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UN Must Include Soil Health in Climate Mitigation Strategies

November 23, 2015
Center for Food Safety

Center for Food Safety goes to UN Climate talks to highlight potential of carbon sequestration through healthy soils

WASHINGTON, DC (November 23, 2015)—Center for Food Safety (CFS) is calling on world leaders to recognize agro-ecological agriculture as a core climate solution during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris this December. CFS, as part of its newly launched Soil Solutions program, will be attending the talks as an accredited representative, participating in events aimed at raising the profile of carbon sequestration through regenerative agriculture, a strategy that holds great potential to address the climate crisis.

“By changing our agricultural practices, we have a massive opportunity to both substantially curb the release of greenhouse gases that cause warming, as well as sequester carbon already in the atmosphere. It comes down to building healthy soil,” said Diana Donlon, food and climate director at Center for Food Safety. “We need leaders in Paris to hear this message loud and clear.” 

Globally, soil has lost 50-70 percent of its original carbon content. When soil organic matter is disturbed, carbon molecules escape and combine with oxygen atoms to create CO2. Unsustainable farming practices such as using high amounts of chemicals, planting massive monocrops, and compacting or digging up soil with huge machinery degrade carbon stocks. By some estimates, at least 30 percent of GHGs can be attributed to agricultural practices—this percentage includes direct and indirect practices such as clearing forests to plant monocultures like palm oil plantations. 

Rebuilding soil carbon stocks is good farming.  Aside from storing carbon, regenerative, agro-ecological systems keep land productive and fertile and facilitate proper water absorption and storage, a critical function. On a planetary level, carbon-rich soils are essential for maintaining water hydrological cycles.

“Soil health is inextricably linked not only to climate but also to food and water security. Scientists predict we will see an increase in severe droughts, floods and storms in the coming decades as a result of global warming. But if we begin rebuilding the soil content of our soils today, we would make ourselves more resilient in the face of extreme weather events,” said Debbie Barker, international programs director at Center for Food Safety.

Eighty percent of global warming effects will impact developing countries, many of which already experience high rates of malnutrition and hunger. Under current global warming scenarios, experts predict that median crop yields will decline by approximately 2 percent per decade through 2100. At the same time, our escalating population is projected to exceed 9 billion people by 2050.

“Quite simply, if we don’t begin restoring soil carbon stocks, then game over for ensuring and adequate global food supply,” added Barker.


CFS Events at Paris COP21

December 1—10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., French Ministry of Agriculture Launch of 4 Pour 1000 Initiative, UNFCCC Accredited Zone, Le Bourget, 93350

The French Ministry of Agriculture has invited CFS to present its informative four-minute video—Soil Solutions to Climate Problems—narrated by author Michael Pollan, at the United Nations launch of, 4 Pour 1000, an initiative aimed at restoring carbon in soils around the globe. Debbie Barker, CFS’s International Programs Director, will also speak prior to the video presentation.  The event, hosted by French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll, will be attended by other agriculture ministers and other high-level delegates attending the COP21.

December 6—Global Landscapes Forum, Le Palais des Congrès de Paris, 2 place de la Porte Maillot, 75017

7:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.:  Informational booth with reports and publications and streaming of CFS four-minute film—Soil Solutions to Climate Problems—narrated by leading author Michael Pollan.

5:30 p.m. – 6:20 p.m.:  International Panel Discussion—Agro-Ecology as a Major Mitigation and Adaptation Solution.

Speakers include:  Million Belay (MELCA-Ethiopia), Hans Herren (Millennium Institute), and Kristine Nichols (Rodale Institute), Vandana Shiva (Navdanya), Debbie Barker (Center for Food Safety), and Diana Donlon (Center for Food Safety)

Event Description:  Global Landscapes Forum is organized by Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGAIR) and will be the largest forum focused on agriculture during the COP21. Throughout December 6, CFS will have an informational booth within the Forum distributing reports and publications, and will stream our four-minute video—Soil Solutions to Climate Problems.  At 5:30 p.m. CFS is convening a panel of experts on agro-ecology—scientists and practitioners— advocating that regenerative, agro-ecological practices be at the forefront of climate change solutions.

December 10, 9:30 a.m. – 11 a.m., UNFCCC Climate Generations, Room 1, Civil Society Village, Le Bourget, 93350 Le Bourget (Blue Zone:  open to all, no accreditation needed) 

International Panel —Agro-Ecology and Soil Solutions

Speakers Include: Million Belay (MELCA-Ethiopia), Hans Herren (Millennium Institute), and Kristine Nichols (Rodale Institute), Vandana Shiva (Navdanya), Debbie Barker (Center for Food Safety), and Diana Donlon (Center for Food Safety)

Event Description:  Located right next to the UNFCCC Negotiation Center in Le Bourget, our expert panelists will focus on links between agriculture and climate change and how regenerative agriculture, with an emphasis on rebuilding soil carbon stocks, must be a central strategy to combat climate change as well as to provide food and water security and sovereignty, safeguard eco-systems, and better ensure economic and social equity.  Our presentation will also feature our visually stunning, informative four-minute video—Soil Solutions to Climate Problems—narrated by author Michael Pollan.


 CFS Speakers at Paris COP21

Debbie Barker, Center for Food Safety (Washington, D.C.)

Debbie Barker is the international director for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), a legal and public policy institute in Washington, D.C.   She was formerly the director of the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), a think tank on economic globalization issues.   She recently authored Trade Matters:  Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Impacts on Food and Farming.  Other recent reports include:  Genetically Engineered Trees:  The New Frontier of Biotechnology, and The Wheel of Life: Food, Climate, Human Rights, and the Economy, which unravels relationships between food security, climate change, natural resource depletion, economic and trade systems, and human rights violations and inequities.   She was on the international committee of authors for the World Bank and United Nation major report released in 2008—the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).  Ms. Barker has edited, co-authored and contributed to numerous other publications and spoken at a variety of fora including the European Parliament, U.S. federal agencies, Congressional briefings.

Million Belay Ali, Ph.,D, MELCA-Ethiopia and Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa

Million Belay is the founder and director of MELCA—Ethiopia, a major environmental NGO.  Since 2013, he has led and coordinated the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, an alliance of community-based groups throughout Africa.   He has served as a coordinator for numerous international environmental and sustainable agriculture projects and activities including coordinating Ethiopia’s participation at the World Summit on Sustainable Development; research coordinator for the Institute of Sustainable Development; youth coordinator for African Biodiversity Network, and is also a member of Third World Network.  In addition he has serve as a representative to the United Nations including the Convention on Biological Diversity.  He was received Ethiopia’s National Green Hero Award in 2008.  Belay has a PhD in education, a masters’s in tourism and conservation and a bachelor’s in biology.

Diana Donlon, Center for Food Safety (San Francisco, CA)

Diana Donlon is Center for Food Safety's food and climate campaign director.  Prior to CFS, Ms. Donlon worked for a variety of family foundations supporting youth and sustainable agriculture programs. As a program executive at the Goldman Environmental Prize, she helped to elevate the causes of environmental activist around the world.  She is a founder of Roots of Change and the Board Secretary of Watershed Media, award-winning publishers of action-oriented titles including Farming with the Wild and Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill.  Articles and blogs include “The Agricultural Fulcrum: Better Food,” The Atlantic;  “The Soil-Carbon Opportunity,” Resource magazine; “Ecologist-in-Chief Urges Changes in Production and Consumption,” Huffington Post.  Ms. Donlon has a master’s in Education from Harvard University, bachelor’s degree in history from the University of California, Berkeley; and served two years in Peace Corps, Morocco.

Hans R. Herren, Ph.D, Millennium Institute (U.S.)

Swiss agronomist/entomologist Hans R. Herren, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading experts on biological pest control and sustainable agriculture. When a new pest threatened the cassava root in Africa, he designed and implemented a successful biological control programme that has been credited with saving millions of lives. Herren is the president and CEO of the Millennium Institute, an independent and non-partisan nonprofit organization founded in 1983 to inspire global action on sustainability issues. Herren was the co-chair of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a major international report endorsed by 59 countries.   Herren has received numerous awards, including the World Food Prize 1995.

Kristine Nichols, Ph.D., Rodale Institute (U.S.)

Kristine Nichols is a leader in the study of soil biology, focusing her work on the life in the soil. As chief scientist at Rodale Institute, Dr. Nichols oversees approximately twenty research trials on organic agriculture, including the Farming Systems Trial®, the longest-running side-by-side U.S. study comparing conventional chemical agriculture with organic methods. Prior to joining the Institute, Dr. Nichols was a research soil microbiologist with the United States Department of Agriculture for 11 years.  Nichols is well-known for her pioneering work with mycorrhizal fungi and the investigation of glomalin—two substances key to soil structure and plant health. Dr. Nichols has received several awards including the 2012 Conservation Research Award from the International Soil and Water Conservation Society. 

Vandana Shiva, Ph.D., Navdanya (India)

Vandana Shiva, Ph.D, is a world-renowned environmental thinker, activist, physicist, feminist, philosopher, and writer.  She is the founder and director Navdanya International, based in India, a civil society movement focusing on protecting seed and biological diversity and promoting sustainable food and farm systems.  She serves on numerous committees and boards including Prince Charles’ expert group on Sustainable Agriculture; the National Board of Organic Standards of India; and many others.   Dr. Shiva advises governments worldwide, and was recently invited by government of Bhutan to convert Bhutan’s agriculture to be 100 percent organic.

Author of many articles and books, including Soil Not Oil; Monoculture of the Mind; Seed Sovereignty, Food Security; and many others, Dr. Shiva is also a highly sought after speaker by many fora around the globe including parliaments, U.N. commissions, and universities.  Among her many awards are the Alternative Nobel Prize (Right Livelihood Award, 1993), Lennon ONO grant for peace award by Yoko Ono and Sydney Peace Prize in November 2010.   Time Magazine identified Dr. Shiva as an environmental “hero” in 2003, and Asia Week has called her one of the five most powerful communicators in Asia. In November 2010, Forbes Magazine identified Dr. Shiva as one of the “Seven Most Powerful Women on the Globe.”


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