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.

On its 20th Anniversary, Criticism of NAFTA for Environmental, Economic Damage

A new report from the Sierra Club, the Council of Canadians and others, condemns the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for failing to improve economic and environmental conditions for most Canadian, American, and Mexican citizens.

According to the report, exports from Canada to the U.S. increased by 200 percent from 1994 to 2008, yet wages stagnated. Further, NAFTA contract obligations for oil encouraged development of the oil sands, while alternative energy sectors suffered, and NAFTA restricted Canada’s ability to regulate oil sands emissions. Pollution increased in the U.S. due to growth in dirtier manufacturing sectors, although employment in American manufacturing dropped overall.

In Mexico, small farmers were unable to compete with large-scale, export-oriented intensive agriculture. Many failed in attempts to improve profits by converting carbon-sequestering forest to arable land. While the mining industry in Mexico did enjoy a boom, smallholders lost out to associated industrial pollution. Wages in the maquila manufacturing sector near the U.S. border simultaneously stagnated, even as operations and pollution levels grew.

Other environmental impacts noted by the report include a significant jump in North American greenhouse gas emissions, unsustainable water use, and the rippling effects of NAFTA clauses that provide corporations with legal avenues to challenge environmental regulations, such as Lone Pine Resources’ ongoing lawsuit against Canada over the Québec fracking moratorium (see our previous report at: https://workandclimatechangereport.org/2013/11/22/fracking-company-suing-for-lost-profits-in-quebec/).

See NAFTA: 20 Years of Costs to Communities and the Environment at: http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/main-page/new-report-reveals-environmental-costs-north-american-free-trade-agreement-environmental-d, and “NAFTA Report Warns of Trade Deal Environmental Disasters” from the Huffington Post at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/11/nafta-environment_n_4938556.html.

Job Losses and Bankruptcies Result from California’s Drought

The worst drought in recorded California history will take a severe toll on the regional and American economy, particularly in the agricultural, fishing, tourism, and even energy industries. The drought, which President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have linked to climate change, may result in an $11 billion loss in annual state revenue from agriculture according to the California Farm Water Coalition. Farmers may be forced to fallow up to 500,000 acres of land during this year’s planting season, threatening some with bankruptcy and endangering the livelihoods of the 117,000 Californians who work in farm production, processing and transportaFARMS-1-master675-v3tion. While the wine industry and its associated tourism is suffering, livestock farmers may be taking the hardest hit as parched pasture is replaced with expensive imported feed. In the highly fertile Central Valley jobs directly related to agriculture comprise nearly 40% of employment. Previous droughts have seen unemployment in some towns skyrocket as high as 45%, while the 2011 to 2012 drought took an estimated $50 billion toll on the American economy as a whole.

The availability of hydroelectric power, the state’s cleanest and cheapest energy supply, has also been adversely affected. The state’s salmon population could be severely affected, particularly if legislation from four California and Oregon senators is passed that would allow more water to be diverted to farms. The bill would contradict EPA regulations that protect fish stocks in the Bay-delta estuary. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the regulations themselves sustain thousands of jobs associated with the fishing industry and preserve water quality for regional farmers.

California Governor Jerry Brown has announced $687.4 million in drought relief funding drawn partly from voter-approved bonds and the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. Money will go to local governments and agencies for water conservation and efficiency projects, food assistance, and emergency drinking water initiatives for communities facing severe water shortages. President Obama’s response to the drought includes $100 million in federal aid to livestock ranchers, as well as $15 million for areas hit hardest by the drought, and $60 million for California food banks.
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LINKS

California Seeing Brown where Green Used to be” in the New York Times is at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/14/us/california-seeing-brown-where-green-used-to-be.html?_r=0

“Punishing Drought has California Fearing the Worst” article from the Globe and Mail is available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/punishing-drought-has-california-fearing-the-worst/article16650342/

“Drought Forces California Farmers To Idle Cropland” article from Reuters available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/06/usa-drought-california-idUSL2N0LB00U20140206

“California, Orgeon Senators Introduce Drought Relief Legislation” from Senator Feinstein available at: http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=e7668832-d0be-4329-a30f-d1e5e47863aa

“California Drought: Gov. Jerry Brown proposes $687 million Aid Plan” from the San Jose Mercury News is available at: http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_25181590/california-drought-aid-plan-set-687-million-plan

International GHG Emissions

The Emissions Gap Report 2013 released on Nov. 5 by the United Nations Environment Program is the fourth produced. It reviews the latest estimates of current global greenhouse gas emissions; national emission levels, both current (2010) and projected (2020), and global emission levels consistent with the 2°C target for emissions in 2020, 2030 and 2050. New to this report is an assessment of the extent to which countries are on track to meet their national pledges, and also a description of the many cooperative climate initiatives being undertaken internationally. Also, noting that agriculture accounts for approximately 11% of GHG emissions, the report includes a chapter on the agricultural sector, including policies for reducing emissions. Read the press release at: http://www.unep.org/newscentre/Default.aspx?DocumentId=2755&ArticleId=9683

With the full report at: http://www.unep.org/pdf/UNEPEmissionsGapReport2013.pdf.

New Research Initiatives Underway

1) In the U.S., a new research initiative led by hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, former U.S. Treasury secretary Henry Paulson, and outgoing mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg aims to calculate the true financial cost of climate change. In a report expected in summer 2014, “Risky Business” will “combine existing data on the current and potential impacts of climate change with original research to reveal the most vulnerable sectors and assist with preparation”. According to Bloomberg Markets Magazine, the team also hopes to show that the eventual consequences of “business as usual” will outweigh its short-term benefits. See http://riskybusiness.org/about or http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-01/climate-change-rescue-in-u-s-makes-steyer-converge-with-paulson.html  

2) Launched on September 24, the new Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, co-chaired by Nicholas Stern, will conduct a “year-long, $9 million study to analyze the economic costs and benefits of acting against climate change”. The study will use macroeconomic modeling techniques to analyze possible outcomes, factoring in potential policy mechanisms, economic growth, investment, employment, poverty reduction, income distribution, and the need for improved health, energy, and food security. The commission hopes to uncover pathways to a resilient, resource-efficient, low-carbon economy. See http://newclimateeconomy.net/

3) Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario will launch a Centre for Sustainable Food Systems on November 14, to bring together researchers from the departments of Geography and Environmental Studies, Psychology, Biology, Global Studies, Religion and Culture as well as the School of Business and Economics. From their website at: https://www.wlu.ca/homepage.php?grp_id=13686: “Our vision is to conduct research that is both grounded in practice and theoretically informed, and to disseminate this co-generated knowledge through local, national and global networks to advance opportunities for and educate about more sustainable food systems.”

The Carbon Footprint of Food Production – and How to Reduce it – with an Example from the U.S.

A report released by U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on September 10 estimated that the carbon footprint of wasted food was equivalent to 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, with a direct economic cost estimated at $750 billion U.S. In this global survey, the world is divided into 7 regions, and 8 major commodity groups. The survey considers the entire life cycle – land use, water use, transportation, storage, loss and wastage. The Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources Summary Report is at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3347e/i3347e.pdf; An accompanying document, Toolkit: Reducing the Food Wastage Footprint, is at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3342e/i3342e.pdf and urges improvement in food harvest, storage, processing, transport and retailing processes, some of which can be accomplished by better training for farmers, farmer co-operatives, infrastructure investment, and technological improvements.

In related news, the U.S. Energy Department proposed in August two major energy efficiency rules for new commercial refrigeration equipment, walk-in coolers and freezers, estimated to cut emissions by over 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 30 years. See the official Department of Energy website for the rule change at: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/appliance_standards/rulemaking.aspx/ruleid/27, or the NRDC commentary about it at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/mwaltner/more_cooling_with_less_global.html.

B.C. Agricultural Industry

A White Paper released in May by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, based at the University of Victoria, offers recommendations for public policy to support the agricultural industry in its necessary adaptation to climate change. The report builds on the findings of the BC Agriculture Climate Change Risk & Opportunity Assessment of 2012, published by the provincial government. Read: Strengthening BC’s Agricultural Sector in the Face of Climate Change at: http://pics.uvic.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Strengthening%20BC%27s%20Agriculture%20Sector_0.pdf, and Climate Change Risk & Opportunity Assessment Reports (2012) for B.C. and its regions at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Climate Action Initiative website at: http://www.bcagclimateaction.ca/about/document-library/

 

Extreme Climate Events Threaten Australian Agriculture, Cities

A report by Australia’s Climate Commission, released in March 2013, states that “There is little doubt that over the next few decades changes in extreme events will increase the risks of adverse consequences to human health, agriculture, infrastructure and the environment”, with key food-growing regions across the southeast and the southwest, and cities in the southeast especially at risk. The report calls for deep, immediate cuts to carbon emissions as the only way to reverse the trend.   The Climate Commission is an independent advisory group established by the Australian government in 2011 to provide Australians with an independent and reliable source of information about climate change. Read The Critical Decade: Extreme Weather Report at: http://climatecommission.gov.au/report/extreme-weather/.