Project – 4 – A study of the Attitudes and Awareness to Carbon Offset Protocols in Alberta’s Agricultural Community

Location: University of Alberta
Reserach Team: Brent Swallow and Onnolee Nordstrom
Duration:  March 2011 – March 2012

Today as issues of sustainability dominate the agenda, environmental accountability is being demanded across all industries. Having agriculture contribute to reduce global emissions and become part of the solution to global warming can only succeed if the participants engaged to make the difference believe and are willing to adopt the idea. The extent to which farmers adopt activities and alter their practices will depend on beliefs, costs, potential revenues, and other economic incentives created by climate policy.

Alberta has the highest Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in Canada and at the same time, one of the largest and most diverse agricultural economies. These agriculture sub-sectors have significant potential for reduced GHG emissions and for storage of carbon in biomass and soil. Since 2007, Alberta farmers have been able to enter into offset contracts in which they can get rewarded for adopting farming practices that reduce GHG emissions. As part of its efforts to address climate change, the Province of Alberta has introduced legislation to address greenhouse gas emissions in the province: the Climate Change and Emissions Management Act. Alberta has required annual reporting of air emissions since 2003. Facilities that emit more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year are required to reduce their emissions intensity by 12 per cent annually. Alberta’s regulatory system for managing Greenhouse Gases effective July 1, 2007:

  • Establishing market demand through regulated emission reduction targets for large emitters.
  • Enabling market supply through allowing emission offsets as a compliance option for regulated emitters.

Climate change research has commonly focused on risk-response assessments or the concept of altruism. This study builds off those mechanisms but views climate change perceptions and carbon reducing practice adoption from the perspective of the perceived legitimacy. Programs need to be considered within the context of the environment in which they will operate. A high degree of perceived legitimacy within one social framework may not be widely accepted when applied to a different environment and may have a negative effect on adoption. This distinction has important implications and highlights the importance of integrating grassroots beliefs and attitudes in to policy development. The adoption of social mandates is shaped by internal policy, coalitions, authority, ideology, and perceived legitimacy. Acknowledging that regulatory legitimacy results from rulemaking and enforcement activities within the agencies of the nation we need to consider the relationship between legitimacy and other types of social evaluation. This paper explores Carbon Offset protocols and considers the institutional conditions under which farms are likely to act in environmentally responsible ways.

This research looks at the adoption, challenges, implications, and opportunities for the promotion of Alberta’s carbon offset protocols. Alberta’s carbon offset protocols and their adoption across the agricultural community yields insight in to farmer’s overall perception of environmental sustainability. The research offers a participatory framework for a legitimacy assessment of Alberta’s carbon offset protocols and suggests reasons for their adoption (or lack of). The research draws on broad trends in agriculture and uses personal interviews and survey research to incorporate a grassroots perspective.

Data on farmer’s attitudes and opinions was collected in two ways. The first was an online survey, via survey monkey and the second was through personal interview. Primary data was initially solicited from an online questionnaire survey of crop and livestock farmers. The survey was designed to elicit information from Alberta farmers who are, or could be, involved in offset contracts. Survey respondents were solicited through aggregators and Alberta farmer associations. The survey is located at:

Research Value
The research focuses on how the field-level actors perceive the carbon offset protocols and how broader cognitive, normative, and institutional forces shape how new practice models emerge and diffuse. Within the agricultural institution we have little understanding of the mechanisms that cause some ideas to be adopted and diffused and other ideas to remain under adopted. This study provides valuable insight in to the diffusion of environmentally sustainable practices and whether this diffusion is the intended or unintended consequence of carbon reducing agricultural practices.