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Home > MEA Bulletin > List of Guest Articles > Guest Article No. 69
MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 69 - Thursday, 7 May 2009
Securing a Place for Agriculture at the International Climate Change Negotiations
By Gerald Nelson, Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Full Article

If fundamental climate change mitigation and adaptation goals are to be met, international climate negotiations must include agriculture. Agriculture and climate change are linked in three important ways: (1) climate change will have large effects on agriculture, (2) agriculture can help mitigate climate change, and (3) poor farmers will need help adapting to climate change. In advance of the 15th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009, IFPRI suggests several critical negotiating outcomes under these three points that will support climate change goals, while enhancing the well-being of people who manage and depend on agriculture, especially in the developing world.

(1) Climate change will affect agriculture, but it is uncertain where and how much
Climate change will have dramatic consequences for agriculture. Water sources will become more variable, droughts and floods will stress agricultural systems, some coastal food-producing areas will be inundated by the seas, and food production will fall in some places in the interior. Developing economies and the poorest of the poor likely will be hardest hit. Overall, however, substantial uncertainty remains about where the effects will be greatest.

Suggested negotiating outcome: Increase funding for research on the interactions between climate change and agriculture
Research should be funded that improves understanding and predictions of the interactions between climate change and agriculture. Climate change assessment tools are needed that are more geographically precise, more useful for agricultural policy and program review and scenario assessment, more explicitly incorporate the biophysical constraints that affect agricultural productivity, and better integrate biophysical and socioeconomic scenarios.

(2) Cost-effective ways are needed to help poor farmers adapt to climate change
Even with the best efforts to mitigate climate change, it is inevitable that poor farmers will be affected, and the goal is to find and fund the most cost-effective ways to help the poor adapt to these changes.

Suggested negotiating outcome: Allow funding mechanisms that recognize the connection between pro-poor development policies for sustainable growth and sound climate change policies
A pro-growth, pro-poor development agenda that supports agricultural sustainability also contributes to climate change adaptation. A policy environment that enhances economic opportunities for smallholders will also be good for climate change adaptation. Such an environment would include more investment in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and access to markets for small farmers.

Suggested negotiating outcome: Provide funds for agricultural science and technology
Climate change places new and more challenging demands on agricultural productivity and poverty reduction. It is urgent to pursue crop and livestock research, including biotechnology, to help overcome stresses related to climate change such as heat, drought, and new pathogens. Crops and livestock are needed that respond reasonably well in a range of production environments rather than extremely well in a narrow set of climate conditions. Research is also needed on how dietary changes in food animals can reduce methane emissions.

Suggested negotiating outcome: Provide funds for infrastructure and institutional innovations
Improvements in water productivity are critical, and climate change, by making rainfall more variable and changing its spatial distribution, will exacerbate the need for better water harvesting, storage, and management. Equally important is supporting innovative institutional mechanisms that give agricultural water users incentives to conserve. Investments in rural infrastructure, both physical and institutional, are needed to enhance the resilience of agriculture in the face of the uncertainties of climate change.

Suggested negotiating outcome: Provide funds for data collection on the local context of agriculture
Crop and livestock productivity, market access, and the effects of climate all are extremely location specific. Yet global efforts to collect and disseminate data on the spatial nature of agriculture, especially over time, are limited. Countries have reduced funding for national statistical programs, and remote sensed systems are still inadequate to the task of monitoring global change. Understanding agriculture-climate interactions well enough to support adaptation and mitigation activities based on land use requires major improvements in data collection and provision.

(3) Agriculture can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions
Today, agriculture contributes about 14 percent of annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and land-use change, including forest loss, contributes another 19 percent. The developing world accounts for about 50 percent of agricultural emissions and 80 percent of land-use change and forestry emissions. Significant challenges remain in finding low-cost opportunities for reducing agricultural emissions. What are the best ways to dissuade poor people from cutting down trees and converting other lands to unsustainable agricultural practices and to encourage them to adopt technologies and management strategies that mitigate carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions? The tasks ahead include identifying and supporting the most appropriate approaches in farmers’ fields and monitoring their implementation.

Suggested negotiating outcome: Fund cost-effective mitigation in agriculture and research on promising technologies and management systems
Agriculture has huge potential to cost-effectively mitigate GHGs through changes in agricultural technologies and management practices. Changing crop mixes to include more plants that are perennial or have deep root systems, as well as shifting land use to pasture and agroforestry, increases the amount of carbon stored in the soil. Cultivation systems that leave residues and reduce tillage, especially deep tillage, encourage the buildup of soil carbon. Changes in crop genetics and the management of irrigation, fertilizer use, and soils can reduce both nitrous oxide and methane emissions. Changes in livestock species and improved feeding practices can also cut methane emissions.

Suggested negotiating outcome: Fund low-cost systems for monitoring agricultural mitigation
Promising technologies exist for reducing the costs of tracking the performance of agricultural mitigation programs. For example, microsatellites can be used for frequent, high-resolution land cover imaging, inexpensive standardized methods are available to test soil carbon, and simple assessment methods can adequately quantify the effects of management technologies on methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

Suggested negotiating outcome: Allow innovative payment mechanisms and support for novel institutions for agricultural mitigation
Agricultural production differs qualitatively from other sources of GHGs because the sources are individually small, geographically dispersed, and often served by inadequate physical and institutional infrastructure. Beyond the traditional schemes developed under the Kyoto Protocol, the negotiating outcome should allow and encourage cost-effective payment mechanisms that take advantage of these differences, exploiting activities beyond project-specific funding. Examples include land retirement contracts, one-time payments for physical infrastructure investments that have long-term mitigation effects, and payments for institutional innovations that encourage mitigating behavior in common property resources.

Suggested negotiating outcome: Allow funding mechanisms that recognize and support synergies between adaptation and mitigation
Many changes to agricultural management systems that increase their resilience to climate change also increase carbon sequestration. Conservation tillage improves soil water retention in the face of drought while also sequestering carbon below ground. Small-scale irrigation facilities both conserve water and increase crop productivity and soil carbon. Agroforestry systems increase above- and below-ground carbon storage while also increasing water storage below ground, even in the face of extreme climate events. Properly managed rangelands can cope better with drought and sequester significant amounts of carbon.
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