Agriculture supports the livelihoods of around a half of the world’s population, but is at the same time a notable source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) driving climate change. As of one the options to tackle emissions in the sector, governments have been discussing to include additional agricultural activities into the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the United Nations Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) since 2011. Whether agricultural activities should be eligible for carbon offsetting programmes is not only topical within discussions in the UNFCCC but also within certain regional cap-and-trade schemes and discussions to establish a market based mechanism for international aviation emissions, expected to be adopted in October 2016 under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Progress on the subject has been continuously delayed as setting up an appropriate system of financially incentivising practices that sequester carbon in soils is subject to profuse challenges. Differences between the nature of land use emissions and fossil fuel emissions are at the source of the debate. Problems stemming from this difference include accounting difficulties, leakage risks, ensuring additionality of actions, problems with addressing the non-permanence of sequestration activities and disregard for co-benefits that provoke questions about the effectiveness of offsets for mitigation in the agricultural sector.
While it is of vital importance to address emissions from agriculture, it is important to note that agricultural activities are closely related to numerous elements, such as biodiversity, food production, local livelihoods, land rights and adaptation to climate change. The narrow focus of carbon offsetting programmes on the mitigation potential of agricultural activities, as well as the different characteristics of fossil and land use emissions, makes carbon offsetting an inappropriate tool to address emissions from agriculture.
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