COP 26 in Glasgow clearly showed that the world is not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. Nevertheless, natural disasters, people’s awareness and civil society pressure make climate change inarguably one of the top global issues. Pressure will increase. Many countries are planning now for a future exit of the fossil-fuel based economy and for climate neutral societies by 2050.
And the organic movement?
We know that our food system is simultaneously a cause and victim of climate change. We also know that farming systems and agriculture policy do matter. Hence, it is not a surprise that the organic movement pays a lot of attention to climate change. However, a review of the discussion shows that, as usual, the organic movement highlight the benefits of organic systems (e.g. reduction of N2O emissions or soil carbon storage) while adversaries criticise low organic yields and increased need for land. This is the standard way of comparing organic and conventional farming, as advocates and critics attempt to influence consumers and policy makers.
Will that work to cool the planet?
Reaching climate neutrality will be a challenge, whatever farming systems are used. However, organic is well positioned to be the frontrunner in developing the future of agriculture and food systems. Why, and how?
- The Organic 3.0 feature “a culture of innovation” provides the basis to develop the transition to climate neutral food production. Farm assessment tools and improvement programs are more and more developed. Organic institutions are well advised to encourage their farmers to be the first ones to work towards positive climate balances on their operations. That will require even more to work with nature-based farming systems and through ecological intensification.
- Consumers trust organic more and more and they link organic with health and environment-friendly production. The next step, to make organic climate positive, is a logical one. Organic marketers should use that opportunity by optimizing their supply chains and by communicating their climate change improvements. Consumers will care more and more and consider climate criteria in their purchase decisions.
Organic agriculture has the potential to showcase climate neutral production and even offer climate services to the economy and society
- Reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and offsetting the balance is still the predominant strategy in the private sector. Pressure on the private sector to improve the climate balance is increasing, and so is demand for offsetting. The prices for certificates is increasing rapidly, creating an opportunity for those that can offer C-reduction.
- Reducing will not be enough. Removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere becomes an essential aspect of efforts to limit climate change. Removal can be done geologically, technically and through plants and vegetation. The latter – by far the most important strategy – is particularly relevant for farmers who have land, and the skills, to maximize photosynthesis.
- On top of fixation of CO2 from the atmosphere in plants, there is a need to conserve the fixed carbon for a long time in a sink. Carbon can be stored in a growing biomass of vegetation (e.g. in growing agroforestry systems), by increasing organic matter in the soil (increasing humus content) or in technical applications (e.g. wood constructions).
- Biochar – produced through pyrolysis of organic matter – is a method to store carbon for a long duration. Biochar has also many technical and agriculture applications including soil fertility improvements. Biochar is an underused opportunity.
Even though COP 26 in Glasgow was labelled a failure, societies, economies and governments must move forward, and they do. Organic agriculture has the potential to showcase climate neutral production and even offer climate services to the economy and society. Organic institutions (e.g. research or farmer associations) and start-ups from the organic movement, such as Carbon Standards International with its European Biochar Certificate can build the institutional framework, provide the essential services to farmers and leverage impact.
Author: Markus Arbenz, FiBL Consultant.
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