The following article is part of an Eco-Perspective special in which the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law is collaborating with the VLS COP22 Observer Delegation
By Tori Scozzaro
The United Nations weather agency recently announced that the past five years have been the hottest on record, with increasing evidence showing that this is man-made climate change. Thus, the urgency for solutions increases here at COP22 where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is meeting to discuss and improve climate change goals. One way to decrease GHG emissions is to revise global farming techniques. Today at the “On-farm renewables and sustainable intensification to address climate change and food security” meeting at COP22, several farming experts discussed opportunities to improve farming and food security. The experts discussed the use of sustainable intensification and renewable energy, co-benefits and trade-offs around land use and deforestation concerns, and exploration of funding options.
Don McCabe, a Canadian farmer who works for the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, got straight down to the bottom line of farming and climate change mitigation. He simply stated: “Who else is going to put carbon back into the ground other than farmers? They know how to do it.” Really, though, the farmers know how to grow crops while the plants know how to absorb the carbon dioxide (CO2). Plants absorb CO2 through photosynthesis, and release CO2 during respiration when they tap into their stored-up energy. While warmer temperatures increase respiration rates, more plants—or “CO2-loving-plants”—could absorb more CO2 than they release. This soil equation, Mr. McCabe stated, is the bottom line to meeting human demands for food while mitigating climate change. At the end of the day, he is tired of the negotiations and discussions of improving the “words” (within the language of regulations and agreements) because “ it is ridiculous that we have to argue over adaptation/ mitigation” when the reality is that farmers and foresters know how to use natural cycles to help capture carbon in the atmosphere.
Another area of farming that heavily impacts climate change is meat production. In order to keep up with demand for beef and leather, 21 million ha of deforestation has occurred in the Brazilian Amazon between 2000 and 2015 to support cattle. Simon C. Hall, the manager of Tropical Forests and Agriculture National Wildlife Federation (NWF), spoke about insights from the Brazilian cattle sector. The NWF has been working in South America with local partners for over 20 years to eliminate tropical deforestation from agriculture supply chains. They hope to accelerate the development and implementation of intensification for sustainability because the implications of deforestation are staggering: longer dry season, reduced rainfall, increased temperature. Sustainable Intensification on the other hand (when coupled with zero deforestation commitments), will lead to: land sparing, reduced emissions from LUC, reduced losses of wildlife habitat and biodiversity, increased market access, preferential purchasing agreements, and reduced leakage and rebound effects.
There are many other ways farming can [be] improve[d] to reduce GHG emissions and help mitigate climate change. Intensification of crop and livestock production, is also essential to mitigate human suffering and provide food security for humankind. These are only two main techniques highlighted [yesterday] at the COP22 side event on farm renewables and addressing climate change and food security, and I look forward to further conversations on such ideas and modalities for farming for a sustainable future.