Mailing 9 May 2012

Paper: Oil palm plantations and CO2 emissions

This paper finds that in 2007–2008, oil palm plantations directly caused 27% of total and 40% of peatland deforestation. Under a business as usual (BAU) scenario, by 2020 ∼40% of regional and 35% of community lands will be cleared for oil palm, generating 26% of net carbon emissions.  BAU scenario results indicate that ∼40% of peatlands will be planted with oil palm by 2020, with carbon emissions from peatlands projected to contribute 87% of total emissions under BAU.

Critically, outcomes from five policy scenarios that it models indicate that mitigating carbon emissions requires not only prohibiting oil palm expansion into peatlands, but also actively protecting forests in oil palm leases and Protected Areas from all causes of deforestation and degradation. Merely enforcing a moratorium on converting forests and peatlands to oil palm plantations is predicted to generate negligible carbon emissions reductions because other proximate causes (e.g., wildfires) continue to contribute to forest loss. Moreover, as agroforests are converted to oil palm plantations, smallholder agriculture may be displaced onto forested lands. It concludes that there is a need not only to constrain further oil palm expansion into forest and peatlands but also to protect secondary and logged forests from wildfire, logging and agriculture.

Reference and abstract as follows: Carlson K. M., Curran L. M., Ratnasari D., Pittman A. M., Soares-Filho B. S., Asner G. P., Trigg S. N., Gaveau D. A., Lawrence D., and Rodrigues H. O. (2012). Committed carbon emissions, deforestation, and community land conversion from oil palm plantation expansion in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1200452109

Industrial agricultural plantations are a rapidly increasing yet largely unmeasured source of tropical land cover change. Here, we evaluate impacts of oil palm plantation development on land cover, carbon flux, and agrarian community lands in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. With a spatially explicit land change/carbon bookkeeping model, parameterized using high-resolution satellite time series and informed by socioeconomic surveys, we assess previous and project future plantation expansion under five scenarios. Although fire was the primary proximate cause of 1989–2008 deforestation (93%) and net carbon emissions (69%), by 2007–2008, oil palm directly caused 27% of total and 40% of peatland deforestation. Plantation land sources exhibited distinctive temporal dynamics, comprising 81% forests on mineral soils (1994–2001), shifting to 69% peatlands (2008–2011). Plantation leases reveal vast development potential. In 2008, leases spanned ∼65% of the region, including 62% on peatlands and 59% of community-managed lands, yet <10% of lease area was planted. Projecting business as usual (BAU), by 2020 ∼40% of regional and 35% of community lands are cleared for oil palm, generating 26% of net carbon emissions. Intact forest cover declines to 4%, and the proportion of emissions sourced from peatlands increases 38%. Prohibiting intact and logged forest and peatland conversion to oil palm reduces emissions only 4% below BAU, because of continued uncontrolled fire. Protecting logged forests achieves greater carbon emissions reductions (21%) than protecting intact forests alone (9%) and is critical for mitigating carbon emissions. Extensive allocated leases constrain land management options, requiring trade-offs among oil palm production, carbon emissions mitigation, and maintaining community landholdings.

You can download the paper here.

ScienceDaily covers the paper here.

In this article on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), WWF make the point that while the supply of certified palm oil has grown, it needs to be matched by an increase in companies buying it.

Can marine fisheries and acquaculture meat 2050 demand for fish

This paper fish demand in 2050 will be met but only if fish resources are managed sustainably and the animal feeds industry reduces its reliance on wild fish.

Reference and abstract as follows: Merino G, Barange M, Blanchard J L, Harle J, Holmes R, Allen I, Allison E H, Badjeck M C, Dulvy N K, Holt J, Jennings S, Mullon C, Rodwell L D (2012), Can marine fisheries and aquaculture meet fish demand from a growing human population in a changing climate, Global Environmental Change.

Expansion in the world's human population and economic development will increase future demand for fish products. As global fisheries yield is constrained by ecosystems productivity and management effectiveness, per capita fish consumption can only be maintained or increased if aquaculture makes an increasing contribution to the volume and stability of global fish supplies. Here, we use predictions of changes in global and regional climate (according to IPCC emissions scenario A1B), marine ecosystem and fisheries production estimates from high resolution regional models, human population size estimates from United Nations prospects, fishmeal and oil price estimations, and projections of the technological development in aquaculture feed technology, to investigate the feasibility of sustaining current and increased per capita fish consumption rates in 2050. We conclude that meeting current and larger consumption rates is feasible, despite a growing population and the impacts of climate change on potential fisheries production, but only if fish resources are managed sustainably and the animal feeds industry reduces its reliance on wild fish. Ineffective fisheries management and rising fishmeal prices driven by greater demand could, however, compromise future aquaculture production and the availability of fish products.

In a bit more detail:

The model took into account the effects of climate change on ocean productivity, the governance framework and industry.  It finds that  that realistic scenarios for technological change in aquaculture and institutional development in capture fisheries can combine to ensure that both current per capita consumption levels and reasonable projected increases in per capita consumption levels can be sustained with the right investments in the fish production sector. Climate change impacts on production may not be the major factor in achieving the required levels of fish production to feed a growing, wealthier global population with a higher fish protein intake. This should not be interpreted as suggesting that climate change will not affect food systems sustainability or the costs of producing food. Food systems are impacted through multiple pathways, from the health and safety of food producers to the costs of transport and storage.  The conclusion is that in the case of capture fisheries, climate change impacts on production may not be the most significant factor in securing fish availability in the near future (to 2050). Ensuring that fisheries are efficiently governed and that aquaculture continues to grow in a sustainable manner will be the main constraints to the sustainability of global fish production. Policies encouraging improved environmental standards in aquaculture production and greater commitment to address governance weaknesses in capture fisheries will both be required. Recent reviews of successful governance reform in fisheries and of improving environmental standards in aquaculture give reasons for hope.

You can download the paper (subscription access only) here.

NERC has covered the paper here.

Study: Energy use of potato growing at different scales of production

An FCRN mailing list member has completed a comparative analysis of potato production at five scales of production and is seeking feedback.  He writes as follows:

I’ve completed a little analysis of different scales and methods of potato production in terms of energy balance, labour inputs and costs, which compares large scale conventional production, various scales of agroecological growing and domestic production.

The analysis was originally undertaken to inform the establishment of a potato growing co-op in my locality, but I think it may be of wider interest – I’d very much welcome input from interested FCRN members concerning the data values and modelling assumptions I’ve used.

My findings in brief are that domestic scales of production are more energetically efficient, but the advantage quickly dwindles when these scales involve driving to allotments or importing manure. There is a trade-off between labour input and energy input which small-scale semi-mechanised production may help to optimise.

You can access the analysis and the underlying data through my website. Any comments can be posted on the website or emailed to me. Many thanks.

Defra publication: progress on sustainability in the livestock sector

This report, published by DEFRA, summarises the work that is underway by different livestock sectors to deliver greater sustainability; provides an overview of industry and government progress and activity of relevance to livestock stakeholders; and highlights the Government’s investment in promoting sustainable agriculture abroad. A final section features a critique provided by Friends of the Earth highlighting progress to date and its sense of the gaps remaining in delivery of a more sustainable livestock industry.

You can download the report here.

UK dairy sector Dairy 2020

The UK’s dairy sector has published its strategy for sustainability, Dairy 2020.  This sets out:

  • A vision statement that sets out a clear ambition for the industry
  • A framework of guiding principles that assists the industry in delivering an integrated approach to sustainability
  • A list of areas where focus is needed to enable a sustainable dairy industry to thrive in 2020
  • A set of scenarios describing possible futures for the industry in 2020, and key risks and opportunities that the industry may have to operate within in 2020
  • A toolkit that helps organisations in the industry to bring the project outputs to life through their individual company strategies and actions.

Its vision is for “A vibrant UK dairy industry that enables people, environment and business to thrive.” To do this it identifies 8 areas for action, which it labels:

  • Looking outward
  • Innovating and investing
  • Working together
  • Building skills & attracting talent
  • Engaging consumers
  • Minimising environmental impact
  • Stewarding nature and resources
  • Improving animal welfare

On the environmental impacts, Its goal is “Achieving commercial success while striving to minimise negative environmental impact.” It will:

  • Work towards more secure, sustainable (renewable, low-carbon) energy supply for the industry.
  • Maximise resource use efficiency (e.g. nutrient planning, lower-impact feed sources, water efficiency), within the context of an absolute efficiency target. Develop the evidence base to do this.
  • Work towards zero waste. Develop a waste reduction strategy across the supply chain and incentivise involvement.
  • Develop a climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy.
  • Articulate the nutritional value of dairy in relation to the natural resources required for its production, including the environmental footprint of feed inputs.

There do not appear to be any quantifiable targets. On “stewarding nature and natural resources” the industry will:

  • Develop new financing models for investing in biodiversity at the farm level.
  • Invest in evidence-based research on both local and global biodiversity management to better understand their benefit to UK dairy.
  • Develop a biodiversity code of practice for UK dairy farming and build consensus across the supply chain.
  • Create dedicated areas for biodiversity in dairy production systems. Benchmark against best global practice.
  • Build up soil fertility by sustainable means, communicate its importance, share best practice and encourage further research.
  • Protect water resources.

You can download the vision here.

The vision was developed with the aid of a scenarios exercise that explored the following narratives:

For details see here.

The toolkit with guidance on how to use the scenarios is here.

Book: “Visualizing Climate Change: A Guide to Visual Communication of Climate Change and Developing Local Solutions” by Stephen R.J. Sheppard

Details as follows:

Carbon dioxide and global climate change are largely invisible, and the prevailing imagery of climate change is often remote (such as ice floes melting) or abstract and scientific (charts and global temperature maps). Using visual imagery such as 3D and 4D visualizations of future landscapes, community mapping, and iconic photographs, this book demonstrates new ways to make carbon and climate change visible  in our own backyards and local communities. Colour imagery explains how climate change works where we live, and reveals how we often conceal, misinterpret, or overlook the evidence of climate change impacts and our carbon usage that causes them. The guide seeks to bring to life both the science and the practical solutions for climate change, such as local renewable energy and flood protection. It introduces new visual tools (from outdoor signs to video-games) for communities, action groups, planners, and other experts to use in engaging the public, building awareness and accelerating action on climate change.

For more details see here.

FCRN members may purchase the book directly from the publishers at 20% discount, by entering the discount code AF20 at the checkout.

Mexico passes climate change law

Mexico is the second country in the world to have to have instituted legally binding targets on GHG emission reductions.  The law mandates a reduction in CO2 emissions by 30% below business-as-usual levels by 2020, and by 50% below 2000 levels by 2050 (note that this is a relative target – the UK’s target is an absolute one).  It also stipulates that 35% of the country's electricity should come from renewable sources by 2024, and requires mandatory emissions reporting by the country's largest polluters. In addition, the act establishes a commission to oversee implementation, and encourages the development of a carbon-trading scheme. Mexico ranks 11th in the world for both the size of its economy and its level of carbon emissions.

For more information see here.

Unilever publishes Sustainable Living Plan progress report

Unilever has published its one-year on report on the progress it has made in meeting the commitments it set out in its 2010 Sustainable Living Plan.  Unilever has set a range of targets in the following areas: health and hygiene, improving nutrition, GHGs, water use, waste, sustainable sourcing and better livelihoods.  It is on track for most targets in most areas, with the exception of its targets on water use.

To download its progress report as well as the 2010 Plan, see here.

For the FCRN’s summary of the original 2010 plan see here.

Pamphlet: Climate Change and Sustainable Consumption: What do the public think is fair?

Horton T and Doron N (2012). Climate Change and Sustainable Consumption: What do the public think is fair? Joseph Rowntree Foundation

This pamphlet examines research undertaken by the Fabian Society which was  commissioned and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The work, through a series of focus groups, explored ways that people's sense of fairness around sustainable consumption and climate change could be used to build public support for behaviour change and sustainability policies.

The key points emerging from the research are as follows:

  1. Fairness and citizenship can drive support for sustainable consumption – but only if people understand the social context of behaviour (ie. if they understand the consequences of behaviours on resource scarcity and so forth).
  2. Ensuring everyone co-operates is key for perceptions of fairness – so regulation and enforcement can sometimes be crucial for sustaining public support for behaviour change.
  3. People want to feel that they are co-operating in an endeavour. Even if compulsion is used, people want measures to target the product or activity rather than the individual.
  4. People think sustainability policies should be progressive: the greatest burdens of behaviour change should be on those with the greatest ability to reduce their consumption or to finance reductions in their consumption.
  5. ‘Economic’ approaches, and specifically taxation, are often seen to fail the fairness test although they are supported in some contexts.
  6. It is important to understand the difference between people liking a policy and supporting a policy because they see it as legitimate.

It concludes:

There is an important lesson here about linking the argument for behaviour change to the actual reasons why we want to prevent climate change. Government approaches to behaviour change often bypass these concerns and are generally aimed at addressing people as consumers and appealing to self-interest. However, these focus groups show that fairness issues can be an important factor in building support for action. It should be noted that, despite the strong support expressed for behaviour change and environmental policies during the focus groups, there was no great desire to change behaviour among participants – certainly no sense that people would enjoy having to make lifestyle changes. This is not inconsistent, but testament to an important distinction: that between liking a policy on the one hand and supporting a policy because you think it is necessary and legitimate on the other. The way in which the UK and many other countries have created widespread public acceptance of, and compliance with, frameworks like tax systems and speed limits is not by trying to make paying tax or driving slower to seem attractive, but by ensuring people understand the broader social issues at stake and see the behavioural requirements as necessary and legitimate. Similarly, attempts by government, industry and NGOs to encourage behaviour change, or to build support for measures to ensure sustainable consumption, may well be more effective if they seek to generate a sense of public legitimacy.

You can download the report via the Fabians website, here or the JRF website here.

Genes with potential for reducing food-bioenergy trade offs

The cross-research council Food Security website reports on the findings of a team from the University of Cambridge and Rothamsted Research. This team has identified a family of genes that could help us breed grasses with improved properties for diet and bioenergy. The genes are important in the development of the fibrous, woody parts of grasses such as rice and wheat. The majority of the energy stored in plants is contained within the woody parts, and billions of tons of this material are produced by global agriculture each year in growing cereals and other grass crops.  The team hopes that by understanding how these genes work, they might, for example, be able to breed varieties of cereals where the fibrous parts of the plants confer dietary benefits, or crops whose straw requires less energy-intensive processing in order to produce biofuels. This research could offer the possibility of multi-use crops where the grain could be used for food and feed and the straw used to produce energy efficiently.

You can read coverage of the findings here.

You can read the paper itself (if you can manage it – this is the title: Glycosyl transferases in family 61 mediate arabinofuranosyl transfer onto xylan in grasses …) here.

Event: Sustainable Development Goals - Feasible, desirable or a leap too far?

8 May 2012 13:00-14:30 (GMT+01 (BST)) - Public event, Committee Room 8, Palace of Westminster - House of Commons

This summer’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) will centre on the ambition to create a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS). However many questions remain unanswered about how these goals would work in practice. At this event convened by two of the UK’s leading international development organisations, the Overseas Development Institute and the Institute of Development Studies, a panel of experts will discuss the desirability and feasibility of SDGs and explore how they might fit into the wider context of what replaces the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.


Paul Ladd - Advisor to UNDP on issues related to inclusive globalization, including development finance, debt sustainability, trade and migration.

Dr James Mackie - Senior Adviser, EU Development Policy, ECDPM

Dr Matthew Lockwood - Research Fellow and Leader of the Climate Change Team, Institute of Development Studies

Dr Claire Melamed - Head of Growth Poverty and Inequality Programme at the Overseas Development Institute

Chair: David Laws MP

For more information see here.

Job: Research Manager, Soil Association

Full time, Fixed term contract for 2.5 years, Bristol, c.£32,000

Details as follows:

We are looking for a dedicated individual to lead the research elements of a pioneering new initiative to help British farmers improve their productivity in an environmentally responsible way. The programme will involve farmers across the country in developing innovative techniques aimed at improving yields and nutritional performance in organic and low-input agriculture. The Research Manager will be responsible for developing and managing a research fund, research partnerships and a database for monitoring on-farm outcomes. The postholder will play a central role in managing and reporting on the whole programme, and disseminating its findings to scientific and policy audiences.

For more details please click here.

Closing date for applications: Thursday 10 May 12 noon. Interviews are likely to be held on Friday 18 May

Job: NERC/ M&S Knowledge Exchange Fellow

NERC, in partnership with Marks & Spencer, is looking to recruit a Knowledge Exchange Fellow tasked with matching their sustainable business needs with the UK science base. The KE Fellow will enable M&S to engage in greater depth in knowledge exchange with the research community, allowing their business and supply chains to access NERC research investments and capability.

For more information see here.

Closing date for applications: 16h00 on 1 June 2012