IUCN Congress to Push for Stronger Regulations against ‘Imported Deforestation’

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Conservation

Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis ssp. kandti) Endangered in IUCN Red List. In Cameroon, 1999 bushmeat was openly on sale along the road as 100-year-old trees were illegally logged and transported. Today large primates face the same fate, even if not so openly. Credit: Steve Morgan / Greenpeace

BHUBANESWAR, India, Sep 2 2021 (IPS) – As Arti Prasad rode the Kuala Lumpur Pavilion mall escalator up to the third floor, a pair of luscious lips pouted down at her. Next to the towering and oversized lips, the vibrant red shades of lipstick on the giant screen immediately caught the 36-year-old Indian tourist’s fancy.


Prasad headed straight to the cosmetic outlet and bought all four of the advertised lipsticks. She, like many others, is oblivious to a baby Orangutan’s plight – orphaned when its forest home was burned down to grow the palm oil that went into these beauty products. Primary forest losses mean that only 10% of gorilla habitat will remain in the Congo Basin by 2032.

Deforestation, a significant threat to biodiversity and climate change, is accelerated by global demand for commodities. However, a considerable share of this agro-commodity production is intended for export – driving massive deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems in the global south.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates global forest areas declined by 129 million hectares between 1990-2015, equivalent in size to South Africa.

Data from satellite imagery released on Global Forest Watch in June 2020 recorded 3.75 million hectares of tree cover loss in humid primary forests in the tropics in 2019, an almost 3% increase from 2018 and the third-largest tropical forest loss since 2000. 

Consumption patterns of G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the US) drive an average loss of 3.9 trees per person per year, over 15 years from 2001-2015, says a study published this year in Nature.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will hold the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France, from 3-11 September 2021. This premier conservation event will address global deforestation. More importantly, Congress motion 012 – the fight against imported deforestation – was co-sponsored by numerous IUCN Members and voted on and approved before Congress.

The IUCN Congress meets every four years to tackle the most pressing issues impacting people and the planet. This IUCN Congress in Marseille will drive action on nature-based recovery, climate change, and biodiversity for decades to come.

Congress motion 012 calls on countries to stop imported deforestation through several ambitious strategies, including imposing additional taxes on imported products that generate deforestation.
The aim is to recommend that private companies establish concrete action plans to guarantee supplies that did not result in deforestation.

Red-faced spider monkeys (Ateles paniscus) are found in undisturbed primary rainforests, in northern Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana and Venezuela. Because of its ability to climb and jump, it tends to live in the upper layers of the rainforest trees and forages in the high canopy. With habitat loss and hunting it is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Credit: la Vallee des Singes

The list of imported agricultural products contains, first and foremost, soy, palm oil, cacao, beef and its by-products, rubber, timber, and derived products that do not come from sustainably managed forests. Others include coffee, tea, or even cane sugar, which impact the deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems.

“The most recent IPCC and IPBES reports show that we are now at the point where significant and permanent changes to consumption patterns and legislative regulation can no longer be delayed,” David Williams-Mitchell, Director of Communications, European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) told IPS via email. Netherlands-based EAZA, an IUCN member, is one of the co-sponsors of Congress motion 012.

More than 50% of global forest loss and land conversion is attributable to the production of agricultural commodities, and forestry products are driven by consumer demand, as shown by a 2020 WWF study on Switzerland’s overseas footprint for forest-risk commodities.

To end deforestation, companies must eliminate 5 million hectares of conversion from supply chains each year.

“The concept of imported deforestation is still quite new to the public in Europe. For EAZA, the key issue is to establish understanding globally that imported deforestation is one of the root causes of climate change and biodiversity loss,” Williams-Mitchell said.

He cited examples of a hugely expanded meat industry leading to increases in greenhouse gases, carbon sink capacity loss, and biodiversity loss through habitat conversion.

In 2017 alone, the international trade of agricultural products was associated with 1.3 million hectares of tropical deforestation emitting some 740 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – this is equivalent to nearly a fifth of the EU28’s total greenhouse gas emissions that year.

“We need countries all over the world to participate in the fight against imported deforestation. We need to learn to use local resources and establish sustainable sources for exported products, especially without harming the forests,” says Jean-Pascal Guéry of Primate Conservation Trust. This France-based IUCN member also co-sponsors Congress motion 012.

The world’s forests absorb 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, one-third of the annual CO2 released from burning fossil fuels. Forest destruction emits further carbon into the atmosphere, with 4.3–5.5 gigatons of total anthropogenic Green House Gas (GHG) emissions per year, generated annually mainly from deforestation and forest degradation, according to Cameroon-based NGO Environment and Rural Development Foundation (ERuDeF).

IUCN Member ERuDeF, co-sponsor of Congress motion 012, estimates that half of the tropical forests worldwide have been destroyed since the 1960s. Every second, more than one hectare of tropical forest is destroyed or drastically degraded.

“Deforestation and conversion-free supply chains must protect not only forests, but all the terrestrial natural ecosystems threatened by the expansion of commodity production and trade including savannahs, grasslands, and peatlands among others,” Romain Deveze, WWF Switzerland’s senior manager, sustainable commodities & markets and co-author of the WWF 2020 study told IPS.
“It is vital that people understand that their choices and the frameworks that allow them to make those choices are at the heart of the solution,” Williams-Mitchell concurs.

“As governments, science engagement institutions, schools, and other providers and facilitators of education, we need to act to ensure this level of understanding at all levels of society,” Williams-Mitchell says, explaining why EAZA is sponsoring the motion.

Guéry is critical of some of the efforts to combat deforestation.

“There is awareness (too late, in our opinion) in certain European countries of the deleterious effects of this imported deforestation, and the French initiative to establish a national strategy to combat imported deforestation is commendable, but it lacks ambition and does not set binding and short-term goals,” he said.

“The assessments of companies including distributors, manufacturers, operators, rely too much on self-assessment rather than establishing an independent external certification,” Guéry said.

WWF also mentions that despite more initiatives to halt deforestation, including certification, corporate commitments, and market incentives, the rate of commodity-driven land use doesn’t appear to be declining. This means the negative impacts on local people and nature continue.

A full truck loaded with 60-70 Mukula logs at Katanga Province, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2016. Around 8-10 trucks transported out Mukula logs every day. Mukula is a rare and slow-growing hardwood unique to southern and central Africa, illegally logged and traded from Zambia and DRC. Credit: Lu Guang / Greenpeace

In a study earlier this year, Greenpeace said that “certification is a weak tool to address global forest and ecosystem
destruction.”

By certifying their products as ‘sustainable,’ some certification schemes can help guide consumption choices and have a positive impact locally, “but it is (largely) greenwashing destruction of ecosystems and violations of Indigenous and labour rights.”

So, while buyers think they are making the right ethical choice, they might still buy products linked to abuse and destruction.

However, WWF’s Deveze says, “certification and legality are critical to halt deforestation at scale. A hectare of conversion is just equally as harmful to people and nature whether or not it is done legally.”

Ranece Jovial Ndjeudja, Greenpeace Africa’s campaign manager in Cameroon, told IPS in a Zoom interview, “the limitations to the policy effectiveness for the IUCN Congress motion on imported deforestation is increased taxation aimed at deterring forest clearing. This, however, cannot always prevent deforestation.”

“Companies would just increase production to compensate for the tax hikes,” Ndjeudja said, speaking from Yaoundé, where Cameroonians rallied in early August to demand EU stop deforestation for rubber production.
“It is industrial logging and industrial agriculture which is the problem. Are these industrial productions really bringing in a large revenue to the exporting governments? No. If it did, Cameroon and Congo would not be so poor. A small group gets rich. While Cameroon’s natives lose access to food, health, and their culture,” Tal Harris, Greenpeace Africa’s international communications coordinator, told IPS from Dakar, Senegal.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) hosts the second-largest contiguous tract of tropical forests globally, including roughly 60 percent of the Congo Basin rainforest. It is home to plants and animals found nowhere else on earth.

“A government cannot work out of a capital city thousands of miles distant from such extensive forests,” Harris said. “Devolution of power to the local population is necessary.”

Local communities play a vital role in wildlife conservation and environment protection. Comprising less than 5 percent of the world’s population, indigenous communities protect 80 percent of global biodiversity, says ERuDeF.

Cameroon’s Ndjeaudja echoes this. To ensure trees are not cut, there is the need to work with local communities because, for generations, they have been living with forests and have the knowledge of their sustainable management.

“We have a lot to learn from them and must allow indigenous communities to share this knowledge,” he said.

Deveze concluded: “Economic and technical incentives are required to shift producer behaviour. At an international policy level, go for differentiated custom tariffs based on sustainability requirements and due diligence processes. Compensation mechanisms to support farmers in protecting high conservation value areas should be amplified.”

 

Stopping Marine Plastic Pollution: A Key IUCN Congress Goal

Civil Society, Climate Change, Conferences, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Natural Resources, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainability, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Plastic bags may remain intact for years in the marine environment. Plastic products certified to be industrially compostable are no solution for littering, as they do not degrade efficiently in the environment and continue to pose a threat to wildlife as they break down. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

St David’s, Wales, Jul 1 2021 (IPS) – Documented images of albatross chicks and marine turtles dying slow deaths from eating plastic bags and other waste are being seared into our consciences. And yet our mass pollution of Earth’s seas and oceans, fuelled by single-use plastics and throw-away consumerism, just gets worse.


Plastic debris is estimated to kill more than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and countless sea turtles every year. Plastics, with all their benefits and promises, have revolutionised societies and economies since their development in the 1950s, but now some 8 million tonnes end up in the oceans every year.

Waste plastic, making up to 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments, breaks down into micro-plastics which enter the digestive systems of sea and land animals and humans. Invisible plastic is in the water we drink, the salt we eat and the air we breathe. Experts are still working out the long-term impacts, such as cancer and impaired reproductive systems.

The fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture also leave a massive legacy in terms of ocean waste, poisoning and ensnaring sea life.

Hasna Moudud heads a small NGO in Bangladesh, working to protect coastal areas where vast rivers pour into the Indian Ocean, providing livelihoods and food for millions.

Her NGO, Coastal Area Resource Development and Management Association (Cardma), plants coastal trees, protects olive ridley sea turtles in a conservation hatchery in the Bay of Bengal, and helps women in cottage industries, using cane grass to make mats instead of plastic.

“Oceans are always neglected,” she tells IPS. “Small NGOs like myself take risks to save whatever we can of the fragile ecosystem that is left for our future generations.”

Plastic bottles and bottle caps are among the most frequent items found along Mediterranean shores. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

But to combine her NGO’s efforts with those of others, Moudud says she is “praying” to attend the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 in Marseille this September where government, civil society and indigenous peoples’ organisations from around the world will join discussions to set priorities and drive conservation and sustainable development action.

Meeting every four years – with this Congress delayed by the Covid pandemic – member organisations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, vote on major issues to shape humanity’s response to the planet’s conservation crises. This particular Congress in Marseille is offering both in-person and virtual participation options, allowing those unable to make the trip to Marseille for the full Congress the opportunity to join discussions and provide their feedback.

Moudud’s NGO is a co-sponsor of Congress Motion 022: “Stopping the global plastic pollution crisis in marine environments by 2030.”

The broad resolution goes to the heart of the waste plastics issue. It notes that global production is due to increase by 40% over the next 15 years from current levels of around 300 million tonnes and that the world’s “predominant throwaway model” means that over 75% of the plastics ever produced to date are waste, “notably because the price of plastic on the market does not represent all of the costs of its lifecycle to nature or society”.

Recalling previous international efforts to set goals for ending marine plastic litter, the motion calls on the international community to reach a wide-ranging global agreement to combat marine plastic pollution. This would entail, among other measures, eliminating unnecessary plastic production, in particular single-use plastic waste; recycling and proper prevention of leakage into the environment; and public awareness campaigns.

Sunlight, salt and pounding waves grind marine litter down to plastic grains. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

Activists say previous international efforts to curb plastic pollution have been toothless. Moudud is among many who want mandatory and enforceable measures, accusing big business of what she calls “manipulative practices through sponsorship and malpractice without helping build the natural world”.

“No one is looking or holding the polluters responsible,” she says, calling for a toughening up of the resolution. “I am deeply involved in everything IUCN does to help save the natural world and sustainable living.”

Steve Trott, project manager for IUCN-member Watamu Marine Association which is tackling plastic pollution in their Marine Protected Area in Kenya, says Motion 022 clearly sets out the threats posed by plastic waste to marine and coastal environments, economies and human health and well-being.

“Watamu Marine Association and EcoWorld Recycling based on the Kenya coast embrace the IUCN call for action,” Trott told IPS.

Pushing circular economy initiatives, their NGO has created dynamic plastic value chains through partnerships between the hotels industry and local communities, sponsoring beach clean-ups and collecting plastic waste for recycling. This provides a second source of income for community waste collectors while local artists are also up-cycling plastic waste.

Reflecting one of the main themes of IUCN’s membership structure bringing together civil society and indigenous peoples and government authorities, Trott says Watamu is following a “win-win model which can be replicated and up-scaled, sending out an ‘Act Local, Think Global’ message to inspire others”. He hopes to attend the Congress in Marseille if all goes well.

Single Use items are littering the world’s oceans. Credit: Eleonora de Sabata / Clean Sea LIFE

The Plastic Waste Makers index, a study by Australia’s Minderoo Foundation, identifies 20 companies producing more than half of all single-use plastic waste in the world. Some are state-owned and multinational corporations, whose plastic production is financed by major banks. The report notes that nearly 98% of single-use plastic is made from what is called virgin fossil fuels — plastic created without any recycled materials.

Single-use plastics explain why fossil fuel companies are ramping up their production as their two main markets of transport and electricity generation are being decarbonised. By 2050 plastic is expected to account for 5%-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Humankind possesses unprecedented levels of knowledge but also the accompanying responsibility, knowing that oceans are in the poorest health since humans started exploiting them.

Single use plastics – and the estimated 130 million tonnes that are dumped each year around the world – have dominated studies and discussions on waste. Plastic bottles, food containers and wrappers, and single-use bags are the four most widespread items polluting the seas.

One element woven into similar narratives of how to tackle the world’s burning environmental issues – such as carbon emissions, species loss, and plastic waste – is the potential fix offered by technology. Motion 022 refers to the need for more investment in environmentally sound plastic waste collection, recycling and disposal systems as well as forms of recovery.

A study led by biologist Nikoleta Bellou at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon institute focuses on inventive sea-cleaning solutions to date, including floating drones. But her paper suggests that it could take about a century to remove just 5% of plastics currently in the oceans using clean-up devices because plastic production and waste are accumulating so fast.

Activists welcome IUCN’s intervention on plastic waste pollution and the strong mandate a successful and unanimous motion can convey to governments and international institutions. But they also caution against taking too narrow an approach towards tackling marine pollution at the September 3-11 Congress.

Eleonora de Sabata, spokesperson for the Clean Sea Life project, co-funded by the European Union’s LIFE programme, told IPS that the narrative needs to shift away from single-use plastic to single-use everything. “Technology” has come up with so-called ‘bio’ plastics as a replacement for some plastics but only to create a whole suite of problems of their own.

“It’s the throwaway culture that creates problems, whether plastic or not. Green washing and sloppy leadership are filling our world of single use,” she argues. Washing our consciences by simply substituting single-use plastics with other single-use items, such as supposedly biodegradable bags and cutlery, are not the answer.

 

Healthy Oceans, Healthy Societies

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Biodiversity

Approximately three billion people around the world depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods as fisheries alone generates over 360 billion dollars to the global economy. However, human activity continues to threaten this crucial landscape including through overfishing. Credit: Nalisha Adams/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2019 (IPS) – Over recent years, there have been shocking reports of marine endangerment and plastic pollution. The threats are clear, and now urgent action is needed more than ever.


Marking World Wildlife Day on Mar. 3 with its theme “Life below water”, the United Nations has stressed the need to promote and sustain ocean conservation not simply to protect underwater life, but also societies.

“‘Life below water’ may sound far away from our daily life; a subject best left to scientists and marine biologists; but it is anything but,” said President of the General Assembly Maria Fernanda Espinosa.

“Increasingly we are coming to understand how connected our world is and how much impact our actions are having on the oceans, on the rivers and waterways, and in turn on the wildlife, above and below water, that have come to rely on them,” she added.

Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Ivonne Higuero echoed similar sentiments, stating: “When we think about wildlife, most of us picture elephants, rhinos, and tigers…but we should not forget about life below water and the important contribution they make to sustainable development, as enshrined in Goal 14 of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.”

The oceans and its critters have been among the foundations of human societies. Approximately three billion people around the world depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods as fisheries alone generates over 360 billion dollars to the global economy.

More than that, oceans help regulate the climate, producing 50 percent of the world’s oxygen and absorbing 30 percent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Yet, human activity continues to threaten this crucial landscape including through overfishing.

According to the U.N., around 30 percent of fish stocks are overexploited, often at unsustainable levels. While some policies are in place to reduce overfishing, illegal fishing is still commonplace.

Illegal and unregulated fishing constitutes an estimated 12 to 30 percent of fishing worldwide.

For instance, the high prices of caviar has fuelled illegal overfishing and near extinction of species of sturgeon and paddlefish.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed 16 of the 27 species of sturgeon and one of the six species of paddlefish as endangered.

Espinosa particularly pointed to the issue of plastic pollution in oceans which has become a growing concern worldwide.

“Every minute a garbage truck worth of plastic makes its way to the sea. Some of this plastic remains in its original form, while much more is broken down into microplastics that are consumed by fish and other creatures, eventually finding their way into our own food, our own water,” she said.

“This is not the way we treat our home, our planet. This is not the way we maintain a sustainable and healthy ecosystem,” Espinosa added.

An estimated 5 to 12 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year and many have ended up on the beaches of the world’s most isolated islands and others in the guts of whales and sea turtles.

Even in the 7-mile deep Mariana Trench, research found all specimens had plastic in their gut.

According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the oceans could have more plastic than fish by 2050 if current trends continue.

But through the dark clouds, there is a glimmer of hope as civil society organisations, U.N. agencies, and governments band together to protect oceans.

Launched by U.N. Environment (UNEP), the Clean Seas campaign is now the world’s largest global alliance for combating marine plastic pollution with commitments covering over 60 percent of the world’s coastlines.

The 57 countries who have joined the campaign have pledged to cut back on single-use plastics and encourage more recycling.

Already, many governments have taken up the challenge.

In December, Peru decided to phase out single-use plastic bags over the next three years.

In the U.S., cities such as Seattle and Washington, D.C. have implemented a ban on plastic straws and businesses could receive fines if they continue to offer the items.

Though this makes up only a small fraction of the marine plastic pollution issue, such low-hanging fruit seems to be the best place to start.

International non-profit organisation Global Fishing Watch has established an online platform where they record and publish data on the activity of fishing boats, providing a map of hot spots where overfishing might occur and who is responsible.

After recording data on more than 40 million hours of fishing in 2016 alone, they found that just five countries and territories including China, Spain, and Japan account for more than 85 percent of observed fishing.

The Environmental Defence Fund (EDF), on the other hand, has utilised a rights-based management approach, working directly with fishermen who receive a secure “catch share” upon complying to strict limits that allow fish populations to rebuild.

This approach has helped combat the issue of overfishing, which has dropped 60 percent since 2000 in the United States, and provides stable fishing jobs with increased revenue.

For instance, EDF worked with fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico where red snapper stocks were overexploited and continually declined. Scientists determined a sustainable threshold to catch red snapper which was then divided into shares and allocated to the fishermen.

With strict limits as to how much to fish, the red snapper population quickly flourished and by 2013, it was taken off the “avoid” list organised by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Higuero also highlighted the role CITES which regulates international trade in marine species, ensuring it is sustainable and legal.

“Well-managed and sustainable international trade greatly contributes to livelihoods and the conservation of marine species…we are all striving to achieve the same objective of sustainability: for people and planet – where wildlife, be it terrestrial or marine, can thrive in the wild while also benefiting people,” she said.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed to the importance of marine life for current and future societies.

“Marine species provide indispensable ecosystem services…let us raise awareness about the extraordinary diversity of marine life and the crucial importance of marine species to sustainable development.  That way, we can continue to provide these services for future generations,” he said.