Could the Finance Sector Hold the Key to Ending Deforestation?

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Global, Headlines, Indigenous Rights, Natural Resources, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations


Sarah Rogerson is a researcher at Global Canopy. Prior to Global Canopy, she has worked on corporate environmental transparency with both CDP and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, and on domestic recycling and engagement with Keep Britain Tidy. She has a degree in Natural Sciences (Zoology) from the University of Cambridge

Despite global commitments from a growing number of governments, companies and financial institutions, the money and effort being directed towards damaging development far exceeds the efforts being made to support sustainable livelihoods. We have not, as a global community managed to put the brakes on the juggernaut of unsustainable economic development. Credit: United Nations

OXFORD, UK, Nov 23 2020 (IPS) – At the beginning of 2020, there were hopes that this would be a ’super year for nature’. It has not turned out that way. Tropical forests, so crucial for biodiversity, the climate and the indigenous communities who live in them, have continued to be destroyed at alarming rates. In fact, despite the shutdown of large parts of the global economy, rates of deforestation globally have increased since last year.

The market forces driving deforestation are baked deep into the system of global trade. Agricultural expansion for commodities such as soy and palm oil accounts for two thirds of the problem worldwide. And forests are also being cleared to make way for mining, and for infrastructure to link once remote areas to the global markets they supply.

Coal mining is estimated to affect 1.74 million hectares of forest in Indonesia alone, with as much as nine percent of the country’s remaining forests at risk from permits for new mines. And the threat to forests from road building is significant, with 25 million kilometres of roads likely to be built by 2050, mainly in developing countries.

Underpinning these industries is over a trillion dollars a year in financing from financial institutions around the world. This investment and lending is the fuel that keeps the deforestation fires alight.

Six years ago, governments, companies and civil society signed the New York Declaration on Forests, setting a goal to end global deforestation by 2030. Each year, an independent civil society network led by Climate Focus and including Global Canopy provides a progress assessment. This year, it focuses on the NYDF goals of reducing deforestation from mining and infrastructure by 2020 (goal 3), and supporting alternatives to deforestation for subsistence needs (goal 4).

The findings are an urgent wake-up call. The threat to forests worldwide from these activities is growing, and indigenous people and local communities continue to bear a devastating cost.

But the report also highlights opportunities for progress. A growing number of governments are facing up to this issue and some companies are waking up to the risks of inaction. The same is true of the finance sector, which could become a driver of transformational change.

The opportunity for finance

Financial institutions do not, it must be recognised, have a great track record on these issues. Global Canopy’s annual Forest 500 assessment of the most influential financial institutions in agricultural and timber forest-risk supply chains has consistently found that the majority do not publicly recognise a need to engage on the issue of deforestation.

Fewer still publish clear information about how they will deal with deforestation risks identified in their portfolios, and none of the 150 financial institutions assessed in 2019 had policies across all relevant human rights issues. As a result, investment and lending has largely continued to flow to companies linked to land grabs and deforestation.

Nearly 87% of indigenous territories in the Amazon are recognised in Brazilian law, yet government concessions for mining and oil extraction overlap nearly 24% of recognised territories. This infringement of the communities’ rights is being overlooked by the companies involved, and by the financial institutions that finance them.

Yet there are signs of change. In June this year a group of 29 investors requested meetings with the Brazilian government because of concerns about the fires raging in the Amazon. Some, including BlackRock, have said they will engage with the companies they finance on deforestation risks. And some have gone further, with Citigroup, Standard Chartered, and Rabobank disinvesting from Indonesian food giant Indofood following concerns about deforestation linked to palm oil, and Nordea Asset Management dropped investments in Brazilian meat giant, JBS.

There is also support for the Equator Principles, which provide a framework for banks and investors to assess and manage social and environmental risks in project finance. Companies in the mining and extractive sectors are among the 110 financial institutions to have signed up, although reporting on implementation is voluntary and patchy.

There is also growing recognition that biodiversity loss represents a risk to investments. More than 30 financial institutions have joined an informal working group to develop a Task Force for Nature-related Disclosure (TNFD), intended to help financial institutions shift finance away from destructive activities such as deforestation. Some within the sector are developing new impact investment products designed to support poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

And there are also signs of a shift in development banks – whose finance plays such a critical role in so many development projects in the Global South. Just this month, public development banks from around the world made a joint declaration to “support the transformation of the global economy and societies toward sustainable and resilient development”.

No silver bullets

It is of course one thing to recognise the problem, another to solve it. Transforming the finance sector so that money is moved away from mining or agricultural projects linked to deforestation, and invested in sustainable alternatives that benefit local communities is an enormous challenge – made all the more difficult by the lack of transparency that currently engulfs these sectors.

For while the banks and investors funding deforestation activities are all too often invisible to the local communities and indigenous groups on the ground, those communities, and the impacts of financial investments on their land and livelihoods are similarly invisible or ignored.

But these links are increasingly being brought into the light, and new tools and technologies are bringing a new level of transparency and accountability. The new Trase Finance tool is a great example, it maps the deforestation risks for investors linked to Brazilian soy and beef, and Indonesian palm oil, and aims to extend coverage to include half of major forest-risk commodities by next year. Bringing about a new era of radical transparency could be the key for moving beyond recognition and into real solutions.

Increased transparency brings with it greater accountability, creating an opportunity for local communities to identify the financial institutions involved, and a reputational risk for financial institutions linked to infringements of land rights.

Grassroots movements can play an important role in demanding accountability from the companies and financial institutions involved where land rights are affected. Campaigns can raise awareness with the wider public, creating a reputational risk for the companies involved, and for the financial institutions that finance them. Campaigners have targeted BlackRock for its investments in JBS, for example, pushing for greater action from the investor.

Governments in consumer countries are also increasingly looking at how they can reduce their exposure to deforestation in imported products, with both the European Union and UK proposing mandatory due diligence for companies, requiring far greater transparency from all involved. These measures should be strengthened to include due diligence on human rights.

A global problem

We are all implicated in tropical deforestation – as consumers, as pension-fund holders, as citizens. In the Global North, economies rely on commodities produced in developing and emerging economies, enabled by production practices linked with deforestation.

Despite global commitments from a growing number of governments, companies and financial institutions, the money and effort being directed towards damaging development far exceeds the efforts being made to support sustainable livelihoods. We have not, as a global community managed to put the brakes on the juggernaut of unsustainable economic development.

To meet the NYDF goal of ending deforestation by 2030, as well as climate goals under the Paris Agreement, this must change urgently, and the finance sector is crucial to making this happen.


Harness Youth to Change World’s Future

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Gender, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequity, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment, Women & Climate Change

Women bear the brunt of climate change disasters. Credit: Women Deliver

NEW YORK, Mar 31 2020 (IPS) – Vanessa Nakate of Uganda may have been cropped out of a photograph taken at the World Economic Forum, but she along with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg have made the climate crisis centre stage.

Women Deliver Young Leader Jyotir Nisha discusses with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada on how to harness young people to overcome gender inequality and address climate change in a recent wide-ranging interview.

Quesada says key strategies to designing policy to fight climate change require unconventional decision-making to address challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, the fourth industrial revolution, and inequality.

“These are intertwined factors that can hinder development if unattended but, if tackled, they could potentially accelerate progress and wellbeing for all,” he says.

“And, of course, this is a task that young leaders are able to handle and produce the timely answers that are necessary.”

Bringing in her experience in the non-profit sector, Nisha says training girls and women in up-cycling plastic waste to produce handmade goods has assisted them to contribute to their family income and their empowerment in the community. The question is, how can this be broadened.

Quesada says women, in particular young women, are leading the way.

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. Credit: Women Deliver

“From cooperative seed banks, to early warning networks, from solar engineers to women politicians carving a path of sustainable policymaking. They are at the forefront of forest conservation, sustainable use of resources, and community enhancement, and restoration of landscapes and forest ecosystems,” he says.

However, women’s roles are often underestimated, unrecognised, and unpaid.

“Women and girls with access to technology have already begun developing innovative tools to reduce emissions by targeting sustainable consumption and production practices, including food waste, community waste management, energy efficiency, and sustainable fashion.”

The solutions exist, but much more is needed.

“It takes a whole-of-society approach for collaboration and cooperation on a bigger and enhanced scale.”

The President suggests that the way investments are made could be fundamental to ensure a flow of finance to the communities, including women, and youth. This will, he believes, provide “a stable source of funding for businesses and services that contribute to the solution of social or environmental challenges.”

The impact of this will be partnerships between traditional sources of finance, like international cooperation and development banks, and new partners, like philanthropy, hedge funds, or pension funds.

“And what better than young people giving the thrust that all this requires?”

Nisha says she was pleased to see the massive mobilisation of young people at the inaugural Climate Action Summit last year. The summit had little good news for climate change with concerns raised that the accelerating rise in sea level, melting ice would have on socio-economic development, health, displacement, food security and ecosystems. However, beyond taking to the streets, they also need to hold decision-makers accountable.

“In the last months we have witnessed the irruption of massive mobilisations in different parts of the world, lead mostly by young people. This would seem surprising for a generation that has been accused several times of passivity, indifference, and individualism,” Quesada says. “I truly believe that, as long as these demands are channelled through democratic and pacifist means, they are extremely important to set a bar and a standard of responsibility for us, decision-makers — who are, by the way, more and more often, young people.”

He adds that world leaders owe them explanations of the decisions made.

“We must also have the wisdom to pay attention to these demands and take into account their opinions and proposals to reach agreements that have the legitimacy of consensus-building.”

However, Nisha notes, while campaigns like the Deliver for Good campaign is working across sectors reports at COP25, and the recent World Economic Forum (Davos), “climate change continues to threaten progress made toward gender equality across every measure of development.”

At WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2020 showed that it would take more than a lifetime, 99.5 years in 2019 for gender parity across health, education, work and politics to be achieved.

Quesada says the climate catastrophe “demands that policymakers and practitioners renew commitments to sustainable development — at the heart of which is, and must continue to be, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and realising women’s rights as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.”

Costa Rica, he says, has been recognised internationally on two significant areas: the respect of human rights and environmental protection.

“The present Administration has taken these objectives a step further by paying particular attention to women’s rights, inclusion, and diversity, and including them as part of our core policy principles and our everyday practices,” he says. “We expect to increase women’s integration into productive processes and achieve women’s economic empowerment through specific policies linked to our long-term development strategy — the Decarbonization Plan — allowing the transformational changes our society needs.

However, the critical question, Nisha says, is: “What can world leaders and governments do today to ensure young people have a seat at the decision-making table?”

Quesada is confident that young people will be part of the solution.

“The challenges we are facing today are unprecedented precisely because previous generations did not have to face situations such as biodiversity loss, global warming, or the emergence of artificial intelligence and technology. Thus, we need new answers and solutions from Twenty-First Century people, and those should and will be put forward by the youth,” he says.

The importance of youth involvement was recently highlighted too at the meeting of African Leaders for Nutrition in Addis Ababa. African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina said Africa should invest in skills development for the youth so the continent’s entrepreneurs can leverage emerging technologies to transform Africa’s food system to generate new jobs. This is especially urgent as the population on the continent is expected to double to 2.5 billion people in 40 years putting pressure on governments to deliver more food and jobs in addition to better livelihoods.

In a recent interview with IPS International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Director General, Nteranya Sanginga, explained that this change is neither easy or necessarily something all leadership has taken on board.

“Our legacy is starting a programme to change the mindset of the youth in agriculture. Unfortunately (with) our governments that is where you have to go and change mindsets completely. Most probably 90 per cent of our leaders consider agriculture as a social activity basically for them its (seen as a) pain, penury. They proclaim that agriculture is a priority in resolving our problems, but we are not investing in it. We need that mindset completely changed.”

Quesada is unequivocal that this attitude needs to change.

“My advice to world leaders is to have the humility to listen to the people and to allow more inclusive and participatory decision-making. And to the young people, I can only encourage them to own their future, and to act accordingly, with vision, courage, and determination.”


Preserving World’s Biodiversity: Negotiations Convene at FAO Headquarters

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Gender, Global, Headlines, Indigenous Rights, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Delegates gather at FAO headquarters to advance negotiations of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Credit: Maged Srour/IPS

ROME, Feb 24 2020 (IPS) – “The world out there is watching and waiting for results,” Elizabeth Maruma Mrema warns while talking to IPS regarding the preservation of biodiversity of our planet.

The acting Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, is referring to a worrying report[1] released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which paints a grim picture of the planet.

“Many key components of biodiversity for food and agriculture at genetic, species and ecosystem levels are in decline and evidence suggests that the proportion of livestock breeds at risk of extinction is increasing,” the report says.

The FAO also warns that “nearly a third of fish stocks are overfished, and a third of freshwater fish species assessed are considered threatened”.

These are just some of the critical issues being debated during the open-ended working group on the post-2020 biodiversity framework. This round of negotiations is taking place at FAO headquarters from 24 to 29 February. In the run-up to October’s historic UN Biodiversity Conference, government officials, experts and activists from around the world gathered today at FAO headquarters, Rome, to forge ahead with negotiations. This round of talks was supposed to take place in Kunming, China, on the same dates. Due to the ongoing situation following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), it was moved to Rome, Italy.


The fourteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had its meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2018. It was here that the working group on the post-2020 global biodiversity framework was appointed. The working group’s mandate was to prepare the text of a framework that would guide the work of the Convention after the year 2020. At the working group’s first meeting held in Nairobi in August 2019, the Open-ended Working Group (WG2020) requested the Co-Chairs and the Executive Secretary to prepare a zero-draft text of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. This framework is under consideration at its second meeting, which is currently taking place in Rome. The aim of the second meeting of the Working Group is to significantly advance the negotiation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, discussing the different aspects of the whole ambitious project.

‘Healthy Diets’ was among the proposed initiatives during the first day of the six-day event at FAO headquarters. The initiative emphasised the importance of ‘geographical indications’ for biodiversity, with examples and experiences from Africa and Eastern Europe. Credit: Maged Srour/IPS

Negotiations in Rome: Promoting a bi-directional approach

In the coming days, the working groups will be divided on a regional basis. They will discuss a wide variety of concerns including biodiversity, food, agriculture and fishing systems, to the importance of promoting an approach that leaves no one outside of this circuit. Civil society, the private sector, indigenous people, local communities, women and youth are all represented to create a functional framework for the whole society and at all levels. Many organisations, like Bioversity International, supported by a host of international agencies, have submitted research reports on biodiversity and food systems. It has also made representations on alternative models for access and benefit-sharing rules, practices and impacts in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

The voice of indigenous people

Key to the discussions is the role of indigenous people in biodiversity and Aslak Holmberg, the representative of the indigenous people, is convinced that policymakers can learn from these groups.

“There is a key message we want to share with other groups here during these negotiations,” he told IPS. “Indigenous peoples and local communities’ management of natural resources is (in fact) conserving biodiversity. (This is) because these management practices are built on a balanced relationship with the respective environment.

“Biological and cultural diversity are linked, and by this, I mean that (for indigenous communities) culture plays a fundamental role in the process of preserving biodiversity: it is in our culture to use our areas in a sustainable way. That is the message we want to share with others”.

The voice of the business sector

Representatives of the private sector too, in particular of the business world, wish to be part of the framework that will result from the negotiations and officially approved in October, in China.
Eva Zabey, Executive Director of the Business for Nature Coalition, told IPS she was grateful to the CBD secretariat for giving business and opportunity to engage and contribute to the zero draft of the post-2020 framework.

This coalition is a unique global group of influential business and conservation organisations participating in the negotiations.

“Forward-thinking businesses are starting to change the way they operate, based on their understanding of the value of nature – but this is still the exception, not the norm,” she told IPS.
“Therefore,” said Zabey, “Political leadership is needed now to transform our economic and financial systems in a way that places nature at the heart of global decision-making. It needs to create a level playing field and a stable operating environment for business.”

Zabey is looking forward to an ambitious post-2020 framework which will facilitate businesses’ involvement and create and positive “policy-business feedback loop,” she said.


Audrey Azoulay, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General, perfectly summarised urgency at the negotiation.

Commenting on the global assessment report, she said: “The present generations have the responsibility to bequeath to future generations a planet that is not irreversibly damaged by human activity.”

“Our local, indigenous and scientific knowledge are proving that we have solutions and so no more excuses: we must live on earth differently”.

Zabey echoes Azouley. She said entrepreneurs are increasingly aware that the profit-sustainability ‘conflict’ is no longer feasible or conceivable.

“Companies planning on being successful in the future are starting to realise that financial performance is irrelevant on a dead planet.’



Indigenous Knowledge, a Lesson for a Sustainable Food Future

Biodiversity, Climate Change, Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Food Sustainability, Global, Headlines, Health, Indigenous Rights, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

BCFN Yes winner Geraldin Lengai is researching bio-integrated crop management among tomato farmers in Tanzania. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

MILAN, Italy, Dec 4 2019 (IPS) – Local knowledge systems rooted in traditional practices and culture passed down generations provide sustainable solutions to food and nutritional insecurity on the back of climate change, a conference heard this week.

More than 370 million indigenous people, living in 70 countries, make up just 6 percent of the global population, according to the United Nations. But their food systems are models of diet diversity, innovation, conservation and local adaptability the world can benefit from in the face of risks such as climate change, delegates at the 10th Forum on Food and Nutrition convened by the Barilla Centre heard.

Speaking at a panel session on Preserving Mother Earth, Food Culture, Local Traditions and Biodiversity, Mattia Prayer Galletti, lead technical specialist on indigenous peoples and tribal issues at IFAD, said indigenous peoples have a connection with nature. They understand the concept of sustainability and the protection of natural resources.

IFAD has promoted an Indigenous People’s Forum to foster dialogue and consultant among indigenous people organisations and IFAD member countries. Through this Forum, IFAD has supported the economic empowerment of indigenous people, particularly women and the youth. IFAD has also contributed to the improvement in livelihoods of indigenous peoples through the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility which has provided small grants of up to US$50 000 for development projects.

He said indigenous food systems provide food security and biodiversity because indigenous communities have cultivated resilient foods, making them ideal in adapting to climate change. This despite the growing threats indigenous communities have faced, including marginalisation, loss of their ancestral lands and the destruction of their way of life.

Dali Nolasco Cruz, an advisory board member of the Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM) from Mexico. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

Dali Nolasco Cruz, an advisory board member of the Indigenous Terra Madre (ITM) from Mexico, concurred saying indigenous people are being criminalised and killed by big powers that are extracting natural resources in their lands.

“We need alliances, we need to fight for Mother Earth,” Cruz said, “We need to transform our livelihoods by protecting the Earth to help others.”

Indigenous Innovations for food security

Indigenous knowledge provides innovations researchers are convinced can provide models for promoting resilience in our current food systems. Several researchers shared their on-going work on this.

Martina Occelli, a PhD student at the Santa Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, is undertaking multidisciplinary research on how smallholder farmer’s collective knowledge is shaping soil productivity in the Gera Gera region of Ethiopia among 300 smallholder farmers. The research has shown that collective knowledge within and between households which farmers learnt from their fathers was relevant in determining the soil ability, which is critical in food production and resilience.

Martina Occelli speaks at the 10th International Forum on Food and Nutrition. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS

Occelli is a winner of 2018 BCFN Yes international multidisciplinary contest launched by the BCFN Foundation in 2012 to support research on promoting the intersection of food sustainability and environmental sustainability.

Geraldin Lengai, another BCFN Yes winner, is researching on enhancing sustainable agriculture through the adoption of bio-integrated crop management among tomato farmers in Tanzania comparing conventional and non-conventional farming methods. Her research expects to provide insights into the use of organic pesticide properties of ginger and turmeric – cash crops grown by farmers in Tanzania – in fighting pests and diseases in vegetables. Also, she has researched the efficacy of organic fertilisers such as goat manure and chicken manure on the productivity of the spice coriander and amaranthus, a plant cultivated as a vegetable.

“Sustainable agriculture is important because you need a doctor once in a while, but you need the farmer at least three times a day,” Lengai told IPS. “I believe people should have access to food that is safe and healthy. How we produce the food, process it and how the food reaches the end consumer is the business of sustainable agriculture, and my research is on crop protection because people use crop protection synthetically yet there are alternatives that nature has provides. Before synthetic pesticides, our forefathers used tobacco to control insects, and if we can look at other plants that have the same capacity, we can promote sustainable agriculture.”

Lengai said the benefits of manure has in producing vegetables and the near to zero cost for farmers who keep animals means farmers have a sustainable fertiliser for organic produce which is attractive for global markets. Citing the case of pesticides with the Kenya market for French beans, Lengai said organic produce had secured international markets which have traceability systems in place.

“Growing organic vegetables and using organic pesticides and fertilisers is a win-win for everybody for the environment, for the farmer for the consumer,” said Lengai. She added that synthetic pesticides are favoured because they are easy to apply and cheaper – but come at a cost to the environment and health.


Water Is Worth More than Milk in Extrema, Brazil

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Elias Cardoso is proud of the restored forests on his 67-hectare farm, where he has protected and reforested a dozen springs as well as streams. "I was a guinea pig for the Water Conservator project, they called me crazy," when the mayor's office was not yet paying for it in Extrema, a municipality in southeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Elias Cardoso is proud of the restored forests on his 67-hectare farm, where he has protected and reforested a dozen springs as well as streams. “I was a guinea pig for the Water Conservator project, they called me crazy,” when the mayor’s office was not yet paying for it in Extrema, a municipality in southeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

EXTREMA, Brazil, Nov 29 2019 (IPS) – “They called me crazy” for fencing in the area where the cows went to drink water, said Elias Cardoso, on his 67-hectare farm in Extrema, a municipality 110 km from São Paulo, Brazil’s largest metropolis.

“I realized the water was going to run out, with cattle trampling the spring. Then I fenced in the springs and streams,” said the 60-year-old rancher. “But I left gates to the livestock drinking areas.”

Cardoso was a pioneer, getting the jump on the Water Conservancy Project, launched by the local government in 2005 with the support of the international environmental organisation The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Institute of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, where Extrema, population 36,000, is located at the southern tip.

The project follows the fundamentals of the National Water Agency‘s Water Producer Programme, which focuses on different ways to preserve water resources and improve their quality, such as measures to conserve soil, preventing sedimentation of rivers and lakes.

But at the core of the project is the Payments for Environmental Services (PES), which in the case of Extrema compensate rural landowners for land they no longer use for crops or livestock, to restore forests or protect with fences.

The “Water Conservator” (Conservador das Águas) began operating in 2007, with contracts offered by the PES to farmers who reforest and protect springs, riverbanks and hilltops, which are numerous in Extrema because it is located in the Sierra de Mantiqueira, a chain of mountains that extends for about 100,000 square km.

“Then everyone jumped on board,” Cardoso said, referring to the project in the Arroyo das Posses basin, where he lives and where the environmental and water initiative began and had the biggest impact.

View of the new landscape in the hilly area around Extrema, after the reforestation of thousands of hectares in three basins in this municipality in southeastern Brazil, where the local government has fomented the process of recovery by paying landowners for environmental services. The priority is to restore the forests at the headwaters of the rivers and on hilltops and protect them with cattle fences. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

View of the new landscape in the hilly area around Extrema, after the reforestation of thousands of hectares in three basins in this municipality in southeastern Brazil, where the local government has fomented the process of recovery by paying landowners for environmental services. The priority is to restore the forests at the headwaters of the rivers and on hilltops and protect them with cattle fences. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In the 14 years since it was launched, the project has only worked fully in three basins, where two million trees were planted and close to 500 springs were protected. It is now being extended to seven other watersheds.

“The goal is to reach 40 percent of forest cover with native species” in the municipality and “so far we already have 25 percent covered, and 10 percent is thanks to the Water Conservator,” said Paulo Henrique Pereira, promoter of the project as Environment Secretary in Extrema since 1995.

“Planting trees is easy, creating a forest is more complex,” the 50-year-old biologist told IPS, stressing that it’s not just about planting trees to “produce” and conserve water.

The project began with the prospecting of areas and the training of technicians, after the approval of a municipal PES statute, since there is no national law on remunerated environmental services.

“The bottleneck is that there is no skilled workforce” to reforest and implement water conservation measures, Pereira said.

The project now has its own nursery for the large-scale production of seedlings of native tree species, to avoid the past dependence on external acquisitions or donations, which drove up costs and made planning more complex.

Since 2005 Paulo Henrique Pereira, Secretary of Environment in Extrema since 1995, has promoted the Water Conservator Project, which has won national and international awards for its success in recovering and preserving springs and streams, by paying for environmental services to rural landowners who reforest in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. "Planting trees is easy, creating a forest is more complex," he says. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Since 2005 Paulo Henrique Pereira, Secretary of Environment in Extrema since 1995, has promoted the Water Conservator Project, which has won national and international awards for its success in recovering and preserving springs and streams, by paying for environmental services to rural landowners who reforest in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. “Planting trees is easy, creating a forest is more complex,” he says. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The success of Extrema’s project, which has won dozens of national and international good practice awards, “is due to good management, which does not depend on the continuity of government,” said the biologist, although he admitted that it helped that he had been in the local Secretariat of the Environment for 24 years and that the mayors were of the same political orientation.

“It is a well-established project that is not likely to suffer setbacks,” he said.

The fact that the project offers both environmental and economic benefits helps keep it alive.

“My grandfather, who spent his life deforesting his property, initially rejected the project. It didn’t make sense to him to plant the same trees he had felled to make pasture for cattle,” said Aline Oliveira, a 19-year-old engineering student who is proud of the quality of life achieved in Extrema.

“When I was a girl, I didn’t accept the idea of protecting springs to preserve water either. I thought it was absurd to plant trees to increase water, because planting 200 or 300 trees would consume a lot of water. That was how I used to think, but then in practice I saw that springs survived in intact forest areas,” she said.

Later, when the PES arrived in the area, her grandfather gave in and more than 10 springs on the 112-hectare farm were reforested and protected. The payment is 100 municipal monetary units per hectare each year, currently equivalent to about 68 dollars.

Aline Oliveira studies engineering and lives on her family's farm in southeastern Brazil. She is proud of the way life has improved in Extrema, a process that began with the establishment of the Payments for Environmental Services system, which guarantees income to farmers and ranchers for reforesting watersheds. It is a secure income at a time of falling milk prices and in a town far from the dairy processing plants. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Aline Oliveira studies engineering and lives on her family’s farm in southeastern Brazil. She is proud of the way life has improved in Extrema, a process that began with the establishment of the Payments for Environmental Services system, which guarantees income to farmers and ranchers for reforesting watersheds. It is a secure income at a time of falling milk prices and in a town far from the dairy processing plants. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The PES is a secure income, while milk prices have dropped, and everything has become more expensive than milk in the last 10 years. In addition, there were losses due to lack of transportation, since there is no major dairy processing plant within 50 km,” she told IPS.

Thanks to the municipal payments, “we were able to invest in cows with better genetics, buy a milking parlor and improve health care for the cattle, thus increasing productivity,” which compensated for the reduction in pastures, added the student, who works for the project.

The programme coincided with a major improvement in the economy and quality of life in Extrema. “I was born in Joanópolis, where there were better hospitals than in Extrema. But now it’s the other way around” and people from there come to Extrema, 20 km away, for heath care, Oliveira said.

This is also due to the industrialisation experienced by Extrema in recent decades, which becomes evident during a walk around the town, where many new industrial plants can be seen.

The water conservation project has also contributed to the water supply for a huge population in the surrounding area.

Arlindo Cortês, head of environmental management at Extrema's Secretariat of the Environment, stands in the nursery where seedlings are grown for reforestation in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. "Building reservoirs does not ensure water supply if the watershed is deforested, degraded, sedimented. There will be floods and water shortages because the rainwater doesn't infiltrate the soil," he explains. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Arlindo Cortês, head of environmental management at Extrema’s Secretariat of the Environment, stands in the nursery where seedlings are grown for reforestation in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. “Building reservoirs does not ensure water supply if the watershed is deforested, degraded, sedimented. There will be floods and water shortages because the rainwater doesn’t infiltrate the soil,” he explains. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Jaguari River, which crosses Extrema, receives water from fortified streams and increases the capacity of the Jaguari reservoir, part of the Cantareira system, which supplies 7.5 million people in greater São Paulo, one-third of the total population of the metropolis.

“If the watersheds are deforested, degraded and sedimented, merely building reservoirs solves nothing,” said Arlindo Cortês, the head of environmental management at Extrema’s Secretariat of the Environment.

Extrema’s efforts have translated into local benefits, but contributed little to the water supply in São Paulo, partly because it is over 100 km away, said Marco Antonio Lopez Barros, superintendent of Water Production for the Metropolitan Region at the local Sanitation Company, Sabesp.

“No increase in the capacity of the Cantareira System has been identified since the 1970s,” he said in an interview with IPS.

“Thousands of similar initiatives will be necessary” to actually have an impact in São Paulo, because of the level of consumption by its 22 million inhabitants, he said, adding that improvements in basic sanitation in cities have greater effects.

São Paulo experienced a water crisis, with periods of rationing, after the 2014 drought in south-central Brazil, and faces new threats this year, as it has rained less than average.

Extrema also felt the shortage. “Since 2014 we have only had weak rains,” said Cardoso. The problem is the destruction of forests by the expansion of cattle ranching in the last three decades.

“The creek where I used to swim has lost 90 percent of its water. The recovery will take 50 years, the benefits will only be felt by our children,” he said.


Climate Change and Loss of Species: Our Greatest Challenges

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Indigenous Rights, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations


Farhana Haque Rahman is Senior Vice President of IPS Inter Press Service; a journalist and communications expert, she is a former senior official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating. Credit: UN

ROME, Nov 19 2019 (IPS) – Mottled and reddish, the Lake Oku puddle frog has made its tragic debut on the Red List, a rapidly expanding roll call of threatened species. It was once abundant in the Kilum-Ijim rainforest of Cameroon but has not been seen since 2010 and is now listed as critically endangered and possibly extinct.

Researchers attribute its demise to a deadly fungal disease caused by the chytrid fungus. As noted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the skin fungus has devastated amphibian populations globally and holds the distinction of being the world’s most invasive killer, responsible for the decline of at least 500 amphibian species, including 90 presumed extinctions.

The IUCN’s Red List has expanded to cover more than 105,000 species of plants and animals, and its most recent update in July found that 27 percent of those assessed were at risk of extinction. No species on the list was deemed to have improved its status enough since 2018 to be placed in a lower threat category.

Human exploitation is often responsible, as with the now endangered red-capped mangabey monkey hunted for bushmeat while its forest habitat in West Africa is destroyed for agriculture; or the East African pancake tortoise critically endangered because of the global pet trade. Thousands of tree species now make the list too.

Farhana Haque Rahman

In its multi-faceted approach towards combating species loss, the IUCN has launched its First Line of Defence against Illegal Wildlife Trade program in eastern and southern Africa, engaging rural communities as key partners in tackling wildlife crime. But this is just a small part of a much wider challenge.

As Grethel Aguilar, IUCN acting director general, noted: “We must wake up to the fact that conserving nature’s diversity is in our interest, and is absolutely fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. States, businesses and civil society must urgently act to halt the overexploitation of nature, and must respect and support local communities and Indigenous Peoples in strengthening sustainable livelihoods.”

Jane Smart, global director of the IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group, said the Red List update confirms the findings of the recent IPBES Global Biodiversity Assessment: “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history.”

More than one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, “unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of bio-diversity loss”, according to a landmark report by IPBES, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

It bleakly warns that the global rate of species extinction is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years, and the rate will accelerate if action is not taken.

A summary was released in May and the full report is expected to be approved soon, assessing changes over the past 50 years and offering possible future scenarios.

Frightening statistics detail how 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost across much of the highly biodiverse tropics between 2010 and 2015 alone. Put in perspective that totals an area nearly the size of all Germany.

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, co-chair of the report. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

Crucially, for the first time on such a scale of evidence, the report’s more than 400 authors rank the five main drivers of this global disaster. In descending order they are listed as: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

Clearly such challenges are interwoven and cannot be tackled in isolation. Some species are affected by all of these main drivers, or a deadly combination. Researchers into the fungal diseases wiping out amphibians like the Lake Oku puddle frog believe the most important factor in the spread of the pathogens is the global trade in wildlife. Some have also suggested that local changes in climate have also enabled the chytrid fungus to flourish in new habitats.

That governments are failing to address these warnings comes as little surprise, however.

“Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations, with few exceptions, we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament,” declared 11,258 scientists grouped under the Alliance of World Scientists in a recent report, warning that the climate crisis is accelerating faster than most of them had expected and could reach potential irreversible climate tipping points, making large areas of Earth uninhabitable.

The UN Climate Change Conference, COP25, is to be held in Madrid from 2-13 December amidst severe signs of leadership stress. Brazil was to have hosted the summit but President Jair Bolsonaro ruled that out on his election and in the first nine months under his government over 7,600 sq km of rainforest were felled. The baton was then passed to Chile which pulled out because of ant-government unrest. And then this month President Donald Trump formally launched the process to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement.

COP25 has unfinished business from COP24, held in Poland’s coal-mining area of Katowice, namely negotiating the final elements of the Paris Agreement ‘rulebook’. Work must also start on future emissions targets ahead of the crunch 2020 conference next November in Glasgow, in the knowledge that commitments submitted by governments and current greenhouse gas emission trajectories fall far short of what is needed to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.

“Loss of species and climate change are the two great challenges facing humanity this century,” warns Lee Hannah, senior scientist in climate change biology at Conservation International. “The results are clear, we must act now on both…”