Ag's seat at the table

Of the 30,000 nongovernmental representatives attending the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, North Dakota Farmers Union President Bob Carlson thinks he has achieved a degree of success.

Of the 30,000 nongovernmental representatives attending the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, North Dakota Farmers Union President Bob Carlson thinks he has achieved a degree of success.

"I do believe that agriculture has stepped up and made their voices heard," he says.

Creating interest

During his first week there, dubbed "Ag Week," Carlson spoke at the plenary session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technology Advice. Representing the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, Carlson presented the case for agriculture having what he calls "a seat at the table."

"I impressed upon that committee the importance of including various agricultural practices such as no-till farming, planting grass, planting trees, manure management, specific placement of nitrogen fertilizers and a number of other things that can be done . . . to reduce greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere, and that agriculture needed to be at the table, needed to be recognized for the contributions they can make, unique to all other forms of human activity," he says.


While governmental representatives were meeting in sometimes closed sessions, non-governmental agricultural leaders were organizing meetings and inviting the governmental representatives in hopes of educating them about agriculture's potential contributions to resolving climate change issues.

Heavy hitters

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke at one of these meetings, which Carlson says was successful and so crowded that listeners had to find room to sit on the floor. Appearing with Vilsack and Carlson was Jacques Diouf, director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

All of them were "stressing that agriculture needs to be included because food security and climate change and what famers can do to limit or solve climate change are all inextricably linked together," Carlson says. "Climate change affects farmers, (and) farmers can help clean up climate change and reduce it."

At the same time, farmers will have to feed some 9 billion people by the year 2050.

"Agriculture is vital to the survival of humans on the planet, of course, so we need to preach that message and get them to understand the big roll that agriculture has to play," he says.

Delay OK

Many have called the results of the conference disappointing since no binding international treaty was signed. However, 189 countries, including the United States, China, Brazil and India, have agreed to sign the Copenhagen Accord, a pledge to cut emissions and invest in renewable technology.


Carlson sees the treaty delay as an opportunity for agriculture.

"I think it's just fine to see this effort move on for another couple of months into the next year," he says. "I think that will give us an opportunity to work a little bit more through the International Federation of Ag Producers to get agriculture recognized, and in the scope of doing that, to actually get the farmers to participate in an economy that will give them some income for things they do to clean up the environment."

He says farmers in the United States are exempt from greenhouse gas regulations.

"We're not part of any cap or any tax that will go forward at this point. We're exempt. Internationally, that is not true," Carlson says.

However, since agriculture generally is not recognized as an industry that can help clean up the environment, farmers simply may become subject to international regulation, depending upon the ultimate results of international climate change legislation.

Ag can contribute

Within one growing season, Carlson points out, agriculture can begin to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, prevent methane from being released from manure and prevent release of nitrous oxides by precision placement of fertilizers.

"There are so many things we can do to make a quick and relatively inexpensive reduction in greenhouse gases that it should be a high priority," Carlson says. "I would say that is going to be a challenge for us, going forward, and that is why I'm really quite pleased that we're not going to see this meeting have a goal of going forward with an absolute agreement at the end of a week and a half."


Agricultural contributions also are recognized by others, including at least one representative from a U.S. electric power generating company. According to Carlson, the Ohio-based company also is the largest single greenhouse gas-emitting company in the U.S. power generation industry.

"His message was that we really need agricultural offsets because it's going to take the power generating industry time to adopt the technology they need to produce power with less CO2 emissions," he says. "He said we need ag offsets to fill that gap in to reduce CO2 in the air until we can get our technology adopted."

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