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24 November 2022, Gateway House

Ban crypto, not cows

Many western governments and pressure groups are now turning to agriculture to curb carbon emissions. Given the legitimate concerns about security of food, nutrition and livelihoods, they may be looking in the wrong direction. If these groups are serious about reducing emissions, activities such as crypto-mining, with no positive net contribution, should be targeted first.

Fellow, Climate Change

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Negotiators gathered at the prestigious CoP 27 in Sharm- El- Sheikh, Egypt, were treated to lab-cultured meat at select invitation-only events by the San Francisco-based food tech company Eat Just[1]. The previous CoP26 was criticised for serving meat, and Just Eat was able to showcase a business model for reducing agricultural emissions.

Reducing agricultural emissions has become a new frontline for climate action. Governments in New Zealand, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands are acting to reduce “agricultural emissions” – meaning they are trying to curb the dairy and meat industries. This will have implications for  food and nutritional security, as well as livelihoods not only in these countries but also in other parts of today’s deeply inter-connected world.

In October this year, New Zealand unveiled a plan to tax cattle herders and farmers for agricultural emissions originating from animal husbandry and agri-business starting 2025. The plan brought together the government of New Zealand, indigenous Māori community authorities and agribusiness community in the country and recommended[2] integrating agriculture, animal husbandry and allied activities under a taxing regime.

Ireland has committed itself to reducing 25% of emissions from the agriculture sector by 2030[3]. Germany has enacted a Climate Change Act[4] that envisages reducing 56 million tons of CO2 equivalent emissions by 2030. Netherlands intends to include the agriculture sector in its ambitious plan for reducing nitrogen emission by 50% by 2030[5]. The FAIRR Initiative, an investor network with $12 trillion assets under management supported by former UN Secretary General Ban- Ki- Moon[6], launched ‘where’s the beef’ campaign[7] in 2021 urging the G20 countries to take agriculture-related emission reduction targets in their respective nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.

What does the future hold for agricultural emissions and livelihood concerns in the global south if the taxes and limits on agribusinesses become a global mainstay?

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture make up 17% of global emissions (down from 24% in 2000)[8]. Emissions from agriculture primarily comprise of methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide[9]. However, the emission profiles of countries are greater. For instance, New Zealand’s agricultural sector contributes[10] 48% of the country’s GHG emissions, primarily in the form of methane and nitrous oxide[11] – dairy and meat are the country’s top exports. Hence, taking urgent steps to reduce agricultural emissions may seem an important strategy for New Zealand.

But for countries in Africa – the continent collectively accounts for one-fourth of global agricultural emissions[12]– or China and India  that feature among the top countries[13] for agricultural emissions, adopting a GHG taxing regime for agribusiness can endanger serious livelihood and food security concerns.

Regrettably, the global discussions are moving in that direction. Leading global institutions have been advocating for reduction of agricultural emissions.

On the other hand, crypto currency mining like those in theform of Bitcoin, which generates a GHG footprint equivalent of the whole of the New Zealand, is freely allowed to thrive. Unlike agri-business, crypto mining doesn’t contribute towards societal well-being of marginalized communities like farmers, produces no public goods and the currency can wipe out wealth based on perception alone. The recent collapse of cyrpto exchange FTX is evidence.

Yet, the global elite insist it is agriculture that needs to reduce emissions. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that the best way to tackle climate change is through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors, including agriculture. This will require urgent action from governments as well as private sector companies, which must  adopt sustainable practices if business is to thrive in an environmentally friendly world.

Food security and sustenance farming are crucial for the Global South which is already threatened by climate change. Trade and non-trade barriers that force agri-business and communities to adopt GHG reduction targets without sufficient economic cushioning, will have a devastating effect  on food security, water resources and livelihoods across multiple sectors including agriculture (farming), forestry etc. the introduction of agricultural taxes and emission cuts in these countries will jeopardise the nutritional security of the populations.

Ironically, while developed countries are quick to call for emission reduction targets from agriculture, global progress on climate action is far from satisfactory. Global assurances of climate finance are elusive and the Ukraine crisis has set back climate action[14]. Swapping calls for agricultural emissions with crypto mining will be a good way to get back on the emissions control track.

Damodar Pujari is Former Fellow, Climate Change, Gateway House.

This article was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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