Newsletter 2020-12-31


Top positive environmental stories from 2020 by Liz Kimbrough [12/30/2020]

– 2020 was a difficult year for many, but positive stories emerged.
– This year, species were brought back from the edge of extinction; interest in renewable energy surged; environmental monitoring technology improved; new protected areas were created; and a few Indigenous women leaders got some long-overdue credit and recognition.
– In no particular order, we look back at some of our top positive environmental stories from 2020.

How the pandemic impacted rainforests in 2020: a year in review by Rhett A. Butler [12/28/2020]

– 2020 was supposed to be a make-or-break year for tropical forests. It was the year when global leaders were scheduled to come together to assess the past decade’s progress and set the climate and biodiversity agendas for the next decade. These included emissions reductions targets, government procurement policies and corporate zero-deforestation commitments, and goals to set aside protected areas and restore degraded lands.
– COVID-19 upended everything: Nowhere — not even tropical rainforests — escaped the effects of the global pandemic. Conservation was particularly hard in tropical countries.
– 2019’s worst trends for forests mostly continued through the pandemic including widespread forest fires, rising commodity prices, increasing repression and violence against environmental defenders, and new laws and policies in Brazil and Indonesia that undermine forest conservation.
– We don’t yet have numbers on the degree to which the pandemic affected deforestation, because it generally takes several months to process that data. That being said, there are reasons to suspect that 2020’s forest loss will again be substantial.

Notable deaths in conservation in 2020 by [12/28/2020]

– It is impossible to capture all of 2020’s losses.- Every death is of course notable, but this list acknowledges a few of the 2020 deaths that carry special significance to the conservation community.
– The list is grouped into three categories: murders and killings, reportedly COVID-19-related, and other deaths.
– Note: this list only includes deaths that occurred in 2020.



Industrial agriculture threatens a wetland oasis in Bolivia by Gustavo Jiménez Gonzáles [30 Dec 2020]
– An oasis within dry Chiquitano forest in eastern Bolivia, Concepción Lake and its surrounding wetland provide valuable habitat for 253 bird, 48 mammal and 54 fish species.
– However, despite being officially listed as a protected area, cultivation of commodity crops like soy and sorghum is expanding and supplanting habitat.
– Agricultural activity is also linked to phosphate pollution in Concepción Lake, and some think it may also be contributing to the lake’s dramatic drop in water level.
– While the clearing is illegal, local government sources say those responsible are simply paying fines and refusing to stop.

Colombia’s sustainable forestry drive boosts biodiversity and business by Dimitri Selibas [30 Dec 2020]
– Despite the high costs and long registration times, sustainable timber harvesting has the potential to bring more value to rural Colombians while also acting as an effective and important conservation tool.
– Forest management plans are critical to establishing which trees should be exploited, as well as setting standards for related processes so that the environmental impact can be minimized and deforestation avoided.
– Since the start of it Legal Wood Pact in 2009, Colombia has seen sales of legal timber grow from $500,000 in 2011 to $13 million in 2018, with sustainable forestry now considered a key growth area for the economy.

Analysis: Years in the making, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta policy takes the long view by David Brown [30 Dec 2020]
– A vast experiment in land and water use management is now underway in the Mekong Delta, the part of Vietnam most threatened by the destabilizing effects of climate change.
– Competing visions for how to manage the delta in a new era of rising seas and upstream dam building have pitted adaptive fixes against more mechanical ones.

Mongabay’s 10 most popular posts of 2020 by [30 Dec 2020]
– Mongabay published more than 5,000 posts in 2020.
– These are the ten most popular stories on, the global English news web site.
– Overall, Mongabay’s on-site traffic in 2020 amounted to 140 million pageviews, a 38% increase over 2019.

Top environment stories from Madagascar in 2020 by [30 Dec 2020]
– Madagascar witnessed a convergence of calamities this year, from the pandemic to surging forest fires to an unprecedented drought.
– Despite growing pressures on its forests, new species continue to be uncovered from the island, with the description of a mouse lemur, several chameleons, and even the world’s ugliest orchid.
– Protected Area management has emerged as a bone of contention between the government and NGOs that manage them, underscoring the challenges of doing conservation in a poor country.
– Here are ten key stories and trends from Madagascar in 2020.

11 notable books on conservation and the environment published in 2020 by John C. Cannon [30 Dec 2020]
– In the upside-down world of 2020, books provided both a sanctuary for restless minds and a conduit for vicarious travel.
– The list below features a sample of the important literature on conservation and the environment released this year.
– Inclusion in this list does not imply Mongabay’s endorsement of a book’s content; the views in the books are those of the authors and not necessarily Mongabay.

Geography on the plate: The culinary rediscovery of Colombia’s biodiversity by Aurora Solá [29 Dec 2020]
– In one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, new supply chains for exotic products are using flavor to change the way Colombians understand their country’s biological endowment.
– Mucho, a two-year-old startup, has already built supply networks in 16 of the country’s 32 departments, sourcing ingredients from rainforests, Amazonian rivers, and two oceans.
– Selva Nevada turns tropical fruits into ice-cream. Through conservation agreements, it provides incomes for forest peoples while keeping jungles standing.
– Overcoming logistical hurdles, these triple-bottom-line companies provide a model of commerce that is good for people, good for the planet, and excellent for the palate.

Illegal deforestation rises in South America’s Indigenous territories, parks by Vanessa Romo [29 Dec 2020]
– Satellite data show tree cover loss in South America rose 2.8% between 2018 and 2019. Colombia, Peru and Bolivia had particularly big surges in deforestation.
– Preliminary data indicate the rate of deforestation has increased further in 2020 in many areas.
– Among the areas affected are Catatumbo Barí Natural National Park in Colombia, Siona Indigenous territory in Ecuador, Santa Martha Indigenous territory in Peru and the Concepción Lake Ramsar site in Bolivia, which together lost more than 36,000 hectares of forest cover over the past two decades.
– Sources say illegal agriculture is the driving force behind these incursions.

Indonesia’s five most consequential environmental stories of 2020 by Loren Bell [29 Dec 2020]
– 2020 has been a momentous year for Indonesia’s environment, and for the regulations and regulators put in place to protect it.
– Perhaps most far-reaching is the passage of a massive deregulation bill critics warn will cater to the business community at the expense of the environment and social interests.
– The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a significant impact on conservation efforts in the country, putting the brakes on key conservation programs and potentially driving an increase in deforestation and poaching.
– Here, Mongabay reviews five of the key stories and trends from Indonesia in 2020.

Weak policy oversight could be pushing Brazilian forests closer to a tipping point by Meghie Rodrigues [28 Dec 2020]
– Between 2019 and 2020, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit a 12-year high.
– Deforestation, coupled with climate change and fires, are pushing the Amazon ever closer to a rainforest-to-degraded savanna tipping point, say some scientists.
– On a broad spectrum, deforestation is putting Brazil’s energy production, food security, and economy as a whole at risk.
– Women and Indigenous people are essential actors in the discussion and implementation of sustainable development in Brazil, but remain underrepresented at policy- and decision-making levels.

Sustainable financing is pivotal for marine conservation beyond 2030 pledges (commentary) by Simon Cripps [28 Dec 2020]
– In this commentary, Simon Cripps, the Executive Director for the Global Marine Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), argues that one of the biggest challenges in getting political will for protecting 30 percent of the oceans in MPAs by 2030 and maintaining it thereafter is financial.
– Government currently funds marine conservation costs in developed countries, but developing countries with fewer resources rely more on development aid, philanthropic foundations, and NGOs to fill the financial gaps.
– The author argues that conservationists “must look to solving the economic questions in innovative new ways.”
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

As world sours on coal, top producer Indonesia tries to sweeten it at home by Nithin Coca [28 Dec 2020]
– With international demand slowing, the government of Indonesia, a major coal producer and exporter, is looking to boost domestic demand for the fossil fuel.
– The government has recently passed a series of regulations seen as favorable to the coal industry, and is also putting its support behind coal gasification plans.
– State-owned coal miner PT Bukit Asam plans to have a coal gasification plant operational by 2024, while the country’s largest private coal miner, PT Bumi Resources, plans to invest more than $1 billion into a similar facility. U.S.-based Air Products also plans to invest $2 billion in a facility in Indonesia.
– Proponents of coal gasification call it a “clean coal technology” that will boost the domestic economy; opponents warn it will further entrench Indonesia’s fossil fuel dependence.

Top 15 species discoveries from 2020 (Photos) by Liz Kimbrough [28 Dec 2020]
– In 2020, Mongabay and others reported on several announcements of species new to science.
– Snakes, insects, many new orchids, frogs, and even a few mammals were named in 2020.
– In no particular order, we present our 15 top picks.

Alarm as exploratory drilling for oil begins in northern Namibia by Jim Tan [28 Dec 2020]
– Reconnaissance Energy Africa, an oil and gas company with headquarters in Canada, has recently begun exploratory drilling in northern Namibia.
– Conservationists and local communities are concerned over the potential environmental impact that oil and gas extraction could have on such an important ecosystem.
– Northern Namibia and Botswana have a number of interconnected watersheds including the Okavango Delta – the potential for pollutants to enter watercourses and spread throughout the region are a particular concern.

Top Indonesian palm oil developments in 2020 by Hans Nicholas Jong [28 Dec 2020]
– A persistent pandemic, falling palm oil prices and escalating conflicts failed to slow the environmental and social fallouts from the growth of the palm oil industry in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of the commodity.
– There’s growing fear over accelerated deforestation to clear land for more plantations as the government continues to promote palm oil-based biodiesel — even as others refuse to recognize it as a renewable fuel.
– The country’s new palm oil frontier, in the forests of Papua, is tainted by allegations of falsified permits and violence against Indigenous communities.
– At the same time, new legislation exempts plantation operators from environmental requirements and allows for the whitewashing of illegal plantations in forests.

Nature drone photos: 2020 highlights (Insider) by Rhett A. Butler [25 Dec 2020]
– Mongabay implemented a moratorium on reporting-related travel in mid-March due to the pandemic.
– Accordingly, the opportunities to take photos this year were limited, mostly to a pre-pandemic trip to the Amazon and pictures captured locally in California.
– This set includes 35 of Mongabay Founder Rhett A. Butler’s drone photos from the year.
– This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers. All insider content is temporarily available to everyone.

Vaccinations may be vital for saving Amur tigers from virus outbreaks (commentary) by Dale Miquelle, Martin Gilbert [24 Dec 2020]
– In this commentary, authors Dale Miquelle and Martin Gilbert, argue it is incumbent upon science-based conservation agencies to consider vaccinating high-risk tiger populations where epidemiological research indicates that it is necessary to mitigate extinction risks.
– The authors state this approach is increasingly important because “more species are relegated to small islands of habitat that support fewer individuals. An outbreak could be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back,” driving these small populations to extinction locally.”
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.



‘Devastating’ fires engulf Brazilian Pantanal wetlands – again by Ana Ionova [12/23/2020]
Traditional and Indigenous peoples ‘denounce’ planned Amazon railway by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [12/23/2020]
Pollution, water cuts strengthen calls for environmental law reform in Malaysia by Danielle Keeton-Olsen [12/23/2020]
Soy moratorium averted New Jersey-size loss of Amazon rainforest: Study by John C. Cannon [12/23/2020]
Top 10 environmental news stories of 2020 by Rhett A. Butler [12/22/2020]
A Madagascar forest long protected by its remoteness is now threatened by it by Edward Carver [12/21/2020]
Historical analysis: The Amazon’s mineral wealth — curse or blessing? by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [12/21/2020]
Sighting of super rare Chacoan fairy armadillo in Bolivia ‘a dream come true’ by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [12/21/2020]
Bold sustainability commitments: An interview with Microsoft’s Lucas Joppa by Rhett A. Butler [12/18/2020]
In an oil spill’s aftermath in Peru, new voices lead an Indigenous fight for justice by Francesco Garcia Delago, Vanessa Romo [12/18/2020]