This commentary comes from Don McCabe, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
The Ontario government believes climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing future generations. This past week Premier Wynne announced Ontario will pursue the establishment of a cap and trade system to address climate change by limiting sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) prefers the cap and trade system as an effective and fair way to manage greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change, while recognizing that agriculture already plays an important role reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The OFA will work with government to develop a workable solution recognizing agriculture’s role in providing offsets to the market. The cap and trade principle chosen by the Ontario government needs the addition of offsets to provide a strong, cost effective and environmentally proven solution for society.
The new cap and trade system will establish a cap on the level of greenhouse gas emissions allowed by certain sectors of the economy. The system will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by allowing industries to reduce their emissions through applying new technologies. When that is not feasible for that company, theoretically, carbon credits bought from a competitor can meet their regulatory compliance or the company could access offset credits from outside sources. These companies are all point source polluters.
Agriculture is a solution provider here. Agriculture can offer offset credits. How can this be possible as aagriculture is not a point source polluter? Carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide are greenhouse gasses in the agriculture system. Farmers can manage their businesses to achieve emission reductions of these gases while furthering profitability to their operation. For example, soil is a natural carbon sink. Organic matter in soil is captured carbon. The natural sequestering of carbon that happens in the soil by use of minimal to no-till practices means the agriculture industry is part of the solution to Ontario’s challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, manure and nitrogen management, cattle feeding efficiencies, bio-product production, etc. are all opportunities to provide offset carbon credits. When these agriculture offset carbon credits are aggregated together, they point source polluters in need are buyers.
The OFA sees potential for a new modest revenue stream for Ontario farmers in the carbon credit trading market. Under a carbon tax system, like that in British Columbia, added costs are the result to farm operations. With a cap and trade system recognizing offsets, farmers would have the opportunity to voluntarily be part of a climate change solution while still providing food, fibre, fuel, energy, improved soil quality, improved water quality, and biodiversity for all of society. Design ahead is the key.
Agriculture experiences climate change like no other industry. Farming does produce greenhouse gas emissions. With farmer’s constant improvement and adoption of innovation, many practices reduce or remove greenhouse gases such as no-till cropping, fuel-efficient equipment, methane digesters and more efficient feeding rations. With increasing human populations, sustainability demands and agriculture’s role as an economic driver, the need to continue this progress is paramount. Currently, agriculture is already 6% below 1990 emission levels for the agricultural sector, according to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. With proper policy applied to the cap and trade principle now announced, Ontario farmers will be double or triple the solution in the future.
The OFA will ensure the implications and opportunities of this emerging policy is heard by government as the final details of this new system are ironed out to ensure agriculture is represented fairly.