Carbon markets and agriculture – why offsetting is putting us on the wrong track

A joint briefing by Carbon Market Watch, Secours Catholique, CCFD – Terre Solidaire and Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy (IATP)

Executive summary

Climate mitigation projects in the agriculture sector, particularly those focused on storing carbon in soils, are increasingly being tied to carbon markets. But the impact of these initiatives is highly questionable.

First, agricultural offsetting schemes can be damaging to farmers. Some markets endanger food security and limit farmers’ autonomy by incentivising the uptake of specific practices, or transforming  agricultural land into tree plantations.

Such projects also increase the problem of the financialization of land. Many of these offsetting initiatives also have very uncertain benefits for the climate, because their impacts are both extremely difficult to quantify, and highly vulnerable to changes over time, for instance when carbon stored in soil is released due to extreme weather or a change in land management practices. In addition, some projects generate carbon credits while allowing for an overall increase in emissions, because they only measure the carbon intensity of an activity, rather than absolute emissions.

Finally, such offsetting schemes tend to lock in agricultural models that are detrimental to climate ambition. They have high implementation costs and distract from more sustainable, cheaper, and proven options, such as incentivizing agroecological practices. Also, nearly all projects aim to reduce emissions at the farm-level, even though half of agricultural emissions take place outside of the farm and are largely driven by agri-businesses, e.g. through the manufacturing of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. This puts the blame on individual farmers instead of focusing on corporate and agribusiness-led emissions.

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Carbon markets and agriculture - why offsetting is putting us on the wrong track