The Green Party recently voted to resist proposals for large scale use of charcoal in soils for climate change mitigation, and against their inclusion into carbon markets. Biochar, along with agrofuels, would result in devastating expansion of industrial agriculture which threatens people, climate and ecosystems.
Industrial scale "biochar" is the latest dangerous planetary geo-engineering proposal to 'save the Earth' and humanity from climate change without reducing emisions; its consequences would destroy biodiversity and make us more vulnerable than we are already. Geo-engineering is the technique to tackle climate change by either removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (e.g. using ocean iron fertilisation) or by managing solar radiation (e.g. by using mirrors in space) in order to negate the net warming effect of climate change.
Biochar (charcoal) enthusiasts intend to burn biomass to produce and bury charcoal, in order to manipulate land use and the biosphere on a vast scale. As if the world's land, 25% of which is already becoming seriously degraded, does not have enough pressures from deforestation, industrial agriculture and sprawling human settlements. Charcoal proposals forestall sufficient climate change measures such as ending the use of coal, protecting and restoring old forests, and reforming industrial agriculture. Let leading science and climate negotiators know this is unacceptable.
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An international declaration was launched by 147 organisations last week, opposing the growing hype and political support for Biochar. The groups signing the declaration "strongly oppose the inclusion of soils in carbon trade and offset mechanisms, including in the Clean Development Mechanism.” The groups further assert that "the 'biochar' initiative fails to address the root causes of climate change.”
Those issuing this warning range from small farmers associations and forest protection groups to international environmental networks and human rights advocates. Further organizations are being invited to sign the declaration. Ecological Internet has independently organized a protest alert questioning whether enough "waste biomass" and "degraded and marginal" lands exist to carry out geoengineering of the Earth's land and climate at the scale proposed, and without intensifying industrial tree plantations and all their attendant problems.
A new declaration states "Biochar, a New Big Threat to People, Land and Ecosystems" has been launched as UN and government delegates are meeting in Bonn this week to discuss a post-2012 climate change agreement. One of the proposals which they will be discussing is to allow carbon credits for using charcoal as a soil additive in the hope that this will create a permanent 'carbon sink' and help to reduce global warming, and reclaim degraded soil. They will also discuss whether to generally include agricultural soils into carbon trading.
Civil society groups have called for caution on Biochar in view of serious scientific uncertainty. Many share concerns that this technology would lead to vast areas of land being converted to new plantations, thus repeating the unfolding disasters which agrofuels cause. They point out that large scale financial incentives for biochar or other soil sequestration could result in large scale land conversion and displacement of people.
Helena Paul from EcoNexus states: "Including biochar and agricultural soil in carbon markets would turn soils into a commodity that could be sold to offset pollution elsewhere. It would endanger smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples who cannot compete with governments and large companies and who are at risk of being displaced if the ground is literally sold out from under their feet."
Stella Semino from Grupo de Reflexion Rural, Argentina adds: "The idea that charcoal will rescue a burning planet is absurd. Some biochar proponents call for quantities of charcoal which would require over 500 million hectares of industrial tree and crop plantations. We know already that industrial agriculture and tree plantations are a major contributor to climate change and displace people and biodiversity. We need to protect ecosystems, not grow vast new monocultures and burn them! This is a farce.”
Almuth Ernsting from Biofuelwatch states: "Large-scale support for biochar is premature and dangerous. Claims that biochar is retained permanently in soils and increases fertility are based on Terra Preta soils in Amazonia, which were made by indigenous peoples hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Those farmers used biodiverse organic residues and compost, as well as charcoal. Modern biochar is not the same. Some companies are making biochar out of municipal waste and tyres, others promote using biochar to scrub flue gases from coal burners and then using this combination as a fertilizer. Some plan to use giant microwave ovens to char trees – justifying this by pointing to ancient Amazonian soils is absurd."
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