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Version française de cette page : Séquestration du carbone dans les sols / la végétation et questions foncières : les liens avec l’environnement institutionnel et les politiques publiques

Soil Carbon Sequestration and Land Systems: links with institutional environment and public policies

Contributions of the 3rd round table of the workshop organized by the French Cooperation ‘Land Tenure and Development’ Technical Committee, and the ‘4 for 1000’ Initiative with the support of the World Bank in Paris, December 13 & 14, 2017

Rédigé par : Michel Merlet, from the contributions of Mamadou Cissokho (ROPPA), Geneviève Michon (IRD), Marie Mellac (CNRS), Sébastien Treyer (IDDRI), Olivier Ducourtieux (AgroParisTech), and the debate with other participants at the workshop

Date de rédaction : décembre 2017

Organismes : Association pour contribuer à l’Amélioration de la Gouvernance de la Terre, de l’Eau et des Ressources naturelles (AGTER), Comité technique « Foncier et développement » (CTFD), Initiative 4 pour mille

Type de document : Document de travail

Résumé

Abstract

Synthesis prepared from the contributions of the speakers at Round Table #3, organized and facilitated by Michel Merlet (AGTER) and the debate with all participants

The 4‰ initiative should not be limited to a sum of small projects. It has a transcendental character in that it recognizes that soils are a global commons. The implications for land analysis are considerable:

  • 1/ The exclusive and absolute ownership of soil is not compatible with the recognition of it as a commons, necessary for the survival of humanity. Ways must be found to ensure that human rights related to carbon sequestration are respected.

  • 2/ The recognition of the rights of communities is necessary, so that governance systems can be set up at different levels, local, regional, national, pluri-national and global. This involves various means, such as taxation, prohibitions on certain practices, regulation of different markets, etc.

The 4‰ initiative should contribute to the evaluation of policies, and to move towards binding measures whenever land, natural resources and climate governance are concerned.

For carbon sequestration, land tenure and agrarian systems issues are essential. Recent developments cannot be understood without examining the economic question surrounding the remuneration of capital and labour, and the consequences of the development of finance. No attempt to solve those problems on the basis of free markets will ever work, when these markets concern things that have not been produced for being sold.That is why the question of the commons has once again become central.

I. Introductory remarks

A. An issue embedded in society

The sequestration and storage of carbon in soils and vegetation is closely linked to land issues. Land tenure, understood as the relationship between humans around the earth and the soil, is essentially embedded in society. As a result, the working themes of the 4‰ initiative, carbon sequestration for food security and the fight against global warming, cannot be addressed in isolation, nor only in their technical dimensions.

B. Historical dimension

The sequestration and storage of carbon in soils and vegetation cover is a long-term process (see Round Table 1). Links with public policies must also be addressed by taking into account the evolution of human societies and their relationship with nature over time. A historical perspective is then necessary.

C. Coherence of public policies and power relations

The effectiveness of public policies depends to a large extent on their degree of coherence. They reflect the power relations between the different actors in society at a given time. Analysing their contradictions based on a critical examination of their consequences and effects reveals their true nature. Such an approach is neither « ideology » nor « philosophy », it is a necessary condition for acting and gradually improving the effectiveness of these actions.

D. Hence these three conditions for effective actions:

  • a. Understand the reasons for the evolution of global amounts of carbon fixed by soils, savannah/grasslands and forests and the drivers of ongoing dynamics.

  • b. Take into account the diversity of the actors involved: farmers, indigenous peoples, capitalist entrepreneurs, investment funds, etc. who do not take their decisions with the same logic;

  • c. Differentiate between discourse and actual practice when examining public policies and regulations, their coherence or inconsistencies.

II. Findings: reminder of some key elements

The climate crisis is part of major changes that are linked to the increasing use of fossil fuels and non-renewable resources on the one hand, and major damage to biodiversity on the other, affecting the entire biosphere:

  • Population growth on a unique planet of limited size.

  • At the economic and social level, the development of capitalism, the globalization of trade, the liberalization of markets, the private appropriation of natural resources and land, the unprecedented development of finance, with the result that inequalities are exploding.

  • At the ideological level, the sacralization of « the company » and « investors », by assimilating return on investment and efficiency, with in parallel the abandonment of the consideration of the interest of society as a whole to retain only the interest of the entrepreneur or the investor.

The major challenges were recalled by the speakers at the round table, the management of natural resources, demographics, food security, but also the safeguarding of solidarity, of living together. They stressed the challenges of political governance, highlighting the dysfunctions of States and the flaws in the relationship between international institutions and States of the North with States of the South, particularly in Africa. They also highlighted the limits of States, and the need for larger regional spaces. This is often where the main obstacles lie.

  • Let us not forget the lessons of the West African experience since the great drought of 1973. We know what works, and what does not work in the fight against desertification, but the effective discourses and practices of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, bilateral cooperation… are very different. Funding for positive experiences has not been maintained and African states remain dependent on aid.

  • We refuse to take into account the multifunctionality of agriculture, and the focus is always on promoting products intended for the world market and on the importance of attracting investors to set up agrobusiness projects on land allocated to them, which was most often part of the peasant territories. The peasant reality is ignored, as well as the importance of food produced and partly self-consumed by small producers. The contradictions with the agricultural model with tractors and fertilizers are largely ignored, through the prism of modernization.

For farmers, cultivating fertility, i.e. maintaining or increasing humus and biological activity, is about securing a future. They have always done so and most of the time they know how to do it. Trees have a particular importance for them, which varies according to the region.

  • In the humid tropics, fertility is not stored mainly in soils, but in vegetation. The future of agriculture is linked to the maintenance of trees and domestic forests.

  • In Mediterranean mountain areas, it is mainly the development of terraces associated with anthropized vegetation (bush, chestnut or argan groves) and horizontal fertility transfers carried out by livestock farming that have allowed the accumulation of organic matter.

  • In temperate areas, with less fragile soils, it has been possible to systematically remove trees from cultivated plots. However, the amount of sequestered carbon consequently decreased.

Technicians and researchers often do not recognize the know-how and knowledge of farmers. They have contributed to the elimination of trees in agricultural areas, by promoting mechanization (especially deep ploughing) and the use of chemical fertilizers. They are promoting today agroforestry, always wanting to teach the producer what to do.

It is therefore necessary to clearly distinguish

  • 1/ people who live from agricultural activities and

  • 2/ companies that farm to earn money.

III. Proposals for the 4‰ initiative in relation to public policies

A. Take into account agrarian structures and their evolution

It is clear that not all agrarian structures have the same carbon storage capacity (even without advocating for peasant agriculture).

It is essential to focus our analyses on the effects of public policies on agrarian structures, which are characterized by the size of farms, their entrepreneurial form, the share of capital, labour and land. It is not possible to think about agrarian models without thinking about the global economic model in which they fit. (see below)

B. Support actors who spontaneously ensure that soil fertility is increased

The essential difference between peasant systems and capitalist entrepreneurial systems is that for the latter, labour is a cost, while for the former, it is a resource. This leads to totally different operating logics. Farmers’ systems integrate patrimonial logics anchored in territories, while capitalist systems favour profit in the short term with always the possibility of transferring capital to other activities and other spaces.

The most resilient ecosystems and activity systems are then logically those that have been designed and maintained by family farming in a complex multifunctionality. This is the case of agroforests in Indonesia, the result of an experience accumulated over time in the history of heritage resource management, passed on from generation to generation.

The countries of the South that have in recent history favoured family farming are those that have been the most successful in their economic transition to emerging countries (Taiwan, Korea, China, Thailand, Japan). The same must be done with small farmers / peasants, this time working on carbon sequestration. The 4‰ initiative should therefore give priority to supporting farmers who already have carbon storage practices and helping them to continue to live.

C. Moving beyond the plot level, taking into account territorial planning policies and contributing to improving territorial governance

In addition to economic instruments, there are other ways to achieve better land enhancement. The artificialization of land - the transformation of land for agricultural use into land for other uses - has a considerable impact on carbon sequestration and storage. In France, two thirds of the artificialization takes place at the expense of agriculture, while agricultural land represents only half of the territory.

It is necessary to integrate the spatial dimension by working at different scales, such as cities, small regions, countries, etc. Spatial planning policies produce useful results, even if they also have limits (imperfect control of scale effects, quantitative rather than qualitative approach, significant perverse effects due to their impact on land rents).

  • The comparison of Cambodia and Vietnam showed the impact of planning and land tenure systems that are privileged (low land control, titled private property and concessions in the first case -- high land control, certified user rights and priority to family agriculture until 2000 in the second case). On the border between the two countries, in both cases, forest agriculture was destroyed, but with different effects: setting up an agrarian system with a population density of only 5 inhabitants per km2 in Cambodia, while it is around 100 inhabitants/km2 in Vietnam.

  • In Vietnam, the government used land markets to enable the state to capitalize on land rents from land-use change in peri-urban areas.

It would be necessary to be able to plan both agriculture and urban development at the same time, in order to go beyond the asymmetry between urban and rural land markets.

The loss of agricultural land, often owned by small farmers, can be controlled through land use planning, but also through taxation. Bonus systems (e. g. for urban intensification) and malus systems (e. g. for the conversion of agricultural land) within the framework of development taxation can be effective. This taxation can be managed at the territorial or national level.

It is often very important to be able to create or strengthen intermediate territorial governance bodies. This goes hand in hand with the need to restore legitimacy to collective management, collective institutions, and local levels of governance, both in the North and the South. Local clientelism, favoured by decentralization, can have very negative effects on planning decisions. It is often preferable to locate the decision at levels involving the existence of counter-powers (e. g. intermunicipal rather than municipalities).

D. The 4‰ initiative can contribute to the improvement of public policies

1. Contribute to major changes that are required

It is impossible today to reflect on the 4‰ initiative policies, without referring to the long process of agricultural development in relation to capitalist development and industrialization, which has benefited from considerable public policies of funding and countless projects over decades. This has led to the massive destruction of peasant systems and the establishment of forms of agriculture that allow some actors to make a profit and accumulate rents, but that are neither efficient in terms of net wealth creation per unit area and employment nor sustainable. We can see today their dramatic effects on the environment. It is not only capitalist ideology that is at stake in the promotion of « modern agricultural models », it is an ideology that aims to free man from any dependence on nature, and that leads to the erasure of the commons in favour of individual appropriation and individual decisions in the short term. A change in the agricultural paradigm is not enough: to put an end to inconsistencies between policies, a radical change in the global economic system seems essential in the long term.

Public policies are the result of power relations. The 4‰ initiative can try to build the most viable institutions possible, value chains that would have positive impacts on carbon. An international initiative could also question political issues and have an effect in this way.

Relationships between trade policies and 4‰ initiative should be examined with particular care. Thus, the reduction in legumes and protein crops in rotations resulting from trade agreements between the USA and the European Community has had a significant impact on carbon sequestration in EU countries.

2. Improving the coherence of public policies

Inconsistencies between public policies are difficult to avoid, but some policies have totally irreversible effects in the medium term. Thus, the promotion of agrofuels in Europe has led to the disappearance of grasslands and livestock farming and it is not easy to turn back.

Public policies, and among them, land consolidation, have a direct impact on carbon sequestration. The first pillar of the CAP, with its subsidies per hectare, has promoted the increase of physical capital on farms. The logic changes with debt, and there are consequences on grown rent. In Denmark, changes in land regulation have led to a change in the structure of the land market. The price per hectare of agricultural land soared when other financial actors were allowed to intervene in agricultural land markets. Today, farmers who want to transfer their farms can no longer do so, and their retirement has become problematic. Investment dynamics, taxation of agricultural profits and carbon sequestration are clearly linked.

E. Implement appropriate evaluation processes

A first evaluation protocol was developed by the 4‰ Initiative’s Scientific Committee, but the roundtable speakers were not aware of its content until after the seminar. It incorporates a number of human rights and compliance requirements related to the UN Voluntary Guidelines on Land Governance. If these requirements are not met, the assessment process is interrupted and the project is rejected. This is positive, but still not enough. The logic is that of « due diligence », it is based on ethical or moral assessments, but does not seek to know in depth the indirect impacts and effects of a project or policy. The observations made during the workshop go beyond this: they provide elements for reasoning about indirect effects that allow for discussions on the merits and societal interest in projects or policies as a whole. In the spirit of the discussions that took place during the workshop, they constitute a new and important contribution to the pre-existing reflection.

Policies and projects must be able to be evaluated. The 4 ‰ initiative currently focuses on carbon sequestration at the plot level. This needs to be assessed, but it is completely insufficient. The scale of the farm, whether family or company, is not sufficient. Carbon valuation will be similar to financial valuation: we do not measure financial flows or stocks, but carbon flows or stocks.

It is also necessary to take into account the indirect effects, i.e. upstream suppliers, but also all competing economic actors downstream, which are most often forgotten, especially when it comes to small producers or farmers (illustration with an example in Morocco, with an irrigated agriculture project that fixes carbon where there was only steppe vegetation and grazing areas for sheep, but leads to migration to the slums of small farmers affected both by the scarcity of water downstream and the crisis of their livestock).

It is necessary to take into account the opportunity costs of the resources mobilized: in other words, estimate how much carbon has been lost. It is the same as for water, labour, capital, etc. The techniques used may exclude certain types of producers, who do not have access to credit to make the necessary investments, even when they are partially subsidised.

Very often, a « pre-project » situation is compared to a « post-project » situation, assuming that nothing would have changed if the project had not taken place. On the contrary, the situation « with project » should be compared with a « counterfactual » that explains what would have happened if the project, if the policy, had not been applied. These counterfactual scenarios must be modelled with the same care as the situation with a project.

  • Workshop participants discussed REDD+, a pay-for-results mechanism, and reference scenarios of what deforestation will be like. It is therefore based on a counterfactual, but its elaboration can also be scammed. In this context, one speaker proposed keeping the principle of pay-for-results for nations which would reward coherence between policies that have an impact on forests and on 4‰, instead of relying on counterfactuals that can be manipulated. But he immediately pointed out that, in any case, the problem did not arise at the moment because there was no money for these payments!

The assessment must therefore include both red lines and recommendations on land (due diligence), but also an analysis of changes in land situations and policies over a long period of time, in order to understand the impact of proposed policies or projects.

It was also pointed out that the evaluation could of course be carried out by including farmers, representatives of civil society, and not only « experts ».

IV. General conclusions

The participants recalled that the 4‰ initiative, which has neither money nor a labelling mechanism, is still a fragile vessel that needs to be strengthened. It must be a place for debate and discussion.

The 4‰ initiative should not be limited to a sum of small projects that would go nowhere. For the participants in the workshop, it has a transcendental character in that it recognizes the real nature of soils, a global commons. The implications for land analysis are considerable:

  • The exclusive and absolute ownership of soil is not compatible with the recognition of it as a commons, necessary for the survival of humanity. Ways must be found to ensure that human rights related to carbon sequestration are respected.

  • The recognition of the rights of communities so that governance systems can be set up at different levels, local, regional, national, pluri-national and global.

This involves various means, such as taxation, prohibitions on certain practices, regulation of different markets, etc.

The 4‰ initiative should contribute to policy evaluation, not just project evaluation. It can also help to move beyond the level of promoting voluntary guidelines at different scales, from local to global, towards binding measures whenever land, natural resources and climate governance are concerned.

The issue of carbon sequestration cannot be separated from other major issues. Just as there is a climate bomb, there is a bomb of underemployment, linked to the expulsion of peasants to the cities. For carbon sequestration as for these other major challenges, the question of land and agrarian systems are essential. We cannot understand recent changes and challenges without examining the economic issue of the remuneration of capital and labour, and the consequences of the development of finance, which is totally new because of its scale in human history. No attempt to solve those problems on the basis of free markets will ever work, when these markets concern things that have not been produced for being sold. That is why the question of the commons has once again become central.

Translated with the help of DeepL, www.DeepL.com/Translator, proofread by the author.