Members of Parliament from African Countries discuss Visionary Forest Policies
It has been shown that the carbon footprint of food products (‘foodprint’) can vary substantially. Depending on its production method (organic versus chemical), its content (meat versus vegetarian or vegan), transport routes (air freight, sea freight or local), processing method (fresh versus deep-frozen) and disposal of residues (use as organic fertilizer versus waste), each food item is responsible for a certain amount of GHG emissions during its life-cycle.
Making this information available to the consumer increases transparency in the food market, raises awareness of the consumer, creates incentives for the industry to lower its carbon footprint, and rewards climate friendly products. Consumers should know whether the organic kiwi from New Zealand or the home grown chemically fertilized apple does more harm to the climate. In general, environmental labelling has been a success story since the 1980s. Labels, such as the Energy Star, energy efficiency ratings or the Nordic Swan label have changed the behaviour of consumers and manufacturers. An Eurobarometer survey showed that for an overwhelming majority of Europeans (83 percent) the impact of a product on the environment plays an important aspect in their purchasing decisions.
An evaluation of the specific circumstances of the political and regulatory environment will determine the best choice in each case. Whereas a mandatory label ensures a broad participation, voluntary schemes might have a better acceptance in the industry. A food label should be based on total lifecycle emissions, as opposed to considering only the use-phase. Possible are both, comparative labels which provide consumers with product information through use of a specific number (e. g. ‘1 kg CO2’) or rating (e. g. A–F or 1–5 stars), or endorsement labels which prove that the product meets certain criteria (e. g. below average carbon footprint).
Implementing new labelling schemes necessitates conformity assessment procedures involving testing, inspection, certification, accreditation and metrology. These processes are essential for the effective implementation and acceptance of the scheme.
The EU Commission has taken a first look at this issue but, not surprisingly, has received opposition from the food industry. However, the example of the UK Carbon Label and the Swedish climate labelling initiative show that the concept can be implemented and, with the assistance of governments and industry, can be established on a larger scale.
Case study: Sweden’s Klimatmärkning
In Sweden, the two major certification bodies, KRAV and Swedish Seal, have developed a climate label for food. As the project has been joined by several major food and agriculture companies, the Swedish climate labelling initiative has become the first comprehensive and country wide policy of its kind in Europe.
The climate label covers the food chain from farming to the sale of the produce. So far, criteria for meat, fish, milk, greenhouse vegetables and agricultural crops have been set. Food produced and distributed with at least 25 percent less GHG than comparable products can be labelled with a respective note. In this way the label focuses on the climate friendliest products within a group, but does not help the consumer to choose between meat and beans.
The climate label is accompanied by an information and education campaign, which resulted in recommendations for climate compatible nourishment. In addition, the initiative works with the industry to implement measures to reduce the GHG emissions of food production.
According to press reports (Spiegel-online of 7th Nov. 2009) the climate label increased the sale of Max burgers by 20 percent. Experts are cited to expect a 50 percent reduction of GHG emissions in the Swedish food industry, if the population would switch to climate friendly alimentation. The labelling initiative maintains that 60 percent of consumers would like to see a climate label on products.
Anna Richert, climate expert of the label initiative, says: “The strength of the label is that reductions in climate impact have been made wherever possible. The producer participates in making the food chain more sustainable.”
Click here to access Klimatmärkning homepage.
Press release – for immediate release
Cebu City/ Hamburg/ Eschborn, 28 May 2014: Marine ecosystems are of vital importance for Asia and the Pacific: the region’s rich oceans and coasts are home to diverse species and ecosystems that provide an important food source for over 120 million people as well as valuable services for tourism and recreation. Coral reefs and mangroves protect the coastlines from tsunamis and storms. These vital functions of the oceans are threatened by habitat loss, overfishing, pollution and climate change.
The proposals presented here have to be supported by progressive international climate policy. The Fourth Assessment Report of Working Group III of the IPCC made it very clear that agriculture is the sector most sensitive to carbon pricing policies. Consequently, an agreement to globally tax GHG, or to establish a global carbon emission trading scheme, would be the best way to support local and organic agriculture solutions. Such a clear price signal would – in conjunction with the policies presented before – transform markets and mean a breakthrough for sustainable agriculture.
An innovative way to price the costs of GHG emissions in the food sector was proposed by Franz-Theo Gottwald and Franz Fischler in their book “Ernährung sichern weltweit – Ökosoziale Gestaltungsprinzipien”: the introduction of trade tariffs for agricultural produce equivalent to the external costs of transport, conversion into farmland and emission of greenhouse gases from food production and distribution. Countries that introduced appropriate national food policies would benefit from reduced trade tariffs. Such a policy would be a significant step towards preventing environmentally unsustainable patterns of food trade. Gottwald and Fischer acknowledge that such an international food trade policy would be difficult to implement in the short term, but that such proposals would be a useful stimulus for national and international policy debates.
Moreover, under the policies of the Kyoto Protocol, developed ‘high emission’ countries agreed to reduce their total GHG emissions but they could also choose to fund climate-friendly projects in developing countries. The ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ enabled developing countries to participate in global agreements and to access funds to help them introduce sustainable technologies into their economic development. The successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol should extend such arrangements to bio-sequestration projects – with the explicit exception of ‘Round Up Ready’ GMO crops – for both local and global benefit.
Policy makers and experts from 9 countries gathered in San José
San José/ Hamburg/ Eschborn, 20 September 2013: Legislators, policymakers and experts from Central American and Caribbean countries have highlighted successful measures as well as challenges for conserving biodiversity and marine ecosystems during a 3-day Inter-Parliamentary Hearing on exemplary biodiversity and marine policies in San José, Costa Rica.
Standing ovations for Costa Rica’s biodiversity law: Setting priorities for generations to come /Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act wins Silver Award
Nagoya/Hamburg/Montreal, 25 October 2010. As proven by the Costa Rican Biodiversity Law, exemplary biodiversity legislation can be successfully put into practice. On 25 October, delegates, ministers, decision-makers, media and donors gathered at the Future Policy Award 2010 Ceremony in Nagoya, Japan, to witness the first prize be awarded to Costa Rica and to celebrate the Costa Rican Biodiversity Law as a milestone of excellence in meeting the goals of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The effects of the law are outstanding: With 26% of its total territory designated as protected areas, Costa Rica is the first developing that succeeded in halting and reversing deforestation. Moreover, the country ranked first in the Happy Planet Index 2009, and is a recognised pioneer in ecotourism.
Agricultural carbon sequestration has the potential to substantially mitigate global warming impacts. According to Tim LaSalle, CEO Rodale Institute, organic agriculture, if practiced on the planet’s 3.5 billion tillable acres, could sequester nearly 40 percent of current CO2 emissions. “We call this approach regenerative organic agriculture to signify its focus on renewing resources through complementary biological systems which feed and improve the soil as well as avoiding harmful synthetic inputs.”
Regenerative organic farming, focused on enhancing long-term biological interactions, turns soil into a carbon reservoir, while conventional farming with large chemical imputs has the opposite effect of releasing carbon into the atmosphere. In addition, organic management also changes the structure of the soil, improving its ability to store water and deliver nutrients to plants over time as soil carbon levels continue to increase. Rodale research shows that no-till organic farming can reduce the energy input into farming by about 70 percent. Further, organic food offers health advantages and has become a lifestyle choice in many societies.
For these interconnected reasons, much more policy assistance for the organic sector is needed. Case studies (UNCTAD 2008, IFOAM 2008) have shown that the development of organic farming has, so far, been initiated mainly by NGOs or private companies. Still, governments should play an important role in providing a supportive framework for organic farming. Policy strategies should consist of a combination of market supply and demand measures. Since appropriate measures depend on the state of the organic agriculture market in the respective country, an in-depth integrated assessment of existing agriculture policies should be the first step.
Click here to read more about WFC Councillor Vandana Shiva’s projects to support organic farming in India.
Based on this initial assessment a selection of policies should be considered:
An area particularly worthy of state support is the recycling of urban bio-waste into organic fertilizers. This contributes to sanitation and environmental protection, and it provides carbon storing materials for farms. To trigger this process, governments could give financial incentives (e.g. low-interest loans) to recycling plant operators, or to erect recycling plants under state supervision.
A way to directly support organic food producers is to compensate them for certification costs. In Denmark, Thailand and Malaysia, government certification is for free for farmers, and in Tunisia the Government covers up to 70 percent of certification costs. Producer organizations can be supported to organize efficient distribution of processed bio-wastes.
On the demand side, Government can support the development of a domestic organic standard. More than 70 countries have enacted such standards. Governments must carefully assess how appropriate standards can be initiated and harmonized with international reference standards, based on the recommendations of the International Task Force on Harmonization and Equivalence in Organic Agriculture.
Government can also play a strong role regarding consumer education by drawing attention to the health and environmental benefits of organic products. To this end, organic agriculture can be introduced to the mandatory curriculums in schools and universities in agricultural regions.
Local Governments can also promote organic foods by allocating space in open markets and in trade fairs. Integrating organics into public procurement (e.g. for schools and hospitals) stimulates market demand and improves public information and consumer exposure.
Case Study: Costa Rica
One of the developing countries with the highest proportion of organic farming, 2.4 per cent certified, Costa Rica has a well-developed organic sector. As in most other countries, small farmers and NGOs were the first to get involved in organic agriculture. Local certification bodies and academics have also supported its development. In 2004, there were 3,500 farmers cultivating 10,800 hectares organically. Most certified organic production is for the export market, which is estimated to be worth US$ 10 million. Main export crops include coffee, banana, cocoa, orange juice, blackberries, pineapple, cane sugar, aloe and other medicinal plants. In the domestic market, there is now a supply of most products, certified and uncertified. The domestic sales are estimated to be US$ 1.5 million.
Lack of produce is a limiting factor for further market development. Various government programmes and institutions support most aspects of the sector, including domestic and export market development, food processing, credits and extension service. The National Organic Agriculture Programme was established in 1999 and, together with the sector, the agency developed a national strategy for organic production based on participatory consultations. Since 2001, there has been a mandatory organic regulation in place and Costa Rica is the only developing country, other than Argentina and India, which has acquired recognition for exports of organic products to the European Union. There is also a governmental seal available for all certified producers; however, it is not yet widely recognized. There are two domestic certification organizations and four foreign ones active in Costa Rica, with the domestic ones having the most clients. The sector is organized through one organization and collaboration between the sector and the Government is very well developed.
A 2006 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that worldwide livestock farming generates 18 per cent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. The global food system as a whole produces nearly 40 per cent of carbon emissions. By comparison, all the world’s cars, trains, planes and boats combined account for a total of 13 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. This obviously has major implications for food policy.
A great deal of energy goes into producing, packaging, transporting, storing and cooking food. In the USA tomatoes can travel over 2,000 kms to end up in a supermarket. Buying from local farmers, tomatoes only have to travel about 100 kms or less.
The graph shows that the largest energy expense in the ‘food chain’ occurs after food arrives in the home. For policy solutions in this sector go to our energy efficiency section.
Modern agriculture, food production and distribution are major contributors of greenhouse gases: Agriculture is directly responsible for 14 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, and broader rural land use decisions have an even larger impact. Deforestation currently accounts for an additional 18 per cent of emissions.
In this context, a historical perspective needs to be considered: Dr. Rattan Lal, Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University, has calculated that over the last 150 years, 476 billions of tonnes of carbon has been emitted from farmland soils due to inappropriate farming and grazing practices, compared with ‘only’ 270 Gt emitted from of burning of fossil fuels. A more frequently quoted figure is that 200 to 250 Gt of carbon have been lost from the biosphere as a whole in the last 300 years. Whatever the correct figure, these reductions of ‘living carbon potential’ have resulted from
- biodiversity loss
- accelerated soil erosion
- loss of soil organic matter
- salinisation of soils
- costal water pollution and
- acidification of the oceans
Land use changes can also significantly contribute to climate change. Large scale changes such as deforestation, soil erosion or machine-intensive farming methods may all contribute to increased carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. Soil erosion by water, wind and tillage affects both agriculture and the natural environment. Soil loss, and its associated impacts, is one of the most important (yet probably the least well-known) of today’s environmental problems.
The contribution of farm animals to global greenhouse gas emissions is quite significant: