CoBenefits and Costs

Many soil conservation and other management practices that would increase soil organic carbon (SOC) were not developed and promoted to enhance the accumulation of soil carbon per se, but rather to increase agricultural productivity, reduce soil erosion, and reduce off-farm impacts of soil erosion on water quality. In regions with predominantly subsistence or semisubsistence agriculture, the various soil management practices that contribute to carbon sequestration also are likely to have important impacts on the level and stability of farm production and food consumption. These impacts translate into improvements in health and nutrition of rural households and ultimately into increased rural economic development. Measuring these co-benefits of carbon sequestration requires analysis that goes beyond the models of agricultural production considered in this discussion. For example, additional data would be needed to characterize farm and nonfarm rural households and to analyze the market and nonmarket effects of improvements in agricultural production. Partial or general equilibrium economic models would be needed to assess fully the rural development impacts in economic terms. Antle (2002) presents an integrated assessment framework that could be used to address the on-farm and immediate off-farm environmental consequences of adoption of management practices that sequester soil C. Likewise, partial or general equilibrium models would be needed to assess the broader economic and rural development impacts of this (e.g., McCarl and Schneider, 2001).

There is a major difference between the benefits of sequestering carbon and most other co-benefits that should be taken into consideration when designing incentives for farmers to adopt practices that sequester soil carbon. Reducing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases produces a global benefit by reducing the risks and rate of climate change, whereas most other environmental and social impacts are local. Therefore, a market for carbon emissions reductions will not take into account the local co-benefits produced by farmers. This implies that incentives provided to farmers through a greenhouse gas emissions trading system will not be as large as they could be if they incorporated the social value of other environmental and social co-benefits. An important topic for further research is to assess how appropriate incentives can be created that consider and incorporate the value of local co-benefits.

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