Protecting tropical forests, whale karaoke, unsustainable farming: 3 stories you may have missed

© CI/photo by Michael Donoghue

Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. The world is watching as California weighs controversial plan to save tropical forests 

California will decide on whether to approve a proposal to protect tropical forests on Thursday.

The Story: On September 19, a state regulatory board in California will vote on whether to approve the Tropical Forest Standard, a blueprint for allowing tropical forest protection initiatives to be included in the state’s programs to cut climate-warming carbon emissions, reported Julia Rosen for the Los Angeles Times. If approved, the money from these programs will fund efforts including reforestation, habitat restoration and renewable energy development.

The Big Picture: “The finance from the trade in offsets creates incentives and funding to support measures to reduce deforestation in places where it matters most,” said Joanna Durbin, director of the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance at Conservation International and a key participant in the development of the Tropical Forest Standard. Tropical deforestation represents about 20 percent of all global annual greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change — and as the Amazon rainforest burns, it is more important now than ever to protect these forests. While critics claim offset programs simply allow companies to displace deforestation from one place to another, the Tropical Forest Standard’s strict guidelines ensure that companies and governments are reducing deforestation levels, while bringing billions of dollars to forest conservation

Read the full story here.

2. In the south Pacific, a humpback whale karaoke lounge

A new study highlights recently discovered song exchanges between large groups of humpback whales. 

The Story: Researchers including Olive Andrews, Conservation International’s marine program manager, discovered a hotspot of humpback-whale singing in the waters surrounding Raoul Island, 1,100 km (700 miles) off the coast of New Zealand in the Pacific, reported Cara Giaimo for the New York Times. As the whales passed the island — a common stop on their migratory routes — researchers were able to use underwater microphones to record and compare the whales’ songs, and discovered that the creatures were actually exchanging song patterns with one another.

The Big Picture: Singing is an important form of underwater communication for humpback whales, often used to navigate or find mates. “This area represents a critical mixing ground for Endangered Oceania humpback whales to culturally learn from each other using song,” said Andrews. Finding these congregations of whales helps ecosystem managers advocate for new marine protected areas and identify locations for increased monitoring of illegal whaling or unregulated fishing. 

Read the full story here.

3. $1m a minute: the farming subsidies destroying the world — report

Government subsidies are funding unsustainable farming that increases emissions and deforestation levels, according to a new report.

The Story: A recent report by the Food and Land Use Coalition shows that unsustainable global farm subsidies are contributing to the climate breakdown, while putting peoples’ livelihoods at risk, reported Damian Carrington for The Guardian. Through taxes, the public is helping provide more than US$ 1 million per minute to global farm subsidies, but only 1 percent of the US$ 700 billion given to farmers annually is used to benefit and conserve the environment. The report concludes that the cost of damage from these subsidies — largely due to high-emission cattle production and deforestation — is actually greater than the overall value of the food produced.

The Big Picture: In light of the recent UN climate report, which urged a mass overhaul of the global food system to help stop climate change, it is important to reassess how governments distribute funding for agriculture. Currently, few government subsidies invest in sustainable agriculture, but increased funding in this area could benefit both the environment and the agriculture sector, resulting in a “societal return” of more than 15 times the original investment required — in the form of jobs, agricultural revenue and food security. 

Read the full story here.

Kiley Price is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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Cover image: Breaching humpback whale. (© Conservation International/Michael Donoghue)



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