UNFCCC Toolkit: Engagement (Learning) 4

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The following are examples of tough questions often asked by stakeholders, negotiators or the media around the role of agriculture in climate change. Answering them may require selecting and combining more than one set of messages, facts and data. The suggested answers below provide examples of how messaging, data and evidence included in this toolkit can be used.

1. The activities mandated under the SBSTA decision of June 2014 will only see results in mid-2015 to 2016. Isn’t it too late to impact the 2015 agreement?

It is very positive to see Parties committed to work on agriculture under SBSTA for the next two years. We have campaigned for many years to get a work programme, and while it would have been positive to have had such engagement earlier, it is not too late.

The 2015 agreement is likely to be a general framework with much more work taking place afterwards to refine different elements. Crucially, the 2015 agreement should not be structured in a way that excludes agriculture, so that the door remains open to including agriculture in future commitments by Parties.

Given the crucial role played by agriculture in securing livelihoods and food security, as well as its contribution to emissions and adaptation, it is essential that the sector be included in global action post 2020.

2. What is happening to financing for climate-smart agriculture?

Funding to support mitigation and adaptation activities in agriculture has been slow to emerge. Agriculture would benefit in particular from funds that support linked actions on adaptation, mitigation and current food security. This is why it is important to see agriculture more formally integrated in the climate change negotiations so it can be embedded in all the tools and mechanisms developed to support action on climate change. 

In the past two years, some progress has been made in channelling financing towards mitigation and adaptation in agriculture. Through the Global Environment Facility, associated countries are able to access funding to support domestic activities. In addition, funding through ‘fast start’ finance has also started to flow. Furthermore, the Green Climate Fund has included agriculture as a key area for action, linking adaptation and mitigation.

However the spread of the funding is not even, and not all countries are able to support their activities. We need to do more. We need funding that supports producers and that builds on the synergies between adaptation and mitigation, rather than consider them separately.

3. Fertiliser will help address the challenge of declining crop yields in the face of climate change, yet isn’t an increase in fertiliser use just going to exacerbate the carbon emissions and climate change problem?Fertiliser is an interesting example of the important trade-offs at different scales of agriculture. Between 1961 and 2010, emissions from synthetic fertilizers increased ninefold, from 0.07 to 0.68 GtCO2 equivalent per year (Tubiello et al., 2013). At these rates, within a decade, synthetic fertilisers will be the second largest of agricultural emission categories after enteric fermentation in livestock.

But synthetic fertilizers have also been critical to improving farmers’ livelihoods and national food security. Furthermore, synthetic fertilisers can actually contribute to reductions of emissions. This happens above the farm scale at the landscape scale. If greater use of fertilisers means that yields are higher and consequently less new land is cleared for agriculture, then greenhouse gas emissions across the landscape and across the country can be reduced overall.

For many countries, for example in parts of Africa where fertiliser application rates are well below international averages, there may be good arguments for food security, adaptation and mitigation to increase rates of fertiliser application. On the other hand, for other countries where fertilisers may be applied in quantities in excess of yield benefits (e.g. China) farmers would reduce on-farm costs and thus would be more food secure if they reduced application rates.

Knowledge and innovations around synthetic and organic fertilisers are growing all the time. For example, microdosing with fertilisers, particularly combined with smart use of organic fertilisers, can help farmers to reduce their input costs and achieve gains in adaptation and mitigation.

4. Should food security concerns now supersede the urgency for climate change talks?  Food security and climate change talks are inextricably interlinked and there must be recognition of the important role of agriculture in addressing climate change.

Agriculture constitutes a crucial sector in the economies of many countries and for the livelihoods of billions around the world.

Farmers – who are at the heart of providing solutions to food security – are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. The 2014 IPCC report, AR5, estimates that by 2050, climate change impacts will result in an average decline in yields of 8% for Africa and South Asia, for all crops. This will contribute to driving up food prices between 3% and 84%. The impact on many households’ food security will be dramatic.

Farmers need action from policy makers, NGOs, politicians and businesses if they are to adapt and to mitigate.

5. Agriculture is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases both directly and through land use change. How much should we focus on mitigating greenhouse gases from the sector?

Due to the growing demand for agricultural products and with predictions that climate change could reduce crop yields, the agriculture sector faces a unique challenge.

According to the latest report by the IPCC, AR5, together, agriculture, forest and other land use (known as the AFOLU sector) contribute 24% to global emissions. Agriculture itself is responsible for about half of the AFOLU sector’s emissions, contributing 10-12% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Increasing agricultural productivity and production to ensure future food security should be at the centre of all agricultural policies. Adaptation measures are crucial for securing food production, and both adaptation and mitigation efforts must be built into comprehensive agricultural strategies that support enhanced productivity, food and nutrition security, whilst being environmentally sustainable.

Policies need to be put in place that jointly address the objectives of food security, adaptation and mitigation in order to maximise benefits while recognising that there may be trade-offs.

In fact, many adaptation measures in agriculture provide mitigation benefits and vice versa. For example Alternate-Wetting-and-Drying in rice production requires less water, which is helpful in times of drought. At the same time, this approach reduces methane emissions from paddy rice (see Richards and Sander 2014). Improved livestock feeding and herd management can help livestock keepers and pastoralists adapt to changing conditions, while reducing emissions from enteric fermentation. Improved soil fertility management, through microdosing for example, could reduce the need of expensive nitrogen-based fertilisers, and associated emissions, without impacting food security.

6. Why do farmers keep talking about adaptation and mitigation co-benefits? Should we not just focus on one? 

Due to the growing demand for agricultural products and with predictions that climate change could reduce crop yields, the agriculture sector faces a unique challenge. Increasing agricultural productivity and production to ensure future food security should be at the centre of all agricultural policies. Adaptation measures are crucial for securing food production, and both adaptation and mitigation efforts must be built into comprehensive agricultural strategies that support enhanced productivity, food and nutrition security, whilst being environmentally sustainable. Policies need to be put in place that jointly address the objectives of food security, adaptation and mitigation in order to maximise benefits while recognizing that there may be trade-offs.

7. What is climate-smart agriculture?

According to the FAO, “Climate-smart agriculture promotes production systems that sustainably increase productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes GHGs (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals.”

CSA integrates the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) by jointly addressing food security and climate challenges. It is composed of three main pillars:

  • sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes;
  • adapting and building resilience to climate change;
  • reducing and/or removing greenhouse gases emissions, where possible

CSA sourcebook: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3325e/i3325e00.htm

8. What is an early warning system?

Early Warning Systems (EWS) are a critical part of systematic risk management and play a key role in assuring future agricultural production and access to food and water by the world’s most vulnerable people.

Climate change is likely to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods and storms. These cannot be prevented but implementing early warning of the impending events can significantly reduce damage associated with them.

An effective EWS includes four components: (1) detection, monitoring and forecasting of hazards; (2) analysis of risks involved; (3) dissemination of timely and authoritative warnings; and (4) activation of emergency preparedness and response plans. These need to be coordinated across many agencies at the national and community levels for the system to work. Failure in one component, or lack of coordination, can lead to the failure of the whole.


9. What are the key gaps in knowledge about adaptation in agriculture?

The main aim of the adaptation of agriculture to climate change impacts is to preserve the productivity of agricultural systems without increasing environmental impacts. In other words, agricultural practices and technologies need to be adapted to build more climate-resilient agriculture and allow for sustainable agricultural production.

Adaptation can occur at multiple levels, from changed agricultural practices, to varietal change, to substitution or diversification, to moving out of crop farming, livestock rearing or aquaculture altogether.

However, significant knowledge gaps exist as to what adaptations options are available, what their likely benefits or costs are, where and when they should be deployed, and what the learning processes are that can support widespread change under uncertainty.

This is compounded by the fact that significant uncertainty exists regarding the direction and magnitude of climate change, which in turn leads to uncertainty in the realm of food production and its impact on food systems and food security across complex geographies and societies.

Addressing knowledge gaps in adaptation will require more site-specific and evidence-based research on impacts and risks and an improved understanding of uncertainty, to allow more confident decision-making and allocation of limited resources. It also required to invest in databases and tools to inform policy and practice in the spheres of agricultural risk-management, adaptation and mitigation.

Campbell, B.M., Challinor, A.J., Hansen, J., Ingram, J.S.I., Jarvis, A., Kristjanson, P., Lau, C., Thornton, P.K, and Wollenberg, E. 2010. Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change: Outlook for Knowledge, Tools and Action. CCAFS Report 3. Copenhagen, Denmark: CGIAR-ESSP Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. 


10. What is the ‘land’ or ‘land-use’ sector? 

The term land-use sector has been used by the IPCCC and in the UNFCCC. In recent ADP text, it also shows as “land sector”. It is used to bring agriculture and forests together under one umbrella, with agriculture understood as the broad range of activities which use land, from livestock grazing to cultivation. Previously, agriculture and forests were generally conceptualised separately and this has been reflected in how the UNFCCC has handled the two topics – forests have been discussed primarily through Land Use and Land Use Change (LULUCF) and REDD, whereas agriculture remained largely excluded from the negotiations.

The land sector corresponds to the IPCC’s ‘Agriculture, Forestry and other Land Uses’ also known as AFOLU which was brought together in the latest IPCC report AR5. The benefit of using the ‘land or land-use sector’ as a concept is that it allows for better consideration of the linkages, co-benefits and trade-offs that actions in forestry and agriculture can have, rather than if the two sectors are considered separately.

11. What are Intended Nationally Determined Contributions?

Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), countries across the globe committed to create a new international climate agreement by the conclusion of the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015. During previous climate negotiations, countries agreed to publicly outline what actions they intend to take under a global agreement in order to meet the 2°C goal.

These voluntary country commitments are known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The level of ambition expressed through the INDCs will be an important factor in determining whether the new agreement is in line with required greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions compatible with the 2°C goal.

The INDCs are particularly novel because they involve all countries, moving away from the dichotomy established under the Kyoto Protocol between developed and developing countries. This reflects changes in many countries’ status since Kyoto and recognition that meeting a 2°C goal requires global action. However the level of contribution that each country should make remains a controversial topic in the negotiations.

The process of INDC’s raises some complex questions about what constitutes valid commitments. The rules for accounting and measuring have not yet been set so countries will need to walk backwards from the commitments to the rules in order to assess what are valid commitments.



12. What is the global emission budget? 

The global emission budget refers to the idea that to achieve the 2°C goal, a total amount of emissions need to be cut and a total amount of emissions can be allowed. The Global Emission Budget is the maximum amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that can be emitted into the atmosphere whilst staying within safe temperature limits beyond 2020. Exceeding an estimated budget of just 1,000 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GT CO2) would increase the risk of severe, pervasive and irreversible climate change impacts.

The amount of emissions allowed should be divided among countries and among sectors, including agriculture and land use change. Each party would need to report on how they are using their share of that allowable emission budget. This is not a concept endorsed by all countries and application of the concept entails difficult discussions about how shares of that budget can be allocated to different countries.

13. What is the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage? 

At COP19 (November 2013) in Warsaw, Poland, the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC established the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. WIM is part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework, which was created to help bolster adaptation actions and improve coordination.

The WIM provides a platform to explore and identify effective responses to climate change induced loss and damage, to expand the understanding of climate consequences and to find an appropriate mix of tools to address loss and damage. It represents an important step forward on adaptation as it embeds the issue in UNFCCC but its implementation is complex and has been tied to controversial debates about compensation and financial flows to countries affected by loss and damage.


14. Why should we include gender as part of the discussion on agriculture?

Women and men are often affected very differently by climate change because of existing differences in the social norms, relations and power dynamics that shape their lives. The roles they play, the resources they can access and – at times – different legal frameworks can shape their participation in society.

In developing countries in particular, women play an essential role in food security and nutrition but often face challenges in accessing resources, services and knowledge. They may be more negatively impacted by climate change.

Closing the gender gap in agriculture could help reduce the number of undernourished people by 100-150 million. This is true regardless of climate change, but made ever more urgent and important because of the magnifying impacts global changes in climate will have on agriculture and farmers.


15. Why is youth a relevant issue in agriculture and climate change?

The trend in agriculture has been towards an ever smaller number of people working in the sector, as other opportunities are created and changes in production methods result in less labour-intensive practices. In Europe, only about 5% of people work in agriculture. This is very low compared to developing countries. For example in Africa, agriculture is estimated to employ 65% of the labour force.

In both cases however, agriculture is often a significant contributor to local, national and global economies. And while the number of people employed directly on a farm may shrink, the food sector as a whole (beyond the farm) is a significant sector in many economies.

Youth is important for agriculture and climate change because we need to ensure young people become farmers to guarantee food production in the future. At the same time, youth has an important stake in today’s discussion because the decisions made today will impact how the next generations will live and the choices they will have.

With nearly 2.2 billion people under the age of 18 and 85% of these young people living in developing countries, ensuring food security for the next generation means getting young people into farming and making sure our farming systems can meet the demands of the new generations. Young farmers need to be supported to implement climate-smart practices so that production is sustainable.