TBLI Weekly - June 13th 2023


TBLI Weekly - June 13th, 2023

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Antonio Gutierres, UN Secretary General: “Net zero commitments can’t be a mere public relations exercise if we want to win the fight against climate change. We must have zero tolerance for greenwashing.” Global ESG assets may surpass $50 trillion by 2025 (BI Intelligence).

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As Africa Loses Forest, Its Small Farmers Are Bringing Back Trees


The loss of forests across Africa has long been documented. But recent studies show that small farmers from Senegal to Ethiopia to Malawi are allowing trees to regenerate on their lands, resulting in improved crop yields, productive fruit harvests, and a boost for carbon storage.


For decades, there have been reports of the deforestation of Africa. And they are true — the continent’s forests are disappearing, lost mainly to expanding agriculture, logging, and charcoal-making. But the trees? Maybe not, according to new satellite data analyzed by artificial intelligence and a growing body of on-the-ground studies. This new research is finding ever more trees outside forests, many of them nurtured by farmers and sprouting on their previously treeless fields.

Across the continent — from Senegal and Niger in the west, to Ethiopia in the east, and Malawi in the south — smallholder farmers are rejecting government advice that trees should be expunged from fields because they get in the way of growing crops. Instead, they are allowing previously suppressed trees to regenerate on their land — to improve soils and crop yields; to provide harvests of fruit, fuelwood, and fodder for their livestock; and ultimately to achieve a better life for their families.

As large areas of farmland across Africa turn from brown to green, the results are also good for local economies, offering an easy and cheap way to intensify their farming and increase output, as well as benefiting biodiversity and the global climate. An acre of growing trees on farmland captures and stores up to 4 tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year, researchers say.

The latest published evidence of Africa’s resurgent farmland trees comes in the first ever detailed analysis of satellite images of the continent carried out at a scale that can identify individual large trees outside forests. Florian Reiner, a remote-sensing analyst at the University of Copenhagen, working with an international team of colleagues, reported in Nature Communications last month that at least 29 percent of tree cover in Africa is “outside areas previously classified as forest.”

These often previously unmapped trees are not in plantations; they are mostly natural trees scattered across savanna grasslands, croplands, and pastures. “Many African landscapes are drylands, where trees outside forests are the major form of woody vegetation,” says Reiner. In large dry countries such as Sudan, Niger, Libya, and Mali, they make up the majority of tree cover. Often, they are where most of the countries’ wildlife is found. Until now, they were simply invisible to remote-sensing science.

Reiner’s analysis is the latest output from a long-term international project headed by Martin Brandt, a geographer at the University of Copenhagen. It programs computers using AI to identify trees in satellite images by their shape, orientation, shadow, and other physical features. Its long-term aim is to create a global database of trees growing away from the continuous canopies of forests.

Here's how to restore our faith in our economic and social systems

By Roy Swan

Irrespective of political leaning, many Americans are losing faith in our economic and social systems. For example, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 72% of U.S. adults are pessimistic about the country's financial future.

Regaining undisputed economic leadership and respect will require moving with urgency to address the social and economic ills that are plaguing the United States.

The biggest challenges standing in our way can be addressed with a three-pronged patriotic commitment: placing greater emphasis on the principle of fairness; leveraging new impact investing frameworks; and choosing substance over sloganeering. Each commitment is patriotic in that they put the interests of country, democracy and common good first.

Fairness: galvanizing our greatest natural resource (people). Systemic barriers to opportunity like (conscious or unconscious) racism and other "-isms" are chokeholds to the economy, suffocating its vitality at the exact moment it needs energetic action. This phenomenon is not new. A 1961 cartoon by Herbert Block illustrates the economic and political hindrance that racism poses to our country. More than 60 years later, our economy and moral stature are still being pulled down by the dead weight of racism and it is more urgent than ever to drop it.

Research from the World Economic Forum has shown that excluding Black people from fair access to economic opportunity has cost America a devastating $51 trillion in lost output since 1990.

The good news is that tearing down the walls of anti-Blackness could generate as much as $5 trillion to the economy over the next five years alone, according to a report by Citi. Diversifying the economy by increasing opportunities for access to capital, whether it helps historically oppressed people of color or overlooked and underserved communities like those in Appalachia where the Ford Foundation has made investments, is the type of patriotic impact investing that lifts all boats. It also offers the potential to generate risk-adjusted, market-rate financial returns.

Big private equity firms like KKR & Co. and TPG Inc., insurance companies like MetLife and New York Life Insurance Co., and banks like J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America have already discovered attractive commercial opportunities in underrepresented founders. But the American economy is a team sport. We need everyone on the field. We all win when we all win.

JSG: creating jobs and improving national security. The COVID-19 pandemic made it overwhelmingly clear that offshoring jobs and relinquishing control over our supply chain to lower labor costs for the benefit of higher corporate net income has painful long-term consequences. Shareholders may have won in the short term, but the damage resulting from a hollowed-out manufacturing base and the loss of millions of good jobs is staggering.

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Curb bottled water ads and tax shrink-wrap to cut UK pollution, says report

Exclusive: Big water brands forecast to grow with UK on track to use 2.8bn bottles a year by 2026, finds research
Restrictions should be put on bottled water advertising and a 10p tax should be added to shrink-wrapped packs to curb the UK’s 10m bottle-a-day habit, according to campaigners hoping to tackle the plastic pollution crisis.

Despite the supposed plastics backlash inspired by TV shows such as the BBC’s Blue Planet, big water brands are forecast to chalk up growth of more than 10% over the next four years, equivalent to an extra 280m bottles, a new report by the consultancy Retail Economics says.

The report, commissioned by campaigners – including the groups Refill and Whale and Dolphin Conservation as well as the filter firm Brita – argued that brand advertising played a “critical” role in burnishing the “desirability” of bottled water.

The creation of dedicated brands has seen bottled water consumption in the UK increase from just one 300ml can per head in the mid-1970s to 37 litres a head in 2021, according to Retail Economics’ chief executive, Richard Lim.

Britons spent £1.6bn on branded and supermarket own-label bottled water in 2021. This used about 3.5bn bottles, or 10m a day, Lim estimates. Brands are the driving force behind the industry’s growth, accounting for £1bn of sales and 2.5bn bottles. Buoyed up by advertising, this footprint could be 2.8bn bottles by 2026, Lim said.

“We need to make changes to turn the tide on this issue before it’s too late,” said Lim of the white paper, which recommends restricting advertising and promotions and putting environmental labels on bottles.

While carrying a reusable water bottle has become the norm for many people, the study found that just over half of the UK population, or 51%, drink bottled water once a week or more. The frequency was highest among millennials, at 61%, based on a sample of more than 2,000 households.

The research established that more than half of all bottled water was being drunk at home or at work, places where tapwater is readily available.

“Plastic bottled water is a scar on our society,” said David Hall, the UK managing director of Brita. “Plastic bottled water takes about five seconds to make, five minutes to use, and a staggering 500 years to break down in landfill. It’s one of the main culprits of the worldwide plastic pollution crisis.”

While in recent years multipacks of baked beans, soup and tuna have been stripped of plastic packaging, the study found that 90% of bottled water on a typical supermarket shelf was still encased in a wrapper. This plastic-on-top-of-plastic accounts for 1m pieces of wrap every day.

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How Biodiversity Hopes to Match Climate’s Investing

More than a million species face potential demise in what might be the biggest extinction event since an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs. But efforts to enlist private capital in the fight to protect the Earth’s biodiversity have barely gotten off the ground. One obvious model is the financial infrastructure that’s developed around the related goal of combating climate change, which has drawn in billions of dollars in investments. Doing the same for biodiversity faces steeper obstacles. Carbon dioxide can be measured, priced and traded. But how does the market value a swamp or a newly discovered frog that pollinates flowers?

1. What is biodiversity?

The variety of species within a region. Wherever robust populations of many forms of life swarm in and around each other — think tropical rainforests and coral reefs — they reinforce the ecosystem’s stability. By contrast, an area dominated by a narrower group becomes more vulnerable to sudden change if environmental conditions change. That’s one reason biodiversity and climate change are seen by scientists as intertwined crises. When tropical rain forests are burnt to expand farmland, species-rich habitats are destroyed and carbon dioxide released; in the years that follow, more frequent and intense wildfires tear through the degraded forests, destroying habitats further and releasing even more CO2.

2. How is it in danger?

As the number of humans roughly doubled between 1970 and 2022, our growing demands for food, fuel and cleared land reduced the combined populations of other vertebrate species by 69%, according to the Living Planet Index, a project of the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London. The projection that a million species might die off, some within decades, was made by a United Nations scientific panel estimating that 10% of insect species and 25% of other plants and animals are in danger. Such a vast erosion of biodiversity poses a threat to natural processes on much of society is based. The World Bank has estimated that damage to the so-called natural services supported by biodiversity, like pollination of crops, water filtration and maintenance of fishing stocks, could reduce economic activity in 2030 by as much as $2.7 trillion a year, an amount close to the gross domestic product of France.

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Local residents in Puerto Rico built the island’s first community-owned solar microgrid

By Katherine Rapin

For two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, Lucy’s Pizza was the only restaurant open in the central mountain town of Adjuntas. The town’s 18,000 residents, like those on the rest of the island, were entirely without electricity.

“No one has power, you can’t get gas, it’s difficult to make food, so everyone came here to eat,” said owner Gustavo Irizarry. “The line,” he gestured down the block along the town’s central plaza, “endless.”

Using a diesel generator, Lucy’s was running at about 75% capacity. The generator was loud, smelly and expensive to run — Irizarry spent $15,000 on diesel in the six months the grid was down. He was often up in the middle of the night to restart the generator because of the risk of losing power to the refrigerators. He didn’t want ingredients to spoil.

Now, nearly six years later, Irizarry is poised to generate his own energy from the sun. He’s one of 14 merchants in downtown Adjuntas who have invested in the island’s first community-owned solar microgrids — expected to go live before this summer.

“After Maria, we saw the vulnerability and the necessity to have an electric system that truly works,” Irizarry said. “To have better, alternative power, to be able to live.”

The microgrid project is the latest effort in a grassroots movement to build energy security in Puerto Rico in the form of solar power. Across the island, groups like Casa Pueblo, which first opened in Adjuntas more than 40 years ago, have relied on deep roots in the community to create local buy-in and make it an equitable transition.

“The microgrid is a major step in taking Puerto Rico from the vulnerability of the centralized fossil fuel system to the aspiration that I think we share in Puerto Rico,” said Arturo Massol Deyá, associate director of Casa Pueblo. “To use [renewable] fuels and generate power at the point of consumption, where it’s needed.”

Microgrids power small networks of buildings with energy that’s generated close to where it’s used, often wind or solar. The systems are typically connected to a central grid, but in the case of an outage they can run on “island mode,” relying solely on locally-generated power and battery storage capacity.

Hurricane Maria damaged 80% of Puerto Rico’s power grid, and the subsequent outages, which lasted for months, contributed to the storm’s death toll. Six years and $14 billion in federal commitments later, Puerto Rico’s central grid is still in disrepair.

Puerto Ricans suffer regular outages while spending, on average, 8% of their incomes on electricity, according to the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (IEEFA). (The average American spends 2.4% on electricity.)

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