Leaning on Agriculture: The climate talks in Bonn released the blockade restraining the agricultural sector from playing an active role in solutions for climate change. At the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP), the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) took up the charge to “address issues related to agriculture” and review submissions from the Parties and observers and report to the COP in 2020.
This is big news! Prior to COP23, there had been great concern that farmers in emerging economies would have to reduce emissions from their farming practices while developed countries could simply pay farmers to take mitigation actions. The path set by the SBI and the SBSTA now engages agriculture as a strategic priority to develop on-the-ground practices that help curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Collective activities in agriculture, forestry, and land use change are responsible for 21% of our global emissions, second only to the energy sector. Analysis by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reflects that “the mitigation potential of agriculture (...) is prominently acknowledged at all levels of socio-economic development and among developing countries in all regions.” Almost 90% of the countries that submitted their plans for meeting the Paris target—limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—included using agriculture in their emissions toolbox.
Bronson Griscom, an ecological accountant for The Nature Conservancy, and his colleagues, researched the extent to which “natural climate solutions” (NCS) might contribute meaningful mitigation outcomes to address climate change. They found that NCS offers over one-third of the cost-effective climate mitigation we need by 2030 to achieve our Paris target of a less than 2 °C world.
It is imperative that agriculture adapts to climate friendly practices in the face of global population growth and the impacts of rising temperatures on smallholder farmers in emerging countries. The Sustainable Development Goal of achieving a hunger-free world by 2030 is being challenged by these mounting influences. The outcome of COP23 means that the theory, research, and discussions on agriculture can turn into tangible action with the support of the U.N.
Since Parties will be required to report on progress made with climate smart agriculture that include improvements made to soil health, water management, nutrient management, livestock management systems, and food security issues, agriculture will assume a pivotal role in meeting climate targets.
This pertinent focus on agriculture implies that climate finance needs to be available to fund the implementation of these new practices and will undoubtedly call on the Green Climate Fund, regional development banks, and the World Bank for their financial support. Sara Lickel, advocacy officer for Caritas France summed it up, saying, “For the first time, there is a space about mitigation of agriculture and about adaptation,….although money will likely remain an issue. The battle is now to come, though at least we have a space to have it.”