The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.
Founded in 1986, IATP is rooted in the family farm movement. With offices in Minneapolis and Geneva, IATP works on making domestic and global agricultural policy more sustainable for everyone.
IATP Web sites
About Think Forward
Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health.
August 31, 2010
Floods, droughts and famines
In the late 1870s, a series of droughts and famines devastated a broad swath of the globe, including what is now Pakistan. The 1876-78 drought killed 6 million people in India; in China, 12 million people died of starvation and disease. Many millions more were plunged into agonizing poverty. The story of the famines and their connection to extreme weather are the subject of a 2001 book by University of Southern California professor Mike Davis, entitled Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World
In the late 19th century, El Nino cycles were not understood. Today, the world is witnessing the accelerating pattern of extreme weather events, like the floods that have engulfed Pakistan.
What Davis tells us is that the suffering and deaths that occurred were not caused by weather but the colonial and free trade policies of Europe, the U.S. and Japan. In the midst of mass starvation in India, basic food exports continued to flow to England. As whole communities perished, Indian peasants were taxed to pay for British wars against Afghanistan. British policies in India were predicated on the population theories of Thomas Robert Malthus, who was employed by the British East India Company—too many people, too little land, too little food—a description better suited to England.
Today, the flood victims in Pakistan were poor and hungry before the rain started to fall and the rivers and canals overflowed their banks. It is estimated that over 60 percent of the population of Pakistan lives on under $2.00 a day. For many years after partition from India, Pakistan was making strides in its development, but the combination of military dictatorships, corrupt governments and Cold War proxy wars (and now counter-terrorism campaigns) have left Pakistani peasants destitute and under siege.
What is new—and what was unknown at the end of the 19th century—was that the industrial system, then in its infancy, would lead to global warming and extreme weather events. From Katrina to the overflowing Moscow morgues, the industrial model that causes extreme weather is also responsible for exhausting the people, land and resources of the world. When the two meet the consequences are disastrous.
August 06, 2010
Climate, agriculture and immigration
Two of the biggest hot button issues in Congress this year have been climate change and immigration. Now, new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that the two issues are linked.
Researchers from Princeton University conservatively estimated the future impact of climate change on the yields of Mexican-grown corn and wheat. They looked at migration data in Mexico from 1995-2005 (the ten years following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement). After accounting for a number of variables, they concluded that a 10 percent reduction in crop yields would lead to an additional 2 percent of the Mexican population emigrating. Depending on how fast or slow climate change occurs, the result could be between 1.4 and 6.7 million Mexicans emigrating to the U.S. by 2080 as a result of declines in agricultural productivity.
While this research focuses on Mexico, there is little question that migration driven by a decline in crop yields is a big issue in many other parts of the world, including much of Africa, India, Bangladesh, and Latin America, according to the researchers.
The debate in Congress over climate change was dominated by the costs of implementing various strategies to reduce greenhouse gases. Less discussed were the costs of inaction. Perhaps this is why Congress failed to act.
July 19, 2010
China's pollution census, manure and biogas
In February of this year, the Chinese government released results of the first national pollution census （全国污染源普查). The most startling finding of this nearly three-year, 737 million RMB investigation was that agriculture is a bigger source of water pollution in China than industry. Because agriculture had never before been included in official pollution measures, the finding that farming is responsible for 44 percent of chemical oxygen demand (COD—the main measure of organic compounds in water), 67 percent of phosphorus discharges and 57 percent of nitrogen discharges was big news. The New York Times and The Guardian published articles on the Chinese pollution census.
In addition to fertilizer-, pesticide- and herbicide-containing runoff from crop fields, the census found that manure from livestock and poultry farms is a major source of agricultural pollution. An article this week in the China Daily further details animal waste problems, citing incidents of blue-green algae outbreaks in lakes and waterways because of excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen from livestock farms. The photo to the right is an example of this phenomenon near a commercial pig farm I visited in Sichuan Province. Given the lack of effective water treatment methods and facilities, combined with the ever-increasing scale of livestock production, this is indeed a serious problem for China to address.
In response to the census, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is promoting biogas digesters as a possible solution to the current “manure problem.” The ministry is currently executing and administering a $66.08 million (USD) loan from the Asian Development Bank to expand the use of biogas technologies. By 2020, plans are to construct an additional 80 million household methane digesters and 10,000 large-scale biogas plants. These projects build on technologies that have been used in China for decades. (Here is a report by Professor Li Kangmin and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho that gives a brief history of biogas use in China, dating from the late nineteenth century.)
The concern is scale. According to a water expert at the Asian Development Bank, presently less than 1 percent of the 4.2 million large-scale pig, cattle and poultry farms use biogas digesters to process manure. As these commercial farms follow the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) model by packing more and more animals into smaller and smaller spaces and continue to take an increasing share of production and markets, surely they are the operations to watch—and to regulate. But to date, biogas digester projects have focused on small-scale production. The MOA estimates that 35 million of the 140 million rural households were using digesters at the end of 2008. While digesters can bring certain benefits to rural communities, particularly production of cooking gas and nutrient-rich fertilizer, these small-scale farms are not the ones contributing most to the manure-in-water problem.
The real challenge for addressing manure-based water pollution comes from the rivers of waste running out of commercial livestock farms and directly into bodies of water. If biogas digesters are to be the chosen path to correct this ill, perhaps there should be a mandate that all new CAFOs (and there are new ones coming into production all the time) must install digesters from the beginning. At the same time, the existing 99 percent of commercial farms that don’t already use them should be urged to do so.
Mindi Schneider is blogging from China. She is a native Midwesterner currently living in China and working on her PhD in Development Sociology at Cornell.
July 01, 2010
Environmental justice, science leaders urge action linking climate and public health
In a letter sent to Congress and the Obama administration last month, leading voices in environmental justice, science and academics asked that: “1) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) should not be overturned or diminished; and 2) climate change policy should address the emissions of greenhouse gas co-pollutants, as well as the emissions of greenhouse gases themselves.”
The same facilities and vehicles that emit greenhouse gases also emit co-pollutants that lead to high rates of asthma and other serious public health concerns. In addition to the public health impacts associated with climate change itself, co-pollutants from coal plants and other fossil fuel sources disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color as these communities are largely located where fossil fuel facilities are located and where urban vehicle emissions are concentrated. This unique partnership of leading environmental justice activists, policy analysts, scientists and academics is the first of its kind.
While Congress has rejected initial attempts to undermine the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions for public health reasons, additional attempts to challenge EPA’s authority are expected. Shalini Gupta, director of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP, was among the 18 leaders who signed onto the letter. To find out more, read the press release and full letter.
June 22, 2010
Climate change and the World Cup
To be in Brazil during the World Cup of futbol (soccer) is to see both a massive outpouring of national pride and mass marketing of the very first order. Museums will change their opening hours and churches will change the times they offer mass on any day that Brazil plays. Brazil will host the World Cup 2014. The government is already planning for ways to sweep the streets of beggars and hide the shanty towns (favelas) behind walls, not so they won’t be seen but so the favelas and beggar residents cannot interfere with the tourism and commerce of the tournament.
I am here to talk with NGOs about U.S. climate change policy and more specifically the U.S. financial reform legislation that will have much to do with how carbon emissions are traded in commodity futures markets if and when they are established. Given the current diplomatic stalemate in climate change negotiations, it would be idle to suggest that countries must compete more fiercely to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than they compete to win the World Cup. Certainly the stakes of losing the GHG Games are immeasurably higher than the national disappointment or even disgust when its team is ousted but where is that commercial GHG hook that will have “Beat Climate Change!” T-shirts outselling "Go Brazil" T-shirts?
Granted, the U.S. climate change story is not a happy one or one easy sell to Brazilian groups. Unhappily I explain that our most immediate challenge is not the members of the U.S. Congress who don’t believe that climate change is happening or that it is not serious enough to warrant a massive change in U.S. technology and investment policy. Our most immediate problems are the environmental organizations who believe that carbon markets will induce investment decisions to reduce GHGs.
Earlier this month, IATP published a critique of an International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) proposal that would finance GHG reductions by selling bonds to developing countries. The bond terms would be defined and administered by a new International Green Bond Board that would displace the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. The collateral for bond repayment would be developing country carbon credits that would be sold and resold in U.S. and EU markets. When I explained that several U.S. environmental organizations worked closely with IETA the Brazilian NGOs weren’t as shocked as I had been when I listened to IETA and the big enviros sing the same tune in Copenhagen.
They said that Brazilian conservation organizations, desperate for funds to fight the destruction of the Amazon by agribusiness, forestry and mining firms, had become believers that selling carbon offset credits to U.S. and EU businesses would stop the destruction of the Amazon. Indeed, as I had read in No Rain in the Amazon, some of the former deforesters were planting fast-growing eucalyptus trees to claim carbon offset credits from a space that once had been home to an immense wealth of biodiversity and climate stabilization. U.S. environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), had sold Brazilian conservation groups on carbon markets in such market conditions.
If Wall Street and other financial centers remain fundamentally unreformed, they will create extreme price volatility in carbon markets, as surely as they did in agricultural and energy markets in 2006–2008. IETA has argued that there should be no limits on the number of carbon derivatives, based on the value of the carbon credits, that some draft U.S. legislation proposes to give away for free to the biggest polluters. Furthermore, IETA opposes any attempt to reduce unregulated trading in the over-the-counter markets.
IATP, with the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition (CMOC) and Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), is fighting to put binding limits on derivatives trading and allow OTC trading only for commodity traders, such as municipal power companies, for whom the greater cost of trading on public and regulated exchanges impedes their ability to provide energy to all consumers. As Wall Street rains campaign contributions on New Democrats to help the Republican Party defeat reform, we fear that if real reform is defeated, the next bill to be bought and paid for by industry will be climate change legislation. Then the only thing for which we will be able to cheer is the World Cup—if it isn’t disrupted by drought, flash floods and more frequent and violent weather.
June 14, 2010
The new climate debt
As combined economic entities, members of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) exceed the size of most governments. So, when IETA made a new financing proposal just prior to last week's UN global climate talks in Bonn, attention was paid.
IETA's 170 transnational financial, law, energy and manufacturing firms are aggressively pushing for a global system for trading carbon emission credits and their financial derivatives. Their latest proposal, “green sectoral bonds,” are being sold as the only option for developing countries to access financing for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Like conventional bonds, the green sectoral bonds would allow developing countries to borrow money from private investors to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets—the principle to be paid back with interest over time. The proposal represents a major shift in climate finance discussions.
As IATP's Steve Suppan writes in a new analysis of the IETA proposal, “If implemented, the proposal would transform climate finance from a public fiduciary duty primarily funded by developed countries to a new source of developing country debt to private creditors and of profits for IETA members.”
While it would seem that a proposal that deepens the debt of developing countries already battling an economic crisis would be dead on arrival, IETA argues that developed countries are facing their own budget shortfalls and simply don't have the resources for additional climate aid. Unfortunately, the longer global climate talks stumble, the more attractive IETA's proposal may become.
You can read Steve's full analysis of the IETA proposal here.
June 07, 2010
Anna Lappé on TakePart commmencement speaker dream team
Post written by Mark Muller, originally published on the Food and Society Fellows Fresh Ideas blog.
I've spent too much time determining who would be on my basketball dream team, but haven't given enough thought to who are my top picks for commencement speakers. Thankfully, TakePart has done the hard work and announced it's Commencement Speaker Dream Team. Coming in at #4 is AnnaLappé!
"Anna Lappé, renowned author and founding principal of The Small Planet Institute, is a terrific role model for graduates who are looking to get involved in the food movement. Anna is committed to finding sustainable, climate-friendly solutions to our industrial food system, particularly in her latest book Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about It."
And it won't be a commencement speech, but those of you in the vicinity of the Twin Cities have an opportunity to hear Anna, as well as her renowned mother Francis Moore Lappé, speak in Minneapolis on June 16. Billed as "From Small Planet to Hot Planet" and moderated by Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy President Jim Harkness, the event features a discussion between the Lappés on the challenges of transforming the food system and the opportunities for intergenerational collaboration.Join us for this exciting opportunity!
May 07, 2010
Agriculture's largest threat
William Neuman and Andrew Pollack of the New York Times dug deeper earlier this week into the growing story of Roundup-resistant weeds and the chaos this is causing within the agriculture community. The Times story quotes Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts as saying, "It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen." And Tennessee farmer Eddie Anderson says, "We're back to where we were 20 years ago. We're trying to find out what works."
Why is growing resistance to Roundup in weeds such a big deal? Roundup Ready genetically engineered crops are one of the linchpins of conventional agriculture. Roundup Ready crops allow farmers to douse their crop with Roundup to kill the weeds, while the crop survives. Currently, more than 80 percent of corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered, and most are Roundup Ready.
As we wrote last month, the Natonal Research Council's assessment on the impact of GE crops on farmers pointed to nine species of weeds that have been identified in the U.S. as being resistant to Roundup. As Roundup loses its effectiveness, other—more toxic—herbicides will likely take its place.
But the Times story also points out how the loss of Roundup affects no-till farming, at least the way corn farmers practice it. No-till has been touted as more environmentally friendly by curbing erosion and runoff of fertilizers and pesticides. It also has been hyped as an important part of a prospective carbon market. By not tilling, carbon is sequestering in the soil, and hence could become an additional income stream for farmers as part of a carbon-offset system. But as the Times points out, with the decline in Roundup's effectiveness, commodity crop no-till may no longer be practical.
What might make more sense? A new study by researchers out of Iowa State found that farmers using a two-crop rotation (corn and soybeans) could cut their fossil fuel use in half by switching to a four-crop rotation (adding oats and alfalfa)—and they could make the same amount of money.
The emerging challenges of Roundup-resistant weeds point out once again why climate change policy needs to get it right on agriculture.
April 23, 2010
Water and the climate connections
Last week, the Feria del Agua—a water festival and fair—marked the 10th anniversary of the water wars that thwarted attempts to privatize water services in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Celebrations were kicked off April 15 with a parade from downtown Cochabamba to the Complejo Fabril (home of the Cochabamba Federation of Workers).
Nationally, the water wars not only paved the way for blocking privatization attempts of other natural resources in Bolivia, but also helped change the balance of power there, leading to the successful election of its first indigenous president. Globally, the Bolivian water wars called attention to attempts to privatize water in Asia, Africa and elsewhere in Latin America. In their wake, it became increasingly acceptable to claim water as a basic right.
In 2001, IATP used the Bolivian water privatization case study to successfully persuade the UN office of the Special Rapporteur—who was conducting a detailed study towards the formulation the U.N. General Comment 15 on right to water—to remove overt references to privatization as a strategy for ensuring the water supply and sanitation in realizing the right to water. IATP also made the case that the General Comment must include water for farming and other subsistence livelihood practices to help establish the right to adequate food as a necessary component of realizing the right to water.
The struggle for the right to water continues even now in Bolivia. As several bloggers from the international water fair have pointed out, the gains of the water war have yet to reach la zona su—a wide swath of poor communities at the southern edge of the city that are highly organized and militant—some of the principal protagonists of the struggle in 2000 that led to the expulsion of the multinational Bechtel. Hence the need for small, autonomous water committees that continue to serve the needs of the local population. La Feria del Agua was thus not only a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the water wars, but also a public event celebrating the work of these water committees.
Earlier this week, thousands more arrived in Cochabamba to participate in the People's Conference on Climate Change, at the invitation of Bolivian President Evo Morales and civil society groups. In an attempt to draw attention to the fact that water is in the eye of the climate storm, one of the days at the Feria was celebrated as a climate and water day. It was planned as a day to question the political processes that promote market-based solutions as an answer to the water and climate crises, and to advance alternatives. IATP, along with On the Commons and several other groups from around the world that work on water justice issues, came together to develop a fact sheet, “Water and Climate Change: What’s the connection?” and a draft declaration “On the Connection between Water and Climate Justice: Reviving a healthy climate through commons-based water management practices.” These were presented at the Feria. The purpose was to reach out to other constituencies and to show that their struggle is our struggle too—since water permeates climate, forests, agriculture and life itself.
As a participant at the climate forum pointed out to Jeff Conant (read him at Climate Connections), “The most important outcome of this meeting would be a stronger people’s movement on the climate crisis. It’s not about documents, it’s not about policy, it’s about standing up together against the climate criminals.” It is also about showing the world that there is an alternative.
Walking a new path on climate change
IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn is blogging from Cochabamba, Bolivia at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.
The Climate Conference concluded today with a dialogue between social movements and governments. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca described the process leading up to the meeting and the central role of indigenous people in the conference and on these issues, as guardians of the balance among peoples and between people and Mother Earth.
He also reported on the overwhelming participation in the conference. More than 35,000 people from 142 countries attended the meetings, 19,000 of them from outside of Bolivia. Some 47 governments were represented.
People from Australia, Malaysia, the United States and Bolivia reported back on the recommendations from the 17 working groups. They included proposals for a global referendum on climate change and the establishment of an international climate court. They insisted on the Kyoto Protocol as the only binding instrument to reduce global warming, and called on governments to review the failure of carbon markets. They held out agro-ecology and small-scale farming as the best way to feed the world while cooling the planet. The complete recommendations will be available on the conference website by April 26.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as well as the vice presidents of Cuba and Ecuador, responded with endorsements of the proposals. President Morales offered to facilitate sending the recommendations directly to the UN Secretary General, as well as inserting them in the negotiating process at the UNFCCC.
Of course, not all of these proposals fit within the UNFCCC process, but that really isn’t the point. People from around the world came together in Bolivia to confront the impending climate catastrophe. Action is needed at all levels—local, national and international. The World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was an exhilarating step along the way.
April 21, 2010
Bolivia climate conference opens with call for food sovereignty
IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn is blogging from Cochabamba, Bolivia at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.
The Conference opened today with a series of speeches by delegations from around the world. Each stressed the urgency of going beyond addressing the symptoms of global warming to taking actions to achieve deeper systems change.
A representative of La Via Campesina spoke on behalf of Latin America, emphasizing food sovereignty as a central solution to climate change. Throughout the day, in different panels and workshops, Via Campesina members stressed locally produced foods and sustainable agriculture grown by small-scale farmers as essential to cooling the planet while reducing hunger and strengthening rural livelihoods.
The opening events concluded with a rousing speech by President Evo Morales. He began with a concise critique of the Copenhagen Accord and the need for all countries to re-commit to the Kyoto Protocol process. However, he echoed the concerns raised by other delegations that market-based solutions will not solve the problems they helped to create.
Then, perhaps straying a bit from his prepared speech, he spoke about the importance of local foods. Too often, he said, multinational corporations promote genetically engineered crops and other technological solutions when the answers are really closer to home. During the food price crisis, wheat became very expensive, and many Bolivians returned to eating quinoa—a local crop that had been neglected for years. Now, he said, the FAO has released a report saying that quinoa is one of the most nutritious grains in the world. He pointed to his own full head of hair and joked that perhaps one reason so many European men are bald is that they eat too many genetically engineered, hormone-laced foods, instead of nutritious, locally grown foods.
It’s hard to talk about climate change without looking at inequality, both within and among nations. And there are no easy answers to either of them. But it just might be that the creative ideas and alliances formed at this conference help us to move a few steps towards fresh new solutions to both.
April 20, 2010
Farm groups talk climate in Cochabamba
IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn is blogging from Cochamamba, Bolivia at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.
Thousands of people from around the world streamed into the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (CMPCC) on Monday to continue discussions that started online on a range of issues related to climate justice. The location of the conference itself makes a political statement. This is the ten-year anniversary of the Cochabamba “Water War,” when thousands of local people rose up against the privatization of their water system. Walking into the conference site, the dramatic backdrop of the Andean mountains makes its own statement.
The online discussions were organized into 17 working groups on topics ranging from emissions reductions and finance to issues not on the official agenda, like migration and climate debt. Talks also centered on strategies, including the possible launch of a global peoples’ referendum on climate change. The final documents will help to shape the Bolivian government's positions on climate change and hopefully influence other government delegations arriving later in the week.
More than 900 people registered for the working group on agriculture and food sovereignty (our contribution is summarized here) and, of those, 130 submitted comments electronically. Those talks continued in Cochabamba with presentations by Via Campesina, who asserted that as much as 57 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with industrial agriculture. This includes emissions all along the production chain, including processing, packaging and transport (especially for export). On the other hand, converting to agroecological, locally oriented, smaller-scale production could lower emissions as much as 50 to 75 percent, while advancing food sovereignty, according to Via Campesina.
The working group discussions continued throughout the day, focusing on the need to address the role of agribusiness in climate change, the obstacles created by free trade and the climate challenges facing women, among other issues. Organizers worked late into the night to incorporate comments into new drafts of the position papers to be finalized in the coming days. Whatever the outcome of the papers, these talks have deeply involved farm organizations, raised the profile of agriculture and climate, and led to new ideas moving forward.
April 16, 2010
People's Conference on Climate Change next week
After official UN global climate talks stumbled again in Bonn last week, another global gathering will take a shot at reaching agreement on a plan to address climate change. Next week, the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth will run from April 19–22 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The gathering is expected to attract civil society groups around the world, along with developing country–government representatives, to develop alternative proposals to address global climate change.
Bolivian President Evo Morales is leading the call for the meeting after many developing-country governments were frustrated with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in December, which produced the Copenhagen Accord. Last week's Bonn meeting, the first since Copenhagen, revealed the growing rift between countries who want to continue negotiations based on the Kyoto Protocol and others, led by the U.S., who want to use the Copenhagen Accord as the basis for negotiations. IATP has been critical of the accord and the negotiating process in Copenhagen.
Organizers for the World People's Conference have set up 18 working groups to develop proposals on various aspects of a global climate treaty. IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn will report from Cochabamba next week. She is part of the "Agriculture and Food Sovereignty" and "Dangers of Carbon Markets" working groups. You can read Karen's submission on agriculture and climate change. A summary of IATP's concerns about the susceptibility of carbon markets to Wall Street speculators can be read here in English and in Spanish.
More from Cochabamba next week....
March 03, 2010
Farms in the balance: Countering attacks against EPA on climate
Attacks on the EPA have been coming fast and furious in the past few months. In contrast to Congress’s limp attempts to pass comprehensive climate legislation, the EPA has begun taking steps to address climate change. Most significantly, the agency declared greenhouse gases (GHGs) an “endangerment” to public health last year—a finding that enables the EPA to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act. That hasn’t sat well with those opposed to climate action.
In January, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a “resolution of disapproval” in the Senate that would kill the EPA’s ability to regulate GHGs. Although the resolution’s viability is unlikely, if passed it would require Obama’s signature, setting a disturbing precedent. The EPA decision was based on science. Murkowski’s resolution is pure politics. Congress shouldn’t have the authority to usurp science just because it doesn’t like the outcome.
Murkowski’s resolution has created something of a snowball effect. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, introduced a copycat resolution in the House earlier this week, no doubt pleasing mightily his supporters in the Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers’ Association and other conventional agriculture groups who have come out strongly in favor of Murkowski’s resolution.
Those groups, of course, don’t speak for all of agriculture or rural America. To that end, IATP joined 25 other agriculture and rural organizations yesterday in delivering a letter to the Senate urging them to vote against Murkowski’s resolution. Our argument is simple: If we refuse to take action on climate change, we put at risk our nation’s food supply and farmers’ livelihoods. We feel strongly that a comprehensive legislative approach to climate policy is the best way to deal with this issue, but waiting to act—and denying the science—is terribly shortsighted. Farmers and rural residents are already feeling the negative effects of climate change. It is in all our best interests to take action now.
You can read the letter here.
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Beyond Pesticides, California Certified Organic Farmers, California Climate and Agriculture Network, Center for Rural Affairs, Family Farm Defenders, Food and Water Watch, Iowa Environmental Council, Island Grown Initiative, Kansas Rural Center, League of Rural Voters, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, National Organic Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, Nebraska Wildlife Federation, Northeast Organic Farming Association Interstate Council, Organic Valley, Pesticide Action Network North America, Rodale Institute, Rural Advantage, Slow Food USA and The Organic Center.
February 17, 2010
Community building and climate justice
The non-binding Copenhagen Accord effectively failed to respond to the threat of climate change at the international level. Nationally, U.S. legislators are in limbo—some arguing for cap and trade, others for cap and dividend, and still others insisting that climate change simply doesn't exist. These stalemates—combined with the historical injustices that have left developing nations (internationally) and people of color and the indigenous (nationally) bearing the brunt of imbalanced policy decisions—beg the question: What can we do here and now to combat climate change and ensure that our communities have a place at the table?
Community members, artists and activists met at the All Nations Indian Church in Minneapolis for the "Communities of Color and Indigenous Peoples Climate Justice Debriefing" hosted by IATP's Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) on Monday night. CEED Senior Policy Fellow Dr. Cecilia Martinez and CEED Director Shalini Gupta shared their experiences at the Copenhagen climate talks—one, not uniquely, full of long lines and being denied entry—and discussed the importance of working at the local level and utilizing indigenous knowledge in addressing climate justice issues.
Dr. Rose Brewer, a member of CEED's advisory board, summarized her experience in Pittsburgh at the most recent G-20 summit where demonstrators, organizers and activists worked hard to be heard. Among many other things, they hosted a People's Tribunal, putting the G-20 to trial for the impacts of their policies around the world with testimony from community members and policy experts. And, of course, there was a verdict. As she asked last night—can you guess what it was?
So, what can indigenous communities and communities of color do, on the ground level, to battle injustice and address climate change? Moderator LeMoine LaPoint (also a member of CEED's advisory board) talked about the power of indigenous knowledge—the fact that people have known about climate change for a while, even if the scientific community has only recently caught on. He then asked the group for emerging solutions they envision for their communities and organizations. Some common themes included sharing information among groups and linking organizations in order to create a stronger voice; becoming united under a holistic approach to changing consumption and production patterns; and using arts, ceremony and ritual to control the story, rather than internalizing the current system that unfairly impacts minorities, the indigenous and the impoverished.
The issue of green capitalism came up as well: one participant compared it to installing solar panels on the Titanic while making sure it doesn't change course—i.e., the same companies advocating for "green business" have a heavy interest in making sure the power structure stays the same. This issue of framing struck a chord with many in the room: Is the system broken, or working as it's supposed to in maintaining the status quo? Is climate justice an environmental issue or one of an economic and power structure that needs to change?
In the end, the group seemed to agree that keys to success were communication, building alliances and reaching a critical mass to take control of resources and energy consumption in their community, currently controlled by corporations and private interests. Energy sharing, cooperative solutions and developing sustainable systems through local food and energy production were all cited as potential projects. Furthermore, the idea of establishing a meeting place where organizers and community members could come together and discuss ongoing work gained traction around the room.
Was last night's meeting the start of something big for Minneapolis? It's very possible. What's certain, however, is that community building can happen now, while international summits and legislative filibusters are still floundering.
February 03, 2010
Checking the Copenhagen report card
Under the Copenhagen Accord, January 31 was the deadline for participating countries to report their commitments to reduce climate change. The U.S. Climate Network has the list of country commitments including the U.S., EU, China, India and Brazil. According to the UN, fifty-five countries in total—representing over 78 percent of global emissions—made pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A quick perusal of the numbers, however, casts doubt on their value. They include a mix of goals that use different baseline years and measurements for reductions, making it difficult to compare commitments between countries. For example, many countries have emission targets. Others, like China, use carbon intensity (fossil fuels per economic unit). The weakness of the U.S. proposal stands out. Its proposed 17-percent reduction in emissions by 2020 is contingent on the passage of U.S. climate change legislation (Hello? Congress?).
The positive spin is that many countries are making their first public commitments within an international context. Some are raising previously announced goals and most are going ahead with national initiatives of some sort, despite the emptiness of the accord. Equally important is that by submitting their reduction goals, countries are demonstrating a willingness to continue working through the UN process despite its trials and tribulations.
January 20, 2010
Organic agriculture and climate policy
Organic agriculture stores more carbon in the soil than conventional agriculture. It has fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional agriculture because it doesn't use fossil fuel intensive pesticides or fertilizers. Its combination of expanded soil fertility and flexible crop rotations make it more adaptable to the effects of climate change and, in the case of developing countries, may be better suited to produce more food. These are the conclusions of a new paper by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, titled Organic Agriculture and Carbon Sequestration.
The FAO researchers also point out that the precise measuring of carbon sequestration for agriculture is not well developed. This is a problem for those pushing for carbon accounting standards that would designate agriculture as an offset market for polluters (IATP has been critical of this approach) and why most existing carbon accounting systems do not consider agricultural carbon sequestration. Those carbon accounting systems that do consider sequestration do not adequately consider the full contributions of organic agriculture, according to the FAO paper.
Despite these clear advantages, organic agriculture continues to be on the outside looking in when it comes to climate policy. At the global climate talks in Copenhagen, the new Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases emphasized the development of new technologies for agriculture. Organic agriculture wasn't mentioned. It's easy to be cynical about this: organic practices are knowledge-based versus techno fixes that are patent-based and benefit agribusiness companies.
Over the next four years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects to invest $320 million in climate change mitigation and adaptation research for agriculture. The USDA should read this new FAO report and make sure that organic agriculture has a prominent place on its research agenda.
December 22, 2009
Trading carbon emissions: Turning a liability into an asset?
Accountants are trying to decide whether credits for trading carbon dioxide are assets or whether they are liabilities unless and until firms comply with progressively more stringent annual limits on their greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office has estimated the value of credits given away for free to major emitters (or polluters according to the Clean Air Act) under proposed legislation at $50–300 billion USD, depending on the evolution of the carbon price in the commodity futures market. However, if the beneficiary firms fail to invest in a low-carbon economy and fail to comply with their carbon cap, then carbon dioxide emissions are a liability not just for the firm, but for the planet and its people.
This accountancy dilemma was just one problematic aspect of carbon emissions trading GHG-reduction technologies debated at several side meetings that I went to during a week of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. The messages from these meetings ranged widely. There were denunciations of carbon trading as a threat to local efforts to reduce GHGs. Carbon trading proponents asserted that only when the futures market discovered the “right” price for carbon on a consistent basis would major investment flows begin to save the planet from the ravages of climate change. Here are a few anecdotes that illustrate the hopes of the carbon traders and the problems embedded in such hopes.
More than one potential beneficiary voiced displeasure at exacting verification requirements. Robert Carlsen, president of the North Dakota National Farmers Union, told participants that about 4,000 of his members had signed legally binding, multi-year contracts. As an aggregator of GHG reductions, NFU was liable to its members for contract performance to deliver GHG-reduction payments. A Canadian farm official asked if disagreements about verification methodologies prevent his farmers from realizing their anticipated payments, following their investments towards changing how they farm. Other participants suggested that until such time as there was scientific agreement about verification, why not certify farms as having complied with GHG-reduction practices? One participant said that farmers could be certified just as organic farmers are.
Certification of good agricultural practices would not suffice to monitor and verify GHG reductions, said Alex Michaelowa, an offset project developer with Perspectives Climate Change. Without GHG-reduction verification, offset credits could not be sold, nor, it was implied, could farmers receive payments from those sales. Michaelowa said that the science demonstrating GHG reductions from sequestering carbon in soil was “ambiguous.” Although U.S. legislation would start a carbon credit and offset credit market in 2012, it is not clear that there will be agreement on verification methodology for various would-be GHG-reduction agricultural activities in time for the anticipated legislative start of the carbon markets.
For developing countries expecting offset credit payments from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) operated by the World Bank, agriculture and food security are vulnerable to offset development projects, even if GHG reductions can be scientifically verified. One UN Food and Agriculture Organization official estimated that offset revenues could never amount to more than 10 percent of small landholder revenues, so the transaction costs of offset projects would have to be very low to attract the cooperation of farmers. Otherwise, said one participant from India, the transaction costs could damage already economically vulnerable farmers, including commercial farmers.
At the unofficial side events in the Klimaforum, there was widespread opposition to using land in developing countries for offset projects. At “Agrofuels in Africa,” the African Biodiversity Project noted that about 70 percent of African land was communally owned with no formal land titles. The expropriation of these lands for growing biofuels crops and the eviction of their indigenous peoples was predicated on a myth that these lands “marginal” to agricultural production. The contribution that biofuels might make to reducing GHGs by reducing fossil fuel use is controversial. In land classified by governments as “marginal” in order to justify expropriation to benefit investors, dry land agricultural and pastoralist livestock husbandry are the basis of food security and rural development. However, the UNFCCC sustainability criteria for offset projects exclude food security as a climate change concern.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) which includes carbon “border adjustment measures,” both tariff and non-tariff measures to impede the entry of products from countries that the U.S. judges to not have a “comparable” GHG-reduction regime. One participant said that if “border adjustment measures” were signed into law by President Barack Obama, all industrialized countries would be compelled to introduce their own measures. There was disagreement about whether such border measures would be consistent with the governments’ commitments to World Trade Organization agreements. But there was general agreement that the WTO could not act as a “policeman” for the UNFCCC.
In a remarkable exchange, Resources for the Future, a U.S. NGO with major corporate backing, asked an EU consultant whether the European Commission was likely to emulate the ACES provision that allowed major emitters to “update” their GHG cap every year, to provide flexibility in meeting the overall 2020 cap. The consultant replied that if emitters were allowed to adjust the cap at their convenience, what would be the incentive for planning to meet the cap? Since the EU GHG-reduction commitment is based on the more stringent 1990 emissions baseline and ACES uses a more emitter-generous 2005 baseline, allowing emitters “updating” flexibility may be the least of the difficulties of linking EU and U.S. carbon markets.
We were able to participate in only one side event in the Bella Center, the site of the UNFCCC negotiations. Increasingly restrictive access culminated with the arrival of the Heads of State, when only 90 of nearly 30,000 registered NGOs were able to enter the Bella Center. That event, hosted by the Carbon Marketing and Investors Association, addressed what investors would need in a climate change agreement to put their money into both a low-carbon economy and GHG-reduction technology. First, said one participants from Bank of America, negotiators would have to produce a “credible cap” on emissions in order to generate demand for buying offset credits and for firms to meet their caps through technology investments. CAMCO, a large offset project developer through the World Bank’s CDM, said that investors needed faster verification of CDM GHG reductions. They couldn’t invest in CDM projects and then wait 3–4 years for verification that would release CDM funds to their investors. The climate change negotiators had to find a way to CDM projects more widely to attract more investors. There were more CDM projects in Chile than in all of sub-Saharan Africa.
December 18, 2009
Copenhagen is not the end, but the beginning
At his press conference in Copenhagen a few minutes ago, U.S. President Barack Obama said, "This agreement is not the end, but the beginning of a process." In a candid moment discussing the global climate agreement reached today, Obama explained why: the national emission targets to be outlined in the agreement will not achieve the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed by 2050.
Below is our press release on the conclusion of the climate talks, plagued by problems throughout the last week. Let's hope this is only the beginning.
Women speaking out on climate change
Climate justice has been the central focus of the civil society meetings at the Klimaforum this week in Copenhagen. Discussions in the halls and protests on the street have focused on the unfairness of greenhouse gas emissions that have been overwhelmingly generated in the countries of the North but whose impacts will be experienced most severely in the South.
That inequality plays out within countries too, as well as within households. In many cases, it will be women who face the harshest impacts of wild swings of droughts and flooding, ever shrinking growing seasons and competition for diminishing resources. At a session on women and climate change, Ekenma Julia from the University of Nigeria described studies in several local communities showing that women are already more aware of climate change than men. Some 61 percent were aware of recent climate change, compared to 34 percent of men. Those women tended to earn incomes selling poultry or vegetables or other jobs that were dependent on nature in some way. They were also more likely than men to already be doing what they could to cope with these changes, such as building rainwater catchment systems to confront increasing droughts. Nigerian women’s groups and their allies were demanding that rich countries drastically lower their emissions and that gender issues be mainstreamed into climate talks.
The World March of Women held a meeting to talk about how to refocus some of their work on the impacts of climate change and women's demands. Women from Brazil, the Philippines, Peru and the UK talked about how climate change is aggravating existing inequality. They are considering how to shift some of their campaign efforts to take this new challenge into account.
In some ways, climate change seems like a new lens to focus on existing problems of gender inequality, food security and livelihoods. The difference is that weather extremes and shifts in resources could mean that those problems become much worse. The tepid responses in the official negotiations aren’t nearly enough. We need more of the sense of urgency, righteous indignation and calls to action taking place in the Klimaforum.