Action Alert

Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!

The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.

TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.

Please take five minutes and complete the survey. To find out more about these trade agreements, go to

Groups issue letter to Obama: Earn your Nobel Peace Prize

Posted December 18, 2009

A number of groups from 28 different countries, including IATP, have issued an open letter to President Obama asking him to reconsider the climate emissions reduction target put forward in Copenhagen today.

"A reduction by the United States of only 3 percent below 1990, contingent on greenhouse gas cuts by China and other developing countries, is scientifically unsound and deeply unjust," says the letter.

The letter concludes by saying: "If ever there was a time for you to exert bold leadership, this is it. Last week you received the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, we call on you to earn it."

The full letter, including a list of signing groups, is available on our climate page.

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Ag offets: 0, Alternatives: 1

Posted December 18, 2009

One of the benefits to the U.S.’s proposed cap-and-trade–based climate legislation is the profitability it would offer farmers through an agriculture-based offset program. That, at least, is what we’ve been told by the schemes' authors and supporters (Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack, etc.).

It was surprising, then, to hear Stabenow aide Chris Adamo confess his uncertainty over how long it would take for farmers to actually begin receiving offset credits for carbon sequestering activities during a panel discussion here in Copenhagen on Wednesday.

“I can't tell you farmers would get credit if this bill were passed tomorrow,” said Adamo, one of several U.S. and European panelists discussing agriculture's emissions reduction potential at a side event sponsored by the International Emissions Trading Association.

Wow. Score one for the no-ag-offsets team. I’ve written a lot about the trouble with agricultural offsets recently (see here and here), including the uncertainty offsets could create for farmers. This sounds about as uncertain as you can get.

We know agriculture done right can be a boon for climate mitigation. Offsets are NOT the way to get there. We need monetary support, lots of it, to help farmers transition to different ways of farming. We need that support to be consistent, predictable and substantial enough to really matter. Offsets can promise none of those things. Look for more writing soon about other ways we might get there.


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Different paths in Copenhagen

Posted December 18, 2009

From day one of the global climate talks, discussions within the Bella Center (home of the official negotiations) have differed greatly from those at the Klima Forum (home of NGO-led discussions). Put simply, at the Bella Center the main issue of contention is money—not the climate. A new pledge of money from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has supposedly jump-started the talks. This money is targeted toward developing countries suffering the effects of climate change. But there's something for developed countries too—money to be made within a new carbon market—where buyers and sellers trade carbon credits.

At the Klima Forum, the theme is "system change." Namely, how do we transform the global economy away from a fossil-fueled intensive, unsustainable path and shift toward a different system that values the protection of the earth. It is filled with critiques of our current polluting economy, but also ideas for bottom-up change within communities, cities and regions for a new low-carbon economy. IATP and others will talk about this new vision for both cities and agriculture at a workshop tomorrow at the Klima Forum. Perhaps it is symbolic that this panel was originally scheduled to be in the Bella Center, but was canceled after the UN kicked out nearly all accredited NGO observer organizations.

Tonight, UK barrister Polly Higgins outlined a very different approach to considering the climate at the Klima Forum. Instead of looking at carbon as a commodity, Higgins asserted that we should establish a Planet Earth Trust, where we are all trustees who accept responsibility for the earth's future. "The planet is a capital asset and we the people have a responsibility to ensure this asset is protected, not exploited." Higgins is proposing that the UN establish a system of Planetary Rights—a commons-based idea that would certainly change the dimension of climate talks. 

It's idealistic, perhaps not politically practical right now, but also represents the important, creative thinking going on at the Klima Forum that is focused first and foremost on addressing climate change. Five years from now, it is likely that new ideas at the Klima Forum supporting efforts on the ground will eclipse the big money talks in the Bella Center. 

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Add water to the climate change negotiations and stir?

Posted December 16, 2009

As of late last night, December 15, the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen are deadlocked. According to excellent Third World Network reporting, developed country governments want to scrap the Kyoto Protocol and draft a new agreement that would allow developed countries to choose the baseline from which they would make greenhouse gas (GHG) emission cuts. (The Kyoto Protocol requires GHG cuts from a 1990 baseline, whereas U.S. climate change legislation proposes cuts from the much higher 2005 baseline, to ease the burden on U.S. industry.) The developed country governments also want developing countries to commit to emissions reductions, which is not a provision of the Kyoto Protocol. At a contact group session, a U.S. negotiator said that the United States would never ratify the Kyoto Protocol.


It does not seem likely that the arrival tomorrow of more than a hundred heads of state will lead to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, whose first GHG reduction commitment period ends in 2012. Nor does it seem likely that the presidents and prime ministers will agree to launch negotiations for a new agreement. In the midst of this logjam, why are advocates for water as a human right proposing to add water to the climate change negotiations agenda?


Advocates for water as a human right made the proposal at an event last night in the Klimaforum, the site of the unofficial side events to the negotiations. “A Call for Water Justice in Copenhagen” was read out to general applause from participants in the event, “World Water Movements and CoP 15: Proposals and strategies for water and climate justice.” IATP’s Shiney Varghese helped to draft the two page call, which asserted that “The effects of climate change on water will directly affect agriculture and the food security of billions. The agricultural sector, accounting for 70 percent of global water use, is not only affected by climate change but can also help to mitigate it,” i.e., to repair the economic and environmental damage caused by climate change. The call proposes that by 2012, governments negotiate a legally binding World Water Agreement to be administered by a World Water Agency under United Nations auspices.


Water policy advocates want to get a foot in the door of the negotiations, as agricultural policy advocates have just achieved. This year agriculture became a topic of climate change discussions for the first time and the International Federation of Agricultural Producers was recognized as the Farmer’s “focal point” (representative group) of the a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.


In response to a question from Klimaforum participants about why water policy advocates should get involved in the protracted and deadlocked negotiations, Maude Barlow, of the Council of Canadians, said that the first effects of climate change had arrived in the form of drought, floods, melting glaciers and their social, economic and environmental consequences. Water is the “first face” of climate change. However the United Nations had ceded control of water governance to the World Water Forum, a transnational corporate association. Although the UN system itself is dominated by transnational corporations, Barlow believes that the UN must assert global governance over water as a global public good and human right. The climate change negotiations offer both a venue and a crucial issue though which the UN system, aided by civil society, can take back water as a global public good and reject the transnational corporate commodification of water.


There were more than a dozen speakers at the three hour long Klimaforum water event and no summary here can do them justice, but three speakers stood out as representative of the issues discussed. Professor Ricardo Petrella presented a “Memorandum for a World Water Protocol,” that resulted from a World Political Forum conference with the European Parliament in February 2009. He said of the climate change negotiations, “Our leaders believe that the future of the world depends on price of carbon emissions [in a UN approved carbon trading scheme]. That’s criminal. That’s nonsense.” Improving water use is a more effective climate change mitigation practice than relying on “market mechanisms” to find the "right" carbon price to induce investments in a low carbon economy. 


Michal Kravcik, of the Kosice Civic Protocol gave a powerful and detailed overview of various technical projects, distributed to over 7,000 institutions, for climate change mitigation through anti-flood protection, rain-water harvesting, anti-erosion techniques and other water mediated mitigation means. He showed projects not only from his native Slovakia, but from projects in Africa to prevent desertification that exacerbates climate change.


Alivio Aruquipa, of the Bolivian mountain community of Khapi, closed the event by discussing the loss of potable water, food security and livelihoods as the Ilimani glacier above his village of 190 people disappeared. If the shrinking of the glacier could not be reversed, his people would be forced to migrate. Aruquipa’s sobering account depicted a future that now directly affects the most vulnerable populations but soon could directly affect us all if there is no effective global governance of water, combined with local projects to make the use of water sustainable and the fulfillment of a human right.

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A rude awakening in Copenhagen

Posted December 16, 2009

This morning as I was getting ready for another day of climate work I heard police sirens and shouting outside the window of our hotel here in Copenhagen. I looked out just in time to see a pretty brutal take-down of protestors by police. We're only a few blocks away from the Bella Center, the massive conference hall where the negotiations are taking place, and today a large march had been planned across town, ending at Bella. I saw protestors running, coming I assume from a nearby metro station, one of two meet-up points for activists. As I watched, police with dogs chased the protestors, slamming them to the ground in a show of force that seemed pretty unjustifiable for weaponless activists. As you can see from some of the photos below, several of the police were clearly undercover, dressed as activists. Nothing new as far as riot police tactics go, but chilling just the same. As I sit writing this in our hotel lobby, I've watched no fewer than 30 police vans fly by with sirens blaring. Copenhagen is under a state of virtual martial law, and police are able to search and arrest anyone, at any time, for any cause. "Preventative measures," they've said.Copenhagen police arresting protestors

In a way, this is one of the biggest stories to come of COP15. Not this protest specifically, or these arrests, but the two worlds that have formed here: an "official" one made up of negotiators and heads of state that hovers just out of reach of the other world, the one the rest of us make up—NGOs, activists, students, youths and citizens.

We've spent hours alongside thousands waiting in the cold to get Bella Center access. We finally got in, but it won't last. The UN has progressively whittled down NGO access over the week. We just heard that the environmental group Friends of the Earth has been banned entirely from the Bella Center, and none of us will be there for the final (and most important) days of negotiation. So much for a democratic process.

Ultimately, though, I'm not sure it matters much whether we're in the Bella Center or not. It's seeming increasingly unlikely that a binding deal is going to come out of this meeting, and if it does, it's probably even more unlikely that it will mean much at all. Yesterday, negotiators took all the numbers (emission cap levels, etc.) out of the text for now. Not a hopeful place to be with just two days to go. 

Two worlds here in Copenhagen, the one that cares mostly about looking as though they're making progress, happy to end the week with a watered down "agreement," and the one that knows that time is running out for real action. This is our chance, and I don't think we'll get many more of them.

   Ben COP 1512-16 109 Ben COP 1512-16 132

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Proposals for a strong agriculture agenda in Copenhagen

Posted December 15, 2009

While IATP staff (among many other delegates, NGOs and even country delegates) have been struggling to stay on schedule in Copenhagen due to over-booking (on the part of the UNFCCC), our press conference today (December 15) went on as scheduled. We focused on the importance of including agriculture in the climate negotiations with a panel including:

  • Jim Harkness, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  • Niggli Urs, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements
  • Dale Wen, International Forum on Globalization

The discussion addressed the adaptation and mitigation potential of agriculture as related to climate change, and the importance of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)—a global blueprint for a transition in agriculture that both addresses food security and climate change.

The press conference can be viewed on the COP 15 on-demand page or below:

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The waiting game in Copenhagen

Posted December 15, 2009

In this information age, most of us just want the bottom line from our news. We read the headlines, skim some paragraphs, check out the graphics—information in short, efficient bursts. But if the climate talks fall apart, it will be important to understand how and why they weren't successful. And part of that story needs to include the poor planning by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

They booked the Bella Center in Copenhagen to host the talks, which has a capacity of 15,000. Amazingly, they then allowed 45,000 people from around the world to register, according to the New York Times. This doesn't include country delegations. So, much of yesterday was spent waiting in lines—and if you were lucky like me, you got into the Bella Center. Several IATP staff waited six hours in the cold and never got in. They weren't alone, there were country delegates, climatologists and many others who were forced to miss or cancel meetings yesterday.

The overbooking is wreaking all kinds of havoc this week. The UNFCCC is now severely limiting the number of accredited observers into the Bella Center today and tomorrow. Then Thursday, only 1,000 will be allowed in. Finally, on Friday, when President Obama and other heads of state arrive, they will only allow 90. Many organizations and governments had organized side events to take place on Thursday and Friday. As of now, they will be canceled.

Negotiating a new global climate deal within today's international context—as countries like the U.S., EU, China jockey for power—is incredibly challenging under ideal conditions on the ground. The UNFCCC, while having good intentions on inclusiveness, has made the hill to climb even steeper.

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Eyeless in Copenhagen

Posted December 15, 2009

We have been told, by more than one speaker of very different viewpoints about climate change, that nothing less than the future of the planet will be negotiated in Copenhagen. Expectations had been lowered by the assurance that no legally binding agreement would result from the negotiations. Instead, President Barack Obama announced there would be a “political agreement,” that would frame the terms of a legally binding agreement to be finalized next year in Mexico City. But the “Danish text,” leaked to The Guardian, provoked such outrage among developing countries that it has been withdrawn, at least procedurally, as a basis for any discussion towards negotiations. The negotiations were suspended today, December 14, but then renewed. The Climate Action Network reportedly "awarded" the United States its first "Fossil Award" for bad behavior after it announced that it would never sign the Kyoto Protocol that would bind it to a greenhouse gas reduction mandate. Instead the U.S. will attempt to make a global carbon emissions market the primary means to allow it to meet GHG-reduction targets. Such a market includes the buying of carbon offset credits at a cheap price in developing countries.

More officials have arrived to negotiate and NGOs have arrived to participate in side events in the gargantuan Bella Center, the site of the negotiations. The line of those waiting with letters of acceptance and passports in hand waited in vain for hours today. Those IATP staff who had managed to register before the “badge making machine had broken” (the security office explanation) called from inside the Bella Center to arrange meetings for what we hope will be a more logistically successful tomorrow. But right now rumors abound and we feel eyeless in Copenhagen, as far as the Bella Center is concerned.

But however frustrating the registration process, we have been able to learn and inform about what IATP is doing on climate change. From our participation in Agriculture and Rural Development Day (, we learned that much bigger institutions than IATP were surprised at the exclusion of agriculture, until now, in the negotiations. ARDD delivered the “messages” gathered from four Roundtable discussions, characterized by one speaker as “no agriculture, no deal.” Since the United States and the European Union plan to “reduce” more than half of their GHG emissions by buying much cheaper offset credits based on GHG reductions from agriculture and forestry practices, it is a little more than bizarre that agriculture has not had a working group in the negotiations.

Agriculture Day plenary speakers, including Kanayo Nwanze, the President of the International Foundation for Development, insisted that the more than two billion small land holding farmers affected by climate change would feel failure in Copenhagen in their stomachs before anybody else. In sub-Saharan African alone, 75-250 million people could be added to the total number of more than a billion food insecure peoples, as the natural resources for agriculture are damaged by climate change.

I participated in the round table on “Potential benefits of emissions trading for small [land] holder farmers.” What several speakers and participants conveyed was just how little was known about how to verify that offset projects reduced GHGs. Since carbon emissions trading had been sold to farmers as a solid income stream ($40 billion a year in offset sales by 2020, according to the World Bank), more than one of them was upset to find out that stringent verification would be required for their projects to be certified as having reduced GHGs. For example, according to the International Panel on Climate Change, the science on carbon sequestration (usually by returning emissions to the ground) is ambiguous as to whether GHGs are reduced. Managing livestock diets to reduce methane emissions is even more unproven. In light of the science based doubt about agricultural offsets, one participant suggested that agricultural practices, rather than results, be certified as the basis for offset credits in carbon trading. The suggestion was met with scientific disdain.  If the scientists are so unclear about the feasibility of basing emissions trading on verifying offset GHG reductions, the terms for doing so in the climate change negotiations will only be more contentious.

I had ten minutes in the “Ideas Marketplace” to summarize an IATP webinar on carbon trading and U.S. climate change legislation. The poster that I used, graduate student style, explained how the present terms of U.S. legislation could create extreme carbon price volatility that would impede not only the rate of investment return analysis to invest in a low carbon economy, but would exacerbate agricultural futures prices. When the $3 trillion carbon derivates market projected for 2020 is bundled into commodity index funds, the effect is likely to be similar to how oil future prices drove agricultural futures prices up and down in 2007-2008. Discussion was lively, so maybe we opened up the eyes of a few people who otherwise might have assumed that carbon markets would be an unqualified benefit for farmers. Tomorrow we’ll try to open a few more eyes on other agriculture and climate change topics.

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Complications in Copenhagen

Posted December 14, 2009

As the overall climate negotiations hit an impasse, so did discussions focusing specifically on agriculture. IATP's Anne Laure Constantin gives the latest news from Copenhagen:

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Agriculture walks the tightrope in Copenhagen

Posted December 14, 2009

At the massive global climate meeting taking place this week in Copenhagen, agriculture has played a largely secondary role. Negotiators seem most eager to put off the tough questions on agriculture until next year (see IATP's Anne Laure Constantin's report). But at a conference a short distance from the Bella Center (where the climate talks are taking place) agriculture was on everyone's lips. And the results were both encouraging and troubling.

Agriculture Day was organized by a host of international agriculture research, aid and farm organizations (see the list). The idea was to establish a consensus on how agriculture should be incorporated into the global climate talks.

There certainly was a consensus on a few things: 1) agriculture faces severe challenges due to climate change; 2) countries in the global south, particularly Africa, will be more severely affected; 3) there needs to be additional money (not simply shifting money) to help farmers, particularly small-scale farmers and women, adapt to climate change; 4) there needs to be more money for research and extension systems on adaptability and assessing mitigation efforts such as sequestration; 5) agriculture needs to be part of the solution to climate change; and finally, 6) the global food crisis and rural development issues are intricately linked. As the World Bank's Juergen Voegele said, "agriculture is where poverty reduction, food security and climate intersect."

Suppan2 But two big differences emerged that will largely define the debate on agriculture and climate change in the next year. One was whether a carbon market, with offsets for agriculture, would actually benefit farmers. Complications are certainly scientific (can we effectively measure practices that sequester carbon, and at differing scales of production?), but also economic (who will really make the money here? will it be speculators and the carbon aggregators buying and selling credits or farmers on the ground? See IATP's Steve Suppan presenting at Ag Day, right). Unfortunately, it seemed a lot of participants assumed that a cap-and-trade system was the best way to involve agriculture. IATP's Julia Olmstead outlines other options in her analysis of U.S. climate policy.

Gordon The second big difference had to do with the type of investments and priorities that should be made in agriculture within climate policy. There was an emphasis on new technology—primarily genetically engineered seeds and some for nanotechnology. "Traditional breeding is not going to be enough," said Gordon Conway, of Imperial College London and one of the leading proponents of the Green Revolution, (see left). This sentiment was pushed by nearly all the presenters—from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to Dr. Adel El-Beltagy of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) to representatives from CropLife and Bayer. The arguments were familiar: new GE crops will help farmers manage risk brought on by climate change (such as water and temperature variations and increased pests and weeds), and help mitigate climate change through a reduction in nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide use.

The other side of the coin was a call for more diverse cropping systems. There was a recognition that farmers need to become more adaptable—growing multiple crops with multiple varieties under changing conditions. Farming regions will be affected differently around the world so solutions need to be flexible and fit the need of each community (exactly the kind of diverse approach not suited for GE seeds). A speaker from Senegal echoed the findings of a recent global report that IATP contributed to emphasize the need to better utilize traditional knowledge to strengthen resilience and mitigate climate change. A representative from Nairobi talked about how our current systems have become too vulnerable to weather events—we have always had severe weather, but we are less able to adapt. Instead, we need to focus on resilience through diversity. Another researcher working in Africa emphasized the need to invest in roads, infrastructure and credit.

It is expected that over the next few days Copenhagen will create a plan for agriculture that will carry through next year. These two questions will be at the heart of the debate: Who will really benefit from how agriculture is treated within climate policy? And what type of agriculture will be promoted as a response?

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