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Carbon offset criteria needs to change to achieve government’s goals and work for Canadian agriculture

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Opinion

We’ve been instructed many instances concerning the essential position of agriculture and soil in decreasing the quantity of carbon within the environment over the previous few years.

However because the Canadian government’s insurance policies aimed toward decreasing carbon emissions take form, it seems many Canadian farmers is not going to be eligible for any reward by the Liberal government’s carbon offset framework, except Setting and Local weather Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and his division are prepared to alter the proposed criteria.

Whereas Biden administration is taking a look at methods to probably use authorities funds to pay U.S. farmers for sequestering carbon of their fields and pastures, the Canadian authorities has proposed its personal carbon offset framework, pitching it as a manner for Canadian farmers and others to receives a commission for practices that scale back the quantity of carbon within the environment.

Whereas the carbon tax rising to $170/tonne is Ottawa’s proverbial stick, the carbon offset system is meant to present the carrot to change behaviour towards decrease CO2 emissions and elevated sequestration, as web emitters would pay for offset credit, doubtlessly generated by farmers who’re sequestering carbon within the floor.

“The development of the Federal Greenhouse Gas Offset System will mean farmers can be recognized and rewarded for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions on their farms by implementing practices that improve the carbon sequestered in their soil,” famous Agriculture and Agri-Meals Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau earlier this month.

The issue is there are at the very least two main obstacles for agriculture with the carbon offset draft laid out by Setting and Local weather Change Canada earlier this month.

First, the requirement that any follow that generates an offset credit score should end in a everlasting carbon discount is a significant hang-up in attempting to have farmers “recognized and rewarded,” to borrow Minister Bibeau’s phrases.

The federal authorities has proposed a verification interval of 100 years to be certain that any sequestered carbon stays sequestered. If one thing have been to occur to launch that carbon within the subsequent century, that offset credit score can be revoked. This might introduce an unbelievable quantity of alternative price that may want to be weighed when deciding whether or not to take part within the carbon offset framework.

There’s an extended record of unpredictable and uncontrollable variables that go into land administration choices — together with climate patterns, scientific and technological developments, new weed resistance, and the economics of meals provide/demand — however as proposed, the federal offset rules would supply no flexibility to a landowner who needs to obtain credit score for sequestering carbon within the meantime. (Think about locking in a follow from 1921 till now.)

There could also be instances the place grasslands or marginal land could be dedicated for the subsequent 100 years, but when crop farming goes to qualify in any vital manner, there needs to be a manner to acknowledge that carbon sequestration in nature happens imperfectly. There could be, and have been, substantial beneficial properties over time, however assured permanence is not possible in most conditions.

Peas rising in zero-till corn residue in southern Manitoba.

A second, and perhaps extra vital obstacle for Canadian agriculture is the requirement that any follow that generates an offset credit score should go past business-as-usual. In local weather coverage circles, that is generally referred to as “additionality.”

In different phrases, practices which can be already taking place — even when they sequester carbon — wouldn’t depend for any offset credit underneath Setting and Local weather Change Canada’s proposed criteria. This is able to disqualify Canadian farmers who already sequester carbon yearly with zero-till practices. At the very least half a dozen Saskatchewan farm teams, in addition to the Soil Conservation Council of Canada and the Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Affiliation, are calling on the federal government to drop this “beyond business-as-usual” requirement, calling it “non-scientific.”

Final week, we had the possibility to ask Setting and Local weather Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson concerning the proposed carbon offset criteria, and what’s being accomplished to make it potential and sensible for farmers to take part within the federal carbon offset framework. Right here’s his full reply:

I’d say plenty of issues. I imply, the primary is that the regulatory framework that was put out was put out in draft. And we actually are nonetheless receiving suggestions with respect to a number of the gadgets there. And naturally, the precise particular offset protocols that can be developed nonetheless have to be totally fleshed out. And the primary 4, we’ve enunciated the areas by which they’re going to be in, however there’ll possible be extra in the way in which of offset protocols as we go ahead.

Setting and Local weather Change Minister David Wilkinson talking throughout a web-based media convention name on March 18, 2021.

Definitely, the difficulty of permanence is a crucial one. Clearly, you already know, the entire level of the offset protocols is basically to present methods by which for farmers to monetize practices round sequestration, and to do this by enabling companies underneath the output-based pricing system to primarily purchase offsets which may be cheaper than then reductions they’d give you the chance to get in their very own operation. In order that they do want to be everlasting indirectly. That’s the entire level of the system. However clearly, we’d like to be sure that we’re speaking to the farming neighborhood to make it possible for it’s going to be a workable manner of assessing and measuring these sorts of issues.

And I’d say the identical factor with enterprise as typical. I imply, actually there are practices that farmers do, you already know, by way of no-till farming, and a spread of issues that do assist with respect to carbon sequestration. However as is the case in all sectors of the financial system, what we’d like to do is definitely discover extra tonnes by way of reductions, we are able to’t meet our Paris obligations as a rustic and actually can’t deal with the local weather, the menace that’s local weather change, with out discovering the extra tonnes that permit us to make progress in direction of our goal. So additionality is important. However actually I believe there’s numerous alternative within the context of additionality, for the farming neighborhood to to discover methods to monetize that. And definitely there’s numerous work happening in Agriculture Canada, within the agricultural neighborhood, in lots of ag tech corporations which can be truly beginning up and working, taking a look at methods by which to improve the flexibility of the soils to to primarily sequester carbon.

As you’ll be able to inform, he’s adamant that the permanence and past business-as-usual necessities are important to the government’s proposed offset framework, which is open for public remark till Could 5.

It’s comprehensible that the federal government needs to give you the chance to assure that every carbon offset generated truly ends in a brand new and lasting discount of carbon.  In principle, each offset ought to end in a everlasting and full one-tonne discount of carbon, however actuality is extra difficult, as each pragmatic farmer is aware of. There’ll possible be loads of dialogue concerning the high quality — and due to this fact the worth — of carbon offsets allotted by completely different non-public and government-designed frameworks and markets sooner or later.

However the outdated saying “perfect is the enemy of good” comes to thoughts with Minister Wilkinson and the Liberal government’s plan.

If they need to acknowledge farmers and incentivize practices which can be confirmed by the government’s personal scientists to sequester carbon, the criteria for receiving that reward should be sensible and achievable. In any other case, it merely gained’t be price signing up from a farmer’s perspective, and the Canadian authorities will squander a chance to depend the thousands and thousands of tonnes of carbon that farmers sequester annually towards its Paris Settlement obligations.

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