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MINNEAPOLIS—Carbon markets have a bad track record yet remain a default recommendation in policy proposals promising the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In practice, these markets enable the perpetuation of pollution, environmental injustices and fraud. Successful climate and agriculture policies must not include carbon markets, caution IATP and NFFC in the new factsheet.
The price of carbon credits has historically been too low to effectively reduce GHG emissions. In addition, polluters often move their operations outside of a carbon market area to evade regulation. With most power plants and polluting industries located near low-income, minority and other disadvantaged communities, carbon markets disproportionately impact these communities.
When it comes to agriculture, carbon markets are especially detrimental. Soil carbon offsets count carbon sequestered in the soil as mitigation for carbon emissions elsewhere. However, tools to measure soil carbon accurately and reliably do not exist. In addition, soil carbon storage is highly impermanent; a change in land management practices or severe weather events can release carbon from the soil rapidly. While public resources should support farmers to integrate conservation practices into their operations, they should not be tied to a volatile carbon market that could make farming more economically unstable. Ultimately, paying farmers for soil carbon offsets treats agricultural land simply as a carbon sink, discounting its other functions such as production for local food systems.
According to Jim Goodman, retired organic dairy farmer in Wisconsin and NFFC board president, “The last thing we should be doing is turning carbon into another commodity to be sold or traded in the global economy. Carbon markets will do nothing to reduce GHG emissions. All they will do is create another way for polluters to profit from their lack of environmental concern.”
For several years, family farmers have struggled with low prices, sinking incomes and increasing climate disruptions, and carbon markets will not provide a solution to these challenges. In fact, farmers are already speaking out against the detriments of carbon markets.
Elizabeth Henderson, an organic CSA farmer with NOFA-New York, says, "As a farmer, I reject solutions like carbon markets that leave power in the hands of the dominant corporations that have led us to the farm crisis we have been living through. Instead, we need public policy that incentivizes a culture of soil health, paying farmers for healthy soils practices and the ecological services that come with them, like reducing erosion, building farm resilience to climate extremes of drought and heavy rains and increasing soil carbon."
Jason Jarvis, a commercial fisherman in Rhode Island on the board of Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, adds that the national fisheries “Catch Share” policies further privatizing fisheries access were modeled after carbon cap-and-trade. “In the same way that Catch Shares have not saved the fish or fishermen, carbon markets won't solve the climate problem."
Addressing the climate crisis and ensuring a just transition will take forward-thinking public investment combined with strong regulation. Carbon markets will not contribute to these goals. Rather, they let big polluters off the hook, fail the needs of family farmers and fishermen and ignore innovative community-based approaches.