National Farmers Union recommends mixed farming systems to reduce GHG emissions

farmers Climate-Report-Cover-Version-C-Agriculture generates about eight per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. In November 2019, the National Farmers Union of Canada released what they characterize as “one of the most comprehensive analyses of the linkages between agriculture and climate change written to date in Canada.”  Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis: A Transformative Strategy for Canadian Farmers and Food Systems  “considers both the impacts of the climate crisis on agriculture and the realities of the vulnerable financial situation of farm families.” Consumer demand and expectation for cheap food works against small farmers and can drive them into bankruptcy – a concern which runs throughout the report (and is documented in a statistical appendix).   A CBC Edmonton article emphasizes the fine line of profitability for farmers, and “ The fight against climate change down home on an Alberta farm” at CBC Calgary summarizes the NFU recommendations, with a human face.

Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis  states that “the farm crisis and the climate crisis share many of the same causes, and many of the same solutions.   It concludes that the most impactful way to cut agriculture-related GHG emissions in half by 2050 would be to move away from the agribusiness model to “mixed-farming systems that utilize natural nutrient cycles, diverse animal and plant mixes and best-possible grazing methods to restore soils, raise carbon levels, protect water, enhance biodiversity and support sustainable livelihoods.” The report also considers specifics such as the optimal design of a carbon tax for farmers; use of biofuels and electrification; on-farm renewable power generation; and more efficient use of technology for farm production.

Agriculture’s role in climate change is a complex topic, and it should be noted that the National Farmers Union does not speak for all Canadian farmers – for example, their positions differ from those of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture  . Recent publications to help understand the global issues and impacts include:  the 2019 IPCC 6th Climate Assessment Report  Climate Change and Land and Creating a Sustainable Food Future , by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in partnership with the World Bank, UN Environment Programme , UN Development Programme , and France’s Agricultural Research for Development and National Institute for Agricultural Research .

How transforming global food systems can reduce GHG emissions – in Canada, with a focus on food waste

food guideOn January 15 in Oslo, the prestigious medical journal Lancet launched the results and recommendations of a commission it had established, the EAT-Lancet Commission , composed of   37 experts from 16 countries . Their report, “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems”  analyzes human diet and food production in light of the Paris Agreement, and the fact that food production contributes about 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Commission recognizes the enormity of their goals : “humanity has never aimed to change the global food system on the scale envisioned in this Commission.”

The Lancet report recommends cutting meat consumption in half, greatly reducing food waste, and replacing resource-intensive farming methods with approaches that require less fertilizer, and replenish the soil. The authors estimate that  wide-spread adoption of plant-based diets could reduce agricultural emissions by up to 80 percent, and changes in food production practices could cut an additional 10 percent in 2050.  Excellent summaries of the article appeared from the American Association for the Advancement of Science  and from  Inside Climate News

One of the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission  is to greatly reduce food waste. Coincidentally, a report released by Second Harvest Canada on January 17 is a thorough and detailed examination of  that issue in Canada. “The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste”  states that Canada is one of the most wasteful countries in the world, generating the food waste equivalent to $1,766 per household per year, with an estimated 58 per cent of all food produced in Canada lost or wasted.  Through supply chain analysis, the report estimates that  nearly $21 billion worth occurs during the processing and manufacturing process, and more than $10 billion worth at the consumer level.  The report also estimates the environmental cost of such waste: food in landfills creates methane gas, the equivalent  of  56.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.  The report makes dozens of recommendations for industry and government in a 32-page “Roadmap”  for farmers, producers, retailers, restaurant owners, and government .    The Technical report of how calculations were made is here .   A CBC summary is here .  A White paper by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation,  Characterization and Management of Food Waste in North America  concurred with much of Second Harvest’s  analysis when it was published in 2018.

On January 17, eight of Canada’s leading food manufacturers and retailers- (Kraft Heinz Canada, Loblaw Companies Ltd, Maple Leaf Foods, Metro Inc, Save-On-Foods, Sobeys Inc, Unilever Canada and Walmart Canada) – released a statement, committing themselves to cut food waste within their operations by 50% by the end of 2025, from 2016 levels. They will use the globally recognized Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard, which addresses this issue on a global scale.

In Canada, the 2019 Food Guide released on January 22,  is the first update since 2007, and is intended as a consumer guide for a nutritious and healthy diet. To this end, it makes general recommendations about eating less meat and mostly plant-based foods, and has multiple recommendations for behaviour changes, such as “cook more often”, “eat with others”  and “be aware of food marketing”.

 

Case studies of Community and human rights impacts of Renewable energy companies, and a ranking of multinationals in Ag/Food, Apparel and Mining

renewable energy investor briefing coverAn April 2017 report from the London-based advocacy group,  Business and Human Rights Resource Centre asks,  “What adverse impacts can renewable energy projects have on communities around the world?”   Renewable Energy investor briefing: Managing risks & responsibilities for impacts on local communities  (April 2017) is directed at financial and investment professionals who are considering investment in renewable energy projects- in this report, comprised of wind and small-to-medium hydro, but excluding solar .  It starts from the premise that Just Transition principles are essential, then explains the international human rights responsibilities of companies.  The report also provides examples of the kinds of questions that should be asked in shareholder meetings and before investment decisions are made, and gives examples of best practice policies – for example, inclusion of community benefits agreements.  One of the main issues it discusses is the right to free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, which is an ongoing topic monitored by the BHRC.

The report provides case studies, including  six positive examples, including: the Ixtepec community-owned wind project in Mexico; the Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm in South Africa; and  a cluster of wind projects in Jämtland, Sweden, for which OECD guidelines are being used in negotiations between the company and affected Indigenous people.  The full suite of case studies is presented in a searchable database which allows searching by company name, issue, country, and more.  There are no Canadian projects included in the 2017 report, although a profile of Ontario Power Generation  is available as part of the Centre’s ongoing database  of human rights in the energy sector  .

In March 2017, the Centre also launched an updated and expanded  Corporate Human Rights Benchmark website , which ranked 98 of the world’s largest publicly traded companies, from the  Agriculture, Apparel, and Extractive industries. The Benchmark is intended to drive a “race to the top” and is directed at business, government, and “ to empower civil society, workers, communities, customers, and the media with better public information to reward, encourage, and promote human rights advances by companies and make well-informed choices about which companies to engage with.”  A 50 page summary report is here .  There are six thematic measurement categories, including “ Company Performance: Human Rights Practices”  which  includes rankings related to living wage, freedom of association and right to bargain collectively, health and safety, amongst others.

Brexit is seen as a turning point for UK Climate Change Policy

On February 22, the new  Greener UK coalition released  a manifesto, calling on the UK government to use the Brexit process as an opportunity to restore and enhance environmental protections in the UK. The Manifesto for a Greener UK follows the release on February 14 of a  House of Lords report, Brexit: Environment and climate change.  For a discussion of the basic issues of concern, read “Brexit will be a pivotal moment for the UK’s environment” (December 2016), and read also Greener UK’s Pledge for the Environment, which has been signed by over 145 Members of Parliament  from all parties. Greener UK has also prepared a Briefing Note for Members of Parliament: The repeal bill and a greener UK: Maintaining a greener UK as the UK exits the EU.  Follow developments on the Inside Track blog, published by Green Alliance.

One of the key proposals of the February  Manifesto is that Britain should continue to show climate leadership, to co-operate with the EU on energy and climate change, and to affirm ongoing investment and deployment of clean energy infrastructure. It also calls for a new  Environment Act for England, “building on the upcoming 25 year plan with measurable milestones for environmental restoration and high standards for pollution and resource efficiency”.  Greener UK  has published policy documents supporting  each of the four  priorities of the Manifesto: Food and Farming Fisheries and Marine   ; Climate and Energy  ; and Environment and Wildlife Laws  .

Greener UK  was launched in December 2016, coordinated by Green Alliance . Greener UK consists of 13 major environmental organizations with a  combined membership of 7.9 million, and includes:  Campaign for Better Transport, ClientEarth, Campaign to Protect Rural England, E3G, Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, National Trust, RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and WWF.

Drought Brings Economic and Job Loss in California’s Agricultural Industry

Researchers at the University of California at Davis were commissioned by the state Department of Food and Agriculture to prepare estimates of the economic impacts of the current drought to enable targeting of drought relief efforts. Their preliminary report concludes that losses will reach $1.7 billion and 14,500 full-time and seasonal jobs in the intensively-farmed Central Valley. “…the smaller than expected reduction of water availability, crop acres and employment comes at the expense of the exhaustion of reserve groundwater storage and a substantial increase in groundwater overdraft. There will be substantial long term costs of groundwater overdraft that are not reflected in this study. Furthermore, if another critically dry year occurs in 2015 the socioeconomic impacts will likely be much more severe.” Although the drought will cause hardship for farmers and communities, agriculture accounts for less than 3 percent of the state’s $1.9 trillion a year gross domestic product. Other economic concerns are for forest fires, the fisheries industry, and consumer prices for fruit and vegetables. California has been under a state of emergency since January 2014; its normal dry season begins around May.

LINKS

Preliminary 2014 Drought Economic Impact Estimates in Central Valley Agriculture is at: https://watershed.ucdavis.edu/files/biblio/Preliminary_2014_drought_economic_impacts-05192014.pdf, with a press release summary at: http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10933.

To keep abreast of the hardships and actions relating to California’s drought, go to the government website at: ca.gov/drought.