Sustainable Asia
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Sustainable Asia

Managing deforestation outside of the REDD+ scheme

23 September 2021 by Khoa Tran and Chermaine Lee

Despite a good track towards deforestation goals, Indonesia has pulled out of a US$1 billion deal with Norway to protect its rainforests. China opens a vitrification plant, turning nuclear waste into glass for safer storage. Southeast Asian professionals are increasingly concerned about food security due to climate change and what their governments are doing in terms of policy and planning.

Credit: photo by Rainforest Action Network is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

It’s good to be back! Let’s dive right in! In our last episode, we’ve seen how Indonesia has been making a few headlines in climate news, and the trend is continuing. After all, Indonesia is rich in both marine and land biodiversity. Its rainforests are the world’s third largest ones after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the world’s biggest causes of greenhouse gas emissions comes from deforestation and forest degradation. To combat this, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (or UNFCCC) had negotiated a scheme to reduce deforestation in 2005. In 2013, the rules were further clarified, leading to what’s now known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation or REDD+.

REDD+ aims to reduce deforestation by paying countries to not cut down their trees. Countries have to report on metrics measuring carbon emission curbs set by the scheme, and in return for meeting certain targets, receive a payment. The idea is that the payment incentivizes participating countries to preserve their forests and compensates them for otherwise exploiting them for economic gains. The UNFCCC agrees that this is a major help to curb carbon emissions in agriculture, forestry and other land uses sectors. However, Indonesia seems to be disagreeing.

Indonesia recently pulled out of an agreement with Norway, which states that Norway would pay Indonesia 1 billion USD to curb its emissions from deforestation under the REDD+ scheme. Although Indonesia claims to have fulfilled all requirements for the payments to be made, Norway has yet to disburse the funds according to Alue Dohong, the Indonesian deputy minister for environment and forestry. Norway takes a different stance, claiming that discussions around payment terms were “constructive and progressing well” up until the termination.

Indonesia said it is committed to continue reducing greenhouse emissions despite this, and Norway has acknowledged Indonesia’s progress and achievements towards its Paris Agreement obligations and said it would continue supporting the country’s deforestation efforts. Norway also recognized Indonesia having, among other countries too, “the lowest rate of deforestation in the past 20 years, including the significant reduction in forest fires.”

It’s true that Indonesia’s deforestation rate hit a historic low in 2020, more precisely a rate of 75% lower than from 2019, following a downward trend ever since 2014–2015. And this does raise the question of whether REDD+ in practice would require some more fine-tuning. In any case, it will be interesting to keep track of deforestation in Indonesia in the coming months.

China opens its first vitrification plant

Credit: photo by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory — PNNL is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Vitrification refers to a process of turning waste from nuclear power plants into glass, making it easier for storage. Nuclear power plants produce a lot of energy but also a lot of byproducts or nuclear waste from the process, and this can’t easily be disposed of; it needs to be stored safely underground. Nuclear waste has the added challenge of being radioactive, so it needs to be processed before it can be properly stored to prevent leakages of all sorts.

Vitrification allows this waste to be processed by being mixed with other materials, glass included, before it becomes glass itself. The idea is to turn this “high-level” radioactive waste -which is liquid- into a more stable solid for safer storage.

It’s important to note that not all nuclear wastes are created equal. Some are higher risk than others due to higher radioactivity. Usually vitrification is reserved for what’s known as high-level waste (or “HLM”), which only accounts for about 1% of nuclear waste but still requires our careful attention. Other kinds of waste, intermediate- and low-level wastes (“ILW” and “LLW”), are disposed of in other ways, one of which is called cementation which as the name suggests turns the wastes into cement.

While vitrification is a promising process leading us closer to more sustainable nuclear energy practices, applying it to a large scale is where the challenge is. Other countries like France, the UK, and the US, to name a few have set up vitrification plants to handle nuclear waste, but things get more interesting when another industrial power like China also steps into the game. This also comes a few months after Japan announced they would be slowly releasing Fukushima nuclear waste into the water too.

The new Chinese vitrification plant opened in Guangyuan, Sichuan Province, on September 11 and is expected to process hundreds of cubic meters of high level waste every year. Interestingly enough, the project was designed jointly by China and Germany — Germany who as we know has been curbing its domestic nuclear energy dependency following the Fukushima incident.

Food security in Southeast Asia, an increasing concern

A survey from a Singapore research institute shows that over 80% of professionals in Southeast Asia believe that climate change is threatening food security in the region. This should come at no surprise since we’ve previously covered how extreme weather events in recent years have disrupted agriculture.

Looking into the details of the survey, respondents from the Philippines are the most worried about food supply, because the country suffered some of the worst typhoons in its history last year. They damaged agricultural production, and stoked fears. Another reason is of course the warming climate that makes it harder for some species to keep growing in certain areas.

Although Singapore is affluent, the nation relies heavily on imports for most of its food. So if neighbouring countries suffer a loss in harvests, the city-state won’t be immune. What’s also alarming is that only one in five professionals surveyed agree that their respective governments have launched policies or plans to safeguard agriculture against climate change, and even if there are some in place, one-fourth said the policies are “under development.”

And while stakeholders conceive new relevant policies, let’s also not lose sight of how to slash greenhouse gas emissions in food production at the same time. A research paper from Nature highlights aquatic food — so-called Blue foods — in contributing to food security.

“Blue foods” include fish and shellfish, as well as a wide array of animals, plants and algae harvested from rivers, seas and the ocean. They provide protein and other nutrients for over 3.2 billion people in the world. Among them, scientists found that shellfish and fish from the open ocean contain richer nutrients, including omega 3, vitamins A and B12, calcium, iodine, iron and zinc. Farmed aquatic foods are also found to emit lower emissions than foods gathered from the wild. Harnessing the power of blue foods is increasingly important, as Asia is estimated to lead the way in freshwater fish consumption in 2050.

Listen to our podcast episode for more green updates for the week! Subscribe to GreenBites and our other podcasts at www.sustainableasia.co. And don’t forget to follow our social media @SustainableAsia so we can keep you up-to-date on green news.

Sustainable Asia’s podcast “GreenBites’’ is hosted by Chermaine Lee, Khoa Tran, Avery Choi and Stella Chen. Producer: Bonnie Au and Executive Producer: Marcy Trent Long Associate Producer: Rachel Li

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