The role of Agriculture in the UN Climate Talks:
How COP20 and COP21 can ensure a food-secure future
Agriculture and food security are major issues for the United Nations 20th Climate Change Conference (COP 20) just held in Lima and for the COP 21 to be held in Paris in 2015. Notably these issues are at the heart of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But, as a recently exposed in a memorandum by the global research partnership for a food-secure future CGIAR (extract here1), there are no formal arrangements regarding the specific challenges related to agriculture.
The exogenous hazards to which farmers are exposed, particularly small-holder farmers, represent a real challenge for policy makers in industrialized countries, developing countries and least developed countries. The destructive effects of climate change are further amplified by endogenous risks, that is to say, the intrinsic and structural failures of agricultural markets: decline in world stocks, non-automatic adjustment of supply and demand on agricultural markets and speculation on agricultural commodities. So where is the climate justice if deregulated markets yield to the siren calls for the short-term at the expense of global food security?
Access to agricultural resources is a strategic issue for the coming period. Resource scarcity could rise as a result of climate change, and new strategies for apprehending future challenges must be developed. Finally, the challenge is to not make assumptions on the magnitude and timing of climate change, but to know whether the agricultural strategies pursued by international institutions are appropriate to address these challenges.
momagri Editorial Board
Agriculture, and consequently food security and livelihoods, is already being affected by climate change, according to latest science from the IPCC (Porter et al. 2014). The IPCC has found that the world needs to produce at least 50% more food than we do today in order to meet the goal of feeding a projected 9 billion people by 2050. This must be achieved in the face of climatic volatility and change, growing constraints on water and land for crops and livestock, and declining wild capture fishery stocks.
Although the protection of food security lies within the core objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (Article 2), no formal arrangements for addressing agriculture specifically within the negotiations have been agreed. CGIAR recognises that any new climate agreement is unlikely to be prescriptive about how adaptation in agriculture is supported and how agriculture might contribute to emission cuts, if required, as these issues are contested.
CGIAR considers that there is scope for greater coherence to strengthen the various strands of work already underway on agriculture within the UNFCCC process. We will continue to contribute to technical development for a clearer role for agriculture and greater integration of the land use sector. Countries will chart their own pathways and there is a need to provide ideas and knowledge that can support their contributions as they are generated.
CGIAR will continue to support the concept of “climate-smart agriculture” (CSA), a comprehensive approach for transforming and reorienting agricultural systems to support food security under climate change (Lipper et al. 2014). Climate change threats can be reduced in some regions by increasing the adaptive capacity of farmers and increasing resilience and resource use efficiency in agricultural production systems, landscapes and food systems. In other regions there may be insurmountable challenges. We support the view that the UNFCCC is the primary international, intergovernmental forum focused on addressing climate change.
We believe the 2015 agreement should reinforce the reference to food production in Article 2, as there is now evidence from the IPCC that production and food security are already being compromised. A 2015 agreement should create momentum for countries to devise ambitious actions for the agricultural sector, by providing the financial, technical, and capacity building support needed to help developing countries implement adaptation strategies and low emissions agricultural development. Investment in such support should help agriculture not only to meet mitigation goals, but also to achieve food security and climate change adaptation. Support for these latter goals should be explicit in funding and technical packages from all funding sources. We recognise that mitigation would continue to be driven by national development priorities and be a co-benefit of sustainable development.
We envisage that the new climate agreement will need to be consistent with the SDG process and a shared vision on sustainable development that will give a signal on the low carbon economy.
While their final framing is still to be negotiated, climate change will be embedded in all SDGs at least implicitly and there may be a specific climate SDG, so there is a need to link the UNFCCC actions and ambitions with the SDG agenda. A chapeau type format in the Paris Agreement would be appropriate to make this link, in particular a link to the goals related to food security, nutrition, poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability. Such a chapeau could enhance the profile of agriculture and drive efforts to guarantee the stability of food systems under climate change. Agriculture provides key ecosystem services to society and economic opportunities to support development.
Progress in Lima towards Paris is dependent on a finance and technology package. The recent commitments to the GCF are encouraging but momentum needs to be sustained. For many developing countries that will be hard hit by climate change (and these mostly have low GHG emissions), finance and technological support will be crucial if they are to propose intended nationally determined contributions. A 2015 agreement should create mechanisms that enable ambitious contributions from the agricultural sector, while also providing the financial, technical and capacity building support needed to help developing countries implement low emissions agricultural development.
CGIAR’s perspective on current issues
Whilst not having a clear profile within the UNFCCC negotiations, agriculture is now embedded in key areas. CGIAR recognises constraints but considers that the stakes are too high to delay developmental work on agriculture in view of time taken for research, technical analysis, policy generation and institutional development to bring change on the ground. Ideally these will be enabled by the new international climate action framework that should come from Paris.
To respond urgently and to prepare for further climate change challenges ahead, CGIAR has identified four priority areas for action on climate change: (i) climate-smart agricultural practices, (ii) climate information services and climate-informed safety nets, (iii) low emissions agricultural development where coordination across land use sectors and food system sectors will be critical for success, and (iv) policies and institutions for climate-resilient food systems.
1 The entire article is available from