Copenhagen is finally over and the result is a non-binding, inadequate deal. My gold standard source of environmental information is the Center for Biological Diversity (they stand up for what’s right when other environmental groups back down) and they say:
We all know what we must do to solve global warming, but even the architects of this deal acknowledge that it does not take those necessary steps. Merely acknowledging the weaknesses of the deal, as President Obama has done, does not excuse its failings. If this is the best we can do, it is not nearly good enough. We stand at the precipice of climatic tipping points beyond which a climate crash will be out of our control. We cannot make truly meaningful and historic steps with the United States pledging to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by only 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The science demands far more.
Looking at the big picture in Copenhagen, we’re already at 390 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere and we need to be at 350 ppm. The deal the U.S. was proposing would put us at 550 ppm. Likewise, we’re already at a 0.7 degree Celsius global temperature increase, and the deal (which is non-binding) calls for a 2 degree increase. African nations call that a death sentence, as 2 degrees globally equates to 3.5 degrees in Africa. They ask for "1.5 to stay alive." Yet, if each nation reduces emissions by what they pledged, we’re looking at a 3 degree increase. Weak.
So what about agriculture? I’ve posted draft language for the agriculture agreement on my blog. It seems that none of this was included in the final text of the agreement. But it certainly shows the direction international negotiations are going on ag. And I fear they are going down the wrong road.
The global peasants organization La Via Campesina put out a statement saying:
Even though the "Copenhagen deal" doesn’t mention agriculture explicitly, it seemed during the two weeks talk that the UNFCCC wanted to include soils in the carbon capture methods, and include agriculture in it’s technology transfer – opening up space for transnational companies to receive subsidies for introducing GMO seeds and industrial agricultural methods such as non-till agriculture. This is exactly the type of agricltural development that has led us to the current environment and social crisis in the countryside.
This is echoed by the organization Food First, who says:
This comes at the same time that radical proposals to subsidize soil carbon storage (likely through ‘biochar’, RoundUp Ready GM crops and industrial tree plantations) with carbon offsetting schemes made it back into the draft after having been presumed dead. The proposals would allow wealthy countries to buy carbon credits through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) instead of reducing emissions at home.
The inclusion of agriculture in the CDM is extremely problematic – transaction costs to participate in the program are high, giving structural advantage to large-scale industrial technologies like GM monocultures. Moreover, a recent civil society study of CDM projects found that 75% did not provide any emissions reductions whatsoever.
But let’s back up. The Copenhagen meeting didn’t happen in a vacuum. Here’s the big picture of international ag negotiations. A few years back, the World Bank teamed up with five agencies of the UN to assess global agriculture, agricultural technology, and its ability to feed the world. The result is the IAASTD report, which came out in 2008. The report is enormous and dense, but I feel it is summed up very well in this article. In short, the report recognizes that agriculture does more than just feed us. It provides livelihoods and it affects the environment in which we live. We need to produce food in a way that nourishes ourselves and our planet and provides meaningful livelihoods for those who produce our food. The report says that business is usual is not an option, and they recommend "agroecological" methods of farming (a.k.a. organic) to feed the world. They also felt that GMOs were NOT the wave of the future that would feed the world and clean up the planet. You can read a longer analysis of their findings here.
When this report came out, it was buried. It wasn’t what those who commissioned it wanted to hear. While some pesticide and biotech interests were included in writing the report, they (Syngenta and CropLife) walked off the project because they didn’t like the report’s findings. The Gates Foundation then funded the Chicago Council on Global Affairs to write their own report on how to feed the world, and they involved GMO-advocate Robert Paarlberg to help write it. While efforts such as this one do not always blatantly say "More chemicals! More GMOs!" (although sometimes they do), they ALWAYS bring the focus around to yield and productivity. We need MORE FOOD they say. (The subtext to this is: Organics can’t produce enough food. This has been proven false, and in fact a study found that going organic would INCREASE productivity by 80% in the developing world, but they repeat the lie anyway as if it were true.)
The roots of this message aren’t new either. They stem from the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. This was when the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations funded major agriculture research around the world to increase productivity in the developing world and help starving people. The Green Revolution brought industrialized ag to the developing world, perhaps most notably to Mexico and India. However, while efforts were made to bring the Green Revolution to Africa, they largely failed. Today, the Gates Foundation is involved in the Alliance for an African Green Revolution, and they also just formally joined the Green Revolution group CGIAR – the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
There’s also a bit of a revolving door between Monsanto, Gates, and the U.S. government. Take, for example, Rajiv Shah. He’s from Gates, but was just nominated to head up USAID. Then there’s Roger Beachy, formerly head of Monsanto’s non-profit arm, but now nominated to serve in the Obama USDA. And Islam A. Siddiqui, formerly a top pesticide/biotech lobbyist for CropLife, now nominated to be the Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the U.S. Trade Rep’s office. Oh, and there’s also Rob Horsch, a Monsanto vice president, who is now involved in agriculture work at Gates. Plus numerous public-private partnerships between these three groups.
In short, when you see somebody talk about solving world hunger by increasing productivity, they are most likely in the Green Revolution "we need more chemicals and GMOs" school of thought. When you hear the term food sovereignty or you see a reference to the IAASTD report, then you’re listening to someone who believes that agroecology is the way to fix our problems. Food sovereignty is defined as:
Food sovereignty is the peoples’, Countries’ or State Unions’ RIGHT to define their agricultural and food policy, without any dumping vis-à-vis third countries. Food sovereignty includes :
* prioritizing local agricultural production in order to feed the people, access of peasants and landless people to land, water, seeds, and credit. Hence the need for land reforms, for fighting against GMOs ((Genetically Modified Organisms), for free access to seeds, and for safeguarding water as a public good to be sustainably distributed.
* the right of farmers, peasants to produce food and the right of consumers to be able to decide what they consume, and how and by whom it is produced.
* the right of Countries to protect themselves from too low priced agricultural and food imports.
* agricultural prices linked to production costs : they can be achieved if the Countries or Unions of States are entitled to impose taxes on excessively cheap imports, if they commit themselves in favour of a sustainable farm production, and if they control production on the inner market so as to avoid structural surpluses.
* the populations taking part in the agricultural policy choices.
* the recognition of women farmers’ rights, who play a major role in agricultural production and in food.
As you may have guessed, the language that was in the agriculture draft from Copenhagen called for increased productivity and efficiency. They also called for sustainability, but proponents of GMOs and agrichemicals often call their products "sustainable" because they claim such products help them use LESS pesticides or fertilizer or help them pollute less in other ways (i.e. no-till farming). However, I would like to point you to the work of the Rodale Institute, which has decades of scientific research showing that up to 40% of the world’s emissions could be sequestered into the soil by switching all of the world’s cultivated acreage to organic, agroecological farming methods. Furthermore, their methods result in a 2/3 decrease in oil usage AND equal or greater productivity compared to conventional farming. So when a pesticide company calls its product "sustainable," what they are really saying is that a Ford Expedition is sustainable compared to a Hummer, while forgetting that some people drive hybrids or even ride bikes.
As for the business of carbon offsets, I highly recommend checking out The Story of Cap and Trade. The idea of a carbon offset is simple. You take some carbon OUT of the atmosphere and then earn the right to put the same amount of carbon back INTO the atmosphere. Or you can sell that right. Which works out just fine, IF you actually took carbon out of the atmosphere in the first place. I heard a great comparison of carbon offsets to the Catholic church’s sales of indulgences prior to the Protestant Reformation. Somebody gets to sin, the church gets money, and everyone’s all fine – except that the sin is still there. Same thing with bogus carbon offsets. I am not opposed to non-bogus carbon offsets but it doesn’t sound like that’s what’s on the table.
In fact, moving from Copenhagen to DC and the House climate bill (ACES), the USDA has projected that the bill will result in a net increase in farm income because farmers will have to pay more for energy but they won’t be accountable under cap and trade (no limits on ag emissions), and they can make a lot of money by selling offsets.
So there’s my assessment of Copenhagen. Quite frankly, it sucks. A lot of the worst stuff seems to be left on the cutting room floor, but that doesn’t mean it went away.
Also, if you read the piece I wrote about backyard chickens last week, I have an update. The San Diego paper just published a rather nasty editorial about my effort to legalize chickens in my town. I’ve posted it on my blog, along with several letters to the editor that more progressive-minded San Diegoans have sent in.