Monday, April 25, 2011

carbon projects drives land grabbing and GMOs?

Carbon credits rarely deliver money to projects and communities on the ground. Out of a total carbon market volume of $144 billion in 2010, only 3,370 million (0.2%) was for project-based transactions, with only a very small proportion of that likely to reach the community level. Most of the money stays in the global North, even though projects themselves are in the South. Those that benefit most from carbon trading are financial speculators such as J.P.Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Merryl Lynch, who buy and sell carbon credits like they do any other internationally tradable commodity.
Says a briefing from the Gaia Foundation. They claim that there private companies will draw all benefits from carbon offsetting projects. I am inclined to agree with them that there are big risks for that, and that ultimately, carbon credits, mitigation banks, payment for environmental services (TEBB) represent a giant leap towards privatization of our common nature resources. I have written about it many times. 
Ecosystems: Invaluable and worthless

I can also recommend a paper by Sian Sullivan:
The environmentality of ‘Earth Incorporated’: on contemporary primitive accumulation and the financialisation of environmental conservation

Having said that, I don't really agree with some other analysis in their briefing. Two other points are that 1) it is very hard to measure the real offsets in soils, 2) GMO crops and land-grabbing are likely to be strong features in carbon offset projects. There is a certain merit in both point, but rather limited in my view. There is no indication that carbon offset farm projects will use more GMOs than food production. And the same land grabbing are explained by increased food prices, meat production, production of export crops and bio fuel. I don't defend land grabbing, but it is essentially a function of inequality and power relations regardless of the purpose for which land will be used. Huge land grabbing has taken place in most parts of the world in stages.  Just look at the Americas, earlier colonial land grabbing and even massive land grabbing of forests some hundred and fifty years ago in my native Sweden - or even the classic enclosures in England some five hundred years ago. With increased pressure on land, we will see more in the future, if local communities power over their resources are not asserted. I do realize that it is very hard to measure actual carbon sequestration in soils, but don't think it is a valid argument against agriculture carbon sequestration projects. It is difficult to measure most effect from farming, because it relies on local eco systems and because it is carried out by half a billion people, each one doing a bit differently. But with that logic you could also not make statements on effects of farming on environment, biodiversity, the nitrogen cycle or almost anything else as they are all site specific and hard to measure.

Gaia contradicts itself somewhat, when calling for "the use of agro-ecological farming systems to minimise agricultural GHG emissions, and to restore soil carbon. These approaches also provide numerous “multi-functionality” benefits for adaptation, ecosystems, human health, equitable access to resources, and long-term food security." This is a clear example on where it is really hard to measure carbon offset, compared to large-scale carbon offset programs. Don't misunderstand me, I support the use of organic and agro-ecological farming, but if you argue about its benefits for carbon sequestration, people will compare those with other farming systems. 
"Agriculture, with its intensive use of fossil fuels, synthetic agro-chemicals, machinery, transport and intensive livestock rearing, is clearly a significant contributor to climate change. But done properly, the right kind of agriculture can also be a major part of the climate solution.", says Gaia. I couldn't agree more.

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