Barcelona. - According to GRAIN, an organization that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems, oil and coal companies should not have a seat at the policy table for decisions on climate change. Their profits depend on business-as-usual and they'll do everything in their power to undermine meaningful action. But what about fertiliser companies? They are essentially the oil companies of the food world, suggests GRAIN. They, too, have their fortunes wrapped in agribusiness-as-usual and the expanded development of cheap sources of energy, warned GRAIN, when it launched its new report “The Exxon of agriculture” on Tuesday.
World leaders are about to converge for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December, but there is only one major intergovernmental initiative that has emerged to deal with climate change and agriculture - and it is controlled by the world's largest fertiliser companies.
The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture, launched last year at the United Nations (UN) Summit on Climate Change in New York, is criticized by a broad coalition of civil society organizations. According to GRAIN is the culmination of several years of efforts by the fertiliser lobby to block meaningful action on agriculture and climate change. Of the Alliance's 29 non-governmental founding members, there are three fertiliser industry lobby groups, two of the world's largest fertiliser companies (Yara of Norway and Mosaic of the US), and a handful of organisations working directly with fertiliser companies on climate change programmes. Today, 60% of the private sector members of the Alliance still come from the fertiliser industry.
CORPORATE SMART AGRICULTURE
One possible explanation for the fertiliser industry's successful policy coup is that its role in climate change is poorly understood and severely underestimated, suggests GRAIN. People associate Shell, not Yara, with fracking. But it is Yara that coordinates the corporate lobby for shale gas development in Europe, and it is Yara and other fertiliser companies that suck up most of the natural gas produced by the fracking boom in the US, says GRAIN.
Fertilisers, especially nitrogen fertilisers, require an enormous amount of energy to produce. Estimates are that fertiliser production accounts for 1-2% of total global energy consumption and produces about the same share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.This production gets bigger every year, warns GRAIN. Supplies of nitrogen fertiliser, which is produced almost entirely from natural gas, are expected to grow nearly 4% per year over the next decade. And this production will increasingly rely on natural gas from fracked wells, which leak 40 to 60 percent more methane than conventional natural gas wells. (Methane is 25 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.)
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that for every 100 kg of nitrogen fertiliser applied to the soil, one kg ends up in the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O), a gas that is 300 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas and is the world's most significant ozone-depleting substance. In 2014, this was equivalent to the average annual emissions of 72 million cars driven in the US about a third of the US fleet of cars and trucks.
GRAIN cautions in its report that the fertiliser companies have moved aggressively to control the international debate on agriculture and climate change, and to position themselves as a necessary part of the solution.
=> GRAIN: The Exxons of Agriculture