About IATP

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.

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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.



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June 28, 2011

Small insights about the big picture in climate negotiations

Bonn2 It is axiomatic that negotiations successful for all sides require good faith. It would be inaccurate to say that good faith was completely absent during the climate change negotiations, June 6–17 in Bonn, Germany. Nearly two weeks of negotiations among the contact group for Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) produced a draft decision text to enhance action on adapting to climate change. There was progress on agreeing to the terms for authorizing an invitation to host the Climate Technology Center and Network. The institutions chosen by the Conference of Parties (CoP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will implement the terms of the Technology Mechanism decided at the CoP in Cancún, Mexico in 2010. The Center and Network will respond to developing country requests for needs assessments and technology options advice to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gases. However, the Technology Mechanism will not pay for transfer of technologies to developing countries, as is required by Article 4.5 of the convention.

Money, or rather lack of it, was one motivation for accusations that the United States was negotiating in bad faith. The U.S. refusal to discuss the sources of the $100 billion Green Climate Fund by 2020 agreed in Cancún, the U.S. suggestion that the fund might not reach $100 billion, and its meager contribution to the Fast Start Finance promised by developed countries in Cancún, reinforced an impression that the United States was negotiating in bad faith: the U.S. government would not pay the costs of adaptation to, and mitigation of, climate change on anything near the scale of its historic and current responsibility as a major emitter of GHGs.

But perhaps at the core of the accusations of bad faith, and not just those directed at the U.S. delegation, was the belief that no matter what position papers parties advanced, no matter the extent of consensus among parties for some of those positions, the decision-making process would be controlled by a few developed countries and the UNFCCC secretary. At a Friends of the Earth (FoE) press conference, Michelle Maynard of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said that she could still not get a satisfactory answer about who wrote the Cancún CoP decision document that was presented to delegates with less than three hours time to review on a take-it-or-leave -it basis. In Bonn, Maynard put the question to Patricia Espinosa, the President of the Cancún CoP, who replied that the decision was the result of a “new methodology.” As to the rumor that the decision was drafted under the supervision of a “U.S. legal expert,” Secretary Espinosa had nothing to say.

Last year Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, characterized the Cancún decision-making process as uncannily like that of the opaque “Green Room” process of the World Trade Organization negotiations. Will the Green Room become the new normal of convention negotiations and if so, will that process be used to decide on an agricultural work program in advance of a work program in any other economic sector? Will agriculture, along with forestry, be reduced to providing carbon emissions offsets for other sectors to buy, in order to comply with voluntary or mandatory GHG caps?

South Africa, the president of the 2011 CoP, has announced that agreement to commit to an agricultural work program will be its signal achievement. To procure an African consensus for the CoP, South Africa will host a September 1–3 meeting of African agriculture, environment and finance ministers, financed and co-organized by the World Bank. The bank has a long announced interest in expanding its $2.1 billion in Bio-Carbon Funds by a CoP decision to allow agricultural land based carbon emissions offset credits to provide an underlying asset for the carbon derivatives market. Despite the mandate, from Cancún previous decisions, to have a balance between the funding of adaptation and mitigation projects, including carbon emissions offsets, the bank’s Global Environmental Facility has invested just $50 million in adaptation.

In Bonn, the Substantive Body on Scientific and Technology Advice (SBSTA), refused to establish an agricultural work program. However, the 2011 chair of the ad hoc working group on Long-Term Cooperation is Daniel Reifsnyder, a U.S. official. The U.S. and other developed country supporters of an agriculture program, with the aid of an African “consensus” on agriculture resulting from the September 1–2 meeting, and the bank’s offer of public money to support African carbon offset projects, in exchange for African support, may be able to forge an agreement to launch an agricultural work program.

Since U.S. Vice President Al Gore made inclusion of carbon markets a condition of the U.S. signing on to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the carbon market designers have struggled to make the markets work to reduce GHGs. The U.S. failure to join the Kyoto Protocol after developing countries reluctantly agreed to inclusion of a carbon market provision is one of those demands that may or may not have been demanded in bad faith.  Now, when Japan, Russia, Canada and the United States oppose an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, with its mandatory caps on GHGs, “new market mechanisms” are proposed in addition to the ones that haven’t worked.

IATP has written elsewhere about the many vulnerabilities to failure of carbon markets. A broad range of these vulnerabilities were presented at the IATP and FERN co-organized side event on June 14. IATP has recommended a due diligence review of carbon emissions market performance before parties commit to supporting “new market mechanisms."

Carbon market failure would not be a matter of gravest concern if other programs to reduce GHG were working. At this point, however, parties cannot even agree on a target year for the peaking of GHGs nor what that target should be, nor whether developing countries should be obliged to assume reduction commitments that the developed countries have been unable to achieve. Instead there is a mercantile approach to climate governance, trying to lock in climate commitments from other parties, while ensuring that none of those commitments damage trading interests. Such language is included in a proposed draft LCA decision for a SBSTA program in agriculture that may be agreed during the next CoP, November 28 to December 10 in Durban, South Africa.

It will be a tragedy if Bolivia alone opposes such a Durban decision, due to a Green Room procedure that excludes most parties, as Bolivia did in Cancún. Instead there is ample substantive grounds to oppose a decision whose implementation would almost certainly benefit carbon market investors far more than it would enable agricultural producers and rural communities to take urgently needed action to adapt to climate change.

Steve Suppan

June 27, 2011

Agriculture to feature as a key issue on the Road to Durban: opens up critical debates

Shefali Sharma blogged from Bonn, Germany climate talks. See her presentation from IATP's official side event for more.

As the UNFCCC negotiations came to a close Friday evening (June 17) in Bonn, the stage was set for a heated fight on agriculture as governments head to Durban for COP 17. South Africa, as well as the United States, have indicated that they would like to see agriculture as a “deliverable” in Durban.  

There are nonetheless numerous issues of contention to be resolved: what the defining focus of agriculture should be in the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA ) under the negotiating agenda “cross-sectoral approaches and Bonn  sector-specific actions” (linked to the Convention Article 4, para (c)[1]); whether parties will agree to launch an agriculture work program in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) and when; if so, what the scope of prioritizing adaptation and food security would be; and what role carbon markets and agriculture offsets will play in emissions reductions and accounting loopholes.

Agriculture, a critical issue for the food security of the planet, food sovereignty of communities and governments, opens up a pandora’s box in the UNFCCC.  For instance, it could instigate a WTO fight in the UNFCCC since mitigation of emissions related to livestock (methane) and nitrous oxides (fertilizer) pit one country’s production processes against another’s. It also initiates a debate about the environmental integrity and economic feasibility of soil carbon accounting on agricultural lands and appropriate incentives for agroecological investment in the sector. In addition, soil carbon offsets to feed carbon markets would require the aggregation of thousands of hectares and thousands of farmers. Social and human rights impacts in developing countries and environmental and financial costs of devising monitoring reporting and verification (MRV) systems geared for carbon accounting and thus carbon offset credits must be vetted for their appropriateness.   

Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States will include agriculture in their Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs). Both are also part of the 34-member Global Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases launched at the margins of Copenhagen when the agriculture text was first introduced in the LCA. Spearheaded by New Zealand, the United States, Canada and other developed countries, the alliance now “provides a framework for voluntary action” and has grown to include developing country members. It is composed of three research groups covering  croplands, paddy rice, and livestock, but also two cross-cutting issues: soil carbon and nitrogen cycling, and inventories and measurement.

According to a new study by the Stolkholm Environment Institute, Annex 1 countries accounting loopholes “more than” negate the emissions reduction pledges they have made to get us to a 2 degree goal of global warming.  The rise in emissions due to carbon accounting loopholes and their subsequent impact on food production and farming systems must therefore also be an integral part of discussion on agriculture and climate change.  

What happened in Bonn?

Agriculture first came in with a mitigation focus as  in draft decision “J” in the LCA text in Copenhagen under the umbrella of article “I.b.iv” of the Bali Action Plan referred to as “cross-sectoral approaches.”  Given the overloaded agenda of the UNFCCC negotiations, only a handful of countries have actively participated in agriculture discussions since the end of 2009—namely the agriculture export dominated “Umbrella Group” countries of New Zealand, Canada, Australia, but also Switzerland and the United States. From developing countries, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Philippines, Thailand, Bolivia have been active in the debate at different times.  Saudi Arabia also remains engaged on this issue given that oil and energy are critical elements of “cross-sectoral” mitigation actions. In Bonn, India and African countries also engaged on this issue. 

While the agriculture chapter was taken out of a final Cancún outcome, it emerged again in Bangkok this spring largely as an agenda fight: where best to put agriculture in the LCA. New Zealand and Canada proposed a direct SBSTA work program or a broader discussion in the LCA outside of 1.b.iv, while the G-77 insisted that the framework of the Bali Action Plan be adhered to and thus agriculture should remain under 1.b.iv. 

Much of the discussion in Bonn (see my other recent blog from Bonn), as in Bangkok, centered on an agenda fight—New Zealand, Canada and Switzerland lobbied that agriculture be directly included in the SBSTA agenda and a work program be launched. Failing its adoption in the Bonn SBSTA, they proposed that it be included as a SBSTA work program in SBSTA 36 (June 2012). They also pushed to address address agriculture within the LCA in “additional matters” rather than under “cross-sectoral approaches” so as to remove references to trade in previous agriculture drafts. In the end, the G-77 fought hard to keep agriculture under cross-sectoral approaches, where they felt a general framework for cross sectoral approaches needed to be developed balancing all sectors, including bunker fuels. New Zealand and others wanted to launch the work program and/or deal with agriculture outside of cross-sectoral approaches to avoid a trade discussion. They also asserted that they wanted to address both adaptation and mitigation regarding agriculture. 

In the end, agriculture did not enter the SBSTA agenda but remained in “cross sectoral approaches.”  Large parts of the new Bonn text remain unchanged from August 14, 2010 (pg 70), however new language was added by Brazil, India, Bolivia and Saudi Arabia, backed by other developing countries such as China and others. A struggle continues between developing and developed countries on the language around trade.

New language clearly stressed agriculture adaptation as the priority for discussion, followed by objections to carbon markets and mitigation offsets in developing countries (Bolivia):

Recognizing that adaptation for developing country Parties is the outmost priority and that market-based mechanisms, particularly offsets, for mitigation in the agriculture sector will not achieve the necessary emission reductions due to, inter alia, non-permanence, additionality and leakage.

Other new language stressed the importance of the sector to development priorities (Brazil):

[…] sector-specific actions in the agriculture sector should not limit the ability of developing country Parties to pursue economic and social development and poverty eradication, and, to that end, that it is essential that cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific action in the agriculture sector are undertaken in a manner that is supportive of an open international economic system.

And in paragraph 4:

[Decides that cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions in the agriculture sector shall be based on the best available science, taking into account fully differences between agricultural systems regarding geographic, economic and social conditions and specific national development priorities and circumstances, in particular of developing country Parties, in accordance with equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and in the light of the fact that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing country Parties.]

Unilateral trade measures on agriculture by developed countries was a primary concern to the G77 including India and Brazil. India proposed new specific language:

[…] developed country parties shall not impose unilaterally any technical regulations, sanitary and phytosanitary measures or market-based mechanisms on any grounds related to climate change, including stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations, emissions leakage and/or the cost of environment compliance, that will have a negative effect on trade in agriculture from developing countries.

In addition, new and critical linkages to agriculture mitigation, climate change and food price rises was also made by the net food importer, para. 3 ( Saudi Arabia):

[Decides that cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions in agriculture shall not lead to increases in the prices of agriculture products, and shall not threaten food security in any way]

Consensus in the run up to Durban or at Durban will likely be difficult. However, it is also clear that the World Bank wants to ramp up its engagement on agriculture by convincing African governments in particular, that agriculture could be a lucrative opportunity to attract carbon finance (see Guardian coverage of IATP research on the Bank’s Biocarbon project). With talk about “partnership,” “readiness” and “early action,” it appears that the World Bank and others would like to launch a similar process with agriculture as REDD. There seems to be a hope that, as in REDD, pilot projects can create a political momentum for carbon markets to include soil carbon. This is likely to be a tough sell to sound investors given the numerous difficulties the carbon market is facing today and with the carbon price crashing. 

Regardless, Annex 1 countries are heavily advocating for carbon markets and various associated financial instruments as “innovative sources” of carbon finance in an area of negotiations called “Various approaches […]” through which sectors such as agriculture can be included. A similar move continues in the LULUCF discussions with the draft text proposing to consider the expansion of the CDM to include “additional land use, land-use change and forestry activities.” The CDM currently only includes afforestation and reforestation activities and limits these LULUCF credits to 1 percent of total CDM credits. 

There was also a big fight on what the general framework on cross-sectoral approaches should be and on bunker fuel. This means that there are three simultaneous fights under the “cross-sectoral approaches" agenda—none of which are resolved. One option out of four proposed for a general framework says “approaches and actions shall be of a voluntary nature” while others make no mention of this. The fourth option proposes “no need for a general framework.”

Democratic deficit in discussions about agriculture and climate change

The Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, and umbrella platform of over 20 million farmers in Eastern Africa and PACJA, a network of 300 African civil society organizations issued a joint declaration on the eve of the Bonn talks regarding agriculture and climate change. Among other issues, they highlighted the democratic deficit of the UNFCCC discussions on agriculture, which to date, have completely ignored the perspective of small-scale producers and civil society organizations. The  Joint Declaration states:

[...] farmers organizations and other civil society organizations [must] play a central role in the design, implementation and review of all climate-related policies, including national adaptation plans of action (NAPAs) and nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) and in the formulation of all sectoral, national, regional and international policies affecting [their interests].

The declaration continues:

We express our concern over the handling of agriculture issues in the UNFCCC negotiations. Inadequate consultation has taken place at both the national and international level with farmers and other members of civil society. We are concerned with attempts to create new agendas to address agriculture in UNFCCCC subsidiary bodes as distracting attention from the urgent need for compensation and finance for adaptation and for measure to address loss and damage and response measures that undermine rural poor communities in developing countries, including perverse subsidies. We believe that discussions in the UNFCCC must be based on prior extensive consultation with rural communities if their rights and interests are to be protected.

They call for a development approach, centered on food security and rural livelihoods with full consultation on national, regional and global levels and one which includes a variety of organizations in addition to UNFCCC such as the FAO, UNEP and others.

Finally, as this debate picks up, the key body that coordinates all food agencies response to food security, the Committee on Food Security has also commissioned its high-level panel of experts to conduct a study on the impacts of climate change on food security and nutrition, including the challenges to adaptation and mitigation. The CFS’s leadership will be an important contribution to getting the right focus on climate and agriculture with food security at the center. Unlike the UNFCCC where civil society is increasingly excluded from the proceedings, the CFS allows all stakeholders to participate in its deliberations, making it a much more representative space to lead the discussions on agriculture and climate change. 

—Shefali Sharma 

Image used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user benkamorvan.

[1] Parties shall “promote and cooperate in the development, diffusion, including  transfer, of technologies, practices and processes that control, reduce, or prevent anthropogenic emissions […] in all relevant sectors including the energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry,  and waste management.”


Andrew Ranallo

June 21, 2011

On dead zones, flooding and money

Algal Blooms Lake Erie. That’s how big this year’s dead zone—the largest ever—in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be, according to National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration predictions.

Dead zones (aka hypoxic zones) are low-oxygen aquatic areas that can no longer support life. They form when algal blooms, fed by nutrient pollution, eat up all available oxygen. Much of this pollution enters the water far upstream in the form of nutrient run-off from farm fields. For the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the corn and soybean fields of the Upper Mississippi River Basin that are the primary nutrient contributors.

There are lots of elements that contribute to dead zone formation, but this year’s record-breaker is the result of three primary factors:

  1. Climate change, which is making “freak” weather events like flooding and droughts the norm
  2. Monoculture industrial agriculture systems that rely heavily on synthetic nutrients and don’t hold on to them very well
  3. An overly engineered river system made up of locks and dams (in place to manage navigation, not flooding) that has isolated the river from its floodplains and limited its natural resiliency and ability to self-regulate

Dead zones are a huge problem with huge costs; estimates put the damage to the U.S. economy at about $82 million annually from algal blooms, affecting everything from the gulf's fishing industry to public health. Add in the dollars that flow off the farm in the form of nutrient run-off (as fossil fuel prices rise, so do fertilizer costs) and you have one very expensive problem.

Fortunately, the solutions come relatively cheap.

In the short term, farmers need to improve nutrient management on the farm to make sure they apply the right amounts at the right times to minimize run-off. In the medium term, we need to help farmers transition to better farming systems based on perennials and crop diversity, systems that require fewer nutrient inputs and that can hold on much better to those they do need. There are many farmers already moving in these directions, and they need as much support as we can give them.

Second, we need to restore our river systems to make the Mississippi and its tributaries more resilient to flooding. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would like to see us go the opposite direction by spending billions of dollars to build more locks and dams along the rivers, a request that is not only wasteful and unnecessary, but would further degrade the river environment. As the planet warms, increased resiliency of all our natural systems—waterways and agriculture included—will be paramount.

Julia Olmstead

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

April 22, 2011

Lessons for Africa's carbon exchange

Later this month, carbon market investors will gather in Nairobi at a meeting hosted by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation. The meeting will connect heavy hitters in the carbon market world like Barclays Bank, JP Morgan, and the German bank KfW with African project managers.

Part of the reason for the meeting is the March 24 launch of the Africa Carbon Exchange (ACX). The ACX is positioning itself as the hub of climate change business on the African continent. But as IATP's Shefali Sharma writes in a new commentary, "existing and attempted carbon emissions exchanges in Europe and the United States have suffered one blow after another—fraud, carbon credit theft, poor legislative design, even profits for some major polluters—all at the expense of ordinary citizens and the environment." Due to these failures, Bloomberg recently characterized carbon trading as "a backwater of the global commodities market."

Shefali writes, "There is a real danger that carbon offsets will become a major policy distraction and capital diversion from the real climate change challenges that Africa faces: the urgent task of climate change adaptation and ensuring resilience of communities." You can read the full commentary here.



Ben Lilliston

April 12, 2011

Five reasons carbon markets won't work for agriculture

Carbon markets are viewed as the primary source of climate financing. The experience to date demands a reevaluation of their ability to exact real, sustainable change, particularly in relation to agriculture. Here are five reasons why poorly designed and regulated carbon markets should not be part of a global climate treaty.

1. The high cost to people, health and the climate

Market-based mechanisms aim “to enhance the cost-effectiveness of, and to promote, mitigation actions.” But thus far, carbon emissions trading has been cost-effective only for those firms that have received billions of dollars in carbon credits for free from governments that can afford to subsidize their industries. It is certainly not cost-effective for the millions of people whose health is impaired because they live near industrial facilities that choose to buy offset credits rather than invest in pollution prevention. (U.S. courts are beginning to investigate the public health effects of carbon markets.) Nor is it cost-effective for the indigenous peoples dispossessed of their land to make way for carbon-offset investors’ projects.

Market-based mechanisms should be evaluated according to broader criteria, such as vulnerability, harm to food production and sustainable development, and on the basis of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities.

2. Fostering excessive speculation

One new market proposal is “green sectoral bonds” from the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Under this proposal, “green sectoral bond” investors would receive developing-country carbon credits to repackage and trade as derivatives. Developing countries would incur debt in contracts for which they, and not private contractors of mitigation technologies, would bear liability for failure to meet stipulated GHG reductions. Because countries, not private firms, are liable for bond performance failure, an ensuing chain of climate debt could prevent developing countries from accessing capital markets. This proposal would also shift historic responsibility for mitigation significantly to developing countries.

The derivatives component of market proposals are vulnerable to excessive speculation that has plagued commodity markets since at least 2007 and exacerbated price volatility. There is considerable evidence of excessive speculation in commodity markets, aided by deregulation, especially in energy. Carbon and energy prices tend to move together. When hedge funds and commodity index funds add carbon to their portfolios, this speculation—and volatility—will increase.

Market mechanisms are also vulnerable to the common crimes, deceptive market practices and tax fraud that have plagued trading under the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

3. Exacerbating food price volatility

When wheat and other cereal prices surged in September 2010, the FAO’s Committee on Commodity Problems held an emergency meeting. The committee found that speculation was one of the key factors in the prevailing volatile and escalating prices in the cereal market and agreed that further work must be done to enhance transparency and manage the risks associated with new sources of market volatility.”

Carbon is considered a commodity like oil, rice, maize and wheat. Excessive speculation in carbon is likely to exacerbate food and commodity price volatility. Bundling carbon derivatives into index funds with other commodities would also tend to destabilize prices. Highly volatile oil and food commodity prices impact economic stability and the agriculture sector as a whole, given the high dependence on fossil fuels for synthetic fertilizers, transport, distribution and storage.

4. Measurement difficulties and transaction costs

Offset projects in the agricultural sector would create significant challenges of measurement and environmental integrity. Like the forestry sector, leakage (carbon sequestered in one project leaked through land-use changes elsewhere), permanence (carbon is highly variable in soil and may not be stored permanently) and additionality (the degree to which the carbon stored is additional to what would have been stored in a business-as-usual scenario) are significant barriers to the environmental integrity of soil-carbon offsets.

There is a lack of data and measurements of in situ soil types, climate variability, past and future land use, and management practices. Soil carbon content can be highly variable depending on crops and their cropping cycles, human activity, land tenure and the climate itself. A costly combination of quantitative and qualitative field data with sophisticated models would be required to achieve greater accuracy with no guarantee of lasting emissions reductions.

The World Bank BioCarbon Fund’s pilot soil-carbon sequestration project in Western Kenya acknowledges that it cannot accurately measure carbon in the soil. Instead, the World Bank will use a series of proxies to measure for soil-carbon sequestration. The transaction costs associated with this project are more than 1 million USD.

The FAO acknowledges the high transaction costs involved in these projects and the potential impacts on small-scale farmers and food security. It estimates that close to 17 billion euros could be required between 2010 and 2030 to establish appropriate mitigation measures, monitoring, reporting and verifying methodologies and convert them into carbon credit equivalents.

Carbon market “readiness” projects that include agriculture will divert institutional, human and monetary resources away from direct support of climate adaptation for small-scale farmers.

5. Undermining the transition to sustainable agriculture that respects human rights

Offset projects could create additional challenges for land rights and food security. To be profitable, agriculture soil carbon projects will require that a large number of farmers’ activities are aggregated into a “carbon pool.” Such schemes require a large number of hectares to be profitable for project developers, investors and traders. Aggregating small farmers for the sake of carbon credits will create the potential for increased social conflict and human rights violations around land tenure, land grabbing and the displacement of food production in favor of more easily calculated carbon sinks.

Such aggregated projects could foster a range of untested, costly and controversial technologies that farmers are asked to adopt as “quick fixes” for ease of measurability. Technologies such as biochar and genetically modified mono-cropping could be promoted at the expense of locally appropriate, affordable and ecological approaches that help small producers adapt to climate change while sequestering carbon.

A different approach

There is a real risk that the market-based approaches under consideration at the UNFCCC will continue to fail—both financially and environmentally. Market-based offsets that do not result in emissions reductions further jeopardize the agriculture sector’s ability to adapt to a dangerously warming planet. The focus on market mechanisms is a critical distraction from curbing the real sources of pollution and supporting agricultural practices that reduce emissions while ensuring food security, environmental integrity and rural livelihoods. The reduction of nitrous oxides associated with synthetic fertilizers and emissions from the industrial livestock industry should be starting points for mitigation actions related to agriculture. Direct public support for local seed banks, agroforestry and organic practices are only a few of many that are much less costly and can provide adaptive and mitigation benefits.

Alternative proposals for climate finance exist and need the political courage of governments be to put into action.

Download the PDF of this factsheet or see the fully cited February 21, 2011 comment to the UNFCCC it is based upon. 

—Karen Hansen-Kuhn

Ben Lilliston

March 16, 2011

The Brazil connection: agriculture, biofuels and land use

Today, four IATP staff will lead a small delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil (we'll be reporting here on the trip throughout the next week). We're traveling to Brazil to learn more about something called "indirect land-use change" (ILUC)—a concept that has important implications for farmers, food security, the climate and, of course, land in both Brazil and the United States.

Indirect land-use change, very broadly, is the idea that what we grow on agricultural land in the U.S. affects agricultural production in other parts of the world. For example, more corn grown in the U.S. to meet biofuel markets has come at the expense of soybean production, signaling soybean producers in other parts of the world to expand production, often damaging the environment, so goes ILUC thinking. Disagreements over whether ILUC actually takes place, and if so, how much is occuring, have been part of heated debates over California's low-carbon fuel standards, national renewable fuel standards, the EU's biofuel mandates and at global climate talks. Disputes over ILUC have frequently pitted environmentalists against farmers.

ILUC discussions also often include Brazil. Like the U.S., Brazil has a booming biofuel sector. Like the U.S., it is a major player on international agricultural markets, particularly for soybeans and sugar. While the U.S. has long transformed most of its native landscape into farmland and cities, Brazil is still home to some of the most unique, biodiverse ecosystems in the world, including the Amazon and the Pantanal. And the biggest threat to these environmental treasures is expanded agricultural production.

Our trip brings together people with different perspectives on ILUC in the U.S. to get a better sense of what is happening on the ground in Brazil. We hope to learn more about Brazil's agriculture sector. What are the pressures driving increased production? What role is government policy (U.S. or Brazilian) playing? How are these pressures affecting the environment and water systems? How are they affecting farmers, farmworkers and Indigenous communities?

Answers to these questions are becoming ever more urgent. With rising agricultural commodity prices worldwide, pressure to further expand agricultural production is not likely to ease any time soon. We'll be reporting on meetings throughout this trip and including the perspectives and blog posts from participants. Stay tuned...

Ben Lilliston

February 10, 2011

A festival for social justice: reporting from the World Social Forum

It is now the fourth day of this great festival of ideas, discussions and debates about the key political issues of our times and the struggles taking place at local, national, regional and international levels to achieve social justice. The focus is inevitably on African issues of struggle and the various forces impacting local communities and national and Pan African trajectories. This World Social Forum (WSF) is timely given that the continent has become the focus of one of the biggest resource grabs since colonial times—be it for agrofuel demand of industrialized countries, land bought by other countries for their own food production needs, or land-based investment deals that take away community control of natural resources right before their eyes and in spite of their resistance. A large number of seminars and discussions here have focused on landgrabs and testimonies offered from across the continent and around the world. Groups and communities are discussing how to force companies and governments to uphold and respect human rights—social, cultural, economic and ecological—of communities and people; and how to stop the pillaging of dwindling natural resources through unregulated investment.

Set on the campus of Cheikh Anta Diop University, 40,000 students are milling amongst stalls, tents and sessions organized by hundreds of organizations; doing street theatre, picking up pamphlets, asking questions. Many of them are volunteers for the WSF and translating during organized events. Their interest and curiosity is inspiring. In fact, just a week before the forum, the new president of the university had decided to suspend the week holiday that was given by the previous president for students to freely attend WSF events. The new president reneged on that commitment and resumed classes, even taking back many classrooms that were assigned to WSF events. The first few days we found ourselves wandering into classrooms where students were patiently trying to sit through classes and shut out the noise and energy emanating throughout the campus due to the social forum. In spite of the logistical hurdles—and not knowing where the next event will be—civil society has rolled right along in making the forum a success.

I have been participating in events and discussions related to climate change, food sovereignty and natural resources. Many of the sessions are trying to make sense of the outcome in Cancún (COP 16) for climate change and what civil society needs to do differently in the run up to Durban, South Africa, who will host the  next major climate meeting at the end of this year. Groups from South Africa are here and already organizing themselves to host civil society organizations in order to create a loud and resounding voice condemning the paltry pledges made by governments in Cancún to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many groups feel that trying to convince governments inside negotiating halls at the COPs will not create the urgent shift we need to see in the climate talks towards binding and ambitious targets for drastically reducing greenhouse gases. There is an acute realization that social awareness and mobilization needs to take place locally with specific strategies to shift national positions on climate change. For Africa, anything above a one-degree global temperature rise will mean drastically reduced cropping seasons, much greater incidences of severe and unpredictable weather with dire consequences for food production and hence food sovereignty. The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance is trying to influence national processes around the continent moving towards Durban.

The United States and Europe, however, still determine the fate of the climate treaty and the international targets that will be set. Without a sea-change in U.S. public opinion on climate change as a key responsibility it is hard to see how we can keep the United States government from undermining entirely an international regime that must stop and reverse global warming.  

Roughly six months after Durban will be the 20th anniversary of the Rio Summit—known as Rio+20—where governments will come together with possibly new proposals on dealing with the major environmental problems of our times. It was at Rio, 20 years ago, that the U.N. Climate Treaty was created, in addition to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Despite these efforts we have drastically worsened our global situation—on both the climate change and biodiversity front.

Several groups have come together at the WSF to begin organizing toward Rio+20. They see the meeting as a major opportunity to reframe the debate moving forward in this decade and want to link awareness building and social mobilizations in the next 16 months that include COP 17 in Durban and onward to Rio in the middle of 2012.

Finally, numerous discussions are also taking place on the linkages between the food, climate and financial crises, their impact on Africa and impacts on small producers. IATP participated in events organized by the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FECCIWA) on climate change, food sovereignty and the food crisis, as well as an event on “Fighting against price volatility and regulating agricultural markets” organized in conjunction with CCFD-Terre Solidaire, a Catholic French NGO, Mooriben (an organization from Niger engaged on creating food security at the local level, including food reserves), Afrique Vert Mali (Green Africa Mali) and GRET, a French development NGO. In addition, we will be involved in the WSF convergence process today and tomorrow where civil society groups who have been meeting throughout the week will come together to see how we can move forward with our plans on both climate and Rio+20. For IATP, we are interested in seeing how the issues of speculation in carbon and commodity markets, agriculture offsets in the climate negotiations, and their impacts on small producers, can be part of the discussions and strategies to build awareness and counter negative proposals and impacts.

Onward to day five. 

IATP's Shefali Sharma is blogging from Dakar, Senagal at the World Social Forum.

Ben Lilliston

February 09, 2011

Women at the center of climate-friendly approaches to agriculture and water

Extreme weather events consistent with climate change are already playing havoc with the livelihoods and food security of much of the world’s poor. This is particularly true for arid and semi-arid areas of the global South. Yet, most proposals for agriculture being discussed at the U.N. global climate talks and elsewhere focus on new technological developments, like genetically engineered crops. But these approaches are based on still unproven claims and do not fully consider their impact on the natural world.

In a new paper, IATP’s Shiney Varghese examines proven agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen resilience to climate change through a case study of the Tamilnadu Women’s Collective in India. The collective, a federation of village-level women’s groups with over 150,000 members—the majority of which belong to the lowest caste—follow three principles for food security: 1.) empowerment of women; 2.) democratic local governance; and 3.) multifunctional agriculture.

Shiney will present her findings at the United Nations in New York on February 22 as part of a workshop, titled “Climate Adaptation Challenges from a Gender Perspective.” The workshop is expected to contribute towards the fifty-fifth session of the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women. You can learn more about how the Tamilnadu Women’s Collective is using traditional knowledge and practices to increase food security and climate resilience by reading the full paper here and at www.iatp.org.

Ben Lilliston

January 21, 2011

New US interagency study on carbon markets

On Tuesday, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission released an interagency study on carbon emissions markets. The 54-page study for the U.S. Congress was mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. While much of the study is taken up with explaining existing oversight tools and how they would apply to trading carbon emissions permit credits and offset credits, the agency authors leave no doubt that the legislative design of carbon markets will greatly affect whether carbon trading results in a reduction of greenhouse gases or an increase. They note, "[F]or the most part, absent specific action by Congress, a secondary market for carbon allowances and offsets may operate outside the routine oversight of any market regulator." Therefore, they recommend that Congress develop legislative authority specifically for trading carbon emissions credits in commodity futures markets.

The CFTC requested comments on 11 questions posed by interagency staff, but, unfortunately, not on the study itself. IATP was one of 23 organizations to submit comments. We informed the interagency group about the regulatory, methodological and scientific challenges in ensuring that carbon offset credits actually represented verifiable GHG reductions. Fraudulent and deceptive activities in carbon trade accounting and marketing, including for trades under the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, are reported on a near weekly basis. The interagency report addressed fraud and market manipulation only insofar as carbon would be regulated as if it were a consumable, and not a legislatively created, commodity.

The CFTC and other agencies are struggling to issue rules to implement Dodd-Frank under a torrent of criticism from financial industry service lobbyists and now a Republican majority in the House of Representatives that has called for repeal of parts of Dodd-Frank. Given this huge workload for generally understaffed agencies, it is understandable that the report cannot address all the legislative design challenges for carbon markets that Members of Congress, NGOs, academics and industry lobbyists have outlined. But if there is a single great fault in this relatively short report, it is the lack of any mention of the dearth of environmental integrity in many of the offset credits created in China, Brazil and elsewhere outside the United States (which is not to say that U.S. offsets are all environmentally effective). Under the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House of Representatives in June 2009, more than half of all U.S. industry compliance with GHG caps would be accomplished by purchasing international offset credits, rather than by actually reducing GHGs. To rely to such an extent on the trading of assets of dubious environmental effectiveness to meet GHG caps is to invite disaster. Interagency staff whose agency budgets are on the Congressional chopping block may not be in a position to inform Congress about the very high risks of relying on carbon markets for climate change finance. NGOs and academics should not hesitate to perform this urgently needed due diligence.

Steve Suppan

December 12, 2010

The climate deal that failed us

“History will be the judge of what has happened in Cancún.” These are the last lines of the Bolivian Government’s press release yesterday about the outcome of the climate negotiations here in Cancún. The talks ended here today after two weeks of negotiations by a 192 governments. It is a deal that will be remembered by our future generations as one that killed the climate treaty, unless we radically change course.

Witnessing standing ovations and applause in the closing hours over negotiating texts that basically kill the Kyoto Protocol and make emissions reductions voluntary for all governments fills me with a profound sense of disillusionment (you can view the final plenaries here). Disillusionment at the utter lack of leadership exhibited by virtually every government except Bolivia and disillusionment at the role that many environmental and development groups played in legitimizing these governments’ actions.

The compromise arrived at Cancún was a coup for the United States. The U.S. came in with nothing to offer in terms of binding commitments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and yet managed to effectively push for voluntary targets. The source of these targets is the Copenhagen Accord that President Obama negotiated by cornering a few key countries in a back room in the last hours of the climate negotiations a year ago at COP 15. 

“There is only one way to measure the success of a climate agreement, and that is based on whether or not it will effectively reduce emissions to prevent runaway climate change. This text clearly fails, as it could allow global temperatures to increase by more than 4 degrees, a level disastrous for humanity,” says Bolivia.

Sadly, Bolivia was set up as the scapegoat at the meeting—portrayed as the only country standing in the way of multilateralism and progress on a climate deal. “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” they said. 

Manufacturing Consensus

This scapegoating is nothing new. I have witnessed it in the WTO where governments, under great pressure by powerful countries like the United States and the EU, are too afraid to speak out or too keen to be seen as constructive actors on the geopolitical theater. And theater it was last night as country after country applauded the president of the COP for her “open and transparent” process and successful outcome. Yet in reality, we all knew that the deal had been negotiated behind closed doors by a handful of countries. At times, there were 50 countries in a room somewhere in the conference complex. 

But we did not know where and we did not know what they were negotiating. Civil society, unlike other U.N. negotiations, was not allowed in any of the drafting groups. And what governments drafted did not even seem to appear in the texts crafted by the chairs of the two negotiating tracks of the climate talks.

In the closing hours of the COP, Bolivia made strong statements that it did not agree to the outcome and that there was no consensus. In the U.N., all countries must agree and have “consensus” before a treaty or a deal is adopted. In Cancún, the deal was ceremoniously gaveled as agreed.

For civil society organizations, Cancún must be a wake-up call for serious reflection. How have we been complicit in an outcome that has ultimately not respected the science of global warming? Worse still, some have applauded an outcome that lets industrialized countries off the hook from legally binding and mandatory targets to reduce GHGs—something they agreed to when they signed the Kyoto Protocol.

The 20th anniversary of the birth of the Climate Treaty is 2012 and the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Lets ensure that by the time we get there, we have managed to shift the fundamental elements of what was agreed here in Cancún towards a much more accountable framework to address climate change.  

IATP's Shefali Sharma blogged from Cancun the day after the U.N. climate talks concluded.

Ben Lilliston

December 11, 2010

Empty global climate deal leaves agriculture behind

IATP released the below press release today upon the conclusion of the global climate talks in Cancun.

Empty global climate deal leaves agriculture behind

Secret, last minute tactics symbolize flawed negotiating process

Cancún, Mexico – A watered-down United Nations climate deal reached early this morning missed another opportunity to support climate-resilient agriculture and global food security, according to the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). Overall, the agreement represents a step back from legally-binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions set in the Kyoto Protocol, and a step forward for non-binding pledges from last year’s Copenhagen Accord. This significantly weakened framework is a severe blow to agriculture, a sector most vulnerable to climate change.

“This weak agreement is a retreat from serious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that is a tremendous loss for farming communities everywhere,” said IATP’s Shefali Sharma. “Farmers, particularly in developing countries, are already experiencing the affects of climate change through increased droughts, floods and other extreme weather. However, this agreement does not prioritize agriculture adaptation and fails to address the complex linkages between food security, livelihoods and ecological resilience.”

In the final hours of the negotiations, industrialized countries led by New Zealand, United States and Canada, attempted and failed to fast track a standalone work program on agriculture. Though a side issue in the negotiations, significant efforts were made by New Zealand and others to bypass the impasse on “cross sectoral approaches” to move ahead on agriculture with a primary focus on mitigation, rather than adaptation. Developing countries have opposed a standalone decision on agriculture without a framework that deals with other sectors that contribute to greenhouse gases.

The climate talks in Cancún were plagued by a chaotic and mostly exclusive negotiating process with close to 150 governments often left out of negotiating “green rooms,” multiple versions of texts, and no clear schedules and timetables. Additionally, civil society groups, who have provided the political momentum for a global climate treaty, were further restricted access from the negotiations in Cancún.

“In Copenhagen and now in Cancún, we see the mistakes repeated from another troubled multilateral institution, the World Trade Organization, which is stuck in quicksand,” said Sharma. “This process must be transparent and fully inclusive of all countries and allow civil society to actively engage. If not, meaningful progress on a global climate treaty is not possible as is evident from the Cancún outcome.”

The agreement continues to emphasize the role of carbon markets in climate finance, further paving the way for agriculture to serve as an offset market for polluters in developed countries. Climate finance approaches in the agreement continue to be far too little to enable Least Developed Countries, African States, and Small Island Developing States to adapt to climate change, particularly in agriculture and rural areas.

“Governments are still counting on utopian expectations for carbon trading revenues to finance climate mitigation and adaptation,” said IATP’s Steve Suppan. “Governments need the financial services industry to pony up additional money through a transactions tax – it’s the very least they should do after the ongoing public bailout of their folly and depredations.”

Contrary to the lack of real progress from governments, IATP and other civil society leaders gathered at a number of forums and side events throughout the Cancún climate talks to share strategies for more equitable solutions to climate change. At event after event, farm groups consistently called for agroecological approaches that strengthen food security and spoke critically of carbon markets.

IATP published a series of papers on climate and agriculture prior to the Cancun climate talks – and blogged throughout the negotiation’s two weeks. You can find out more about IATP’s climate work at: www.iatp.org/climate

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems. www.iatp.org

Ben Lilliston

December 10, 2010

Water warriors testify in Cancún

People working on water and climate change—water warriors—participated in a workshop organized at the alternate COP 16, known as Dialogo Climatico. At a session titled "Water, Dams and Disasters," we heard moving testimonies from those affected by toxic pollution in their air and water, and peasants displaced from their farms. 

Indigenous Rights and Water

“Indigenous Peoples 'managed' lands for thousands of years, and it wasn’t until the colonizers came that the problems began.”  

We heard from the Fort Berthold nation from North Dakota first and there was no mincing of words. Speaking to all present, she said, “we  were colonized, and we speak the voice of colonizers.” She said this, because she spoke in English and not her Native language. Native languages in the U.S. have been decimated. The modern system has relied on fossil fuel based energy because it is cheap. It is cheap because it has historically been exempt from paying its dues, both to our environment and to humanity. The list is long, black lung, mountaintop removal, company town exploitation, mercury, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, mining accidents, sulfur dioxide, and of course, water pollution. Coal, in particular, needs water—and massive amounts of it—to be transformed into energy we can use. The consequences can never be fully measured. But contrast this with values that have guided Indigenous peoples.

“We believe that coal is like the liver of our Mother Earth, it naturally filters the water.” 

The tensions between different knowledge systems are certainly on display in these settings. What is truth to one community is denigrated as myth to another. One does not have to believe in Indigenous beliefs, but if we are to live in a truly democratic society, the right to retain these longstanding ways of knowing must be acknowledged. In so-called “modern” times, “modern” science has become the ultimate validator of truth. But from the perspective of Indigenous people, its contribution tends to come as a Johnny-come-lately compared to Indigenous science. For example, Indigenous people have warned about massive resource extraction for hundreds of years. 

 “Things are probably going to get worse before they get better. We have good hearts, good minds and good souls. One path leads to destruction, and one leads to renewal.”

Unequal Toxicity

 “We have a history of commodification beginning with peoples, bought them across the seas and sold them on the open market. Since then, we have been fighting oppressive regimes of capitalism.” 

Next came the recounting of the historical exploitation of African American people and communities by an environmental and human rights advocate from the southern United States. Just as the organization and technology of the modern energy structure has been evolving and innovating to new stages of development, the story of how communities have had to respond to this evolution was presented through the eyes of one such place. The town of Mossville, Louisiana was formed by five families of former slaves in the late 1700s. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway used to travel to Mossvile to fish and muse for his writing precisely because it was known to be a rich biodiverse area. But all of that changed with the modern appetite for energy and things. Years later, Mossville was founded by another group of actors: a set of corporate production facilities. Today, in an area covering 5.5 square miles, 14 industrial facilities are in operation.

“These companies are emitting many of the most toxic chemicals, choking the life of the community— people can no longer fish or grow crops. Their bodies are contaminated and yet their call for safe alternatives is not heard.”

Hydro: The Old Green or the New Green?

In the race to find low-carbon solutions, hydro power continues to be at the top of the alternative list; but then we heard from those on the other side of the dam: Mexico's Indigenous communities and farmers.

“Our town is going is be flooded by the dam; the place where we have lived, where we have grown our food,  where we fish.”

We heard from those who are struggling to have a voice. The rush to economic development, including tourism and expansion of energy through “green” alternatives, has catalyzed investment for massive large-scale projects. But what about the villager whose livelihood is affected and whose community is displaced? He asks for help in understanding how his human right to water and life can go unanswered. 

“They’re privatizing water, and selling it to rich companies. Poor farmers will be left without anything. The hills will not be able to be cultivated. We have thermal waterfalls, hot water, springs, but now it’s a tourist area.”

The message being received is that agriculture is not valued, the natural flows of water are without value, sustainable livelihoods are irrelevant, and people are displaced. This to the farmer is what it means to live in a commodified world. Green or clean energy without democracy will fail at its core objective.  Democratic clean energy systems are more than technological alternatives, they are alternatives in which political voice is given to everyone.

“We don’t agree with them setting a price on our lands and our waters. Not only people who have money have rights.”

In closing, everyone reaffirmed the intrinsic connection between water, climate and food security. Any solutions need to support local approaches and connect globally to challenge the institutions that do not value people or ecosystems.

Dr. Cecilia Martinez and Shiney Varghese are blogging from the U.N. climate talks in Cancún, Mexico.

Ben Lilliston

Bolivia's Morales calls out capitalism on climate crisis

Evo 030 At a raucus rally last night at the camp of Via Campesina in Cancún, Bolivian President Evo Morales placed responsibility for climate change squarely on global capitalism's exploitation of natural resources. He decried the direction of the U.N. global climate talks, ending later today in the Moon Palace resort a few dozen miles away, for taking steps to commoditize nature. Instead, he argued that the U.N. should be establishing the rights of Mother Earth and countries should accept their responsbility for protecting the climate.

Evo 019 At the climate talks over the past two weeks, Bolivia has been pushing for language from the People's Agreement from Cochabamba, which was agreed to in April. We blogged earlier in the week about their frustrations with the negotiating process, which has largely closed out language from the People's Agreement.

Evo 023 In a surreal moment last night, a rainbow appeared as President Morales entered the Via Campesina camp. The band played and people cheered. The scene was in stark contrast to the mostly dour mood in the Moon Palace we've seen all week. It is hard to think of two worlds farther apart.

Ben Lilliston

December 09, 2010

"Perfectly just is not going to happen here"

"The perfect cannot be the enemy of the good. What we needed is 'good enough.' And 'good enough' is not 'perfectly just.' 'Perfectly just' is not going to happen here." These are the words yesterday of Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at an event here in Cancún presenting climate finance options to governments at the U.N. global climate talks.

The report from the High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF) was requested by Secretary General of the U.N. a few months after last year's failed negotiations in Copenhagen. The AGF's mission was to identify climate finance options for negotiators to help reach the goal of $100 billion a year by 2020 (a goal that most feel is not enough). Climate finance is critical as countries, particularly their agriculture sectors, become more and more affected by climate change. Here in Cancún, we've heard from farm groups in developing countries who are already experiencing extreme droughts and floods associated with climate change.

Last month, IATP and partner organizations sent out a press release critiquing the AGF report for being much worse than "good enough." We wrote that the report "unwisely emphasizes carbon markets and other private finance options, while irresponsibly advocating an increased role for multilateral development banks. Despite concluding that public sources of climate finance are available and promising, the report’s findings downplay the role that public finance can and must play in helping developing countries deal with climate change."

IATP's Steve Suppan said, “The AGF recommendations are unfortunately based on unduly optimistic econometric projections and a blind faith in the capacity of highly volatile and unreliable carbon price signals to induce long-term investments in low carbon energy production and manufacturing. A better start on climate finance would be for developed countries to make good on their $30 billion pledge for immediate funding to allow developing countries to adapt agricultural production and water management systems to the imminent ravages of climate change.”

The AGF does have several recommendations worth considering, including various international carbon and financial transaction taxes. But overall, these public approaches are downplayed relative to a push for more carbon markets.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Zenawi described the difficult compromises in writing the report, and the differing perspectives of the 20-person committee are reflected in the text. He characterized the process as a "dry run" for the type of compromises that will be needed for governments to reach an agreement in Cancún. Those who are working for a just response to climate change hope not.

Ben Lilliston

Elegant in Cancún

Women gathered at EsMex: an alternative climate forum in Cancún to discuss REDD+ as a strategy for dealing with climate emissions. A circle of women, surrounded by yet more circles of Indigenous women and men shared their thoughts about forests, life, community and climate change.

We came in late, but like a real friend whom you have not seen for years and yet pick up where the last conversation left off, it was easy to fold into the flow of the discussion. I confess to marveling at the way people from communities who live intimately with the natural world are so...elegant. I remembered what one of my Ojibwe mentors once advised me as we sat in a ceremony: never assume because someone is quiet that they are not speaking; never assume that because someone is not moving that they are not active. Thousands of miles from the home of my mentor, I was witnessing the same dignity of people who speak truth from their hearts. 

It was as if climate change jargon had been left at the door. There was no discussion of 350 ppm, MRV, GHG or CDM. But we were there to talk about REDD. And so the women spoke of their lives, their aspirations for their community and their hopes. They spoke of living well and working hard, of children and of earth. And, of course, of REDD. My friend, IATP's Shiney Varghese, shared her thoughts on the life blood of water and women's struggles for basic human rights all over the planet. My friend, Michele Roberts, a woman  who works in the Louisiana gulf, spoke of her fears. She described life among oil refineries, and life after hurricanes and oil spills. One might have expected that rural women of the South would look with cynicism at the plight of those living in the wealthiest country of the world. But as she described the world of cancer alley, holding back her tears, others in the room were filled with compassion. We were in a room of people with no titles and no agenda. They were simply speaking their truths, but more importantly they were also hearing the truth of one another. 

The session ended, and picture taking began. Bolivian women, cameras in hand, asked for a picture with the woman from the gulf. Not because she could offer them development money, but because she spoke about the reality of life. Thousands of miles from my Ojibwe mentor, I could see her smiling. For her, as with Michele, Shiney and me, hope is not in the sterility of endless point-counterpoint, international negotiations of complex legalisms. Nor is it in the abstracted movements of the North centering themselves around 350 ppm. Who among us really knows what that means? At the end of the day, we will tackle climate change when those “in charge” begin behaving like the women and men in that room: elegantly. 

Dr. Cecilia Martinez is blogging from the U.N. climate talks in Cancún, Mexico. She is a senior policy fellow with the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP.

Ben Lilliston

From Cancún to Minnesota: The need for environmental justice

On Tuesday night, IATP's Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) hosted an event in Minneapolis that connected the need for climate justice in Cancún with local grassroots environmental justice efforts. It was part of the “1000 Cancun’s”, a day of climate justice action around the world.  The event included a local EJ panel as well as a live report back from three members of the National (U.S.) Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change. The event was filmed and webcast by The UpTake and a video is available below (in English). Pictures from the event are also available on IATP's Flickr page. You can follow the EJ delegates blogging from Cancun on our blog page, Think Forward.  

The event begins at the 8-minute mark below, with the speakers entering as follows:

Shalini Gupta, IATP, introduction: 8:00

Cochabamba People's Climate Summit video: 12:26

LeMoine LePointe, advisory board of IATP's Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy: 24:43

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, Rural Enterprise Center: 35:08

Veronica Burt, Just Equity: 44:27

Deborah Ramos, Zenteotl Project: 54:11

Liza O'Reilly, Zenteotl Project: 1:01:10

Question and Answer: 1:06:00

Call-in reports from Cancún (Cecilia Martinez, Michele Roberts and Jose Bravo): 1:09:32

Watch live streaming video from theuptake at livestream.com


Andrew Ranallo

US in the hot seat on REDD+

The event, "Launch of United States Strategy for REDD+ USAID," was held today at COP 16. As U.S. negotiator Todd Stern publicly called upon us to have “measured expectations” for an international climate agreement, officials from U.S. AID  and U.S. Treasury laid out exuberant strategies for implementation of REDD+ projects to protect forests around the world. As of yet, the U.S. has made no commitments for reducing its own contributions to the alteration of the atmosphere. But, this has not stopped what presenters today outlined as a push for developing countries to adopt large scale REDD+ projects.

The session was intended to present how the U.S., through a range of bilateral and multilateral projects, was providing equity-driven capital for a carbon-reduced development path. After each panelist presented there was opportunity for questions. Question after question asked what the U.S.’s solutions for climate change were. The panelists seemed stumped for answers. At one point, an audience member asked, “are you for colonialism or are you against?” Response: “I don’t understand the question.” 

At a minimum, one would expect that U.S. representatives outlining the strategies of such a massive controversial investment would have at least been prepared for an answer. Instead, in an interesting effort at redirecting the discussion, the response was that environmental justice issues were being taken very seriously by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Emphasis was also given to the U.S.’s commitment to a “process” of inclusion. Note the word “inclusion,” and not the word “outcome.” The evidence is overwhelming when it comes to guaranteeing an equitable outcome by only focusing on participatory processes. The powerful can listen, but do not have to act upon what they hear.

Admittedly, there was a humorous side to the day’s event. The microphone carrying facilitator, try as she might, to select the most benign looking person behind the raised hands, found herself time after time giving the microphone to people with similar questions. By the end of the event, a woman in a dress suit, quite professional in appearance—perhaps even mistaken as a potential REDD+ investor—was given one of the last opportunities to ask a question. But, once again, the inquiry focused on the U.S.’s commitment to Indigenous rights.

Clearly, people concerned about REDD+ and issues of justice dominated the press event. What is the U.S.’s position relative to Indigenous rights and vulnerable communities? How will REDD+ resolve the pollution burdens placed on its own high–environmental risk communities at home? How will issues of transparency be resolved? And one which this blogger was not able to ask: What is the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of REDD+ as a real emission-reducing strategy? Answer: The U.S. is committed to an inclusive process and please come to the White House briefing on Environmental Justice.

Interestingly, nearly the entire first string panel was soon replaced by a set of bureaucrats from various federal agencies. Whether this was a spontaneous effort to remove U.S. AID and U.S. Treasury from the hot seat, or whether it was a planned switch, we will never know. At the end of the day, U.S. commitment for $1 billion over the FY2010 to 2012 to REDD+ projects is a notable investment. The problem is that the U.S. remains unwilling to change the way it does business. No matter how many press conferences and brochures with pictures of people measuring trees are presented, REDD+ does not in any way change the U.S.’s greenhouse gas appetite. The U.S. Congress remains one of the most belligerent institutions in addressing this fundamental problem.

Measured expectations, indeed.

Dr. Cecilia Martinez is blogging from the U.N. global climate talks in Cancún, Mexico. She is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP.

Also contributing to this piece, Michele Roberts, campaign and policy coordinator with Advocates for Environmental Human Rights.


Ben Lilliston

December 08, 2010

Bad process in climate talks, repeat

Last year in Copenhagen, a handful of heads of state led by President Obama sat in a room and hammered out what became to be known as the Copenhagen Accord. They congratulated themselves, announced an agreement and expected the rest of the participating governments to happily sign on.What followed was an amazing string of speeches going late into the night from countries who had been closed out of the room, decrying the agreement. The result: the Copenhagen Accord is now widely considered a failure—more public relations than reality.

Cancun 3 005 Will we see history repeat itself here in Cancún? Today at a press conference, Bolivia's lead negotiator Pablo Solon, outlined just how messed up the negotiating process is here: There are private invite-only consultations; multiple draft texts that don't represent input by governments; and no clear and transparent schedule of when official negotiations on specific topics will take place. Instead, Solon expressed concern that 40 countries are deciding for the nearly 200 governments here in Copenhagen.

Now, getting nearly 200 countries to agree on anything is a monumental challenge. But if you've ever wondered why mulilateral talks seem to never get anywhere, check out Bolivia's press conference (in Spanish or with English interpretation).

Ben Lilliston

Measuring the climate: the whether channel

IATP's Steve Suppan is blogging from the United Nations talks on climate change in Cancun.

While the scientific consensus is overwhelming that climate change is occuring, measuring the specific effects on the planet (particularly for agriculture) is quite a bit more difficult than predicting the weather. Presentations of different climate observations systems during the United Nations climate change negotiations in Cancún, Mexico illustrated many difficulties. Systems data are analyzed by the scientists on the International Panel on Climate Change, which advises government negotiators who are negotiating an agreement on how to combat climate change and who will pay to do so.

Sometimes the difficulties in measuring the climate surprise even the scientists. An audience member from the International Telegraph Union commented that the bandwidth intensity of the near ubiquitous cellphones was now interfering with the bandwidth needed to transmit by satellite the remote sensing data of the oceanic, terrestrial and atmospheric dimensions of climate. Non-scientists, whose access to the Internet and to other colleagues with cellphones was sometimes interrupted in Cancún, appreciated this communications irony.

Keith Alverson of the Global Oceanic Observation System (GOOS) arrived straight from having given a two-minute presentation to the Substantive Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (all statements to the SBSTA and other diplomatic bodies are limited to two minutes). But for nearly 20 minutes he was at leisure to explain the reasons for the many and great uncertainties and data gaps about the oceanic dimension of climate change. Perhaps foremost among GOOS’ concerns were that half of the 3,000 ocean buoy data stations in the seas are damaged and/or disfunctional. The buoy stations estimate ocean current directions, waves speeds, water temperate, phyto-plankton (the bottom of the marine feeding chain) health and prevalence, salinity, tide behavior, sea level rises in different regions, coastal vulnerabilities, water temperatures, oral bleaching, and other oceanic climate measures.

Replacing or repairing them would cost about S1 billion, about the annual bonus of one of the best self-paid hedge fund managers. But even if all the buoys were repaired, only about 62 percent of global oceans would be covered. And even then, many oceanic climate factors would remain unknown, such as how deep sea movements and volcanoes affect the surface sea data that the buoys can measure. As Alverson told SBSTA government delegates and we laypersons, the annual global marine economy is estimated to be worth about $2.7 trillion. So a mere $1 billion seems to be a cheap price to monitor oceanic climate conditions that affect climate change.

Professor Beverly Law, of Oregon State University and the World Meteorological Organizations (WMO), has been monitoring forest soil carbon for about 20 years as the head of the Global Terrestrial Observation System. To build estimates of global carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Law and her colleagues measure soil carbon in test plots every 10 years in spots around the world. Satellite photos of deforestation, the results of the soil carbon tests and computerized modeling of deforestation, wetland loss, peat bog burning and other damage to major Co2 “sinks” enable scientists to estimate CO2 emissions. However, she explained, the modeling uncertainty of CO2 emissions due to land use change has been nearly as large as the emissions measurements themselves from 1960 to 2009.

The degree of uncertainty varies greatly. Uncertainty over the extent of CO2 emissions from boreal forests is just 10-25 percent, depending on the regional data analyzed. However, for tropical forests, the uncertainty is 100 percent. The depth and varieties of tropical forest soils, the far great biodiversity among tropical forests and consequently greater diversity in Co2 emissions rates, and the impossibility for remoting sensing instruments to penetrate tropical forest canopies are among the reasons for the highdegree of uncertainty about CO2 emissions rates in tropical forests. FLUXNET gathers data from observation sites in 45 countries. Only about 155 countries to go! And no wonder that the scientists have so much difficulty in determining the likelihood that sahels will become deserts, or woodlands will become grasslands.

You might think that we know more about atmospheric climate change. After all, we get reports on atmospheric temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure etc every night, along with weather-related disasters on the Weather Channel every day and night. But the extent of uncertainty about the atmosphere is such that we might call it the Whether Channel.

The WMO’s Michel Jarraud talked about the uncertainties of converting satellite images into computer data models, then into atmospheric climate analysis and finally into policy recommendations for diplomats and other government officials who have to decide what to do about climate change and how to pay for it. (Of course, those who don’t believe that climate change exists, such as the incoming Republican Party majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, are exempt from this analytic, policymaking and budgetary decision making burden. How much easier is life in "Business As Usual" in the revolving door of U.S. industry lobbyists and government officials, now lubricated by the U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes electoral propaganda and anonymous campaign contributions “equivalent.”

Despite the great success of the UN treaty in closing the hole in the ozone layer that had been exposing us to too much solar radiation, ozone turns out to be a critical variable in better measuring the atmospheric affects of climate change. It didn’t cost so much to close the hole but now it will cost a lot more to predict atmospheric data filtered through different layers and compositions of ozone, to say nothing of the cost of repairing climatic damage and reducing the GHGs that are constituents of ozone.

Just one side event with climate scientists was enough to convince me that the scientific complexity of climate change is a huge communications challenge both to the lay public and to decision-makers. This data is critical to determining future strategies on climate change - particularly as they related to agriculture and food production. Furthermore, data collection and analysis is not cheap, and right now the budgetary austerity advocates are too cheap to pay for the information that could help save the planet.

Ben Lilliston