IFOAM is promoting the organic alternative in the UN climate negotiations (UNFCCC) as the most effective and readily available option for taking urgent international action on global warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that soil carbon sequestration accounts for 90% of all the technically possible ways that the agriculture sector can contribute to mitigating global warming. Organic agriculture is recognized by FAO as being one of the most effective systems for capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Studies show that on average organic farms sequester 2,200 kg of CO2 per hectare per year in the soil.
To limit global temperature rise to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels as internationally agreed to avoid catastrophic climate change annual global GHG emissions must not exceed 44 Gt CO2e. Scientists however estimate that the global community will exceed this target by an estimated 8 Gt CO2e in 2020 and in response the UNFCCC are now identifying mitigation options to help close this gap. Organic agriculture can close this gap. IFOAM estimates that if developing country signatories to the UNFCCC in return for climate finance, agree to implement organic practices on their agricultural land, the combined mitigation effort once fully implemented would be almost 7 GT of CO2 per year.
Agricultural management practices required for mitigation are often the same as those needed to increase productivity, food security and adaptation to climate change. When global soil carbon and hunger maps are overlaid the potential of organic agriculture to simultaneously reduce global warming and address food security becomes very clear. Countries or regions with large food insecure populations generally also have the largest soil carbon-gaps, which result in low-yield production and increased climate vulnerability. This is supported by the IPCC estimate that 74% of the technical mitigation potential in agriculture is located in developing countries where almost all of the worlds 1 billion hungry live.
Closing the mitigation gap using organic practices would therefore significantly help close the global resilience and hunger gaps and unleash huge food security ‘co-benefits’. The livelihoods and food security of the world’s most vulnerable people would be significantly strengthened through the regeneration of degraded lands, increased resilience to drought and storms and much improved soil fertility.
The effectiveness of organic practices in improving food security, livelihoods and resilience in harsh climates are well documented. The 2008 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study on ‘Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa’ recognized the effectiveness of training farmers in the use of basic organic practices in drought prone regions of Africa. Their study revealed that the adoption of organic practices lead to average crop yield increases of 116 per cent. FAO’s climate change policy brief at CoP15 also recognized that organic agriculture ‘’increases soil fertility, water retention and the structure of soils, leading to better yields and greater resilience’’.
UNFCCC policy instruments already exist that could provide a convenient mechanism for developing countries to commit soil carbon sequestration based mitigation actions. The IFOAM climate campaign is therefore encouraging national governments to include ‘high sequestration, low emission, food secure farming’ practices in their Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) in addition to any formal agreements at the international level to support the use of organic practices to help close the pre 2020 mitigation gap and beyond.