Bionic Planet: Your Guide to the New Reality

Earth. We broke it; we own it; and nothing is as it was: not the trees, not the seas – not the forests, farms, or fields – and not the global economy that depends on all of these. Bionic Planet is your guide to the Anthropocene, the new epoch defined by man's impact on Earth, and in each episode, we examine a different aspect of this new reality: sometimes financial, sometimes moral, but always practical.
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Jul 9, 2018

This is the fifth in a five-part series. You can find the first installment here.

US Environmental Protection Agency boss Scott Pruitt is gone – not because of his environmental malfeasance, but because his $43,000 phone booth, his $100,000 trip to Disneyland, and his attempts to get his wife a lucrative job were too tacky even for an administration built on bling.

His replacement, Andrew Wheeler, is less embarrassing but more dangerous. A coal lobbyist until last year, Wheeler is also a long-time adviser to climate-science denier James Inhofe and a sure bet to continue Pruitt’s policies – albeit with more stealth and fewer attention-grabbing abuses of power.

Pruitt’s departure comes just one week after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his own retirement from the US Supreme Court, and those two departures have overshadowed the publication of a document that Pruitt and Army Public Works boss Ricky James dropped on us last Friday – a document that mentions Kennedy 64 times and illustrates as well as anything the underhanded way Pruitt subverts environmental protections: not through argumentation, but through sabotage in the name of regulatory certainty (and just in time for summer break).

It’s a document that will show up on the Federal Register any day now, and that you and any member of the public will then have 30 days to comment on, but which you’ll only understand if you know a bit of history, and that’s by design. It’s part of an effort to torpedo a Supreme Court opinion that Kennedy penned in 2006 – an opinion that builds on decades of precedent and practice, and that provides the foundation for the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule (also known as the “Clean Water Rule”), which sets the ground rules for determining which of the waters of the United States are protected by the Clean Water Act (CWA).

If Wheeler and James can rescind that rule, they’ll manage to undermine the popular Clean Water Act without the voting public knowing until it’s too late, and last week’s document is part of their effort to do just that.

Specifically, it’s a supplemental notice to the Trump Administration’s year-old proposal to repeal the WOTUS rule and instead “recodify” the mess that predated it in accordance with an opinion written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia – an opinion mostly ignored by courts and practitioners, for reasons we covered in earlier installments of this series.

Scalia, as we saw in part three, believed the CWA should only protect “relatively permanent, standing or flowing bodies of water” – basically, lakes rivers, and streams, but not the wetlands or creeks that feed them, and not waterbodies that only flow intermittently.

The repeal would leave 80 percent of US waterways unprotected by federal authorities, and it’s one part of a multi-pronged attack on WOTUS that includes a two-year delay on its implementation and a more insidious order to ignore the local scientists and specialists who review dredging permits and instead “involve the Administrator’s Office early on in the process of developing geographic determinations” – a move that Kyla Bennett, director of science policy for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) described as “a crude Clean Water Act coup d’état.”

“This latest move by Pruitt is his Plan B as it is becoming increasingly clear that his Clean Water rewrite plan is illegal and will be tossed out in court,” she said.

In this, the fifth, final, and long-overdue installment in a five-part series on the Clean Water Rule, we try to offer a clear and simple explanation of the state of WOTUS in the current administration. You can see the first installment here.

More on the Bionic Planet Podcast

The story continues below, but I’ll also be editing audio from the interviews I conducted with Shrader and others for this series into episode 32 of the Bionic Planet podcast, which which I hope to have ready over the weekend. You can access Bionic Planet via iTunesTuneInStitcher, and pretty much anywhere you access podcasts, as well as on this device here:


The story continues below, but here is a timeline to help you keep key dates in order:

  • June 19, 2006: The Supreme Court’s Rapanos v United States split decision introduces massive uncertainty over what are and are not protected waters, sparking hundreds of court cases and demands for clarity. Over time, Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” guidance becomes the rule of the land.
  • August 27, 2015: As the Obama Administration prepares to implement the WOTUS Rule, a district court in North Dakota issues a preliminary injunction against the rule until arguments can be heard, essentially freezing the rule in 13 states.
  • October 9, 2015: The Sixth Circuit Court issues a nationwide stay, which the Obama Administration begins to fight before the 2016 elections sweep Donald Trump into office.
  • February 28, 2017: Donald Trump signs an executive order instructing the EPA to scrap the WOTUS rule and “consider interpreting the term ‘navigable waters’…in a manner consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia.”
  • July 27, 2017: Pruitt and acting Army Civil Works boss Douglas Lamont publish their proposal to rescind the 2015 WOTUS Rule – a move that cannot be challenged in court until the rule becomes official.
  • January 22, 2018: The Supreme Court rules that challenges to the WOTUS rule must be filed in district courts, forcing the Sixth Circuit Court to vacate its nationwide stay but leaving the North Dakota injunction intact.
  • February 6, 2018: With the Sixth Circuit Court’s stay vacated, Pruitt and Lamont implement an “applicability date” two years in the future – namely, in February, 2020 – sparking an immediate court challenge.
  • March 30, 2018: EPA boss Scott Pruitt directs the agency to ignore local experts and defer instead to his own office when issuing permits.
  • June 29, 2018: Pruitt and James issue a supplemental notice to the earlier proposal. The new notice summarizes existing court challenges and argues that their existence introduces more uncertainty than existed before the rule was created.
  • July 5, 2018: Scott Pruitt resigns, and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler is named his replacement.

New Notice, Old Arguments

Last week’s supplemental notice will soon be listed in the Federal Register, after which the public has 30 days to comment on it. Some organizations, like the American Farm Bureau, a longstanding WOTUS opponent, have welcomed the notice.

“The issuance of this additional notice shows that EPA listened to public comments that showed confusion over what was being proposed and why,” they said in a statement. “This supplemental notice will provide a more meaningful opportunity for public comment by clarifying that EPA’s proposal is to permanently repeal the 2015 WOTUS rule because that rule was illegal in multiple respects.”

Beyond clarifying the position, however, the notice does little to bolster the Administration’s claim that the existing rule should be repealed before the agency can “recodify” the mess that the rule was created to fix. After finding that the previous regime was riddled with uncertainty, the agency has a duty to explain why it must repeal the whole rule rather than leaving the rule in place while working to correct whatever problems the agency claims to have found in the rule.

“It’s ironic that they claim they’re doing this to provide certainty, considering the fact that before 2015 there was a world of very little certainty,” says Bethany Davis-Noll, Litigation Director at New York University’s Institute for Policy Integrity. “Getting rid of the 2015 rule doesn’t reduce regulatory uncertainty; it creates regulatory uncertainty.”

In addition, the administration has yet to explain how returning to the confusing regime in place before the 2015 rule complies with the Clean Water Act or how the agency is justified in imposing forgone wetlands benefits on the public.

“Without that explanation, this could be a pretty good lawsuit for anybody who wants to challenge the agency,” says Davis-Noll

That is, in fact, a pillar of the suit currently underway to block the delayed implementation of the rule.

The Lack of Analysis or Reason

This series began back in February, when 11 states sued to block the delay in implementing the WOTUS rule, based in part on their contention that the new applicability date was pulled out of thin air while going through the motions of scientific review and public consultation as required by the Administrative Procedures Act.

A key argument is that the Trump Administration ignored the existing cost/benefit analysis and failed to conduct one of its own. Columbia University Assistant Professor Jeffrey Shrader says the Trump Administration not only overstates the costs of implementing the rule, but ignores the benefits of scenic beauty, resilient agricultural systems, and income from mitigation banking.

“They left out any benefit from mitigation or protection of wetlands,” says Shrader, who co-wrote an analysis called “Muddying the Waters: How the Trump administration is obscuring the value of wetlands protection from the Clean Water Rule”.

Specifically, he points out, the administration simply ignored all wetland benefit studies published between 1986 and 2000 on the premise that their age makes them untrustworthy, but the administration also took its own cost analysis from the same period – despite the fact that more recent studies focused on coastal wetlands show that valuation benefits have increased since then. At the same time, the rise of mitigation banking has both reduced the cost of compliance and created income for people who restore degraded landscapes.

The End of the Restoration Economy?

Proponents of the repeal argue that states will pick up the slack, but current laws evolved because upstream cities and states had little inclination to do that.

“About half of the states have laws on the books that say they cannot implement stricter protection for wetlands than the federal government, and those are the states where the largest at-risk wetlands are located,” says David Groves, a former policy advisor to the Obama Administration who now works as Director of Business Development at The Earth Partners, an environmental consultancy.

“The vast majority of economic activity in the mitigation banking industry is in the southeast, which is made up of states with no state-level protections,” he adds. “Significantly reducing the scope of the Clean Water Act would present an existential threat to the mitigation banking industry and would destroy a huge amount of value.”

The result, he says, would be more taxpayer spending overall, but the costs would flow to downstream states.


Mar 1, 2018
Today I speak with Bronson Griscom, Director of Forest Carbon Science for the Nature Conservancy.
Last year, he headed up a team of three dozen researchers from almost two dozen institutions tasked with identifying once and for all the realistic potential of using nature as a bulwark against climate change.
The result is a report called "Natural Climate Solutions", which identifies 20 low-cost, natural "pathways" that can get us 37 percent of the way to meeting the Paris Climate Agreement targets -- sometimes at no cost, sometimes at just $10 per ton, and often while increasing food yields and reducing the cost of farming.
Jan 30, 2018

Jos Cozijnsen shakes his tangled black mane and adjusts his leathery blue suit – fashioned, it turns out, from overalls discarded by German railroad workers and available through his sustainable clothing company, Goodfibrations.

“[If you have] an office park, the Building Act says how much energy efficiency you need,” he explains. “But if you go to zero energy use, you do much more.”

When it comes to fixing the climate mess, he wants everyone to do much more than the law requires, especially his fellow Dutchmen. Indeed, it seems to bother him immensely that here in the Netherlands – the birthplace of wind energy and the headquarters of Greenpeace – the average Dutchman contributes far more to climate change than does the average Swede, Swiss, or Frenchman.

But the Dutch are also notorious penny-pinchers with fervent pride in their local communities and a deep love of games and puzzles – three traits that he thinks will help them drive emissions down dramatically under a nationwide voluntary carbon program called the Green Deal, which he’s spearheading along with the Ministry of Environment and several environmental NGOs.

The program has been in the works since mid-2016, and it’s slated to go live later this year as a compliment to the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS).

EU ETS is a “compliance” program that legally caps greenhouse-gas emissions on some of Europe’s biggest industries – including electricity, paper, and steelmaking. It requires companies in those sectors to either reduce their emissions or buy offsets from projects that do, but it also leaves more than half of all emissions outside the regulatory apparatus.

The Green Deal is a “voluntary” program, he says, and its goal is to dramatically drive down emissions in un-capped sectors like agriculture and automotive, and to do so by encouraging people to develop carbon projects under existing standards like the Verified Carbon Standard, CarbonFix, and the Gold Standard. The project will encourage un-capped companies and individuals to first reduce emissions by reducing energy use and becoming more efficient, but it will couple that by promoting home-grown projects that generate offsets by planting trees or helping farmers reduce their emissions from methane and other greenhouse gasses. It will include a hub so people can see which type of projects are located where, and it will encourage groups to aim for zero net emissions.

“That’s the fun,” he says. “I can go to zero!”

Like coupon-collectors? I ask.

“Exactly!” he says.

Transitioning to a Post-Paris World

While Cozijnsen publicly emphasizes the “fun” aspect of getting to zero (and becoming, he says, a “carbon hero”), the Green Deal could drive millions into sustainable development projects, and it comes two years after a Dutch court ruled that the government is legally obligated to slash emissions 25 percent before the Paris Climate Agreement comes into effect in 2020.

Cozijnsen, who long represented the Netherlands in global climate talks, sees the Green Deal as a way for the government to meet its pre-2020 obligation, and for companies to prepare for a post-2020 regime, when all sectors will presumably be capped.

Domestic Buying Power

Dutch companies and NGOs are already active in both the voluntary and compliance markets. They transact millions of carbon offsets per year, but that money usually goes abroad – to save and restore forests around the world, according to an analysis of European voluntary carbon markets that Ecosystem Marketplace and EcoStar Natual Talents published last year.

Specifically, the report found, companies and NGOs based in the Netherlands transacted 4.4 million carbon offsets in 2015 alone, helping to build wind farms and save or restore forests across nine countries – from Indonesia and Brazil to Turkey and Uganda.

One country missing from the list: the Netherlands itself, and it’s not alone. The report also found no active land-based projects in France, Spain, or Switzerland, and only a few in Germany, the UK, and Italy.

The German Ministry of Environment has been supporting efforts to develop voluntary carbon programs domestically, and Cozijnsen says similar efforts are underway across the European Union.

Jan 23, 2018

Hundreds of consumer-facing companies have pledged to purge deforestation from their supply chains -- often by only buying products that are certified as being sustainably grown. But what happens when a certified company gets caught cheating? In this case, quite a lot.

Dec 31, 2017

I've produced 19 episodes of Bionic Planet since the election of Donald Trump, mostly focused on the work of people trying to fix the climate mess -- and in today's episode I look back on some of the ones that seemed to resonate most with listeners.

Today's guests include:
Mike Korchinsky, who runs the private conservation group Wildlife Works
Former UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer
Anthony Hobley of the Carbon Tracker Initiative
Christian Christian de Valle of Althelia Ecosphere
Toby Gardner of the Stockholm Environment Institute
Michael Mathres of Zaluvida
Bertrand Piccard of Solar Impulse
Andrew Mitchell of the Global Canopy Programme
Noelle-Claire LeCann and Richard Fronapfel of AlphaSource Advisors
Genevieve Bennett and Brian Schaap of Forest Trends
Marco Albani of Tropical Forest Alliance 2020
Charlotte Streck of Climate Focus
Mark Buckley of Staples
Danna Smith of the Dogwood Alliance
Ally Bahroudi of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility

Dec 1, 2017

More and more countries across the developing world are launching large-scale, climate-smart initiatives to transform the way local communities derive their livelihoods from forests and broader land use. A key component to the success of these programs is engaging the private sector to shift behavior toward sustainable business models.

The World Bank Group’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes (ISFL) have spent years working with private sector companies that produce, trade or buy commodities that play a role in driving deforestation or forest degradation. These funds have gained valuable insights into what has worked, and what more is required to bring about land use change in partnership with the private sector. Early lessons are captured in a new report entitled, Engaging the Private Sector in Results-Based Landscape Programs.

On the eve of the report's launch, I caught up to Elly Baroudy, who coordinates both the FCPF and the ISFL, and Karin Kaechele, who acts as the point person for both funds Whain Mozambique and Ethiopia.

In this episode, we discuss the origin of these two critical funds and explore the role they can play in supporting sustainable agriculture in the years ahead.

Nov 15, 2017

Under the Paris Agreement, countries were asked to present their own climate action plans, and 90 percent of these action plans -- technically called NDCs, for "nationally-determined contributions" -- incorporated farming fixes -- or shiftint to sustainable agriculture.
That led to a major breakthrough this week at year-end climate talks here in Bonn, Germany, where our guest is Tonya Rawe, who runs the Food and Nutrition Security program at CARE International.

CARE is a humanitarian aid organization formed in the wake of World War II, but it's become a key player in the environmental space as well, especially when subsistence farmers are involved. 

Nov 15, 2017

 Towards the end of summer, climate negotiators learned of three trademark applications that were filed in May of this year. One was for the logo “REDDPLUSX”, which is described as a carbon credit brokerage. Another was for the logo “RRU”, which are proposed carbon credits generated by saving or supporting forests under the Paris Agreement.

But it was the third, for the logo REDD+, that raised eyebrows across the climate community.

It raised those eyebrows because scores of organizations already use the acronym “REDD+” to describe activities that reduce greenhouse gasses by saving or reviving endangered forests. The acronym is generally spelled out as “‘reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks”, and it describes as set of mechanisms that generate “reduction units”, which might one day be worth billions of dollars as the world implements the Paris Climate Agreement.

The trademark applications were filed by the Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN), which is a New-York-based entity that promotes forest-carbon initiatives in roughly two dozen countries, and the applications came to light just as one of those countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), proposed a new “Gateway” for handling REDD+ Reduction Units – which, not coincidentally, is what “RRU” stands for.

CfRN executive director Kevin Conrad says he’s just trying to provide clarity in a process that often seems chaotic, but critics say the proposals replicate mechanisms that are already on the table, and some see an effort to control a process that’s designed to be open and inclusive.

Whatever the motives for their creation, the proposals offer insight into the issues being negotiated here in Bonn, so let’s take a quick look.

Who Uses the REDD+ Acronym?

REDD+ began as an experiment in 1988, when US electric company Applied Energy Services (AES) wanted to see if it could reduce its carbon footprint by helping poor farmers in Guatemala manage their land more sustainably (for the full story, see “REDD Dawn: The Birth Of Forest Carbon”). The acronym then was “AD”, for “avoided deforestation”, and the concept evolved over the decades as NGOs continued to experiment with the science. Eventually, the phrase shifted to “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation”, then to “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation”, and finally to one that includes a broader range of land-use activities. At the same time, standard-setting bodies like the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the American Carbon Registry emerged to provide ways of generating carbon offsets by determining which forests were endangered and which procedures can be used to save them.

Within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), however, REDD remained on ice until 2005, when Conrad, as lead negotiator for Papua New Guinea, wrangled it back onto the agenda at Climate Talks in Montreal (COP 11). At the 2013 climate talks in Warsaw, the UNFCCC agreed on the Warsaw Framework for REDD+, which is a cluster of agreements on how to develop REDD+ programs at a national or sub-national level and pay for results. That rulebook was enshrined in the Paris Agreement – which, by the way, rarely uses the acronym but instead spells it out in most cases.

The acronym is, however, used by carbon standards like VCS and Plan Vivo, as well as by sub-national governments like those of the US state of California and the Mexican state of Chiapas – and that, says Conrad, is a problem.

Shades of REDD

In an interview for the Bionic Planet Podcast, scheduled to be posted today, Conrad said that REDD+ should only be used to describe programs that are embedded into national carbon accounting initiatives under the Paris Agreement.

“The REDD+ description under the UNFCC is that you have to have a national plan, you have to have a national monitoring system, you have to have a reference level, you have to write a report of your safeguards, and then you submit your results, and those results have to be independently reviewed by the UNFCCC itself, and then once it goes through that process, emission reductions are issued and put on the REDD+ Hub,” he said. “None of these project have gone through that process, which means they shouldn’t be calling themselves REDD+ projects.”

Currently, REDD+ offsets – meaning emission-reduction units that can be purchased by non-state actors to offset emissions – only exist in the voluntary and regional markets, although voluntary standards are increasingly being embedded in national accounting programs.

Outside of the climate arena, people do often confuse voluntary markets, regional compliance markets, and the overarching UNCCC. It’s common to see voluntary REDD programs described in the media as having been developed under the UN process, when in fact they were developed in parallel, but with an eye on eventually converging. The Mexican state of Chiapas added to the confusion a few years back when it used the acronym to describe a program that funneled auto usage fees into conservation.

All forest-carbon programs are built on scientific guidelines established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and voluntary programs are increasingly being used to fund conservation in Latin America, the Caribbean region, and Africa, according to a regional analysis of voluntary carbon markets that Ecosystem Marketplace published last month. A separate report focused on buyers of voluntary offsets. It found that companies purchase forest-carbon offsets as much for their knock-on social benefits as for their conservation values. As projects and national accounting systems evolve, most of these disparate programs hope to become “nested” within the national framework, and Conrad says buyers will need more clarity to know which are and are not nested. He bristles at accusations by some that the CfRN was trying to corner the term to earn licensing fees.

“So, the idea is to have an official REDD+ logo or mark, that all REDD+ governments can use for free,” he wrote in an open e-mail to members of the REDD+ Working Group on October 24. “This is to help the market-place determine what is real REDD+ and to distinguish it from the ‘pretenders.’”

Other negotiators cried “foul”, and pointed out that existing standards are working with governments to embed their offsets in national accounting systems, and that the UNFCCC, by design, only sets accounting guidelines, and is not meant to act as a standard.

“REDD+ was developed through the UN’s negotiations, which included all the parties to the Convention, and it’s being used around the world by governments, by UN organizations, by civil society, by indigenous peoples,” said Peter Graham, a longtime negotiator for Canada who is now with a consultancy called Climate Advisors.

“You have to ask yourself why a private entity based in Manhattan would try to create a trademark of what I would see as a global public good,” he said, adding: “That same group is proposing a mechanism through another process going on in other rooms, talking about creating a body or entity that would, in effect, control finance for REDD+.”

That entity, officially called the “Gateway to Encourage, Measure, Report, Verify and Account for Non-Party Contributions” was submitted by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Mozambique, Panama, Papua New Guinea, and Uganda. Most negotiators say it will probably not become an agenda item in formal talks, but could become a topic in ongoing informal talks happening on the fringes.

What Does the Gateway do?

The Paris agreement doesn’t explicitly mention carbon markets at all, but instead assumes that countries will develop them domestically. The Agreement’s contribution is to recognize this and to say that countries can trade “Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes” (ITMOs) among themselves to deepen the targets they’ve set in their Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs). (For a deep dive, see “Building On Paris, Countries Assemble The Carbon Markets Of Tomorrow”)

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement lays out two paths that countries can use to trade their emission-reductions internationally, and the two paths are not mutually exclusive. The first is the “cooperative” approach, which lets countries coordinate trading among themselves, provided they follow accounting principles that pass muster with the UNFCCC.

The second path, championed by Brazil, will be forged within the UNFCCC itself and offer a centralized mechanism for transferring emissions reductions.

The Gateway seems to suggest a third way, which Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, DRC’s chief climate negotiator and chair of the CfRN, says will be a UN-sanctioned platform designed to ensure the integrity of emission-reduction units generated by “non-parties”, which are entities that don’t have a seat at the UNFCCC table. They can be cities or states within countries that do have a seat, or they can be companies looking to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’ve realized that in our countries, we often have different private actors that come and implement projects whose quality isn’t clear, whose outcomes are sometimes unfairly distributed,” he said, in an interview that will appear on the Bionic Planet podcast.

“For us, is important that we have a platform, a gateway where different nonparties actors can come and report what they do,” he said. “For us, if what they do comes with high level of environmental integrity, high level of rigor, there will be keen of showing what they are doing.”

Few delegates believe the Gateway will become an official agenda item, but it can become a “political movement” kicking around “voluntary meetings” that were sanctioned in 2013 to make sure that outside voices were being heard.

Oct 28, 2017

The DOGWOOD ALLIANCE is an environmental NGO based in the Southeastern United States -- a region that produces 12 percent of the world's wood, pulp, and paper.

STAPLES is a massive stationary and office-supply chain based up in the northern part of the country, in Massachusetts, and it buys reams and reams of paper from suppliers like Georgia Pacific and International Paper, who in turn buy paper made from trees taken from forests across the very region that Dogwood is trying to protect.

The two organizations haven't always gotten along, and they even fought each other for years before today's guests sat down over beers at a pub in Asheville, North Carolina called Jack of the Wood.

Mark Buckley is the Vice President in charge of environmental affairs for Staples, and Danna Smith runs the Dogwood Alliance.

Oct 28, 2017

Today's episode is different from most: For the most part, it's just raw audio from the Climate Week that we built episode 22 on -- namely, the event where Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 unveiled its 10 keys to slashing deforestation by 2020. 

I didn't edit the audio except to adjust volume levels here and there, and I don't pontificate, proselytize, or prognosticate, except towards the end, where they cut away a video that you obviously can't see with your ears.

Here is a list of speakers:

Marco Albani, Director – TFA2020
Michael Jenkins, President & CEO – Forest Trends
Charlotte Streck, Co-Founder and Director – Climate Focus
Dewi Bramono, Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement, APP
Jillian Gladstone, Senior Manager, Forests, CDP
Ignacio Gavilan, Director of Sustainability, Consumer Goods Forum
Stephen Donofrio, Senior Advisor, Forest Trends
Dharsono Hartono, CEO, Katingan Project
Ashley Allen, Climate & Land Senior Manager, Mars Inc.
Simon Hall, Manager, National Wildlife Federation
Stina Reksten, Senior Advisor, NICFI 
Katie McCoy, Ext. Relations & Knowledge Manager, Partnerships for Forests
Andrew Zollie, VP Global Impact Initiatives, Planet
Nicole Pasricha, Manager, Markets Transformation, Rainforest Alliance
Richard Scobey, President, World Cocoa Foundation
Kavita Prakash-Mani, Practice Leader, Food and Markets, WWF International

Oct 9, 2017



Donuts, deodorant, buns and burgers. They're killing us -- and not just because of what they do to our bodies.

No, it's because of what the soy, beef, and palm-oil that they're made of -- and they paper they're packaged in -- do to the environment.

More specifically, it's because of the way way we get these commodities -- by chopping or degrading forests -- which is one reason that tropical forests now emit more greenhouse gasses than they absorb, according to a study published last month in the journal Science.

But what if I told you we could end this by 2020 -- just two years from now?

I'm not saying we can end all deforestation by 2020, but what if I told you we can purge deforestation from these four commodities -- the ones that drive most of the world's deforestation -- by ramping up ten activities that we're already engaged in -- and have been for decades: that these activities are time-tested, and they're lined up like dominoes, ready to be activated? It's like a giant, simmering pot ready to boil.

Would you believe me?

I hope so, because that's exactly what I'm saying, and it's not just me saying this. It's more than 250 economists, ecologists, and agronomists from around the world, and they're drawing on the experience of environmental NGOand small farming communities from Africa to Asia to Latin America -- as well as the big agribusinesses -- who are, quite frankly, the critical actors in all of this.

Today we're looking at these ten activities, how they fit into 100 more that are getting a lot of attention these days -- as well as where they came from, why they work, and how you can learn more about them.



Earth. We broke it. We own it -- and nothing is as it was. Not the trees, not the seas - not the forests, farms, or fields -- and not the global economy that depends on all of these.

But we can restore it. Make it better: greener, more resilient, more sustainable.

But how? Technology? Geoengineering? Are we doomed to live on a... Bionic Planet? Or is Nature itself the answer?

That's the question we address in every episode of Bionic Planet, a podcast of the Anthropocene -- the new epoch defined by man's impact on earth -- and nowhere is that impact more deeply felt than in the forests, farms, and fields that recycle our air and provide our food.

Today we're looking at lists: two of them, to be specific. One involves 100 solutions that can not only slow climate change, but end it and even reverse it. The other involves ten activities that can accelerate a cluster of the big 100. In between our examination of these two lists, you're going to have to sit through a little history class -- because you won't understand where we're at or where we're going if you don't understand where we came from and how we got here.

Act I


I'm opening today's show with a book review of sorts -- a very short one like the ones that Sister Mary Ann used to ask us to deliver in her English class at Christ the King school in Chicago. It compares and contrasts two best-sellers related to Climate Change. One is called "Drawdown", and it's a recipe book of sorts... for saving the planet. I love this book. The other is called "This Changes Everything", and it's a mess. I hate it -- even though it's more entertaining than the first.

What I love about Drawdown, which is edited by environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken, is that it focuses on concrete, doable ways of fixing the mess.

Specifically, it summarizes 100 solutions that can not only slow climate change, but -- cumulatively -- end it and even reverse it. Of these 100, 80 already exist and are even being implemented, while 20 are listed as "coming attractions".

He categorizes about a quarter of the solutions under either "food" or "land use", and they include things like green agriculture, forest protection, and indigenous peoples' land management -- all of which I cover in this podcast

What I hate about "This Changes Everything" is that it's shrill, sloppy, and dismissive of workable solutions. Its basic story arc is this: "Gee, I just realized this climate stuff is serious, and so I spent a year or so investigating it, and I found that all of the so-called solutions out there only fix part of the problem... none of the fix the whole thing. We need something radical! A total reset of human nature! And I'm just the person to tell you how to do it, and it involves the post office."

On the one hand, in writing the book, Naomi Klein sounded the alarm, which is great, and she even pointed out that we need to radically alter the way we run our economy... which is true... but then she dismisses anything that isn't a magic bullet like the ones that kills vampires... or is it warewolves? Anyway... and either way, she ends up floating a solution that's just as imaginary as those two creatures, while not just ignoring but actively dissing and dismissing solutions like the ones that Hawken highlights in his book 

Now, I get the Daniel Burnham aspect of this -- he's the Chicago architect who said, and I quote, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized."

So, I can see why Klein -- and, in fact, most mainstream writers -- steer clear of wonky, tedious solutions. They're boring.

But our job as reporters isn't just to entertain. It's to act as a kind of scout... going out into the wilderness, seeing what's happening there -- what the threats are, how to avoid them... and then reporting back in a way that clear and concise.

I'm excited about Drawdown for two reasons: first, because it achieves this, and second, because it's become a best-seller -- and it should, because these wonky, tedious solutions aren't little. Each is massive in its own right, and Drawdown looks at 100 of them. What's more, the book's goal isn't just to slow climate change, but to actually end it and reverse it. If that doesn't stir your heart, I don't know what will -- and on that note, I'd to share with you the second half of that quote, which we almost never hear.

"Make big plans," he says. "Aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty."

Nothing there about being simple and pithy, and the emerging solutions to the climate challenge are not always simple, but they are noble, logical, orderly, and beautiful. The Paris Agreement, for example, is a masterwork of diplomacy -- a massive mosaic of thousands of smaller agreements that respect every country and culture on the planet. Likewise, the solutions I'll be examining today emerge from diverse sectors and societies, yet they all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, and they're also integral to the success of the Paris Agreement.

I'm focusing mostly on the corporate sector, because that's where we need to focus our attention if we're going to fix this mess.

The ten solutions we'll be examining in the final segment come from Tropical Forest Alliance 2020.

But what is Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, and how does it influence corporate activities? 

Act 2

Marco Albani

We're basically a platform for private-public collaboration


That's Marco Albani who runs Tropical Forest Alliance 2020. 


Created by US government and CGF

MUSIC: Zydeco


We're going to be focusing on two organizations today, and the Consumer Goods Forum is one of them. It's a coalition of CEOs and top managers from more than 400 retailers, manufacturers, and service providers in 70 countries. It coalesced in 2009, but traces its origin to the aftermath of World War I, when French food merchants were beginning to engage in international commerce again, and needed to know that they were getting good stuff.

But they soon learned that the "war to end all wars" achieved nothing of the kind, and it wasn't until 1953 that the International Committee of Food Chains was born.

This was a commercial enterprise focused on making sure farmers in far-away places were delivering good food to merchants and shopkeepers closer to home, but the parameters of quality control gradually expanded to include labor conditions and environmental impact.

By the 1990s, environmental pressure groups had forced the creation of certification standards for the sustainable production of palm oil and timber & pulp, while other industry groups emerged to promote general food safety.

Then, in 2009, just as climate negotiators were gathering for year-end talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, three of these industry groups -- the Global Commerce Initiative, the Global CEO Forum, and the International Committee of Food Chains -- merged into the Consumer Goods Forum, which is dedicated to promoting fair labor and environmental practices among companies whose sales add up to $3.5 trillion per year.

Now, I'm not so naive as to believe that these companies are all selfless and beneficent. In fact, I even think many of them are selfish and sociopathic, as legal scholar Joel Bakan maintains.

But there are ways of changing that, and these multilateral organizations are one. In fact, research from the Forest Trends Supply Change initiative shows companies that belong to organizations like the Consumer Goods Forum not only make more environmental commitments than companies that don't, but they're also much better at reporting progress towards delivering on those commitments, which is why this matters:


2010 GCF Resolution


Beef, soy, palm oil, and pulp & paper. There they are again -- the big four commodities responsible for most of the world's deforestation, because farmers around the world are chopping forests to grow them. So it's a pretty big deal when 400 companies line up behind a specific pledge to end that. 

But, of course, it doesn't end there. Just as the Kyoto Protocol showed us that government can't do this on its own, common sense tells us that the global, profit-driven corporate sector isn't going to fix our problems on its own, either, despite what free-market fundamentalists like to believe. We need government, we need NGOs, we need indigenous groups... we need them all working together.

So, in 2012, the Consumer Goods Forum and the US government launched the group we're primarily focusing on today: Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 -- or TFA 2020 -- to get all these sectors working towards the goal of changing the way we produce the big four deforestation commodities, so that by the year 2020 we no longer chop forests to do so.


And since then grown... more than 400 partners... business, producers to consumers.

MUSIC: zydeco?


So, you've got the Consumer Goods Forum representing business, and you've got Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 -- or TFA 2020 -- representing all of these diverse interests.

Then, in 2014, as climate negotiators were gearing up for the Lima talks, things get serious.

UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon holds a massive rally in New York designed to turbocharge TFA 2020's mission. The result is the New York Declaration on Forests, which is a pledge to cut the global rate of deforestation in half by 2020, and to end deforestation by 2030 while restoring hundreds of millions of acres of degraded land.

The pledge is endorsed by 36 national governments,  20 sub-national governments -- meaning states and cities -- 15 indigenous organizations, 53 environmental NGOs, and 52 multinational corporations.

The list of companies is interesting: it includes traditional good actors like Danone, Unilever, and Kellogg's -- but also companies with a reputation for doing the wrong thing, like Asia Pulp and Paper -- a longtime environmental pariah once known for grinding pristine forest into pulp.

Dewi Bramono

turn story around


That's Dewi Bramono, Asia Pulp and Paper's Director of Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement, who we'll hear from later in the show.

Most of the audio in today's show comes from an event that Forest Trends hosted in September during New York Climate Week, and Dewi Bramono's presence in that room is proof that companies can change.

The New York Declaration on Forests is a big deal, because you got all of these companies publicly committing to tackle deforestation, and the declaration isn't just a simple statement, but is actually 10 specific goals that -- like all of those 100 solutions in Drawdown -- feed on and reinforce each other. The challenge is holding these companies to their word.

MUSIC: ends

Now we come to 2015: you've got these two global networks and this very public commitment -- how do you turn this into action?

In part by getting everyone on the same page, so the governments of the UK and Norway ramped up funding for TFA 2020, and the World Economic Forum essentially adopted it -- giving it a place to live in Switzerland. That same year, the organization I work for -- Forest Trends -- launched the Supply Change initiative -- that's -- to track not just corporate commitments, but the progress that companies report, and you may have noticed I use them as a resource quite a lot.

Now we come to last year -- 2016. You've got all of these commitments and all of this transparency, and TFA 2020 needed to pull it all together so we could see how far we were from the goal. They asked a dozen leading NGOs to help out, and they put a research-oriented group called Climate Focus in charge.

Then, at last year's climate talks in Marrakesh, they published two reports: one focused on progress towards all ten of the goals outlined in the New York Declaration on Forests, and one focused exclusively on Goal Number Two, which says that, by 2020, we will no longer be chopping forests to produce the big four deforestation commodities.

MUSIC: End zydeco


Goal Two Assessment - 1


Specifically, it's a mixed bag. Using Supply Change data on almost 700 companies, they found less than half of the companies that had made commitments were actually disclosing progress -- although those that did report progress were usually on track to meet their goals. They also found huge variance from company to company -- meaning some great success stories, some shining examples, and a lot of lessons-learned. 


Goal Two Assessment - 2


It's crunch-time, and we need to very quickly harvest the lessons of the last eight years to see what works and what doesn't. Then we need to scale up what works, and do it fast.

So Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 called in "Climate Focus". They're the research-oriented NGO that led the creation of the two earlier assessments.


We started with the New York Declaration


That's Charlotte Streck, who runs Climate Focus.


Then we had a series of workshops... FADE OUT


You get the picture. They didn't just pull this out of thin air, but instead they talked to more than 250 organizations, put their findings out for review, adjusted them, and finally presented them in New York.

SOUND: fade charlotte back in

MUSIC: pensive


So, let's pause again to get our bearings.

We started with 100 activities that can reverse climate change, and we dove into one of them: ending deforestation, which we realized is part of a cluster of activities related to land-use and agriculture.

We in turn found that this cluster was broken into ten specific goals of its own, enshrined in the New York Declaration on Forests. Then we dove into one of those ten goals -- Goal Number Two, the most immediate one: purging deforestation from the big four commodities by the year 2020 -- and we found it's doable.

And now, after diving down to this one goal... we're going to open things up again... to look at the ten priority areas that can help us achieve the goal of purging deforestation from these four key commodities in just two years, which will in turn help us achieve the other 9 goals in the New York Declaration on Forests, which will in turn help us achieve a few dozen of the 100 activities that will help us reverse climate change.



Before we move on, some key points. First:

Charlotte Streck

This is not a step-wise approach


And also, if we do achieve the 2020 goal, the game isn't over.  ,


Need to keep long-term



I'm about to unveil the ten priority areas, but first I have a question for you: do you like this show?

If so, would you like more episodes -- maybe better produced to boot? With a second set of ears and more time for editing?

You can make that possible by giving me a good rating on iTunes or wherever you access the show; you can tell friends about me. Or, best of all, you can become a patron at

I've set the patronage page up so you can support me per episode, but with a monthly cap. So, if you think $5 per month is good for a five-episode month, you can pledge $1 per episode, but with a $5 monthly cap. That way, if I don't manage to generate five episodes in a month, you're not paying for something you didn't get, and if I go nuts and deliver 20 episodes one month, you won't get whacked, either. By the same token, you can offer $5 per episode... or 10 or 50 or whatever. 

I'm sitting on a ton of material -- Interviews and audio I gathered as far back as June -- and I'm itching to share it with you in ways that make sense. But I've got a day job, and I've got to pay the bills, too, and I'm not even close to breaking even on the podcast. I like the idea of being listener supported, but am also open to big sponsors, advertisers, or investors to cover my costs, hire some help, and scale this up. The web site, again, is, or you can e-mail me at

MUSIC: end music

Act 3

SOUND: drumroll


And now, the moment you've all been waiting for. The ten priority areas for purging deforestation from the supply chains of the big four deforestation commodities by the year 2020. Beginning with 

SOUND: gong


point 1


So, what does this mean? I'll let Michael Jenkins explain it. He runs Forest Trends, which means he signs my checks... but I think the group does good work, too, which is why I work for them.

Michael Jenkins

Forest Trends Illegality Report 1


He means illegal conversion of forests to farms or fields.


Forest Trends Illegality Report 2


Let that sink in for a moment. In fact, let's hear it again.


Forest Trends Illegality Report echo


So, while we do need better legal frameworks, we also need to enforce the laws already on the books -- as Brazil showed when it slashed deforestation 70 percent between 2004 and 2014. If you listened to Episode 20, you heard how good-acting companies can also support enforcement -- something Charlotte also alluded to.


companies can help


Companies that are good with the law can also boost their bottom line by building up trust with importers abroad -- as Asia Pulp and Paper is doing in Indonesia.




It's the right thing to do -- and it certainly can't hurt their status with global buyers.

SOUND: drumroll


And that brings us to...



2- palm certificatin


Palm oil is in everything from donuts to soap to after-shave. You probably use it but don't even know it.


Palm Oil is one of the main drivers


Remember we talked about certification on the start? Supply Change data shows that of the big four commodities, companies are making the most progress in reducing deforestation around two of them: palm oil and timber and pulp -- mostly because we started seeing certification of these back in the 1980s. Today, about 21 percent of palm oil is certified by the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO. The challenge is twofold: getting consumers to pay a premium for this, and extending certification to more forests.


We don't have sufficient demand

SOUND: drumroll


Then comes the next priority

SOUND: gong


3 beef intensification


"Sustainable intensification of cattle grazing"... that basically means raising more cows on the same piece of land, so that you don't have to keep chopping forests to graze them. 


Beef is responsible for more...


In episode 7 of Bionic Planet, we saw how Kenyan farmers are using agroforestry to increase milk production -- they plant trees in among their crops to pull nitrogen from the air and infuse it into the soil, and they turn the leaves into silage for their cows. That's just one solution, and there are dozens of them. Ideally, we should all eat less beef, but for now we can reduce the amount of land used to raise the ones we do have.


we know that we can

SOUND: drumroll

SOUND: gong


Which brings us to...


4 palm and cocoa intensification


Cocoa is not one of the big four, but it's a huge contributor -- and it's mostly produced by small farmers working in cooperatives.


More than 30 percent of palm oil and 90 percent of cocoa


The report shows that small palm-oil producers can increase their productivity 85 percent without chopping more trees.


 These smallholders


So, that gets us through three of the big four, plus cocoa -- or cacao, as the threes themselves are called.

Ignacio Gavilan

what about soy - 1


Yes -- what about soy? That, by the way, is Ignacio Gavilan, Director of Sustainability, for the Consumer Goods Forum.


what about soy - 2

SOUND: drumroll


And that brings us to...

SOUND: gong



5 sustainable soy


Up until 2006, farmers across the Brazilian Amazon were chopping forest like mad to grow soy, but then something changed: Companies like McDonalds -- responding to pressure from groups like Greenpeace -- voluntarily stopped buying soy from Amazon farmers who chop trees to grow the stuff. The soy moratorium is just one example of a successful multilateral effort to fix the climate mess. 


it is important


Certification programs are ridiculously expensive and notoriously difficult to manage -- I mean, this is really complex stuff. A company like McDonalds buys beef from slaughterhouses like Marfrig or JBM, and those slaughterhouses buy from thousands of small farmers. To really do this right, we have to scale up 

SOUND: drumroll


And that's where the next priority area comes in

SOUND: gong


6 - accelerating implementation of jurisdictional


"jurisdictional" means governmental -- it can be federal, it can be state, it can be county, or even city. If you get an entire state like Sabah in Malaysia or California in the United States to make sure it's farmers are producing fruits and veggies in a sustainable way, companies can buy there without spending a fortune to certify each producer individually.


we have screened 34


The state of Sabah, in Malaysia, for example, is working with several NGOs that have coalesced into an alliance called "Forever Sabah"

Cynthia Ong

jurisdictional 1


That's Cynthia Ong, who runs a group called "Land, Empowerment Animals, People" or LEAP. She's also one of Forever Sabah's co-executive directors.


jurisdictional 2


Even big companies like Asia Pulp and Paper have realized they can't access certified material on a large scale one plantation at a time.


landscape jurisdiction


There are scores of efforts underway -- the Rainforest Alliance is also doing great work, which you can learn about if you listen to episode 23 -- that episode will have the raw audio from this event without me interjecting every few minutes. It's kind of long, but if this episode sparked your interest, I think you'll find the full event worth listen to.

SOUND: drumroll


But for now, we move on to...



7 - land security and land rights


This is another one we've addressed here before: indigenous and traditional communities tend to have a strong connection to their land. Studies have shown they usually -- not always, of course, but usually -- maintain their forest and want to keep it, but their legal rights to the forests are often in limbo. That leaves them vulnerable to speculators, and also less willing to invest too much in the forest


Uncertainty of land.


Another thing to remember: people in developing countries buy stuff, too

SOUND: drumroll


Which brings us to:

SOUND: gong


Goal: Mobilizing demand in emerging markets


Remember earlier, when we talked about certification? We learned that 21 percent of all palm oil is certified by the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil, or the RSPO. One reason it's not higher is that people still, for the most part, buy whatever is cheapest, so it's not worthwhile for producers to spend all that money getting certified -- and that's even more so in developing countries.

Kavita Prakash-Mani of WWF is working to change that.

Kavita Prakash-Mani

21 percent


In addition to this: domestic demand


We're getting near the end here, folks -- so far, we've talked a lot about producers and consumers, but what about investors?

SOUND: drumroll


That brings up our next priority area:



Redirecting Finance


This is something we cover a lot on bionic planet, and it's the core of what we cover at Ecosystem Marketplace.

Investors are still backing the bad actors, and they'll continue to do so until they realize that environmental bad actors are also financial bad risks -- but they'll only realize that if we all hold the bad actors accountable and support the good ones.

We've seen some progress on this front over the past year, with HSBC manning up to some investments that led to deforestation and pulling the plug. You can learn more about that in an article I wrote for Ecosystem Marketplace called "Why HSBC's Recent Response To Greenpeace Really Is A Very Big Deal", and I link to that in show notes for this episode, which is episode 22 at

We're also seeing governments like Norway's stepping up with finance for sustainable forest management.

Stina Reksten

private-sector-capital 1


That's Stina Reksten of Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative. She's helping to launch a new fund, together with the Global Environment Facility, Unilever, and IDH -- which is a Dutch sustainable trade initiative.


private-sector-capital 2


But that's just a sneeze in a hurricane compared to the $55 trillion global economy


we have the finance


But finance doesn't flow with guidance

SOUND: drumroll


And that brings us to...

SOUND: gong




This is where we come in. I already mentioned Supply Change -- that's -- and we did another episode -- episode 11 -- focused on a platform called TRASE, which lets you trace soybeans from specific municipalities in Brazil to ports around the world. There are plenty of other efforts, and Nicole Pasricha of Rainforest Alliance outlined one that they're participating in.

Nicole Pasricha

point 10


That might sound boring and wonky, but the whole issue of comparability is critical -- because if you can't compare what different countries, companies, and counties are doing, you can't reject -- or reform -- the bad guys and reward the good

Remember Ignacio Gavilan of the Consumer Goods Forum? He pointed out that member firms didn't know how much soy they used. So his group created a solution


soy ladder


Ignacio Gavilan wrapping up this edition of Bionic Planet -- which is a bit different than most episodes. I usually like to dive deep into an issue, but this time, we kept it pretty high-level. I hope to revisit all of these activities in more detail, and if you think that would be of value, be sure to help me out by sharing Bionic Planet with friends and giving me a good rating on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you access podcasts. You can also help by becoming a patron at -- where you can show your appreciation for as little as $1 per month.

If today's show sparked your curiosity, be sure to download episode 23 as well. That one will contain the full audio from the Climate Week session that I harvested for this. If you're a paid patron, I will not be charging for episode 23, but rather just uploading that as a public service.

Until next time, I'm Steve Zwick in Rotterdam. Thanks for listening!

Aug 17, 2017

If you know anything about IKEA Group, the giant Scandinavian furniture company, you know that most of their products are made of wood, and you may even know that they're one of the "good" companies that tries to buy only products that are sustainably harvested.

They've pledged that, by 2020, 100 percent of their wood, pulp, and paper will either be recycled or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as sustainably produced. So far, they're on track to achieve that, according to the Forest Trends Supply Change initiative -- which tracks the progress companies report towards achieving environmental commitments. The Supply Change entry for IKEA shows the company was 61 percent of the way towards achieving its 2020 goal as of March of this year.

Two months earlier, my colleague Kelley Hamrick at Ecosystem Marketplace published a report called "State of Private Investment in Conservation 2016", which I was flipping through this morning while researching today's show. In so doing, learned that IKEA has also started investing in forests all across Europe -- explicitly to make sure those forests are managed in ways that serve a larger public good, and in so doing help the company meet its sustainability commitments.

As of January, when the report came out, IKEA had purchased about 100,000 hectares of forest in Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltics, and it had earmarked more than 1 billion more dollars for investing in sustainable forestry.

Make no mistake: they're doing this to make money, but do do so in a sustainable way, and that means this qualifies as "impact investing", which is any investment that's designed to generate both a profit and a larger public good.

The Global Impact Investing Network has identified more than $30 billion of impact investments in the last three years, and Kelley's report, which I alluded to above, identified about $8 billion earmarked for impact investments specifically involving forests, farms, and fields -- all of which need to be better managed if our civilization is to survive the climate challenge.

Now, $8 billion is nothing to sneeze at, but it really is just a sneeze in a hurricane compared to the $55 trillion global economy. What's more, on top of that $8 billion, another $5 billion was allocated, but went uninvested.

Today we speak with Noelle-Claire LeCann and Richard Fronapfel, who run impact investment group AlphaSource Advisors and see big opportunities for people who want to make money by helping the world better manage its forests, farms, and fields in the Anthropocene

Aug 10, 2017

Have you ever heard of a company called Marfrig Global Foods? How about JBS?

Hint: JBS is named after "Jose Batista Sobrinho", a Brazilian rancher who's something like the Oscar Meyer of Brazil, only much bigger.Yes, JBS and Marfrig are two of the world’s largest meatpackers, and you’ll find their products in Walmart and McDonald’s in the United States, Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom, Albert Hein in the Netherlands… but usually with someone else's name on it.

Both companies grew at the expense of the Amazon Biome, which which farmers have been chopping to grow soy and graze cattle. That started in the 1950s, and it accelerated for decades -- until about ten years ago, when consumer-facing companies like the ones I just mentioned started getting pressure from their customers, thanks to environmental groups like Greenpeace and others - and that led to something called the “Cattle Agreements”, which  are  a set of voluntary commitments to stop buying from any farms that either chop forest to graze cattle, use slave labor, or graze on indigenous or protected lands.

The Cattle Agreements came three years after grain companies like Cargill and Louis Dreyfuss agreed to a similar moratorium on soy products from the Amazon. More recently, something like that started happening in Indonesia as well. There companies like Wilmar and Asia Pulp & Paper started changing the way they buy their pulp, paper, and palm - often in cooperation with competitors.

All of these initiatives have two things in common: they involve the big four commodities that drive most of the world's deforestation – namely, cattle and soy in Brazil and palm and pulp & paper in Indonesia – and they’re largely led by the private sector, usually in response to NGO pressure, and only rarely in coordination with government agencies. Indeed, about 500 companies have pledged to reduce their impact on forests, according to the Forest Trends Supply Change initiative, which tracks corporate deforestation commitments relevant to the big four commodities.

But what about the governments? After all, both Indonesia and Brazil have created detailed climate action plans, and both of those efforts involve saving forests. That matters, because deforestation generates between 15 and 20 percent of the greenhouse gasses that man is responsible for emitting, and these two countries account for about 40 percent of the world's deforestation, according to a new report called “Collaboration Toward Zero Deforestation: Aligning Corporate and National Commitments in Brazil and Indonesia”, which looks at the ways government and the private sector are – and are not – cooperating to reduce greenhouse gasses from deforestation.

Created jointly by Forest Trends and the Environmental Defense Fund, the report identifies more than a dozen initiatives, some led by NGOs or the private sector, others led by governmental agencies, and most existing in their own silos instead of working together in unison. Today’s guests: the authors of that report: Brian Schaap of Forest Trends and Breanna Lujan of Environmental Defense Fund.

Jul 19, 2017

Our show today starts with two French communes -- namely, Contrexéville and Vittel -- because these two have some of the cleanest, purest water in all of Europe, but they also almost didn't.

Up until 1992, the farms here -- like those across Europe and around the world -- had been dribbling pesticide and cow poop into the water, while home-owners and businessmen had been doing the same for crude oil and other pollutants.

But then the communes undertook a massive environmental overhaul.

Farmers started getting rid of their cows and weaning themselves off of pesticides by rotating their crops in ways that didn't give bugs a chance. Home-owners and businesses started digging up their oil tanks and replacing them with natural gas installations. Today, more than 90 percent of the land in both communes is under some sort of environmental protection.

But this overhaul wasn't led by environmental regulators. It was led by a private company with a very clear incentive.

The company was Swiss food giant -- and perpetual water bad boy -- Nestlé, and its incentive was the fact that its lucrative Vittel, Contrex and épar mineral waters were only lucrative because they're certified as "natural". To keep that certification, they had to clean up the rivers that feed the aquifer that in turn feeds the springs that the waters gurgle up from.

The stakes were high enough – and the incentive strong enough – that Nestlé created a separate consultancy called Agrivair and spent more than €24.5 million throughout the 1990s “to design a system to either compensate farmers for their change in practice, or acquire the land and lease it for free under conditions targeting groundwater protection,” according to a new report called “State of European Markets 2017: Watershed Investments”.

The report is one of three market outlooks that the Forest Trends initiative Ecosystem Marketplace created to support a cluster of new online university courses launched by green businesses accelerator ECOSTAR to help organic farmers, watershed managers and other “green entrepreneurs” better understand the business elements of their respective missions. The ecosystem services e-learning course will run from October to December, and the application deadline is September, 30th. You can learn more at

The Agrivair project still pays farmers an average of €200 per hectare to keep things green, and it’s one of more than a dozen “payments for ecosystem services” (PES) programs highlighted in the three reports. Lead author Genevieve Bennett, a Senior Associate at Ecosystem Marketplace, says the project illustrates the ability of companies to provide resources when properly incentivized. She adds, however, that private and public interests rarely line up so neatly, and that such projects work best within a well-structured regulatory environment.

“You don’t really want a private company taking a lead on decisions about water resources management in your basin,” she says in an extensive, 45-minute interview that will run on episode 19 of the Bionic Planet podcast, which is set to be posted on Monday, 17 July. “That’s a public issue…but where there is a seat for the private sector at the table is contributing resources: if you’re a beverage company and you’re concerned about clean water and you want to kick in some funding to help pay for that…that’s a positive thing.”

Jul 13, 2017

Today we speak with Andrew Mitchell, founder and director of the Global Canopy Programme (GCP).
A zoologist by training, Andrew realized that to save the forest, he had to leave the forest and enter the economic system that was impacting it. So he founded and runs GCP in Oxford and recently became a Senior Adviser to Ecosphere Plus, which is an impact investment group that funnels money into sustainable land-use. I caught up to him in May at the Innovate4Climate conference in Barcelona.
I first met Andrew at the 2007 climate talks in Bali, Indonesia, when I was just starting to learn about the impact that forestry and farming had on climate change and how our consumption patterns fit into that. I'd done some research on my own and then plunged into the deep end -- jumping from technical panel to technical panel, and sleeping just four hours per night for two weeks.Andrew stood out from most of the other science guys because of his ability to communicate complex issues in simple ways -- which is a rare skill. More importantly, his ideas have stood the test of time, while a lot of the simple communicators are oversimplifying or speaking from a position of ideology instead of science.As I mentioned, we spoke at the Innovate4Climate conference in Barcelona.

Jun 19, 2017

When UK retailer Marks & Spencer launched its ambitious sustainability strategy in early 2007, it dubbed the strategy “Plan A” to remind us that we have just one planet, so there is no Plan B.

Plan A amounted to nothing less than a complete restructuring of the company’s supply chain – from the thousands of small farmers who produce its raw materials to the millions of people who buy its products – and it launched with an ambitious list of 100 commitments covering everything from the way it treats its partners to the health and well-being of its employees.

Despite the name, Plan A was designed to change over time, with an initial five-year phase ending in 2012 and leading to a more ambitious second phase, and then another after that. By late 2009, however, it was clear that the project had succeeded in galvanizing the workforce and winning over suppliers, but it wasn’t resonating with customers.

“Internally, Plan A has been a powerful change brand, helping 75,000 M&S employees and 2000 suppliers to see the links between activities as disparate as taking trans fats out of food, reducing energy use and promoting Fairtrade,” wrote Mike Barry, the company’s director of sustainability, in a 2009 piece for the UK marketing magazine “Campaign”.

“Consumers buy more deeply into sustainability when they are engaged in change, and not just told about it,” he continued, explaining the company’s 2009 decision to add a consumer-facing tagline: “Doing the right thing”, coupled with an education campaign.

Overhaul for the Long Haul

The 2008 banking crisis hit the retail sector hard, but by late 2009 Plan A had achieved 45 of its 100 commitments; and in 2010, auditors attributed £50 million of extra profit to Plan A – mostly because of energy efficiency and streamlined procurement costs. But Rose decided to leave the company that year, and one of his final acts was to initiate an early end to the phase one so that the sustainability team could harness the lessons learned for a new five-year phase through 2015, with regular five-year intervals after that.

“It might take 20 or 25 years to build a truly sustainable Marks & Spencer, and you can’t have a 25-year plan in retail,” says Barry. “Things change by the day, the week, the month.  So what we had to have is a recognition that every few years – and five’s a nice cycle – we’d update the plan, and think about where to go next with it.”

Rose’s successor, Marc Bolland, recommitted to Plan A, which added 80 more commitments for the 2010-2015 period. By 2012, Plan A was delivering a net benefit of £105 million, according to that year’s annual report.

“The substantive part of this benefit comes from improved resource efficiency, although we are now deriving extra benefits from initiatives that drive our existing business and from new revenue streams,” it said.

To engage customers, they decided to crystallize their strategy into distinct Plan A Attributes, “and we decided that every M&S product has to have a Plan A story to tell by 2020,” says Barry.

What is a Plan A Attribute?

“In most cases, a Plan A attribute will be a well-recognized external environmental and social standard such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified wood or Fairtrade certified cotton,” the 2011 annual report said. “Where external standards don’t exist we work with others to develop our own approach which is credible and robust.”

The annual reports hint at rigorous internal debates over what is and is not a Plan A Attribute, and each attribute is clearly defined and documented. Even before settling on a list of Attributes, however, the company agreed make sure that half of all products sold had one by 2015. By 2012, they had identified 55 attributes – 40 for M&S food and household products and 15 for M&S clothing and home products. By 2013, that number had risen to 70, and by 2014 – one year ahead of schedule – 56 percent of all products sold had at least one attribute.

Peruse their shelves today, and you’ll find familiar standards like Fairtrade as well as in-house standards like Forever Fish, but Barry says the company has a long way to go.

“Metaphorically, we are but 25% sustainable,” he says. “At least 75% of the journey lies ahead.”

And that journey, he says, can’t progress in a meaningful way unless we fix the entire ecosystem within which M&S operates. After all, the company’s $23 billion in revenue amounts to a rounding error in the $100 trillion global economy.

“Tiny little M&S is not going to make the world’s palm oil production sustainable on its own,” says Barry. “It needs to work with Unilever, with Coke, with Pepsi, with Walmart and all the others to make sure we can move the industry together.”

All of those companies have joined multilateral sustainability groups like the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), where M&S plays a leadership role.

A “System Change”

“We have to be part of a system change, and that system change is, in part, because all of the retailers that we work with at the Consumer Goods Forum and Sustainable Brands line up and specify the same high standard of expectation of their supply chains,” Barry says

Such cooperation does seem to be generating results, according to a report called “Tracking Corporate Commitments to Deforestation-Free Supply Chains, 2017”, which the Forest Trends Supply-Change published in March.

The initiative looked at 35 collective efforts and found that at least 95% of the companies participating in such groups had pledged to reduce their impact on forests.

Meanwhile, Plan A continues to evolve. Earlier this month, current CEO Steve Rowe unveiled the plan through 2025, and it includes a plan to support 1,000 communities and benefit 10 million people – making M&S one of more than 100 companies to explicitly


Jun 16, 2017

It's been almost a year since a Swiss engineer/businessman named André Borschberg and a Swiss psychiatrist/balloonist named Bertrand Piccard completed the first-ever around the world flight in a solar-powered airplane -- the Solar Impulse 2, a machine that could, theoretically, fly forever without every pausing to refuel.

But this wasn't just an adventure. It was a mission to show that we can meet the climate challenge, and it's a mission that Bertrand Piccard is still continuing. 

I ran into him in late May at the Innovate4Climate Summit in Barcelona, where he launched something called the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions, which aims to identify and fund 1000 profitable climate-change solutions by the end of 2018.

I'll be adding a complete article from Ecosystem Marketplace to the show notes for Episode 16 at, so be sure to check back next week. Also, if you want to visit the Alliance's site directly, go to

Jun 8, 2017

More than 1.5 billion cows are spread across the planet, each with four stomachs.  That's six billion stomachs emitting methane -- a powerful greenhouse gas that captures about eighty times more heat -- or contributes about eighty times as much to climate change -- as carbon dioxide does, at least in the short term.

Now a new product called Mootral -- like "Neutral" but with a Mooo instead of a Nooo -- aims to slash those emissions by killing off the bad bacteria in the stomachs of cows and other "ruminants" -- which is what we call four-stomached beasts like cows, goats, and sheep.By killing off the bad bacteria, Mootral makes the animals healthier and slashes the methane in their burps by about 30 percent. Can this new tool help to slow climate change? 

Here is the Mootral web site:

Topics: climate change, mootral, cows, methane, carbon offsetting

May 30, 2017

With the United Kingdom on the brink of leaving the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS), the United States locked in the inertia of a Donald Trump presidency, and populism stoking fears of slackening commitment to meeting the climate challenge, support for carbon markets is coming from two once-unlikely sources: namely, risk-adverse corporate boards and China, according to the International Emission Trading Association’s (IETA) annual Greenhouse-Gas Market Sentiment survey, which was released last week at the Innovate4Climate conference in Barcelona one day after Ecosystem Marketplace’s latest survey of voluntary carbon market practitioners, Unlocking Potential: State of Voluntary Carbon Markets 2017.

The Ecosystem Marketplace report identified transactions for roughly 63 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) last year, including the 1 billionth metric ton transacted since the first State of Voluntary Carbon Markets Report in 2006. That represents a 24 percent drop from 2015, in part because two large participants failed to respond to the survey.

The total value was $191.3 million, and the report comes as governments around the world begin scaling up mandatory cap-and-trade programs to accelerate emission-reductions under the Paris Climate Agreement. In the past, governments have used voluntary carbon programs to incubate mandatory trading systems like the one currently underway in California. There are currently no plans for such incubation efforts, but the Dutch government recently became the latest government to formally endorse voluntary markets as a way to test new strategies and promote emission-reductions at home. At the same time, some voluntary offset types could be recognized under the aviation industry’s global cap-and-trade program, which kicks in after 2020.

The Need for a PR Offensive

The IETA report, which is built on a survey of 135 IETA members from across the globe and conducted by PwC, led to calls for a major “PR offensive” to counter populist rhetoric and anti-science propaganda, which reporter Jane Meyer ties to Koch Brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, John M. Olin, and the DeVos and Coors families in her book “Dark Money“.

“The high of seeing the Paris Agreement enter into force last year was tempered by an increase in populist political movements that have pushed climate change down the agenda,” says IETA President and CEO Dirk Forrister. “While the changing political headwinds are cause for concern, we are encouraged by those that are stepping up to lead on climate action. Nationalism and isolationism won’t solve this global problem.”

Still, 77% of respondents said that climate change is a board-level priority, and 90% said board-level engagement has either increased or stayed the same in the past year.

On the voluntary carbon front, the majority of offsets sold came from programs that save endangered forests using mechanisms collectively known as REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, plus other land-use initiatives) and wind projects. Landfill methane projects followed as another top project type.

A disturbing 54.4 MtCO2e of offsets went unsold.

In addition to the above podcast, Hamrick will appear in two webinars we’re hosting on June 6th and 7th. For more resources and to download the free report, visit this page.

May 11, 2017

One hundred and forty-four countries have ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, and 143 of them say they'll stay-in-it – even if Donald Trump pulls the United States out. But staying in and delivering what you stayed in to do are two different things. One way to track progress is to track laws, and a newly-updated database tracks over 1200 of them.

11 May 2017 | The United States may be backsliding on climate under President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled House and Senate, but the country still has 8 federal laws related to climate change and 6 climate policies; and hundreds of lawsuits are going on, including 54 under the Clean Air Act alone.

Those numbers come from two databases: “Climate Change Laws of the World”, housed at the London School of Economics, and “US Climate Change Litigation”, housed at Colombia University.

Together, they track more than 1,200 climate change or climate change-relevant laws worldwide – up from a mere 60 in 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol came into force. The LSE has spent the last few months combing through the data, and published their findings on May 9.

Laws as Proxy for Progress

Countries won't officially take stock of their progress under the Paris Agreement until 2023, when they sit down and see who did what and how everyone can do more, but at this point we don't even know exactly what activities countries will be taking stock of. 

That “stocktaking” is one of the things negotiators are negotiating this week and next in Bonn, Germany, but for now we just have proxies – like renewable-energy growth, rates of deforestation, and of course legal frameworks.

May 8, 2017

Climate negotiators are meeting in Bonn, Germany, the next two weeks to move the Paris Climate Agreement forward – even as Republicans in the United States seem intent on moving it backward. Most countries say they want the US to stay in the agreement, but there’s reason to believe it will be better off without us.

8 May 2017 | The dark-haired man looked haggard and world-weary as he leaned towards the microphone.

“We ask for your leadership,” he told US Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, with cameras running and the world watching.

“We seek your leadership,” he continued. “But if for some reason you’re not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please, get out of the way!”

The year was 2007, and the young man was Kevin Conrad, who represents Papua New Guinea in UN climate talks. The place was Bali, Indonesia, where George W Bush’s US negotiating team had been gunking up talks with silly games and doublespeak. The words perfectly captured the exasperation in the room, and delegates roared in rare applause. Bush’s team backed down.

But ten years on, it’s déjà vu all over again, except this time the world isn’t haggling over how to fix the climate mess. Instead, negotiators are meeting in Bonn, Germany this week and next to begin implementing the bottom-up fix that the world has already agreed on – a fix the United States was instrumental in creating: namely, the Paris Climate Agreement, which is a flexible framework that gives every country the leeway to meet the climate challenge as it sees fit.

It does require the creation of science-based rules for measuring and monitoring emissions, and the world’s media should be focused on the substantive efforts to develop a detailed rulebook for handling international cooperation on emission-reductions. Instead, however, the Trump Show has stolen the spotlight, and media is preoccupied with the question of whether Trump will or will not pull out of the landmark accord.

Most reports focus on the tragedy of him leaving, but some insiders fear the opposite: namely, that he’ll stay in and sabotage progress.

Gus Silva-Chavez is one of those. A longtime NGO observer, Silva-Chavez now runs the Forest Trends REDDX initiative, which tracks carbon finance – finance that depends on accurate measurements of greenhouse-gas emissions and reductions, as well as rigorous tracking of international carbon transfers.

It’s complicated stuff, but 99 percent of the work has already been done. Silva-Chavez, however, fears the Trump team will either complicate it even more or try to “streamline” it, which would undermine the environmental integrity of the system.

“They could go in and say, ‘The UN is not going to tell the US what to do,’” he says in an interview to appear on today’s episode of the Bionic Planet podcast. “They could say, ‘We don’t need an extensive, detailed rulebook. All we need are the basics, and we’re not going to agree to anything more.’”

That, he says, could slow the talks without formally appearing to do so, just as Republican strategists undermined civil rights while formally protecting “freedom”. Also, he adds, while the US stands alone now, any opposition could provide cover for other countries to also bail or stall.

“Right now, on the record, every country is saying the right thing: that they’ll toe the line,” he says. “But that could change if the US breaks its word.”

If that sounds far-fetched, we need just look back to the bad old days of the second Bush administration, which handed negotiations over to a previously unknown and famously unqualified congressional staffer named Harlan Watson.

The Triumvirate of Obstruction

Watson was a human wrench tossed into the gears of global diplomacy by ExxonMobil for the sole purpose of grinding those gears to a halt. For that task, we was actually well-suited, and his name elicits such visceral feelings of disgust among those who were there that it probably warrants a trigger warning. The parallels to today are frightening: ExxonMobil inserted Watson into the Bush administration via a fax “which Exxon Mobil spokesman Russ Roberts said was sent by the company but not written by any of its employees,” as Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin put it – foreshadowing the daily doublespeak that Sean Spicer now spews at every White House presser.

Watson, along with Dobriansky and energy industry lawyer James Connoughton, formed an unholy Triumvirate of Obstruction that neutered the US on the world stage, and as an example, you can look to Bali: after months of stalling and flip-flopping, Watson said the US would only sign an agreement without targets or numbers because “once numbers appear in the text, it prejudges the outcome and will tend to drive the negotiations in one direction.”

After another collective groan from delegates, it was former US Vice-President Al Gore’s turn to speak.

“My own country, the United States, is mainly responsible for obstructing progress at Bali,” he admitted, but “over the next two years the United States is going to be somewhere it is not now….One year and 40 days from today, there will be a new (presidential) inauguration in the United States.”

He argued that even a watered-down agreement was better than nothing, so delegates passed an agreement that met all of Watson’s criteria, but Dobriansky still rejected it, prompting Conrad’s famous, exasperated retort and Dobriansky’s about-face.

As we all know now, Barack Obama won the next election, and his team incrementally helped shepherd the talks that resulted in the Paris Agreement – an incredibly flexible approach to fixing the climate mess that encourages a race to the top instead of binding targets.

Optimists like former Dutch negotiator Jos Cozijnsen point out that, from a rational perspective, the United States has no reason to either leave or torpedo the agreement.

“It’s not rational… and this is not Kyoto,” says Cozijnsen, who now advises environmental NGOs, referencing the Kyoto Protocol. “You can’t block anything anymore, and there is no reason for the US to do so.”

The Trump team, however, isn’t rational, either; and while they can’t formally block, they can gunk things up. Or they can get out of the way.

Dec 2, 2016

Today we examine an amazing new tool called "Trase", which launched at year-end climate talks in Marrakesh, Morocco.

It shows you something we've always known was there, but could never see: namely, 320,000 supply threads, going from individual municipalities in Brazil, through local brokers, to importers in countries around the world.

With it, you can see which trading companies are buying soybeans form municipalities where farmers are chopping forests to grow them, and companies can see, too.

It's a tool that good companies can use to reduce their impact on forests, and that watchdogs can use to keep bad companies honest. 

Read the companion story on Ecosystem Marketplace:

Can “Radical Transparency” Save Forests And Slow Climate Change?

Bionic Planet is also available on iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, and elsewhere.

Nov 27, 2016

US president-elect ​Donald Trump claims to have an open mind on climate science, but he put an unabashed climate-science denier in charge of his environmental transition team, and he says he'll slash NASA's climate-monitoring capabilities.

Might a president who doesn't believe in climate science still find it worthwhile to stay in the Paris Agreement? And who will pick up the slack if he doesn't?

These are questions we addressed in three stories on Ecosystem Marketplace:

Can Individual US States, The Private Sector, And The International Community Fix The Climate Despite Trump Election?” came the day after the election, and pretty much says it all

Investors See Rockier Road To Low-Carbon Economy Under Trump, But No Dead End” came in one week later.

Hundreds Of US Companies Urge Climate Action As John Kerry, Others Calls For More ‘Business Diplomacy’” came in a day after that.

We harvested all three to generate today's episode of Bionic Planet, which offers an audio mosaic of snippets culled from interviews we conducted in the two weeks after the US Presidential election, as well as audio we harvested from a media call that the World Resources Institute hosted.

Guests, in order of appearance, are:

Yvo de Boer, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute

Anthony Hobley, CEO of the Carbon Tracker Initiative

Michael Bloomberg, in his capacity as head of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures

Christian de Valle, Founder and Managing Partner of Althelia Ecosphere

Alden Meyer, Director of Strategy and Policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists

Sam Adams, Director of WRI United StatesMike Korchinsky, Founder and CEO of Wildlife Works

Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank

Andrew Mitchell, Founder and Director of the Global Canopy Programme

Peter Grannis,  First Deputy Comptroller for the New York State Office of the State Comptroller.

Nigel Topping, CEO of the We Mean Business Coalition

Jonathan Pershing, US Special Envoy for Climate Change

Brigadier General Stephen Cheney (ret), CEO of the American Security Project.

Peter Graham, former Canadian negotiator now working as a consultant in Washington, DC. 

Nov 10, 2016

Initial reactions from Marrakesn to Trump Victory in US

I came to year-end climate talks here in Marrakesh with a clear plan to cover the most complicated elements of these talks and break them down for a general audience. I'd intended to focus mostly on how global supply chains would change in response to this process – and I still will – but Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election has changed everything.

The talks are continuing, and the Paris Agreement remains in place with or without the United States, but the backroom diplomacy that the Obama administration had proven so adept at – the unofficial talks inside the talks that lay the foundation for the next round – which was credited with getting the treaty ratified so early – that’s gone, and I’ll cover that in more detail in a later piece.

In first hours after Trump's victory, I spoke to some veterans of this process and found something resembling a consensus: namely, that individual US states and the corporate sector can step in to at least partially fill the void in climate competency.

Oct 7, 2016

On Thursday, 65 countries representing 83% of international aviation agreed to cap their greenhouse-gas emissions from international flights at 2020 levels from 2021 onward – in part by forcing airlines to offset emissions above that threshold, and MAYBE by funding programs that save forests and support sustainable agriculture around the world. A final decision on offset types, however, isn’t expected until 2018

Backgrond: The Paris Climate Agreement created a framework for keeping the global rise in temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial levels, but it left emissions from international flights in limbo – partly because their "international" nature made it hard to reach agreement on which countries to charge the emissions to.

That changed on Thursday, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN agency charged with coordinating aviation regulation, including environmental impact, agreed to freeze net aviation emissions at 2020 levels beginning in 2021, and to force airlines to offset emissions above that threshold.

The program, called “CORSIA” (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation), will be phased in, with a voluntary pilot phase running from 2021 through 2023, then a second voluntary phase from 2024 through 2026, and a final phase, running from 2027 through 2035 that is mandatory for all countries except the very poor.

ICAO President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu said that 65 countries had already signed on for the voluntary phase, and these countries together represent nearly 83 percent of total aviation miles, measured in "revenue tonne kilometers" (RTKs), which translate into one metric ton of load (human passengers or cargo) per kilometer traveled.

Includes Interviews with Dutch environmental attorney Jos Cozijnsen and Arjun Patney, policy director of the American Carbon Registry.

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