Archive for May, 2021


Towards EU carbon farming legislation: what is the role of the ETS?

By Jonathan Verschuuren (TLS)



This is the first in a series of blogposts on a new project which we, at Tilburg Law School, have embarked on.[1] The projects starts from the recognition that the Paris Climate Agreement goals can only be achieved when greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land use are reduced and the sequestration capacity of these sectors is fully utilized. In most countries around the world, including in the EU, the heart of climate change mitigation policy consists of some form of carbon pricing mechanism. It seems inevitable that agricultural activities have to be included in carbon pricing mechanisms, such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). So far, however, policy makers have been reluctant to do so, partly because of the lack of political will, and partly because of the difficulty of measuring emissions and emission reductions at farm level.  With the improvement of measuring technologies and carbon accounting methods, however, the possibility to also regulate agriculture under the EU emissions trading scheme has become within reach.

This project aims to develop a regulatory framework that allows agricultural greenhouse gas emissions to be included in the EU ETS and to be aligned with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This will be achieved through an ex post assessment of novel regulatory approaches in Alberta, California, China, and Australia and through an ex-ante assessment of inclusion of agricultural emissions under the EU ETS, either indirectly, through allowing on farm offsets, or directly, through requiring farmers to surrender allowances. Various models of inclusion of agriculture in the EU ETS will be developed and tested under a traditional ex-ante assessment methodology consisting of focus groups and stakeholder interviews.

The project runs from 2020 until 2023, so our proposals can be included in the first discussions for the post 2030 trading phase. An earlier adoption is not very likely, since inclusion of the agricultural sector in the EU ETS will have a big impact on the system. Changing the rules of the game in the middle of the current trading phase, which runs from 2020 until 2030, is not entirely impossible, but also not advisable due to the disruption of the carbon market it may cause. The European Commission, however, is stepping up its efforts to reduce agricultural GHG emissions through its European Green Deal Policy, which includes a proposal for a European Climate Law and a Farm to Fork Strategy.

The 2020 proposal for a European Climate Law introduces an ambitious overall target for the EU’s mitigation policy as it requires the Member States to have emissions and removals of greenhouse gases balanced at the level of the EU at the latest by 2050, and to pursue a new 2030 target of 50 to 55% emission reductions compared to 1990. Although the AFOLU sector is not specifically mentioned in the European Climate Law, it is impossible to achieve such targets without a drastic reduction of emissions from this sector. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the EU 2030 Climate Target Plan, presented in September 2020, does pay ample attention both to agriculture and to land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF). The 2030 Climate Target Plan states that new measures are being considered for the 2030-2050 period, including an expansion of the LULUCF Regulation to also cover non-CO2 emissions from agriculture. The European Commission does not mention the option to integrate agricultural emissions into the EU ETS. Instead,

‘(o)vertime, the Commission clearly sees merit in the creation of an Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use sector with its own specific policy framework covering all emissions and removals of these sectors and to become the first sector to deliver net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Subsequently, this sector would generate carbon removals to balance remaining emissions in other sectors induced by a robust carbon removal certification system.’ [2]

Similarly, in the 2020 Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission is hinting at a new EU carbon farming initiative:

‘An example of a new green business model is carbon sequestration by farmers and foresters. Farming practices that remove CO2 from the atmosphere contribute to the climate neutrality objective and should be rewarded, either via the common agricultural policy (CAP) or other public or private initiatives (carbon market). A new EU carbon farming initiative under the Climate Pact will promote this new business model, which provides farmers with a new source of income and helps other sectors to decarbonise the food chain. As announced in the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), the Commission will develop a regulatory framework for certifying carbon removals based on robust and transparent carbon accounting to monitor and verify the authenticity of carbon removals.’[3]

So far, most attention is focused on using the CAP to promote carbon farming. In April 2021, the European Commission published a Technical Guidance Handbook on this. There are, however, a couple of disadvantages connected to the CAP, most of which are caused by the fact that the CAP has not been designed as a climate change instrument. I discussed this in an earlier blogpost. It is important, therefore, to also look into climate change instruments to see whether these can be used to promote carbon farming.

One of the “other public initiatives” for a carbon market mentioned in the Farm to Fork Strategy might very well be integration of agricultural emissions in the EU ETS. In the remainder of this blogpost, I will have a first brief look at what carbon farming as part of the EU ETS might look like.

Two models of integration: direct inclusion in the ETS or through offsets

In the EU, the ETS has gradually expanded to require GHG emitting activities to surrender allowances for the amount of GHGs emitted. Directly requiring farmers to surrender allowances for their emissions under an ETS has not been proposed much and is not a requirement in any of the emissions trading systems around the world. The direct inclusion of farming in an ETS is considered problematic because of the difficulty of measuring emissions and emission reductions at the farm level because of the variety of factors involved (such as the diet of individual animals, tillage intensity, soil composition, weather systems of individual regions, the way in which fertilizer is applied, etc.). In addition, most farms also remove CO2 through sequestration in soils and vegetation. For a small number of farming activities, however, direct inclusion in the ETS seems possible, especially for large scale livestock keeping within closed buildings, such as piggeries. Methane emissions can easily be monitored here, technologies to capture the methane and convert it into biogas exist, thus allowing farmers to choose between  buying allowances or investing in such technologies. With the improvement of measuring technologies and carbon accounting methods, however, the possibility to also regulate more forms of agriculture with high GHG emissions may become within grasp.

Most countries that have an ETS, have included agricultural emissions as offsets. This is true for most newly created emissions trading schemes, for example Alberta (2012), California (2014), and China (2018) (Ontario had it, but there, the ETS was revoked in 2018). All of these schemes allow regulated industries to acquire allowances from offsets in agriculture, either avoided emissions or increased sequestration. The latter incentivizes farmers to farm carbon in addition to crops as was also suggested as a policy option for the EU by the Agricultural Markets Task Force. The Canadian province of Alberta, for example, allows farmers to register and implement such projects as conservation  cropping, agriculture nitrous oxide emission reduction, changed beef  feed, methane reducing dairy production and biogas production from manure. The offsets generated under these projects can then be sold by the farmers to Alberta’s industrial emitters that have not met their provincially mandated reduction obligation.

The country with the longest experience in financing farmers for their avoided emissions and increased sequestration is Australia with its Carbon Farming Initiative (2011). Although this formally is not part of an emissions trading system as here the government acquires the offsets rather than regulated industries, the legal rules governing the Australian system are very similar to those in an ETS and can be used as a source of inspiration for a modified EU ETS that includes agricultural emissions. A positive evaluation of the Australian scheme shows that the EU, indeed, can rely on the Australian experiences with its extensive methodologies on a range of carbon farming methods. See our earlier blogpost here and here. These include for example soil carbon sequestration, beef cattle herd management, and beef cattle feed methods. The evaluation does show, though, that the drafting of many rules and regulations is needed, such as rules that require farmers to establish a baseline level of soil carbon, and to monitor, report and verify the amount of CO2 sequestered in the projects allowed under the ETS offsets regime, as well as rules on commitment periods.

Relationship to other policy instruments

In the EU, as of 2021, agricultural GHG emissions will be regulated under Regulation 2018/841/EU on Emissions from Land Use and Forestry (LULUCF Regulation). It requires emissions and removals in land use and forestry sectors, including agricultural land use for arable crops and grassland, to be balanced. This will require some sequestration efforts due to losses occurring under conventional agricultural practices, but this can also be achieved in for instance the forestry sector. Furthermore, emissions from livestock are not included. Integration of agricultural emissions into the EU ETS, either directly or through offsets, will have to be aligned with the LULUCF Regulation.

Alignment with the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) will also be necessary. The CAP currently  encourages farmers to apply climate-friendly practices and techniques. Both the cross-compliance mechanism, the direct payments and the subsidies for rural development relate partly to taking climate measures. It has generally been accepted in literature, however, that current EU climate and agriculture policies are largely insufficient. A much stronger focus of the CAP on climate change is advocated, for instance in this recent study published by the European Commission.

Several individual countries have introduced or are considering the introduction of domestic carbon taxes or even a meat tax aimed at further reducing GHG emissions, beyond the requirements of current EU instruments.  These domestic instruments should also be taken into account when designing a new pricing mechanism for agricultural emissions.

Impact on food security

Research by the World Bank shows that mitigation policies using a global carbon price which does not account for food production implications, will hurt crop and livestock production. To avoid such negative impacts, carbon pricing policies should be developed thoughtfully, and aim for adaptation and food production co-benefits. As discussed in an earlier blogpost, increased resilience and reduced emissions can sometimes go hand-in-hand. It is evident, however, that changes in consumption will be necessary as well. The difficulty of reducing emissions from free roaming cattle and the sheer amount of land needed to grow animal fodder for a world population of around 10 billion in 2050 necessitate dietary changes with households moving away from meat and towards plant based food and seasonal produce, reduced overconsumption of food and reduced food waste. In a great recent article in the new journal Nature Food, Rockström et al. argue that recent modelling analysis suggests ‘that it is biophysically possible to feed 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries, and in ways that leave at least 50% of natural ecosystems intact’ as long as there is a global shifting towards healthy diets, increased productivity while transitioning to regenerative production practices, and reduced food waste and loss by 50%. Any regulatory approach towards reducing GHG emissions from agriculture has to contribute to this bigger aim to achieve a global food transition.

These are some of the legal and governance issues that need to be dealt with in the development of a regulatory framework to address greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. For a full overview of all issues that need to be considered by law and policy makers, the FAO just published this comprehensive legislative study ‘Agriculture and climate change. Law and governance in support of climate smart agriculture and international climate change goals’. In our project, we will be focusing on the EU ETS as a vehicle for reducing agricultural GHG emissions. We will keep you updated here!

This research is made possible through funding from the Netherlands Research Council NWO under grant number 406.18.RB.004.

[1] This project has received funding from the Netherlands Research Council NWO under grant number 406.18.RB.004.

[2] European Commission, Communication ‘Stepping up Europe’s 2030 climate ambition. Investing in a climate-neutral future for the benefit of our people’, COM(2020) 562, p. 17.

[3] European Commission, Communication ‘Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system’, COM(2020) 381, p. 5.


From ‘Climate Chang(ed)’, ‘Climate (Is) Changing’ to Climate Justice

By admin

Globalisation and global warming: When legal regimes diverge over contrasting goals

Nairita Roy Chaudhuri *

Since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty was established, global atmospheric CO2 increased by 16% from 359.99 ppm of CO2 to 417.83 ppm of CO2 from 1992 to 6th February 2021. If we are to restrict global heating and rise in mean temperature to a worst case-scenario of 2°C (according to the Paris Agreement) above pre-industrial levels, we have to restrict CO2 concentration to 450ppm. The CO2 concentration limit will reduce if we look at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels as the target. Temperature conveys little about how global heating is actually experienced by human and non-human species in reality. Furthermore, a rise in global ‘mean’ surface temperature suggests that some places may have temperatures above or below the global average. Nevertheless, atmospheric carbon & global heating continues to increase despite the law. Those reading this piece at least might already know that we are continuing to destroy the support systems of life on this planet. With a business-as-usual approach, the world is already heading to a global mean temperature rise of 3°C this century.


Climate change increases the frequency of floods due to tropical cyclones and rainfall. This is an image of agricultural lands in coastal Bangladesh
Climate change increases the frequency of floods due to tropical cyclones and rainfall. This is an image of agricultural lands in coastal Bangladesh

The local & scattered nature of climatic impacts mean that disasters are not being experienced simultaneously by people across the globe, which makes the problem difficult to solve than this pandemic. We read and hear news about climate disasters assuming they will not impact us because of inadequate public awareness, utmost faith in technological prowess, psychological denial, or the nature of our livelihoods/jobs that disassociates us from a direct material relationship with non-human natural resources (a trend that comes with capitalist economic growth). Could be one, many or different reasons. I take ‘nature’ as a category that includes both humans and non-humans that constitute the web of life. Perhaps, human’s disconnection from non-human natural resources provides one with a temporary luxury of remaining in denial. Just last week, a massive Himalayan glacier burst open to flood northern India with more than 100 villagers missing. The year 2020 saw 15 most expensive climatic impacts including severe tropical cyclones, floods, locust swarms, bushfires and other disasters, two of which were in India.

The lack of simultaneity in experiencing climatic impacts, possibly render climate change as ‘forthcoming’ for some and ‘urgent’ for some, depending on the advantages & disadvantages available with people. Further, the slow-onset tendencies of many climatic impacts including but not limited to insect infestations, droughts, inland water salination/pollution due to sea-level rise make threats seem like an eventuality. But, none of these psychological short-sightedness really help us to flourish the support systems required for our future-generations to live safely on this planet, if we are to go beyond the Darwinistic assumption that the success of a species depends on its numbers. By no means do I subscribe to this logic in a society because, for me, success of humanity depends on many features of social progress such as nurturing an ethic of non-anthropocentric care (i.e. a care ethic that does not put human well-being at the centre but the well-being of life on this planet), social & wealth equality, justice for non-human species, gender justice, racial justice and many other significant developments. We are yet to achieve such progresses despite amassing economic prosperity.

On the one hand, international environmental law provides legal frameworks to tackle the problem of environmental deterioration and climate change. On the other hand, international economic law is allegedly protecting transnational capital at the cost of surging inequality and ecosystem destruction that accompanied globalisation. In addition, the lack of actual political will seems to steer away environmental priorities because of a structural problem in our economic thinking. One of the major breakthroughs in exposing global wealth (not income) inequality came through the publication of a French economist, Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Analysing historical wealth data from developed countries in Europe, United States of America, Canada and Japan, Piketty shows that just like in the 19th century, the 21st century is also witnessing a upward trend wherein the rate of return on capital (including profits, dividends, interest, rents, and other income from capital) is significantly exceeding the growth rate of the economy (nation’s annual income or output). If returns from capital exceed national income, it means it is accumulating in the hands of owners of capital. Logically, inherited wealth is growing faster than income gained from a lifetime’s labor by a huge margin, according to Piketty. This rise in inequality especially since the 1980s happened due to the political and ideological shifts regarding policies on taxation and finance, and most notably the failure of communism, as argued by Piketty in his other book titled, ‘Capital and Ideology.

Inequality has massive and regressive implications on social justice, democracy, meritocracy, and very likely on the ecosystem too. Studies on high income and ASEAN countries show that wealth/income inequality is positively (not causally) linked with rise in CO2 emissions and environmental degradation. In Piketty’s words, “the history of inequality is shaped by the way economic, social, and political actors view what is just and what is not”. The role of economic law here comes in disenabling capital accumulation in a few hands. Because, if the unequal trend in capital’s and national income’s growth continues without any global intervention in the form of a global wealth tax (including assets and tax, as proposed by Piketty himself), the world will essentially see concentration of wealth and plutocracy in few hands, and a subsequent rise in populist-nationalism. What is unique about Piketty’s analysis is that it ruptures the artificial walls between the economic and the political, a wall that was created in the late 19th century wherein the discipline of ‘economics’ replaced ‘political economy’. However, his analysis, like most mainstream economic analyses falls short of considering a theoretical framework that captures the implications of wealth inequalities on the environment, and the nature of Global North-South politics that drives material extraction in the Southern states.

An illustration of globalisation: "anyone have any better suggestions for links?" by BAMCorp is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
An illustration of globalisation: “anyone have any better suggestions for links?” by BAMCorp is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Political economist, Saskia Sassen argues, economic globalisation calls into question the extractive logic underpinning its frameworks that legitimise the claims of foreign investors’ and firms’ mobilization of transnational capital, acquisition of foreign lands, and expulsion of local communities & their habitats. Since the 1980s, structural adjustment projects implemented by global regulatory institutions, including the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO are allegedly weakening the democratic institutions of governments in the global South by forcing them to deregulate their economies, and pay billions of dollars as shares of their GDP, for interest on their debts rather than for local development.

Indian economist Utsa Patnaik, who studies India’s agrarian economy argues that the global market is structured in a way that promotes Southern countries’ dependence on cheap imports of heavily subsidised (given as direct cash transfers) dairy products and grains from economically richer Northern countries despite say, India’s environment being suitable for growing food grains. The economically richer Northern countries, on the other hand depend on the other countries for import of tropical and sub-tropical crops that do not grow in temperate zones. There has been growing pressure on economically poorer Southern countries to end the public stocking of their grains (a policy usually taken to ensure domestic food security for the poor) and reduce subsidies provided to farmers because they make agricultural commodities cheaper and competitive. Economically poorer post-colonial countries have been exposed to unfair global trade and volatile global market prices without proper access to social security benefits. This is incurring a lot of debt on farmers. These insecurities are magnified by climate change-induced unpredictable/erratic weather conditions. This trade model of ensuring food security for the poor living in developing countries through dependence on Northern countries is what she calls ‘recreation of colonial times’.

Also, global trade as we know, comes with unequal ecological exchange that allows richer states to – 1) import high impact commodities from low & middle income states and 2) outsource much of their ecologically impactful industries to poorer states. Ecological economists Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis show that the material footprint of the rich states have been increasing at a rate that is equal to or greater than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). What I understand through these ‘long’ global or local supply chains is a “spatial separation” between consumers and non-human natural resources, which is likely to shield human consumers from building any connection with or care for non-human nature.

There are ample debates arguing that capitalism structurally devalues ethics of care and ecological processes while siphoning off their benefits. The “structural negligence” within the monetised and capitalist economic system towards both ecological processes and care economy shows that a capitalist market-economy only values commodities that can be priced and whose value is worth exchanging in the market. None of these subsidised processes even features in GDP measurements. The devaluation of care ethic comes with gendered injustice too. With the pandemic, the burden of care and economic insecurity dramatically increased for women across the globe affecting both formal & informal economies. The crises exposed the valuable nature of essential services that run the economy silently in the background on shoulders of domestic care workers, labourers and healthcare workers.

Women and children carry water" by World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Women and children carry water” by World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

For the women living in rural areas in India specifically, the crises increased their responsibility of ensuring household food security. In rural areas as we know, lack of access to public amenities like safe drinking water and sanitation increases women’s their care-burden in addition to executing domestic chores. Scarcity within households accompanied increased women’s exposure to domestic violence and care-negligence. Care negligence means neglecting women’s well-being i.e. healthcare, food and other requirements, due to prioritization of well-being of other household members.

Historian, Dipesh Chakrabarty argues that the ‘globe’ of globalisation brought global interconnectedness through European expansion and technological communication that was propelled by interests based upon power and profits. There is no doubt that it did bring prosperity for many but it also brought deprivation for millions along with planetary crisis. This is precisely because the ‘globe’ of globalisation never referred to the ‘globe’ within the meaning of global warming, the latter being a product of science and exploration of life on planet earth. Both the approaches invite separate legal regimes wherein one protects power & capital and the other protects the planet. Both these approaches lack a deep political understanding of conditions and everyday realities of humans whose livelihoods & securities are directly and (in many cases) regularly being impacted by changing weather patterns, reduced precipitation, cyclones, wildfires, droughts, floods and many more.

Let’s say, a farmer’s well-being is directly impacted by climatic irregularities in comparison with someone working in the services sector because the former group’s livelihoods directly depend upon non-human natural resources. For them, the relationship with non-human natures will be very different from that of those who do not interact with non-human natures for livelihood purposes. Also, the nature of such relationships varies among humans, because not all cultures look at non-human natures from solely monetary perspective. Psychological connections easily fall out of such monetary valuation of natures. All these considerations miss from climate science-induced climate law and globalisation. And even if they consider principles of equity and sustainability, they do so based on market-approaches that rely on mainstream economic theories. And, mainstream economic theories as I highlighted earlier herein, structurally devalue ecosystem & care functions, and assume that life on this planet and economic growth can be sustained simultaneously.

Flash floods" by amirjina is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Flash floods” by amirjina is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Population, sustainability and climate change

Today, as ‘population’ continues to grow to an expected 10 billion by 2050, this social construct continues to be problematized in relation to solutions to sustainability and climate change even by well-meaning environmentalists. The problem of production that is catered towards meeting the needs of unnecessary and ecologically harmful consumerism by the global elites is still being ignored. While we can morally blame the rich billionaires for amassing wealth and inducing economic inequality, we cannot ignore that capitalism is also culturally producing/attracting a material- and carbon-intensive lifestyle upon which the rising middle classes are nudged to depend through advertisements, relative possession & display of wealth & goods and many other social factors.

In a 2017 study, it was shown that 10% of the global elites are responsible for 36% of carbon emissions. This is an equivalent of 26.3 tonnes per capita emissions. The global elites comprised of populations from countries including USA, European Union, Japan, Australia, Canada and the elites from developing countries whose daily income is higher than $23 Purchasing Power Parity (PPP). The proportion of carbon emissions comes from consumption of goods and services emitted through the process of production along global supply chains. On the contrary, 50% of the global poor with daily income of less than $2.97 PPP contribute to 15% of global carbon emissions. And the extreme poor who earn less than $1.9 PPP contribute to 4% of global carbon emissions amounting to 1.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide on average. The same study goes on to detail that the poor and lowest income segments across 90 poorest countries consume three items including food & beverages, clothing, and housing which account for about three quarters of their household income.

An illustration of a poor family in Kolkata, West Bengal, India- "Family in Kolkata Slum" by United Nations Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
An illustration of a poor family in Kolkata, West Bengal, India- “Family in Kolkata Slum” by United Nations Photo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most of the arguments problematizing population misleadingly camouflage unequal patterns of consumption & carbon emissions and unsustainable means of production, thereby invoking a sense of scarcity, insecurity and doom that is more harmful to the rural & urban poor than the ones who are better off. Given the backdrop of inequality, it is questionable to argue that the world has a problem of absolute scarcity, without looking into the problem of inadequate distribution of surplus. And, this is exactly what development economist Amartya Sen took up in his 1987 book, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. He shows that famines are not necessarily a problem of availability of resources but a problem of access. Poverty is a human rights concern and the poor populations need entitlements to support stable jobs or income security that allow them to live on basic-necessities and freedoms towards a decent and secured life. Mainstream population debates also harm gender justice concerns because population control measures under most circumstances convert into women-centred policies that simply focus on women’s choice especially in the global South, without attempting to dismantle structural causes like patriarchy and nurture care between sexes.

Climate Politics: An example

Global isolationsism in the pretext of sovereignty is not a solution to address global climate injustice. Resistances from below can no longer be framed as national problems. Climatic impacts are crises that come with winners and losers. Unfortunately, climate already ‘changed’ and it is continuously ‘changing’. Some communities are already living with climate change. It is only a matter of time when the climate impacts such as rising sea-level, heatwaves and among others will directly cost the lives of the those living relatively comfortable lives. Elsewhere, I recently argued how rural & poor Indian farmers are already looking for political and legal tools to address the aggravated climatic impacts on their food and income insecurities because unpredictable droughts and floods are destroying their crops and bringing new economic losses. Recently, I also learnt how farmers in Taiwan are facing the worst drought in over half a century due to climate change.

Take for instance, the massive farmers’ protests happening in India today against the Indian Government’s move in passing farm laws without any public deliberation towards agricultural modernisation. At the domestic level, peasant movements are asking for seed & food sovereignty and alternative ways of achieving a good life that serves both material (social security, food security) and non-material (psychological connection with flora, fauna, land) needs in balance. These values are incompatible with global materialist & laissez-faire capitalist order. At the global level, Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist of the IMF has supported the farm laws in favour of deregulating the agricultural sector. Even Nobel laureate and economist Abhijit Banerjee commented on the farm laws in a way that supports the farm laws while adding that pandemic is not the right time to pass the farm laws. Deregulation comes with legalising contract farming (with agribusiness firms) and making public stocking of agricultural commodities illegal. The farmers fear that this model will make the domestic firms powerful and the sole controllers of price of agricultural commodities. Utsa Patnaik adds that it will make Indian farmers additionally vulnerable to the whims of global agribusiness firms. I must add that she is one of the few renowned economists who is critical of the profit-oriented capitalist model of agricultural development and contract farming. It seems to me that the farmers’ protests indeed has become a site of clash in political & economic ideologies between eco-socialist aspirations, and faith that runs the global order i.e. trust in capitalism and neoliberal (i.e. reduced role of the state) market efficiency for allocation of agricultural commodities. In the context of this messy transnational politics entwined with climate and agrarian crises, solutions are increasingly coming from experts who are still not connecting with protesting farmers.

While it is, tough to take a position on this mess yet, it is nevertheless important to consider that agricultural policies are made for farmers who live in a real world, and are finally responsible for the food that is on our plate. It just does not seem just and practical to oversee food security policies while ignoring farmers’ collective voice, while climatic impacts are already being felt on the agricultural grounds. If say, our bodies breakdown, we usually go to the doctor for advice instead of healing ourselves. We do this because we acknowledge that we are not experts in healing and hence trust some doctors. Similarly, if the agrarian crisis is impacting farmers, we need to question our paternalistic assumptions that farmers are not experts and certain economists/lawyers/political scientists are. Arguing that farmers are committing suicide or protesting (at the cost of their life) because they are unable to cope with crises does not say anything about circumstances that hinder them to cope. Often, they are not deemed as experts because their interests or ideologies hurt those in possession of specialised knowledge, interest or both. Lastly, it is also important to evaluate whether contract farming in its current form within a capitalist model is ecologically sustainable because often profit-oriented agricultural growth models come at the cost of soil and environmental health (nitrogen emissions from artificial fertilizers, pesticides and intensification), which may not be a wise choice given the climate scenario. Otherwise, we may land up emulating agricultural models that are failing (in terms of sustainability) in the Northern advanced capitalist countries albeit with a rise in material standard of living. I see this as an opportune moment to undo the mistakes that have been done in the past. Perhaps, it is important to engage in everyday realities of a society in order to uncover solutions that cut across climate law, climate science, economics, gender studies and political ecology.

Climate Justice

Addressing climate change is in fact a test of humanity of those humans who caused and are causing climatic crises. Climate justice helps us to break through the contradictory regulatory regimes of Environmental Law and Law & Economics, by politicising the apolitical phenomenon of ‘climate change’ beyond the contours of the nation-state and the politico-economic systems operating therein. It transpires the deep inequalities and dominations that nurture globalisation and global warming. It allows us to question who owes what to whom and why, and how these obligations should be distributed. It also helps us to question power dynamics that structure unequal control over resources that have climatic impacts at a local or planetary scale. Climate justice is thus, not only important to minimize the impacts of climate change but also rectify the structural causes of GHG emissions that are often embedded in neoliberal global development paradigms. Given the intimate relationship between GHG emissions, consumption and business-as-usual economic growth-model, we need a deeper democratic engagement that aims to redistribute power while holding the climate polluters & states ethically responsible if not legally. This can come through empowering grounded communities who can hold climate polluters into account. Macro-economically speaking, the state of affairs today highlight the urgency of human withdrawal from business-as-usual. The pandemic has already demonstrated the impact of our withdrawal, in that CO2emissions from fossil fuel and other industries dropped by 7% in 2020 due to lockdowns and reduced mobility.

Transformation as the way forward

Historians/Sociologists Dipesh Chakrabarty, and Ramachandra Guha & Madhav Gadgil (in their book, This Fissured Land: An Ecological History of India) argue that whether we blame climate change on those who are “retrospectively guilty in the West or those who are prospectively guilty in the South” (although not on a per capita basis) is a question that is undoubtedly tied to the histories of industrial mode of development (including industrial socialism & industrial capitalism), economic growth, neo-colonial continuities, modernization. To these categories, I shall also add patriarchy. I name these categories by borrowing a quote from Jerry Mander’s book, The Capitalism Papers– “If you are going to remember a thing, you must first name it…Naming something diminishes its amorphousness and stimulates focus – what it is, and what it is not.”

At the global level, regulatory bodies need to transform their governance mechanisms by decentering industrial mode of economic growth and dismantling neo-colonial continuities, patriarchy and other forms of domination that reify capture of power & capital by elite groups, in their policy and legal instruments. An enabling external environment is important for nation-states to decenter these majoritarian values from their respective national laws. Simultaneously, policy and political goals need to center an ethic of care for humans and non-humans through redistribution of power and capital.

An illustration of care- photographed by Akil Mazumder, taken from
An illustration of care- photographed by Akil Mazumder, taken from

Care needs to be centered in order to nurture collective well-being of life- including humans’ and non-humans’. However, the ethic of care needs to pay attention to politics in order to dismantle identity-based hierarchies and privileges that structure oppressive realities. Power decides much of the politics. Hence, power needs to be redistributed radically and meaningfully in order to empower those living in the margins (whether due to patriarchy, racism or other forms of domination). Further, capital needs to be redistributed equitably through wealth tax reforms so as to avoid unnecessary resource extraction which has further consequences on climate change and habitat loss of marginalised humans and non-humans.

Solutions to climate change need a transformation in adaptation and mitigation approaches keeping in mind that they address the ‘everyday’ realities especially of people who are living on the edges of the crises. People struggle or live every day; and everyday lives constitute realities on the ground. Hence, I emphasise on ‘everyday’ as the focal point of solutions. Transformations also undo structural causes of multiple crises (inequality, poverty, patriarchy, infinite economic growth, neo-colonial continuities) that make up for climate crises. We need to look away from solutions that speak to power, capital, and domination and look for solutions from the ground that center people who are directly being impacted by the crisis rather than speaking on behalf of them. What matters is the voice of those affected populations because they cannot afford to think and offer solutions on majoritarian assumptions of power. Majoritarian propositions are marginalizing them. Legal reforms could perhaps bear in mind the required decentering and centering of values as discussed in this essay, and capture changes that climate-affected people ask for. Law making, legal monitoring and implementation must be democratised.

* The author is a PhD researcher who can be contacted at

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