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Tropentag, September 20 - 22, 2017 in Bonn

"Future Agriculture: Social-ecological transitions and bio-cultural shifts"

Offsetting Emissions through On-Site Carbon Accounting in Agroforestry: The Case of Carbon Neutral Certified Coffee

Athena Birkenberg1, Sigrun Wagner2, Thomas Hilger1, Peter L├Ąderach3, Regina Birner1

1University of Hohenheim, Inst. of Agricultural Sciences in the Tropics (Hans-Ruthenberg-Institute), Germany
2Manchester Metropolitan University, Environmental Science Research Centre (ESRC), United Kingdom
3International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Nicaragua


Agriculture is not only affected by climate change but also contributing significantly to it; 19-24% of greenhouse gas emissions originate from the agri-food sector. Carbon related standards and certifications such as the Publically Available Specification (PAS) 2060 for carbon neutrality are on the rise. However, the biogenic carbon sequestration by agroforestry systems is not accounted for in such Life Cycle Assessment based certifications so far. Therefore, compensation of GHG emissions remains subject to offsetting by obtaining international carbon credits. Carbon offsetting has been often criticised for its lacking transparency and sustainability. Whereas, accounting for on-site carbon sequestration could incentivize agroforestry production systems and address consumers demand for low-carbon and sustainable agri-food products.

This study investigated the Costa Rican case of the world's first coffee that is certified as carbon neutral in compliance with PAS 2060 since 2011. The objective was to analyse the carbon sequestration potential of coffee-agroforestry-systems in Costa Rica and estimate to which extent it could compensate the coffee's carbon footprint. We developed a carbon sequestration model, with a time horizon of 20 years, based on a detailed carbon inventory in selected transects.

Carbon sequestration on average reached 1.71 ± 2.64 t C ha-1 yr-1, which corresponds to findings from existing literature on coffee-agroforestry-systems in Central America. This on-site carbon sequestration rate would compensate the coffee carbon footprint of 2.79 kg CO2eq kg-1 green coffee by 160%. Factors, determining the potential of emission offsetting are: carbon sequestration ha-1 (most influential), yield ha-1 and carbon footprint of the product (least influential). The study shows the potential of accounting for on-site carbon sequestration to replace untransparent and unsustainable carbon credits. By this, it can promote agroforestry systems as a management option for farmers to tackle the multifaceted challenges today and in future.

Keywords: Carbon neutral, carbon sequestration, coffee agroforestry, Costa Rica

Contact Address: Athena Birkenberg, University of Hohenheim, Inst. of Agricultural Sciences in the Tropics (Hans-Ruthenberg-Institute), Stuttgart, Germany, e-mail: a.birkenberg@uni-hohenheim.de

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