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TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Apr16/02)
6 April 2016
Third World Network

Dear Friends and Colleagues

Agribusiness Corporations Leave Heavy Hidden Carbon Footprints

Between 19% and 29% of global emissions are associated with food production. A briefing paper by Global Justice Now looks at the real climate impact of agribusiness multinationals, concluding that they are part of the problem, not the solution.

Three different industries within the food production sector have very significant emissions, both direct and indirect. These are animal feed production, fertiliser production and the raising of beef cattle. Cows emit significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, as a part of their digestion process, while fertilisers are a major source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 298 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

Most agribusiness companies have gotten away with underestimating their true impact because they only declare their direct emissions. Many emissions, however, are not direct, but arise from the end use of their products or from their supply chains. By examining the true climate impacts of Cargill, Yara and Tyson, which are amongst the world’s biggest firms in the cattle feed, nitrous fertiliser and beef industries, respectively, the paper shows that the hidden emissions of these corporations can be five to eight times greater than their official declared emission figures.

The paper recommends the following: (1) The mandatory carbon reporting of indirect emissions across agri-corporate supply chains is required to ensure greater transparency and comparability; (2) Climate smart agriculture, as promoted by business-led coalitions, must be abandoned as a false solution to the problem of agricultural emissions; and (3) More support for food sovereignty and agroecology must be given. Promoting food sovereignty, which revolves around placing control over food systems within local communities, would also serve to displace the influence of agricultural corporations with high carbon footprints.

The abstract and conclusion and recommendations of the paper are reproduced below. The full paper can be accessed at http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/resources/silent-deadly-estimating-real-climate-impact-agribusiness-corporations

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SILENT BUT DEADLY - ESTIMATING THE REAL CLIMATE IMPACT OF AGRIBUSINESS CORPORATIONS

Global Justice Now

http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/resources/silent-deadly-estimating-real-climate-impact-agribusiness-corporations

Abstract

The agribusiness industry presents itself as part of the solution to climate change. The major firms spend significant sums to promote the message that corporate, industrial agriculture is compatible with fighting climate change. But they are wrong. This report demonstrates that multinational agribusiness companies are part of the problem, not the solution, by revealing the true extent of their overall contribution to dangerous climate change. So far, most agribusiness companies have got away with underestimating their true impact because they only declare their direct emissions. Many emissions are not direct, but arise from the end use of their products or from their supply chains. These hidden emissions tend not to be disclosed in company reports but it is possible to estimate them by extrapolating from existing public data. In Silent but Deadly, we have used this information to estimate the real climate impact of three companies: Cargill, Yara and Tyson, which are amongs t the world’s biggest firms in the cattle feed, nitrous fertiliser and beef industries respectively.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Agribusiness companies cannot be allowed to present themselves as part of the solution to climate change when they are in fact a serious part of the problem. As this paper has shown, the declared emissions of multinational beef, animal feed and fertiliser companies are likely to be significant underestimates of the wider impact of these companies’ activities arising from their supply chains and from the end use of their products. Until there is greater transparency and comparability in the reporting of scope 3 emissions, it will be impossible to ascertain the accurate carbon footprint of companies like Yara, Cargill and Tyson.

Mandatory carbon reporting of scope 3 emissionsis, for this reason, vital. There is an urgent need for companies with large supply chain or downstream carbon impacts to be held to account for their share of responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. Any such mandatory scope 3 reporting regime must be broad enough to reveal the full carbon impact of a given company. Companies must be forced to take some level of responsibility for emissions across their supply chains. But transparency is not enough. The level of control that a small number of powerful multinationals have over agribusiness sectors such as fertilisers, seeds and pesticides is dangerous, as it allows these firms to have a disproportionate influence and control over food systems. The rebranding of unsustainable agricultural practices as climate smart agriculture is one symptom of the corporate control of food that could be disastrous for the climate.

Climate smart agriculture must be abandoned as a false solution to the problem of agricultural emissions. Public and civil society organisations should refrain from participation in business-led coalitions such as the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture that include multinationals seeking to present business as usual methods as sustainable. Instead, we need more investment in real alternatives that have been proven to reduce emissions.

More support for food sovereignty and agroecology is vitally needed. While far less lucrative than the industrial, chemical-intensive methods used by the agribusiness industry, agroecology has been shown to increase crop yields by up to 73% without the environmental costs of traditional intensive agriculture. Promoting food sovereignty, which revolves around placing control over food systems within local communities, would also serve to displace the influence of agricultural corporations with high carbon footprints.

 


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