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CLIMATE CHANGE-AFRICA: Trade Carbon for Food Security

Busani Bafana

NAIROBI, Nov 28 2008 (IPS) - Forget the view of climate change as impending catastrophe for a moment: if negotiators can recognise sustainable agriculture by African smallholders and forests as mitigating factors in climate change, carbon trading could become an important support for Africa’s food security.

There’s no doubt that climate change is a threat: Africa contributes only 3.8 percent of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, but it will suffer worst impacts of climate change.

This is because of limited mechanisms and resources to mitigate and adapt to this significant change from one climatic condition to another. Examples of adaptation activities include introducing different crops to compensate to local climate change and protection of coastal areas from sea-level rise.

But when the UN Climate Change summit opens in Poznań, Poland on Dec. 1, a delegation from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) will be pushing for changes in the carbon trading market.

“More than four billion people in developing countries around the world who live off agriculture are excluded from this trade and Africa should use this trade to invest in food security which is under threat,” COMESA Secretary General, Sindiso Ngwenya told delegates at a meeting earlier this month in Nairobi Kenya.

How carbon trading works

Carbon trading places limits on emissions at agreed levels; polluters who exceed their assigned limit must buy credits to do so. This is where African farmers can help – if climate-friendly practices in agriculture or preservation of forests are recognised. Polluters in rich countries could then buy offset carbon credits from farmers in Africa.

The global market for carbon emissions is expanding. In 2007, it was estimated to be worth 30 billion dollars – two and a half times the value of average annual aid to Africa.

Delegates to the Nairobi meeting called for the international community to revisit the European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme which currently allows European companies to buy carbon credits only from industrial sources but not from forestry, agriculture or “agroforestry” projects.

The sidelining of Africa was based on the belief by developed countries that Africa has too small an industrial base to qualify for carbon credits from industrial emissions.

Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) CEO, Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, urged Africa to speak with one voice in pushing for the inclusion of sustainable agriculture in the carbon trade.

“Unless the successor to the Kyoto Protocol values the contribution that sustainable agriculture can make to the global carbon market, Africa is still outside the fence,” said Sibanda.

COMESA has mandated FANRPAN to coordinate the Africa-Wide Civil Society Climate Change Initiative for Policy Dialogues (ACCID). The project equips governments and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to ensure the post Kyoto Protocol includes sustainable agriculture and forestry management.

Continued exclusion, African delegates warned, could undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.

Eric Bettelheim, Executive Chairman of UK-based Sustainable Forestry Management, said developing countries must be paid to keep their remaining forests but the credits could triple the value of existing forests as well as provide a tasty incentive to set more land aside for afforestation programmes.

He estimated that potential annual payment from African agriculture could be around $10 billion from the sale of 500,000 metric tonnes of carbon at $20 per metric tonne.

“This kind of money can transform economies because it is trade not aid,” said Bettelheim. “Poor farmers must receive increased payments and productivity or there will be no solution to global warming, no post-2012 treaty and no functioning tropical forest ecosystems by the end of the century.”

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