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No getting off the carbon reduction train

Farmers might be able to sway government but Mr. Market is speaking loud and clear

Climate change initiatives such as carbon taxes might elicit a lot of negativity in the Canadian agriculture sector.

But ignoring them could also mean ignoring big opportunities, according to Alastair Handley, president of Radicle (formerly Carbon Credit Solutions).

He’s been involved in carbon markets since 2007, when he started developing a system for Alberta farmers to create credits for the Alberta carbon market. And he says love it or hate it, climate action is here to stay.

“I speak to many people who think that climate change isn’t real or they don’t think we should be participating in this and I respect that opinion,” said Handley.

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“But the opinion of society and the opinion of the corporations are driving this change. So whether you like it or whether you love it really doesn’t matter.”

Handley describes the move to a lower-carbon future as “absolutely racing along” and says he has seen no signs that it’s going to slow or reverse. Corporations — driven by consumers — are seeking to build sustainable supply chains.

“Organizations are creating new commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and new commitments to sustainability initiatives,” he told the virtual Farm Forum Event earlier this winter. “These are going to impact you.”

So while the recent spate of press columns decrying the carbon tax and its unfair impact on farmers and sustained lobbying might soften the government impact on the sector, it’s not going to change whether or not farmers are expected to climb on board by their customers.

Handley’s advice is to embrace the change and get paid for it. Carbon markets are one way to achieve that.

“In Canada we’ve been fortunate and can actually generate revenue streams for implementing sustainable agricultural practices,” says Handley. “Producers in Alberta have generated over $100 million in revenue through the carbon market. And it’s not just Alberta. These carbon markets are global in nature and they’re growing.”

Handley said global carbon markets were valued at approximately US$82 billion in 2019 and they’re expected to grow to US$157 billion by 2030 and US$300 billion by 2050.

“These markets are here to stay,” Handley said.

Because Canada has carbon markets in different provinces along with the federal government’s carbon tax and the federal government’s carbon market, it creates a unique situation. This is important for the agricultural sector because Ottawa is developing protocols that will set the standard for how these credits are created. “It’s like a recipe for quantifying emission reduction,” explains Handley.

The federal government has prioritized three areas for credit development in Canada: agriculture, forestry and waste. Some of the agricultural protocols under consideration include soil enhancement, manure management and nitrogen management. Of course there will be challenges associated with all of these protocols, which raises the question of what a producer needs to do to be able to participate in any given protocol.

“We talk about M-R-V – Measure, Report and Verify,” Handley said. “It’s not easy, but it is doable.”

He acknowledges producers have a lot of other things to worry about, like running their farms and remaining profitable.

“Now you’ve got people coming down and knocking on your door saying, ‘you actually need to do more. I need you to demonstrate to me that you grew that canola in a sustainable manner. I want to know how much carbon dioxide was emitted when you were growing your crop.’”

Handley said farmers don’t have time to do that, and it’s not something they should be asked to do for free.

This is where companies like Radicle come in.

“We do a lot of that heavy lifting,” says Handley. “It’s about coming in, educating people with respect to what’s required and then helping them take that data and convert it into a revenue stream.

“People are asking huge things of the sector,” says Handley. “They’re asking you to help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and at the same time increase productivity so we can feed the nine billion people who are expected to be on the planet by 2050.”

It’s a huge challenge, but Handley thinks it is possible and the markets and initiatives that are trying to reward farmers for embracing sustainable agriculture will play a role.

“I only hope that you have the opportunity to participate in them in the future,” he said.

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