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19.02.2010 General posts
 
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Greenhouse gas emission trading in agriculture

What are the effects of agriculture on climate change? And how could the CAP help to mitigate climate change? Ernst-Detlef Schulze, contributor to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for the IPCC and Lead Researcher of the 'Assessment of the European Terrestrial Carbon Balance', responds to these questions. He argues that greenhouse gas emission trading should be expanded to agriculture.

Valentin Zahrnt:
What is the role of land use in the EU’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?
Ernst-Detlef Schulze:
The EU has agreed to reduce, by 2012, GHG emissions by 8% compared to 1990 levels. This target is unlikely to be met: in 2006 emissions were only 3% below the baseline year. Thus, we need to make a greater effort and also reduce the emissions from our land use. The land surface of the EU-25 is a CO2-carbon sink. It compensates for about 11% of fossil fuel emissions. However, CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas. Arable land and livestock also emit large amounts of N2O and CH4. Including these other greenhouse gases, the EU-25 land surface becomes a source for climate change , adding 3% to fossil fuel emissions.
VZ:
How does the picture look if we focus on agriculture?
ES:
According to our estimates, 17% of the total GHG emissions of the EU-25 originate from agriculture. This is a low estimate, because some emissions are accounted for under “Chemical Industry”, such as pesticide production. For transparency reasons, the total cost of agriculture must be visible under agriculture in European statistics, including irrigation, the running of greenhouses etc.
VZ:
If European statistics are currently flawed, what about the Kyoto accounting?
ES:
Art. 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol allows nations to choose whether they want to account for forestry and agriculture, and some nations chose not to account for agriculture. This needs to be changed in the future. Agriculture does not contribute to climate mitigation, it is the second largest driver of climate change – and thus must be accounted for.
VZ:
So what could be done to reduce these emissions?
ES:
There are no easy technical remedies, such as the pill for the cow or spraying nitrification inhibitors. So far, such options appear environmentally unacceptable. We need a more profound change. There is currently no incentive for land owners to make their land a more effective GHG sink or to reduce their emissions. Most farmers do not even know their GHG balance. The situation can only be improved if sinks are rewarded and sources pay. What constitutes climate-friendly farming is very dependent on local conditions. Which crops should be grown and how much fertilizer should be used, for instance, depends on the soil – and if you look at a map of soil qualities, you see that it is extremely patchy. Farmers need an economic price for GHG sinks and sources that applies to all farmers, then they can use their individual judgment to determine the most suitable crop and farming intensity.
VZ:
How could such a system be put into practice?
ES:
Present knowledge is sufficient to start GHG trade in the near future. A GHG balance at the farm level should be mandatory. A farm-gate GHG benchmark could be the basis for fees for access permissions and payments for climate-friendly production. A quality control mechanism for such a system will be needed, one that is independent of the regulated actors. Presently, agriculture is controlled by agricultural agencies, and not by independent external assessments.
VZ:
When one thinks of forests and climate change, the Amazon immediately comes to mind. But European forests are also important.
ES:
Yes, forests are the main carbon sink in Europe. However, 80% of this sink is biomass, and when this is harvested to meet bioenergy needs, the carbon is released again. Since old trees accumulate more carbon than young trees, the rotation time from planting to cutting matters. A change in rotation times from 100 years for saw wood to 30 years for energy wood would cause a big loss in CO2 sequestration. So the main challenge is to maintain long rotation times. It would also be desirable to put a value on forests that are protected from harvest, such as national parks and biosphere reserves. Under the emission trading scheme I have mentioned before, farmers’ payments for emissions could finance enhanced carbon sequestration in forests.
VZ:
Should more subsidies for reforestation be part of the solution?
ES:
Grasslands sequester similar amounts of carbon in soils as forests. Afforestation - or ploughing - of grasslands is thus not advisable. Sustainable land use, and not land-use change, is the key to a better GHG balance. Above all, what we need to do is put a price on GHG sinks and sources.