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17 March 2009

Climate Negotiations: Peasants have a role to play

by Morgan Ody La Vía Campesina

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  In December 2009, a new agreement on the reduction of carbon emissions is to be signed to follow the Kyoto Protocol, which will end in 2012. However the proposals that are presently in negotiations, all based on carbon trading, will not be able to stop climate change and, moreover, are a serious threat to the peasants and small farmers of the world. The Peasant Organisations have a key role to play in promoting true alternatives.

Nowadays only a few people continue to deny the reality of climate change and the gravity of its threat to the world. There is no doubt that human activity is responsible for the increase of carbon concentration in the atmosphere from 280 ppm at the beginning of the 18th century, before industrialization and the beginning of massive mining of coal, gas, and oil, to 387 ppm today. This represents a level never seen before on earth for several millions of years, making it impossible to know exactly how the biosphere may react, and especially to know if an hospitable space for human life will remain.

The history of an unprecedented environmental crisis

  According to the International Panel on Climate Change (PCC), from now to the year 2100, temperatures will increase between 1.4 to 5.8 degrees. The most probable consequences are the multiplication of climate catastrophes ( hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods), the decrease of farming productivity, the rising of seas and the inundation of certain islands and coastal zones, the uncontrolled expansion of certain epidemics, massive human migration towards the zones that are less affected and the disappearance of several animal and vegetable species unable to adapt to such a brutal change. Many scientists no longer hesitate to include humans among the threatened species.

In the face of this unprecedented crisis, the United Nations Convention on Climate Change was instituted in 1992 to examine the measures to be taken to limit the crisis and allow an adaptation to the effects . The most moderate climatologists think that for the rising of temperatures not to exceed 2 degrees Centigrade and the carbon concentration in the atmosphere not to exceed 450 ppm, from now to 2050 world carbon emissions need to be reduced at least 50% relative to the levels of 1990.

However, under the influence of the United States, the discussion rapidly evolved from the needed detoxification of fossil fuels to a debate centered merely on technological solutions and market mechanisms. Large funds were allocated to the most odd and frightening research programs, for example, developing genetically modified trees that could capture more carbon or ionizing oceans to capture more carbon underwater (this technology is now under a moratorium of the Convention on Biological Diversity because it destroys all the marine life). The climate debate also serves to promote the development of energy sources such as nuclear or agro-fuels that even when they’re small or don’t emit carbon, also carry important risks for human society.

... oriented to give an advantage to business

But above all the struggle against climate change has to be favorable to business. Thus carbon trading became the key element of the Kyoto protocol adopted in 1997. A country or a corporation that emits too much carbon dioxide can buy carbon credits from another country or corporation that emits less than its authorized quota or compensate for its emissions by financing projects of “durable development” (development of agro-fuels, hydro-electric dams, installation of solar panels, tree plantations, etc.) in the countries of the South or in the former Eastern bloc countries. These mechanisms presuppose that the growth of renewable energy and the growth of forests can compensate for the growth of emmissions owing to the extraction of carbon from the subsoils. So it is simply false. All the carbon extracted from the subsoil delays millions of years to return there. Renewable energies are only useful in the face of climate change if in a parallel fashion the consumption of fossil fuel decreases drastically. The forests can temporarily capture a part of the excess carbon in the atmosphere but beyond a certain rate of concentration, they themselves are put in danger and thus reject more carbon than they absorb.

To sum up, instead of discussing means of reduction or even stopping the extraction of carbon from the subsoils, the CCNUCC served to institute market mechanisms that allow the rich countries to continue to utilize fossil fuels at the same time that they claim to be acting against climate warming. These mechanisms produce income for the corporations, since they create a new market whose main product, pollution, is the only lasting element. But they are equally very little criticized by the environmental organizations that often benefit from the carbon credits in the projects that they develop in the South. So Bird Life and the British Society for the Protection of Birds created in 2007 a consortium to exploit for 99 years a territory of 100,000 hectares in Sumatra for which they hope to benefit from carbon credits. The World Wildlife Fund implemented a lucrative system of “eco-labeling” to certify the projects of mechanism for lasting development in the framework of the Kyoto Protocol. So there are few voices that are raised against the fraud.

False solutions are real threats

So carbon trading and technological “solutions” are not only ineffective for reducing carbon emissions but they also represent a direct threat to the peasant and indigenous communities, especially in the South. In effect, since its application in 2005, the majority of the projects financed by lasting development, namely the big dams and the planting of agro-fuels, lead to the expulsion of local populations from their lands. In the post-Kyoto agreement, or rather starting in 2012, it is intended that the forests and the farm lands of the countries of the South be included in carbon trading. This means that the owner of a forest or of a field can sell the right to pollute corresponding to the carbon stored in his land. The World Bank intends for this mechanism to benefit all: the countries of the South who hope to receive a lot of money, to the coutnries of the North that can continue to emit carbon, and the local populations that will obtain a supplementary source of income. However, local communities are already expelled from the lands by corporations and the NGOs that buy huge territories to be able to sell carbon credits on the voluntary compensation market. So there is a great risk, which far from benefiting the populations, create a growing competition for access to productive resources. Lands will no longer serve to feed local communities but rather to store carbon so that the North can continue to emit it.

The European Union, which proclaims itself the champion of the movement against climate change, is in the forefront of developing the profitable market in carbon trading. The European agreement negotiated last December openly foresees a reduction of 20% of emmissions from now until 2020. However, 80% of these “reductions” can be realized outside of Europe. The EU commits itself only to reduce a total of 4% of its emissions while the remainder have to be assumed by the populations of the global South..

     Food Sovereignty can stabilize the climate

And yet, the solution to the climatic problem is known and its realization is technically simple.
We must drastically reduce carbon emissions by quickly stopping the extraction of coal, gas, and oil. This solution means putting aside the model of industrial development that is totally dependent on fossil fuels and based on the perpetual growth of energy consumption. The re-localization of the economy and the transition towards some modes of production centred on the true needs ( and not on an unlimited extension of needs dictated by advertisement) and based on frugal technologies, are at the center of an alternative vision.

The passage from an industrial agriculture dependent on fertilizers, tractors, and on a globalized food trade system to an artisanal local agriculture founded on agro-ecological practices that are frugal in fossil fuels but greedy for workers, is therefore a priority to stop our dependence on fossil fuels while continuing to meet the basic needs of the populations. Obviously, other alternatives including the development of public transportation to replace individual cars and the isolation of housing to limit the heating needs must also be promoted. But these mechanisms will be illusory without a new farming policy equal to the climate challenges.

Whereas the present system , hyper–centralised, is susceptible to fall apart as soon as a link weakens and thus generate immense humanitarian catastrophes, to improve the populations’ capacity to take charge of their own energy and food needs is also the best way of increasing their potential of resilience. In this way, food and energy sovereignty should be the pillar of any policy of limitation and adaptation to climate change.

Getting out of the industrial Development Model

“It seems to be easier today to imagine the total destruction of the earth than the end of capitalism”, a Hollywood director stated. It’s really what the CCNUCC leads us to think. And yet, it’s only a small minority of the world population that has been dependent on carbon, and this for fewer than 200 years, we might as well say a small drop in the history of humanity. Still today the great majority of the southern populations use very little carbon (in Mozambique for instance one person emits on an average 0.1 ton of carbon dioxide per year against 20,6 tons for an average American) whereas they are the first victims as well of climate change, of perpetrated acts of violence to guarantee the mining of fossil fuels, (the war in Iraq is a good example) and of the false solutions which are promoted in the name of financial interest.

If the countries of the South must radically adapt their development models to this new situation, it is clear that it is the countries of the North, historically responsible for more than 90 percent of emissions of carbon dioxide, where the most changes will have to take place. It is therefore urgent to act, here in the North, to go towards an economy without carbon.

The challenge seems immense. But it is the very future of human societies that is at stake. Before the machine of destruction set up by the industrial and financial system for two hundred years, European peasants and small farmers have preserved and fed a cultural heritage which can enable us to reconstruct a viable society . Currently, strong initiatives have been started in many countries to try and re-localize production and develop decentralized renewable energies for the service of inhabitants. The “cities in transition” in Great Britain are an example of this movement. But there is no doubt that the financial and industrial interests do not want this change. So in the effort of economic and social reconstruction, it is indispensable to join a radical struggle against the false solutions recommended by the multinational companies, and especially against the carbon trading. In the whole world , different social movements have started organizing themselves to counter attack before the CCNUCC’s next conference, in December in Copenhagen. These mobilizations will be a decisive moment in the balance of forces. The peasants and small farmers have an important role to play to denounce the fraud that is underway and give back hope to other possible ways.


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