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Reflections on Paris Carbon Conference

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2017 June Issue Newsletter

By Caro Roszell

My most dominant takeaway from the conference is how precarious this moment is – before the mainstream adoption of the concepts of soil carbon sequestration and their codification into policy – for those in the world who have less power than the first-world policy makers and thought leaders. While there was consensus that practice must begin before the science is perfected, there was a divide on the meaning of “practice”. Does “practice” mean creating national or international subsidies or even carbon markets that incentivize carbon sequestration on agricultural lands? Or does “practice” refer to a global grassroots movement by farmers on the ground – supported by farmer organizations like NOFA –teaching each other to improve soil health (and thereby increase its carbon stocks) and educating their customers to value such practices? 

If the former method of increasing global soil carbon sequestration is the main method, then there is a threat that such a market could lead to an increase in global inequity. Agricultural subsidies distort markets for both commodities and for land, and are largely destructive to smallholders in the global south, who lose land and ecosystem services to corporate agribusiness and other industries. In this moment, it seems imperative that those of us who are fortunate to be a part of this conversation at such an early stage speak up for the issue of equity, and with concern for how carbon subsidies may impact smallholders in all parts of the world. One way to do this is to ensure that if such subsidies or markets are implemented, that participation in such programs be easy for all farmers at any scale. Standards for data collection and verification of carbon gains must balance scientific robustness with accessibility for small and remote farmers in all parts of the world. Going forward I will be working with a few people I met at the conference to try to come to consensus about what a core accessible carbon proxy test data set should include, so that we will be ready with a set of recommendations in the event of subsidy implementation.

Besides agricultural carbon sequestration, another area in which practitioners of land management trades (farming, gardening, permaculture design and landscaping) can help create carbon sinks is through ecosystem restoration and desert reclamation. John Lui, who directed the film "Lessons of the Loess Plateau", started a foundation called Commonland, which organizes ecosystem restoration camps where visitors from all over the world can come and work on a desert/degraded lands revegetation project. In my role as the NOFA/Mass Carbon Technician, I am currently investigating how NOFA/Mass may be able to participate in the Commonland Foundations projects by organizing a group trip of members and staff to travel to a restoration camp, to work and learn together, and to bring lessons of ecosystem restoration back to our communities in the Northeast.  For more information on the Commonland Foundation, visit: www.academia.edu/9969837/COMMONLAND_FOUNDATION

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