Historic airline emissions agreement could be good news for forests

Aerial view of a forest in Guatemala.

Aerial view of a forest in Guatemala. (© Robin Moore/iLCP)

Last week, 191 nations agreed on a plan to offset emissions from international air travel, committing to carbon-neutral growth starting in 2020. The resolution may prove to be a major boost to forest conservation efforts as airlines seek carbon-absorbing projects to complement their efforts to increase fuel efficiency and sustainable alternative fuel sources.

The decision of the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization addresses a major gap in the historic Paris climate agreement, which will enter into force in early November. Though it is not automatically binding, already 66 countries representing 85 percent of all international flights have signaled their intention to join the initiative from the start.

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In remote Pacific, popular fishing method spells trouble for tuna

School of yellowfin and bigeye tuna in the Pacific Ocean.

School of yellowfin and bigeye tuna in the Pacific Ocean. (© Fabien Forget/ISSF)

Editor’s note: Tuna are some of the most commonly consumed fish in the world, with different tuna species facing varying degrees of threat depending on the region in question and the catch methods used.

In this post, we look at a fishing technique that is snaring more fish than it intends to — with negative effects on tuna populations in the Pacific.

Chances are the fish that went into your last tuna melt or sashimi came from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). This vast expanse of ocean supports the largest tuna fishing grounds in the world; over 50 percent of global tuna catch — including stocks of skipjack, bigeye, yellowfin and albacore tuna — comes from this region.

To find tuna in this swath of ocean, fishers use helicopter observation and other tracking methods. But over the last few decades, some industrial fishing fleets have relied more heavily on another tool to amass fish for an easier catch: fish aggregating devices, or FADs.

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Trust fund to help protect some of Philippines’ last primary forests

Rainbow in the municipality of Rizal on the western side of Mount Mantalingahan, the highest peak on the Philippine island of Palawan

Rainbow in the municipality of Rizal on the western side of Mount Mantalingahan, the highest peak on the Philippine island of Palawan. A new trust fund aims to finance the management of the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape in perpetuity. (© Conservation International)

Earlier this year, Human Nature shared the story of Nolsita Siyang, a farmer and mother of 10 who spends two out of every six weeks volunteering as a forest ranger, patrolling the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL) and monitoring human activities within the park covering much of her ancestral homeland.

With the launch of a new trust fund that aims to finance the management of this 120,000 hectare (almost 300,000-acre) park in perpetuity, the future of Siyang’s family and neighbors just got a little more secure. Continue reading

What on Earth is ‘land tenure’?

Kayapó woman

Kayapó woman. The Kayapó people maintain legal control over an area of 10.6 million hectares (around 26 million acres) of primary tropical forest and savanna in the southeastern Amazon region of Brazil. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Editor’s note: From “climate adaptation” to “blue carbon,” from “landscape approach” to “ecosystem services,” environmental jargon is everywhere these days. Conservation International’s Human Nature blog looks to make sense of it in an occasional explainer series we’re calling “What on Earth?

In this installment, we break down “land tenure,” a concept with major implications for conservation.

What is land tenure?

At its most basic, “land tenure” refers to the rights of people or communities to manage (own and use) the land that they reside on.

Meaning, if you reside on the land, you get to have control over managing it?

Sort of — it’s not that simple. In some places in the world, it’s not easy to ascertain who has the right to manage land, or even who has the right to live there. Many indigenous groups, for example, live on lands that are governed not by formal laws but by informal “customary” agreements — their historical, even ancient, association with the land is the basis of their “right” to manage it. This lack of formal, legally binding land rights can expose these communities to risks.

What kinds of risks?

Here’s a simplistic example. Say there’s a community in a remote area surrounded by forests. They’ve managed the forest for centuries; they derive their food, their livelihoods, even their spiritual beliefs from the forest. But one day the government wants to dam a nearby river; or a timber company wants to begin logging in the area; or a neighboring community wants to expand their farms into the forest. Even if there is legal recognition of the forest community’s tenure through their ancestral links to the area, if there is no legal protection to back it up, the community can be powerless to prevent incursions on it. As a result, their well-being, livelihoods and culture can be eroded.

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Paris climate pact to enter into force ahead of schedule

Early morning mist envelops a forest in Papua New Guinea.

Early morning mist envelops a forest in Papua New Guinea. Tropical forests are incredibly effective at storing carbon — they hold as much as a quarter of the world’s carbon and represent at least 30 percent of the solution to limiting carbon emissions. (© Conservation International/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier)

What was once heralded as impossible has happened: The Paris climate agreement will officially enter into force in early November.

In order to bring the agreement fully into force, two targets must be met: 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions must formally sign up. As of October 5, 72 countries representing all regions of the world — and almost 57 percent of global emissions — have formally ratified the agreement.

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What you need to know about palm oil — in 5 charts

Workers at a smallholder oil palm plantation in North Sumatra, Indonesia sort and weigh fresh fruit bunches before transferring them to an oil palm middleman. (© Conservation International/photo by Tory Read)

Workers at a smallholder oil palm plantation in North Sumatra, Indonesia sort and weigh fresh fruit bunches before transferring them to an oil palm middleman. (© Conservation International/photo by Tory Read)

It has all the makings of a supermarket tabloid headline: “The secret ingredient lurking in your pantry, freezer and medicine cabinet.” Although many consumers have never heard of palm oil, it’s an ingredient in about half the products on supermarket shelves. About 80 percent is used in processed foods, from ice cream to peanut butter to margarine; the rest goes into items like personal care and cleaning products or is used as biofuel.

This ubiquitous product has consistently been linked to the cutting and clearing of tropical forests, inspiring many organizations and individuals to call for a palm oil boycott. However, solving the problem is not that simple. Here’s what you need to know.

1.  Palm oil consumption is surging.

consumption-of-palm-oil-worldwide-2005-2016

In recent decades, the global vegetable oil industry has skyrocketed as processed foods have become the norm in refrigerators and restaurants around the globe. In addition to this increasing demand, which has more than doubled in the last 10 years, growth of palm oil in particular has been fueled by factors ranging from the expansion of industrial logging in Indonesia (which cleared the way for new plantations of oil palm, the tree that produces palm oil) to government policies encouraging its expansion to bans on trans fats in the United States, Canada and parts of Europe (which led food companies to seek out alternatives).

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A call to end the ivory trade, led by Africa

A herd of African elephants in Kenya in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.

A herd of African elephants in Kenya in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. (© Ian Lenehan/500px)

The international community on Sunday voted to recommend the closure of domestic ivory markets worldwide, following a growing coalition of 14 African nations united against the ivory trade.

Members of the African-led group, known as the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), have each committed to halt their domestic trades in ivory, to put their stockpiles beyond economic use and to forego future international sales for at least a decade. Launched in 2014, the initiative includes some of the countries hardest hit by the poaching and illegal trade of ivory plus allied nations from across the continent. Since then, the United States, China, Hong Kong and France have announced their intention to enact similar bans.

On Sunday, the international community followed with a resolution of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the global treaty organization responsible for wildlife trade.

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As Colombia pursues peace, nature could be powerful bridge

anti-FARC march, 2008

An anti-FARC march in 2008. (© AlCortés/Flickr Creative Commons)

UPDATE 12/1/16: After months of discussion, the Colombian government approved a peace deal with rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by their Spanish acronym FARC) that would formally end a 52-year armed conflict in the South American country.

How the country moves forward remains to be seen, but one of Colombia’s greatest assets offers a powerful route toward reconciliation: nature.

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What on Earth is ‘sustainable’ coffee?

Man holding coffee berries.

Farmer holding coffee berries in Peru. (© Thomas Muller)

Editor’s note: From “climate adaptation” to “blue carbon,” from “landscape approach” to “ecosystem services,” environmental jargon is everywhere these days. Conservation International’s Human Nature blog looks to make sense of it in an occasional explainer series we’re calling “What on Earth?

In this installment, on National Coffee Day, we break down “sustainable coffee,” a term you may have heard before, but might not be able to explain. We’re here to tell you what it means and why it’s important.

UPDATE: This blog post has been updated given the October 5 announcement of McDonald’s  joining the Sustainable Coffee Challenge.

So, what is ‘sustainable coffee’?

Defined generally, it’s coffee that is grown in a way that conserves nature and provides better livelihoods for the people who grow and process it.

Wait: Can coffee be grown in a way that doesn’t conserve nature?

It can. Coffee is grown only in the tropics, in places that are home to most of the world’s remaining tropical forests. When farmers want to expand their coffee plantations, the easiest thing for them to do is to cut down some of the surrounding forest. Moreover, coffee is often grown on steep slopes; if care is not taken, it can lead to erosion and sedimentation of waterways. Processing coffee is also water-intensive, and the wastewater can contaminate rivers and streams. Taken together, these practices quickly become unsustainable.

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The trees protecting your coffee — and the farmers who grow it

coffee tree nursery, Chiapas, Mexico

Workers tend to coffee trees at ECOM’s Jaltenango, Chiapas, Mexico coffee tree nursery. Nearly 3.5 million coffee trees are growing at the nursery for distribution to coffee farmers in the area. (© Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Editor’s note: In celebration of National Coffee Day on September 29, Starbucks and Conservation International (CI) are continuing their “One Tree for Every Bag Commitment” for the second year. Starbucks will contribute 70 cents the cost of a new coffee tree to CI for every bag of coffee sold at participating stores in the U.S., and CI will make grants to seedling nurseries that will provide coffee trees directly to farmers in Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. To date, over 18 million trees have been purchased for the program. The disease-resistant trees support farmers whose coffee farms are struggling with the impacts of changing weather patterns, pests and disease outbreaks, and aging trees that have declining yields. CI’s director of sustainable coffee markets, Raina Lang, recently took a trip with Starbucks’ head of agronomy, Carlos Mario Rodriguez, to one of the coffee tree nurseries servicing the program in Chiapas, Mexico. Continue reading