International agricultural development and CDR must combine powers for socio-ecological responsibility

Carbon Dioxide Removal must be implemented at scale to avert the worst of climate change impacts.

This fact is now accepted by the majority of decision-makers at all levels globally, and drastic increases in governmental regulation is a near-certainty. Billions of dollars are pouring into carbon dioxide removal (CDR) initiatives, and many CDR projects are being implemented in developing economy countries. This holds massive implications for the work of the international agricultural development and CDR professionals alike. We must take our place at discussion table now to help ensure the massive potential co-risks and co-benefits of this colossal endeavor play out in favor of the frontline communities we aim to serve.

CDR is a future developing-economy industry.

CDR at the order of magnitude needed to move the needle will occupy significant land areas and require tough decisions on competing land uses like food production and biodiversity conservation. It will also likely produce large quantities of synthetic aggregates that could heavily inform local infrastructure landscapes.

We know that many existing agricultural practices are or will become untenable in some swaths of the world. We know that those communities will need to transition to other forms of sustainable livelihoods. We know these same rural communities are sorely in need of infrastructure development.

The integration of international agricultural development and CDR best practices is a huge opportunity to co-create the socioeconomic solutions we’ve been saying are needed for vulnerable frontline communities. We development professionals need to show up, engage with CDR implementors, and advocate for CDR approaches that minimize risks and maximize co-benefits.

International agricultural development is caught up in small-time climate mitigation.

One major global debate around carbon is which categories of our current global emissions should be prevented through a paradigm shift to low-carbon or decarbonized alternatives, and which should be accepted as inevitable and subsequently repaired via CDR. Yet even the most conservative evaluations agree that agricultural emissions should be considered hard-to-remove — that is, ethically and logistically better to repair through CDR than to prevent through low-carbon alternatives.

The mitigation co-benefits international agricultural development professionals frequently put forth, including soil and forest management optimization, have the shortest potential storage terms and are the most vulnerable to socioeconomic risks of re-release. And they must be done at massive scales to have any measurable impact on the gigatonnes of carbon dioxide that must be pulled from the atmosphere.

The livestock methane emissions we frequently decry as a major climate change issue, in fact, have such a short atmospheric lifetime (about 12 years, compared to carbon’s hundreds to thousands of years) that constant methane emissions result in a net zero impact on climate change on timescales of 12 years or more.

Rather than attempting to build a platform on the minuscule mitigation co-benefits of international agricultural development initiatives, we should be advocating for the vulnerable farmers we serve to be protected from decarbonization requirements, and to be central to integrated international agricultural development and CDR initiatives that will be inevitably happening in their countries.

International agricultural development and CDR experts together are uniquely prepared to realize huge co-benefits.

Many well-funded CDR solutions center on practices international agricultural development been endorsing for time immemorial, including the particularly promising biochar. Afforestation, reforestation, and soil sequestration CDR projects are sorely in need of individuals willing to confront the complexities of social and environmental justice surrounding their efforts. International agricultural development has already learned and embraced the absence of the silver bullet. We have much to offer to help improve the chances of CDR being a global success story for all.

This is international agricultural development’s chance to get in at the ground floor.

For the first time in our careers, there’s no lock-in to work around. No paradigm shift to catalyze. No distortionary policy to reverse. At least not yet.

CDR is advancing extraordinarily quickly, and it’s powered by some of the brightest minds of our generation. Folx are leaving behemoth organizations like Facebook and McKinsey to push the CDR movement forward. By definition this migration is almost entirely of individuals who care about the future of our planet and are open to learning. They are creating a space where international development voices will be heard and expertise welcome. But we can’t expect them to come to us.

So bring along you non-profit boot-strapping community-centered social-learning know-how and make CDR a global initiative truly co-designed for all.


agriculture, carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide removal, CDR, co-benefits, social justice

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