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Brazil labour violations, France’s green bond, ivory trade breakthrough, charitable travel, green Christmas, solar power slows, FMO targets climate, and India's carbon capture breakthrough
Brazil labour rights violations ‘not picked up by Rainforest Alliance’
Serious labour rights violations have been reported at two Brazilian farms that have been certified by Rainforest Alliance and UTZ, the Guardian reports. It reported on an investigation by civil society organisation Repórter Brasil, which found that the certification systems had failed to spot irregularities on two coffee plantations in Minas Gerais state. These include some workers’ receiving less than half Brazil’s minimum wage, and workers being hired informally and without mandatory medical tests.
Both farms are members of a group managed by Eisa (Empresa Interagrícola S/A), a Brazilian subsidiary of global coffee traders Ecom Agroindustrial, which collectively carries the international Rainforest Alliance certificate. Two to three farms from the Eisa group are audited each year, regularly scoring more than 90%.
Luis Pinto, manager of agriculture certification at Imaflora, the company that handles certification for the Rainforest Alliance, told the Guardian its audits had not found the problems highlighted by Repórter Brasil.
Imaflora audited both farms in October following Repórter Brasil’s finding and found the problems had been resolved. “Certifying is about recognising good performance and good practice but it is also about recommending improvement,” Pinto said. Imaflora’s audits have begun including previously confidential information on non-conformities.
Until 2015 one of the farms, Rancho São Bendito, also held a seal from the UTZ , the Netherlands-based sustainable farming certifications scheme. Niccolo Sarno, a spokesman for UTZ, said in an email to the Guardian that Rancho São Benedito lost its UTZ certificate in June 2015 because of “non-conformities to our strict code of conduct”.
However, Repórter Brasil said it bought a sack of the farm’s Dona Mariana coffee in August 2016 with a UTZ logo on it and last January the farm had a sack of coffee with the UTZ logo on its website. Sarno said in the email: “UTZ finds it very worrying that a farm that was decertified because of non-conformities to our strict code of conduct was able to use the UTZ seal, on a group license, for one more year and we are now tightening our systems to ensure that this type of situation can’t happen in the future.”
André Campos, who authored Repórter Brasil’s report, told the Guardian that the certification system lacked transparency. “In general it has had a positive impact on farms,” he said. “But an important point of the investigation is that the certifications failed to spot problems.”
In a statement to Ethical Corporation, Rainforest Alliance said: "Rainforest Alliance and the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) responded to all requests for interviews and information regarding this story [in the Guardian] and the Repórter Brasil report before it. These matter was immediately addressed at the time it was brought to light in 2014 and 2015, and to the best of our knowledge it has been resolved in favour of the workers. Per our best practices, we continue to monitor the farms in question. It is pertinent to note that the SAN standard was revised in September 2016 and will go into full affect July 1, 2017. The 2017 SAN Standard has strengthened the criteria pertaining to workers’ rights, free association, and the need to move towards a living wage, as defined by the Global Living Wage Coalition."
France issues green bond
A roadshow for France’s first sovereign green bond was due to start this week, featuring visits with potential buyers in Europe and Asia. The French government has asked banks to sound out investors about demand, and is the second country to launch green bonds in the market, a sign that countries are starting to engage with climate finance.
Credit Agricole and Morgan Stanley have begun formal calls and meetings with investors, acting as joint lead managers alongside BNP Paribas, Natixis and Societe Generale.
Poland issued €750m of state bonds to finance its ecological transition in mid-December, although there are concerns about the fact that Warsaw continues to resist carbon-market reform and limits on CO2 emissions. The Republic of France’s bond will be significantly larger, with a maturity of 15-25 years, depending on investor demand, helping to develop the market.
Other countries looking at issuing sovereign green bonds include Sweden, Bangladesh and Nigeria. Italy, China and Denmark are also thought to be looking at the market. It is seen as a good way for investors to help governments finance their commitments under the Paris Agreement.
China to ban domestic ivory trade
China, the world’s largest market for ivory, said it will close down its domestic trade by the end of 2017, a major victory for international efforts to tackle the elephant poaching crisis in Africa.
The General Office of the State Council of China announced in a statement that China will “cease in part commercial ivory processing and sales by 31 March 2017 and cease completely all ivory processing and sales by 31 December 2017.” The statement committed to strict management of the collection of ivory and ivory products, strengthened law enforcement of illegal ivory sales and production, and extensive public education around the trading of ivory.
Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF China, said: “WWF applauds China’s decision to ban its domestic ivory trade so swiftly, underlining the government’s determination and strong leadership to reduce demand for ivory and help save Africa’s elephants.”
The US implemented a near-total ivory trade ban last July, and Hong Kong announced in December that it would phase out the city’s commercial domestic ivory trade by 2021. These moves should help the 20,000 elephants that continue to be poached each year.
Responsible Travel battles tourism inequality
UK eco-travel company Responsible Travel is launching an initiative to fund a day trip for an underprivileged child in Africa every time a customer buys a holiday.
The initiative, called Trip for a Trip, aims to address the inequalities in tourism. Globe-trotting actor Michael Palin, who is backing the initiative, said: “My appetite for travel began with day trips, so I know how much they can mean to a child. Good luck and thanks to all who can make this happen.”
The aim of the programme is to give children from developing countries the opportunity to appreciate the wider value of their culture or ecosystem, with the hope that they will be more likely to preserve it in later life. Responsible Travel wants to persuade the rest of the travel industry to adopt the initiative so a million underprivileged children will be allowed to travel by 2020.
Greenest Christmas ever for UK energy supply
More than 40% of the UK’s electricity supply came from renewable sources on Christmas day, according to Drax, the UK’s largest power generator. This was up from 25% in 2015 and 12% in 2012.
CO2 emissions from electricity generation on Christmas day amounted to just 168 g/kWh, significantly down from 506 g/kWh in 2012 and 303 g/kWh in 2015.
Andy Koss, Drax Power's CEO, said: “These Christmas figures show that the UK energy system really is changing. Renewables are increasingly vital to the UK’s energy mix as we decarbonise and move away from coal."
Scotland’s solar energy surge slows
The Scottish government continues to be at the forefront of solar power use in Britain, as figures from Ofgem revealed that it hit two new solar power milestones during 2016, with more than 200MW of PV capacity now installed on 49,000 homes and 1,000 business locations.
However Ofgem also revealed that the 17% rise in solar PV installations was the slowest annual rate of increase since 2011. WWF Scotland director Lang Banks blamed UK government policy decisions for the slowdown: “We really need to be seeing the uptake of solar and other renewable technologies rise. We therefore call upon the Scottish government to continue to press the UK government to allow Scotland to switch on to the full potential of solar power.”
Scotland also had a good year for renewable wind power, as it generated 100% of its energy needs through wind turbines for two full days in October last year.
FMO to boost sustainable energy investment
FMO, the Dutch development bank, wants to make a more positive contribution to global issues such as climate change with its updated sustainability policy. Through its investments in private sector companies in developing countries, FMO pledges to contribute to limiting global temperature increase to 2°C and preferably 1.5°C, as agreed at the Paris climate summit in 2015. Other key elements of the sustainability policy focus on human rights, equality for women and access to financial services for the poor.
"Previously, the focus of investments was at avoiding negative effects on people, the environment and human rights," says Jurgen Rigterink, chief executive officer of FMO. “In addition to the reduction of negative effects, we steer investments to more sustainable energy sources, the circular economy, or, for example, companies that focus on women and the poor."
In the new policy, FMO also explicitly requires its clients not to be involved in any human rights violations, including targetting activists who oppose projects it finances. FMO will work with other financial institutions to discuss further joint action on this issue.
FMO is one of the world’s largest private sector development banks, with an investment portfolio of €9.3bn spanning more than 85 countries.
Indian firm pioneers carbon capture and use scheme
India has scored a world-first in carbon capture, with a chemicals company converting CO2 produced by a coal-powered boiler into soda ash, an ingredient used in baking powder and other compounds, the BBC reported this week.
The firm in India, at the industrial port of Tuticorin, says its process could sequester up to 60,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. The soda ash produced is used as a base chemical in glass manufacturing, paper production and detergents, among other compounds. The company states the plant is now running with virtually no emissions and the project is being run without subsidy, an important step in making the technology sustainable and affordable.
The Tuticorin plant is said to be the first industrial-scale example of carbon capture and utilisation, which is now garnering international interest.
The chemical used in stripping the CO2 from the flue gas was invented by two young Indian chemists whose company, Carbonclean Solutions, worked with the Institute of Chemical Technology at Mumbai and Imperial College in London and received backing from the UK's entrepreneur support scheme.
The firm’s managing director, Ramachandran Gopalan, told BBC Radio 4: “I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet. I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it.”