July 24, 2012 |
Photo by aroid/flickr/Creative Commons
Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
A federal appeals court this week upheld EPA's climate pollution emission standards after yet another round of legal challenges from conservatives.
In an unanimous opinion covering four cases, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld EPA's "endangerment" determination, its clean car standards, and its pollution permit requirements for big new industrial facilities.
Yes, they even went after Clean Car Standards - you know, the ones that require cars to get 35.5 mpg by 2016, which saves everyone money on gas, reduces dependence on oil and is even great for car manufacturers.
This gives EPA the green light to finalize the second round of clean car standards later this summer that will cut new car carbon emissions by half and double fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025.
A study released today shows 54.5 mpg standards will create about 570,000 jobs by 2030, Gearing Up: Smart Standards Create Good Jobs Building Cleaner Cars.
Last year, The National Automobile Dealers Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce did the same in California and lost.
This ruling also comes one day after closing the public comment period on the EPA rule to limit emissions from fossil fuel power plants by installing simple pollution prevention technology. A record-shattering 2 million Americans submitted comments in favor of this rule.
"These rulings clear the way for EPA to keep moving forward under the Clean Air Act to limit carbon pollution from motor vehicles, new power plants, and other big industrial sources," says David Doniger, senior attorney for the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"The court upheld the agency's careful determination, based on a mountain of scientific evidence, that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants threaten our health and our planet," says Doniger.
Who initiated the lawsuits? Dozens of lawsuits have been joined together under the name Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA.
A partial list of the petitioners speaks volumes:
- Coal companies and trade associations, including the National Mining Association, Peabody Energy, and Arch Coal (new owner of the former Massey Energy)
- Coal-burning utilities, including Southern Company and American Electric Power operating through their litigation arm, the Utility Air Regulatory Group
- Oil companies, through the American Petroleum Institute, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the Western States Petroleum Association
- Steel, cement, and other trade groups, including the American Iron and Steel Institute, the Portland Cement Association, and the National Association of Homebuilders
- Agribusiness interests, such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation
- Right-wing climate science deniers including the Koch-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute and FreedomWorks Foundation
- Tea-party politicians, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, Virginia Attorney-General Ken Cuccinelli, and a dozen Republican members of Congress such as Michelle Bachmann and Joe Barton
EPA took these actions in the first place in response to the Supreme Court's landmark 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which says the EPA's job under the Clean Air Act is to protect us from dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our health and drives our increasingly extreme weather.
The Court unanimously reaffirmed Massachusetts last year in a second case, American Electric Power v. Connecticut, concerning power plants.
Read the full story:
Photo by John Nolen/flickr/Creative Commons
Reprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com
Power plants subject to a regional cap-and-trade program in the northeastern U.S. known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 23 percent during the first three years of the program, the group says. According to a RGGI report, 206 of 211 power plants participating in the program met their compliance obligations from Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2011, the first three-year control period of the program. During that time, the average annual CO2 emissions were 126 million tons, a 23-percent decline compared with the previous three-year period. Emissions for the 2009-2011 period were about 33 percent below RGGI’s annual pollution cap of 188 million tons, which was due to a shift from coal to natural gas, the economic recession, and energy efficiency programs. The RGGI regime requires major power plants to buy allowances at auction for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. Companies that emit lower emissions can sell their unused allowances to other companies. Program participants include the six New England states and New York, Delaware, and Maryland.
Photo by Nick Engelfried/flickr/Creative Commons
Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
Global carbon dioxide emissions reached record levels in 2011, driven largely by a 9.3-percent increase in Chinese emissions, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). According to preliminary estimates, worldwide carbon emissions climbed to 31.6 gigatonnes in 2011, a 3.2-percent increase from 2010. India’s emissions rose by 8.7 percent, passing Russia to become the world’s fourth-biggest emitter (behind China, the U.S., and the European Union). Such increases offset a reduction in emissions in the EU and the U.S., where a sluggish economy and an increased shift from coal to natural gas contributed to a 1.7-percent decline in carbon emissions. “The new data provide further evidence that the door to a two degrees Celsius trajectory is about to close,” said Fatih Birol, IEA’s chief economist, citing concerns among scientists that emissions must begin being significantly reduced by 2020 to prevent potentially destabilizing temperature increases of more than 2 degrees C. According to the report, the burning of coal accounted for 45 percent of total energy-related carbon emissions, followed by oil (35 percent) and natural gas (20 percent).
Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg
This weekend, while reading Fast Company‘s interview with Jason Aramburu, the CEO of re:char, I was struck by (among other things) the company’s design for a shipping container-based factory for its “Climate Kilns” (“a small pyrolysis system capable of generating biochar or fuel charcoal”). The idea’s ultimately very practical: according to Aramburu, “In places like rural Africa, it’s really hard to import and transport finished goods efficiently,” so the social enterprise start-up decided to create a mobile production space for its signature product that could be moved to the places where re:char would sell its kilns.
So. how do you turn a shipping container into a factory? re:char’s CTO Luke Iseman did a presentation at Austin’s Dorkbot in December, and shared it on the company blog (where you can also just look at his slides if you prefer):
The company is still working at getting one of these up and running in Kenya, but it’s a really intriguing model of reuse (which makes sense: everything this company does seems based on reusing “waste”). If you’re so intrigued by the biochar concept that you’d like to try making you’re own, re:char sells both complete Climate Kilns, or DIY basics (plans plus the pyrolyzer) on its website.Reprinted with permission from Sustainablog
by William Laurance
From Brazil to Borneo, new roads are being built into tropical forests at a dizzying pace, putting previously intact wilderness at risk. If we hope to preserve rainforests, a leading researcher says, new strategies must be adopted to limit the number of roads and reduce their impacts.
by william laurance
We live in an era of unprecedented road and highway expansion — an era in which many of the world’s last tropical wildernesses, from the Amazon to Borneo to the Congo Basin, have been penetrated by roads. This surge in road building is being driven not only by national plans for infrastructure expansion, but by industrial timber, oil, gas, and mineral projects in the tropics.
Few areas are unaffected. Brazil is currently building 7,500 kilometers of new paved highways that crisscross the Amazon basin. Three major new highways are cutting across the towering Andes mountains, providing a direct link for timber and agricultural exports from the Amazon to resource-hungry Pacific Rim nations, such as China. And in the Congo basin, a recent satellite study found a burgeoning network of more than 50,000 kilometers of new logging roads. These are but a small sample of the vast number of new tropical roads, which inevitably open up previously intact tropical forests to a host of extractive and economic activities.
“Roads,” said the eminent ecologist Thomas Lovejoy, “are the seeds of tropical forest destruction.”
Despite their environmental costs, the economic incentives to drive roads into tropical wilderness are strong. Governments view roads as a cost-effective means to promote economic development and access natural resources. Local communities in remote areas often demand new roads to improve access to markets and medical services. And geopolitically, new roads can be used to help secure resource-rich frontier regions. India, for instance, is currently constructing and upgrading roads to tighten its hold on Arunachal Pradesh state, over which it and China formerly fought a war.
Of course, roads are not just an environmental worry in the tropics. In forested areas of western North America, one of the best predictors of wildfire frequency is the density of roads. In Siberia, road expansion is promoting a sharp increase in logging and forest fires. And new roads in the Arctic could potentially alter epic mammal migrations.
But no other region can match the tropics for the sheer scale and pace of road expansion and the degree of environmental change roads bring. Road building has a range of direct impacts on rainforest ecology. In wet tropical environments, the cut-and-fill operations associated with road construction can impede streams, increase forest flooding, and drastically increase soil erosion. Roads also discharge chemical and nutrient pollutants into local waterways and provide avenues of invasion for many disturbance-loving exotic species.
Roads that cut through rainforests can also create barriers for sensitive wildlife, many of which are ecological specialists. Studies have shown that even narrow (30 meter-wide), unpaved roads drastically reduce or halt local movements for scores of forest bird species. Many of these species prefer deep, dark forest interiors; they have large, light-sensitive eyes and avoid the vicinity of road verges, where conditions are much brighter, hotter, and drier. A variety of other tropical species — including certain insects, amphibians, reptiles, bats, and small and large mammals — have been shown to be similarly leery of roads and other clearings.
And by bringing naive rainforest wildlife into close proximity with fast-moving vehicles, roads can also promote heavy animal mortality. For some creatures, especially those with low reproductive rates, roads could potentially become death zones that help propel the species toward local extinction.
Although the direct effects of roads are serious, they pale in comparison to the indirect impacts. In tropical frontier regions, new roads often open up a Pandora’s box of unplanned environmental maladies, including illegal land colonization, fires, hunting, gold mining, and forest clearing. “The best thing you could do for the Amazon,” said the respected Brazilian scientist Eneas Salati, “is to bomb all the roads.”
In Brazilian Amazonia, my colleagues and I have done studies showing that around 95 percent of all deforestation occurs within 50 kilometers of highways or roads. Human-lit fires increase dramatically near Amazonian roads, even within many protected areas. In Suriname, most illegal gold mining occurs near roads, whereas in tropical Africa we have found hunting to be so intense near roads that it strongly affects the abundance and behavior of forest elephants, buffalo, duikers, primates, and other exploited species. Roads can sharply increase trade in bushmeat and wildlife products; one study found that eight killed mammals were transported per hour along a single road in Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Paved highways are especially dangerous to forests. They provide year-round access to forest resources and reduce transportation costs, causing larger-scale impacts on forests and wildlife than do unpaved roads, which tend to become impassable in the wet season. The proposed routes of new highways often attract swarms of land speculators who rush in to buy up cheap forest land, which they then sell to the highest bidder.
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of paved highways is that they spawn networks of secondary roads, which spread further environmental destruction. For instance, the 2,000-kilometer-long Belem-Brasilia highway, completed in the early 1970s, has today evolved into a spider web of secondary roads and a 400-kilometer-wide swath of forest destruction across the eastern Brazilian Amazon. As my colleagues and I showed in a 2001 study published in Science, large expanses of the Amazonian forest could be fragmented by the advance of new highways and roads in Brazil. According to our models, by the year 2020, rates of forest destruction would rise by up to 500,000 hectares per year, and the area of forest that remained in large, unfragmented tracts — exceeding 100,000 square kilometers — would decline by 36 percent.
Can the environmental impacts of tropical roads be minimized? In theory, the answer is “Yes, partially.” Frequent culverts can reduce the effects on streams and hydrology. Impacts on animal movements can be reduced by keeping road clearings narrow enough so that canopy cover is maintained overhead, providing a way for arboreal species to cross. In high-priority areas, such as certain national parks, rope-bridges are being used to facilitate road crossings of monkeys and possums. For small ground-dwelling species, culverts beneath roads can allow road-crossing movements, and even large animals such as Asian elephants will use highway underpasses that are designed to be wildlife-friendly.
Measures also exist to limit the devastating indirect impacts of roads, such as illegal land colonization and forest clearing. One of the most vital steps is to legally establish parks or reserves along road routes in advance of road construction. Such reserves often substantially reduce forest incursions, though they rarely halt them entirely. Another promising idea is to promote railroads rather than highways in tropical wilderness regions. Because railroads stop only at fixed locations, the spatial patterns of forest exploitation and movement of forest products can be more easily controlled and monitored than with roads.
In practice, however, limiting the environmental impacts of roads in developing nations is expensive and risky. Tropical nations rarely have the institutional capacity, human capital, or financial resources to adequately manage development in their remote frontier regions, frequently leading to a “resource grab” revolving around illegal trade and outright theft of natural resources, which is greatly facilitated by road expansion.
When it comes to tropical roads, I believe three conclusions are inescapable. First, highways and roads are the single biggest factor determining the pattern and pace of tropical forest destruction. New roads that slice deep into intact forest tracts are especially devastating.
Second, among the many human drivers of environmental change, road building is one of the most readily amenable to policy modification. In practical terms, it is far easier to cancel or relocate a road project than it is to, say, reduce human overpopulation or halt harmful climate change.
Finally, if we hope to maintain intact tropical forests and their vital ecosystem services and biodiversity, then we simply must get serious about tropical roads. And there is only one real solution: carefully plan and limit frontier road expansion.
How can this be achieved? First, we need to sensitize political decision-makers, economists, infrastructure planners, and the general public about the myriad environmental costs of road expansion, especially into intact forests. The biggest road projects are often being supported by international lenders — such as the Asian, African, and Inter-American development banks — and by foreign aid doled out by China, the U.S., and the European Union. Educating such decision-makers needs to be done both generally and on a project-by-project basis.
When I was president of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, one of my key goals was to use the organization’s scientific expertise and credibility to combat some of the most environmentally risky plans for frontier road expansion. We were especially active in critiquing plans to punch new roads into the cores of national parks, such as Yasuni in Ecuador, Kerinci Seblat in Indonesia, and the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Another key priority should be better frontier law enforcement and forest monitoring, given that much road building in tropical nations is illegal or unplanned. Special attention should be focused on the more-aggressive timber, oil, gas, and mineral corporations, many of which are known to engage in bribery and collusion in their efforts to gain unbridled access to forest resources.
There is also a dire need to improve environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for planned roads. In Brazil, for instance, EIAs for several major Amazonian highways focused only on a narrow strip along the road route itself, while completely ignoring the devastating indirect effects of roads. Similarly, EIAs for major development projects, such as large mines and hydroelectric dams, often ignore the impacts of road proliferation that such projects inevitably promote.
Finally, given that tropical deforestation is a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions, international carbon-trading funds should be used to better plan and mitigate road projects, to establish new protected areas in advance of road construction, and to halt the most ill-advised road projects altogether. In the end, the easiest and most cost-effective way to limit the manifold pressures from roads may be simply not to open Pandora’s box in the first place.Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
The Chinese government has ordered five cities and two provinces to set caps on greenhouse gas emissions in preparation for a series of regional carbon markets. Last week, China’s National Development and Reform Commission urged Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing and Shenzhen, as well as the provinces of Hubei and Guangdong, to set “overall emissions control targets” and submit strategy proposals on how to achieve them. A plan developed by Guangdong — which commits the province to achieving 20 percent of its total energy consumption from non-fossil fuels by 2015 — has already been approved by the central government. The province must also cut its “carbon intensity,” or the CO2 emissions per unit of economic growth, by 19.5 percent. China as a whole, which has already passed the U.S. as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, has committed to reducing its carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020. According to a new government report, China’s urban population surpassed its rural population for the first time ever in 2011.
Photo by New ScientistReprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released long-awaited climate change emissions data today on an interactive website that clearly shows who the nation's biggest polluters are where they're located.
For the first time, the public can see where these industrial sources are emitting pollution in their communities. The website provides data on about 6700 industrial plants based on 2010 pollution discharges. Plants include those that produce cement, iron and steel, petroleum refiners, and pulp and paper manufacturers.
The program covers major industrial sources that emit 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent or more a year.
You can sort by geographic area and industry sector, and compare emissions among facilities. And you can share the information using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
The information will strengthen corporate governance and sustainability by providing rigorous, facility-based pollution data that tracks pollution levels for comparison with other facilities. It will likewise provide investors with transparent information, helping them to put their money in leaders, not laggards.
The release of the data is part of a program, called for under the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Act signed into law by President George W. Bush in December 2007 (H.R. 2764; Public Law 110-161).
Since 1995, fossil-fuel fired power plants over 25 megawatts have been required to report carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, but this new website also includes other greenhouse gases: methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride and other fluorinated gases.Reprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com
As of January 1, the world's airline industry will have to participate in Europe's carbon trading program, because the law was just upheld by Europe's highest court.
The Court of Justice of the European Union affirmed the EU Aviation Directive is fully compliant with international law.
"Today's decision, from the highest court in the European Union, makes clear Europe's innovative law to reduce emissions from international flights is fully consistent with international law, and does not infringe on the sovereignty of other nations," says a transAtlantic coalition of environmental groups who were defenders in the lawsuit.
The law requires airlines to buy emissions permits when they fly into or out of Europe's airports, and was challenged by US airlines in court.
The lawsuit was filed by United/Continental and American, and trade association, Air Transport Association of America (now Airlines for America). They say they are reviewing further legal options, but meanwhile will "comply under protest."
Airlines initially would be required to pay for only 15 percent of the carbon they emit and would be allocated free allowances to cover the other 85 percent. If they exceed their allotted limits, they will pay penalties.
Those that reduce emissions below the cap can sell permits to more polluting companies. Proceeds are distributed to EU member states, which use the revenues to address climate change.
The cap-and-trade program, which has been operating for six years, covers many industries. The airline industry is the latest to be included - the largest industry after power plants - and is expected to raise ticket prices by $11-57 round-trip, depending on how far they exceed pollution limits.
The fee is about the same amount US airlines currently charge to carry luggage that exceed weight limits.
US airlines want to be exempt from the rules, and the Obama Administration has negotiated on their behalf, saying it should only apply to European airlines. Chinese airlines have also expressed opposition.
The industry is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gases - having doubled emissions over the past 20 years.
In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing new air pollution standards for large aircraft engines, and greenhouse gas regulations could be on the way.
Airlines say they'd prefer a global approach to regulating emissions, and the International Civil Aviation Organization plans to create a global carbon market for the airline industry, which would supercede the EU program in 2014-2015.
The EU says it fully agrees with that approach, but is tired of waiting for a worldwide solution.
"We hope the focus will now shift away from obstructing its progress on the eve of its introduction and examine how such regional initiatives can form the building blocks of a global agreement," says Tim Johnson, Director of the Aviation Environment Federation.
"US aircraft emissions account for nearly half of worldwide carbon dioxide from aircraft; that amount is expected to triple by mid-century. But the US airline industry has fought to avoid playing its part in preventing runaway climate change. With US airlines shirking their duty, Europe has had to take the lead. The airline industry should now pressure the US government to level the playing field by imposing equivalent restrictions on aircraft pollution in the United States," says Martin Wagner, Managing Attorney at Earthjustice.
US airlines have been preparing to comply with the EU system, calculating flight emissions to establish a baseline, for example. They've been buying more efficient planes and testing biofuels. In August, President Obama announced a $510 million public-private partnership to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels.
Photo by Luis Argerich/flickr/Creative CommonsReprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com
by Fred Pearce
One idea promoted at the Durban talks was “climate-smart agriculture," which could make crops less vulnerable to heat and drought and turn depleted soils into carbon sinks. The World Bank and African leaders are backing this new approach, but some critics are skeptical that it will benefit small-scale African farmers.
The glacial pace of international efforts to curb climate change continued at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa last week. Governments concluded that by 2015 they should agree on legally binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions that involve all major nations — including China, India and the United States. But they also agreed that those targets would probably not come into force until 2020.
The climate isn’t waiting for the diplomats. Most experts agree that by 2020 it will likely be too late to halt dangerous warming above two degrees Celsius. So the race is now on to find new, unconventional initiatives to fill the gap. One possibility that came to the fore in Durban is fixing some of that carbon dioxide in the soils of Africa. And that is why the continent’s political leaders met in Durban to launch an initiative known, somewhat cryptically, as “climate-smart” agriculture.
The new buzz phrase went down well. Host president Jacob Zuma extolled it. Kofi Annan, the Ghanaian former UN secretary-general, praised it as a panacea to Africa’s problems. “Till now agriculture has been sidelined from climate change discussions,” he said. “But Africa has a huge potential to mitigate climate change.” Beside him sat the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the chair of the African Union Commission. They were all on hand as the World Bank announced plans to turn climate-smart agriculture into the next big thing for the world market in carbon offsets.
So what exactly is climate-smart agriculture? It sounds as if it might involve making agriculture resilient to climate change, by making soils and crops less vulnerable to droughts and heat waves. And that is part of the plan. But only part. The real prize — the one that can lure private finance — is the potential for carbon offsetting. If farm soils can be used to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, then they can generate carbon credits that can be sold to industrial polluters who want to offset their emissions.
The offer from the world of carbon finance to poor farmers in Africa and elsewhere is this: Let us use your soils to capture carbon from the atmosphere, and we will, in return, make those soils more productive and less vulnerable to the climate.
This is a big deal. Nurturing the organic matter in soils on the world’s farms has as much potential to absorb carbon dioxide emissions from industrialized countries as the much better-known plans to fund forest conservation, such as REDD. Rattan Lal of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at Ohio State University suggests soils worldwide could capture as much as a billion tons of carbon a year — more than a tenth of man-made emissions.
Climate-smart agriculture neatly combines the twin goals of today’s climate negotiators, helping to prevent climate change while at the same time adapting farms to inevitable change.
Africa is the big prize. Its farmers are more vulnerable than any others to climate change. Some estimates suggest a hotter, more dire world could cut African farm yields by as much as 20 percent by mid-century. Without an African green revolution, that would spell disaster for a continent with a population that is expected to double to two billion people.
But the continent’s huge land area — greater than the U.S., China, India, Mexico and Japan combined — also holds huge potential as a planetary carbon sink that, many believe, could create the necessary green revolution.
Currently, African soils are leaking carbon as they erode and lose organic matter due to bad farming practices. An estimated 43 percent of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions come from land clearance, including farming. But the same soils could be turned from a carbon source to a carbon sink, absorbing many tens of millions of tons of carbon a year, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
If an agricultural carbon offset program were in place, carbon dollars from Western companies could pay for composting, mulching, recycling crop waste, planting farm trees, and much else on the world’s poorest farms. Those improved soils, richer in organic matter, would grow more crops, help soils withstand droughts and floods, and — vital to earning those carbon dollars — capture carbon from the atmosphere.
The World Bank is keen to mastermind a global effort to fix carbon in African soils. It brought agriculture ministers from across the continent to Johannesburg in September to promote the idea and continued to push it in Durban.
For the past year, the bank’s BioCarbon Fund, which sets up demonstration carbon-capturing projects in both forests and farms, has been running the first pilot African soil project among smallholder farmers near Kisumu in western Kenya. The bank’s climate envoy Andrew Steer said in Durban that the maize and bean farmers “are getting higher yields, improving the resilience of the soils to drought and getting stronger soils that sequester more carbon.”
If all goes according to plan, the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project, which covers 40,000 hectares of farmland in a densely population region of the country, should capture 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. It could also increase annual farm incomes by $200 to $400 per hectare.
That’s the plan. Will it work? The Stockholm Environment Institute, a think tank that looks at both climate and development issues, is supportive. The institute’s Olivia Taghioff, who has studied the Kenyan scheme, says, “Carbon finance even in modest amounts can make a big difference for smallholders.”
But there are concerns. In Durban, Annan warned: “These efforts must have at their heart smallholder farmers. Without their participation we will fail.” And many critics fear that climate-smart agriculture is in reality a Trojan horse for marginalizing smallholder farmers. They believe the arrival of carbon markets, brokers and traders in the fields of Africa can do nothing but harm.
“Soil carbon offsets will promote a spate of African land grabs and put farmers under the control of fickle carbon markets,” said Teresa Anderson of the UK-based Gaia Foundation, an NGO that promotes indigenous farming, speaking in Durban. “The [World] Bank’s agenda is more money for the bank and for carbon project developers, not development,” said Doreen Stabinsky of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
The high costs of employing scientists, consultants, and field surveyors to assess and monitor the carbon uptake of farm soils will make it impossible for smallholder farmers to pocket any income from the sale of the carbon absorbed by their soils, these critics maintain. Only large landowners will be able to reduce these transactions costs sufficiently to profit from the carbon markets, they say, and the result will be a new phase of land grabbing. “Soil grabbing,” some are calling it.
Across Africa, governments are already leasing wide areas of land traditionally used by smallholder farmers to foreign companies for industrial agriculture or for planting trees as carbon sinks in order to gain carbon credits. The fear is that the process will accelerate if the soil itself becomes a carbon commodity.
There is another reason why peasant farmers may lose out. Early evidence gathered by the World Bank in Kenya suggests that the cultivation of commercial crops of the kind that large agribusinesses specialize in have a much greater potential to soak up carbon than smallholder subsistence crops.
Data presented last year at the FAO in Rome by Rama Reddy of the World Bank’s carbon finance unit show that the carbon-capture potential for a hectare of smallholder maize in Kenya is around half a ton of carbon dioxide per year, whereas the potential for commercial biofuels is between 2.5 and 5 tons, and for a sugar cane plantation up to 8 tons per hectare.
The dream of enthusiasts for climate-smart agriculture is that investors will one day invest billions of dollars in the fields of Africa in order to purchase the resulting credits from capturing carbon, while at the same time improving the continent’s soils. In truth, any credible solution to climate change will probably involve finding ways to get the landscape to absorb more carbon, whether in trees or soils, probably financed from carbon markets. Can it be done in a way that helps smallholder farmers? Or will it drive them off their land? That remains far from clear.
Photo by McKay Savage/flickr/Creative CommonsReprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360