Newsletter 2021-05-13



Is planting trees as good for the Earth as everyone says? by Mike Gaworecki [05/13/2021]

– As the world searches for solutions to global climate change, tree planting has become increasingly popular, with ambitious campaigns aiming to plant billions or trillions of trees.
– These projects often have other environmental goals, too, like regulating water cycles, halting soil erosion and restoring wildlife habitat. They also often have socioeconomic goals, like alleviating poverty.
– But how effective is planting trees at accomplishing all this, and how strong is the evidence for this effectiveness? To find out, Mongabay engaged a team of researchers who conducted a non-exhaustive review of relevant scientific literature.
– We detail the results below, as part of Mongabay’s special “Conservation Effectiveness” series.

In the Honduran Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, an illegal road for cattle and drugs by Ashoka Mukpo [05/13/2021]

– Multiple sources, backed by satellite data, say an illegal road is being cut through the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
– Sources say the road will facilitate land invasions into the biosphere and is likely to be used as a drug-trafficking route.
– The road has created divisions between Indigenous groups, with the Bakinasta Miskito denouncing its presence and demanding the government step in to halt it.
– Despite knowing about the road for more than a year, the Honduran government has not taken definitive action to enforce the law.

Behind the scenes video unveils water contamination by ‘sustainable’ Amazon palm oil by Karla Mendes [05/12/2021]

– Brazil’s official policy states that Amazon palm oil is green, but is that true? An 18-month investigation showed the opposite.
– The Mongabay investigation will be used by federal prosecutors as evidence to hold a palm oil company accountable for water contamination.
– Federal prosecutors have pursued Brazil’s leading palm oil exporters in the courts for the past seven years, alleging the companies are contaminating water supplies, poisoning the soil, and harming the livelihoods and health of Indigenous and traditional peoples, charges the companies deny.
– In this behind-the-scenes video, Mongabay’s Contributing Editor in Brazil, Karla Mendes, takes us on her reporting journey as her team tracks how the palm oil industry is changing this Amazonian landscape.

‘Bad science’: Planting frenzy misses the grasslands for the trees by Shreya Dasgupta [05/12/2021]

– Planting trees by the millions has come to be considered one of the main ways of reining in runaway carbon emissions and tackling climate change.
– But experts say many tree-planting campaigns are based on flawed science: planting in grasslands and other non-forest areas, and prioritizing invasive trees over native ones.
– Experts point out that not all land is meant to be forested, and that planting trees in savannas and grasslands runs the risk of actually reducing carbon sequestration and increasing air temperature.
– The rush to reforest has also led to fast-growing eucalyptus and acacia becoming the choice of tree for planting, despite the fact they’re not native in most planting areas, and are both water-intensive and fire-prone.

Indigenous in Salvador: A struggle for identity in Brazil’s first capital by Alexandre Lyrio [05/11/2021]

– The city of Salvador in Brazil’s Bahia state was one of the first established by European colonizers 500 years ago, built where settlements of Indigenous people already existed.
– Today, the predominantly Afro-Brazilian city is home to an Indigenous minority of around 7,500, many of whom are enrolled in the local university under the Indigenous quota system.
– They say they continue to face prejudice from others, who question why they wear modern clothes and use smartphones and don’t look like the pictures in history books.
– Over centuries of suffering from colonization and enslavement, Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities here have forged something of a cultural alliance in an effort to keep their respective traditions alive.

Humanity’s challenge of the century: Conserving Earth’s freshwater systems by Saul Elbein [05/10/2021]

– Many dryland cities like Los Angeles, Cairo and Tehran have already outstripped natural water recharge, but are expected to continue growing, resulting in a deepening arid urban water crisis.
– According to NASA’s GRACE mission, 19 key freshwater basins, including several in the U.S., are being unsustainably depleted, with some near collapse; much of the water is used indiscriminately by industrial agribusiness.
– Many desert cities, including Tripoli, Phoenix and Los Angeles, are sustained by water brought from other basins by hydro megaprojects that are aging and susceptible to collapse, while the desalination plants that water Persian Gulf cities come at a high economic cost with serious salt pollution.
– Experts say that thinking about the problem as one of supply disguises the real issue, given that what’s really missing to heading off a global freshwater crisis is the organization, capital, governance and political will to address the problems that come with regulating use of a renewable, but finite, resource.



On an island scarred by tin mining, mangrove planting preserves shrimp tradition by Taufik Wijaya [13 May 2021]
– Mining, aquaculture, plantations and other commercial activities have taken a toll on mangroves in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest extent of these important ecosystems.
– On the Bangka-Belitung islands off Sumatra, residents of one village are doing their part to maintain the mangroves through replanting.
– For the Batu Betumpang villagers, the mangroves are the source of the shrimp they use to make their belacan shrimp paste, a key source of livelihood here.
– The villagers say there’s a growing awareness of the importance of mangroves, without which “our income will definitely decline because shrimp will run out.”

Study shows more than half of Cerrado’s cattle pasture can be restored by Maurício Angelo [13 May 2021]
– Cattle pasture occupies an area larger than France in Brazil’s Cerrado biome, or 29% of the planet’s most biodiverse savanna.
– Research from the University of Brasília shows that more than half of this pastureland can potentially be restored back to its native state.
– The research identifies priority areas for restoration and describes possible ways to get there, which it stresses will require strong political will and stakeholder engagement.
– Restoration of this pastureland would mean no more of the native Cerrado would need to be cleared to support the beef industry, at the same time conserving biodiversity.

Ghost fish: after 420 million years in the deeps, modern gillnets from shark fin trade drag coelacanths into the light by Tony Carnie [12 May 2021]
– Undersea canyons off Madagascar may turn out to be the Indian Ocean epicentre for coelacanths, the remarkable “fossil fish” which re-surfaced from apparent extinction in 1938.
– Coelacanths have turned up with unexpected frequency in gill-nets set in deep waters to catch sharks for new, commercial markets.
– A worrying trend in recent coelacanth catches in Madagascar is the high proportion of pregnant females, which are thought to produce just 140 live babies during their entire lifecycle.
– Marine scientists are calling for reinforcement of conservation measures to protect this population from the pressure of incidental gill-net captures driven by the shark fin trade.

Ever-evolving Montreal Protocol a model for environmental treaties by Jane Palmer [12 May 2021]
– Since the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987, countries have been phasing out most ozone-damaging chemicals, helping protect the Earth’s protective shield. In this exclusive Mongabay interview, Megumi Seki, Acting Executive Secretary of the UN Environment Programme’s Ozone Secretariat, reviews the history and future of the landmark treaty.
– The Montreal Protocol phase-down has also helped prevent further climate warming. But the HFCs — replacement gases employed by industry as refrigerants and for other uses — while not harmful to the ozone layer, have been found to be powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
– In 2016, national delegates agreed on the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which calls for cutting the production and use of HFCs by 80–85% by the late 2040s. The amendment entered into force at the start of 2019, with the goal of avoiding additional warming by up to 0.4°C (0.72 °F) by the end of the century.
– The early steps of the Montreal Protocol, and its ongoing adjustments including the Kigali Amendment, provide vital clues as to how to effectively negotiate, implement, update, and succeed in moving forward with other future environmental treaties.

98% of Bunge shareholders back proposal to reduce deforestation by Nicolás Bustamante Hernández [12 May 2021]
– The proposal by activist investment funds Green Century Capital Management and Storebrand Asset Management was approved with 98% of the votes.
– Bunge’s decision follows those recently made by other big companies such as Procter & Gamble’s, Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, and JPMorgan Chase.
– According to Green Century, the measure would help the Brazilian Cerrado, a savanna ecosystem known as “reverse forest” due to its extensive root system that stores large amounts of carbon.

Latest mass stranding raises concerns for endangered Caspian seals by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [12 May 2021]
– About 170 endangered Caspian seals were found dead on Russia’s Dagestan coast near the city of Makhachkala from May 4-6, with fishing activities most likely to blame.
– People harvest Caspian seals for their skin and even their blubber, which is made into an oil and promoted as a cure for COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, according to experts.
– An expert says more than 15,000 Caspian seals are killed each year through fishing activities and then filtered into the wildlife trade.
– With only about 68,000 mature individuals left in the wild, experts say international cooperation by countries bordering the Caspian Sea is urgently needed to protect the imperiled species.

Indonesia says no new coal plants from 2023 (after the next 100 or so) by Hans Nicholas Jong [12 May 2021]
– Indonesia plans to stop building new coal-fired plants after 2023, with additional electrical capacity to be generated only from new and renewable sources.
– Development experts and the private sector have welcomed the plan, but some say it’s not ambitious enough since it still entails construction of new coal plants that have already been signed.
– Once these plants are built, they will operate for decades to come, and their emissions will spell disaster for climate change.
– There’s also controversy over what the government considers “new and renewable” energy, in which it lumps solar and wind alongside biomass, nuclear, and gasified coal.

Indonesian researchers study how to help rays released as bycatch survive by Basten Gokkon [12 May 2021]
– Researchers in Indonesia are studying the survival rate of manta rays and devil rays released after being caught unintentionally by fishers.
– The study, which has so far tagged five of the animals with satellite trackers, aims to come up with best practices to boost the survival of these threatened rays.
– Populations of mantas and devils rays, from the genus Mobula, have been hit by the global trade of their parts, particularly their gills, for traditional medicine and food.

A Madagascar-sized area of forest has regrown since 2000 by [12 May 2021]
– 58.9 million hectares — an area of forest larger than the island of Madagascar — has regrown around the world since 2000, finds a new assessment from Trillion Trees, a joint venture between BirdLife International, WCS, and WWF.
– The analysis estimates that the 22-25 billion trees which have regrown over the past two decades could sequester 5.9 billion tons of carbon dioxide, more than the annual emissions of the United States.
– However forest recovery is far outpaced by deforestation. Primary forest loss between 2001 and 2020 amounted to nearly 65 million hectares, whereas tree cover loss reached 411 million hectares between 2000 and 2020, according to data from Global Forest Watch.

Indonesian fishers plead with president on seine nets and other assistance by Falahi Mubarok [11 May 2021]
– Fishers in Indonesia’s Java Island are calling for permits to resume using seine nets, after the government last year lifted a ban on the potentially destructive devices.
– They their voiced their requests during a recent visit by President Joko Widodo to a fishing port in East Java.
– The president also promised to dredge the port after the fishers complained of not being able to dock during low tide because of heavy silting.

Hantavirus study shows restoring forests can reduce zoonotic disease risk by Anna Nordseth [11 May 2021]
– Brazilian scientists have found that transmission of hantavirus, a deadly infection, could be reduced by 45% if Brazil restores its Atlantic Forest to levels mandated by its Native Vegetation Protection Law.
– Hantavirus, spresd by contact with infected rodents, can become more prevalent across a landscape when forests are cleared and rodent populations increase.
– While the study’s simulations must be confirmed by field studies, this initial research shows that lowering zoonotic disease risk through forest restoration holds promise.

Industrial diets are imprinting on human bodies, new study finds by Malavika Vyawahare [11 May 2021]
– A new analysis shows that eating mass-produced food grown with the help of synthetic fertilizers, sourced internationally, is changing the chemistry of modern humans.
– It is especially true for urbanized and wealthier communities and nations where annual per capita income exceeds $10,000, where supermarkets supply most of the food.
– The isotope composition of nitrogen and carbon present in hair, nails and bones has changed, making present-day humans more similar to each other but very different from their ancestors who lived before the advent of industrial agriculture.
– The problem with these kinds of diets divorced from natural complex food chains is that the system is not resilient in the face of threats, study authors said.

ADB declares coal exit in Asia Pacific, but gas remains in play by Imelda Abano [11 May 2021]
– The Asian Development Bank (ADB) plans to exit financing coal, oil and natural gas exploration and extraction activities, according to its draft energy policy released May 7.
– The bank says it also intends to deliver climate finance worth $80 billion between 2019 and 2030 to ensure that at least 75% of its projects address climate change issues.
– While green groups have welcomed the transition, they note that the draft energy policy has a loophole by potentially allowing fossil gas investments.
– ADB is set to release its final energy policy by October this year.

The climate crisis solutions we need are already here (commentary) by Steve Trent [10 May 2021]
– The technologies required for a transition to a sustainable world are already known, and new, profit-making tech is not necessary.
– What is needed is a profound shift in political will and a framework of environmental justice.
– “Those who wring their hands and say it cannot be done so swiftly, that we need bridging measures, like nuclear power, or extensive artificial carbon capture and storage, underestimate the incredible ability and ingenuity of humanity,” the executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation argues in a new op-ed for Mongabay.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Trafficking of banned Myanmar teak lands German company with $4m fine by Nicolás Bustamante Hernández [10 May 2021]
– German firm WOB Timber was ordered by a Hamburg court to pay $4 million in fines for illegally trading Myanmar teak.
– Although there is a regulation that prohibits imports of Myanmar wood into the EU, companies take advantage of legal loopholes to evade it, says the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
– According to the EIA, demand for Myanmar teakwood contributed to the Southeast Asian country losing a Belgium-size area of forest between 2001 and 2018

Indonesian omnibus law’s ‘whitewash’ of illegal palm oil shocks its architects by Hans Nicholas Jong [10 May 2021]
– Indonesian lawmakers appear outraged at a scheme from a law they already passed that grants amnesty to oil palm plantations operating illegally inside forest areas.
– The amnesty scheme gives the operators a grace period of three years to apply for the proper paperwork, including a redesignation of the forest they’re illegally occupying to a non-forest designation.
– The lawmakers, who overwhelmingly approved the law last November despite near-universal criticism, have called the scheme “whitewashing” and “eco-terrorism.”
– One even expressed his own regret at not being a “forest thief” had he only known how lucrative it would be.

Sri Lanka to ban palm oil imports, raze plantations over environmental concerns by Malaka Rodrigo [09 May 2021]
– Sri Lanka has imposed a ban on palm oil imports and ordered oil palm plantations in the country to be replaced with rubber trees and other crops over the next decade, citing adverse environmental and social impacts.
– The decision is based on recommendations from a 2018 report by a panel of environmental experts, who linked oil palm plantations to soil erosion and the drying up of water sources.
– Unlike in other countries where the crop is grown, oil palms aren’t a driver of deforestation in Sri Lanka; instead, they’ve replaced rubber plantations, which host a higher level of biodiversity and provide more jobs for locals.
– Another concern is that oil palm is becoming an invasive species, occurring in the wild in a forest reserve, with as-yet-unknown impacts on native flora and fauna.

Amazon deforestation jumps sharply in April by [08 May 2021]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged during the month of April, ending a streak of three consecutive months where forest clearing had been lower than the prior year.
– The rise in deforestation came despite a high-profile pledge from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to rein in deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest.
– According to preliminary deforestation alert data released Friday by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE, deforestation in the Brazilian portion of the Amazon amounted to 581 square kilometers in April, a 43% increase over April 2020
– However, by INPE’s count, deforestation is still pacing behind last year’s rate, though that conclusion is contradicted by Imazon, a group that independently monitors forest clearing in the region.

Death toll rises to 10 after landslide at dam site in orangutan habitat by Ayat S. Karokaro [07 May 2021]
– The death toll from a landslide at a hydropower construction site in northern Sumatra has risen to 10, with three people still missing and feared dead.
– The disaster was the second landslide to hit the site in the Batang Toru forest in the space of five months.
– Experts and activists have again questioned the project developer’s disaster mitigation plan, warning that the area could also be hit by an earthquake, with even more devastating consequences.
– Conservationists also say the project threatens the only known habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan, which numbers fewer than 800 individuals.

New paper urges shift to ‘nature positivity’ to restore Earth by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [07 May 2021]
– A new paper, published by leading conservationists and the heads of various global institutions, argues for adopting a “nature-positive” goal.
– This would require restoring the Earth from 2020, placing the world on a nature positive path by 2030 to mount a full recovery by 2050.
– According to the authors, nature positivity would provide an overarching goal for nature that would coincide with the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) mission and streamline agreements for climate, biodiversity, and sustainable development into one common vision.
– The paper was released a few days before the start of the meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), where parties will provide advice on the CBD’s post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

Belgium-sized swath of forest faces the chop from Indonesian palm oil by Hans Nicholas Jong [07 May 2021]
– Curbing deforestation associated with the palm oil industry is crucial if Indonesia wants to meet its long-term emissions reduction targets, experts say.
– There are still 3.5 million hectares (8.65 million acres) of natural forest inside existing oil palm concessions that could potentially be cleared in as little as three years as demand for palm oil continues to grow.
– Experts have called on the government to save these forests by extending and strengthening a moratorium on licensing new plantations.
– They also call for the adoption of the high conservation value and high carbon stock approaches to identifying areas to protect.

Biden lays out vision for protecting 30% of US land, waters by 2030 by [06 May 2021]
– Today the Biden Administration formally laid out its vision for conserving 30 percent of America’s land and waters by 2030.
– The report, released by the Departments of Commerce, Interior, and Agriculture, includes few specifics but conceptualizes how the U.S. can better protect and restore biodiversity, improve the resilience of ecosystems to climate change, and increase the accessibility of the nation’s parks and wilderness areas.
– The “America the Beautiful” report envisions farms and ranches functioning as wildlife corridors and carbon sinks, fishery management practices that stabilize fish stocks, and a job creation plan through a Civilian Climate Corps akin to the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s.
– It also proposes creating more “safe outdoor opportunities in nature-deprived communities” and supporting tribally-led conservation and restoration initiatives as well as increasing access for outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing, and hiking across public lands that are currently inaccessible.

Kenyan environmental tribunal protects open rangeland by Kang-Chun Cheng [06 May 2021]
– KiliAvo Fresh Ltd seeks to establish water-intensive commercial farm that would obstruct wildlife corridor adjacent to Amboseli National Park.
– Majority of landowners of the former Kimana Tikondo Group Ranch area working together to preserve free movement of wildlife and livestock in this dryland ecosystem.
– April 26 ruling dismisses the farm’s appeal against revocation of its licence by National Environment Management Authority.

‘Throw them overboard’: Brazil mine disaster victims bullied over compensation by Alice Maciel [06 May 2021]
– Communities awaiting compensation from the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history say they’re being stymied by a convoluted legal process that favors those responsible.
– Compensation for the 2015 Mariana tailings dam disaster, which killed 19 people and polluted a river basin the size of Portugal, is being administered by a foundation set up by the mining companies.
– State and federal prosecutors and public defenders allege collusion between the foundation and the judge overseeing the process; they also call the compensation being offered “ridiculously low.”
– In a recording of a meeting this past January, a lawyer for the foundation can be heard berating community members and demanding that they apologize for staging a peaceful protest, or risk the payments being stopped.

Karipuna people sue Brazil government for alleged complicity in land grabs by Shanna Hanbury [06 May 2021]
– Leaders of the Karipuna Indigenous group in Brazil are suing the government for what they say is complicity in the continued invasion and theft of their land.
– Findings by Greenpeace and the Catholic Church-affiliated Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) show 31 land claims overlapping onto the Karipuna Indigenous Reserve, while 7% of the area has already been deforested or destroyed.
– The Karipuna Indigenous, who rebuilt their population to around 60 in the last few decades from just eight members who survived mass deaths by disease that followed their forced contact with the outside world in the 1970s, are seeking damages of $8.2 million, the right to permanent protection, and the cancellation of all outsider land claims to their territory.
– Land grabbing has been fueled by the political rhetoric and action of President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies, who are seeking to drastically reduce protected areas in the Amazon and weaken environmental protections, activists and experts say.

Indonesian law enforcers call for financial approach to fight illegal logging by Lusia Arumingtyas [06 May 2021]
– Law enforcement officials in Indonesia have called for using anti-money-laundering statutes to go after illegal loggers.
– Illegal logging is the most common environmental crime currently handled by the country’s forestry ministry, but enforcement tends to focus on the perpetrators on the ground.
– By treating illegal timber as a commodity, say officials from the Attorney General’s Office and the anti-money-laundering agency, enforcers can take a financial crimes approach that also goes after those perpetrators higher up the trafficking chain.
– They also identified addressing corruption as a key step in tackling illegal logging, noting that perpetrators are known to bribe officials.

NRA Video: Conquering nature will never be the silver bullet (commentary) by Kate Dylewsky [06 May 2021]
– Last week, The New Yorker released footage of National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre struggling to kill an elephant in Botswana.
– Kate Dylewsky, senior policy advisor for the Animal Welfare Institute, says the video is an opportunity to assess claims that the trophy hunting promotes conservation.
– “Killing imperiled species to save them will never be a silver bullet,” writes Dylewsky. “We should not seek to ‘conquer’ nature; instead, we should preserve, respect and appreciate the incredible species that share the Earth with us. No species that faces extinction should be further victimized by someone looking to hang a head on a wall.”
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.



‘I never give up’: Q&A with Chinese environmental lawyer Jingjing Zhang by Rhett A. Butler [05/05/2021]
“How do we manage fisheries in the midst of climate change?” Q&A with EDF’s Eric Schwaab by Rhett A. Butler [05/03/2021]