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‘A shame for the world’: Uganda’s fragile forest ecosystem destroyed for sugar

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 Bugoma reserve is being deforested to pave way for sugarcane. Photograph: Handout/The Guardian

Conservationists say clearance of Bugamo reserve for plantation is blow to biodiversity and country’s reputation on wildlife.

Conservationists have branded a decision by the Ugandan high court to allow swathes of forest to be cleared for a sugarcane plantation “an unforgivable shame for all people”.

Work to clear 900 hectares (2,223 acres) of Bugoma Forest Reserve, in Hoima, began last month after the court ruled that the land, leased by Hoima Sugar Company Ltd, lay outside the protected area of the forest. The court ordered the National Forestry Authority (NFA), which manages it, to vacate the land and remove the military officers who had been guarding it. The NFA has appealed the decision.

The land was leased to Hoima Sugar, which has a 70% shareholding in Kinyara Sugar Works in neighbouring Masindi district, in 2016 for 99 years by Solomon Iguru Gafabusa, king of the ancient kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara. He said the leased area was ancestral land and not part of the protected forest.

Rajasekaran Ramadoss, agriculture manager at Hoima Sugar Company, said the proposed sugarcane plantation would “improve the standard of living of those people” in the area.

In the environmental and social impact assessment report submitted with its application for a sugar plantation, the company said it would also build schools and a hospital, develop an ecotourism project that comprised an eco-lodge, walking trails and a campsite, and replant the degraded area.

But Costantino Tessarin, chairperson of Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest, said: “Whether the land falls inside the boundaries of the gazetted reserve or not … is a merely sterile exercise for primary school students.

“Because the reality is that we are talking about [an] ecosystem of international importance that cannot be discussed in parts and pieces,” he said. The decision to go ahead with clearing the forest was “an unforgivable shame for all people of common sense, not only in Uganda but in the world”.

Conservation groups and forestry experts have long warned that destroying even just a part of the forest’s diversity would lead to a loss of fauna and flora, and affect the water levels of the River Nile.

“We consider this plan not only detrimental to the Ugandan government plans to develop and invest in tourism in Bugoma Forest, but to the overall fragile and rich ecosystem [which] will simply be irreparably compromised,” said Tessarin, who is also director of Uganda Jungle Lodges and owner of Bugoma Jungle Lodge.

Onesmus Mugyenyi, coordinator of the Forest Governance Learning Group, an informal alliance of 10 African and Asian states that advocate for the protection of forests, said investors in ecotourism and conservation “have much to complain about and need the protection of their investment”.

“Moreover, the development of ecotourism activities will have a broader impact on the livelihood of the people in the area.”

The reserve, which covers 41,144 hectares, is the largest remaining block of natural tropical forest along the Albertine Rift Valley and adjacent to Budongo Forest and Semuliki National Park. It plays an enormous role in preserving wildlife migratory corridors.

It is home to 23 species of animals, including an estimated 550 highly endangered chimpanzees, Ugandan mangabeys (an endemic primate), 225 species of birds and 260 species of trees.

According to the survey by the ministry of tourism and antiquities in 2019, Bugoma, which lies about 250km north-west of the capital, Kampala, is due to have its status upgraded from a reserve to a national park, which would put it under the management of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Sugarcane harvesting in Lugazi, 50km east of Kampala. Uganda has established three sugar factories that still lack sugarcane supply due to a shortage of suitable growing areas.
 Sugarcane is not suitable as a buffer zone around protected rainforest, campaigners say. Photograph: Majority World/REX

“Sugarcane is not only environmentally unfriendly in general, but in particular when it becomes the buffer zone of a tropical rainforest,” said Tessarin.

He said sugarcane was not the best crop to use as a buffer zone around a protected area because it doesn’t mix well with wildlife. “There are crops and landscapes which are more appropriate in buffer zones areas where there are chimpanzees and … almost 10 species of primates, plus other wildlife,” he said.

Forest have shrunk from 24% of Uganda’s total land area in 1990 to 9% in 2015, because of land disputes and deforestation, according to State of Uganda’s Forestry report.

“To throw away Bugoma would be to throw away rain, biodiversity,” said Cathy Watson, head of programme development at World Agroforestry. “It would also be to throw away Uganda’s reputation on the climate, forest and wildlife front.”

Conservationists have launched a social media campaign, “Save Bugoma Forest”, and are petitioning President Yoweri Museveni to intervene.

“It is necessary that the government of Uganda and the national institutions intervene to resolve a matter that cannot be just a legal battle in court and cannot be only about boundaries of proposed land titles,” said Tessarin.

Original Post: The Guardian

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Environment

East Africa poised to monitor carbon emission

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A factory emits smoke.

East Africa will soon be able to monitor how much carbon dioxide or methane is produced by particular activity at any particular point in time thanks to a NASA-aided system that combines observable ground data, real time satellite measurements of carbon dioxide and next-generation microbial soil modelling.

Cornell University researchers will develop the system that combines what they called “bottom-up“ ecological modelling with “top-down“ satellite data, thanks to a three-year, $1 million NASA grant, which began on July 1.

The researchers said last week Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia have experienced deforestation will be covered by the system.

The system estimate will help in monitoring increase in carbon gained from potential afforestation, as well as how long this accumulation could take. These East African countries have ambitious climate mitigation programmes to sequester carbon in soils. Since the countries don’t produce a lot of energy that emits carbon, their mitigation measures rely on putting carbon into ecosystems such as soils.

It is hoped that the rigorous, accurate and low-cost carbon monitoring system will help policymakers verify the effectiveness of their efforts when they seek international climate financing. The data will also inform food-security policies, as more soil carbon provides crop resilience to climate change.

Carbon also helps store more water in soils, making crops more tolerant and resistant to droughts, which increases yields.

Original Source:   THE EAST AFRICAN

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Climate change will see East Africa get wetter say scientists

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Cows in flooded pastures in the Tana delta, Kenya. According to scientists, while temperatures are predicted to rise, the region will likely get wetter mid-century. 

East Africa could be the lucky exception to the disastrous effects of climate change as scientists predict increased precipitation as temperatures rise.

Four scientists — working with the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (Asareca) — Kizito Kwena, William Ndegwa, Imad Ali-Babiker and Hezron Mogaka — say the flipside to rising temperatures is that East Africa is likely to get wetter mid-century.

Citing separate studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Bank, the researchers say the projected 2°C increase in surface temperatures will result in an 11 per cent increase in rainfall over 80 per cent of the region.

“As unfamiliar as this counter-narrative seems, climate change presents the region an opportunity to think and act differently, to change the way it views growth and interacts with the environment,” says of their paper titled The curse of food insecurity and climate change in Africa.

The scientists say the 2025 zero hunger target set by African leaders is achievable, if governments in the region invest at least 10 per cent of their GDP in agriculture and direct resources into climate-smart agriculture.

READ: Climate-smart farming boosting food security around the globe

According to Dr Kwena, while most climate models remain optimistic about the rainfall situation in East Africa — where vast areas of land are arid or semi-arid — the challenge is that governments may not be prepared to maximise the associated benefits.

“Climate change is not disaster all round. Climate models are predicting drought in one part of the continent and increased rainfall in the other. That is a huge opportunity considering the vast areas in the region that are arid or semi-arid. The challenge is how we harness this opportunity,” said Dr Kwena.

And while there have been attempts, Dr Kwena said most climate-smart interventions have been limited to a farm or plot level, which restricts the impacts that could be achieved if climate smart agriculture technologies were applied on a larger scale.

There will also be a need for some adjustments. For instance, if the arid and semi-arid areas of the region become wetter, communities may be required to adopt new livelihood activities. These views stand in sharp contrast to other scenarios that predict that in many parts of Africa, every 1°C increase in temperature will result in a five per cent decline in food yields.

“Already, there have been several climate-induced grain shocks in the world. In the medium-term, climate change causes production losses and increases cost structures. In the long-term, climate change causes production collapse,” said Asareca’s executive secretary Professor Francis Wachira, adding, “With this kind of forecast, it is important to make our cropping systems better adapted to a warming world.”

Enhance resilience

Climate-smart agriculture would enhance the resilience of food systems while also contributing to reduction of emissions, Prof Wachira said, adding that every dollar invested in agricultural research and development results in a 68kg reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide while a one per cent increase in agricultural water productivity frees up 24 litres of water per person per day.

Prof Wachira added that despite its potential, Africa remains a net importer of food even as other regions of the world have tripled their output.

In East and Central Africa, crop yields have stagnated over the past half a century, leading to sharp declines in per capita food production and an increase in poverty and hunger.

He pointed to market failures and over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture as the major factors behind the under-performance of African agriculture, a situation he warns will be exacerbated by climate change.

Original Source:  THE EAST AFRICAN

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Finnish carbon offsetting firm Compensate finds 91% of carbon offset projects fail its evaluation process. Of course the remaining 9% will also not help address the climate crisis

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Compensate is a Finland-based carbon offsetting company set up in 2019 by Antero Vartia, an entrepreneur, actor, and former member of parliament. In 2020, Compensate created project criteria to evaluate the projects from which it buys carbon offsets. One year later, Compensate reported on its experience with the project criteria:

90% of evaluated projects fail the criteria. The reasons vary, but are all equally alarming. Some projects can not be considered additional, others have serious permanence risks. Some have unreliable baselines, because assumed deforestation is largely inflated. Worryingly, many projects also cause serious human rights violations.

“International carbon standards are fundamentally flawed”

Compensate’s report exposes some of the structural problems with the voluntary carbon market:

The voluntary carbon market is characterized by a plethora of actors, methodologies, project types, and standards. It’s a tough job for businesses, organizations and individual consumers to try to navigate this complex market. Outright opportunism and greenwashing are not uncommon.

Compensate points out that standards like Verra, Gold Standard, and American Carbon Registry exist to reassure offset buyers about the quality of the carbon offsets they are buying. “Still,” Compensate adds, “these leading standards leave a lot to be desired.”

Compensate writes that,

[N]ot even the most renowned international standards guarantee real climate impact. Compensate has come across projects with unbelievably overestimated impact, or, worse yet, no impact at all. The market is flooded with millions of essentially worthless credits. Still, these credits have the stamp of approval of the leading international standards, and offsetters keep buying them with no knowledge of the fact they’re engaging in a lie.

And Compensate writes that,

International carbon standards are fundamentally flawed, as they develop and accept project methodologies that allow for the issuance of millions of meaningless credits.

Compensate is critical of corporate promises to reach “net zero“:

While companies claim they only purchase carbon credits for offsetting unavoidable emissions, there is little transparency on companies’ efforts to reduce emissions from operations, and how much of net-zero targets are achieved by offsetting. Company emissions cannot simply be balanced out by purchasing carbon credits. It is known that emissions stay in the atmosphere for 300-1000 years, whereas a tree can sequester CO2 for several decades or until its logged and burned, then releasing all the CO2 back into the atmosphere. This is why the best way to mitigate companies’ climate impacts is to reduce emissions.

Which raises the obvious question: Why is Compensate in the carbon offsetting business?

Compensate’s report includes a section titled “Characteristics of a good carbon credit”. According to Compensate, the following characteristics have to be recognised: additionality, reliability (i.e. the climate impact is not overestimated), permanence, avoided double counting, and environmental and social net impact.

The section would have been better titled “Why offsetting cannot work”. Compensate acknowledges that many projects struggle with demonstrating financial additionality, and even fewer can tackle policy level additionality.

Permanence is a problem, Compensate writes, because “the majority of forestation projects have a lifetime of 30 years. If the protected forest is logged immediately after the project is completed, and the trees are used for energy, the CO2 will be released into the atmosphere.”

Compensate argues that “missing links between theory and practice have left room for double counting to happen quite often”:

Commonly, the two claiming parties are an organization offsetting its emission and the host country trying to reach its nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement.

Compensate acknowledges that “Project developers can influence the number of credits issued with the selection of the baseline scenario.” And that this baseline “could be artificially inflated”. Buying credits from a project with an artificially inflated baseline “could actually add carbon into the atmosphere”.

But the problem of counterfactual baselines is not something that can be resolved with “robust methodologies” or “stricter additionality criteria” as Compensate’s report suggests. Larry Lohmann of The CornerHouse points out, “the problem is not ‘bad baselines’ but the concept of counterfactual baselines itself. That reality does more than invalidate any particular REDD project. It invalidates REDD (and all other offsets) as a whole.”

91% of carbon offset projects fail

91% of carbon offset projects fail

Compensate started using its criteria early in 2020. The company has evaluated more than 100 nature-based projects (mainly forest conservation and tree planting projects). All the projects are certified by international organisations such as Gold Standard, Verra, Plan Vivo, American Carbon Registry and Climate Action Reserve.

Only 9% of the projects passed Compensate’s evaluation process.

  • Compensate found that 52% of the projects are not additional. Examples include selling carbon credits by protecting forests that were never in danger. Commercial timber plantations do not pass the financial additionality criteria “as the project could be implemented without the need for revenue from carbon credits”. Compensate argues that when project activities are already included in national laws and policies there is a lack of policy level additionality. Compensate gives the example of Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo: “Examples include protecting a forest in a country where there is a moratorium on converting natural forests to palm oil plantations (Indonesia) or a moratorium on granting new timber concessions (Democratic Republic of Congo).” Leakage occurs when a government grants conservation concession status to the project area, but also grants a logging concession elsewhere.
  • Compensate found that 16% of the projects it evaluated had permanence risks due to an unstable political situation and high risk of corruption, natural disasters such as floods or fires, postponing timber harvest until after the project ends, or illegal logging.
  • 12% of projects had “unreliable baselines” according to Compensate’s evaluation. Artificially inflating baseline emissions generates more carbon credits for the project.But Compensate does not take into consideration the fact that all baselines are unverifiable because they are based on a counterfactual story about what would have happened in the absence of the project.
  • 6% of the projects Compensate evaluated failed because of community conflicts, for example through human rights violations and evictions, or a failure to deliver the promised benefits.
  • And 5% of the projects did not meet Compensate’s criteria because they offset emissions that take place today with hoped for removals in the future. Compensate gives the example of tree planting projects that calculate the amount of carbon the trees with sequester over the next 50 years.

Carbon markets need to be eliminated not reformed

Compensate is a non-profit organisation, but as a carbon broker, the company’s continued existence depends on selling carbon offsets. It’s a smart marketing ploy to claim that 91% of carbon offsets are flawed, in that it suggests that Compensate is particularly careful about selecting which projects it buys carbon offsets from.

Indeed, Compensate’s report states that,

Like investment managers manage a fund to deliver the best value, Compensate manages a diverse carbon capture portfolio to deliver the best possible climate impact.

Compensate doesn’t point out the fundamental flaw of carbon offsets. The companies buying carbon offsets are using them in order to continue burning fossil fuels. Offsetting does not reduce emissions, it just shuffles them around the world. Often it is the poorest of the poor who have to adjust their livelihoods in order that the rich can continue flying, for example.

And Compensate’s experts make no mention of the carbon cycle. At the end of 2020, 23 researchers and experts published an article in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter titled, “Misleading and false myths about carbon offsets”. The second myth that the authors highlight is that “We can compensate for fossil fuel emissions using so-called ‘nature-based solutions’ (such as carbon sequestration in vegetation and soils).”

The authors explain the carbon cycle as follows:

The carbon cycle has two parts: one fast cycle whereby carbon circulates between the atmosphere, land and seas, and one slow cycle whereby carbon circulates between the atmosphere and the rocks which make up Earth’s interior.

Fossil fuels are part of the slow carbon cycle. Nature-based solutions are part of the fast carbon cycle. This biological carbon storage is not permanent. Carbon stored in trees can be released by forest fires – something we are seeing more and more often as the climate heats up.

Rather than calling for carbon markets to be abolished, Compensate is calling for an oxymoron: “a more sustainable carbon market”.

Original Source: redd-monitor.org

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