CLEAR AS MUD: WHY AGRICULTURE AND SOILS SHOULD NOT BE INCLUDED IN CARBON OFFSET SCHEMES

Carbon offsetting is big business. And it’s growing bigger, as carbon traders and industries look for ever- more opportunities for claiming offsets. Interest is growing in the potential for agriculture to be included in carbon offset schemes, as soils can provide a substantial store for the planet’s carbon.

Initiatives such as the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund, the California and Alberta offset schemes, REDD and others are developing or considering agricultural carbon offsets. If carbon can be captured in soils, the argument goes, then surely the huge carbon offset market can be harnessed to direct funds towards climate-friendly agriculture?

But the reality is that including agriculture in offset schemes offers no guarantees for climate benefits. Sequestering carbon in soil is a largely uncertain process. The difficulties in measuring impacts on a large scale have important implications for consumer confidence and the market place. Very little money is likely to make it to projects on the ground. Public funds are being invested, even though the main beneficiaries will be private companies and financial speculators. Furthermore, agricultural carbon offsets are likely to lead to counter-productive and harmful practices that threaten communities, forests and food security, and which could even make climate change worse.