A Call for Action on Climate Change – Cannabis Holds the Answer

The UN set out a supremely ambitious and transformational vision when adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It envisions a world where human societies are safe, resilient, and sustainable and where there is universal access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy. 

A world in which consumption and production patterns and use of all-natural resources – from air to land, from rivers, lakes, and aquifers to oceans and seas – are sustainable. One in which development and the application of technology are climate-sensitive, respect biodiversity, and are resilient. One in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and other living species are protected.

This is a time of immense challenges to sustainable development. Natural resource depletion and adverse impacts of environmental degradation, including desertification, drought, land degradation, freshwater scarcity and loss of biodiversity, add to and exacerbate the list of challenges that humanity faces. 

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and its adverse impacts undermine the ability of all countries to achieve sustainable development. The survival of many societies and the biological support systems of the planet are at risk. 

It is also, however, a time of immense opportunity. Significant progress has been made in meeting many developmental challenges. Let us now walk through how sustainable development could be achieved for Affordable and Clean Energy (Goal 7); Climate Action (Goal 13); Life on Land (Goal 15), if we implement cannabis policies and work towards them.

Affordable and Clean Energy

Did you know energy is the dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for almost 60% of total greenhouse gas emissions?  Today, the focus is shifting towards renewable sources of energy to meet the global requirements and fighting climate change. In 2016, the share of renewables increased at the fastest rate since 2012, up 0.24 % points, and reached almost 17.5 % owing to rapid growth in hydropower, wind, and solar. 

Cannabis is a plant with great capacities. The fiber obtained from cannabis could be a source for the production and storage of energy. It can help ensure sustainable, reliable, and green energy for all while decreasing the dependency on fossil fuels and other polluting resources.

Research and Development of Cannabis plants as a source and storage of energy should be fostered by countries. The biomass generated by Cannabis crops is an efficient and cheap source of renewable energy, and carbon nanosheets for electrodes made out of residual wastes of Cannabis plants outperform standard graphene-based supercapacitors. 

A Shift from Indoor Cannabis Agriculture to Outdoor

Cannabis production is generally held in indoor cultivation using artificial lights, ventilation, humidity systems, automation, and irrigation. Legal regulations would shift the production method. It will also incentivize greenhouse and outdoor cultivation to have a low carbon footprint.

Further, incentives to ecological and sustainable cultivation should be mainstreamed in Cannabis and hemp policy reforms. It should include tools such as standardization, incentives of professional field-bodies able to edit peer guidelines, limitation of the rate of indoor cultivation authorized per business. The application of a carbon-tax model to indoor cannabis cultivation should be considered.

A Transversal Contribution to the Global Action on Climate Change

Cannabis and its policies might not be the core of multilateral action on climate change, yet they claim to be an influencing factor on multiple climate-related outcomes: 

  • Positively in the case of plant’s potential (e.g. uses of plant for the numerous non-psychoactivity related ‘hemp’ purposes, green energy production); or 
  • Negatively in case of failed policies (e.g. deforestation caused by illicit crops driven by criminal groups, increased energy consumption due to unregulated indoor cultivation). 

Cannabis answers the general “call to accelerate climate actions for all goals” as adopted by the UN. 

“To protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.”

Cannabis Crops for Phytoremediation of Contaminated Soil and Water

Research and development on the potential of cannabis plants in phytoremediation and phytoextraction of contaminated soil and water should be encouraged. 

Phytoremediation refers to the use of plants and associated soil microbes to reduce the concentrations or toxic effects of contaminants while phytoextraction is a form of phytoremediation that exploits the process in which plants absorb substances, particularly heavy metals from the environment and store them in their tissues.

Framers Right for Biodiversity: Fair & Equitable Benefit-sharing of Plant Resources is a Human Right

The cannabis plant has been conserved, improved, and made available by generations of farmers, peasants, indigenous people, and rural communities. To preserve and proliferate the genetic heritage and thriving biodiversity of the Cannabis plant policies should fully grant to Cannabis peasants the Farmers Rights contained in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. 

What are the Farmers Rights Contained in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (The Plant Treaty)?

The Plant Treaty recognizes the enormous contribution that the farmers and indigenous communities of all regions of the world have made for the conservation and development of plant genetic resources. 

Governments agree that the responsibility for realizing Farmers’ Rights rests with national governments and that they should protect and promote them, including:

  • Protection of traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture;
  • The right to equitably participate in sharing benefits arising from the utilization of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; and 
  • The right to participate in making decisions, at the national level, on matters related to conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture while reaffirming the “rights that farmers have to say, use, exchange, and sell farm-saved seed/propagating materials. 

Prioritizing Rural, Craft, Small-scale, Community-held, and Traditional farmers

Rural, craft, small-scale, community-held traditional cannabis production models should be prioritized over monoculture to increase market viability, rural economic development, and environmental health, among others. Regulations and standards should include good environmental practices and foster organic cultivation.

The world struggles today to deal with climate change and is more awakened to being sustainable. The cannabis industry is gaining momentum right now, which makes it the right time to implement policies keeping in mind sustainability principles.

We need more researchers like Kenzi who has worked out a toolkit fitting the right Sustainable Development Goals and applied it to the cannabis industry. More people who belong to the industry or have been a part of it traditionally should be involved in the decision-making process of the industry.

Pallavi S. Maheshwari
Pallavi S. Maheshwari
Advocate working towards social upliftment and sustainable development. Here to gather knowledge and write.

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