Agriculture bids for deforestation money1 comment
The agricultural sector is using the United Nations climate talks to lobby for inclusion of agriculture in funding mechanisms being designed to pay for the carbon capture services offered by natural and managed forests. It argues that agriculture also acts as a “sink” for drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Critics warn this could drive large-scale destruction of habitats such as grasslands, destroy biodiversity and undermine the natural services these ecosystems offer, like capturing rainfall and regulating stream flow.
Efforts are under discussion to reduce deforestation, which releases plant-captured carbon into the atmosphere and drives climate change. The focus is on building instruments that will allow big industrial countries to offset their greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions by paying developing countries to keep their natural forests standing. Not only does this reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (hence the scheme’s acronym, REDD), but it maintains these natural carbon sinks which help prevent further build-up of GHGs in the atmosphere. Farmed forests are also being considered as part of this REDD mechanism.
“Of all the causes of deforestation, such as trade and industrial development, agriculture and forestry are two of the main drivers,” said Dr Yemi Katerere, head of the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat. Speaking during a day of discussions here in Mexico aimed at finding solutions to tackle climate change while maintaining food security, Katerere said the successful implementation of a REDD programme needed to include the agroforestry sector.
One of the controversies of REDD is that by placing a value on forests because of their carbon capture services, but not on grasslands, for instance, this will drive agroforestry activity away from forest habitats and into grasslands.
“There is a risk of displacement as REDD starts to be implemented and the value of forests goes up,” Keterere said, “so agriculture could move to grasslands or low carbon forest areas. The types of policy being designed need to be looked at in terms of how they are likely to trigger these events.”
This sector could become more profitable if landowners are able to earn additional income, above and beyond yield profits, if they are paid for the amount of carbon their farmlands capture annually. This could drive a more aggressive spread of farmland, warned the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) policy director for forest carbon initiative Gerald Steindlegger.
Agricultural yields also need to increase through more intensive farming methods, noted World Bank sustainable development vice president Inger Andersen, in order to meet the growing population which is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. Andersen said production needed to “rise two and a quarter times above 2000 levels” to meet this demand. Agriculture is critical to climate change agenda, she said, since it contributes roughly 17% of global greenhouse gases.
Anderson claimed that some methods of farming reduce emissions such as not ploughing and planting nitrogen-fixing trees amongst field crops. But WWF’s Steindlegger was guarded against the idea of spreading deforestation-targeted money into forestry and agriculture.
“We don’t have endless funds available and they will need to be prioritised. If it’s spread across it will not be available for the first purpose, which is to conserve forests and give an equitable share of benefits to the people living around the forests.”
In the meantime REDD funding should be the preserve of natural forest. Ultimately, though, UNFCCC processes will need to find ways to quantify and value the carbon capture and other ecosystem services of all habitats – grasslands, mangroves, wetlands – as a way to incentivise their conservation in a similar fashion, argued Steindlegger.
So far US$4.5 billion has been pledged by developed countries, though not dispersed, and is earmarked to get the administrative systems in place in various countries for handling funds and building capacity to monitor and verify the state of forests, ahead of a full rollout of REDD initiatives.