

Before being suspended, the project generated 299,895 carbon offsets certified under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). This is equal to removing 64,000 cars from the road for a year. The project also became the first VCS-certified project to receive a Gold certification from the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance (CCB), which evaluates social and environmental benefits beyond carbon. The Paiter-Surui used proceeds from offset sales to finance six sustainable community development initiatives that generate income and support traditional practices, such as the harvesting of medicinal plants, the creation of artisanal handicrafts, and other activities that enable indigenous peoples to live off the land while maintaining the forest.

In this case study, we first offer a brief history of the Paiter-Surui people, which sets the stage for a history of the project itself. We then provide an analysis of the challenges the project faces to this day, and implications for implementing REDD+ in other contexts.

Indigenous people have contributed less to climate change than has any other segment of the population, yet they are among those most vulnerable to its impacts. At the same time, agriculture and forestry generate roughly 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, while traditional land-management practices, such as agroforestry and permaculture, can dramatically improve the ability of forests, farms, and fields to absorb emissions. This has spawned the creation of a variety of mechanisms designed to support indigenous land stewardship. REDD+ is one of these mechanisms.

REDD+ stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, plus conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks,” and in the strictest sense it refers to a specific set of mechanisms created under the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and enshrined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

The term also applies generically to voluntary initiatives developed outside the UNFCCC to support sustainable land management and conservation in developing countries. These projects often work by helping indigenous or other rural communities implement sustainable land-use strategies that both improve their livelihoods and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In such cases, they finance themselves by using recognized carbon standards to document the net impact on greenhouse gas emissions and generate certified carbon offsets that can be sold to emitters interested in reducing their carbon footprints.

The Surui Forest Carbon Project is an example of such a voluntary initiative.

Although 1969 marked their first official contact with Brazilian authorities, Paiter histories describe contact – and conflict – with Europeans going back centuries.

Although 1969 marked their first official contact with Brazilian authorities, Paiter histories describe contact – and conflict – with Europeans going back centuries. These histories have a profound impact on how the Paiter and other indigenous people interact with outsiders.

In the years after First Contact with Brazilian authorities in 1969, the Paiter suffered from smallpox, measles, and respiratory ailments against which they had no immunity, and their population plunged from 5,000 in 1969 to 290 in 1973. In addition to losing people, the Paiter seemed to lose their spirit as traditional medicines, so bound up in culture, failed to protect them, while new medicines brought by invaders did. This opened the door to missionaries, who converted many of the Paiter to Christianity, while an entire generation of chiefs fell to disease, and longstanding governance structures ceased to exist.

During this period, a young Kaban chief named Itabira formed a friendship with an agent from the government agency National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) named Apoena Meireles, who helped Itabira and other young chiefs navigate the Brazilian system. This made it possible for the Paiter to win demarcation of a small portion of their land in 1983 – far earlier than most other indigenous peoples – but it came at a price.

To secure their rights, the young Paiter leaders required frequent travel to the capital city of Brasilia. They financed these trips by letting loggers harvest the lucrative mahogany that grew in their territory. Even after demarcation, the Paiter continued to depend on informal logging – at first to support travel, but gradually as a means of sustenance. Village chiefs eventually began negotiating with loggers unilaterally, further eroding what remained of the old communal governance structures.

Three chiefs feature prominently in the creation of the Surui Forest Carbon Project.

Itabira Surui is the oldest of the three. A member of the Kaban clan, he was an early proponent of limited logging, but would eventually turn against the practice as he saw its environmental toll.

Henrique Surui, a member of the Gameb clan, is younger than Itabira and made a name for himself as a tough negotiator willing to use force against logging interests that tried to exploit the Paiter. At one point, Henrique and Itabira succeeded in persuading logging operations to conduct business through Metareilá, an organization formed to represent the Paiter’s interests outside the territory, instead of directly with individual chiefs. This ensured fairer prices while sharing income.

Almir Surui, speaking at REDD talks in 2011.

Finally, Almir Surui, also of the Gameb, opposed logging from an early age, and in 1988 he became the first member of his people to attend university. In the early 1990s, he began representing the Paiter in an indigenous federation called CUNPIR (Coordination of Nations of Indigenous Peoples of Rondônia, Southern Amazonas and North Mato Grosso (Coordenação das Nações de Povos Indígenas de Rondônia, Sul do Amazonas e Norte do Mato Grosso). He would eventually become the proponent of the forest carbon project.

CUNPIR was backed by a Catholic organization called the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), which had earlier played a key role in helping indigenous people earn demarcation for their lands. By the time Almir joined CUNPIR, however, CIMI had formally adopted a policy of opposing indigenous engagement with the larger market economy, and it often worked through indigenous organizations like CUNPIR to execute this policy. As Almir became increasingly engaged with Planafloro and the World Bank, he found himself frequently at odds with CIMI.

By 2005, more than 10 percent of the Paiter’s territory had been logged, and several clan chiefs began exploring the potential for other extractive activities – primarily the mining of diamonds and gold. At the time, Paiter leadership concluded that both logging and mining were economically unviable and environmentally destructive.

Almir, meanwhile, had learned about “Life Plans” that were being developed by other indigenous peoples across the Amazon. Life Plans are as diverse and varied as the people of the Amazon themselves, but they almost all focus on ways of developing a sustainable indigenous economy by reviving dead and dying traditions. Many of these traditions are related to agricultural practices that evolved over thousands of years and have proven to be more resilient (but less efficient) than modern agricultural methods that was introduced into the Amazon in the last century.

Working with two NGOs, the Amazon Conservation Team (Equipe de Conservação da Amazonia, or ECAM) and the Association of Ethnic and Environmental Defense (Kanindé), Almir created an ambitious plan for developing a Paiter Life Plan that incorporated the Forum of the Clans (and, later, the Surui Parliament). ECAM (Called ACT Brazil at the time) secured a $250,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation to begin the work of mapping resources, traditional hunting grounds, and areas of cultural significance across the territory. These were essential first steps in developing a bottom-up Life Plan.

The Paiter Surui’s territory, the Sete de Setembro. Within the territory, forests are largely intact, compared to the surrounding lands.

The Annenberg grant would provide income to Paiter members who participated in the mapmaking process, and Almir saw it as an opportunity to wean the community off of logging as a source of income. He presented the idea to the Forum of the Clans in late 2004, and 14 out of 18 chiefs endorsed a moratorium on logging that would last throughout the mapping process. Logging quickly ground to a halt, prompting some of the loggers to pool their resources and put a bounty on Almir’s head.

Such threats were not taken lightly. Loggers had earlier assassinated a high-profile Paiter chief named Jamne, and Apoena Meireles had been murdered in 2004. The indigenous rights campaigner Dorothy Stang, who was a Catholic nun, was murdered by ranchers in February 2005.

In order to secure funding for further development of the Life Plan, and to keep Almir out of harm’s way, ECAM began sending him on fundraising journeys abroad.

While in San Francisco for one of these fundraising trips, Almir approached Beto Borges of Forest Trends Association, initially with the goal of securing a grant. Borges instead suggested using carbon finance to secure long-term funding for reforestation, with proceeds used to subsidize other sustainable land-management practices, such as fish farming and the harvesting of non-timber forest products.

Consultants brought on board suggested that the threats to existing forest were so clear and present that the Paiter could possibly generate “avoided deforestation” (the term in vogue before “REDD+”) offsets. But there was a catch: avoided deforestation was not recognized under the CDM, so the Paiter would have to pilot untested methodologies in the voluntary carbon market.

All of the Paiter-Surui clans took part in agroforestry training.

By this time, a number of NGOs including Forest Trends, ECAM, Metareilá, Kanindé, Idesam, and the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund (Fundo Brasileiro da Biodiversidade, or Funbio) were on board. The project also had backing from a number of funders: the United States Agency for International Development, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Overbrook Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, the World Bank Development Grants Facility, the Global Environment Facility, the Citi Foundation, and the United Kingdom Department for International Development.

Despite their diversity, all known indigenous communities across the Amazon practice some form of the principle of “Buen Vivir” or “Sumaj Kausay,” roughly translated as “Living Well,” for governance of their natural resources, based on communal decision-making. The central goal is the use of community resources in a way that reflects cultural values and self-determination. In accordance with this principle, the project partners drafted and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to pilot a forest carbon project. The Paiter clans designated Metareilá as the lead, with other organizations playing supporting roles.

The partners drafted a plan for executing the project, and for holding all income in a segregated trust fund, maintained by Funbio on behalf of the Paiter people, as exercised through Metareilá.

Almir presented the proposal to the Forum of the Clans, and it was overwhelmingly approved. Henrique Surui, the leading proponent of increased logging in the territory, was absent, on an extended sabbatical due to health issues.

In June of 2009, all of the acting chiefs signed a cooperation agreement, launching an extensive process of education and engagement to ensure the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of all the Paiter people. This involved visits to all 26 villages. In 14 of the villages, a series of 10 educational seminars were hosted by ECAM, Kanindé, and Metareilá, with buses made available to bring people from isolated villages to the meetings.

Under the Surui Forest Carbon Project, clans pursued a variety of low-carbon economic development strategies, including fish farming, organic coffee, and the commercialization of various non-timber forest products.

In June 2012, VCS auditors “validated” the project, meaning they signed off on its design and recognized the baseline. The TISS straddles two states, Rondônia and Mato Grosso, both of which endorsed and approved the project. At the federal level, FUNAI and the Attorney General’s Office formally endorsed and approved the project. Although the Ministry of Environment was encouraging behind the scenes, it declined to either endorse or criticize the project, saying it lacked the jurisdiction to do so.

The project developers decided to develop a methodology under the emergent Voluntary Carbon Standard (now the Verified Carbon Standard), which focuses almost exclusively on carbon stocks. The project would seek concurrent certification under the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity (CCB) Standards, which focuses on social and broader environmental impacts beyond carbon.

To earn CCB certification, the project had to go beyond standard FPIC procedures and ensure that all four of the Paiter clans (the Gãbgir, the Kaban, the Makor, and the Gameb) were engaged in the project, and were able to set the terms of their own contributions to avoided deforestation. All of the clans took part in agroforestry training. But the Gãbgir won approval to lead an online communications and archiving initiative, while the Makor led an effort to restore lost knowledge of medicinal plants. Others pursued fish farming, organic coffee, and the commercialization of various non-timber forest products.

The next step was the “verification” phase, where auditors from the Institute for the Management and Certification of Forests and Farms (Imaflora) and the Rainforest Alliance verified that the Paiter were, in fact, executing the plan as validated. Here the project encountered its first challenge.

To support the process, Idesam began reviewing satellite images and found that a 2010 fire in the territory had destroyed more forest than the Paiter had realized. As the verification process continued, the number of offsets was adjusted downward. The first tranche of offsets was verified in June 2013.

The sale of offsets proved to be another challenge – largely because the world had failed to reach a binding global agreement under the UNFCCC, meaning there was little demand for offsets. Fortunately, the charismatic nature of the project made it possible to sell offsets at above-market prices and attractive terms with high-profile buyers, including Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura Cosméticos and the 2014 Football World Cup in Brazil.

Proceeds from the sale went into the Surui Fund, a trust fund housed by Funbio. The money was kept in a segregated account, and used to pay for forest monitoring and protection as well as the myriad projects chosen by the clans outlined above. Some was used to provide management training and capacity building for Metareilá.

Although the Paiter government had endorsed a logging moratorium to support the carbon offset project, this was broken when Henrique Surui returned from sabbatical in 2011 and resumed his logging operations, mostly along an entryway known as Line 14.

Paiter patrols operating on behalf of Metareilá discovered the operation soon after it began. They traced the logging trucks to nearby mills, and identified the small group of Paiter, including Henrique, who were collaborating with the loggers. Lacking law enforcement authority of his own, Almir presented the evidence to local authorities, who refused to act.

The Paiter-Surui Parliament then formally called Henrique to account in 2012. When he refused to cooperate, they appealed to President Dilma Rousseff and to Marta Azevedo, then president of FUNAI. Those appeals were also ignored, and logging continued along Line 14.

Illegal logging in the Paiter-Surui territory. Photo credit: Beto Borges

The pro-logging faction also had tremendous support from CIMI. By its own admission, CIMI sought to undermine the project because it believed that carbon offsets and the green economy distorted the relationship that indigenous people have with the land – despite the irony that supporting logging exacerbated wealth distortion among the Paiter, while the conservation faction that CIMI opposed was trying to share resources equitably.

Meanwhile, some of the chiefs complained that Funbio was slow to disburse payments from the Surui Fund, and that too much authority had been concentrated in Metareilá. Almir conceded that the payments had been slow, which he attributed to a lack of documentation provided by the clan seeking funds. Still, he agreed to make the accounting process more transparent. Henrique, however, accused Almir of siphoning off funds – an accusation that proved unfounded, but which caused some of the chiefs in the logging faction to drop out of the project. A revamped accounting process was initiated in February 2015.

Unbeknownst to other members of the Paiter, the logging faction had continued to explore the possibility of gold and diamond mining. It often worked with outsiders who had entered the territory illegally. In February 2015, Metareilá documented and reported several instances of illegal alluvial mining (known as garimpo in Portuguese). Garimpo is environmentally devastating. It involves digging up massive amounts of soil, using mercury to draw out any gold, and then burning the residue.

This time, authorities responded, first with a surveillance mission by FUNAI, and then with a raid on an illegal timber operation outside the territory. But by then the mining operations were too widespread to control. At some undetermined point in 2016, diamonds were also discovered, and Paiter authorities again alerted the federal police, who in turn raided the mines and documented extensive environmental damage.

According to The Guardian newspaper, the police placed blame for the activities squarely on the shoulders of Henrique Surui and the logging faction.

Deforestation accelerated in 2016 and 2017, as Paiter members who colluded with miners used the resulting income to purchase cattle and clear forest for pasturelands within the TISS.

An illegal diamond mine in the Paiter-Surui territory. Photo credit: Ibama

The forest loss forced the Paiter to put the carbon project on hold, since they could no longer guarantee the results set out in their project plan. The new mining and agriculture ventures also created massive income discrepancies in the community.

In September 2018, after extensive deliberation, the project partners formally suspended the offset project, concluding that it would be impossible to proceed.

The Surui Forest Carbon Project dramatically reduced deforestation within the TISS during the first five years of its operation. It also funded six self-sufficient community development initiatives that continue to provide income to this day. It achieved these successes despite the lack of compliance-driven demand for carbon offsets, as well as a lack of law enforcement and the presence of criminal enterprises and ideologues intent on undermining the project by sowing conflict among the people.

In the end, however, the project succumbed – for the time being, at least – to the tragedy of the commons that REDD+ was created to assuage. Although the project required, and received, near-unanimous support from the Paiter people, it was undermined by a small contingent of loggers, miners, missionaries, and colluders pursuing their own individual interests.

This article is excerpted from a longer publication,  The Surui Forest Carbon Project: A Case Study, published by Forest Trends’ Communities Initiative.

he author would like to thank Beto Borges of Forest Trends’ Communities Initiative, Vasco van Roosmalen of Equipe de Conservação da Amazônia (ECAM), Mariano Cenamo and Pedro Soares of the Institute for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of Amazonas (IDESAM), and Jacob Olander of EcoDecisión for their contributions to this case study.

This case study is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of Forest Trends and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

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This story first appeared on Viewpoints, the Forest Trends Blog

22 March 2019 | Today is World Water Day – but in Peru, celebrations have been going on all week.

Peru has transformed its water sector. Less than a decade ago, it was a country where water utilities were not allowed to invest in conserving watersheds upstream of their intakes. Now every utility nationwide sets aside a portion of user fees to protect healthy ecosystems, to ensure water security and climate resilience. Peru’s story is a remarkable one.

In Lima, Forest Trends and partners in the Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project, along with the Ministry of Environment (MINAM), the national Superintendence of Water Services (SUNASS), and the National Water Authority (ANA), are celebrating World Water Day’s theme of #WaterforAll.

We participated in a March for Water, an interactive exposition on natural infrastructure, a virtual reality tour of Lima’s major watershed, the Rimac, and a multimedia special, “The Route of Water” [in Spanish].

We want to share a short video of the festivities. Forest Trends’ Deputy Chief of Party, Gena Gammie, takes us on the journey that water makes on its way to Lima: from the mountains and glaciers hundreds of kilometers from Lima, through the Rimac River basin, through Lima’s treatment facilities, to the tap.

For this desert city, a connected system of healthy ecosystems and modern treatment infrastructure makes clean, reliable water possible.

If we are to solve the 21st century water crisis faced by Peru and countries around the world, we need to harness and support nature’s ability to provide clean water. For instance, this means managing forests and wetlands sustainably, improving farming practices, and maintaining ancestral water management practices that work with nature.

The Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project is a $27.5 million project that will rapidly scale up nature-based approaches across Peru, to ensure water security for all.

Happy World Water Day!

The Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project is funded by USAID and the Government of Canada. It is implemented by Forest Trends with our consortium partners CONDESAN, the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA), EcoDecision, and experts from Imperial College London.

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This story first appeared on MongaBay

21 March 2019 | Major corporations that have committed to eradicating tropical deforestation from their operations by 2020 are not going to meet their self-imposed deadline, a report says.

The Global Canopy’s “Forest 500” report assesses the 350 most influential companies in forest-risk commodity supply chains and the 150 financial institutions that support them, focusing on four commodities: cattle, palm oil, soy, and timber (including pulp and paper).

With tackling deforestation seen as an important part of the fight against climate change, nearly half of the 500 assessed companies have made commitments to eliminate deforestation from agricultural supply chains by 2020 or earlier, in line with high-profile collective commitments such as the Consumer Goods Forum and the New York Declaration on Forests.

But as the deadline nears, none of the companies and financial institutions assessed in 2018 is on track to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation from their supply chains and portfolios by next year, the Global Canopy report says.

“The most powerful companies in forest-risk supply chains do not appear to be implementing the commitments they have set to meet global deforestation targets,” Global Canopy supply chain researcher Sarah Rogerson, the lead author of the report, told Mongabay.

The report, released March 20 for International Forest Day, concluded that the 2020 goal simply couldn’t be met.

“With just one year left to the 2020 deadline, it is clearer than ever that even companies with strong commitments will not be able to assert that their supply chains are deforestation-free by that deadline,” it says.

However, Rogerson says this doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t give up on cutting out deforestation from their operations, noting that “it is crucial that companies raise their ambition and address the stark gap between the promises they have made and activities on the ground.”

“As well as being home to much of our global biodiversity, forests are our best technology for mitigating climate change,” she said. “It looks unlikely that we will stay below the target of 2 degrees [Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] global temperature rise — achieving that gets even harder without forests.”

The pathway shows where companies are in their efforts to address deforestation in their supply chains according to Forest 500 assessments. Image by the Global Canopy.

Implementation Gap

The commodities that the Global Canopy report focuses on are collectively responsible for the majority of tropical forest destruction driven by agricultural expansion around the world today. Agricultural expansion itself is the main driver of global deforestation, accounting for 27 percent of all forest loss, or 50,000 square kilometers (19,300 square miles) per year, primarily in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

In Latin America, row cropping and cattle grazing are responsible for the bulk of deforestation, while in Malaysia and Indonesia the chief culprit is the cultivation of oil palms.

The Global Canopy report says the number of companies with commitments to protect forests has increased since 2014. In 2018, 57 percent of the assessed companies had a commitment to protect forests for at least one of the commodities they’re exposed to, up from 50 percent in 2014.

But that also means 43 percent of companies don’t have any commitments in place to address deforestation.

“Far too many of the most influential companies in these supply chains still have no commitments at all, or commitments that are too weak to deliver change on the ground,” the report says. “Over 40 percent of the most influential companies are not doing anything to tackle deforestation that they are linked to.”

And the commitments already in place haven’t necessarily translated into real action. Twenty-nine percent of the companies that have made such commitments don’t appear to be taking any action to implement them, the report says. “Even companies with ambitious commitments are not putting these into practice,” it adds.

To better understand the implementation gap, the Global Canopy updated its methodology to distinguish between those companies that have set ambitious commitments without plans for implementation, and those that have.

The new indicators assess key actions that companies should be making to implement their commitments, such as monitoring and verifying their suppliers against their own commodity commitments and engaging with non-compliant suppliers.

Because of these new indicators on implementation, nearly 70 percent of the 228 companies assessed in 2017 and 2018 scored lower in 2018 than in the previous year.

“This reflects an implementation gap — companies are not executing their commitments,” the report says.

Even top-scoring companies in the Forest 500 assessment — such as Unilever, Mars, Marks & Spencer and Ikea — lost points despite having made strong commitments, because they’ve failed to consistently report strong implementation across all of their supply chains.

The report found that 50 of the assessed companies reported some activities to implement zero-deforestation commitments for all the commodities they’re exposed to. “Other companies need to follow the example of these leading companies,” it says.

These leading companies, it says, are those that have time-bound and measurable commitments to protect forests in their supply chains. They report against these commitments, and report on activities they are doing to implement them.

But even for the companies categorized by the report as “leading,” challenges still remain.

For ones, many companies have businesses involving more than one of the commodities, making it more difficult for them to achieve a zero-deforestation supply chain for all commodities. Some companies might show significant leadership in some commodities but haven’t applied the same rigor to other commodities.

For instance, Unilever scores 81 percent for its palm oil commitment, but only 48 percent for its commitment on soy.

“The majority of companies are not tackling all of the deforestation they are exposed to,” the report says. “By either focusing commitments on some commodities or regions, they remain exposed to deforestation in other geographies or supply chains. Companies should have commitments that cover all of their supply chains.”

Industrial deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Industrial deforestation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

Scrutiny on Palm Oil Paying Off

In general, palm oil is the commodity that has prompted the strongest commitments from companies to end deforestation.

Forty-two percent of the Forest 500 companies involved in palm oil have a zero-deforestation commitment, while just 16 percent of companies sourcing beef and other cattle products from tropical forest countries had a deforestation commitment in place.

“Over the last five years, more companies have made commitments on palm oil than for any other commodity,” the report says. “These have also consistently been the strongest, scoring higher than other commodity commitments.”

Rogerson attributed this to the extra scrutiny placed on palm oil by environmental and consumer advocacy groups around the world.

“It’s difficult to get evidence of what motivated a company to develop a commitment,” she said. “But we think it’s likely because there is more attention on the palm oil sector — there is more consumer awareness of the issue and there have been more campaigns targeting companies for palm oil than other commodities such as soy or cattle.”

The presence of a well-known and credible certification scheme like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) might also have helped, as it gives companies a framework through which to meet their commitments, Rogerson said.

Eighty-seven percent of companies with a palm oil zero-deforestation commitment this year used RSPO certification in some form and to some extent to meet their commitments.

There’s still room for improvement, however, as most companies, including the leading ones, don’t report on protecting high carbon stock forests or peatlands, a major criticism for the palm oil industry, according to the report.

Rogerson said companies in the palm oil sector without any commitments to ending deforestation need to follow the leaders in setting and implementing strong commitments.

“This will help avoid a two tiered market where some companies continue to deforest to supply demand which does not ask for deforestation-free palm oil,” she said.

Forest fragmentation due to oil palm plantations in Indonesia. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay

Role of Governments and Banks

The importance of ending tropical deforestation should also be impressed on the governments of the countries in which the Forest 500 companies operate, says Khalisah Khalid, a spokeswoman for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).

Most are headquartered in developed countries, including Nestlé (Switzerland), L’Oréal (France) and PepsiCo (U.S.), whose governments Khalisa said had a duty to ensure that domestic demand wasn’t fueling deforestation abroad.

“We’re questioning world leaders on their commitments to save forests,” she told Mongabay. “Developed countries are expanding into [developing] countries like ours. And companies often hide behind regulations made by world leaders, such as free trade agreements. That’s why world leaders are also actors of deforestation and they should put the brakes on deforestation done by their companies.”

She said deforestation didn’t just exacerbate climate change, by releasing carbon stored in vegetation and soils into the atmosphere, but it also robbed local communities and indigenous peoples of their lands. This is especially the case in countries like Indonesia, where agricultural expansion has sparked a litany of social conflicts.

“Saving forests also means saving the lands of indigenous peoples,” Khalisah said. “The guardians of the forests are indigenous communities, not companies.”

Global Canopy’s Rogerson said financial institutions had an important role to play in ending deforestation. The 2018 assessment ranks 150 financial institutions, selected and scored based on their role in financing the 350 companies involved in forest-risk supply chains.

Two-thirds of the financial institutions assessed in 2018 didn’t have any policies on deforestation, despite growing concerns that deforestation and related climate impacts poses a financial risk.

“Financial institutions need to look at the companies in their portfolios and recognize that some of these companies are driving deforestation and could pose a financial risk,” Rogerson said. “Banks and investors can minimize these risks by engaging and screening the companies in their portfolios.”

What’s at stake if these companies fail to eradicate deforestation from their operations isn’t just their reputation, Rogerson said, but also the future of the planet.

“Even without the 2020 deadline, the need to act on deforestation is urgent,” she said. “The planet, the climate and the companies themselves face significant risks to their business models if they continue to rely on commodities linked to deforestation in their supply chains. Companies need to recognize this and act with urgency even if they are going to miss the 2020 deadline.”

The post More Evidence Companies Won’t Meet 2020 Deforestation Targets appeared first on Ecosystem Marketplace.

This story was first published by the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) as part of its Insights Series. Click here to read the original.

18 March 2019 | The African Union’s Agenda 2063 eloquently articulates the  shared desires and aspirations for a sustainable and prosperous continent. Prosperity is elaborated, among others, as an environment with ecosystems that are healthy and preserved, with climate resilient economies and communities. The means to achieve this kind of development lies in cooperation domestically, regionally and internationally. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement suggests this kind of cooperation as a means to promote sustainable development, among other benefits.

Although some African countries have experienced economic growth in the last few years, international investment has largely slowed in most countries. For this majority, the lack of economic growth has stagnated job creation, leading to large unemployment numbers. Further, access to sustainable energy remains a significant challenge. The energy predicament is elaborated in the World Energy Council’s 2018 Trilemma Report, which states that the sub-Saharan region continues to be greatly challenged in all three aspects of the energy trilemma – defined as energy security, energy equity, and environmental sustainability – due to large infrastructure gaps.

The existing stock of power infrastructure is also suffering from inefficiencies and insufficient quality of supply to support growing energy demand. Access to sustainable energy is key to unlocking investment and sustainable development on the continent. Through the cooperation already alluded to, Article 6 could play a pivotal role in this regard.

Often carbon markets are linked only to mitigation and emissions reductions; the argument being that we price carbon purely to drive reductions and that sustainable development is merely a co-benefit. However, there is a broader narrative that says that we price carbon for sustainable development itself: not as an add-on benefit, but to drive development that is sustainable.

The WEC Trilemma report goes on to say that to unlock Africa’s resource potential and meet future energy demand, the region must take bold and more collaborative actions to attract investment by improving energy policies and the regulatory framework, building institutional capacity and improving its on-grid and off-grid energy supply. Linking carbon markets to sustainable development is just the kind of bold, collaborative thinking that is required to unlock this vast potential.

For example, an Article 6 approach could promote the development of solar microgrid projects between countries in the different African regions. If this approach includes an option for part ownership of the plant by a community and part ownership by the developers, this will increase the attractiveness for the community to contribute to their development (and contribute to the country’s NDC) while the developer receives a portion of the carbon credit benefit. This type of project also lends itself to increased job creation.

Further, the microgrid plant would be built according to thresholds that will withstand extreme climate events predicted for those areas, thereby reducing the vulnerability  of the community to events that could otherwise result in the loss of electricity and the knock on impacts of loss of income. In other words, such an initiative would be using an Article 6 approach to create climate resilient economies and communities.

There is a myriad of such projects, which include international cooperation and investment with clear sustainable development benefit that could be unlocked by a well-designed carbon market approach. Indeed, many African countries make reference to market mechanisms in their Paris Agreement contributions, in order to assist them in both the implementation of their NDCs and the sustainable transformation of their economies.

However, African countries are interested in Article 6 approaches and mechanisms if they function in a practical, inclusive and equitable manner. These criteria are enablers for the relevance of Article 6  in African countries especially given the experience with the CDM where African countries did not benefit as much as they could have had the design been more equitable.* The CDM, although ground- breaking with important lessons, simply did not suit all country contexts. African countries have minimal emissions which were not attractive for investors looking for large projects to generate significant carbon credits. The changes to the CDM offerings to include programmatic approaches and standardised baselines addressed this to some extent, but it could be argued they came too late in the game for Africa to benefit. The Article 6 approaches and mechanisms need to be accessible and meet real sustainable development needs to be beneficial to African countries.

The reality of current circumstances is that most African countries do not have the resources to develop new systems in the short term. Current systems and structures that support carbon market transactions are those that carbon market systems and infrastructure were developed for the CDM, so it stands to reason that the Article 6 requirements must look at using current architecture where relevant, albeit with tweaks and adjustments.

From a philosophical perspective, there must also be a balance between the requirements for the cooperative approaches outlined in Article 6, paragraph 2 and the mechanism paragraph 4. In reality, countries without the resources to implement their NDCs in the short to medium term are more likely to participate through the Article 6.4 mechanism. Placing more onerous requirements on 6.4 compared to 6.2 could compromise the turnaround time of activities linked to the former compared to the latter, leading to African countries again not being able to benefit from the carbon market compared to those countries with the means to implement 6.2 activities. Given that both 6.2 and 6.4 are serviced by the same (suppressed) demand, this is a genuine concern. This does not mean that both 6.2 and 6.4 must come with onerous requirements; rather it means that the design of both must be equally practical and implementable without compromising environmental integrity.

The aspiration of African countries is sustainable development underpinned, in many cases, by access to sustainable energy. The aspiration for Article 6 is for cooperation that will allow for higher ambition in mitigation and adaptation actions and to promote sustainable development and environmental integrity. The parallels are striking, but cannot be realised until the operationalisation of Article 6 is agreed to the satisfaction of all. This is a daunting ask but one to which African countries are working hard to make a positive contribution.

* Greiner; S, Chagas; T, Krämer N, Diagne El Hadji Mbaye – Article 6 options paper

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18 March 1019 | Its foes claim the Green New Deal will take away your hamburgers, ground your flights, and remove environmental markets from the palate of options available to meeting the climate challenge.

Not so, says Rhiana Gunn-Wright. She’s the policy director for New Consensus, which is a non-governmental policy shop that helped draft the Green New Deal resolution and is now working with the offices of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey to further develop it and, eventually, create legislation around it.

“We take markets very seriously,” she explains in the latest episode of the Bionic Planet podcast, which dropped last night and is available on iTunes, Radio Public, Stitcher, or directly on this device here:

Markets As Tools, Not Masters

New Consensus emerged as a reaction against market-led reforms that many believe have exacerbated inequality, but Gunn-Wright says the organization is not opposed to the use of market mechanisms within a regulatory apparatus.

“Instead of saying it’s the job of markets to solve all problems, we’re saying let’s take a really thoughtful stance,” she says. “We’re asking, ‘Where are markets most useful? What kind of innovation do we want them to drive? What are the guardrails that we want them to operate within?’”

Natural Climate Solutions in the Green New Deal

Research consistently shows that ‘natural climate solutions‘, or better land management, can deliver roughly one-third of the mitigation needed to meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s 2-degree Celsius target, but that such solutions also draw just 3 percent of dedicated climate finance and 1 percent of media coverage.

Land use nonetheless features prominently Green New Deal, which explicitly recommends “removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reducing pollution by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as land preservation and afforestation,” but also by working “collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector…by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health.”

Gunn-Wright says that her team, like most policymakers, have focused more on technological solutions than nature-based ones, but that nature-based solutions are now a key focus of their research.

“It’s not a second-tier issue that you figure out after the technology,” she stresses. “You have to think about them at the same time.”

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8 March 2019 | The Paris Climate Agreement covered greenhouse gasses emitted by countries, but it left emissions from international flights and shipping in limbo – partly because their “international” nature made it hard to reach agreement on which countries to charge the emissions to.

That changed for one of those sectors in 2016, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is the UN agency charged with coordinating aviation regulation, agreed to freeze net aviation emissions at 2020 levels beginning in 2021, and to force airlines to offset emissions above that threshold.

The big question since has been which kind of offsets will be recognized under the offsetting mechanism, called “CORSIA” (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation), and how they will be accounted for.

This week, ICAO’s Governing Council partially answered the accounting question, when it announced that offsets used to reduce a country’s emissions can’t also be used to reduce emissions from international flights – a basic component of carbon accounting.

Still unclear, however, is which offsets will be recognized, and for that the Council this week established a Technical Advisory Body (TAB) and invited project developers to begin submitting applications. What it didn’t do was explain who will sit on this board, how they are elected, or whether their recommendations would even be made public.

“Given the massive lack of transparency around ICAO generally and the board in particular, there is as of yet no guarantee that CORSIA overall will result in genuine carbon offsets and thereby make a meaningful contribution toward climate protection,” said Bryony Worthington, who runs the Environmental Defense Fund’s European operations.

“Time is of the essence,” said Robert Stevens, who runs the International Emissions Trading Association’s Aviation Task Force. “Generating emissions reductions often takes years — from the start of construction of a project through to the first issuance of carbon credits — so it’s important that the TAB starts work as soon as possible.”

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This story is compiled from press releases

8 March 2019 | Brazil’s Cerrado is a vast savanna that mops up massive amounts of carbon and acts as a bulwark against climate change. Like its better-known neighbor, the Amazon forest, the Cerrado faces increasing incursions from unsustainable agriculture, and President Jair Bolsonaro has vowed to roll back environmental protections across the entire economy.

Until a stronger environmental regime emerges, environmental protection relies on Brazilian states and international buyers of goods, which is why it’s so important that six major commodity companies have agreed on a common framework for monitoring soy supply chains in 25 deforestation “high risk” municipalities from the Cerrado.

Members of the Soft Commodities Forum (SCF) – a global platform of leading commodity companies including Cargill, Bunge, Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Glencore Agriculture, and COFCO International, a Chinese firm – have agreed to monitor and publish data concerning trading company soy supply chains from those Cerrado municipalities facing the “highest risk of conversion of native vegetation to soy,” according to an SCF statement. The Soft Commodities Forum is a subset of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

The definition of what exactly “high risk” means, will be determined by the Cerrado Working Group (GTC), an entity comprised of the commodities industry, NGOs, producer organizations, Brazilian consumer goods companies, financial institutions and the government.

“Sourcing in these municipalities will be reported in percentages of direct purchase from farmers, and indirect purchase from parties like aggregators, cooperatives and third parties,” a Cargill representative, told Mongabay. The first report by the SCF partnership will be published in June.

To start, the six companies are committed to monitoring supply chains in 25 Cerrado municipalities, says David Cleary, director of global agriculture at The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an NGO. TNC works with soy traders, helping them implement their deforestation commitments. The agreement is important, says Cleary, not least because it came through the SCF, which involves six major traders. “They have a significant weight on the market, it means a lot that they did this together, rather than on an individual basis,” he says.

“The Soft Commodities Forum facilitates the first time leading global commodity traders are working together in a pre-competitive project to address sustainability risks they all share, but which no single company can resolve alone,” says Diane Holdorf, managing director for Food & Nature at WBCSD.

However, many industry analyists, though pleased by this seeming progress, are reserving judgement on the agreement’s significance. It is too early to assess the announced measures properly, with much depending on the definition used to select “high risk” municipalities, explained Tiago Reis, a PhD researcher on agricultural supply chains at Université Catholique de Louvain: “The devil is in the details. But it looks like a step forward,” he said.

The Brazilian Cerrado once covered two million square kilometers (772,204 square miles), an area bigger than Great Britain, France and Germany combined, stretching to the east and south of the Amazon. But today, more than half its native vegetation is gone.

The main driver of this destruction is the flourishing soy industry. The high demand by the European Union and other nations for the valuable bean has directly and indirectly led many producers to convert the Cerrado’s biodiversity-rich dry forests and bushland into vast soy plantations, sometimes crossing legal boundaries to do so. In recent months, the demand for Brazilian soy continued rising further, partly the result of the lingering US-China trade war.

Conservation NGOs and scientists have been lobbying for a more comprehensive protection of the Cerrado for years now, and demanded a similar framework to the 2006 Soy Moratorium in the Amazon – a voluntary agreement by which transnational commodities companies such as Bunge, ADM, Cargill, and Amaggi, along with other actors, agreed not to source soy from newly deforested areas within Legal Amazonia.

Studies suggest that the Amazon Soy Moratorium has been successful in keeping Amazon deforestation rates low, with the expansion of agriculture slowing down significantly following a peak in 2004. However, in contrast to the Amazon, where the moratorium was in place, conversion rates from native vegetation into pastures and soy plantations has increased dramatically in the so-called Matopiba region – a large section of the Cerrado biome comprised of Maranhão, Tocantins, Piauí, and Bahia states and an area characterized by extensive agricultural development.

One recent study, in fact, suggests that the Amazon Soy Moratorium was partly to blame for the surge in soy production in the neighboring Cerado. Vivana Zalles, doctoral candidate at the Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) lab, has studied the “leakage” of deforestation from the Amazon to the less well protected Cerrado, a phenomena undervalued for a long time.

Also undervalued until recently was the Cerrado’s carbon storage capacity. That’s because the savannah biome lacks the vast aboveground rainforests of the Amazon. Instead its plants grow largely downward into unseen but extensive root systems, “a forest upside down” that functions as an important carbon sink and curb against climate change. Further, the biome is home to more than 10,000 plant species, over 900 birds and 300 mammal species, all increasingly threatened if deforestation should continue at the present speed.

The post Six Leading Commodity Groups Agree to Come Clean on Cerrado Impact appeared first on Ecosystem Marketplace.

7 March 2019 |The 25th Conference of the Parties (COP 25) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will run from 2-13 December in Santiago, Chile – two weeks later and anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand kilometers to the south than originally planned.

Originally scheduled for November in Brazil, but the COP was moved after newly-elected President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate-science denier, chose not to host it (much to the relief of many attendees).

Costa Rica will host a “pre-COP” meeting ahead of COP 25, but the date has not yet been pinned down.

The post It’s Official: Year-End Climate Talks Will Run 2-13 December in Santiago appeared first on Ecosystem Marketplace.

This story is cross-posted on the Forest Trends blob, Viewpoints, and is available in Spanish here.

4 March 2019 | It was the same story again. In early 2007, as General Manager of the National Superintendence of Sanitation Services (SUNASS), I had to visit some public sanitation service companies that were in the process of updating their investment plans. Several had a similar request: they needed resources to build a new system for water collection and storage, because every year there was a little less of the water that they depended on, and they were concerned that they would run out of water.

Run out of water? Is it possible for a source of water to just dry up, or for water supplies for a city to be affected in quantity or quality to the point of being unusable for human consumption? Could a river, a lake, or a puquial that had existed for as long as anyone could remember just disappear? Unfortunately, it can happen. It’s often due to the conversion for productive agriculture, poorly managed cattle ranching, or crops managed with poor agricultural technologies [1]. These activities mean that source water areas are deforested or burned over to clear vegetation. The absence of vegetative cover accelerates erosion and the loss of water retention capacity in soils, reducing the supply capacity and hydrological regulation of water sources.

Huamantanga, Lima. Photo: Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project.

Cases like this led the sanitation service companies to look for new sources of water, usually in increasingly distant catchments and with increasingly high costs. But the most serious thing is that these investments did not ensure that the new source did not run out in the near future. The companies did not develop any incentive for the forests or vegetation around the new water source not to be disturbed. Nor the one that came after that. The investment, whatever it was, always resulted in the same story.

Participants to the National Water Summit, visiting the Can Can in the Piuray-Ccorimarca micro-basin, Cusco. Photo: Archive of the Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project.

The logical question when I entered the stage in 2007 was this: what if instead of having to invest in a new collection and storage system, we began to take care of what we already have? The answer to the problem was not to invest in more infrastructure in a more remote location, but to ensure conservation of the current source and the environment that supports it, such as mountainous or forested areas. To conserve water supplies, we would conserve ecosystems. This, by the way, was not driven solely by environmentalist zeal; it was an economic issue, since it was more cost-effective to protect the old water source than to invest in a new one. And, in the same way that built infrastructure (dams, pipelines, treatment plants) needed to be maintained, it was clear that the care of natural source water areas had to be incorporated into investment plans. We needed to expand the vision of the water company to include the care of its main input. And these natural areas were a critical asset not just for the water company, but also for the entire city that the company supplied.

For these reasons, when we approached the water company in Moyobamba and the German Cooperation agency (now known by its acronym GIZ) with the technical proposal to incorporate a payment to conserve natural areas, we felt it was appropriate to include it in the water company’s rate study for setting user tariffs. We suggested one Peruvian sol (about US $0.30) earmarked for Payment for Environmental Services (PES). This was how in 2007 the first PES pilot mechanism (now known as the Ecosystem Service Compensation Mechanism – MRSE in Spanish) was launched and promoted by SUNASS. MRSEs are a percentage of the water and sanitation fee paid by users of these services that are funneled to a special account whose exclusive purpose is the protection and care of water sources. The idea is to recognize that upstream citizens and communities should be compensated for their care of water sources, whether that is through reforestation, conservation, or recovery of ancestral techniques of water infiltration. According to this logic, the water-producing ecosystem was integrated for the first time in Peru as an essential component of water infrastructure. If the dams and reservoirs are the “gray infrastructure” of a sanitation service company, then source water areas, watersheds, wetlands, and forests would be the “green” or “natural” infrastructure that complements the gray.

Pilpichaca – Huancavelica. File Natural Infrastructure Project for Water Security, Pilpichaca – Huancavelica.

Some years passed before the second ecosystem services remuneration mechanism was set up in 2013, in the emblematic case of the Piuray-Ccorimarca micro-watershed in Cusco. After that, the process sped up, thanks to the management of SUNASS, the support of the Ministry of the Environment, and other civil society organizations. Today, there are 24 sanitation service companies with a percentage of their fees earmarked for MRSE, which by 2021 together will exceed US $41 million (PEN 140 million). At that time we expect to have more than 35 sanitation service companies with tariffs for investments in natural infrastructure. It’s a necessary, though not totally sufficient, advance in a country where 17 of its 24 regions suffer from water stress and where the capital city is among the 20 cities with the highest water stress in the world.

It was specifically to support the best possible implementation of MRSE, as well as other mechanisms for investments in nature, that the Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project was launched in Peru this year. Funded by USAID and the Government of Canada with an investment of US $27.5 million, this project aims to coordinate efforts, develop enabling conditions to boost investments, and generate evidence about natural infrastructure to reduce water risks such as droughts, floods, and water pollution, thereby strengthening the sustainable use of ecosystems.

Within the framework of this project, the National Water Summit was held in Cusco from November 7th-9th. This meeting was an opportunity for leaders in the sanitation sector to discuss implementation of MRSE for water security. Through the signing of the Piuray Declaration, political and institutional commitments to MRSE were also achieved. The National Water Summit highlighted the importance of sustainability for sanitation service companies, as well as making visible the central role of water management for the future development of towns and cities.

Today, more than ever, it is essential to change the way we manage water and its ecosystems, strengthening their conservation and care. It is the only way we avoid repeating history, and the only way that we give our most important natural resource the value it deserves.


The Natural Infrastructure for Water Security project is funded by USAID and the Government of Canada. It is implemented by Forest Trends with our consortium partners CONDESAN, the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA), EcoDecision, and researchers from Imperial College London.

[1] These causes of the deforestation of the forests in the country, according to the National Forestry and Climate Change Strategy (MINAM, 2016), have led to the loss of 1.6 million hectares in our country as of 2016.

The post Conserve to Build: Protecting Ecosystems to Ensure Water Supplies in Peru appeared first on Ecosystem Marketplace.

1 March 2019 | Last month, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture report warned that an ever-increasing concentration on fewer and fewer food crops, coupled with a dramatic decline in support species like birds, bees, and worms, as well as overfishing and a myriad other pressures, had left our global food systems more vulnerable than ever to external shocks like storms and drought – which are themselves increasing as the climate changes.

The report drew on research from more than 91 countries and concluded that degraded lands and seas put 3.2 billion people at risk and cost roughly 10 percent of the annual global gross product in loss of species and ecosystems services.

In response to these pressures, the United Nations General Assembly today declared 2021-2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

The goal is to focus resources on the estoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030, which the UN believes will restore $9 trillion in ecosystem services and absorb an additional 13-26 gigatons of greenhouse gases.

“The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration will help countries race against the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss,” said FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva. “Ecosystems are being degraded at an unprecedented rate. Our global food systems and the livelihoods of many millions of people depend on all of us working together to restore healthy and sustainable ecosystems for today and the future.”

The declaration is designed to support the Bonn Challenge, which sets a similar target, and builds on regional efforts such as the Initiative 20×20 in Latin America that aims to restore 20 million hectares of degraded land by 2020, and the AFR100 African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative that aims to bring 100 million hectares of degraded land under restoration by 2030.

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1 March 2019 | Thirty years ago, a wealthy Michigan real estate developer named John Rapanos defied local authorities and dismissed hydrological surveys warning that he’d damage rivers, streams, and other properties downslope from him if he developed one of his properties.

Rapanos ordered the survey destroyed, began filling the wetland, and then – with help from the Koch Brothers – engaged in an 18-year court battle that culminated in an infamous US Supreme Court decision that yielded two “concurrent” but incompatible opinions on what constitutes “the waters of the United States”, or waters that the federal government is obligated to protect under the CWA.

After years of turmoil, the Obama Administration commissioned a massive study on the interconnectedness of American waterways, and that became the basis of the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

Four years later, the Trump Administration has introduced a rule of its own, championed by Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist turned EPA boss who talks more like a farmhand than a hydrologist.

“I believe that any property owner should be able to stand on his or her property and be able to tell whether or not they have a ‘water of the US’ on their property without having to hire an outside consultant or attorney,” he told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January.

On February 15, the Administration opened the new rule to public comment, with a closing date of April 15.

For a deep dive into the history of the rule, check out our series on the Waters of the United States.

For a quick and thorough comparison of the Obama and Trump proposals, read Proposed Waters Of The United States Rule Narrows Federal Clean Water Act Jurisdiction

To access official documents and offer comments, go to Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rulemaking

For a treatment that falls somewhere in the middle, check out Episode 42 of the Bionic Planet podcast, which offers a history of US water protection and is available on all major podcatchers, including RadioPubliciTunesStitcher, and on this device here:

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28 February 2019 | Greenhouse-gas emissions from international flights aren’t covered by the Paris Climate Agreement, but instead by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is a UN agency charged with coordinating aviation regulation. Two years ago, ICAO agreed to freeze net aviation emissions at 2020 levels beginning in 2021, and to create called called “CORSIA” (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) that lets airlines net out emissions by purchasing offsets from emission-reduction projects.

Since then, they’ve been debating the types of offsets that will be allowed and how they will be accounted, and the ICAO Council is meeting this week to establish rules for moving forward.

Several countries have argued they should be allowed to use old offsets generated in the pilot phase of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), while others argue they should only recognize offsets that incentivize new emission-reductions. The New Climate Institute published research indicating that weak restrictions on offset eligibility would simply funnel money into projects that don’t need the income to remain viable. Others point out that weak accounting could result in reductions that are counted against a country’s own emissions being recognized again in ICAO’s offsetting program,

Today, the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, which is a 20-year-old coalition of NGOs working to control noise and air pollution from air traffic, issued a letter urging ICAO Council members not to destroy CORSIA’s potential effectiveness and worsen the threat of global climate change.

Annie Petsonk, EDF International Counsel, explains: “Dumping double-counted carbon credits into CORSIA would punch a big hole in the climate benefit of the aviation agreement – and a big hole in the climate credibility of ICAO and the airlines. It would also undercut the Paris Agreement Parties’ efforts to limit the global temperature increase to well below two degrees.”

The letter also stresses that decisions taken in the coming weeks have the potential to help international aviation offset its emissions above 2020 levels and unleash a global market that drives investment in low-carbon economic development. This will only happen if countries on the ICAO council approve strong criteria for the eligibility of carbon offset programs, to ensure that emission reductions are not double-counted, and establish a technical advisory board, to evaluate programs and units for eligibility, that is free of conflicts of interest and operates transparently.

“The urgency of climate action cannot be overstated, and our call to action is particularly directed at EU leaders,” said EDF’s Petsonk. “Europe has led the world on fighting climate change – EU leaders must now drive a hard bargain at ICAO to make CORSIA a success. Without high transparency standards, ICAO could become the ‘FIFA’ of the carbon markets, with environmentally dubious credits issued to airlines not actually interested in cutting emissions.”

The impetus for CORSIA was the EU’s decision to include aviation in its Emissions Trading System. If the EU lets CORSIA adopt weak rules, it could open a back door into the EU ETS for ineffective surplus leftover from the Kyoto Protocol or double-counted credits via CORSIA. This would essentially reverse EU climate action in aviation and could undermine the recent price gains in the EU ETS, which is still the world’s largest carbon market.

By March 15, government members of the ICAO Council are expected to announce the criteria that carbon credit programs must meet in order to be eligible for use in compensating airlines’ emissions increase. This is the same day that thousands of students are expected to take to the streets worldwide for the Global Climate Strike, a movement started by Swedish student Greta Thunberg. EU governments now have the chance to stand up and prove their real commitment to act against climate change by making sure CORSIA rules deliver real emission reductions.

This story has been compiled and adapted from press releases, and some verbiage may be replicated.

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28 February 2019 | If you, like me, have struggled to keep up with new developments in the Paris Climate Agreement as it evolves from adoption to implementation, I encourage you to download the Wuppertal Institute’s new analysis, “Paris Agreement: Ship Moves Out of the Drydock.”

Technically, it’s not a summary of the Paris Agreement but an analysis of the Katowice Climate Talks that wrapped up in December, but this 27-page free paper offers as clear and simple a framework for understanding all of the moving parts that comprise the Paris Agreement as anything I’ve seen.

It works by weaving the agreement into an extended allegory about moving a ship from drydock (the rulemaking phase) to the high seas. The ship isn’t a modern ocean liner, but an old sailing ship with teams of rowers on the lower decks. These rowers correspond to the individual countries in the Paris Agreement, which means they have to both maintain their own strength (the NDC Guidelines) and work as a unit (Cooperation Under Article 6). You’ve got the guy who stands at the front of the boat and keeps the rowers on track (the Global Stocktake), and you’ve got the captain’s log (Transparency Framework).

The United Nations Framework Agreement on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in which the Paris Agreement is embedded, involves a whole slew of “Non-Party Actors” and “Pioneer Alliances”, and what does a ship have? Tug-boats that pull it into navigable waters. They’re here, too.

Finally, every good ship has navigators and lookouts – roles that the authors themselves step into at the end, when contemplating the future of year-end climate meetings known as “Conferences of the Parties.”

“The Conferences of the Parties should from now on assume less the role of a shipbuilder and instead move to the role of a ship’s captain,” they conclude. “The boat has been built, equipped with the relevant parts and most of the operational rules for setting the sails. Now is the time to set the course towards an effective protection of our civilization from the risks and dangers of climate change.”


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25 February 2019 | By now, we’ve all seed the video of US Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) berating a group of children who’d pressed her to support the “Green New Deal” that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) had unveiled two weeks earlier.

Thousands of news outlets gleefully covered Feinstein’s ill-advised finger-waving, but few of them bothered to point out that she’d unveiled her own less-ambitious draft resolution on climate change that same day, let alone the fact that both proposals aim to meet the climate challenge in part by helping farmers and other land managers mop up greenhouse gasses while boosting the rural economy and making sure our food systems adapt to climate change.

That’s one reason the New Green Deal talks of “net-zero” emissions, as opposed to “zero” emissions in ten years. The authors clearly acknowledge that we might not be able to eliminate all industrial emissions in a decade, but want to cut them as deeply as we can while using our living ecosystems to absorb the rest.

Feinstein’s proposal has similar provisions, and none of this is buried in either of them. Dive into the text of the Green New Deal or into Feinstein’s draft proposal, and it will reach out and slap you.

So, why is everyone missing it?

Can it be the terms? Should we give this idea a sexy name – like “sky farming”?

That sure beats “climate smart agriculture” (CSA), which is the broad term for a slew of time-tested but long-neglected practices like planting cover crops and trees to pull nitrogen and carbon from the sky and infusing them into the earth. Why? Because in the sky, they blend with oxygen to become greenhouse gasses, but in the earth they improve soil fertility, which helps farmers wean themselves off of petrochemical fertilizers.  “Sky farming” also contrasts so sharply with the current practice of digging long-dead fossils up out of the earth and spreading them on the ground or pumping them into the air.

Millions of farmers in the developing world, like Prisca Mayende of Kenya, have switched to sky farming, and it’s catching on in the United States, too.

One sky farming tool is switch grass, which revives dead soil and produces extra biomass that some farmers want to use for bioethanol – a prospect that scares the hell out of fossil-fuel companies, but also gives environmentalists pause. Done badly, bioethanol expansion could increase emissions as people chop forests to make the stuff, but many farmers insist they can dramatically increase bioethanol production while restoring land and reducing emissions. The authors of the two contrasting proposals have clearly done their homework, and they’ve created fodder for healthy debate on an issue that we should all be focusing more on.

Feinstein’s proposal, for example, explicitly calls for “bio-energy power generation with carbon capture and sequestration” (BACCS), which pairs bioethanol production with “negative-emissions technologies” (NET) that capture carbon dioxide as the fuels are combusted, before they escape into the atmosphere. After that, the CO2 can be pumped into greenhouses, where it helps plants grow, or distilled into pure carbon and pure oxygen. The carbon can then be infused into rocks or fed into 3D printers – “sky mining”, anyone?

The authors of the New Green Deal intentionally avoid the issue of BACCS, and experts caution that BACCS is next-generation stuff at best; but climate-smart agriculture and sustainable forest management – two forms of sky-farming – are here right now, and both proposals clearly embrace it.

This is critical, because a landmark 2017 study showed that we can get  37 percent of the way to meeting the Paris Agreement’s 2-degree Celsius target just by scaling up 20 natural climate solutions that are already being practiced around the world, while last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded that we must scale these practices up if we’re to meet the more ambitious 1.5-degree target.

Despite their importance, and the fact that they feature heavily in all credible climate proposals, natural climate solutions garner just 3 percent of climate-related media coverage and 1 percent of climate-related finance. This is tragic, because without finance, there is woefully little research, and that leaves farmers and other land-owners in a bind.

“Most farmers are living on small margins,” says Wil Burns, Co-Director & Professor of Research at American University’s Institute for Carbon Removal. “They live and die by the profit from each individual crop, and they can’t afford failure. That makes it very difficult for them to embrace no-till agriculture or cover crops or agroforestry or anything that’s going to disrupt their model.”

Beyond farms, there’s huge uncertainty over the state of US forests, which currently act as a net “carbon sink” that absorbs about 15 percent of the country’s industrial emissions. That capacity will plunge as the climate changes – unless we nurture the forests better.

Both proposals aim to help help landowners do just that, but real policy requires knowing which activities will generate the best results – and what those results will be.

“The estimates are all over the place,” says Burns. “Some say forests can sequester just half a gigaton of carbon dioxide annually, while others go up to 10 or 12 gigatons.”

Despite that uncertainty, it’s clear that doing nothing isn’t an option, which is why forests, farms, and the rural economy feature so heavily in the both proposals.

But don’t take my word for it. Crack them open and see for yourself.


The post Opinion: Can the Green New Deal Boost Sky Farming and Save the Giant Carbon Sink? appeared first on Ecosystem Marketplace.

20 February 2019 | Back in 2009, I introduced the concept of mitigation banking to the UK, having set up the Environment Bank as a mechanism to pursue a new model for delivering biodiversity compensation for impacts caused by development. Having spent many years designing mitigation schemes for developers only to realize that neither the planning system nor the developer minded to ensure that mitigation worked, I decided there must be a better way.

In 2011 the then Conservative Government introduced the idea I’d been lobbying for, in a White Paper on the Environment and set up a small number of pilots. The Ecosystem Markets Taskforce set up by the UK Government subsequently reviewed how the value of nature could be mainstreamed into business decisions and recommended biodiversity offsetting as the number one area for policy development. This meant making it a requirement of the planning system for developers to take account of biodiversity and offset impacts that couldn’t be accommodated on the development site.

The idea of offsetting biodiversity impacts was seized upon by the conservation non-governmental organizations.  Every possible means of stopping the initiative was brought to bear because it was perceived, wrongly, that this would perpetuate a license to trash sites of biodiversity value.  This, despite the fact that we have lost over 60 percent of our biodiversity in the past five decades, largely through industrial farming although land loss through development has also played a significant part in biodiversity decline. Government undertook a financial impact assessment of introducing mandatory biodiversity offsetting and decided that it could be a cost burden on development and so the idea was canned at that time.

However, the work of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity research, the government’s own Natural Capital Committee, and countless international studies including the OECD, have now shown that the issue is not that we can’t afford to protect and restore biodiversity, but that we can’t afford not to. We need to make nature economically visible.

Over the past five years, however, the concept of biodiversity offsetting has been renamed ‘biodiversity net gain’ whereby development may soon have to, as a matter of law, deliver net gain and not just ‘no net loss’. The Government has recently put out to consultation the recommendation that biodiversity net gain should be mandated which means that all planning authorities would be required to ensure that all development provides a gain, otherwise the planning application will be refused.

Clearly, as we have been saying for many years, it is essential for the regime to be mandated in order to provide clarity, certainty and a level playing field for developers, and to provide the extent of resources necessary to make a transformational change to our countryside and the wildlife it supports.  Unless the planning authorities are mandated to require development to provide biodiversity net gain, it will remain a voluntary initiative that will perpetuate inconsistency across the country, will fail to secure third party investment to set up ‘habitat banks’ as the most cost-effective means of providing gains for nature, and biodiversity will continue to decline. So the planning authorities are the key to making it a success.

Recent meetings between government ministers and officials, conservation bodies, statutory conservation agencies, and the development industry, have been extremely positive, with developers requesting that a mandatory system be introduced because of the clarity this provides for them in planning and funding their developments.

In terms of Environment Bank’s current role, we have moved from lobbying for the initiative to be mainstreamed within the planning system because we think we have now won that argument, and instead have been concentrating on building the end-to-end pipeline of delivery.

Environment Bank is the only broker of conservation credits and biodiversity offsets in the UK at the current time and we have developed the full model for delivering biodiversity net gain to help developers, the planning system and most of all biodiversity conservation. We work with planning authorities and developers to measure the impact of development on biodiversity using the Government’s agreed biodiversity impact accounting metric that provides the necessary standardization for market governance to prevail. We source bespoke receptor (offset) sites with landowners, farmers and conservation bodies, calculate the number of conservation credits that habitat creation and/or management interventions would deliver, and then sell the credits to the developer.

Our contractual agreements on the one hand bind the offset provider to deliver the conservation gains, often at scale, and on the other bind the developer to purchase credits thereby discharging their net gain liabilities cost-effectively. We now have about 77 planning authorities in 34 counties of England engaged in the work to varying extents. This is, however, just one fifth of the planning authorities in England which reinforces the importance of having a mandatory system so that all authorities are required to deliver their responsibilities.

We believe that the future of offsetting and net gain will be delivered via habitat banks set up under contract by us with farmers, landowners and other land managers that will fund habitat creation and restoration at scale. Although the conservation NGO’s and in many cases, planning authorities, have become wedded to the idea that as much of the biodiversity gain should be delivered within the development site, we have calculated that by far the most cost-effective delivery is through the creation and restoration of new areas outside the development site, on land termed habitat banks. This is because a) the use of developable land for providing biodiversity gain is hugely costly (high land values and reduced developable area significantly reduces revenue), b) planting and landscaping within an active development site such as a housing estate provides very limited opportunity for real biodiversity gain.

Developers are therefore highly likely to ‘offsite’ the net gain requirement because of these cost issues coupled with the desire to avoid long-term liabilities for biodiversity conservation within their development site. In which case they will need options for delivery and this is where habitat banks become the most useful solution. We are now looking to set up a series of strategically placed habitat banks of 40-100ha in size that will service the demand for conservation credits from the development industry, providing clarity, certainty, a level playing field, fixed cost exposure and removal of liabilities for developers, whilst delivering much better biodiversity conservation and a revenue stream for habitat bank providers.

In terms of a market, it has been estimated by a range of studies that biodiversity net gain delivered offsite is worth in the order of £700m – £1.2bn per annum. Whilst this represents a tiny fraction of the value of the development sector, it represents a significant opportunity for biodiversity conservation in the UK, being three times the amount available to farmers through Government-funded agri-environment schemes. We have the opportunity to transform our countryside and our wildlife populations at no cost to the tax payer. What a great legacy that would be.


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