Thursday, January 22, 2009

New Resource - A Look Ahead at the New Administration/Congress

It's a new day in Washington -- with a new Congress and a new President.  For the climate issue, that means BIG changes are in store.  It is important that the agriculture sector understand the new players that will be running the committees of jurisdiction on this issue and to note what the new President's plans are -- so that the agriculture sector can be prepared to defend its interests.

An EXCELLENT resource that I highly recommend is the Agricultural Carbon Market Working Group.  This group is comprised of farm leaders who have been working and leading on the ag-climate issue for nearly 4 years.  This group is cross-commodity and geographically diverse -- so they bring many different points of view to the issue.

Of particular value is their Resources page which contains memos and white papers on various parts of the complex ag offsets/climate issue.  Today, they have added a new paper focusing on the transition of the new administration and the a new Congress -- and what that means for the ag-climate issue.  

You can read the paper by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Grazing Management Has Big Carbon Credit Potential

There's good news out today about how grazing can rack up carbon credits (of course, that's only if the law counts this practice).  Below is a great article that my colleague Sara Brodnax found talking about how changes in grazing practices could have a major impact worldwide on reducing GHG emissions.  

Let's hope the policy incentives are there to reward and promote this behavior rather than require it outright.  The other point to note is again, the importance of dealing with additionality in order to have a project type count as a legitimate offset.

Reuters News 
By David Fogarty, Climate Change Correspondent, Asia

SINGAPORE, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Simple changes in grazing practices could soak up millions of tonnes of carbon a year, helping fight climate change, improving farm productivity and earning farmers carbon credits, a scientist said on Tuesday.

But such measures needed to spread globally to more than 120 million farmers working grazing lands, such as savannah and shrubland, Andreas Wilkes of the World Agroforestry Centre in Beijing, said.

The measures also needed to be backed by the United Nations in a broader climate pact to help farmers earn carbon credits as an incentive and to pay for changes in grazing management.

Rangelands hold up to 30 percent of the world's soil carbon and span more than five billion hectares, or about 40 percent of its landmass, Wilkes and a colleague, Timm Tennigkeit, wrote in a recent report.

In grasslands, most of the carbon is in the soil, except for treed grassland, which hold a sizeable portion above ground.

Wilkes said changing grazing practices, such as replanting one or more different plant species, or sealing off portions of grassland, can boost soil carbon content.

"It depends on what the problems causing or preventing proper management are," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"In some places, it will be there are too many animals, so you simply reduce their number. If the soil has already begun to degrade, then maybe planting grasses is the best option.

"It's a matter of education and often also supporting conditions, such as policies. None of it is rocket science."

Improved management of grazing lands has the potential to lock away between 1.3 billion and 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent worldwide up to 2030, the report says.

"Most carbon-sequestering practices also have other benefits. Increasing soil carbon content will generally improve soil fertility," it says, leading to increased livestock productivity.

At present, only U.S. farmers can earn carbon credits through improved grazing land practices.

The Chicago Climate Exchange has created an accounting standard for emissions reductions from rangelands, such as plots farmed with modern equipment that precisely positions seeds and fertiliser instead of energy-wasteful tilling, or to restore previously degraded rangeland through rotational grazing.

But the CCX's standards have been criticised as being lax and doing little to slow climate change, since farmers have carried out such practices regardless of carbon credit incentives.

Wilkes said it was crucial the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol, expected to be agreed by the end of this year, included agriculture and sustainable land management.

He said the centre was designing a pilot project together with the Food and Agriculture Organization in China.

The aim was to submit the project, together with methods to measure and verify rangeland soil carbon sequestration to the Voluntary Carbon Standard.

The International Emissions Trading Association and the World Economic Forum are among the groups backing the VCS, which aims to provide global benchmarks to ensure a credible voluntary carbon market.  

"Once the politicians can see the market is putting its money in rangelands and there are viable methodologies that everyone thinks are sound, then that may open up the opportunities at the international level," said Wilkes. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

US-CAP offsets plan

The U.S. Climate Action Partnership released its latest recommended policy actions on climate change - and an offset market is part of their blueprint.  Why is this important?  U.S.-CAP has a very impressive collection of corporate entities and environmental groups that represent a very influential block.  (To see the list of US-CAP members, click here.)

So - what did they have to say about offsets?  Below is an excerpt from their just released summary of their policy blueprint:

Offsets and Other Cost Containment Measures

Adequate amounts of offsets are a critical component of the USCAPBlueprint. Emissions offsets are activities that reduce GHG emissions that are not otherwise included in the cap. USCAP recommends all offsets meet strong environmental quality standards (i.e., they must be environmentally additional, verifiable, permanent, measurable, and enforceable). We recommend that Congress should establish a Carbon Market Board (CMB) to set an overall annual upper limit for offsets starting at 2 billion metric tons with authority to increase offsets up to 3 billion metric tons, with domestic and international offsets each limited to no more than 1.5 billion metric tons in a given year

In addition, the CMB should oversee a system-wide strategic offset and allowance reserve pool that contains a sufficiently large set of additional offsets and, as a measure of last resort, allowances borrowed from future compliance periods that could be released into the market in to prevent undue economic harm in the event of excessively high allowance prices, especially in the early years of the program. USCAP recommends other measures to limit allowance price spikes and volatility including unlimited banking of allowances and effective multi-year compliance period.

Now, I'm not saying this is the best policy for offsets -- but again, take a look at the LONG list of corporations (buyers of offsets) and environmental groups that have signed onto this approach.  Agricultural groups that hope to influence the offsets policy mechanism MUST engage and really understand the full scope of what an offsets market is -- what is the purpose of the product that you would be producing -- and how it fits within the larger climate legislation.  To do otherwise, risks becoming irrelevant in the formation of potentially one of the largest new commodity markets coming for agriculture.

This is a serious time - and we need serious input and all the involvement from ag groups we can get.  Yet still, some of the ag leaders who have followed this issue continue to get criticized for their mere involvement.  As if the whole issue would magically go away if all those in agriculture continue to ignore it!?!

Well, here's your choice -- you can let US-CAP fight for offsets alone -- and shape them alone, or your organization, your commodity can have a voice in shaping a product that you could CHOOSE to provide -- a product that has the potential to be the third or fourth largest crop in America!!

Ag leaders who are following this issue on the industry's behalf should be thanked - continuously.  Their lives should not be made harder because they care about the future and are willing to roll up their sleeves and find a way through this very daunting issue.