Newsletter 2019-12-19



Fighting to save an endangered ape, Indonesian activists fear for their lives by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/18/2019]

– Activists and academics have attempted to stop the construction of the Batang Toru hydropower plant in North Sumatra, which is currently being built in the sole known habitat of the Tapanuli Orangutan.
– Critics of the dam have faced defamation charges, visits from intelligence officers, abrupt termination from conservation jobs and warnings that they could lose the right to work in Indonesia. One prominent opponent of the dam died in suspicious circumstances in October.
– Activists in North Sumatra say they feel constantly under threat. Dam developer PT NSHE denies any efforts to silence or intimidate critics, saying the company is “always open to inputs and to collaborate with various stakeholders.”

Tropical forests’ lost decade: the 2010s by Rhett A. Butler [12/17/2019]

– The 2010s opened as a moment of optimism for tropical forests. The world looked like it was on track to significantly reduce tropical deforestation by 2020.
– By the end of the 2019 however, it was clear that progress on protecting tropical forests stalled in the 2010s. The decade closed with rising deforestation and increased incidence of fire in tropical forests.
– According to the U.N., in 2015 global forest cover fell below four billion hectares of forest for the first time in human history.

Murders of indigenous leaders in Brazilian Amazon hits highest level in two decades by Shanna Hanbury [12/14/2019]

– Erisvan Guajajara, 15 years old, was found dead with multiple stab wounds Friday in the Brazilian Amazon. It is the 10th murder of indigenous people recorded this year.
– The body of Erisvan was found in a soccer field in the town of Amarante, in the Northeast state of Maranhão. And on December 7, two Guajajara leaders — Firmino Silvino Guajajara and Raimundo Bernice Guajajara — were killed in a drive-by shooting in a nearby area.
– Four Guajajara indigenous people have been reported killed in the last two months. In November, Paulo Paulino Guajajara, who was on the frontlines of Amazon protection as part of the indigenous Forest Guardians group, was also murdered. The crimes remain unsolved.
– Seven indigenous leaders were murdered as of December 2019, making it the country’s deadliest year for indigenous leaders in two decades, according to an NGO linked to the Catholic Church. Indigenous leaders have been calling for action to halt increasing violence against indigenous people.



Malaysia to let RSPO publish oil palm concession maps by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/19/2019]
– The Malaysian government has decided to allow the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to publish concession maps for Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak of its members in a bid to boost transparency in the sector.
– The RSPO has described the move as a “milestone” and it could leave neighboring Indonesia — currently the world’s largest palm oil producer and exporter — further behind in the pursuit of transparency in the palm oil sector.
– Activists have called on Indonesia to follow Malaysia’s footsteps if it doesn’t want to have the image of its oil palm products further tarnished compared to Malaysia.

Sea turtles continue to swim in troubled waters: report by Elham Shabahat [12/19/2019]
– TRAFFIC released new data about the prevalence of sea turtle trafficking in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
– The group says at least 2,354 turtles were seized in the three countries from January 2015 to July 2019.
– Tens of thousands of turtle eggs were also seized, mostly in Malaysia.

Three pangolin species closer to extinction: IUCN by [12/18/2019]
– Of the eight known species of pangolins, one of the world’s most trafficked mammals, two African species, the while-bellied (Phataginus tricuspis) and the giant ground pangolin (Smutsia gigantea), have been moved from “vulnerable” to “endangered” on the IUCN Red List.
– One Asian species, the Philippine pangolin (Manis culionensis), has been uplisted from “endangered” to “critically endangered”, according to the latest update by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
– The other species remain in their respective threatened categories and haven’t improved in status.

Central American countries pledge to protect Mesoamerica’s ‘5 Great Forests’ by [12/18/2019]
– The governments of all eight members of the Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD) — Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama — presented an ambitious regional climate action plan at COP25.
– Among the objectives of the 5 Great Forests Initiative is ending all illegal cattle ranching within the forests; ensuring that no wildlife species in the great forests goes extinct; protecting 10 million hectares (nearly 25 million acres) of land; and restoring 500,000 hectares of forest.
– The initiative also aims to improve the livelihoods of forest-dependent peoples, especially members of indigenous and local communities within the five forests, whose leadership is seen as crucial to forest conservation efforts.

As pesticide approvals soar, Brazil’s tapirs, bees, other wildlife suffer by Jenny Gonzales [12/18/2019]
– Brazil has been recognized as the world’s largest pesticide consumer since 2008, which has resulted in widespread application and in significant environmental contamination. Since then there has been an explosion of new pesticide registrations, first under President Michel Temer, now under Jair Bolsonaro.
– While research is scant, evidence points toward pesticide harm to Brazil’s wildlife, including the death of 500 million bees in four Brazilian states between December 2018 and February 2019. Another report found that 40 percent of samples collected from 116 tapirs were contaminated with insecticides, herbicides and heavy metals.
– High concentrations of the insecticide carbamate aldicarb were detected in 10 of 26 stomach content samples. Because the animals much prefer native vegetation to crops, this suggests that aerial spraying — with residue carried by wind — may be resulting in the spread of the pesticide from croplands into unsprayed natural areas.
– The Bolsonaro administration and bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby in Congress are moving rapidly to deregulate pesticides, especially pushing for passage of amendment 6299/2002, dubbed “The Poison Bill” by critics. It would transfer pesticide regulation to the Agriculture Ministry, a move that analysts decry as a serious conflict of interest.

Microplastics may be a macro problem for the U.S. Great Plains, too, study finds by Megan Stannard [12/18/2019]
– Though often thought of as chiefly a marine pollution issue, a new study has found microplastics in every freshwater body tested in Kansas.
– The results were published in a peer reviewed paper which was produced through an innovative collaboration between freshman students and their professor.
– As well as giving the students new insights into the issue of microplastics, writing and publishing the paper was a new perspective on the process of peer-review, one that often seems inaccessible to undergraduates.
– “When I saw my name on that fully written and polished paper, ready to get published, I was really proud to have been a part of it,” one of the undergraduate authors told Mongabay.

Women from the Xingu Territory unite against threats from Bolsonaro administration by Maria Fernanda Ribeiro [12/18/2019]
– In May 2019, some 200 representatives from 16 different ethnicities gathered for the first women’s summit in the Xingu Indigenous Territory’s in the state of Mato Grosso. Feeling under threat from policies regarding native peoples under the Jair Bolsonaro administration and tired of their community roles being restricted to domestic tasks, the women met to discuss ways to occupy leadership roles alongside men and, in doing so, gain strength to protect their territory.
– Even though many men in the Xingu still disapprove of female empowerment, the event itself already led to changes in local gender relationships: During the summit, some domestic partners took responsibility for household tasks and childcare while the women were away. In the village where the event was held, the men took over traditional female jobs like collecting food, fishing and cooking for the hundreds of women present.
– This is a particularly delicate time in the region: 147 square kilometers (57.8 square miles) of the forest were destroyed in the Xingu Socio-environmental Biodiversity Corridor between July and August 2019 — 172% more than occurred during the same period last year. A mosaic composed of 21 indigenous reserves and nine conservation units, the corridor is home to one of Earth’s largest concentrations of environmental diversity.

Europe’s ‘ruthless’ animal attractions: Q & A with filmmaker Aaron Gekoski by [12/17/2019]
– While Asia’s wildlife tourism industry is often critiqued in the media, similarly troubling European attractions featuring large animals go largely unreported.
– Mongabay interviewed Aaron Gekoski who, with filmmaker Will Foster-Grundy, traveled around France, Germany, Spain, and the Czech Republic observing animal attractions.
– Wolves, bears, tigers, rhinos, and even hippos and zebras were observed in very small and makeshift enclosures, while being made to perform tricks for tourists.

The role of sustainable finance in Forest Landscape Restoration (commentary) by Ruben Coppus [12/17/2019]
– To finance the major investments in Forest Landscape Restoration, help from the private and financial sector is needed.
– To increase investors’ willingness to write checks, public- funded grants play a crucial role. To get institutional investors on board, sustainable finance must mature, providing proven track records so investors can better understand risk.
– If the ambitious goals of Initiative 20×20 or the Sustainable Development Goals are to be met, all capital must be engaged, whether it’s private, public, or philanthropic.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

COP25: Self-serving G20 spites youth, humanity, world at climate talks by Justin Catanoso [12/17/2019]
– With 500,000 mostly young climate activists rallying in Madrid streets, COP25 delegates agreed to disagree on nearly everything, with smaller nations striving to pave the way for implementation of a strong Paris Agreement at COP26 in 2020, while G20 nations dragged their feet, obfuscated, and stopped forward progress.
– The climate conference failed to increase national Paris Agreement carbon reduction pledges, likely dooming the world to catastrophic temperature increases above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 unless dramatic advances are implemented next year at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.
– The G20 and corporate allies kept the closing of carbon accounting loopholes off the agenda: tree plantations will be counted as forests; the burning of wood pellets (as carbon-polluting as coal) will be counted as carbon neutral; and tropical dams now known to produce major methane releases, will be counted as zero carbon sources.
– The U.S., blocked already promised “loss and damage” financial pledges made to the developing world. Double counting of emissions wasn’t banned. No carbon market mechanism was approved. Paris Agreement language assuring “human rights, the right to health, [and] rights of indigenous peoples” was stripped from COP25 official documents.

Arhuaco community of Colombia allows scientists to photograph ‘lost’ toad by [12/17/2019]
– The indigenous Arhuaco people of the Sogrome community living in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta have been residing alongside the the starry night harlequin toad (Atelopus arsyecue) for generations.
– But the critically endangered species has remained undetected by scientists for nearly 30 years.
– Recently, after several years of discussions, the Sogrome community, which considers the harlequin toad sacred and an integral part of its culture, permitted researchers from a Colombian conservation group to go and photograph the toads and share it with the wider scientific community.

Mountain gorilla census reveals further increase in numbers by John C. Cannon [12/17/2019]
– A census of one of the two populations of mountain gorillas living in eastern Africa revealed an increase from 400 to at least 459 individuals, bringing the total count for the subspecies to 1,069 gorillas.
– Teams conducted the survey in the Bwindi-Sarambwe ecosystem straddling the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018.
– An earlier survey of the other population living in the Virunga Mountains of DRC, Uganda and Rwanda showed that gorilla numbers there are also on the rise.
– That led to a change in the subspecies status on the IUCN Red List from critically endangered to endangered.

Dodgy science and corporate concessions in Indonesia’s bid for clean palm oil by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/17/2019]
– Environmental activists and experts have questioned a new initiative by the Indonesian government to clean up the reputation of the country’s palm oil, which they warn could lead to an even less sustainable industry than at present.
– The plan risks permitting the legitimization of illegal plantations inside forests, effectively rewarding environmental violators.
– It also seeks to count palm oil-based biodiesel as a green offset to fossil fuels, despite overwhelming evidence showing that the production of the fuel will lead to greater deforestation and a net increase in carbon emissions.
– The plan also gives mining and other extractives companies an easy way out of their obligation to rehabilitate their degraded concessions, by permitting these areas to be planted with oil palms instead of being reforested.

Sri Lanka’s Sinharaja rainforest reserve to be quadrupled in size by Malaka Rodrigo [12/17/2019]
– The Sinharaja Forest Reserve in southern Sri Lanka will be expanded fourfold through the incorporate of surrounding forests into the protected area.
– The new reserve will span 36,000 hectares (88,960 acres), and will help conserve a biodiversity hotspot known for being home to a treasure trove of rare species found nowhere else on Earth.
– Current threats to Sinharja and the surrounding forests include encroachment, hunting, logging, and gem mining.
– As a forest reserve, the UNESCO World Heritage Site will allow for both the protection of the rainforest and sustainable and non-destructive forestry activities that are key to the livelihoods of local communities.

A Philippine conservation park juggles funding needs with animal welfare by Arnel Murga [12/16/2019]
– The Mari-it Wildlife and Conservation Park on the island of Panay is home to at least 62 threatened animals that are endemic to the Philippines.
– Its funding dried up in 2014, and after struggling to get by on scant resources from the local government, the park decided in June this year to open its gates to tourists.
– Since then, however, it has had to deal with numerous instances of rowdy tourists taunting the animals, highlighting the need for better management mechanisms to protect the animals under its care while still finding a way to stay financially secure.

Madagascar: Is NGO-led conservation too conservative to conserve much? by Edward Carver [12/16/2019]
– International environmental NGOs working in Madagascar assume a relatively narrow role of supporting local conservation and development in line with government strategy.
– The nature of the NGOs’ legal relationship with the Malagasy government, which has close ties to the extractive industries, and the restrictions that come with international funding make it difficult for them to take a broader role or push for systemic environmental reforms.
– The result, some critics say, is that international NGOs fail to address the country’s most serious conservation challenges.
– Homegrown civil society groups have more room to operate in Madagascar and do some of the most important conservation work.

COP25: EU officials say biomass burning policy to come under critical review by Justin Catanoso [12/16/2019]
– At a COP25 climate summit press conference on Thursday, December 12, Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the EU and a Dutch politician answered a Mongabay question concerning the UN biomass carbon accounting loophole.
– When asked if the EU would close the loophole, he said: “The issue of biofuels needs to be looked at very carefully. We have to make sure that what we do with biofuels is sustainable and does not do more harm than that it does good.” A second EU official expressed a similar view. The issue won’t likely be reviewed until after 2020.
– This is perhaps the first acknowledgement by a top developed world official that the biomass loophole is a potential problem. The loophole encourages power plants that burn coal (whose carbon emissions are counted) to be converted to biomass — the burning of wood pellets (whose carbon emissions are counted as carbon neutral).
– Recent science shows that burning wood pellets is worse than burning coal, since more pellets must be burned to produce equivalent energy levels to coal. Also replacing plantation forests to achieve carbon neutrality takes many decades, time not available to a world that needs to quickly cut emissions over the next 20 years.

FSC complaint filed against pulpwood firms tied to Indonesia’s richest man by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/16/2019]
– An NGO that linked two pulpwood companies to Indonesia’s wealthiest man has alleged continued deforestation by the companies, in violation of sustainability commitments.
– The companies are owned indirectly by cigarette and banking tycoon Robert Budi Hartono, and supply, among others, paper and pulp giants APP and APRIL.
– APP has denied responsibility for the wood sourced from one of the companies, even though it acknowledges having “significant influence” over the mill that bought it.
– APRIL says the supplier hasn’t violated its own sustainability commitment — but part of the reason is that that commitment isn’t retroactively applicable to existing suppliers.

Philippine mayors under fire from environment department over open dumpsites by [12/15/2019]
– The Philippines’ environment department has filed administrative cases against local government officials for violating waste disposal regulations by allowing open dumpsites within their jurisdictions.
– The Philippines has an existing solid waste management law, which mandates officials to close existing open dumpsites and to strengthen its waste collection and segregation policies.
– Last year, the department filed cases against more than 600 local government officials for failing to close existing open dumpsites, forcing them to comply with the law.

Whitetip sharks declared critically endangered, but gain no protections in Pacific by Monica Evans [12/13/2019]
– This week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) as “critically endangered,” citing “steep population declines” in all oceans.
– The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, a multilateral body, manages fisheries in a vast swath of the Pacific Ocean, including the large and lucrative tuna fishery that accidentally kills tens of thousands of whitetips each year.
– Whitetip sharks are predicted to become extinct in the western and central Pacific under current management practices, their numbers having declined there by around 95% since 1995.
– The commission met this month in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. It adopted several conservation measures, but took no new steps to protect whitetip sharks, as many scientists and conservationists had hoped.

COP25: Brazil’s official presence diverges widely from its public persona by Camila Nobrega [12/13/2019]
– Brazil’s government presence was much shrunken at COP25, as compared to past climate conferences, and its delegation even opted out of hosting a presentation space — this despite the country’s being South America’s biggest economy and among the world’s top ten greenhouse gas emitters.
– The administration of President Jair Bolsonaro is controversial for its anti-environmental and anti-indigenous stance. Its policies have prompted resistance by Amazon indigenous and traditional rural populations.
– Environment Minister Ricardo Salles represented one face of Brazil at COP25, speaking publicly twice at the summit, and focusing mostly on agribusiness and economic development opportunities in Amazonia.
– Indigenous peoples and other activists showed a very different face at COP25, emphasizing government failures to protect the environment as well as indigenous and traditional peoples living in the Amazon.

COP25: Wood pellet CEO claims biomass carbon neutrality, despite science by Justin Catanoso [12/13/2019]
– Research has conclusively shown that burning biomass for energy is not carbon neutral. However, a biomass carbon accounting loophole currently enforced by the UN and the Paris Agreement says that burning trees in the form of wood pellets produces zero emissions, and so is classified with solar and wind power.
– Mongabay gained an exclusive interview with Will Gardiner, CEO of Drax, the United Kingdom’s largest biomass energy plant. He dismisses the science and asserts that his firm and $7.6 billion industry are meeting “a responsibility to our community, our shareholders and our colleagues to be a part of the escalating climate crisis.”
– Bill Moomaw — an international researcher on biomass-for-energy, and author of forest reports for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — counters Gardiner’s arguments: “It’s all about the money. The wood pellet industry is a monster out of control,” he said when interviewed at COP25.
– Despite repeated pleas from scientists, COP25 climate summit negotiators in Madrid failed to address the biomass carbon accounting loophole, as they did at COP24 — a lapse that, if allowed to persist, could help push emissions above a 2 degree Celsius planetwide average increase that the UN says could bring climate catastrophe.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, December 13, 2019 by [12/13/2019]
– There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
– Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
– If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
– Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.

Indonesia to revive idle shrimp farms to boost fisheries and save mangroves by Basten Gokkon [12/13/2019]
– More than half of the shrimp farms carved out of mangrove forests in Indonesia have been left idle or abandoned.
– The government plans to revive these aquaculture farms to both boost fisheries production and prevent the clearing of more mangroves.
– Fisheries experts have welcomed the plan to boost aquaculture, but say the government should focus on boosting yields from existing shrimp farms rather than expanding the number of operating farms.
– In addition to the deforestation of mangroves, shrimp farms have drawn criticism for degrading the quality of freshwater available for communities living in the vicinity of the ponds.

Indonesia’s fires burned mostly abandoned and degraded land, not forests by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/13/2019]
– More than three-quarters of the area burned during this year’s fire season in Indonesia were idle or abandoned lands, and not rainforest, a new analysis shows.
– Only 3 to 3.6 percent of the total burned area constituted forested landscapes, according to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
– The findings highlight the importance of protecting these areas and restoring them to prevent future recurrences of fires, CIFOR says.
– Much of these areas used to be peatlands, which according to a new report by Greenpeace continue to be burned by oil palm and pulpwood companies supplying some of the biggest household brands in the world.

Audio: Mongabay investigation reveals large-scale land invasion in Peruvian Amazon by Mike Gaworecki [12/12/2019]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Chris Fagan about the investigative report he recently filed for Mongabay that revealed a large-scale illegal land invasion encroaching on national parks and indigenous reserves in the Peruvian Amazon.
– While traveling up the Sepahua River with indigenous guides who are part of local vigilance committees dedicated to protecting the land, Fagan counted more than 250 plots of land illegally parceled out. Some of those parcels were still untouched, but others had already been deforested and converted to cropland.
– Fagan joins us today to discuss the findings of his investigation, what it was like to encounter the deforestation he and his guides discovered deep in the Amazon rainforest, and who is responsible for evicting the land grabbers.

Indonesian dam raises questions about UN hydropower carbon loophole by Justin Catanoso [12/12/2019]
– North Samatera Hydro Energy (PT NSHE) wants to build the Batang Toru dam, a 510-megawatt project, in Indonesia. But, the discovery of a new primate species, the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), with under 800 individuals mostly inhabiting the project site, has alarmed activists and put the dam’s funding at risk.
– PT NSHE is at the COP25 climate summit this month extolling the project’s contribution to curbing global warming: company reps say the dam will reduce Indonesia’s carbon emissions by 4 percent. In fact, the nation is already counting the proposed project as part of its 2015 Paris Climate Agreement carbon reduction pledge.
– However, while the United Nations and Paris Agreement count most new hydroelectric dams as carbon neutral, recent science shows that tropical dams can emit high levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide; this especially occurs when reservoirs are first filled.
– Dams built over the next decade will be adding their greenhouse gas emission load to the atmosphere when the world can least afford it — as the world rushes to cut emissions to prevent a 2 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures. PT NSHE argues its dam will have a small reservoir, so will not produce significant emissions.

Encoded in the genes: Scientists devise a ‘lifespan clock’ for vertebrates by Malavika Vyawahare [12/12/2019]
– A genetic tool described in the journal Scientific Reports allows scientists to predict the maximum lifespans of vertebrates, including mammals, whether long extinct or still alive today.
– Using the “lifespan clock,” the team from Australia predicted that Neanderthals could live until nearly 40 years, and woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) could survive up to 60 years.
– They identified 42 genes that are linked to longevity and developed a model in which the genetic information for a species can be inputted and an estimate for the maximum lifespan obtained.
– The model can help evaluate extinction risk to a species, gauge the threat posed by invasive species, and be used in sustainable fisheries management.



Analysis: The Tanah Merah project is a bellwether for Jokowi’s permit review by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [12/11/2019]
Conservation biologist and wildtech journalist Sue Palminteri, 1965-2019 by Rhett A. Butler [12/11/2019]
Revealed: Government officials say permits for mega-plantation in Papua were falsified by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [12/10/2019]
Coca farms close in on protected areas, isolated tribes in Peruvian Amazon by Chris Fagan [12/09/2019]
‘A crisis situation’: Extinctions loom as forests are erased in Mozambique by David Njagi [12/05/2019]



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