Cropped 5 April 2023: Carbon offsets scrutinised; UN water talks; IPCC beef and food fraud

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Carbon offset programmes faced fresh scrutiny as a governing body for the voluntary carbon market issued new quality standards. Concerns were also raised about a Peruvian Amazon offsetting project used by oil majors and Shell’s offsetting project with rice paddies.

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A meeting of the global organisation that oversees deep-sea mining ended without answering key questions over whether it will permit the extraction of minerals from the depths of the ocean, at talks later this year. 

Leaked documents suggested that some of the recent IPCC synthesis report findings on the climate impact of eating meat were “watered down”. Meanwhile, reports alleged instances of foods being marketed as something they are not

Key developments

Carbon offsets under fresh scrutiny

NEW STANDARDS: New quality standards for the $2bn carbon-offsetting industry were published in late March, the Guardian reported, following mounting criticisms suggesting some projects represented little more than greenwash at best and contributed to environmental harm and human rights violations at worst. The new guidelines were announced by the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM), an independent governing body, the Guardian said. (The voluntary carbon market generally involves the sale of “carbon credits” generated by projects that aim to reduce emissions, such as forest protection schemes, to companies that are net emitters of CO2, such as oil companies. After purchasing carbon credits, companies say they have “offset” some of their own emissions.) Under the new ICVCM guidance, carbon credit certifiers such as Verra, Gold Standard and the American Carbon Registry will have to “demonstrate how their credits were generated, show they are genuine emission reductions or removals with scientific methods, and adhere to rules on respecting the rights of indigenous and local communities”, the Guardian said. In an accompanying editorial, the Guardian said: “If the industry can learn from recent events, by increasing transparency and integrity, there is a chance that good practice can be built on, while poor practice is stamped out…That we can’t trade or offset our way out of the climate crisis remains the most important message.” 

PERUVIAN PROJECT QUESTIONED: The new guidelines come as the Associated Press reported on concerns with one of Verra’s projects in Cordillera Azul National Park, a territory around the size of Montenegro that includes part of the Peruvian Andes and Amazon rainforest. According to the AP, companies such as Shell and TotalEnergies have spent millions of dollars on carbon credits meant to ensure the park’s protection, but satellite data shows tree loss has more than doubled since the project began. The AP reported: “Experts say the Cordillera Azul project was flawed from the beginning, with far too many carbon credits generated and exaggerated benefits that allowed the nonprofit running the park for the Peruvian government to make more money – even as the tree canopy shrank.” The article added that Indigenous Kichwa tribes have complained that the project did not recognise their ancestral claim to the land. CIMA, the Spanish acronym for the independent non-profit set up to run the park, defended the project’s aims and claimed that the tree loss was mostly caused by “natural events”, such as landslides, according to the AP. 

‘WORTHLESS’ CREDITS: Another of Verra’s projects – also involving Shell – was investigated by Climate Home News. The outlet focused on a series of rice farming offsetting projects in China, which are meant to slash methane emissions by changing irrigation practices on rice paddies. The project has already generated hundreds of thousands of carbon credits. But Climate Home News found that these could be “worthless”, with the project having “implemented a series of accounting tricks that would help them avoid stricter controls”. The publication added that Verra is now carrying out a quality review of its rice farming offsets after “identifying a series of concerns with how rules were applied”. 

UN water talks

UNDER THE SEA: The most recent meetings to finalise rules around deep-sea mining ended last week without an agreement. A draft decision has shown that applications for deep-sea mining, which could include extracting “key battery materials” such as cobalt and nickel from the deep seabed, will be accepted by the organisation that oversees the practice from 9 July, said Reuters. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) is obliged to allow mining to proceed by July this year, whether or not regulations have been agreed, Mongabay reported. Delegates at the ISA talks last month were “divided”, the outlet said, adding: “Some member states, such as Nauru, China, and the Cook Islands, supported pushing forward with mining, while others expressed doubt.” Vanuatu and the Dominican Republic supported a “precautionary pause” until more scientific information is available on the impacts, Mongabay said. More ISA talks are due to take place in July before the deadline. (The deep-sea mining issue was also covered in the previous edition of Cropped

TAPPED OUT: Another UN meeting took place recently – the first global water conference in half a century. Countries signed a “Water Action Agenda”, a plan pulling together almost 700 voluntary commitments from countries and stakeholders to help protect water resources. UN secretary general António Guterres said that “vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use” is “draining humanity’s lifeblood”, Reuters reported. Two Guardian reporters, in an analysis piece for the outlet, wrote that organisers “conceded that more was needed than a set of voluntary commitments such as a formal global agreement, like the 2015 Paris climate accords and the 2022 Montreal biodiversity pact”. The piece said that almost 7,000 people attended the summit, “but the private sector and global north were far better represented than experts and water insecure communities at the frontline of the water crisis from the global south”. 

LOOKING BACK: An explainer in the Hindu said the water conference had “lofty ambitions” to identify new ideas, recommend ways for policymakers to speed up change and to “place water at the centre of the climate agenda” in the build-up to global talks such as the COP28 climate summit. The newspaper reported that the most recent UN water conference in 1977 resulted in the first global action plan and tackled the “inherent problem” of figuring out how to “mobilise globally to solve local water problems”. The action plan recognised the right to access drinking water, which led to better funding and a concerted effort to achieve this. The issues in 2023 are “more complex”, the newspaper reported, because measures to improve access to water and sanitation must also address other goals such as sustaining agriculture, industry and natural ecosystems. 

IPCC beef and food fraud 

EDITS: Parts of the recent synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth assessment cycle were “watered down”, journalist Michael Thomas wrote in his climate change newsletter Distilled. He reported the details of leaked documents showing that “meat and fossil fuel producing countries successfully lobbied for changes” to the final text. Delegates from Brazil and Argentina helped to remove “any mention” of environmentally negative impacts of meat alongside any recommendation for people in wealthy countries to reduce meat consumption and eat more plant-based foods, he reported. (Read Carbon Brief’s Q&A on the synthesis report.)

FAKE FOOD: Meanwhile, an investigation by Farmers Weekly found that a food manufacturer was selling pork imported from abroad as British until at least the end of 2020. The UK magazine said the manufacturer “has also been accused by former employees of regularly ‘washing’ hams that are visibly off, or mixing rotting pork with fresh product for further processing”. The Food Standards Agency is carrying out an investigation into supply chain fraud, the Guardian reported. Separately, new analysis showed that a significant amount of EU honey imports are suspected to be fraudulently supplemented with syrups, Euractiv reported. European Commission-led analysis found that 46% of 320 honey samples were likely tampered with, the outlet said, adding: “While the risk to human health is considered low, such practices defraud consumers and jeopardise EU producers who face unfair competition from products containing illicit, cheap ingredients.”

RICE CHALLENGES: A report in the Economist examined the problems facing rice production such as scarce resources, rising temperatures and more frequent floods. The average person in Asia eats more rice than the average African, European and American combined, the outlet said, but yields of the crucial grain are stagnating as global demand soars. A separate Economist piece entitled “how to fix the global rice crisis” suggested solutions including faster adoption of new technologies in places most suitable for rice cultivation, better government support for farmers to switch to new practices and ways to move producers and consumers away from rice and towards other grains. 

News and views

IN THE FIELD: The updated US farm bill due to be approved by Congress later this year is “loaded with important provisions affecting natural resources, environmental health and climate”, the Society of Environmental Journalists reported. The SEJ noted that the main federal agriculture and food policy – which also covers commodity prices and food stamps – “may be the biggest legislative story of 2023”. Grist reported that climate advocates believe it “could be momentous” and turn US agriculture into a “climate solution” by, for example, increasing funds for farmer tree-planting programmes and using grazing systems that keep soils intact. A sense of how the “enormous” bill “is likely to affect farmers and eaters for the next five years – and longer – will gradually come into focus” over the coming months, said Civil Eats, a US news nonprofit. 

BANKROLLING DEFORESTATION: Several major European and US banks, including HSBC, Bank of America and Santander have helped fund deforestation in South America’s second-largest forest by holding or increasing shares in meatpacking companies accused of buying cattle reared in the region, according to an investigation by Global Witness. Meatpacking giants Minerva and Frigorifico Concepción have been accused of buying cattle from ranchers responsible for illegal land grabbing and deforestation within the ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples in the Gran Chaco, according to Global Witness. Despite this, the campaign group found that leading banks continue to finance Minerva, including by holding shares in the company. Other banks provided Miverva and Frigorifico Concepción with financial services such as underwriting bond issuances worth millions of dollars, Global Witness said.

FORESTRY DISPUTE: Authorities in north-western China have intervened in a widely-discussed dispute between a tree-planting farm and a coalmine over water use, the Global Times reported. According to Carbon Brief’s China analysts, the dispute went viral after being featured on China state broadcaster CCTV, with a post from the channel being viewed 31m times on the social media platform Weibo. The Global Times reported that authorities announced they had provided water and measures to protect the trees, “bringing a temporary resolution to the dispute”. China is the world’s largest coal producer and tree-planter.

PROTECTING FRESHWATER: At the UN Water Conference, six countries from Latin America and Africa launched an initiative to restore rivers, lakes and wetlands by 2030, reported EFE Verde. Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Gabon, Congo and Zambia joined the Freshwater Challenge, which aims to restore 300,000km of rivers and 350m hectares of wetlands. The countries agreed that rivers and lakes are the most degraded ecosystems and will work with Indigenous peoples and local communities. However they did not provide dates for implementing the initiative, the Spanish newswire added. It was “the largest initiative ever to restore” such ecosystems, according to the Inter Press Service. The countries will identify priority areas, update national policies and mobilise finance to meet their goals, wrote the newswire.

MAMMOTH MEATBALL: The woolly mammoth has become an enigmatic symbol of large mammals lost to changing landscapes and the rise of human pressures on the natural world. And now a company in Australia has used its DNA to create a cultivated “mammoth meatball”, the Guardian reported. The company Vow worked with scientists to create mammoth muscle protein, made from the DNA sequence for mammoth myoglobin (a type of muscle protein) placed into stem cells from sheep, according to the Guardian. Nobody ate the meatball, according to Prof Ernst Wolvetang, one of the scientists behind the meatball’s creation. He said: “We haven’t seen this protein for thousands of years. So we have no idea how our immune system would react when we eat it. But if we did it again, we could certainly do it in a way that would make it more palatable to regulatory bodies.”

Extra reading

How will we feed Earth’s rising population? Ask the Dutch. – Kenny Torrella, Vox

‘The poor man’s meat’: Truffle season in Iraq sees citizens flock to the desert – Ammar Hamid, Al-Araby Al Jadeed

Jashodhon Pramanik: The farmer guardian of birds in Bangladesh – Maksuda Aziz, Mongabay

India’s beef with beef – Sharanya Deepak, The Baffler

New science

Forgotten food crops in sub-Saharan Africa for healthy diets in a changing climate
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Integrating sub-Saharan Africa’s “forgotten” foods into agricultural systems could provide a “double-win” of more climate-resilient and nutrient-providing farming, a new study found. The research used modelling to examine the potential of 138 African forgotten food crops under changing climate conditions, ranging from leafy vegetables and other vegetables to fruits, cereals, pulses, seeds and nuts, and roots and tubers. It found that a diverse profile of forgotten foods could be grown across 95% of assessed production sites in sub-Saharan Africa in 2070, when changing climate conditions could make the cultivation of staple crops such as maize and rice unsuitable.

Holobiont urbanism: sampling urban beehives reveals cities’ metagenomes
Environmental Microbiome

A new study highlighted how honeybees could be a key source of information for hive and human health. The researchers analysed hive materials, such as honey, debris and bee bodies, on rooftop hives in five cities worldwide, including New York. The results show that each city provides unique information about hive health, such as pathogens. The method not only yields relevant information for hive health but can also be used for human pathogen surveillance, such as the “cat scratch fever” caused by a pathogen known as Rickettsia felis, according to the results. The study concluded that the method has the potential for epidemic surveillance. 

Continent-wide declines in shallow reef life over a decade of ocean warming

Populations of shallow reef species such as certain tropical fishes and macroalgae around Australia have reduced in recent years, but species in coral remained relatively stable, according to a new study. Researchers said the study is the most comprehensive assessment of marine species population trends to date. It assessed population trends of 1,057 common shallow reef species at 1,636 sites around Australia between 2008 and 2021, using data from three of the biggest long-term reef monitoring programmes. The research concluded that although this study focused on species in Australian reefs, “populations are probably also declining in other rapidly warming temperate seas”.

In the diary

6 April: [Webinar] Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework: what’s next for the ocean? | IDDRI

12 April: [Webinar] Mapping and monitoring global grasslands and livestock | Global Pasture Watch

17-20 April: 2023 ECOSOC Financing for Development Forum | UN headquarters, New York

19 April: US Climate Action Summit | Washington, DC and virtual 

Cropped is researched and written by Dr Giuliana Viglione, Aruna Chandrasekhar, Daisy Dunne, Orla Dwyer and Yanine Quiroz. Please send tips and feedback to

The post Cropped 5 April 2023: Carbon offsets scrutinised; UN water talks; IPCC beef and food fraud appeared first on Carbon Brief.

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