The masters of the earth who hinder the ecological transition

by Emanuele Isonio – In the reflections and insights that multiply in view of the PreCop26 in Milan (and even more so in the crucial appointment in Glasgow in November) the theme deserves to be central. Here too, in fact, the hope of having concrete actions to combat climate change passes. Still, the phenomenon of land grabbing remains under the radar. Huge but in the shade.

The acquisition of land in developing countries by corporations and governments of high-income countries that deprive them of use by local populations and peasant communities, is undoubtedly closely linked with economic and speculative interests that make it difficult to intervene. Not surprisingly, the trend is growing relentlessly. And there is no pandemic or economic crisis that holds.

“Land grabbing has certainly not stopped due to Covid-19. Indeed in this year and a half it has continued with the same intensity, if not greater “explains Ivana Borsotto, president of FOCSIV, the main federation of Christian organizations for international cooperation and volunteering.

The traditional report “The owners of the Earth” carried out by its researchers, coordinated by Andrea Stocchiero, reveals that if in 2018 the major economic, financial and political players concentrated 88 million hectares in their hands, in 2020 they reached and exceeded 93 million hectares. An area equal to that of Germany and France combined.

“Land grabbing is not only the product of an extractivist system, so there must be no limits to the exploitation of natural resources and which is bringing the planet to a point of no return” Borsotto comments. “It is also a practice strictly interconnected with climate change, the race for rare earths, the increase in migration and the growth of inequalities”.

A common root with the climate crisis

The report underlines in great detail that land grabbing and climate change, although they do not appear at first sight to be correlated, have a common root: the activity of multinational companies and major financial giants. “It is not accidental – explain the authors citing the analyzes provided by the IPCC as early as 2014 – that the activities most responsible for climate change are also those that cause land grabbing: the energy, agri-food and industrial sectors “. Besides contributing to the climate crisis, these activities also cause soil degradation, reduction of biodiversity and the availability of fertile lands, which generates competition on increasingly scarce resources with consequent social crises. But how do these land grabbing sectors contribute to climate change?

Distribution of land uses in millions of hectares. SOURCE: The Masters of the Earth Report, 2021.

The World Resources Institute had already calculated that the energy sector, in which the mining industry is still strongly dominant, accounts for over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the apparent efforts made towards energy conversion, fossil fuels still remain the main source of energy today, providing 84% of the world’s needs. In second place among the largest producers of greenhouse gases we find the agricultural sector and land use changes with 18.4%. “This last – the report reads – are attributable to the excessive exploitation of land mainly for intensive farming, for example through fires and deforestation, to make room for livestock and monocultures for feed, which are responsible for increasing land grabbing. In this sense, therefore, the same phenomenon of land grabbing, generated by the most polluting economic activities, is linked to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change “.

The Peru case

There are unfortunately many worrying examples around the world. The report specifically mentions the case of Peru. A study done by Munden Project has shown that 40% of the national territory has been granted to oil, mining and timber companies. Furthermore, in 97% of the territories, from the Amazonian ones to the coastal ones on which there are 70 oil concessions, local communities and indigenous peoples live.

As in Peru, similar images come from Colombia and, of course, from the Brazilian Amazon. “In Brazil, the policies desired by President Jair Bolsonaro have attracted more and more foreign investors and allowed large companies, some already present in the territory, to act in total freedom and in absolute disregard of the environment and its inhabitants”, denounces the report FOCSIV which recalls the data published in 2019 by INPE, the Brazilian national space research institute: just one year after Bolsonaro’s election, the deforestation rate has increased by 278%. The INPE also reported a 78% increase in forest fires compared to the previous year.

Who buys the most land? And where?

Globally, the report reveals citing data from LandMatrix, an independent international database that monitors large land acquisitions, the number of contracts concluded in 2020 reached 2384. Of these, 31 million hectares are in Latin America, 30.4 million in Africa, 19.5 million in Eastern Europe , 9 million in Asia and 3.4 million in Oceania. About 25% of these lands will be used for mines and then for forestry (18 million hectares), plantations, food crops and biofuels.

The report also photographs the origin of those who acquire those lands. The most active country is easy to guess: China has grabbed 14 million hectares, followed by Canada and the United States of America with 11 and 10 million respectively.

Changing patterns of production and consumption in the countries that emit the most

The strategy to reverse the course obviously involves several actions. The common goal must be to have stringent international standards for the protection of the rights of local populations, increase corporate responsibility and subordinate any public funding to compliance with specific constraints. A positive novelty is, for example, the path started by the EU to adopt one European due diligence directive. The Brussels initiative launched in April 2020 on Sustainable Corporate Governance provides for the adoption of EU legislation on corporate due diligence in environmental and human rights matters.

Then there is the question of the objectives towards which projects financed by supranational organizations aim. “None of the UN agency projects funded through the EU in the past 3 years have supported transformative agroecology. Only 2.7% of the funds foresee a minimum transition towards agroecology. Overall, 79.8% of public development aid flows support business as usual approaches “ denounces the FOCSIV report.

More generally, the situation of land grabbing and its relations with climate change require a rethinking of our lifestyles, production and consumption. “It is now clear and undeniable – conclude Borsotto – that the lifestyle of the northern countries of the world is unsustainable. We can no longer shy away from radically changing the massive and intensive production system based on over-consumption of which food waste is a key example ”.

The 10 FOCSIV recommendations to combat land grabbing: SOURCE: “The Masters of the Earth” Report, 2021.

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