19 April, 2018

Changing trade means action on climate change

by Ian Brown, Fairtrade Canada

With Earth Day coming up on April 22nd, we’re looking at how Fairtrade relates to Sustainable Development Goal 13 – take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. According to the UN, “climate change affects every country on every continent. [It] presents the single biggest threat to development, and its widespread, unprecedented impacts disproportionately burden the poorest and most vulnerable.”

Fairtrade works with small-scale farmers and hired workers who are often disadvantaged and whose very livelihoods are threatened by climate change. The short-term effect of weather such as drought, flooding and unexpected fluctuations in temperature extremes can all impact the crop yields of Fairtrade products such as coffee, cocoa, bananas, sugar and more.

One of longer-term implications of climate change for Fairtrade producers is that it changes the viability of their farms - rising temperatures mean plants may no longer grow on the small plots of land most farmers own. If crops do still grow, then there may be diseases which move in and decimate crops. La roya (Coffee Rust) affects up to half of the coffee-growing regions of Central and South America. The fungus causes the leaves of the coffee trees to drop, which in turn means the coffee fruit doesn’t mature and the harvest is lost.

Target 13.3 is: Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.

Fairtrade works (all linked articles available in English only) to ward off these impacts by training farmers on what to expect as the climate continues to change, and how to respond to extreme weather conditions. The Fairtrade Premium can be invested in new drought-resistant plants or flood-prevention measures for fields. The image above shows a coffee plant nursery in Nicaragua.

Members of cooperatives can be encouraged to work together to grow the best plants for each area, as determined by the altitude, amount of sun received and other factors. In the case of la roya, diversification into other crops is also encouraged, to ensure security of income. Learn more about la roya, and how Fairtrade is helping Mexican farmers adapt.

Fairtrade International has developed a climate change strategy which provides a framework for action, including the development of a Climate Standard promoting best agricultural practices. The environmental standards include the following practices: integrated pest management, prevention of soil erosion, improvement of soil fertility, sustainable use of water sources, sustainable waste management, prohibition of GMOs, protection of biodiversity, use of renewable energy, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, a Fairtrade Carbon Credits system has been developed to cover:

  • Renewable energy projects, such as: solar thermal heating/electricity, solar photovoltaic, wind energy, hydropower, biogas heating/electricity.
  • Energy efficiency projects, such as improved cookstoves, water filtration/purification systems, energy saving lamps/ fluorescent lamps.
  • Forestry projects, such as: planting trees or replanting trees in a previously forested area.