Market-based schemes will not lower emissions, solve climate crisis or benefit small farmers
A bipartisan group of senators last week introduced a bill aimed at expanding family farmer participation in carbon trading, touted as a solution to curb greenhouse gas emissions. While Congress must act with urgency to address the climate crisis, National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) opposes this measure, as carbon markets are an inadequate solution either to lower emissions or confront the ongoing farm crisis.
Family Farm Defenders Executive Director John Peck, longtime member of NFFC, said, “Commodifying pollution has been a false solution to climate change since the beginning. Companies responsible for greenhouse gas emissions can evade responsibility and shift their burden to taxpayers and future generations. Worse yet, carbon trading creates another fictitious shell game commodity market ripe for corporate speculation.”
The Growing Climate Solutions Act would establish a USDA certification for third-party carbon trading firms, with standards for measurement, verification, monitoring, and reporting on carbon sequestration initiatives, as well as a “one-stop-shop” to educate and enroll farmers. Companies establishing these voluntary carbon markets claim they will increase farm profits and lower emissions, but similar programs have historically offered only marginal benefits for family-scale and diversified producers while incentives primarily go to larger-scale operations. Carbon markets have a poor track record for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
New York organic farmer Elizabeth Henderson, member of Northeast Organic Farming Association-NY, said, “As a farmer, I reject solutions like carbon markets that leave power in the hands of the same corporations that have led us to the current farm crisis. We need public policy that incentivizes soil health, encouraging farmers to implement ecological systems based in healthy soils practices and the ecosystem services that come with them, like reducing erosion, building farm resilience to climate extremes, and increasing soil carbon.”
NFFC asserts that tackling the complex challenges of the climate crisis must not lead to further consolidation and corporate control of the agriculture sector. The bill’s corporate backers, including Syngenta, Cargill, and ADM, can use carbon credits to continue polluting or to sell to other polluters, thereby greenwashing their operations. Further, there is a concern that farmers participating in these programs will be required to use patented microbial seed coating and digital technology to remotely track soil carbon, emissions, and land management decisions. With no national farmer data protection measures, farmers are vulnerable to data mining by seed and chemical companies and carbon traders.
As NFFC and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy highlighted in a February 2020 report, short-term carbon market projects narrowly define farms as carbon sinks, which raise environmental justice concerns. The focus on market-based programs distracts from more effective, holistic, and pro-farmer conversation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program. In calling on Congress to take bold and urgent action to confront both the climate crisis and the significant economic challenges facing family-scale farmers and ranchers, NFFC reiterates its demand for a just transition for agriculture.