What’s wrong with “climate smart” agriculture?

Posted September 30, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Andrew Barclay.

One year after it was launched at the UN Climate Summit in New York, the controversial Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA) is at the center of an emerging international debate. Last week, more than 350 civil society organizations from around the world urged global decision-makers to oppose GACSA, charging that the initiative opens the door for agribusiness greenwashing while undermining agroecological solutions to climate change.

GACSA, housed at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is made up of 21 national governments, agribusiness interests (particularly the fertilizer industry) and some civil society groups. GACSA was formed to lobby international institutions, like the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to support agricultural production systems and projects deemed “climate smart.”

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Financing climate resilience through agroecology

Posted August 17, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Ashish Kothari.

Farmers of Deccan Development Society, Andhra in a biodiverse field.

When it comes to climate change, money can’t solve everything, but it can help. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is one of the most promising new vehicles to finance climate initiatives in developing countries already particularly hard hit by extreme weather. The GCF is gearing up to announce its initial round of approved projects prior to the global climate talks in Paris this December. But the GCF’s success, and whether it can break from past failures of other multilateral banks, will depend not only on the amount of money it’s able to raise from donor countries but also on the type of projects it supports.

A new report by the Institute for Policy Studies and Friends of the Earth U.S. provides a roadmap for future GCF funding. The report, with contributions from many organizations including IATP, highlights 22 energy and agricultural projects from developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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Renewable Energy: Why Emissions and the Economy Don’t Tell the Whole Story

Posted August 12, 2015 by Tara Ritter   

Last week, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, the United States’ strongest climate policy to date. The plan aims to reduce coal-fired power plant emissions by allowing states to devise their own plans to reach federally-mandated emissions reduction targets. This choose-your-own-adventure policy could send states down very different paths, some worse for the environment and community resilience than others.

A bragging point for the Clean Power Plan is its flexibility; all currently identified low-carbon energy sources can play a role in state plans, including natural gas, nuclear, hydropower and other renewables. But despite the low-carbon nature these energy technologies share, they differ greatly in overall community and environmental benefit. Natural gas is abundantly available today due to controversial fracking technology (most of which occurs near rural communities); hydropower requires dam construction (sometimes on massive scales); and nuclear power comes with the risk of disastrous accidents, issues around extraction and long-term storage problems.

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Spring time in Europe for Climate Smart Agriculture

Posted June 24, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @PostLandfill.

The hazy term “Climate Smart Agriculture” (CSA) came into sharper focus this month after a series of high-level intergovernmental meetings that prioritized corporate-led solutions. While actual climate negotiators were immersed in talks in Bonn during the first two weeks in June (as part of the lead up to the annual UN climate meeting later this year in Paris), other groupings circled around the term at other key international summits. The most powerful western governments, known as G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and the United States), had their annual gathering on June 7 and 8 in Schloss Elmau, in Bavaria, Germany. CSA was on the agenda in both places, and it was also an important focus of the 39th session of the FAO held in Rome from June 6 to June 12, 2015.

CSA advocates define food security in the context of water and climate challenges, often equating it with increasing agricultural productivity and resource use efficiency. While increasing productivity of the resources is indeed desirable, unfortunately it is often conflated with increasing private sector investments in land, water and agricultural infrastructure in developing countries, and in the African continent in particular. 

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IATP Rural Climate Dialogue wins Award

Posted June 16, 2015 by Tara Ritter   

Each year, Environmental Initiative hosts an awards ceremony to honor Minnesota’s most innovative environmental projects. After projects from across the state are nominated, 18 finalists are chosen, and one winner in each of six categories is announced at the awards ceremony. Projects based on partnership and collaboration are highly valued. We’re excited to report that this year a project initiated by IATP and the Jefferson Center, “Morris Engaged: Planning and Action for Climate Resilience,” won the Community Action category.

“Morris Engaged” started in June 2014 when IATP co-hosted the Rural Climate Dialogue in Morris, MN. The Dialogue convened 15 Morris area residents—randomly selected and stratified to reflect the demographic, political and ideological diversity of the region – to study the local impacts of climate change and create a community response to changing climate conditions and extreme weather events. IATP, the Jefferson Center and other project partners—including the University of Minnesota, Morris – worked for months prior to and after the Dialogue to collaboratively identify issues for Dialogue participants to consider, and to secure support to implement the community’s recommendations.

The Dialogue helped spur a larger movement around climate change in the Morris community. New organizations are joining the program and partners are working to implement community recommendations. Recent efforts include:

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Climate Change - What's Trade got to do with it?

Posted June 8, 2015 by Patrick Tsai   

Used under creative commons license from Oxfam.

In December, the world’s leaders will meet for two separate important global meetings. The global climate talks in Paris aim to chart a course for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The World Trade Organization ministerial in Kenya will advance global trade rules. Unfortunately, the two meetings will take place without acknowledging the inescapable connections between free trade rules and climate change.

Globalization – largely promoted through free trade agreements – has brought about more expansive and complex supply chains.1 Liberalized trade agreements, extending more rights to transnational corporations, have been linked to increased GHG emissions attributable to industrialization and the global transportation of goods and services.2 Though globalization has contributed to economic growth in some countries, there has been extensive documentation of how it has also brought increased fossil fuel consumption and environmental degradation.3,4,5

Many concerned with globalization’s effect on the environment advocate for more emphasis on localized systems. These localized systems emit fewer GHGs due to smaller supply chain networks. Nate Hagens, of the Post Carbon Institute, stated in a July 10, 2014 lecture, “A lower consumption, more local and regional future is not only needed [for reducing carbon emissions] but probably more desirable [for creating community].”

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Rally against the Tar Sands and Free Trade

Posted June 5, 2015 by Patrick Tsai   

Image credit: MN350

Tomorrow, June 6, thousands of people from across the Great Lakes region will come together for the Tar Sands Resistance March in St. Paul, MN. This will be the largest action against tar sands to date in the region; speakers include Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, and Keith Ellison among others. Tar sand extraction and distribution is driven largely by trade policy set out in NAFTA. Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has been quoted as saying, “… a major tenet of NAFTA … the U.S. was guaranteed unfettered supply in exchange for unfettered access by Canadian exporters to its market.” The articles pertaining to energy and corporate rights found within NAFTA highlight the shortcomings of our current trade system. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to march against the tar sands. If you believe in fair trade, national sovereignty and human rights, you should attend this rally.

By Congressional Research Service estimates, the tar sands contribute 14% more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional oil.1 The European Union places increased emissions from tar sands at 22% higher than conventional oil.2 Increased emissions are attributed to the extensive processing needed to convert the tar-like bitumen to oil.3 Mining of the tar sands has also lead to massive deforestation in the Alberta province. In terms of climate change and the environment, the tar sands represent a global catastrophe.

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Seeing the forest through the trees - a northwoods community makes a plan on climate

Posted May 28, 2015 by Tara Ritter   

 High school students presenting at Rural Climate Dialogue in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.


Rural communities are already being affected by a changing climate, and each community’s experiences and responses are unique. Because of the politically-charged nature of the term “climate change” it can be a difficult topic to discuss in rural communities, but addressing the impacts of extreme weather and a changing climate is necessary for community resilience. Last week, 18 residents of Itasca County, MN met for the second of three Rural Climate Dialogues across Minnesota. Few of the people in the room had met each other, but following brief introductions it was clear that they all shared a local sense of pride for the natural beauty of the northwoods and lakes – and concern for its future. 

The Rural Climate Dialogues are a joint effort between the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Jefferson Center to engage rural communities in creating bottom-up solutions to climate change. The 3-day process, based on the Citizens Jury model, moves quickly in introducing participants to each other and establishing discussion ground rules to encourage open and productive conversations about controversial subjects. The goal of this gathering was for participants to better understand climate change impacts on Itasca County and create a set of recommendations for how the community can respond.

Over the first two days, participants heard from a wide range of speakers and local experts. First, Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota climatologist, provided a weather history specifically tailored to north central Minnesota. The power of this presentation came from the localized data, which demonstrated that climate change, which is often viewed as a global and distant problem, is already showing up in northern Minnesota.

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Launch of CFS Report on Water for Food Security and Nutrition —Why it Matters

Posted May 14, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

While it might seem obvious that the rights to water and food are inextricably linked, all too often policies around their use and governance are developed for one without regard to the other. To address this problem, the UN Committee on World Food Security formed a High Level Panel of Experts and charged it with weaving these two policy strands together. The resulting report provides a list of recommendations on the critical issue of Water for Food Security and Nutrition.

Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the foremost international and intergovernmental platform trying to address global food security and nutrition challenges. Following the food crises of 2008, it initiated a reform process, increasing stakeholder participation, especially participation by those engaged in small scale food production systems. It also created a High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) mechanism to gain deeper understanding and ‘independent scientific knowledge based analysis and advice on issues related to food security and nutrition. Since its establishment HLPE has brought out nine reports. I was fortunate to serve on the most recent project team, which just completed its report on Water for Food Security and Nutrition (FSN). The launch of the report is this week.

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On World Water Day: Let’s work for people, not corporations

Posted March 20, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

Twenty three years ago, in 1993, the first annual World Water Day was an occasion to draw attention to water related challenges around the globe.  It will be observed again tomorrow, with a focus on sustainable water governance. We join with others to celebrate the many successes in the intervening two decades.

The number of people with access to drinking water and sanitation has increased manifold.  In many communities people have met their water needs through successful watershed development and rainwater harvesting efforts. At the same time, around the world communities are asserting that water is a fundamental human right. They are pushing back attempts to privatize their water supply and sanitation services.

In countries such as France, where privatization has been the norm in the past, and elsewhere around the world, we see an increasing trend towards the re-municipalization of water supply and sanitation services. At times change has come through directly engaging in a participatory democracy, including taking to the street and to the ballot, as we have seen both in New Delhi and in Greece. The newly elected government in the state of New Delhi had free water as part of their campaign platform. In Greece, likely in response to the promise of social policies that Syriza has made to people, the public water company Thessaloniki has introduced social tariffs that allow poor people to receive about 12.5 cubic meter of free water per month.

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