Healthy environment recognised as human right by UN

8th August 2022

Bonsucro welcomes the news that the United Nations General Assembly has declared that everybody has the right to live on a healthy planet. The decision was driven by evidence of the significant decline of the natural world.

Environmental impact in the sugarcane sector

We are seeing the hard-hitting implications of climate change in the sugarcane sector. In July, heavy rain in Brazil caused a landslide damaging the Serra Grande mill and destroying many employees’ homes. In Australia, our members have also been hit by floods that have impacted this year’s harvest. In India and Pakistan, drought and water scarcity continue to be a problem, especially with the long and intense heat wave earlier this year.

In addition, the harsher climate is putting workers in the sugarcane sector at risk of serious health problems. Research published in the British Medical Journal shows that repeated episodes of kidney injury are driven by strenuous work in hot conditions. Furthermore, it shows that continued work while experiencing such an injury is likely to lead to chronic kidney disease. To manage heat stress in sugarcane production, we have guidance in our Production Standard on how to give workers in the field sufficient rest, shade, safe water, and adequate sanitation. We also offer training on how to implement these protocols.

Improving the environmental impact of sugarcane is one of our three strategic aims in our 2021-26 strategic plan. We are driving climate mitigation and adaptation in sugarcane by creating a climate roadmap in collaboration with our members. We are also developing and reviewing methodologies to credibly define how much companies in the sugarcane value chain can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and at what rate. We are using our position as the leading global sustainability platform in sugarcane to raise awareness of the importance of climate action and bring information and tools to help adapt to the climate crisis.

The Bonsucro Production Standard promotes a healthy environment

Farmers and millers certified against our Production Standard demonstrate that they produce sugarcane in line with environmental sustainability criteria such as agrochemical use, water use, and GHG emissions. Our new Production Standard goes further to promote climate resilience in the sector. We have sharpened our greenhouse gas methodology so that it gives more clarity on producers’ where emissions are highest. Capturing specific GHG data like this will enable farmers and millers to see where in their operations to focus attention to further remove emissions.

To achieve Bonsucro certification, farmers and millers need an environmental impact management plan. The revised Production Standard asks that the plan is split into separate indicators on soil health, water stewardship, agrochemical use, and biodiversity management. Splitting the plans into these sections will give a more precise picture of the whole environmental impact of sugarcane production and therefore equips producers with powerful insights that will inform future production methods.

To improve our approach to water stewardship, we partnered with leading experts such as the Alliance for Water Stewardship and WWF to improve our indicators in our Production Standard. As a result, we now ask producers to identify the main water resources and catchment areas to ensure they understand what’s locally available. We are also encouraging producers to understand how other people in their community use water to avoid conflict.

Why we welcome the recognition that a healthy planet is a human right

The resolution was passed on 28 July at the headquarters in New York with representation from all 192 member states. Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme said, “This resolution sends a message that nobody can take nature, clean air and water, or a stable climate away from us – at least, not without a fight,

Having an organisation as influential as the United Nations recognise that a clean and healthy environment is a universal human right could be a significant driver for change. It draws attention to the urgency of the climate crisis at government level. It could accelerate progress towards a more resilient, inclusive approach to sustainability.

At Bonsucro, we will continue to do our part to ensure a healthy environment. We will convene the sector to work towards common goals. We will work collaboratively with our members, governments, NGO groups, and academics to share the information, tools and understanding so that we can all continuously improve. We will support organisations that innovate and diversify the sugarcane supply chain – those that are making bioplastics, biofuels, biomaterials and reducing the use of fossil fuels. And most of all, we will continue to deliver the message that sugarcane, the world’s largest crop by biomass, must be produced sustainably.

Environmental challenges in sugarcane will be a central theme at this year’s Bonsucro Global Week in Brazil. The conference will cover biodiversity, soil health, water use, and regenerative agriculture. We will also share details of our new Production Standard and offer delegates the chance to ask our Standards and Assurance team questions.