What credit will agriculture get for Canada going net zero by 2050?



If there’s one thing clear in Canada’s Emissions Reduction Plan, it’s that very few things are completely clear.

Take for example what agriculture is expected to deliver in emissions reductions. It’s either a reduction of one percent, as listed on page 90, or an increase of one per cent as listed on page 219. Or if you factor in sequestration from wetlands, grasslands and beneficial management practices, agriculture is expected to reduce emissions by 30 Mt, based on page 218 of the plan, which says the following:

“According to the 2021 Reference Case projections, land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) accounting will contribute 11 Mt towards the 2030 target. Sequestration of greenhouse gases from NBCS (e.g. carbon sequestration from wetlands, grasslands, beneficial management practices in the agriculture sector) and a target to reduce emissions from the use of fertilizers in the agriculture sector will reduce emissions by approximately a further 19 Mt for a total of 30 Mt of reductions. These are calculated outside of the ECCC models and are based on the Natural Resources Canada’s Carbon Budget Model of the Canadian Forest Sector, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canadian Regional Agricultural Model and the Canadian Agricultural GHG Monitoring Accounting and Report System models and other models for the LULUCF accounting, as well as based on scientific literature for the nature based climate solutions.”

Clear as mud, right?

It would appear that much of the heavy lifting agriculture is going to have to do won’t necessarily show up on its line on the emissions balance sheet.

The fact is, and this is not news, agriculture’s reach is far beyond just food. We know that transport is a key component of both serving the farm, and getting product to market at home and abroad. We know that agriculture is a user of energy and fuel, but also a key way that food waste and energy capture is made possible, through feeding ruminants and through biodigestors, for example. Land use change, which has its own category, is also directly linked to agriculture in many areas.

We also know that the industry has already been moving towards net zero. The Dairy Farmers of Canada released its plan for a net-zero goal, and just this week Grain Growers of Canada announced plans to work with the government on moving toward its net zero commitment.

We also know that the federal government’s On-Farm Climate Action Fund will more than double to $470 million. The fund will cover practices that decrease emissions, through the oft-quoted “rotational grazing, cover crops, and N management,” but details on the first funding intake are still not available. The current fund covers to 2024, at approximately $183 million.

The additional money is said to “support adoption of practices that contribute to the fertilizer emissions target and Global Methane Pledge,” and it’s expected the increased funding will be extended over a longer timeline. The methane pledge is a promise to reduce methane emissions by 30% of 2020 values by 2030, by the way.

Where those reductions get accounted for is a mystery, apparently.

I have asked both Environment and Climate Change Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for clarification on certain points, including why agriculture’s “line item” of emissions increases in the modeling on page 219, but clearly millions of dollars will be spent on decreasing emissions and changing farming practices (which, hey, that’s great!).

I’ve also asked how farmers that participate in these programs can use carbon credit and exchanges to monetize some of this change, but, again, I haven’t received clear answers. The government has previously been clear that there will be no double-dipping when it comes to offset credits.

ECCC says the proceeds of the federal price on carbon pollution returned to farmers in provinces where the federal fuel charge applies will increase from $100 million in 2021-22 to $122 million in 2022-23. So, there’s that. Don’t ask me what percentage that is of the total carbon taxes paid, because I don’t know that either (are you sensing a pattern here?).

There’s also more to be revealed in the upcoming April 7th budget, according to ECCC. Let’s hope some clarity follows, too. Perhaps the government is saving these details for upcoming announcements.

Ultimately, agriculture will — required or not — continue to raise food, sequester carbon, and adopt new technology. The rate at which is happens and the government support to do so will get hashed out in the coming months and years. I just ask we get full credit for it.

Have a few hours? You can read the entire Emissions Reduction Plan, here

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