Climate Change Treaty Could Harm Farmers
By Dennis Stolte
Mention the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) the next time you're with a group of farmers. You'll probably be met with yawns. Understandably, the UNFCCC is hardly a "front burner" issue with agricultural leaders. Unfortunately, we may pay a high price later for our indifference now.
You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to be concerned. The UNFCCC was an agreement signed in 1992 by the U.S. and 160 other nations which calls for voluntary, non-binding measures to limit "greenhouse gases." The scientific panel of the UNFCCC claims that increased emissions of greenhouse gases are responsible for increases in global temperatures.
A report being considered by the U.N. scientific panel blames agriculture for more than 20% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. There are recommendations for new taxes on fuel and fertilizers, production controls for livestock and crops, cultivation and fallowing requirements for cropland. Ignored is agriculture's positive role in reducing greenhouse gases by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in plants. Most scientists agree that concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, are increasing. There is also some data showing that global temperatures have increased about one-degree Fahrenheit during the last 100 years.
That's where agreement ends. There is still a lively debate among respected scientists about the human versus natural sources of greenhouse gases and their effect on climate. For example, Sallie Baliunas, a senior scientist with the George C. Marshall Institute, points out that most of the one-degree increase in global temperatures occurred prior to 1940, before manmade greenhouse gases significantly increased.
Unfortunately, the voluntary approach to controlling greenhouse gases was abandoned when U.N. officials agreed last summer to binding and enforceable numeric limits on greenhouse gas emissions. This dramatic new tack was led by U.S. Under Secretary of State Timothy Wirth, who proclaimed that science calls for urgent action.
Right or wrong, the climate change treaty is moving full-speed ahead. A final agreement is scheduled to be completed this December with ratification by individual countries beginning in 1997. If ratified by the U.S. Senate, the treaty would be binding on the U.S. and may be incorporated into U.S. law.
The climate treaty's impacts on agriculture sound far fetched, but the threat is real. Another international treaty, the Montreal Protocol, was ratified and adopted into U.S. law, banning refrigerants and methyl bromide, dealing a big blow to farmers and ranchers. The climate change treaty's impact on agriculture could be much more extensive.
Dennis Stolte is an environmental specialist in the American Farm Bureau's Governmental Relations Division, Washington, D.C.