Farmers must earn carbon market rewards: report

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said on Saturday farmers worldwide must be rewarded for fighting global warming, for example using carbon markets which would add to public climate cash.

Vilsack was speaking on the fringes of U.N. climate talks which have traditionally focused only on cutting carbon from power plants and factories rather than from farms or forests.

The December 7-18 talks in the Danish capital are meant to agree the outline of a new global climate deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, for a full treaty to be signed next year.

One hurdle has been to agree how much the industrialized world should pay poorer countries to cut carbon emissions and prepare for a warming world. Vilsack said public cash must be supplemented with markets and the private sector.

“The reality is no matter how much the developed nations and governments put on the table to provide assistance ... in terms of climate change it will not be anywhere near enough.”

The White House said last week a consensus was emerging for the industrialized world to pay $10 billion annually for developing nations by 2012.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has lobbied for a market approach to reward U.S. farmers for cutting carbon emissions. They would be able to sell carbon offsets to polluters under a draft U.S. climate bill.

“Farmers need incentives,” said Vilsack. “It will be important and necessary for the private sector to be fully and completely engaged in this. That’s why it’s important to create incentives, markets that function.”

He said a new U.N. climate deal should include farming, which is poorly recognized under Kyoto.

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization says the world’s 500 million smallholders can tackle climate change and boost food output at the same time.

The agency argues that developing nation farmers can both cut greenhouse gas emissions and improve degraded land and so boost yields, through practices such as tree planting.

“It’s important for this conference not to separate the two,” said Vilsack. “Food security and climate change are in my view linked and if you address one you address the other.”

He was speaking at an event focused on the role of agriculture, on the fringes of the U.N. climate talks.

Specialists discussed the priorities for a farm sector which accounts for 14 percent of global greenhouse gases, and which must feed an additional 2.3 billion people and increase food output by 70 percent by 2050.

The U.N.’s World Food Programme issued a report on Wednesday which estimated that an extra 100-200 million people could go hungry by 2050 without firm action on climate change, as a result of more droughts and floods.

Editing by Janet Lawrence