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Book Rev|ew
Mike Robbins, Earthscan, 2011, 300 pages, ISBN: 978-1-84971-375-7 (hbk).
The front cover of this book comes with two key words: crops and carbon. What do they
mean? The answer lies in the book`s subtitle: 'paying farmers to combat climate change.¨
The question then will be: Why and how it is possible, and more importantly, is it ethical?
The author attempts to answer these and related questions by exploring practical possibilities.
The book is divided into ten chapters. It commences by looking into what climate
change is, what it does to agriculture, and how agriculture can contribute to climate change
mitigation. The introductory chapter starts with a humble statement of probability that the
'climate appears to be changing due to human activity¨ (p.1). More firm position on the issue
is held by scholars who perceive that we are living in the age of climate change. For example,
the multi-disciplinary body tasked with climate change assessment, the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for one, asserts that the warming of the climate system is
unequivocal (IPCC 2007). It defined climate change as a variation in the mean state of the
climate persisting for an extended period (typically decades or longer) and resulting from
anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
The main atmospheric Greenhouse Gasses (GhGs) include carbon dioxide (CO
), methane
), nitrous oxide (N
O). When these gases are ranked by their direct contribution to
greenhouse effect, the most important are CO
accounting for 77%, CH
for 14% and N
O for
8% of GhGs. GhG emissions can also be broken down by the economic activities that lead to
their production (IPCC 2007): energy supply (26%), industry (19%), land use, land-use change,
and forestry (17%), agriculture (14%), transportation (13%) and waste and wastewater (3%).
Agriculture, in a wider sense to include land use, is responsible for both the emission and
sequestration of GhGs. According to FAO (2011), 'agriculture causes approximately one-third
of global GhGs when direct energy use, emissions from livestock, the production of fertilizers,
pesticides, machinery and equipment as well as soil degradation and land-use change for feed
production are taken into account.¨ This makes the sector both a cause as well as the remedy
for climate change.
The two key responses to deal with the problems of climate change are mitigation and
adaptation. Mitigation actions attempt to reduce GhGs from the atmosphere while adaptation
measures enable communities to cope with the impacts of climate change. The dividing line
between the two is not often clear as mitigation actions reinforce adaptation while good
adaptation measures contribute to the mitigation of climate change.
The book at hand focuses on mitigation. Some of the mitigation measures include
mechanisms linked to forests, namely, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest
Degradation (REDD) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Both emerge from the
Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Reducing CO
through agricultural sinks has not progressed both
in Kyoto Protocol I and its extension from 2013 to 2020 (Kyoto II). The author argues that
agriculture could, with improved management practices, absorb significant amount of CO

as soil carbon, and that farmers in the developing world might in some way benefit from its
value as a mitigation strategy for climate change¨(p.1).
Agricultural activities to mitigate emissions include sequestration of CO
into sinks.
Sinks are carbon pools such as soil carbon, limestone, fossil fuel, forests, aquatic ecosystems,
undersea. Carbon sinks refer to stocks that takes-up carbon while carbon source is one that
releases carbon. Soil carbon can be converted to CO
due to land use change, ploughing, and
erosive processes. These can be tackled through land management practices such as reduced
tillage, rotational crops, and animal waste use. The author considers the scientific, economic
and ethical basis for this type of mitigation.
Reflecting on the uncertainty in the science of the global climate, the author often uses
phrases such as appear, might be, could, probably, potentially and so on. Without any doubt
economics, as social science discipline, is facing new challenges as the world around it is
changing. One such challenge is how to value nature and natural resources. We live in a world
in which values a tiny brick of gold well above a large sack of sweet potatoes! The questions
in this context are: What price tag can be allocated to carbon -- an abstract environmental
good? Can it be just like any other commodity to be sold and bought? Is it ethical to do so?
These are issues the author covers in chapter 3.
Today it is fairly obvious that the notorious but widely used GNP accounting fails to
account for environment. Wouldn`t cleaning up efforts of Exxon Valdez oil spill be considered
as contribution to GNP? Wouldn`t health-care expenditure on damage caused by pollution be
counted in GNP? The author argues that the atmosphere is an open access resource and does
not fully charge to the emitter (p.50).
Here lies Thomas Hardin`s 'Tragedy of the Commons¨, is a tragedy that impacts on the
people, especially the vulnerable. For those involved in rain-fed agriculture, shifting rainfall
patterns and extreme events such as frequent droughts, floods, and forest fires means crop
failures, reduced agricultural productivity, and increased hunger, malnutrition, impaired child
development, and disease such as malaria. Decline in cereal production will also have impact
on global food security. Paying smallholder farmers, who constitute the majority population
in developing countries, to combat climate change is potentially a win-win solution. While it
slows climate change, it reduces poverty.
According to the author, farmers can theoretically be paid directly for carbon removals or
through development finance, and these are discussed in chapters 4 and 5. Practical possibilities
and cases are discussed taking into consideration the case of Brazilian farmers in Chapter 6.
Broader practical problems abound. If CDM was admittedly complex to administer, there
is no guarantee for market mechanism to manage the soil carbon market. Deliberations in
Africa Carbon Forum conference in Addis Ababa in May 2012 showed the precarious future
of CDMs and uncertainty of its continuation as it currently is. Carbon trading would hardly
be different and anyone writing on the topic of Carbon Markets risks reaching conclusions or
publishing materials and being out-of-date in a fairly short period of time. But this book will
retain relevance for some time to come as it also contains very useful discussion about the
views of the farmers: the sceptical and the adopters of 'carbon-friendly farms¨ (chapters 7,
8 and 9). The last chapter (chapter 10) replaces conclusions with the author`s chosen theme:
The keys to soil carbon, summarising broader issues of financing, scientific uncertainty and
the challenges of heterogeneity.
The book is a welcome addition and one of the first comprehensive attempts to explore
issues in the field of soil carbon sinks and climate change. It is rich in information about the
linkages between climate change and agriculture including agroforestry. I recommend it as a
useful reading for students, researchers, negotiators and policy makers dealing with farmers,
agriculture and climate change.
FAO (2011) Organic agriculture and climate change mitigation: A Report of the Round Table on Organic
Agriculture and Climate Change. Natural Resources Management and Environment Department.
November. Rome, Italy.
IPCC (2007) Climate Change 2007: The physical science basis, contribution of Working Group I to
the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Seyoum Hameso
School of Law and Social Sciences
University of East London
4-6 University Way
London E16 2RD, United Kingdom