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FEATURE: Planting the seeds for agriculture in a changing climate

Helen Baker, Global and Africa Technical Assistance Coordinator, explores the background to a ground-breaking report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, and how it will impact on future planning for food security and sustainable agriculture.

Launched in February 2011, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change recently published its final report, “Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change.” Many anticipate that the Commission’s report will serve as the agricultural equivalent of the Stern Review on Economics and Climate Change, an authoritative source on the costs of inaction if countries fail to make significant mitigation investments.

Similar to the Stern Review, the Commission report seeks to raise awareness and foster change at the highest levels of international governance.  The report provides succinct framing and policy-directed recommendations on how to achieve food security and move towards sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change.

Providing a meta-analysis of major scientific research, the Commission delivers a scientifically sound, comprehensive and compelling rationale for why and how international institutions and policymakers can achieve food security, through a combination of new and existing mechanisms.  It includes recommendations for international policy bodies (UNFCCC, Rio+20, the G-20 and others) and also outlines potential points for greater integration and cooperation amongst countries and regions.

The report is quite timely, coming just a few months after the UNFCCC Durban outcome which included a request for the Convention’s Scientific and Technical body (SBSTA) to consider issues related to agriculture; and just before the SBSTA meeting from May 14-25, 2012 where parties and observers will exchange views on agriculture.

In preparation for the SBSTA meeting, the UNFCCC Secretariat invited country and observer organization to make submissions regarding their “views on agriculture”, all of which are available online.

Thus far, submissions have come from a diverse range of countries and observer organizations, demonstrating at least broad interest in the topic, even if there are differing ideas on exactly where and how to proceed.  Many country and observer submissions echo the emphasis of the Commission’s report: that there are multiple opportunities to enhance agricultural productivity, food security, and build its mitigation potential.  Another key emergent theme throughout many of the submissions is a focus on the relationship between adaptation and mitigation.  There are many calls for SBSTA to improve understanding, and promote available science and technology regarding how these two traditionally separate objectives can be more synergistic in the pursuit of agriculture under the Convention.

In the launch of the report led by Commission Chair Sir John Beddington with other commissioners  at the recent Planet Under Pressure Conference in London, some questions were raised concerning the relative absence of gender issues from the report: gender is  mentioned just three times in the 64 page document, and many consider this issue fundamental to food security. Beddington explained that huge challenges faced the team in creating a succinct number of focal points, and that gender issues are implicit throughout the document in addressing food security. The Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security program, which provided support for the Commission’s report, has a funding stream focused on gender, agriculture and climate change, and has recently published a training guide.

The Commission and a number of countries discuss the concept of ‘early action,’ broadly defined to include demonstrating new approaches, sharing knowledge, developing best practice, and capturing lessons learned in the near-term  to help inform future policymaking and implementation.

Interest in early action for agriculture has been growing and appearing in several venues and reports, including a recent multi-disciplinary CDKN-sponsored publication: Agriculture and Climate Change Policy Brief: Main Issues for the UNFCCC and Beyond released in November 2011 and facilitated by Meridian Institute.[1]

CDKN continues to support further exploration of key issues related to the UNFCCC negotiations, such as early action, and the relationship between forestry and agriculture, via facilitated informal dialogues and commissioning independent papers, to be released fall 2012.

The policy-path for agriculture in the UNFCCC still remains to be seen.  However, there are significant strides being made, as exemplified by the Commission’s research and strong recommendations to international institutions and policymaking bodies to strengthen agriculture’s ability to meet the world’s food security needs, and enhance its potential to contribute to reducing climate change.

Institutions and policymakers will need time to absorb, reflect and react to the Commission’s work, but their report leaves little question on the importance and urgency of achieving food security in a changing climate by providing actionable recommendations to help transition us into the “safe space.”

[1] Meridian Institute is a an independent, non-governmental, non-profit organization that is internationally recognized and trusted for designing and facilitating neutral consensus-building and problem-solving processes amongst stakeholders and decision makers on critical societal issues.

Since 2010, Meridian has been working at the intersection of agriculture and climate change, with focus on helping to inform the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process.

Image: Neil Palmer (CIAT). An apple grower near Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India.


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