Best of 2015: Indonesia sinks shark poaching boat, readers rejoice

Indonesian government sinks Vietnamese shark poaching boat

In February 2015, Raja Ampat police sank this shark poaching boat. It will become a new dive site attraction. (© Conservation International/photo by Julius Thonak)

Editor’s Note: As 2015 comes to a close, we’re recapping some of Human Nature’s top stories of the year. See more here. 

When Indonesia created the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary in 2014 — a year after a local government in West Papua passed a law protecting all sharks and rays in its waters — skeptics wondered if authorities would take enforcement seriously.

The sinking of an illegal fishing boat proved them wrong.

Captured by police in West Papua in late January with more than two tons of shark fins and manta flesh in its hold, the Vietnamese boat was turned into a dive site three weeks later — sunk as a warning to other vessels fishing in protected waters. The Indonesian Navy and the Marine Affairs Ministry followed suit, sinking 34 boats in August and 12 more in October.


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A big winner in the Paris Agreement: Forests

forest in YUS Conservation Area, Papua New Guinea

Rainforest in Papua New Guinea. The world’s tropical forests store as much as a quarter of global carbon; their protection is vital to fight climate change. (© Trond Larsen)

Forests scored a crucial victory in the Paris Agreement.

While its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, did not create or endorse any specific method for incentivizing reductions in deforestation, the new agreement explicitly endorses a nature-based initiative called REDD+.

Short for “Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation” — the “+” stands for additional features including the role of conservation and sustainable forest management — REDD+ provides financial incentives for communities, regions and countries to keep forests intact, preventing carbon emissions caused by deforestation. Since the world’s tropical forests store as much as a quarter of global carbon, keeping them standing is critical to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

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Experts: Paris Agreement falls short on indigenous rights

Kayapó woman in the Brazilian Amazon

Kayapó woman in the Brazilian Amazon. The tropical forests currently owned and managed by indigenous peoples have great potential to help mitigate climate change. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

When world leaders announced a historic climate deal in Paris after years of negotiations, many participants and observers touted it as a triumph marking the beginning of the end of the fossil-fuel era.

But the agreement has come under withering criticism from various quarters, including indigenous representatives who attended the Paris meeting (known as COP 21) in large numbers to bring attention to issues of sovereignty and land rights, among other issues.

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Armed with nature, Philippines to boost defenses against stronger storms

Recently planted mangroves near Concepcion, a town in the Philippines hard-hit by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. (© Conservation International/photo by Tim Noviello)

Two years ago, just before the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people and displacing millions more. The storm’s effects rippled around the world, providing a sobering backdrop to the Warsaw talks, amid growing scientific projections linking increased frequency and intensity of severe storms to a changing climate.

Now, an agreement signed Wednesday at the climate talks in Paris will deliver more than US$ 1.6 million to the Philippines to help the island country become more resilient to such storms. Continue reading

Nature’s role comes through in historic climate agreement

mountains, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Mountains in Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy. (© Giuseppe Milo/Flickr Creative Commons)

Climate negotiators in Paris approved a landmark climate change agreement on Saturday, with the role of nature featured prominently as a solution to climate change. The pact was widely praised by environmental and scientific organizations, including Conservation International (CI).

Among the accomplishments of the negotiations were the overall inclusion of nature in the agreement, recognition of the role of tropical forests in curbing emissions — forests are referenced 11 times in the final draft — and a growing emphasis on adapting to climate impacts.

The Paris Agreement will serve as a foundation for all nations to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), with an aspiration to reach 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), and to adapt to climate change impacts already unfolding. With buy-in from nearly every country in the world, the agreement represents the single most important collective action for addressing climate change.

“The Paris Agreement is a transformative diplomatic victory,” said Peter Seligmann, chairman and CEO of CI. “The hard work of delivery begins now. The security of nations and humanity depends upon the reduction of emissions and the protection of nature.” Continue reading

Can the Pacific islands stave off a disaster in slow motion?

For thousands of years, the people of Kiribati and other low-lying Pacific islands have never lived more than 3 meters (nearly 10 feet) above the ocean. Now, the ocean is rising to meet them.

coral atoll, Pacific Ocean

Although residents in low-lying Pacific islands have contributed little to global climate change, they are among the first and worst hit by its impacts, such as sea-level rise. A new initiative called  “Pacific Rising” would fuel investment, capacity-building and cultural preservation for these countries. (© David Doubilet)

Even if a strong climate agreement is sealed in Paris, the tens of thousands of tiny atolls strewn across the Pacific still face destruction at the hands of sea-level rise caused by global warming.

“Imagine living in a place where you know it’s going to go away someday, but you don’t know what day that wave’s going to come over and wash your home away,” said oceans expert Greg Stone, an executive vice president at Conservation International.

Now, in what is being called a “Marshall Plan” for the Pacific, a group of low-lying island nations is seeking to secure their very existence. The initiative, called “Pacific Rising,” would fuel investment, capacity-building and cultural preservation for these countries.

Will the plan succeed? Its backers say they don’t know what success looks like. What they do know is that action must start now.

Click here to read more about Pacific Rising in this special feature from Conservation International (story opens in a new window).

Bruno Vander Velde is CI’s editorial director. 

Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

How climate change affects women differently — and what we can do about it

Maasai women singing, Kenya

Maasai women singing in Kenya. In three Maasai villages in Tanzania, CI Indigenous Fellow Martha Ntoipo is researching and educating communities about the importance of traditional knowledge to biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation. (© Marc Samsom/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s Note: Tuesday, Dec. 8, is “Gender Day” at the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris, with events, meetings and exhibitions focused on the role of women as leaders and innovators in addressing climate change.

When drought hits the villages of the Maasai people of northern Tanzania, many weakened cattle are cared for by women, including Martha Ntoipo and her mother.

“According to cultural upbringing, Maasai men always think they know everything, but when matters become tough, they always go to the women for advice,” said Ntoipo, executive director of the Tanzanian Pastoralist Information and Development Organization. “Women know not to take sick cattle too far, so during harsh and prolonged droughts, the cattle cared for by women have a higher survival percentage than those under the care of men.”

Because Maasai society is strongly patriarchal, this knowledge has never been formally acknowledged by village elders and local authorities — even though it’s more critical than ever as climate change alters rainfall patterns, reducing pasture growth and grazing land for the cattle that form the backbone of Maasai livelihoods and culture.

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A world away from Paris, erratic climate pushes a country to the edge

Tree, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

Tree on the edge of Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. Coastal communities are dependent on the ocean for their main sources of protein. (© William Crosse)

Editor’s Note: As world leaders meet in Paris to negotiate a global climate change agreement, people across the planet are already facing the effects of extreme weather events. The major drought currently plaguing Papua New Guinea — likely exacerbated by climate change — has seen little news coverage outside the Asia-Pacific region.

Merida Ginisi cares for a giant clam farm on Wiyaloki, a small island in southeastern Papua New Guinea (PNG). For a decade, she and her family have been working to protect this pocket of the Pacific Ocean and the species within it for future generations — until the current drought took hold.

Since June this year, low rainfall has slashed crop yields and depleted food stores for families across the country’s largely rural population. Last month, Ginisi’s family was forced to harvest some of their most prized possessions — the giant clams they’ve worked so hard to protect — simply because the community needed something to eat.

This may seem like a failure of conservation — albeit an inevitable one given the circumstances. Yet it is precisely because this family prioritized the health of their environment that they built themselves a crucial safety net that has kept them alive.

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Halfway through Paris climate talks, this is where things stand

Le Grand Palais, Paris, France

Le Grand Palais in Paris. The U.N. climate talks are currently underway in the city, which intend to produce a global climate change agreement by the end of the week. (© jean-marc/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: With the U.N. climate talks in Paris resuming today, we recap the signs of progress so far — and what still needs to be done.

The second week of talks in Paris began Monday with much work remaining to whittle a final global climate agreement into something that can be agreed upon by week’s end. The BBC reported that the draft text was still 48 pages long as of Monday, with more than 900 bracketed passages signifying areas of disagreement.

But many organizations including Conservation International (CI) remained optimistic that countries can reach a final agreement. Thus far, nations have recognized the critical role of nature in fighting climate change — important given that nature represents more than 30% of the solution to limit warming to safe levels. Throughout the text, ecosystems are noted as vital to both curbing climate change and adapting to its effects. It was expected that the  importance of tropical forests for capturing and storing carbon will be reflected in the final text.

Here’s where things stand on some of the key issues:

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