An emissions- intensity approach for crediting greenhouse gas mitigation in agriculture: reconciling climate and food security objectives in the developing world
An OBO accounting scheme can potentially contribute to agricultural productivity improvement goals, sustainable development in rural communities, and reduced-carbon agriculture in the developing world. If implemented at a global scale, it is possible that OBO protocols could provide an additional source of carbon finance for projects that have proven successful at improving productivity through new practices or agricultural infrastructure. Allowing offset credits to be generated for emissions intensity improvements addresses concerns that current agricultural offsets based on area accounting may favor practices that either take land out of production or lower the productivity of agriculture to create offsets, thereby reducing food and fiber production or shifting it to other locations. To the extent that declining or shifting production undermines food security, many parties will deem this unacceptable. Moreover such a pattern would be self-defeating if production and emissions were simply shifted elsewhere (i.e., leakage). Baker et al. (2010) show that afforestation of cropland or pasture can provide substantial GHG mitigation potential in the U.S. However, taking land out of agricultural production raises a number of concerns, including higher food prices and overall food security. Food prices and stagnating agricultural productivity are significant determinants in global malnourishment trends, so persistently higher prices and lower production levels could exacerbate commodity price spikes and global hunger concerns. If an offset market recognized output-based offsets, then the commodity price and secondary economic effects of moving a portion of land out of agricultural production would be relaxed by productivity gains elsewhere in the system. Additionally, moving to an OBO accounting framework can expand the range of activities or practices that generate offsets by including yieldenhancing management activities that might not be considered GHG reducing in isolation (including technological improvement that boosts production efficiency, or more intense forms of production that increase yield per unit area). While this might sound counter-intuitive as intensification can lead to higher emissions on a cultivated parcel of land, research shows that agricultural intensification can contribute to mitigation goals at the landscape level if by growing more per unit of land, agricultural conversion of forests decreases (Burney et al. 2010). This is especially true
in tropical regions, where yields following deforestation are lower, and emissions are higher relative to temperate zones, with carbon lost per unit of food gained from deforestation being nearly three times as great for tropical agricultural expansion (West et al. 2010). Additionally, some offset practices that are considered too costly due to low expected GHG gains relative to the cost of adoption could be encouraged under an OBO scheme if the practice is both GHG-reducing and yield improving. Here, credits generated through an OBO approach would outweigh those from the typical area-based offsets (ABO) approach if emissions reductions were accompanied by yield improvement, meaning such practices could be more economically competitive under OBO. However, more information on the costs and yield effects of these practices is needed before concluding that they would be spurred by an OBO system. Further insight on such practices is provided in subsequent sections.