Why we could see progress on agriculture at the Marrakesh climate talks

By Jade Lu, Environmental Science and Biology major at Duke University, and Dana Miller, EDF Policy Analyst

Photo: Rakesh Tiwari (SACRED)

The interactions between the agricultural sector and climate change have undeniable implications for both global food security and our environment. Despite this global significance, and perhaps due to the complexity of the subject, there has been little progress to date on agriculture in the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. However, this could be about to change.

The impetus of Paris Climate Agreement and leadership by the Moroccan presidency could unlock the opportunity to advance agricultural issues at the climate talks, known as COP22, taking place this week in Marrakesh. Furthermore, country actions and targets as inscribed in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) both show commitment to the agricultural sector and help highlight key common practices that could form a basis for international collaboration.

While much of COP22 will be focused on laying groundwork for the Paris Agreement, agriculture could be an area of significant progress in Marrakesh, potentially resulting in a COP decision or work program on agriculture.

There is a strong need to address agriculture in COP22

Agriculture at once contributes significantly to climate change and faces some of the greatest risks posed by climate change. Agriculture is estimated to contribute one-third of all emissions. Conversely, climate change is projected to have negative impacts on agriculture, especially in developing countries. With 800 million people currently undernourished worldwide, the majority of whom depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and a projected population increase of more than 2 billion people by 2050, it is no wonder that “Zero Hunger” is identified as the 2nd Sustainable Development Goal by the UN and that adequate nourishment is interwoven with almost every goal listed.  However, agriculture has yet to be codified within the UNFCCC framework.

There is an opportunity to address agriculture in COP22

The Paris Agreement, monumental in more ways than one, identifies food security as a priority in the climate agenda. This recognition is emblematic of the necessity to address the foundation for food security – the agricultural sector – in the international climate negotiations.

It is clear from previous negotiations that countries have different priorities and perspectives in considering mitigation versus adaptation.  However, it is becoming increasingly clear that these two goals are not mutually exclusive in practice.

A new EDF analysis of countries’ submissions to the 44th SBSTA (Subsidiary Body on Science and Technological Advice) finds that countries are employing similar agricultural practices in different parts of the world. Several submissions also noted that these practices can have multiple benefits for adaptation, productivity and mitigation.

For example, soil management can increase soil fertility (and therefore productivity) as well as carbon storage in soils. Improvements in livestock such as diet management could both increase productivity and reduce methane emissions. The efficient management and storage of water could also increase resiliency to drought and reduce reliance on irrigation. These are just a few examples of commonly identified agricultural practices that meet both goals of adaptation to climate change and mitigation of emissions.

In addition to common practices, it is also clear that the vast majority of countries, driven by national interest, are committed to taking actions on agriculture in the context of climate. Within countries’ INDCs (intended nationally determined contributions), 80% include agriculture in their mitigation targets and 64% include agriculture in adaptation strategies.

Parallel to the negotiations, the Global Climate Action Agenda will highlight agriculture and food security on November 16th, demonstrating leadership by the Moroccan presidency to advance issues on agriculture at COP22.

The potential way forward

With clear necessity and urgency, a way must be paved for work on agriculture issues within the UNFCCC.  The Paris Agreement, INDCs, and common practices from SBSTA submissions that countries are already implementing could provide a foundation for countries to work together on agriculture. The best outcome of Marrakesh would be a COP decision on agriculture.

International cooperative action on agriculture is in the best interest of all countries due to critical importance of food security, adaptation, and climate stabilization. In addition, international collaboration could facilitate accounting for emissions towards INDCs and accelerate deployment of finance for agriculture.

We hope that negotiators will work constructively together on agriculture inside and outside of the negotiations, especially on areas of common ground such as the practices mentioned above. EDF and our partners will be closely following the agriculture negotiations at COP 22 and meeting with negotiators to discuss how to move forward on agriculture issues in the UNFCCC.

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