Climate and agricultural policies aimed at bolstering carbon markets will fail to curb planet-heating emissions while enabling powerful agribusiness corporations to greenwash their polluting operations and augment their control over the food system, according to Agricultural Carbon Markets, Payments, and Data: Big Ag's Latest Power Grab report, published by Friends of the Earth and the Open Markets Institute, an anti-monopoly think tank.
The report warns that U.S. lawmakers from both major parties have embraced a "market-based" approach—centered around the buying and selling of so-called "carbon offset" credits generated through minor tweaks to industrial monoculture production—that is likely to tighten Big Ag's chemical-intensive stranglehold on the food system and disenfranchise small-scale farmers, all while failing to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
As the report explains: "The idea begins with granting credits to farmers who adopt certain practices, such as planting more trees and cover crops, that are supposed to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Farmers then receive compensation for their efforts by selling these credits to other entities, typically large corporations. These corporations, in turn, use their purchases of such credits to justify claims of environmental responsibility."
Though these corporations "may still be emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, they claim to have 'offset' these emissions by paying others to pollute less or actively sequester carbon, often to the point of asserting that they now have a 'net-zero' climate impact," states the report.
Despite mounting evidence of the ineffective or counterproductive nature of 'net-zero' commitments, one-fifth of the world's biggest corporations have made them, meaning that demand for carbon offsets is growing, the report notes.
A recent investigation revealed that 94% of the rainforest carbon offsets sold by a leading market player provided no measurable climate benefits, casting further doubt on the very notions of 'net-zero' and 'carbon neutrality' that corporations promote in a bid to maintain or expand their own polluting activities while portraying themselves as green.
"Carbon markets have become a top strategy for agriculture and climate, despite a history of fraud, failure to reduce emissions, and corporate greenwashing," report co-author Jason Davidson, senior food and agriculture campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. "Such corporate schemes will strengthen the power of the largest agribusinesses, hand over private farm data, and fail to address the climate crisis."
Report co-author Claire Kelloway, food program director for the Open Markets Institute explained, "Corporations are designed to serve their investors, not the public, and that's exactly what these carbon offsetting schemes will do by locking farmers into their networks, protecting product sales, and stalling meaningful regulation."