Agriculture, forests and climate change: can labelling play a part?

Agriculture, forests and climate change: can labelling play a part?

In the 2009 summit in Copenhagen, the international community agreed to mitigate climate change by assuring that global temperature will not increase more than 2°C between the pre-industrial period (1850) and 2100. The 2015 Paris Climate conference aims to determine the actions that each country shall implement to attain these goals. Parallel to this, the most recent report by the GIEC restates that greenhouse gas emissions from anthropogenic sources are one of the most significant causes of climate change and that twenty-four percent of these would come from the AFOLU (Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use) sector.

Above and beyond its direct contribution to climate change, this sector, and more specifically, its agents (i.e. the people who work in agriculture and forestry) are at the centre of the debate on adaptation to climate change. For it is they who are hit hardest by climactic disruptions, which can mean increases in the occurrence of shocks just as much as increases in their intensity. To cite just one example, droughts and floods create insurance issues in countries in which agricultural risk management is based on crop diversification and peer networks—two mechanisms that become ineffective in the case of natural catastrophe.

In such a context, a question emerges: out of the tools already at hand, can eco-labels used in the agriculture, forestry, and food industries help fulfill climate change goals? Many economists consider greenhouse gas emissions to be negative externalities of production, consumption, and exchange. Environmental regulation usually makes recourse to two types of tools: legal ones, which can mean banning the use of certain pollutants, and "market-based" ones, which can mean altering the incentives to pollute by taxing greenhouse gas emissions, for example. Implementation of such regulatory methods is difficult and costly, however, especially when the issues are collective and extend beyond national jurisdictions.

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