Climate Change

An increasing number of studies have shown that biofuels derived from agricultural crops propose a false solution to the climate crisis and have created an unprecedented rush for land threatening land rights and food security globally.

The Facts

Burning fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gas emissions have transformed the earth’s climate. Despite bearing almost no historic responsibility, family farmers, pastoralists and Indigenous Peoples in the Global South are on the front line of the climate crisis. Climate extremes have immediate and long-term impacts on the livelihoods of vulnerable communities, contributing to greater risks of food insecurity and at times spurring migration.

The 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report acknowledges the crucial role that Indigenous Peoples and rural communities play in stewarding and safeguarding the world’s lands and forests. These communities are on the frontline in the struggle against land grabbing and destructive practices, such as deforestation and industrial agriculture projects. Protecting their land rights is essential to combat climate change.

Agroecology vs. Industrial Agriculture

Climate change impacts food security through increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and greater frequency of extreme events. But agriculture also plays a major role in driving the current climate crisis as the sector accounts for 25 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. The extent that agriculture drives deforestation varies by region, with industrial agriculture being responsible for 30 percent of deforestation in Africa and Asia, and nearly 70 percent in Latin America.

The Green Revolution model remains the predominant strategy implemented by governments and major foundations to “modernize” agriculture across the Global South. This model is centered on technology-based approaches that promote hybrid or genetically modified seeds used in capital-intensive, large-scale agriculture schemes with a prominent role for pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Rather than contributing to food security amidst climate change, these efforts tend to intensify the use of fossil fuels and chemical inputs in monocrops, thereby increasing carbon emissions and environmental degradation, while also increasing the vulnerability of our food supply to climatic shocks.

Transformative change to agricultural systems is needed to enhance the resilience of food systems, improve the livelihoods of family farmers, and reduce the sector’s carbon emissions. Agroecological practices offer farmers a sustainable path forward without the use of fossil fuels or a reliance on agribusiness and their chemical inputs. Agroecology has long been championed by millions of family farmers who grow the vast majority of the world’s food. It offers a critical social, environmental, and political process for rural communities and farmers to be leaders in transitioning agriculture to work with nature, support fair and decent rural livelihoods, and ensure the right to healthy food and nutrition for all.

Exposing False Solutions

Carbon markets have been promoted by a number of private actors and governments as a way to address climate change. In theory, polluting countries and corporations can continue emitting greenhouse gases while “offsetting” their emissions by purchasing carbon credits from other countries. Forestry plantations implemented in the Global South have been used to generate carbon credits while supposedly contributing to local development. Carbon markets allow polluters to continue emitting at the same levels while they have also been found to compromise the livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Through a series of reports, the Oakland Institute has documented how destructive carbon credit tree plantations can be for local communities– providing further evidence that carbon markets fail to address the crisis equitably.

Agrofuels (or crop-based biofuels) are produced from crops such as soy, corn, sugarcane and oil palm. In theory, fuel derived from biomass is carbon neutral, as the CO2 absorbed by plants is simply re-released when fuel is combusted. However, when considering the full “life cycle” of agrofuels—from land clearing to burning to peat drainage to fertilizer use to transport—far more greenhouse gas is released in the production process.

Despite agrofuels ambiguous environmental implications, as of January 2016, 64 countries have passed legislation mandating biofuel use in motor fuels. These mandates are intended to secure the global production of 61 billion biofuel gallons per year by 2023. The US and the European Union in particular have turned abroad to secure land for fuel, and agrofuel production has been a major goal of forest clearing and new large scale agricultural schemes in the developing world. This land rush has resulted in devastating environmental and social consequences. As food and fuel crops compete for land and resources, the expansion of agrofuel production has resulted in higher food prices, displaced communities, caused food insecurity, and severe environmental damage.

What we are doing about it
  • The Oakland Institute produces research and advocacy on agriculture and food policies and investments. Working to keep land in the hands of rural communities, we challenge large agriculture schemes and practices that further contribute to the climate crisis and environmental degradation. Our research also focuses on the implication of agrofuels on our climate, our environment and the people.

  • We document and advocate for agro-ecological farming methods that benefit people and the planet. Released for the COP21, the Institute’s thirty-three agroecology case studies shed light on the tremendous success of agroecology across Africa. They provide solid evidence that an agricultural transformation respectful of the farmers and their environment can yield immense socio-economic benefits while also fighting climate change and restoring soils and the environment.

  • Through a series of reports, the Oakland Institute has revealed the disastrous impact of tree plantations grown for carbon credits on local communities in Uganda. Our investigations raise larger questions around the equity and effectiveness of carbon markets.