European Carbon+ Farming Coalition

Background

The European Carbon+ Farming Coalition (CFC) is a project launched by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2021.1New Coalition Announces Bold Plan to Decarbonize Europe’s Food System,” EIT Food, May 4, 2021. Archived November 7, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/5YQSv The WEF states that the coalition’s goal is “to “accelerate the farm-level transition towards sustainable agriculture and accelerate progress towards achieving the goals of the European Green Deal,” as well as to “develop and enact cost-effective, practical solutions that will accelerate the uptake of sustainable agriculture, such as regenerative or climate-smart practices.”2EU Carbon+ Farming Coalition,” World Economic Forum. Archived September 6, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/20FNt 

As of late 2022, there are 13 partners in the CFC, ranging from NGOs to insurance companies to major agribusiness corporations: BASF, Bayer CropScience, CropIn, EIT Food, the European Conservation Agriculture Federation (ECAF), Hero Group, Planet Labs, RAGT, Swiss Re, Syngenta Group, the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, Yara International, and Zurich Insurance Group.3EU Carbon+ Farming Coalition,” World Economic Forum. Archived September 6, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/20FNt 

ECAF is the only member of the CFC that directly represents farmers. It is a trade association whose members represent national conservation agriculture associations in the EU member states Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland, as well as non-EU states Moldova, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. ECAF states that it is focused on “maintaining the agrarian soil and its biodiversity in the context of sustainable agriculture.”4European Conservation Agriculture Federation (ECAF),” European Conservation Agriculture Federation. Archived November 8, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/FXTOB 

The Carbon+ Farming Coalition emerged from two other projects under the World Economic Forum umbrella: the 100 Million Farmers platform and the CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal.5Lera Miles, Raquel Agra, Sandeep Sengupta, Adriana Vidal, Barney Dickson. “Nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation,” United Nations Environment Programme and International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2021. Archived September 6, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. The CEO Action Group includes members from BASF, Bayer CropScienceSyngenta Group, Yara, and dozens of other corporations, and describes itself as “as a high-level platform for business leaders to support concrete plans and ideas to step up the game for climate positive action and demonstrate their commitment to the European Green Deal agenda.”6CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal,” World Economic Forum. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/FUjBa 7New Coalition Announces Bold Plan to Decarbonize Europe’s Food System,” EIT Food, May 4, 2021. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/5YQSv

The CFC says that its work “demonstrates the transformative power of pre-competitive collaboration among private sector actors, civil society and farmers.” It emphasizes the importance of “farmer-centric solutions,” and states that it was convened “in consultation with farmer organizations.”8Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU,” World Economic Forum, April 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

CFC has surveyed 1,600 farmers on their understanding of and barriers to implementing “climate-smart” farming practices, and says that its work is “based on the insights generated” from the survey results.9Carbon+ Farming Coalition in the response to the Call for Evidence for the Action plan for better management of nutrients,” European Commission, April 26, 2022. Archived September 13, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

CFC has identified a number of specific interventions it believes will improve agriculture, including:10Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU,” World Economic Forum, April 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  • Knowledge-sharing with and among farmers
  • Developing climate-smart procurement guidelines for retailers and traders
  • Identifying “cost-effective” measurement, reporting, and verification systems for a “reliable carbon market”
  • “Designing innovative risk transfer and sharing options between farmers and value-chain players,” and
  • Implementing regenerative/“climate-smart” farming for some crops

Stance on Climate Change

In April 2022, the World Economic Forum published a report titled “Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU.” The report was produced with Deloitte and NTT Data “as part of the EU Carbon+ Coalition’s collaboration,” and explored “the practical case of the European Union to understand the pathway required for a farmer-centric food systems Transition.”11Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU,” World Economic Forum, April 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

The report stated that “no region in the world will be spared from the imminent threats to our interconnected food systems, climate and the natural ecosystems upon which they depend.” It also cited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Assessment Report, published in 2021, which “confirmed that climate change and related biodiversity loss ‘have affected the productivity of all agricultural and fishery sectors, with negative consequences for food security and livelihoods,’ especially for the most vulnerable.” The report argued that “food systems can be a determinant in solving these global crises by addressing their environmental impact and deploying innovative solutions.”12Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU,” World Economic Forum, April 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

The report acknowledged “the commitment” of several industry members in the “development” of its findings, with the list including representatives from Bayer, BASF, Syngenta and Yara. The report promoted “solutions” under the framework of “climate-smart agriculture,” such as precision agriculture, no-till farming, gene editing, and carbon markets.13EU Carbon+ Farming Coalition,” World Economic Forum. Archived September 6, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/20FNt 14Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU,” World Economic Forum, April 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

CFC emphasizes private-public collaboration and the need to “embrace net-zero, nature positive strategies and support farmers in the transition” to low-carbon farming in Europe.15Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU,” World Economic Forum, April 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

In a press release about the CFC, Mirek Dusek – member of the executive committee and hHead of Europe, Eurasia and the Middle East at the World Economic Forum – stated: “The private sector plays a key role as catalyst of the green transition and concrete business commitments such as this one are crucial to translate the ambition of the European Green Deal into action.”16New Coalition Announces Bold Plan to Decarbonize Europe’s Food System,” EIT Food, May 4, 2021. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/5YQSv

Support for Carbon Farming

The Carbon + Farming Coalition promotes the concept of carbon farming. Soils are the world’s “second largest carbon sink,” according to the group, with oceans being the largest. The CFC also states that there is “strong scientific evidence that on-farm technology coupled with the widespread adoption of regenerative and climate-smart agriculture practices – such as no-till, cover crop and nutrient and manure management – can reduce GHG emissions through avoidance and sequestration, while improving agriculture’s significant impact on nature.”17New Coalition Announces Bold Plan to Decarbonize Europe’s Food System,” EIT Food, May 4, 2021. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/5YQSv

Although research suggests that farmed soils cannot contribute much to lowering atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, Brussels is pursuing carbon farming as a climate policy.18James Temple, “Why we can’t count on carbon-sucking farms to slow climate change,” MIT Technology Review, June 3, 2020. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/9HWvr In December 2021, the European Commission adopted the Communication on Sustainable Carbon Cycles as part of its Farm to Fork Strategy, which looked at methods and barriers for “upscal[ing] this green business model that rewards land managers for taking up practices leading to carbon sequestration, combined with strong benefits on biodiversity.”19Carbon Farming,” European Commission. Archived October 27, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/omJBl

A March 2022 Clean Energy Wire analysis of the potential pros and cons of carbon farming in the EU found that while some carbon farming techniques could increase soil carbon, the effectiveness of others remained unproven. It also stated that “some farmers have said that if they were to use a no-tillage technique on their fields, they may have to use more pesticides such as glyphosate instead, because less tilling means more pests.”20Kerstine Appunn, “Carbon farming explained: the pros, the cons and the EU’s plans,” Clean Energy Wire, March 23, 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/3AseU 

In April 2022, the CFC told the European Commission that reducing the amount of nutrients used in crop production – which are largely provided through chemical fertilizers – was “not necessarily the solution” to addressing the environmental harms of current farming practices.21James Temple, “Why we can’t count on carbon-sucking farms to slow climate change,” MIT Technology Review, June 3, 2020. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/9HWvr Methane (or “natural”) gas is a common feedstock for producing nitrogen-based chemical fertilizers. The EU has set targets to reduce chemical fertilizer use by 20 percent by 2030.22Nutrients: Commission seeks views on better management,” European Commission, June 3, 2022. Archived September 25, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/u8cXk 

Support for Carbon Markets

The Carbon+ Farming Coalition promotes carbon markets as an economic response to climate change. 

An April 2022 report published by the World Economic Forum claimed that farmers could get five times the “economic benefits” from adopting “climate-smart practices,” such as carbon farming, if they are “complemented by broader market-based incentives that are inclusive of societal benefits, such as carbon credits and price premiums, along with public subsidies.”23Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU,” World Economic Forum, April 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

The report was “developed with the support” of the Carbon+ Farming coalition “in response to a call from the Executive Vice President of the European Commission leading on the EU Green Deal.”

However, multiple NGOs and academics have sounded the alarm about carbon markets. 

Scientifically, there are “significant disagreements about what it will take to accurately measure and certify that farms are actually removing and storing increased amounts of carbon dioxide,” and there is a limit to how much carbon can be stored in soil.24James Temple. “Why we can’t count on carbon-sucking farms to slow climate change,” MIT Technology Review, June 3, 2020. Archived December 5, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/9HWvr 25Kerstine Appunn. “Carbon farming explained: the pros, the cons and the EU’s plans,” Clean Energy Wire, March 23, 2022. Archived December 2, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/3AseU

Carbon markets have also been sharply criticized by environmental NGOs and the environmental justice movement. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has said that carbon markets “let companies off the hook from reducing their own pollution and associated damage to public health,” which is especially concerning as “many sources of greenhouse gas pollution also emit other toxic air pollutants that affect human health” and “many of those pollution sources are located in communities of color.”26Ben Lilliston. “Lessons for the EU’s carbon farming plans,” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, June 16, 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/FScAd

CFC and “Climate-Smart Agriculture”

The Carbon+ Farming Coalition widely promotes “climate-smart” agriculture, also called climate-smart farming. In its report “developed with the support” of the CFC, the World Economic Forum defines climate-smart agriculture as “a set of proven agriculture approaches…that can achieve positive outcomes for climate with strong co-benefits for nature and potential for farmer economic outcomes, while never having a negative impact on one of these.” The report acknowledges that “precise definitions have not yet been clearly agreed upon in commonly accepted frameworks.”27Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU,” World Economic Forum, April 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

The April 2022 report lists four key areas of “climate-smart agriculture practices”: climate-smart inputs, agro-ecological practices, efficient irrigation technology, and precision farming techniques. The report then identifies a number of elements within these areas, such as no-till farming, cover crops, low-carbon mineral fertilizers, biological crop protection products, nitrification inhibitors for fertilizer, and improved crop varieties. 

In the report, new technologies include, “information technology, automation, robotics and decision support technologies that take the guesswork out of fertilizer and pesticide use, irrigation and livestock management” and “gene editing for multi-trait seed improvements, resulting in crops that are less vulnerable to drought, pests and disease, and biological based crop protection and micronutrients for soil management.”28Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU,” World Economic Forum, April 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

According to the CFC, “if just 20% more farmers adopted climate-smart agriculture, by 2030 the EU could reduce its agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 6% and improve soil health over an area equivalent to 14% of the EU’s agricultural land while improving farmer livelihoods by between €1.9 and €9.3 billion annually by 2030.”29Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU,” World Economic Forum, April 2022. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

The potential for climate-smart agriculture to tackle food related emissions is contested. While the tactics have some potential to help farmers reduce emissions, how much remains unclear.30Charlie Hope-D’Anieri. “Farms Can’t Save the Planet,” The New Republic, August 7, 2020. Archived November 1, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/gSjo7 

Critics say that climate-smart is a “deliberately” vague term, and argue that even if climate-smart techniques could succeed in reducing farming emissions, it raises equity concerns – potentially pricing out those growing on smaller farms or in lower-income countries.31Vineet Kumar. “Climate smart agriculture proposed at COP 22 raises concerns,” Down to Earth, November 18, 2016. Archived November 1, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/58YdP 32Sharon Kelly and Frances Rankin. “Investigation: How Pesticide Companies Are Marketing Themselves as a Solution to Climate Change,” DeSmog, November 18, 2020. Archived November 1, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/h98N9 

In June 2022, the Financial Times hosted an event “in partnership” with Bayer on “Transforming the Agricultural Value Chain.” Two of the speakers, Hero Group Sustainability Director Christine Crosby and John Crawford from the Adam Smith Business School at the University of Glasgow, were said to be working with Carbon+ Farming Coalition.33John Crawford,” Transforming Agriculture – Financial Times Live. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/VcHAy 34Christine Crosby,” Transforming Agriculture – Financial Times Live. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/jbUQv 

The event also included speakers from Bayer and the young farmers union CEJA.35Transforming the Agricultural Value Chain,” Financial Times Live. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/HtRaO 

CFC has hosted another event with CEJA, and spoken on panels alongside CEJA speakers.362021 Activity Report,” CEJA. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 37UN Food Systems Pre-Summit,” World Farmers’ Organisation. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ciJax 38Agriculture to Deliver on Net-Zero – The EU Carbon+ Coalition at COP26,” YouTube video uploaded by user EIT Food on November 12, 2021. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog.

Lobbying

The European Carbon+ Farming Coalition is not listed on the European Commission Transparency Register. 

In April 2022, the CFC responded to the EU’s call for evidence on the Nutrient Action Plan, stating: “input [fertilizers] reduction is not necessarily the solution, but rather the optimized use of inputs relative to yield to guarantee both food security and environmental sustainability.” In its response, the CFC outlined findings from its farmer survey on adoption rates of climate-smart practices and barriers to key techniques identified by the coalition, such as no-till, organic inputs, improved crop varieties, and nitrification inhibitors.39Carbon+ Farming Coalition in the response to the Call for Evidence for the Action plan for better management of nutrients,” European Commission, April 26, 2022. Archived September 13, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

The CFC attended the 2021 United Nations climate conference, called COP26. The World Economic Forum hosted a panel about the CFC during COP26 called “Agriculture to Deliver Net-Zero.”40Agriculture to Deliver on Net-Zero – The EU Carbon+ Coalition at COP26,” YouTube video uploaded by user EIT Food on November 12, 2021. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog. Bayer Head of Sustainability Christine Brunel-Ligneau gave the opening presentation, and panelists included Diana Lenzi, President of European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA), Christian Holzleitner, Head of Unit for Land Use and Finance for Innovation in the Directorate-General for Climate Action at the European Commission, and Alex Bell, CEO Agoro Carbon Alliance, a Yara International-owned initiative that pays farmers to implement practices that store carbon in soils.41Agoro Carbon Difference,” Agoro Carbon Alliance. Archived November 4, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/tmPZ3 

The Carbon+ Farming Coalition also hosted an event at the Pre-Summit to the UN Food Systems Summit in July 2021, “to share the action-oriented and farmer-centric approach of the EU Carbon+ Farming Coalition and emerging outcomes.” Diana Lenzi President of the young farmers’ union CEJA spoke on the panel.42UN Food Systems Pre-Summit,” World Farmers’ Organisation. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/ciJax

Affiliations

As an organization, the CFC falls under the “auspices” of the World Economic Forum.43Lera Miles, Raquel Agra,, Sandeep Sengupta, Adriana Vidal, Barney Dickson. “Nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation,” United Nations Environment Programme and International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2021. Archived September 6, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 

The CFC emerged from the WEF’s CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal. The CEO Action Group includes CEOs and board members from dozens of corporations, including agribusiness majors Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, and Yara, and the energy corporation Total Energies.44CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal,” World Economic Forum. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/FUjBa 

As of November 2022, the Carbon+ Farming Coalition lists its partners as:45EU Carbon+ Farming Coalition,” World Economic Forum. Archived September 6, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/20FNt

Bayer Crop Science Head of Sustainable Agriculture Christine Brunel-Ligneau, John Crawford from the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, and Hero Group Sustainability Director Christine Crosby, hold “leading roles” in the CFC.46Agriculture to Deliver on Net-Zero – The EU Carbon+ Coalition at COP26,” YouTube video uploaded by user EIT Food on November 12, 2021. Archived .mp4 on file at DeSmog. 47Christine Brunel-Ligneau. “Decarbonizing agriculture: Learnings from working in international coalitions,” LinkedIn, November 30, 2021. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog. 48Christine Crosby,” Transforming Agriculture – Financial Times Live. Archived October 26, 2022. Archive URL: https://archive.ph/jbUQv 

Crosby formerly worked for over eight years at Syngenta, including as Global Lead of Commercial Capability Development and Marketing.49Christine Crosby,” LinkedIn. Archived October 26, 2022. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

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