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Missing Pathways to 1.5°C: The role of the land sector in ambitious climate action

By Kate Dooley, Doreen Stabinsky, et. al. - Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, October 2018

Current climate strategies are leading us to brink of disaster. While some level of removal of atmospheric carbon is inevitably required for the 1.5°C goal, due to historical and committed emissions, it is critical to limit this removal to the lowest amount possible, by restricting future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Ecosystem-based solutions can offer immediate, accessible, cost-effective and equitable strategies for meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal. In the context of international efforts to address climate change and increasing evidence of its rapid environmental impacts this report presents a global call to action for governments, development institutions and the broader climate community that challenges the fundamental assumptions that have so far guided national and international climate policies. Here we demonstrate the potential for targeted policies in the land sector to reduce the sustainability risks associated with mitigating climate change, while protecting human rights—particularly the customary rights of indigenous and local communities—and ensuring ecosystem integrity and food security.

Many narratives about climate change begin by asking what mitigation actions are technically or economically feasible, and how we can use the land sector to sequester as much carbon as possible. They focus on addressing climate change now so that we might ensure food security, human rights and biodiversity in the future, with little emphasis on who bears the brunt of the impacts of mitigation. The analysis in this report starts from a different place, giving primacy to food security, protecting human rights and protecting and restoring natural ecosystems in the battle against climate change.

This report addresses the shortcomings of current modelling approaches to deep mitigation pathways. Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) for 2°C and 1.5°C almost universally rely on intervention in the land sector on a truly massive scale, with most relying on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to remove carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere and sequester it underground. In this report we substantiate and quantify the evidence that a large proportion, if not all of the required removals, could be achieved by conserving and enhancing natural sinks, while better land management and agricultural practices could avoid significant amounts of ongoing emissions. Further, when the protection and restoration of natural sinks is achieved through the stewardship of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, securing collective land and forest rights represents a far more equitable and cost-effective way to achieve

climate mitigation targets than other carbon capture and storage measures (Frechette et al., 2016).

This approach relies on ecosystem restoration to deliver ‘the missing pathway’ through avoided conversion of natural sinks and enhancing and protecting terrestrial ecosystems. It prioritises securing indigenous and community rights to land and utilises transformative agricultural practices to help eliminate over-production and consumption, including shifting diets and reducing demand for land for agricultural expansion.

Despite the advantages of multiple ecosystem-based carbon removal pathways in maintaining a liveable planet, such approaches have received little attention from policymakers. Policy choices have been largely informed by modelling that is geared toward accommodating our combustion-based economies, for instance building in the false solution of replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy. Policymakers have largely not been offered options that incorporate how behavioural and societal shifts—and strengthening tenure rights—can mitigate climate change.

The frame for considering pathways to 1.5°C must not be narrowly focused on emission reductions. Certainly the need for climate change action is urgent, but understanding the context for action is paramount. The world is one of growing inequality. Climate change arises from that inequality and feeds it, as the world’s wealthy continue over-consuming diminishing resources. The rest of this introductory section situates climate responses in the intersecting crises of climate, rights and biodiversity; addresses the shortcomings of modelling-based approaches to climate mitigation; and outlines our vision for ecosystem-based solutions that are centred on rights and food sovereignty.

Read the report (PDF).

Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset

By Colin Todhunter - East by Northwest, June 11, 2018

Food and agriculture across the world is in crisis. Food is becoming denutrified and unhealthy and diets less diverse. There is a loss of biodiversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water sources polluted and depleted and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being squeezed off their land and out of farming.

A minority of the global population has access to so much food than it can afford to waste much of it, while food insecurity has become a fact of life for hundreds of millions. This crisis stems from food and agriculture being wedded to power structures that serve the interests of the powerful global agribusiness corporations.

Over the last 60 years, agriculture has become increasingly industrialised, globalised and tied to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market, indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank).

The time is ripe for the recognition and protection of peasants' rights

By staff, La Via Campesina - May 22, 2017

Joint Statement from La Via Campesina and other social movements and civil society organisations for the conclusion of  the 4th OEIWG session on a UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

To the fourth session of the open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIWG) on a United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas

Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XX 

15-19 May 2017 

We peasants, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fisher folk and rural workers, including rural women from around the globe, from La Via Campesina, IUF, WFFP, WAMIP, FIMARC, IITC along with CETIM, FIAN International and other organizations, represent all together billions of rural people. We have been constructively engaging this process of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, from the fields of pasture, our workplaces around the world and here in Geneva for many years. We strongly welcome the level of constructive support from cross-regions, from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe. We especially welcome the warm and effective leadership of the Chair-rapporteur. It is worth taking note that delegates of UN member states have extended their very strong contribution to the process. 

As we have been saying from the very beginning, we, as representatives of peasants, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, fishers and rural workers, including rural women, shall be recognized as legitimate parties in international cooperation in relation to food and rural development, since we constitute the sector of the population mostly affected by hunger and malnutrition despite strongly contributing to feeding the world. The 2 billion peasants and other people working in rural areas have great knowledge and experience, as well as our own perspectives. We understand the current challenges facing the world’s food systems and have ideas for solutions. We are able to contribute to the development process in a valuable manner. 

This process has made our movement stronger than ever.  After sixteen years of effort and dedication, throughout the world, our communities’ expectations keep rising, expecting our demands to be recognized in the intergovernmental negotiations. 

This is our declaration, we have been and we will keep defending it constructively before our national governments until its conclusion. All peasants and people working in rural areas around the world strongly identify themselves with the content of this Declaration, which will be an instrument to restore and dignify our status in society and to recognize our rights. 

We are confident to see the willingness of States to recognize crucial rights for us, such as the right to land and the right to seeds.  We are mildly concerned with the reserves that have been expressed by only some States towards major parts of the text regarding collective rights and extraterritorial obligations. However, as we navigate through this process, and witness its evolutions, we believe that common ground on the recognition of the right to Food Sovereignty can be reached. 

What were perceived as new rights by certain countries, are now favorably reconsidered. Thanks to the legal grounds put forward by the experts, the right to seeds and the right to land are gaining an incontestable legitimacy in the declaration, as they are specifically referred to in international agreements and a growing number of national legislations. Our grassroots testimonies reinforce the state of emergency for recognizing these rights in the Declaration without any further delay. 

As we all stand here, in full knowledge that human rights prevail economic interests, we call on States to unite in order to recognize and further guarantee the realization of the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. 

As organizations representing peasants and other people working in rural areas, we stand ready to play our part and take up our responsibilities. We are ready to put our best effort to contribute to this historical process. States can no longer postpone the declaration. The time is ripe for the recognition and protection of our rights. Let us work together for the adoption of the declaration at the earliest. 

For peasants and other people working in rural areas, the relationship with Mother Earth, her territories and waters is the physical, cultural, and spiritual basis for our existence. We are obliged to maintain this relationship with Mother Earth for the survival of our future generations. We gladly assume our role as her guardians. 

Long live peasants and other people working in rural areas! 

Corporate food system currently contributes between 44 and 57% of global greenhouse emissions

By staff - La Via Campesina, June 8, 2017

As never before, agriculture today plays a role in all of the unfolding crises of the twenty-first century. Despite producing many more calories than are needed to feed humanity, the globalized food system leaves a billion people hungry, and another billion with micronutrient deficiency (Kremen, Iles and Bacon, 2012). 

At the same time, the growing dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as well as petroleum, coupled with oversized feedlots and global commodity routes, make the planet’s food system among the chief factors contributing to carbon dioxide and methane emissions causing global climate change (Tilman et al. 2001).

The modernization of global agriculture has meant the application of technologies that maximize short-term yields at the same time as they undermine the long-term factors of agricultural productivity and stability, such as soil fertility, water cycles, seed diversity and local knowledge.

The science and technology used to produce food is generally owned by large transnational corporations that are guided by the profit motive, rather than any of the many other purposes that agriculture serves, such as providing food and health, guaranteeing sustainable livelihoods, or maintaining a natural resource base for future generations.

The industrial agriculture model is only about 60 years old, but has already contaminated water sources, replaced tens of thousands of seed varieties with a dozen cash crops, diminished soil fertility around the world, accelerated the exodus of rural communities toward unsustainable megacities, and contributed to global inequality. Additionally, the corporate food system currently contributes between 44 and 57% of global greenhouse emissions (Grain, 2011).

For a long time, corporate manufacturers have insisted that pesticides are safe to use, that expensive, hybrid seeds will produce better in all field conditions, and that the same technical packages can be applied to diverse agricultural systems (Ecobichon, 2001). Research has conclusively shown not only that these are myths, but that the same consolidated seed and chemical companies that now control our access to food have been dishonest all along about their knowledge of harm produced by their products (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food,2017).

Pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and petroleum-hungry monoculture are responsible for hundreds of thousands of annual deaths of farmers and farm workers by poisoning, as well as incalculable damage to ecosystems, watersheds and the atmosphere. Additionally, the technologies of industrial monoculture diminish the capacity of agriculture to employ the rural workforce, leading to abandonment of the countryside and the loss of the cultural diversity embedded in rural communities.

La Vía Campesina, the world’s largest peasant movement, is a leading voice in the global movement to recover food from transnational corporations. Since its first international conference in Tlaxcala, Mexico, in 1996, La Vía Campesina (LVC) has proposed food sovereignty as an alternative to corporate agribusiness (see Box 1). Food sovereignty can be briefly defined as the right of peoples and nations to create and maintain their own food systems, and has been at the heart of civil society protests against the free trade model since the 1990s. Food sovereignty means a fundamental emphasis on local and domestic food production, based on land access for small farmers and ecological production practices (Rosset, 2006). As a political proposal, food sovereignty implies a radical democratization and decentralization of the agriculture-food system, including the dismantling of corporate power over food (Patel, 2009). On a more cultural level, it is an affirmation of rural community, local knowledge, and gender equality (Wittman, 2010). Rather than the better-known concept of food security, which makes no mention of where food comes from or how it is produced, food sovereignty explicitly underscores local and national food routes, democratic processes of decision-making, recuperation of cultural forms of production, distribution and consumption, and the relationship between food and the environment.

A Green New Deal for Agriculture

Raj Patel and Jim Goodman - Jacobin, April 4, 2019

The food system is breaking the planet. Nearly a quarter of anthropogenic greenhouse gases are driven by how we eat, and it’s impossible to tackle climate change without transforming agriculture. So the Green New Deal is wise to call for “a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.” Better yet, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey’s proposal includes a call to work “collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.”

This has the makings of a bonanza for rural America. Healthy food costs more and is harder to access than processed food. Under a Green New Deal that helped Americans eat better, more cash might flow back to the land. And if the federal government were paying more for better food, and understood that well-managed soil can sequester carbon, sustainable farming might be a way to end America’s rural poverty.

Yet almost as soon as the Green New Deal was released, members of the American Farm Bureau criticized the proposal as misguided and uninformed. Early in March, the National Farmers Union, one of the more left-leaning of the large farm organizations, snubbed the Green New Deal for not recognizing “the essential contribution of rural America.” And the recent Senate vote united fifty-seven members of the chamber in opposition. So, why the haters in farm country?

Of course, not all farmers are conservative. Nor is everyone living in rural America a farmer. Farmers carried Jimmy Carter to the White House in 1976. Farmers and others active in America’s rural social movements have written enthusiastically about the Green New Deal and its possibilities for family farms, about how it might spur things like rural repopulation, new farm pricing models, and climate-friendly agriculture. But those ideas are written against what the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci called “hegemony.

A key idea in Gramsci’s work on hegemony is that of a historic bloc, a coalition that licenses and polices a dominant social order. The power within that bloc extends beyond brute force — it tries to establish dominance at the level of “common sense,” styling ideas of what’s socially acceptable and what’s unthinkable. The dominant historic bloc in the United States today is an assembly of property owners, fossil fuel corporations, war-makers, tech giants, media outlets, health care management firms, industrialists, monopolists, and financiers, but involves cultural leadership from some workers and farmers. The reflexive criticism of the Green New Deal, before its details have even been hashed out, is an indicator of the bloc’s hegemony.

The Green New Deal’s success depends on refashioning this common sense. To rewrite common sense is to unpick the alliances that the current bloc works to maintain, to find the fault lines that can pry that bloc apart, and to develop the organizational links that can build a counter-hegemonic bloc. To do that, it’s worth understanding the source of some of the most important alliances in the current configuration of forces in America’s food system: the first New Deal.

The original New Deal today appears as a miracle, an incredible moment in which the nation stood united behind Keynesian policy to accomplish big things. Yet they were achieved not because the nation united behind them, but because the nation was profoundly divided. The New Deal was a project precipitated by class struggle, and is best understood as a series of victories and defeats in the management of that struggle by an anxious bourgeoisie, across rural and urban America.

En La Lucha No Hay Fronteras (In the Struggle There Are No Borders)

By Kathia Ramirez - US Food Sovereignty Alliance, January 11, 2018

Fifth in the South Africa-US Agroecology Exchange Article Series

In October of 2017, I had the opportunity to travel with 7 other comrades on an Agroecology Exchange to South Africa. This Exchange was a continuation of a process that had initiated in 2015 which was the same year that I was introduced to the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. Although there was much traveling, it was an amazing experience to see and learn from farmers, farmworkers, activists, and people in the community who are struggling due to the current food system.

During the trip, I had the opportunity to interpret for another delegate and feel the dynamic of how language is not a barrier to being able to relate across seas. The experience interpreting allowed me to relate and connect both with people in South Africa as well as to the stories that were shared with me from my same culture since I share a similar background to the delegate I was interpreting for. During our visit to Limpopo, members of the Mopani Farmers Association put together a cultural event just for us and once again, I felt the connection through dance and music despite our different backgrounds. It brought so much to mind for me: from appreciating the work that I am doing to learning more about my own culture from which at some point I have felt very disconnected.

When we arrived in Citrusdal, Cape Town and were hosted by the Surplus People’s Project, we honored International Rural Women’s Day through participating in a Day of Action for Food Sovereignty, and an assembly for the International Day of Eradication of Poverty. As members and allies of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, we participated on the last day and had the opportunity to share about our experiences and also had the chance to be part of a panel discussion, where we had both Farmer and Farmworker delegates sharing their stories. Among those on the panel were member organizations from The Agrarian Reform for Food Sovereignty Campaign. It was amazing to see how even though we joined these organizations on the last day of their three-day meeting, we were easily able to engage because our struggles are very similar. We were also very welcomed to engage when we participated in a meeting with Urban Farmers in Cape Town, and again, we identified some of the same issues that are affecting us although we are from two different countries.

Farmworkers Resist and Organize: Connected Struggles for Farmworker Justice in South Africa and the US

By Edgar Franks - US Food Sovereignty Alliance, December 7, 2017

This past October I was part of the delegation sent by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance to South Africa. The delegation is part of a process to connect with groups throughout Africa with US-based Food Sovereignty groups to build an international analysis on the food system and to be in solidarity with one another.

During the 11 days our delegation was in South Africa, we were able to meet with many organizations throughout different regions, each with their unique struggles. Our delegation was small but represented many different sectors within the food system, including farmworkers, Black farmers, and immigrants; we all brought our own area or expertise to the trip and complimented each other well.

Even though every place we visited we learned a lot and were impacted by the amount of work and organizing that was happening, I want to share about the exchange that we had with the farmworkers in Robertson in the Western Cape.

Personally, I was able to connect to the farmworker struggle in the Western Cape, as there was a familiarity with the way issues and conditions were discussed. The analysis that was shared resonated with me profoundly considering that farmworkers here in the United States are also going through the same exploitation.

At Community to Community in Washington, we try to recognize that the struggle for farmworker justice is not limited to the workplace. Farmworkers’ lives are complex and have many intersections which is why we know that in order to achieve our goals – especially when it comes to transforming the food system – that we must go beyond just fighting for union contracts. Food Sovereignty for farmworkers also means being recognized as humans who are capable of leading ourselves. That is why we also organize for immigrant rights, climate justice, women’s rights, and food sovereignty.

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