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« Carbon emissions trading at the Bonn climate change negotiations: alive but not so well | Main | The Farm Bill, public health and the next generation of farmers »

June 16, 2011

Agriculture in the spotlight at Bonn climate talks

UNFCCC IATP's Shefali Sharma is blogging from the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany. See her presentation from IATP's official side event for more.

The two-week climate talks in Bonn are supposed to be winding down tomorrow. Some countries will take up the issue of agriculture again in informal sessions closed to observers. During week one, heated debates took place about what to “do” with agriculture in the UNFCCC. In the Cancún final decision at COP 16, the agriculture chapter was taken out of the track known as Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA). However, this year, countries such as New Zealand, Canada and Switzerland have been pushing to bring it back. New Zealand and Canada are major agriculture exporters and would like to see the topic of agriculture emissions handled with care. One area of contention, though not openly shared, is livestock-related emissions and competition with major meat exporters such as Argentina and Brazil. 

Switzerland, not a big agricultural exporter but an avid supporter of the “multifunctionality” of agriculture and pasturelands, is promoting the concept of food security in developing countries and “sustainability” in agriculture, presumably also to be rewarded for their agricultural practices which they say are less damaging compared to those in other countries. 

Unlike last year, all of these countries are stressing the importance for agriculture for food security and for adaptation to climate change for developing countries. By casting the net wider to include areas of interest to developing countries, they hope that the idea of a work program on agriculture can gain support where climate mitigation can also be addressed. However, at least in Bonn, that is not likely to happen.

The United States also hopes to see a decision on agriculture at the next Conference of the Parties (COP17) meeting in Durban in December. The U.S. climate bills which were not passed contained large prospects for forestry and agriculture offsets from both domestic and international sources, though agricultural offsets were mainly geared domestically. And the U.S., still a major proponent for carbon markets, would like to see the expansion of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) to include agriculture. In previous REDD discussions, the U.S. has advocated for a “whole landscape” approach. Here in Bonn, the U.S. has asked that the REDD SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice) discussion on drivers of deforestation, which mainly refers to agriculture, be discussed as early as Durban, though the deadline for the outcome of this discussion is due by COP 18. This is seen as an unusual demand given the number of agenda items to be negotiated in Durban.

Though New Zealand and Canada proposed to start an agriculture work program in the SBSTA by June 2012, this was shot down today in an informal meeting today by members of the G-77. In addition to agriculture, water and the notion of “blue carbon” (carbon captured by marine-living organisms) and rights to mother earth were also rejected as potential issues to be discussed under the SBSTA. Blue carbon is supposed to be carbon sequestered through mangroves, coastal areas and potentially even tidal salt marshes and sea grass. 

Meanwhile, the stage is being set at the UNFCCC to make agriculture the big success story out of Durban. The Chair of the AWG-LCA, United States representative Daniel Reifsnyder, said to civil society organizations yesterday that agriculture is likely to be a deliverable in Durban. In response to questions, he said it is difficult to address forestry without also addressing agriculture. 

The World Bank is providing financial support to South Africa to host a ministerial where both agriculture and environmental ministers will discuss agriculture from September 1–3. There will undoubtedly be pressure on countries present to create an African position on agriculture in the lead up to Durban. Activity has already been taking place around the formation of a potential “partnership” around agriculture that involves civil society, governments, the World Bank, the FAO and others. The first meeting took place at the World Bank several weeks ago. The next meeting will be hosted by the FAO in Rome, July 25–27. Several other high-level meetings are slated in the run up to Durban. 

The World Bank is once again “the first mover” on setting itself up as the carbon broker on agriculture. It has played a similar role in the creation of developing country plans to reduce emissions through REDD projects. The Bank helps countries prepare these plans, pilot REDD projects and hopes to eventually get them carbon credits through its forest carbon fund. While the World Bank moved ahead with these activities, governments were and are still negotiating key aspects of REDD, including whether REDD should be financed through carbon markets. After demonstrating “early action”  on REDD, the World Bank hopes to do the same with agriculture.  

Having publicly launched its first pilot soil-carbon sequestration project in Western Kenya through its BioCarbon Fund, the World Bank hopes to convince developing countries and donors that carbon markets can deliver finance for agriculture  and small farmers. However, IATP’s calculation of the carbon payments generated by this project amount to $1 per farmer per year—see my presentation for more. Using the World Bank’s own figures of carbon revenues and transaction costs, it becomes evident that at least one of the “triple wins” (of increased production, carbon payments and adaptation) will not be delivered to small farmers through the carbon market.The project is in its early phases and entails the adoption of the “sustainable land management practices” (SALM) by 60,000 farmers on 45,000 hectares over 20 years. And while agroecological practices, such as intercropping, covercrops and use of manure for fertilizer can be applauded, it remains to be seen whether there will be tradeoffs for the farmers involved in meeting measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) requirements for soil carbon for their other needs. It will also be critical to monitor whether, in fact, the practices deliver on the ecological, climate resilience and food security objectives of the project and whether land tenure and other social conflicts result. The project will not actually measure soil carbon because of its high costs, but instead use an “activity based monitoring survey” as the basis of generating carbon credits. The methodology for obtaining these credits is still in the process of being approved in the voluntary market with the Verified Carbon Standard, but the World Bank has gone ahead with the marketing of its success at international meetings.

Tomorrow, the concluding negotiations on agriculture will take place in the LCA under “cross-sectoral approaches” ( agenda item 1.b.iv under the Bali Action Plan). The text in the LCA track that was adopted in Copenhagen (chapter IX), and omitted in the Cancún Decisions, is now back as the main negotiating text on agriculture in the LCA.    

Ben Lilliston

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