The climate crisis and the Earth

The climate crisis and the Earth

By Shalmali Guttal and Sofía Monsalve

Land, forests and water must be protected as common social wealth and security of tenure of resources must be guaranteed to small farmers, fishermen, transhumant pastoralists and indigenous communities, through a comprehensive agrarian reform. . In this way it will be possible to control global warming, achieve food sovereignty and reduce the anguished rural migration to urban areas.

When we talk about the climate change crisis, we generally refer to recent and future alterations of the planet's climate systems that can be attributed to human activities (1). At the forefront of these activities we find the burning of fossil fuels, the exploitation of natural resources and the production and consumption of energy and industrial goods. All of these sectors are major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG). The irrepressible warming of the global climate resulting from the increase in GHG concentrations in the atmosphere, has already caused distortions in the weather conditions in the four seasons and in the patterns of precipitation, as well as the melting of glaciers, changes in the cycles hydrological conditions and increased incidence of extreme weather events, with serious consequences for ecosystems, agricultural production, food security and the security of water supply and access, and for the livelihoods of poor urban and rural communities around the world .

Land and water are central elements of the climate crisis. Industrialization and economic growth are highly dependent on the exploitation of land and water, and their grabbing to serve energy production, mining, industry, agriculture, technology parks, tourism, recreation and urban expansion continues unabated in all parts of the world. Changes in land cover and changes in land use are humanity's oldest global impacts and have produced significant changes in the amount of carbon that is stored and released into the atmosphere. Forests and wetlands store more carbon than grasslands, which, in turn, store more carbon than crops. The world's natural forests, savannas and wetlands have long contributed to maintaining balance in the carbon cycle, but their conversion to other uses has severely reduced this crucial service of these ecosystems. Studies, including those of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), show that land use and changes in land use are responsible for more than 30 percent of GHG emissions. that trap heat in Earth's atmosphere and cause global warming.

Plants, animal species and marine life are threatened or disappearing at an unprecedented rate due to the combined effects of global warming and industrial exploitation. Life as a whole is in danger due to the decrease in the availability of fresh water resources. There are already more than a billion people who live without access to safe drinking water and more than a million people - most of them children - die each year from diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery and cholera, which are related to the lack of proper hygiene and safe drinking water.

IPCC assessments indicate that, globally, the negative impacts of climate change on freshwater systems are projected to be enormous. Projections indicate that from 2050, the area of ​​land subjected to increasing water stress will double or more. Increased intensity and variability of rainfall are expected to increase the risks of floods and droughts in many areas and negatively affect the recharge of groundwater aquifers, thus reducing the water reserves of the water tables. Due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, droughts have been occurring more frequently since 1970. Changes in water quantity and quality due to climate change are expected to lead to a decrease in the availability of food and water. an increased vulnerability of poor rural communities, especially in the arid and semi-arid tropics, and in the mega-deltas of Asia and Africa. The rise in sea levels is also expected, which will modify the life of coastal communities, generating greater displacement within countries and between countries -particularly in Asia and Africa- and will unleash new conflicts over land and water. .

The destruction caused by global warming goes beyond the physical. The unpredictable and constantly changing weather conditions call into question the knowledge and local resilience that have been the basis of a good management of agriculture and ecosystems in co-production with nature, which will have to be rebuilt anew to adjust to the new climatic conditions . In the transition period, however, rural communities are likely to become more vulnerable and dependent on external inputs and techniques, and lose their precious local knowledge about food, medicinal plants, soils and coastal management, protection of forests and biodiversity, etc.

Industrial agriculture

Agriculture and fisheries are extremely vulnerable to climate change. Today, 75 percent of the world's poor live in rural areas in developing countries and depend on smallholder family farming, artisanal fishing, and transhumant herding. Regardless of regional variations, climate change is expected to have negative impacts on these communities. While huge areas in Russia, Canada and China are projected to be turned into cropland, in tropical and semi-tropical regions climate change is likely to lead to a significant decline in agricultural production yields, accelerate the degradation of cropland and the coastline, increase desertification and cause the displacement of millions of small rural smallholders.

Agriculture and other sectors whose activity is based on land use are also large anthropogenic GHG emitters globally: agriculture accounts for around 13.5 percent of emissions, although, counting transport, processing and the distribution of agricultural products, this figure increases considerably; changes in land use and forestry account for 17.4 percent (2), and deforestation is responsible for 25 to 30 percent of global GHG emissions (3), although recent research shows that the contribution Combined emissions from deforestation and forest and peatland degradation account for about 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a share similar to that of the transport sector (4). Agricultural land occupies between 40 and 50 percent of the total continental surface of the planet and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions and between 50 and 55 percent of emissions methane (CH4) (5). Livestock production accounts for 70 percent of agricultural land use and crops for fodder and animal feed account for 33 percent of total arable land. An FAO report estimates that GHG emissions from commercial forage crops and animal feed, the transport of these foods and animal products, enteric fermentation, and CH4 and N2O emissions from animal manure are responsible for 18 percent of GHG emissions (FAO, 2006). Studies indicate that anthropogenic GHG emissions from agriculture are increasing due to the increasing use of nitrogen fertilizers and the raising of increasing numbers of animals, particularly cattle. Urban infrastructure, landfills, waste disposal, sanitation, and biomass burning are other important sources of GHG emissions.

However, not all agriculture accelerates global warming. According to the International Assessment of the Role of Knowledge, Science and Technology in Agricultural Development (IAASTD, 2009), the highest intensity of emissions from the agricultural sector is associated with industrial agriculture and intensive monocultures, which include crop production commercial, food and bioenergetics on a medium and large scale and with intensive use of chemicals, plantations (of tree monocultures) and industrial animal husbandry. This resource-intensive agriculture reshapes the way land and water are used, and has complex, multidimensional impacts on forests, ecosystems, watersheds, climate, food security and livelihoods.

Agricultural soils are both sources and sinks of carbon. In humid tropical forest regions, global trade and intensifying market economies are driving the destruction of forests to make way for industrial crops and pastures for the livestock industry. Brazil suffered a deforestation of 93,700 km2 between 2001 and 2004, largely due to the growth in world demand for soybeans and beef. The Brazilian biome known as Cerrado - an area of ​​drylands, which has been recognized as one of the places of great biodiversity at high risk - is particularly threatened. More than 50 percent of the Cerrado has been transformed to make way for intensive agriculture and livestock production. Similarly, Southeast Asia lost 23,000 km2 of forest between 1990 and 2000 to logging and agricultural expansion. Four-fifths of Indonesian rainforests have disappeared since the 1960s, mostly at the hands of oil palm, rubber, and other monoculture cultivation. In Sumatra, Kalimantan and Papua, the pace of deforestation is estimated to translate into the loss of 400 football fields per day, the highest rate of deforestation in the world.

Industrial agriculture and monocultures destroy the natural processes that are necessary to store carbon in organic matter in the soil, and replace them with processes based on chemical fertilizers and phytosanitary products whose production requires large amounts of fossil fuel. They also destroy important landscape features such as hedges, groves, water catchments, rows of trees or shrubs, small natural forests, and other natural habitats that provide crucial ecosystem services, such as aquifer and watershed recharge. , retention of soil nutrients and carbon storage.

Land grabbing

In developing countries, the daily food needs of most rural families are met primarily through localized production and gathering activities carried out by women. The depletion of natural resources undermines women's knowledge of the traditional uses of wild plants such as food, fodder and medicine, increasing their workload in meeting the food and health needs of their families. The intensive use of chemical fertilizers and phytosanitary (pesticides, herbicides and fungicides) wreaks havoc on biodiversity, pollutes soils, rivers and waterways, groundwater sources and springs, and seriously affects the health of communities and ecosystems. When wild food sources are destroyed, rivers and wells are poisoned, and fish and small marine fauna disappear, rural communities are left with virtually no sources of food and water.

The substitution of smallholder farmers' food crops for industrial agriculture and the transformation of forests for that use exacerbate inequality of access to land and natural resources among communities and between men and women, especially in the case of the bioenergy crops and other high-value cash crops. As forests and farmland are expropriated for the establishment of industrial agribusinesses and plantations, local communities are being cornered into smaller and less fertile plots, and forced to rely on a smaller resource base to meet their needs. of food and income. Fresh water reserves are monopolized and in some cases depleted, creating and exacerbating water scarcity. This has sparked water conflicts among local populations, in particular between peasants, fishermen and indigenous communities who are deprived of their rights to water. The rights of indigenous peoples to the control, use, administration and preservation of their ancestral lands are particularly affected. The aggressive policy of buying more and more land by the wealthy has multiplied land prices and generated thriving land markets in which impoverished small farmers are easy prey for speculation and middlemen.

Families that are displaced or evicted from their land have no choice but to move to forested or mountainous areas, and clear new land for cultivation. There they compete with other communities that inhabited these areas before, for access to an increasingly narrow resource base. Large-scale commercial plantations attract migrant populations - often populations that were displaced from elsewhere - to work as wage labor, usually for meager wages. The infrastructure created at the service of industrial agriculture - such as roads, transportation, electrification, etc. - promotes urbanization and facilitates the penetration of market forces in all areas of the ecosystem.

The global food and financial crises have transformed agricultural land and infrastructure for agricultural production into high-value strategic assets. Rich countries that cannot meet their food needs through domestic production - for example, Japan, South Korea, China, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Libya and Saudi Arabia - are acquiring huge tracts of farmland (and the sources of water they contain) through long-term lease contracts in Asia, Africa and Latin America, with the purpose of guaranteeing food to their own populations and raw materials to their agri-food industries. At the same time, agribusiness companies and finance companies such as Morgan Stanley, AIG, Deutche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Renaissance Capital and Landkom, have also acquired land (and water resources) in the South, to ensure returns on future investments. For troubled funders, land, water, and agricultural infrastructure are relatively safe havens: With climate change, a growing world population, and anticipated food shortages, securing control of the future food supply promises to be an extremely profitable business.

These land deals undermine biodiversity, human and environmental health, and the ability of societies to secure their food on their own. Even if it is the States that acquire farmland, they outsource the actual production of food to agribusiness companies and the agri-food industry. Private companies that acquire land tend to invest in the crops that give the most profit: soybeans, wheat, corn and other bioenergy crops. Rural communities not only lose access to local sources of food, water and medicine and income, small farms with diverse peasant and family agriculture, forests, open pastures and other common goods that are monopolized for industrial production also disappear. huge tracts of agricultural monocultures that perpetuate ecologically destructive production practices, increase GHG emissions and accelerate global warming.

Profiting from the crisis

Market instruments, such as emissions trading and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), have been promoted through the Kyoto Protocol and by various international agencies as tools to face the climate crisis. Through these mechanisms, Northern countries and their companies (responsible for the bulk of GHG emissions) can buy "emission rights" from Southern countries that have lower levels of industrialization, and finance carbon sinks (including tree plantations ) and "sustainable development" projects in the South, as a lucrative alternative to reducing emissions in the North. The World Bank has aggressively assumed leadership of 'carbon finance' programs, including through the Prototype Carbon Fund, the Carbon Funds for Community Development, the BioCarbon Fund, the Umbrella Carbon Fund and the Cooperative Fund for Forest Carbon. Many of these programs claim that they reduce GHG emissions from deforestation in developing countries by selling carbon credits from forests on the international emissions market. On November 3, the World Bank signed an agreement with the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project to purchase soil carbon credits from Kenyan farmers through the BioCarbon Fund (6).

Notable among forest carbon initiatives is the United Nations' program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), which apparently aims to reward governments and forest owners in countries in development to protect forests and not cut them down, thus reducing GHG emissions. The World Bank actively supports the REDD initiative, as well as various international environmental conservation agencies and private carbon trading companies. Critics of REDD point out that the United Nations definition of forests does not distinguish between forests and tree plantations, thus leaving the door open for private investors and governments to convert forests into tree plantations, and also to be paid for do what.

REDD has serious consequences for indigenous peoples, rural communities, forests and biodiversity. One particularly contentious issue is that of tenure. Whose forests are they? And who should be rewarded for protecting them and not cutting them down? Despite the euphemistic language adopted, projects for the "conservation and sustainable management of forests" frequently involve the eviction of local communities from forested areas and the authorization of commercial logging in certain stretches of forests; Furthermore, "enhancing forest carbon stocks" can include industrial tree plantations that reduce environmental quality in numerous ways.

Governments in the South commonly claim ownership of all resources in their sovereign territories and make deals where they can make the most profit, be it through REDD programs, or with logging, energy or mining or agribusiness companies. The demands of rural communities, including those of indigenous peoples, who demand the use and decision-making power over the forests they have managed and cared for for so long, are not recognized by governments or the environmental conservation industry.

REDD does not respect some crucial human rights instruments such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or the concept of the right to free, prior and informed consent. Indigenous peoples and other rural communities fear that REDD and the initiatives associated with the program will encourage land grabs and provide new incentives for governments and large landowners to apply a "pay-or-go" approach to every hectare of forest that they have succeeded in taking out the indigenous peoples and the landless peasants. In both REDD and CDM projects, lands, watersheds and forests are valued more in economic and monetary terms than in terms of the diversity of life they support.

To date, however, none of these programs have achieved a substantial net reduction in GHG emissions, nor have they stopped deforestation. On the contrary, the climate has been 'financialized' and the lands and forests are being economically manipulated to allow investors to profit from the climate crisis. Large infrastructure, energy and industrial projects, often of dubious environmental quality, can secure international financing, while rich countries gain access to plentiful cheap "carbon credits" that help them avoid adopting painful emission reductions in their own territories. Equally important, trading carbon from forests and soils will not reduce global warming, but rather will create greater incentives and opportunities for the commodification of forests in international carbon markets. Bubbles and instability in these markets can leave precious natural resources exposed and vulnerable to market risks, since any price drop can mean perverse incentives to remove legal protections from forests.

Another supposedly widely praised panacea against global warming is biofuels. Governments and agribusiness companies continue to promote them as environmentally benign and as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, without comprehensively evaluating their social, economic and environmental costs. The production of agrofuels - for example, the monocultures of corn, sugar cane, oil palm, soybeans and jatropha - implies a restructuring of land use, the displacement and dispossession of rural communities of their sources of livelihood, the expansion of the frontier of industrial agriculture at the cost of forests and native ecosystems, water pollution and greater soil degradation. It also means stopping the production of food on valuable farmland and dedicating it to energy crops, which are acquired by domestic and foreign companies, often in violation of customary land governance rules and national environmental laws.

The production of biofuels is stimulated by financial incentives that the States grant to the private sector to maintain high consumption lifestyles, despite the costs that this generates in communities and environments in other parts of the world. For example, the United States, the European Union (EU) and other OECD countries have established mandatory targets and financial support to promote the production of first and second generation agrofuels (7). They are also investing heavily in biofuel research and experimentation, including the development and testing of genetically modified crops and trees. The EU has set a binding target of replacing 20 percent of fossil fuels and 10 percent of transportation fuel with biomass, hydroelectric, wind and solar power by 2020.

As rich countries meet their “clean” energy goals, hundreds of millions of peasants and small farmers, transhumant pastoralists, and indigenous peoples are driven from the lands and forests on which they depend for their survival. All the lands that are targeted or that have already passed into the hands of large companies are lands that local communities already used in one way or another. Governments and companies may argue that many non-forested lands that have been converted to agrofuel plantations are "barren lands" or "marginal lands" that should be applied to productive use. In reality, however, it is very likely that these Land has been used collectively in a community or according to traditional customs and customs and customary norms for many generations, and is crucial to the livelihood of local communities. Women, the world's main food producers, are the more likely to work in so-called "marginal lands", due to historical-traditional gender discrimination, and are therefore more easily deprived of their lands than men.

The shift from use of arable land and forests (degraded or not) to commercial biofuel production has severe consequences for peoples and individuals who already spend more than half of their income on food. The global food crisis is due, at least in part, to the vertiginous race for agrofuels and the production of fodder and animal feed. Recent studies show that the replacement of native ecosystems by biofuel plantations will have the effect of increasing global warming, rather than mitigating it. The carbon released in the clearing and conversion of humid forests, peatlands, savannas or grasslands exceeds the "carbon savings" derived from agrofuels. For example, conversion processes to produce corn or sugar cane for ethanol, or oil palm or soybeans for biodiesel release between 17 and 420 times more carbon than the annual savings derived from substituting fossil fuels. Scientific studies further show that not all biofuels are "clean" or "efficient sources of energy. Many ethanol biofuels have been shown to be significantly less" efficient "than other fuels, measured per unit of energy produced. Crop production for biofuels (particularly in the case of ethanol) and the fuel itself are processes with intensive use of chemicals, water and even fossil fuels, which pollute the land, soil and water, and destroy natural and agricultural biodiversity.

The defense of the land, common goods, territories and dignity

Official discussions on climate change and hunger tend to lean toward technological and market solutions, rather than targeting structural socio-political problems, such as landless peasants, high concentration of agricultural land ownership and water, and the industrial modes of production and consumption that are at the heart of the crises. Climate and food crises have been transformed into profit-making business opportunities, and land, water, and other natural resources are being monetized, re-evaluated, and exploited like never before.

Profits from industrial agriculture provide large short-term profits to big companies, wealthy investors and the wealthy classes, in contrast to agroecological peasant agriculture, whose profits go mostly to local communities, society as a whole and future generations. Research shows that smallholders on smallholder family farms produce more than two-thirds of the staple foods in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Through localized gathering, cultivation, fishing, grazing and processing activities, smallholder production is the primary source of a wide variety of foods for low-income families in rural and urban areas. Research also indicates that small farms, especially those based on traditional poly-crops, are much more productive than large farms in terms of their total productivity, including grains, fibers, fruits, vegetables, forage, and produce. animals, all of them harvested in the same fields or orchards.

Smallholder smallholder polyculture typically uses land, water, biodiversity, energy, and other agricultural resources much more efficiently than industrial agriculture and monocultures, and is much less polluting and much more climate-friendly. It provides vital ecosystem services and has great potential for carbon storage in biomass, both that which grows on the ground and in the subsoil. In terms of converting the planet's natural wealth into "products," society makes much more profit from smallholder smallholder producers than from agribusiness companies and agrochemical industry operations.

La mayoría de los modelos del cambio climático prevén que los daños afectarán desproporcionadamente a las regiones pobladas por pequeños agricultores, especialmente a aquellos que hacen agricultura sin riego y que dependen de las lluvias en el Sur. Al mismo tiempo, las prácticas de cultivo diversificadas de los agroecosistemas tradicionales los hacen menos vulnerables a las pérdidas masivas de cosechas cuando hay desastres naturales. El conocimiento y las tecnologías tradicionales que aplican los pequeños agricultores, campesinos, pastores trashumantes, pescadores y comunidades indígenas constituyen un verdadero almacén de enseñanzas y lecciones de capacidad de adaptación y resiliencia a los fenómenos del tiempo y el cambio climático. Estas capacidades y conocimientos se verán afectados en gran medida, y hasta pueden perderse completamente, si el proceso de conversión del uso de la tierra continúa al ritmo actual.

Los esfuerzos mundiales para reducir las emisiones de GEI no pueden darse el lujo de seguir la lógica continuista de “negocios como siempre”, ni basarse en los artilugios de la tecnología o las iniciativas de mercado. La decisión recientemente adoptada por los gobiernos en la décima Conferencia de las Partes del Convenio sobre Diversidad Biológica celebrada en Nagoya, Japón, que estableció que ante la ausencia de mecanismos regulatorios efectivos y en aplicación del enfoque precautorio, no se debe realizar ninguna actividad de geo ingeniería relacionada con el clima que pueda afectar la biodiversidad, es un paso a saludar en este sentido.

Es urgente desmantelar el control de la tierra, los bosques y las fuentes de agua en manos de grandes empresas, y los Estados y las sociedades deben reconocer los derechos fundamentales de las poblaciones locales a gobernar y velar por los bienes comunes. La tierra, los bosques y el agua deben ser protegidos como riqueza social común y se debe garantizar la seguridad de la tenencia de los recursos a los pequeños agricultores, los pescadores, los pastores trashumantes y las comunidades indígenas, a través de una reforma agraria integral. De esta forma se podrá controlar el calentamiento global, alcanzar la soberanía alimentaria y reducir la angustiosa emigración rural hacia las zonas urbanas.

Artículo escrito por Shalmali guttal Y Sofía Monsalve, con aportes de Mary Ann Manahan Y Rebecca Leonard. Shalmali Guttal es miembro de Focus on the Global South y Sofía Monsalve es la coordinadora de los temas de la tierra de FIAN International. Rebecca Leonard y Mary Ann Manahan son investigadoras que trabajan con Focus on the Global South.


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(1) De acuerdo a la Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático, “cambio climático significa un cambio de clima que es atribuido directa o indirectamente a la actividad humana que altera la composición de la atmósfera mundial y que se agrega a la variabilidad climática observada en períodos de tiempo comparables (Artículo 1(2) CMNUCC).

(2) Cuarto Informe de Evaluación del PICC, 2007, Ginebra, Suiza.


(4) Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, entrada de Wikipedia,…, página visita el 18 de marzo de 2011.

(5)… y…


(7) La primera generación de agrocombustibles está integrada principalmente por el etanol obtenido a partir de granos, cultivos azucareros y biodiesel proveniente de semillas oleaginosas (como la palma aceitera y la jatrofa) o de aceite de cocina reciclado. La segunda generación de agrocombustibles se hace principalmente a partir de materiales ligno-celulósicos como la madera y la paja.

Video: How Earths Geography Will Change With Climate Change (August 2021).