Several countries are starting to implement environmental protection measures addressed to determine carbon footprint in commercialized products. Hazards and potential benefits for Argentina and the region.
Borders do not exist when it comes to climate. Climate Change is real, tangible and shared: although it is locally generated, it has global consequences.
A rising “carbon market” arose after the entry into force of the Kyoto protocol in 2005, when signatory nations agreed to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions between 2008 and 2012 to prevent global warming.
“The concept of ‘emission units’ was created so countries that prove carbon savings can sell them to countries that generate carbon. This represents the need to track Carbon Footprint (CF)”, says Ernesto Viglizzo, consultant at the Research Group in Environmental Management at the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA).
CF helps quantify the amount of GHG emissions (expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents – see sidebar) released into the atmosphere as a result of production processes.
According to different sources, starting from 2012 the European Union (EU) will require the Carbon Reduction Label on commercialized products. Nevertheless, the National Direction of Multilateral Economic Negotiations (DIREM) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship informs RIA that “so far we are not aware of legislative initiatives underway in the EU on mandatory labeling requirements”, although stresses that countries within the Union are developing “an international reference system on information of life cycle that will serve as an analytical tool”, as well ass a methodology of “environmental footprint”, which could be completed by September 2012.
The United States are also working on a series of law projects (Waxman-Markey / Lieberman-Graham) that would limit imports of products and services related to CF, although its approval is still uncertain and may not apply to agricultural products. In turn, France approved in 2010 the Grenelle 2 Law that includes carbon and environmental footprint labeling requirements. This regulation has not been yet implemented since starting from July 2011 it is under a one-year pilot phase.
These unilateral initiatives could threaten the economies of developing countries that are not prepared to face this situation, as they make a distinction on international trade depending on their GHG contribution to the atmosphere.
In this sense, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) warns that “measures to combat this phenomenon, including unilateral ones, should not constitute means of arbitrary or unjustified discrimination or a disguised restriction on international trade” (art. 3.5).
For ECLAC (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) Executive Secretary Alicia Barcena “in this scenario, the carbon footprint reveals a much deeper dilemma, as it could level the playing field for actors with different capabilities”.
Thus, to determine the CF of food production becomes a key factor for the orientation of the production process and the care of the resources in this region, that exported to the UE 27% and 25% of its production in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
In case of mandatory labeling, the DIREM also reports that the country’s position, presented in multilateral forums, is that trade measures – in process of design and implementation by developed countries – “are not an appropriate or effective way to respond to climate change” as they could lead to undercover restrictions and response measures, that without adequate financial and technology support from developed countries could transfer mitigation costs to developing countries.
GHG in South America
South America generates five percent of global GHG emissions. Higher rates are attributed to Brazil and Argentina, with 41 and 17 percent respectively.
According to Guillermo Berra and Laura Finster, from the GHG Determination Group at INTA ” agricultural production is in South American countries an important resource generation sector, accounting for a significant percentage of total emissions, whereas in the United States it only accounts for 6.3 percent”, they say.
The potential threat is that in most developed economies CF is the final link of the product life-cycle – that is, wastes from household consumption -, while in developing economies CF focuses on primary production, transport and food processing links.
Viglizzo explains that while primary production systems in Argentina are on average less intensive than the Europeans, “this positive balance can be unbalanced in the transport link as a consequence of the vast internal distances our products must travel”. There is a problem associated with the CF assessment that goes beyond one single country, says Viglizzo. It is the lack of a unified methodology and application of emission coefficients for each link in the food chains for export.
According to reports from the DIREM, Argentina presented before the World Trade Organization its concerns on the different methodologies used to calculate the CF because “there is no uniform criteria as to which stages of product’s life-cycle would be analyzed to assess GHG emissions”.
Despite this setback, currently in Europe some retail chains are requesting their suppliers a report on the environmental performance of their companies, by either calculating the CF or other indicators.
Consequently, INTA developed initiatives to determine the environmental performance by examining the footprint of the primary production sector, as a first step towards the assessment of a product’s complete life cycle. One of these initiatives is the AgroEcoIndex© model, which includes 18 agroecological indicators and is specially designed for agricultural companies. Its implementation allows companies to differentiate depending on the level of inclusion within their scheme of environment-friendly technologies.
INTA also developed an electronic device which can be installed in the rumen of cattle to measure gases generated from enteric fermentation (methane). In turn, the National Bioenergy Program uses software to calculate the generation of greenhouse gases during the production of biofuel from soybeans in different geographic scenarios.
The Argentine No Till Farmers Association (AAPRESID) implements a Certified Agriculture project, a quality management production system that will optimize the efficient use of resources.
A report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on trade and climate change notes that such initiatives put Argentina in a privileged position since “leading technologies that help reduce GHG emissions position (the country) as a ‘clean’ agricultural producer for market access and negotiations on climate change”.
Carbon Footprint vs Water Footprint?
Recently, different countries are starting to agree that the CF would be insufficient to encompass the entire production spectrum of a product or service. Pavel Misiga, Head of Unit for Environment and Industry at Directorate-General for Environment of the EU, considers that “CF is a good indicator for energy and resources use, but it does not include the use of water, environmental and human toxicity, land use and impacts on biodiversity” (see sidebar “Ecological Footprint”).
This “fragmented approach” to Carbon Footprint entails “numerous incompatible methodologies that generate incompatible results, private initiatives to control de CF in products and whose results are unreliable, and unnecessary burdens on industry to meet the multiple requirements of labeling”.
Therefore some consider it would be convenient for Latin America and the Caribbean to link CF with the Water Footprint (WF). Since it is a scarce resource in many regions of the world, its value increases. Through WF it is possible to determine the volume of water used to produce a ton of food and other agricultural products.
To Viglizzo, “in addition to CF, labels should include information indicating how many liters of water per year are saving importing countries when they buy food from exporting countries”.
As an example, 140 liters of virtual water are used to prepare a cup of coffee, 16.000 liters for every kilogram of feedlot meat, and for each hectare of soybeans there are seven liters of water that are being exported and not quantified. “It would be a smart business strategy to include both indicators in the same label. We could in this way know the carbon emission generated by the seller and the water saved by the buyer”, says the investigator. “This would dismantle possible protectionist reactions from our buyers”, he concludes.
Ernesto Viglizzo – email@example.com
Dr. Viglizzo specialized in the study of production systems connecting agronomic and environmental perspectives. He is a lead investigator at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) and INTA, and teaches at the National University of La Plata (UNLP) and the National University of Mar del Plata (UndMDP)