Carbon Markets and Agriculture Don’t Mix


Extreme flooding, fires, and other weather disasters of recent years have prompted some much-needed discussion around climate change, as well as the many options for addressing it. One solution that’s garnered much attention is carbon trading, or carbon markets, which have been analyzed in a new publication from the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy and National Family Farm Coalition.

Carbon trading, aka emissions trading, has been touted by various legislators and non-government organizations as a market-based panacea to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Polluters can buy, sell, and trade emissions with credits that pay for or offset greenhouse gas reductions.

This places a monetary value on soil carbon sequestration while ignoring the environmental benefits that a system based on agroecology, economic parity, and social equity creates. Restoring crop rotations to include perennials would mean fewer acres of corn and soybeans planted with genetically engineered seeds and chemical fertilizers – better for the environment as well as the farmer’s bottom line. Carbon markets ignore this basic truth.

Carbon markets also contain loopholes that allow polluters to continue polluting with few penalties or incentives to stop. For more than a decade, carbon traders in the European Union have been arrested for an array of criminal activities – cheating investors, over-counting credits, evading taxes, money laundering, and racketeering. Anti-trust activities that dominate other global commodities, such as dairy futures and options at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, also apply to carbon trading.

Ultimately carbon credits are subsidized by taxpayers or by investors who have been convinced to put money into them to raise their value. This is especially problematic when universities  and other public entities, such as the World Bank, promote pollution trading through carbon markets.

As NFFC noted last year in a Green New Deal forum with Pesticide Action Network, family farmers and fishermen are demanding policies that return power to the hands of the people and communities providing food.

Patti Naylor, Iowa organic farmer and Family Farm Defenders member, says, “The prospect of climate change is frightening, but just as frightening are politically safe false solutions like carbon markets. We can’t ignore the free-market policies and subsequent low prices for farmers while corporate consumers reap massive profits. The goal should be to eliminate pollution, not to commodify it. Like La Via Campesina stated in 2016, our land is worth more than carbon.”