UNFCCC Toolkit: Engagement (Learning) 2

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Update on Agriculture in the UNFCCC

A process under SBSTA was initiated in 2014, where submissions were requested and workshops were held on topics related to agriculture in 2015. Further workshops will be held in 2016.

There is no specific agenda item on agriculture for the sessions at COP21 in Paris in December 2015. However, the negotiating text for the Ad Hoc working group on the Durban Platform (ADP) is an opportunity to ensure that agriculture is not excluded from a new climate change agreement. So supporters need to consider the two tracks – ADP and SBSTA.

 1- Under SBSTA

Agriculture is currently under consideration by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the UNFCCC. SBSTA is one of two permanent subsidiary bodies to the UNFCCC established by the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the Conference and Meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto protocol (CMP). It supports the work of the COP and the CMP through the provision of timely information and advice on scientific technological matters as they relate to the Convention or the Kyoto Protocol.

SBSTA can act as a hub for agriculture and can handle the very unique aspects of agriculture in a way that cannot be handled elsewhere. SBSTA can also inform the various aspects of the UNFCCC, so that agriculture is better incorporated into the various convention mechanisms and linkages can made to cross cutting issues, such as gender and youth.

During the 39th session of SBSTA in November 2013, a workshop was held on the state of scientific knowledge. Discussions in the workshop were positive, but in the following negotiations Parties failed to agree on a way forward. As a result there was no text on agriculture in the SBSTA conclusions in December 2013.

When SBSTA resumed at its 40th session in June 2014, there was a lot of uncertainty about what could be achieved, given the disappointing outcomes in December. However, Parties were able to engage in a useful exchange and agree to a new series of submissions and workshops to be held in 2015 and 2016 (see document: FCCC/SBSTA/2014/L.14 for the full text of the decision). The key points from the decision are:

  • Parties and observers were invited to submit their views by 25 March 2015 to the Secretariat on: 1) Development of early warning systems and contingency plans in relation to extreme weather events and its effects such as desertification, drought, floods, landslides, storm surge, soil erosion, and saline water intrusion; and 2) Assessment of risk and vulnerability of agricultural systems to different climate change scenarios at regional, national and local levels, including but not limited to pests and diseases;
  • Parties and observers are invited to submit their views by 9 March 2016 to the secretariat on 1) Identification of adaptation measures, taking into account the diversity of the agricultural systems, indigenous knowledge systems and the differences in scale, as well as possible co-benefits and sharing experiences in research and development and on the ground activities, including socioeconomic, environmental and gender aspects; and 2) Identification and assessment of agricultural practices and technologies to enhance productivity in a sustainable manner, food security and resilience, considering the differences in agro-ecological zones and farming systems, such as different grassland and cropland practices and systems.

In addition, two workshops were organised at SBSTA 42 in June 2015 and two more will be held at SBSTA 44 in June 2016 on the respective submission topics.

Agreement on a set of submissions and workshops under SBSTA is positive because it represents important progress in getting substantive discussions of agriculture on the agenda in UNFCCC. Also, the outcomes of the submissions and workshop can provide information for consideration by Parties as they prepare for implementation of the 2015 agreement. In doing so, it helps avoid the risk of seeing agriculture side-lined from the negotiations.

The 2015 agreement to be signed in December 2015 is however likely to be a ‘shell’ or framework with many issues and details to be worked out before it comes into force. This period of “working out the details” offers an opportunity to feed in the SBSTA outcomes, but only as long as agriculture or food security are not excluded from the text agreed in December 2015.

The areas of work outlined in the SBSTA decision text from June 2014 are a trade-off between different Parties’ views and priorities. Adaptation features clearly in the text, but mitigation is not mentioned. The concepts of ‘resilience’ and ‘co-benefit’ do link adaptation with mitigation, but adaptation and mitigation are not linked explicitly.

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2- Under the ADP:

Parties are meant to conclude negotiations in 2015 for an agreement under the UNFCCC that will set the stage for all Parties from 2020. This negotiation is taking place under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Action (ADP). In November 2015, the text that will be the basis of negotiations at COP 21 in December 2015 was published, collating all the views and proposals made by Parties into one document as a means to offer a starting point for negotiations. Parties have been engaged in discussions since February 2015 and a new text, reflecting a possible Decision and Agreement, were made available in November 2015.

The mentions of agriculture and land sector originally included in the first draft (the ‘Geneva text’) are no longer present. The text does not preclude agriculture from being included but does not specifically mention it. There are numerous mentions of ecosystems and resilience however, which would allow a logical tie in.

Language of relevance to agriculture in the current negotiating text:

  • The preamble mentions food security and ecosystems, which can be important placeholders for agriculture.
  • Under mitigation, agriculture can be seen as included:
    • The mention of “economy-wide emission reductions/targets and all greenhouse gases” includes agriculture and is meant to open up the possibility for agriculture to be included in countries’ mitigation strategies. However, this may not make inclusion of agriculture compulsory. The matter of which agricultural processes would be included, and by how many countries, would then depend on how contributions to an overall mitigation goal are set. If countries are to nationally determine what goes into their plans and what doesn’t, it still leaves the door open for some countries to exclude agriculture from their plans. If a less flexible approach is adopted it could mean that all countries must include all sectors in their mitigation plans.
  • Under adaptation, there is no language specifically on agriculture or the land sector but the focus throughout the text is more related to ecosystems and resilience.

The ADP & Nationally Determined Contributions

The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), established at COP17 in Durban in 2011, has the mandate to develop a new agreement that will be adopted at COP21 in Paris in 2015. The new agreement will be implemented from 2020 onwards. The ADP was originally focused on mitigation and intended to be the follow up to the Kyoto protocol, which is expiring (some countries agreed to sign on to an extension of their commitment under Kyoto, while ADP is negotiated to avoid a ‘gap’). One of the key features of the ADP proposed approach is the emphasis on a global target for emission reductions, to be fulfilled through Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).

The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) submissions by countries are an important platform for including agriculture. Under the ADP, there is no explicit ‘hook’ for discussing agriculture but its inclusion rests on the interpretation Parties make of the ADP mandate. For example, the goal of the ADP is to see an agreement reached that would include ‘economy-wide’ efforts to reduce emissions, as well as adaptation action. In many situations, given the important role played by agriculture in the economy, this can be interpreted to include the sector. INDC analysis

As of 15 November 2015, 133 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) had been submitted, reflecting the contributions of 160 Parties to the UNFCCC. Collectively, these Parties account for nearly 90% of global emissions. While the commitments vary agriculture appears in a majority of the submissions.

All 160 Parties include mitigation in their INDCs, and 103 communicate greenhouse gas (GHG) targets that include the agriculture sector. Of these Parties, 87 plan to implement agriculture-related GHG targets with domestic resources (i.e., an unconditional contribution). Forty-eight include targets that are conditional upon international financial support; some of these include both unconditional and conditional targets. An additional 7 Parties communicate non-GHG targets or actions in the agriculture sector.

Of the 113 Parties that include adaptation in their INDCs, 102 include agriculture among their adaptation priorities. While this is a considerable majority, many Parties do not provide details about agricultural adaptation. Countries will need to move to the next stage of identifying specific adaptation strategies as they further develop and implement their INDCs. This may include the need for technical assistance. There is also an awareness of the strong linkages between mitigation and adaptation in some Parties INDCs, especially in the agriculture and land use sectors. Forty-four Parties noted mitigation co-benefits of adaptation actions or vice versa

Based on the INDCs submitted so far, agriculture and land use appear to be key strategies of Parties for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Agriculture is particularly important in the contributions of non-Annex 1 countries, which are counting on international assistance to meet their targets. To help these Parties meet their targets, climate finance will need to therefore include agriculture as a key sector for support, and work with countries to develop the capacities, such as better data collection and MRV systems, that are needed to access climate funds.

It is also worth noting that there were two ADP events held in 2014 that tackled issues related to agriculture: an expert technical meeting on land use and an expert technical meeting on addressing non-carbon dioxide (non-CO2) greenhouse gases.

 3- Agriculture at SBSTA 42, ADP 9.2 and COP21

2015 is an important year for agriculture. There were several opportunities for outreach to Parties to ensure agriculture is included in the 2015 agreement and in discussions beyond 2015.

  • The first opportunity was SBSTA 42 in June 2015. In the lead-up to SBSTA 42, submissions were accepted on two topics: Development of early warning systems and contingency plans and Assessment of risk and vulnerability of agricultural systems to different climate change scenarios. These were discussed at subsequent workshops.  In total, 19 parties and observers made submissions, including the Africa Group of Negotiators, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) and others. This is a valuable indicator of interest in the issue by Parties and observers and were key inputs into the workshops. The SBSTA took note of submissions and discussions during workshops, and workshop reports are to be considered at SBSTA 43 (November – December 2015). Four briefing notes on the topics chosen by SBSTA for discussions are included in this Guide and they can be used to help submissions and discussions.
  • In parallel to SBSTA the second part of the ninth meeting of ADP took place in June 2015. Parties discussed the negotiating text issued earlier in the year.
  • Further meetings of ADP took place in August (31 Aug – 04 Sep 2015) and October (19-23 Oct). Parties negotiated a text to be put forward at COP21, compiling the text of the two workstreams of the ADP into one text.
  • Finally, the final meeting of the ADP will be held in December, followed by the meeting of the COP, will be crucial in determining the shape of the 2015 agreement. SBSTA 43 will also meet in December but agriculture will most likely not be on the agenda as the next round of submissions and workshops is only in June 2016.

Outreach objectives:

COP21 in 2015 will mark an important milestone for global climate governance as Parties are meant to pave the way for a new agreement to be implemented from 2020. Given agriculture’s importance to national economies, food security and adaptation, and its contribution to emissions and mitigation, it should form a key part of actions post-2020. But it remains a sensitive issue and it is not yet clear how agriculture will be linked to the agreement at COP21 and to UNFCCC’s work post-2015.

What would be useful for agriculture in a post-2015 climate agreement? 

  • At minimum, it is important that the 2015 agreement does not preclude agriculture from being included in activities.
  • But it would be more useful to see recognition for the role and importance of agriculture inserted in the text in the Preamble of the agreement, and a specific mandate and placeholder for further elements of the inclusion of agriculture to be worked out between 2016 and 2020.


Explanation of the role of the UNFCCC and SBSTA, and why this is so important for agriculture.


The Story of Agriculture and Climate Change: The Road We’ve Travelled infographic from Farming First illustrates the role of agriculture in climate change discussion from their initiation at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to December 2013.

This infographic can be used to illustrate the important role of agriculture in addressing climate change so that a new era of agricultural innovation and knowledge sharing can be achieved.

More information on agriculture at the UN Climate Change talks:

UNFCCC webpage on Issues Relating to Agriculture: http://unfccc.int/land_use_and_climate_change/agriculture/items/8793.php

More information on how agriculture could be brought into a 2015 agreement: http://r4d.dfid.gov.uk/pdf/outputs/EoD/EoD_Consultancy_June14_Climate_Ag_UNFCCC.pdf

On the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC): http://cdkn.org/resource/intended-nationally-determined-contributions-under-the-unfccc/

The UNFCCC INDC Portal: http://unfccc.int/focus/indc_portal/items/8766.phpCCAFS INDC brief: https://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/68990

The Role of Agriculture in the UN Climate Talks: