Thursday, November 3, 2011

Carbon Markets - a corporate Trojan Horse?

Carbon farmers

Both the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO (2003), and the World Bank promote that carbon emission trading should encompass also carbon sequestration (sinks) in soils, i.e. that farmers could get paid for increasing soil organic matter. The carbon sink capacity of the world's agriculture and degraded soils is said to be 50% to 66% of the historic carbon loss from soils or some 42-78 Gt of carbon (FAO 2009). Measures in the farm sector for mitigation of climate change are among the cheapest measure to take, and in many cases, they also lead to other environmental improvements (reduced water pollution). Increased soil organic matter also leads to richer soils; to soils that can keep water and resist erosion longer. A major hurdle is that there are so many farmers and their conditions are very diverse;  it is very hard to determine exactly how much carbon a farmer will capture if he or she does this or that. To measure it on an individual level will be very costly. A new scenario emerges where farmers in developing countries can sell their services as carbon farmers to governments and companies in the developed countries. This could become a business replacement for aid, or a way to compensate developing countries farmers for absurd subsidies to their competitors in developed countries. 

But it also means that a larger part of their activities are integrated into the world economy, in the market economy. It can also be seen as a new frontier of exploitation, where the rich countries will use the land in developing countries as "dumping" ground for their waste, which is what this eventually amounts to. 

I recently wrote a report for UNEP where I had drawn this graph: 
Carbon changes in the soil
download report

It is important to keep in mind that once farmers have got compensation for the carbon stored in their sold through the means of carbon credits, they are forced to maintain practices that keeps the carbon there. One could say that they actually don't own their soil organic matter no more.They don't control how they manage their own soils.

Australia has already a Carbon Rights Act: 
The Carbon Rights Act 2003 establishes a statutory basis for the ownership and protection of carbon rights, in order to facilitate trading. It enables a carbon right to be registered on the land title as a separate interest in that land. The Act provides that a carbon right may be registered with the consent of all parties having an interest in the relevant land.....Owning a carbon right is like owning land. The title guarantees who owns the land (or carbon right). The market will determine what the land (or carbon right) is worth, based on a wide range of factors including how the land is used.

In this way, carbon payments can become a Trojan horse for large scale corporate take over of the land. 

Farmers question what they’ll get out of cap-and-trade
Pay farmers 'to deposit carbon' says businessman
Africa’s pollution and land grab threat from UN carbon market
Biofuel demand and CO2 quotas drive violent land grabs in Honduras
Land grabbing in the neocolonial order
Land grabbing, corporate farming to deepen hunger, poverty, and unemployment: Moot

There are similar issues around carbon credits for forests, for instance read: 
Beyond Carbon: Rights-based Safeguard Principles in Law
Forest carbon rights for poor at risk – study
It is your forest but my carbon

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