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Costa Rica advocates for measures to eliminate plastic

Costa Rica participated in the second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) session regarding a legally binding international instrument to end plastic pollution.  Its objective is to implement global actions that comprehensively address the environmental and health problems caused by plastic pollution. The Costa Rican delegation was led by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Roxana […] The post Costa Rica advocates for measures to eliminate plastic appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

Costa Rica participated in the second Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) session regarding a legally binding international instrument to end plastic pollution.  Its objective is to implement global actions that comprehensively address the environmental and health problems caused by plastic pollution. The Costa Rican delegation was led by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Roxana Tinoco, from the Department of Sustainable Development and Environment of the Directorate General of Foreign Policy, and the Ambassador to Kenya, Giovanna Valverde.  The meeting, held in France, was attended by almost 2,000 people, including government officials, delegates from several organizations, private companies, scientists, academics, and workers. This session focused on discussing possible provisions to be contained in the treaty in terms of basic obligations, control measures, and complementary actions. In addition, progress was made on policies and actions needed in terms of financial, technological, and support to implement the treaty effectively.  Likewise, aspects such as the importance of research and development, cooperation, awareness, and the involvement of all state and non-state actors were also addressed. “Costa Rica reiterated the need for the instrument to be endowed with robust financing, including measures for the progressive elimination of single-use plastics whenever possible, the identification of substances and additives in plastics that should be eliminated and controlled, and the development of alternative and substitute materials,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs mentioned.  Costa Rica also highlighted the need for new plastic and product designs that guarantee the possibility of recycling and strengthening integrated waste management within a circular economy framework.  Costa Rica is part of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, a group of more than 55 countries advocating for a truly effective global treaty that sets common international standards to end plastic pollution by 2040. As a promoter of multilateralism and environmental diplomacy, the country coordinated the work of the Latin American and Caribbean Group during the first half of 2023.  These actions ratify Costa Rica’s commitment to the environment and the urgent need to reach agreements that protect it and guarantee its conservation. The post Costa Rica advocates for measures to eliminate plastic appeared first on The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel | Real Estate.

Here’s where the air is worst in US because of wildfires

Wildfires near Montreal have prompted air quality alerts throughout the United States as major cities have become engulfed in a heavy haze and many with the smell of smoke. According to AirNow, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) service that monitors air quality, most of the East Coast is under moderate to unhealthy levels of air...

Wildfires near Montreal have prompted air quality alerts throughout the United States as major cities have become engulfed in a heavy haze and many with the smell of smoke. According to AirNow, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) service that monitors air quality, most of the East Coast is under moderate to unhealthy levels of air quality, as well as the Midwest near Chicago and Detroit. The EPA said that the hazy skies, reduced visibility and the odor of burning wood is “very likely” to continue in the northern states for days as the wildfires continue to burn. Unhealthy levels of air quality can lead to health problems, especially for those in sensitive groups including children, the elderly and those with respiratory issues. The air quality alerts issued throughout the U.S. are triggered by the detection of fine-particle pollution, which is known as “PM 2.5” that can irritate the lungs. Air quality levels over 150 are considered "unhealthy" and can start causing health issues even for healthy people, while levels over 200 are considered "very unhealthy" and can cause health issues for everyone, according to The Weather Channel. Most of the Mid-Atlantic region, including New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore, reported “unhealthy” levels of air quality as of Wednesday morning. Some regions also included “very unhealthy” or “hazardous” levels of air quality. New York City topped the list for the world’s worst air pollution during certain times on Tuesday as the smoke from the wildfires drifted south. According to IQair, New York City’s air quality index topped 200 on Tuesday night, a level that is described as “very unhealthy” by the monitoring group. At about 10 p.m. Tuesday, the Big Apple had the worst air quality of any metropolitan city in the world, IQair reported. A baseball game in the Bronx on Tuesday evening showed an orange-tinted cloud of smoky haze hanging over Yankees Stadium, reported. As of Wednesday morning, New York City is still reporting “unhealthy” levels of air quality at an index of about 170. Its neighboring states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania are also reporting “unhealthy” air quality, with most of the areas in the states under a red alert, which is an enhanced risk for wildfire spread. New Jersey is also battling wildfires of its own, further decreasing the air quality in the state. A wildfire of about 70 acres in Ocean County was reported as 70 percent contained as of Wednesday morning by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. Detroit is also reporting the fourth-worst levels of air quality out of major metropolitan cities around the world as of Wednesday morning. The area is seeing an index of 157, which is 13.4 times the World Health Organization annual air quality guideline value. The only cities reporting air quality worse than Detroit from around the world are Dhaka, Bangladesh, New York City and Delhi, India, accordng to IQair as of Wednesday morning. Chicago is also seeing the effects of the wildfires, with the National Weather Service in the area saying, “widespread ozone and or particulate levels are expected to be at or above the unhealthy for sensitive groups category of the air quality index.” Areas near Philadelphia and Delaware are also reporting “very unhealthy” levels of air pollution, and Washington D.C. is reporting “unhealthy” levels of air pollution, according to AirNow.  

Plant burgers are way better for the planet than beef, but these 2 ingredients threaten tropical ecosystems

A farmer arranges his coconuts in Poi Village, Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, in January 2020. Coconut farmers in the region have struggled with the declining price of copra, the dried flesh of coconut from which coconut oil is extracted. | Basri Marzuki/NurPhoto via Getty Images How plant-based meat’s dependence on coconut and cacao could become a liability. Jalil, a 50-year-old cacao farmer in Palopo, Sulawesi, Indonesia, has never heard of plant-based meats, nor the American company Beyond Meat. When told, he is surprised to hear that cocoa butter made from beans like those grown on his farm, which he has been tending for 30 years, could end up in a Beyond Burger. “I have no idea where my cacao beans go,” said Jalil. “I thought it’s all for chocolate.” That may once have been true, but the rapid growth of plant-based meats in recent years has begun to fundamentally alter agricultural supply chains, creating new demand for key ingredients like cocoa butter and coconut oil. Yet even as the plant-based meat industry is snapping up more of those ingredients, small farmers like Jalil say they’re not seeing any benefit. “Cacao farming is getting increasingly difficult,” he said, pointing to unpredictable prices, a more variable climate, and growing risk of crop disease as growing challenges. “Many farmers are cutting down their cacao trees” and abandoning their plantations. (Cacao is the raw, unprocessed product of the cacao fruit, from which cocoa is roasted and processed.) What is happening on the ground in Sulawesi should serve as a major warning sign for the plant-based meat companies that rely on these tropical oils. Facing slowing growth in the United States, plant-based meat producers are working hard to reduce costs in the hope of hitting a goal deemed essential to their future: bringing the price of plant-based meat in line with that of beef or pork. Industry watchers warn that plant-based alternatives will struggle to break out of their current niche status unless they can achieve price parity with meat. “Long-term price parity is the only way that these products are going to be competitive,” said Ryan Nebeker, a research analyst at the nonprofit Foodprint. One way to do that is to lower ingredient costs, but supply chain challenges and threats from climate change could make achieving that goal tough. Much of the supply of coconut oil and cacao butter comes from countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Côte d’Ivoire, and Ghana, with weak labor and environmental protections. There is a risk that a desire to lower costs could result in purchasing cacao butter or coconut oil from less ethical sources. These are delicate questions to ask. Nothing can take away from the fact that the emissions and deforestation footprints of beef are far worse than those of plant-based alternatives. Beef is an outsize driver of deforestation around the world, including in the vital Amazon rainforest. One serving of beef, as Vox has reported, requires as much as 20 times more land and four times more water, and creates more emissions, than an equivalent serving of plant-based meat. Tim Ryan Williams/Vox But no diet is free from impacts on the planet and those who live on it. Even as the plant-based meat sector offers an important tool in mitigating climate change — not to mention reducing the number of animals sent to the slaughterhouse — there are risks of unintended environmental and labor consequences. That includes significant localized impacts in tropical cacao- and coconut-growing regions in Asia and Africa, areas that haven’t been as intensively impacted by the beef industry as South America. Even though their products are indisputably more friendly to the planet, those consequences present key business challenges to plant-based meat producers as they try to scale their industry. Pressure to cut costs from Beyond and Impossible, neither of which has the publicly available sustainable sourcing policies or guidelines that are increasingly common in the packaged food industry, risks exacerbating problems such as deforestation, the use of child and forced labor, and sub-living wages for farmers and workers. Those aren’t the only risks the industry faces in striving to get its ambitious growth plans back on track. Decades of underinvestment and unpredictable prices have left many Indonesian and Filipino farmers unable to maintain their farms, meaning there may simply not be enough cacao butter or coconut oil available. Coconut and cacao make plant-based meat meaty To make their animal-free products, Impossible, Beyond, and a host of smaller rivals have developed a range of substitute ingredients derived from plants, such as pea and soy proteins that mimic the texture and feel of animal proteins. But few are as important as cocoa butter — a key ingredient for Beyond Meat as well as products like UNLIMEAT — or coconut oil, which is used by Impossible Foods and several other brands, including Next Gen Foods’ Tindle plant-based chicken, Conagra’s Gardein beefless burger, Hormel’s Happy Little Plants plant-based meatballs, and NotCo’s NotBurger. Refined coconut oil and cacao butter have unique characteristics that help plant-based products replicate meat. Like animal fats, they remain solid at room temperature, and this high melting point enables plant-based meats to be grilled or cooked similarly to their animal-meat counterparts in gourmet restaurants, fast food chains, or home kitchens. These fats make up between 5 and 20 percent of a plant-based burger; already, major ingredients providers like Cargill and AAK have set up new sales platforms aimed at providing these two oils to the growing plant-based market segment. And that’s just a start. Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit that promotes plant-based alternatives to animal products, estimated in 2021 that plant-based meats will use 19 percent of global coconut production by 2030. GFI acknowledges that the recent slowdown in plant-based meat sales in the US might impact these projections and plans to provide updated figures later this year. But “continued development of the plant-based market outside of the US and Europe will support global growth of this industry,” the organization told Vox. On a warming planet, coconut and cacao supplies are increasingly volatile To achieve rapid sales growth, Beyond and Impossible will need to achieve price parity with meat, which will require steadily increasing supplies of cheap cacao butter and coconut oil. But in a changing climate, where the farmers who produce the raw materials are increasingly struggling to make a living, that supply is far from guaranteed. Take the Philippines, the main exporter of coconut oil to the US. In the province of Quezon, in the southeast of the island of Luzon, a key coconut-growing region, low or unpredictable wages, lack of investment, and extreme weather events have caused many farmers to simply stop growing coconuts in recent years, said Julito Ordinado, a 51-year-old coconut farmer who has been working his family’s fields since he was 12. He says he can no longer make a living from coconuts alone, and often works as a construction day laborer. His brother was so desperate, he chose to cut down his coconut trees and sell them for wood in order to get needed cash. “A coconut tree’s harvest lasts a lifetime, but once you’ve sold all the coco lumber, that’s it,” said Ordinado. “You can’t sell coconuts anymore.” It takes years before new coconut trees can start producing nuts, which means it’s not easy to rapidly expand or shrink production in response to market demand. These problems are compounded by increasingly volatile weather. Last September, Super Typhoon Noru suddenly intensified off the coast of Luzon and slammed into Quezon province’s coconut heartlands. It was the third major typhoon to hit the region since 2020. Many experts connect the growing intensity and frequency of typhoons to climate change. “When typhoons hit coconut farms, it takes up to a year before they can recover,” said Jun Pascua, director of the National Peasants Movement, a Filipino association that represents coconut farmers. The latest storm was so strong that some of Pascua’s farmer-members in districts that were hit directly lost all their coconut trees. The situation in Quezon is common across the region, according to Haigan Murray, co-founder of the Coconut Knowledge Center, an Indonesia-based nonprofit. Production has fallen steadily by about 0.1 percent a year since 2010. This is primarily due to aging trees, a lack of investment in replanting, and limited tools to help farmers diversify their incomes. Worse may be yet to come: By 2027, 80 percent of coconut trees in Southeast Asia will be past their productive peak, producing fewer and fewer coconuts per year or becoming senile, meaning that they are unable to produce coconuts at all, according to estimates from the industry group Sustainable Coconut Partnership. Similar problems are emerging in Indonesia, both in the coconut growing regions of Sumatra and in the lowlands of Sulawesi, which are uniquely suitable for growing cacao. After Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, it is the world’s second major cacao-growing region and the largest direct exporter of cacao butter to the US. According to industry experts, West Africa is the main source of cacao for chocolate; Indonesian cacao is often used for cacao butter. Jervis Gonzales Coconut trees flourish along the Agos River in General Nakar, Quezon Province, in the Philippines. Coconuts are among the major produce in the town, where most coconut farmers are involved in either whole nut farming or copra farming. Cacao farmers are on the front lines of the climate crisis Jalil, the farmer from Palopo, Sulawesi, says he was surrounded by other cacao plantations until a few years ago. But much like what Ordinado has seen in Quezon, many neighboring farmers have cut down their cacao trees and converted to other crops, like rice or oil palm. At the local cacao processor, Gudang 999, Fahmi, the branch manager, buys beans from farmers and dries them before sending them off to a factory in the provincial capital, Makassar, where they are turned into cacao butter by major multinationals such as Cargill and Singapore-based agribusiness giant Olam International. He confirms the dire diagnosis. “We get 70 percent less cacao than a few years ago,” said Fahmi. “Used to be three tons a day, now just one.” There’s a reason for this. At his farm, Jalil quickly identifies a sickened fruit, tearing it from the branch and with a quick jab with his machete, opening it up for me and tearing out the mushy, white seeds. “See, it’s diseased. We have to throw it away.” Because Sulawesi’s dry seasons have been getting hotter due to climate change, plant diseases can spread more easily in lowland-regions like Palopo. According to experts, this is a growing challenge globally. “Many cocoa farmers are on the front lines of the climate crisis, leaving them vulnerable to drought, pests, and diseases that can decimate a harvest,” said Kerry Daroci, cocoa sector lead at the nonprofit Rainforest Alliance. Nithin Coca Jalil shows the author a diseased cacao fruit. Beyond heat, the more frequent floods in the rainy season are also making cacao farming more difficult. Four years ago, heavy rains destroyed nearly half of Jalil’s harvest. “If flooded, cacao can die,” said Jalil. He points to the rice paddies of his neighbors, a crop less susceptible to flooding and supported by a government program that expanded irrigation. “That’s why they switched.” According to Fahmi, all across Sulawesi’s cacao-growing regions, the combination of low prices, increased rain and heat, and government incentives to expand irrigation and promote the growing of staple crops are leading many farmers to do as Jalil’s neighbors did: switch to rice or, in West Sulawesi, oil palm. In West Africa, too, climate change is creating uncertainty over the future availability of cheap cacao butter. Ghana, the world’s second largest producer, saw widespread drought in 2022, which, according to the cacao consultancy Equipoise, led to a more than 30 percent shortfall in production. This has started to impact global cacao prices, which have jumped by about 15 percent since mid-2022, though that has not yet trickled down to farmers like Jalil. So far, the fall in production hasn’t hurt the plant-based meat industry, partly because other users of coconut oil and cacao butter have been able to more easily replace it with alternatives like palm, sunflower, or rapeseed oil. But for Beyond and Impossible’s need for an oil that behaves like animal fat, as well as the desire to avoid using artificial or lab-based alternatives that might put off consumers, coconut oil and cacao butter remain essential. Impossible and Beyond haven’t invested in sustainability tracing Even as the plant-based meat companies grapple with the challenge of finding adequate supplies, environmentalists and other observers see a broader sustainability challenge as the demand for the products increases. “The spike in demand for coconut as a plant-based fat input could ... create negative consequences if no alternative fat sources are concurrently developed,” said Mirte Gosker, managing director of the Good Food Institute’s Asia-Pacific division. One concern is that if there’s a surge in demand for cacao butter for plant-based meat, and if Indonesian cacao butter production continues to fall, companies may be forced to source more from West Africa. There, cacao is seen as a major driver of deforestation, and child labor is widespread. “It’s completely reasonable to believe that if they are trying to achieve price parity, they might choose to go for some unreliable suppliers, especially for ingredients that are hard to source in the first place,” said Nebeker. “But cutting corners causes a lot of problems.” The plant-based meat companies “will face the same issues as other companies that use deforestation-risk commodities like soy or palm oil,” said Erasmus K.H.J. zu Ermgassen, a researcher at Cambridge University. “A lot of these commodities are not currently traceable. It’s important that these companies manage risks in their supply chains.” Supply chain experts believe that the key to avoiding these risks is committing to sustainable sourcing, investing in farmers, and working with third-party nonprofits like Rainforest Alliance or Fair Trade, which certify coconut oil and cacao, among other products. They, in return, allow brands to use their logos on their packaging. So far, however, no major plant-based meat brand is using any trusted third-party certifier for their cacao or coconut. In fact, Murray has not seen any of the well-known plant-based meat companies engaging directly with coconut oil producers or farmers. Instead, he believes they are sourcing coconut from the major trading companies: Cargill, AAK, and Barry Callebaut. A decade ago, when Murray first heard about the innovative, plant-based burgers being promoted by Beyond and Impossible, he saw an opportunity. “I saw potential for a win-win relationship between plant-based meat and coconut smallholder farmers,” said Murray. “If consumers of plant-based meat are environmentally conscious, then coconut oil could offer multiple co-benefits, from livelihoods to climate change.” Today, he feels far less hopeful, even after directly meeting with executives from Impossible and other smaller brands. “No one that I spoke to had the first idea about their coconut oil, where it comes from, who grows it, how it’s made, nothing,” said Murray. He points out that the big trading companies are unable to trace the vast majority of their coconut oil. These big trading companies do recognize that there are supply and sustainability challenges facing coconut oil and cacao production. They’ve created a Sustainable Coconut Partnership to increase investment in smallholder production. But Murray points out that in the four years since it was initially formed, the organization has done little. Similarly, media attention on child labor in the cacao industry led Cargill, AAK, Barry Callebaut, and Olam to launch numerous sustainable sourcing initiatives. “They can provide you with cocoa that is traceable, deforestation-free ... but only if you pay extra,” said Etelle Higonnet, a cacao supply chain expert formerly with the nonprofit Mighty Earth. And so far, Impossible, Beyond, or other plant-based meat companies are not listed on reports released by Cargill, AAK, Olam, or Barry Calleabaut among brands paying a premium for traceable cacao. Cargill declined to be interviewed, while Olam and Barry Calleabaut did not respond to requests. An AAK spokesperson sent an emailed response about their coconut oil sourcing, stating that “traceability data is something that has not been a priority for the coconut oil industry in the past and we are working with long and complex supply chain involving many different players,” but that they hope to achieve “first sub-national level,” meaning state or province traceability, “for all our coconut supply chains by 2025.” Higonnet and Murray believe trusting the major trading companies is risky, as they have also been criticized for buying ingredients like cacao from sources known to be using child labor or farming on deforested land. They point to a different model. Some global consumer companies have been successful at reducing these risks by tracing their own supply chains. These include cosmetics brand Dr. Bronner’s and the chocolate producer Alter Eco, which work with Fair Trade certifiers to source coconut oil and cacao butter. Large companies, too, are increasingly rethinking sourcing. Mars, a major candymaker, now operates its own cacao processing facilities in Sulawesi, which allows it to bypass the big traders and directly determine if farmers are meeting its labor and sustainability standards. And just as important, it also offers farmers a higher price. So far, there are no signs that Beyond or Impossible is willing to invest in creating sustainable supply chains. Neither company responded to requests for interviews about their cacao or coconut sourcing. That is why experts such as Higonnet and Murray feel there’s a growing risk that as they and their many smaller rivals expand supply chains and seek to reduce costs, an increase in deforestation, child or forced labor, and sub-living wages for farmers and workers could follow. Jervis Gonzales Stores of dried coconut meat in coconut shells in a storehouse in General Nakar, Philippines. Dried coconut meat — which is used to make copra, from which coconut oil is extracted — tends to have a long shelf life. The future of sourcing So what does the future hold for these two critical ingredients? For cacao, one of two things could happen. Production falls, leading to higher prices, or cacao expands into new regions — most likely cooler upland forests, or new countries, increasing its impact on deforestation and the climate. That is already happening, according to a recent report from Mighty Earth, which found cacao plantations encroaching into protected forests across West Africa. Almost all of this is tied to the global chocolate industry, since plant-based meat is still a small player in cacao, but if its footprint grows, there is a risk that it could contribute to the problem. “Climate, economic displacement, and poor soils are pushing cacao farmers into the forests,” said Gerome Tokpa, the West Africa regional head for Earthworm, a nonprofit. “My fear is that we wake up and it is too late. Companies that source cacao really should be more involved in what is going on on the ground.” Yohannes Samosir, a Sumatra, Indonesia-based agro-scientist and a principal adviser to the coconut company RCA Carbon, has much the same worry for coconut production on his island. “Most of the 3.5 million hectares of Indonesia’s coconut are becoming senile. Unless we do big scale replanting, I don’t think the supply will catch up to the potential increased demand for plant-based meat,” said Samosir. “Should a big plant-based meat company be interested, they could invest in the plantation through a collaboration, or a business-to-business agreement. That would be a good way to secure supply later” while avoiding deforestation. Nithin Coca Cacao beans that have been dried for about three days. These are used to make cacao butter and other products. All this offers an important reminder that all food production has a planetary impact. The environmental footprint of plant burgers pales in comparison to that of meat, but if they manage to reshape how Americans eat, the corresponding shifts in global food production will have real impacts on farmers and critical landscapes in the global south. Plant-based meat companies are responsible for handling those shifts responsibly. Back in Quezon, Ordinado, the struggling coconut farmer, would be happy to provide his crop for use in Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods products. “Imagine if we could learn how to help produce ingredients for plant-based meat such as coconut oil,” said Ordinado. “We can work on the production side, while they can work on the processing side. But we need support, we can’t do it ourselves.” Until that happens, he’ll continue to work partly in construction, and his neighbors will likely continue to cut down or neglect their trees — making the price parity and growth dreams of the plant-based meat industry more challenging. Nithin Coca is an Asia-focused freelance journalist who covers climate, environment, and supply chains across the region. He has been awarded fellowships from the Pulitzer Center, the International Center for Journalists, the Solutions Journalism Network, and the Earth Journalism Network, and his reporting has appeared in outlets in North America, Asia, and Europe, including the Financial Times, BBC Future, Mongabay, Nikkei Asia, Yale E360, China Dialogue, the Nation, and Engadget. The reporting of this story was supported by the McGraw Center for Business Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

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