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« Reporting on the roadmap at the global conference on ag and climate | Main | UN climate finance report falls flat »

November 03, 2010

Don't forget the carbon speculators

This week, the World Bank, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and a number of governments are meeting in the Hague at the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change. The original goal was to develop a Roadmap for Agriculture that would feed into the global climate change negotiations at the United Nations.

One of the key obstacles to developing a joint approach on agriculture and climate change is financing: finding money to help farmers and communities adapt to the effects of climate change while reducing agriculture's contribution to climate change. Carbon markets have been one of dominant proposals for financing agriculture-related projects on climate change.

IATP's Shefali Sharma is in the Hague and delivered the below statement to conference participants on the risks carbon markets pose to food security and greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Between 2007 and the spring of 2008, the food price index shot up by 85 percent, then in a few months, agriculture commodity prices fell by 60 percent. The massive price spike and drop was devastating for developing countries, particularly net-food importers. The food price crisis drove another 150 million people into hunger. According to UNCTAD, the extent of price volatility during the food crisis cannot be attributed to supply and demand alone. There is now a wide consensus that speculation on commodity markets by financial traders had a significant role to play in creating the crisis.

In our discussions in the Hague on food security, climate change and “innovative finance," the discussion on speculation in carbon markets and their impact on agriculture commodities is glaringly missing. 

Carbon and commodity markets are tied together through futures markets. And carbon trading is essentially derivatives trading. Unregulated derivatives trading, starting with mortgage-backed securities, was a major source of the current global financial crisis. This crisis is the reason most developed countries claim they have inadequate public funds for climate finance. Yet, carbon trading, to the scale at which it is being proposed, would create a large secondary market of carbon derivatives that has thus far been poorly regulated. When bundled with other commodities, such as maize, wheat  or oil, carbon derivatives have a large potential to destabilize agriculture prices. A second way that carbon derivatives can destabilize markets is through over-the-counter trading: a preferred mechanism of financial speculators who can make unlimited bets in commodity markets through this window. In 2008, 44 percent of carbon traded on the European Emissions Trading Scheme was through over-the-counter trades. As a result the carbon price in the ETS has been highly volatile and low.

Land-based offsets included in carbon markets therefore have significant implications on land tenure, food sovereignty, biodiversity and the right to food. These linkages need to be carefully examined and have thus far been neglected as a topic of discussion in this conference.

Industrialized countries and their industries have a legal and historical responsibility under the UNFCCC to mitigate climate change. They should not pass this responsibility to countries who have had little to do with creating the problem, but who nonetheless will bear the largest impacts. 

Reliable, predictable and public finance needs to fund adaptation needs in developing countries and there are several proposals including carbon, transport and financial transaction taxes that are on the table that should be considered.

Ben Lilliston

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