Author Archives: Dana Miller

What happened to agriculture's potential for action at the "COP of Action"?

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

November 14, 2016 – the SBSTA closing plenary at COP22 in Marrakesh, photo by Dana Miller

Hailed as the “COP of Action” since before its opening, COP22 no longer holds such promise for agriculture. The scene seemed set for action: the Paris Agreement opened the doors for real progress on agriculture and there were clear commonalities in both country goals and practices. During the negotiations, while there were differences, countries were able to agree on some significant issues and worked hard to reach a decision. However, differences won out and countries were not able to focus on these areas of consensus to reach a substantive decision when the agenda item closed on Friday, postponing discussions until the next negotiations in May 2017. So, how did this happen, and where do we go from here?

The promise for action

As parties began to discuss agriculture, they unearthed many areas of common ground. There was a strong sense of urgency and desire for action shared by many countries. Countries agreed on the need to explore policy options to spur action. Countries also acknowledged the need to address climate change through good agricultural practices and to share knowledge and lessons learned. As we wrote in our last blog and analysis, countries are already implementing many common practices, which they shared in their submissions to SBSTA 44. These practices include efficiently managing resources like water, nutrients, and soil, which can have multiple benefits for adaptation, mitigation and productivity.

Full negotiating texts were put forward, giving parties a starting ground. This was further than negotiators had gotten since discussions on agriculture started in Durban in 2011. They finally had the ability to address possible points of contention, then to adjust, and finally compromise. The delegates were obviously hard at work in the days leading up to their submission deadline. They met late into the night negotiating a text that could be somewhat acceptable to all parties. After three long days, however, negotiators could not get past fundamental differences. This led to a half-worked upon text that countries decided they could not use as a starting point for negotiations at the next SBSTA in May, losing much of the progress they made this week.

What went wrong?

Even as progress was made in certain areas – with valuable contributions from many parties – other components were locked in complete standstill. There were fundamental disagreements that stalled the negotiations, such as:

  • Whether to only focus on adaptation and food security—which is of utmost importance to all, but especially vulnerable, developing countries—or to also address mitigation in agriculture
  • and whether there should be a call for developed countries to provide finance and other support for developing countries.

While the COP presidency strongly encouraged the Parties to reach an agreement and put pressure by offering clear deadlines, parties were unable to negotiate efficiently. It is clear that both significantly more time and efficiency will be required to achieve real progress on agriculture.

The silver lining

The issue of agriculture is complex and the fact that parties are offering texts as starting points for negotiations shows that future progress on agriculture may be closer than it looks:

  • There is even stronger urgency and desire for action. Negative impacts of climate change are being felt now for agriculture. Agricultural emissions are significantly contributing to the warming of our planet. Inaction will no longer be an option. This urgency will be made clear on Wednesday, November 16 at the Agriculture and Food Security Action Day during the second week of COP22.
  • Though it was difficult to reach agreement at this COP, countries are starting to acknowledge that many best agricultural practices have benefits for both adaptation and mitigation.
  • Countries are already implementing many good agricultural practices, which they have shared with each other at the UNFCCC and in other international fora. These practices can provide areas of common ground for the next negotiations.
  • Progress, even incremental and painstaking, is still progress. Text was proposed and discussed; valuable contributions and ideas were shared. Parties can take elements of this text, especially points of consensus, to the subsidiary meeting in May.

Of course, this is all dependent on the commitment and willingness to engage on agriculture – from all stakeholders. Countries must be willing to focus on common goals between all countries, and also to compromise where needed. EDF and our partners stand ready to provide support and share our experiences in agriculture in countries around the world to reach a decision on agriculture.

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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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Lessons from Brazil on how to turn companies' zero-deforestation commitments into action

By Michelle Mendlewicz, EDF Global Climate 2016 Summer Fellow and Dana Miller, Policy Analyst

Cattle ranching in Brazil | Photo: Scott Bauer via Wikimedia Commons

Hundreds of major consumer goods companies that have driven the demand for soy, palm oil, timber & pulp, and beef – the big four commodities that contribute significantly to deforestation – have committed to eliminating deforestation from their supply chains. However, a vast majority haven’t yet acted on their zero-deforestation commitments or reported their progress.

According to a report by Forest Trends’ Supply Change, the majority of companies do not disclose their progress on zero deforestation commitments, with only 23% to 27% of commitments backed-up by data.

An analysis by The Sustainability Consortium found similar results, with 25% to 40% of companies reporting any information on deforestation for beef, soy, and palm oil.

Cutting and burning trees adds as much pollution to the atmosphere as all the cars and trucks in the world combined, which is why it’s important that more than 400 companies, including Walmart and Unilever, that have committed to achieving zero net deforestation by 2020 actually follow through on their pledges.

Two examples from Brazil, home to the largest remaining area of rainforest in the world, show that collaboration with governments and civil society can help companies turn their zero-deforestation commitments into action.

Mato Grosso’s ambitious strategy

Brazil successfully reduced Amazon deforestation by about 75% from 2005 to 2013 while maintaining robust growth in beef and soy production. Its success can be largely attributed to joint efforts between companies, government agencies, and environmental communities.

Brazil’s experience shows it takes more than commitments from companies to accomplish zero deforestation — businesses must focus on implementation and monitoring.

An example of this collaboration is Mato Grosso’s “Produce, Conserve, Include” (PCI) strategy, launched at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015. The State of Mato Grosso contributed to 50% of Brazil’s deforestation reduction between 2005 and 2013, while increasing beef and soy production. It is the largest agricultural commodity producer in the Amazon, producing 27% of the soy, 25% of the corn, and 19% of the beef in Brazil. The PCI plan aims to simultaneously reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 90% by 2030, increase agricultural production, and promote socioeconomic inclusion of smallholders and traditional populations.

Major soy and beef merchants Amaggi and JBS, non-governmental organizations such as EDF and partners in Brazil, and the Government of Mato Grosso worked together to develop the plan and continue to collaborate on its implementation.

As PCI’s coordinator stated, the ambitious strategy is only possible because it was “embraced” by society, and due to local partners and international supporters of the initiative.

Brazil’s businesses, governments and civil society successfully reduce deforestation from beef production

Another example of collaboration between businesses, governments and civil society has already shown success in reducing deforestation from commodity supply chains in Brazil. An agreement between Greenpeace and food processing companies in Brazil, Marfrig, JBS, and Minerva, requires farmers to provide information about their suppliers. This information is then cross-checked with government agencies, including the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (Ibama) and the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministério Público), to eliminate environmental or socially harmful practices. According to Marfrig, of the 8,303 properties monitored in the Amazon region, 6,471 are approved to supply cattle, while the remaining 1,679 properties are banned.

Meatpacking companies also signed a Term of Adjustment of Conduct (TAC) with the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) to stop purchasing cattle originating from properties that cause illegal deforestation, are located on indigenous territories, are not registered with the government’s system, or are featured in the Ministry of Labor’s list of labor analogous to slavery.

A study published in 2015 found that both agreements – the one with Greenpeace and the TAC with government agencies – have incentivized behavior change by companies. Ranchers supplying to these companies complied with laws to register their properties with the government’s system two years before nearby ranchers. Only 2% of purchases by JBS were with registered properties before the agreement was signed, while 96% of transactions were with registered companies by 2013. Purchases by slaughterhouses from recently deforested properties fell from 36% in 2009 to 4% in 2013. According to Supply Change, JBS and Marfrig have self-reported 100% progress on commitments to zero-deforestation cattle, among other commitments.

Implementing, monitoring and collaborating on zero-deforestation commitments

Challenges remain, however, in eliminating deforestation from beef supply chains. Marfrig, JBS, and Minerva control around half of beef slaughter in the Amazon, while companies that control the other half have no monitoring systems or commitments in place. The limited scope of the agreements can cause issues including “laundering” – when ranchers raise cattle on noncompliant properties and move the animals to compliant ranchers before selling them to slaughterhouses – and “leakage,” when cattle produced on recently deforested land are sold to slaughterhouses that do not have monitoring systems in place.

Greater collaboration between a larger number of companies, producers and governments within a region can reduce the risk that deforestation will leak to other suppliers.

Brazil’s experience shows that it takes more than commitments from companies to accomplish zero deforestation. In order to achieve real progress, businesses must focus on implementation and monitoring. By collaborating and engaging with government agencies and environmental communities, companies can overcome the challenge of traceability and advance the fight against climate change.

For more information on efforts to reduce deforestation from cattle supply chains, visit

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Indonesia could curb deforestation and increase production with Zero Deforestation Zones

By Dana Miller, Research Analyst and Ruohong Cai, Ph.D. Economist


A smoldering landscape in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Credit: Ruohong Cai, October, 2015

You may have seen news stories this fall about Indonesia and the blanket of haze choking the country and neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia. This haze comes from burning carbon rich forests and peat soils for the production of palm oil and other commodities; burning currently releases more greenhouse gases daily than the entire U.S. economy.

To address deforestation and the fires and haze it brings, companies that control 90% of palm oil production have pledged to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. Several major palm oil companies have pledged not to clear High Carbon Stock (HCS) lands—high, medium and low density forests—or peatlands for palm oil and other commodities; instead the companies would shift new production to low carbon stock areas, which are young regenerating forest, scrub or cleared or open lands.

The Government of Indonesia pledged to reduce emissions by 26% unilaterally or 41% with international support below a projected "business as usual" baseline by 2020. This year, Indonesia committed to reduce emissions by 29% to 41% below a projected baseline by 2030.

In a new report, Environmental Defense Fund explores how companies could eliminate deforestation from their supply chains by preferentially sourcing palm oil and other commodities from provinces in Indonesia that meet criteria for Zero Deforestation Zones (ZDZs).

ZDZs would be districts or provinces that align public and private sector actors and are on a path to reaching zero net emissions from deforestation across their jurisdiction while increasing agricultural production. ZDZs would have strong policies in place consistent with the framework Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). Then, companies could source commodities such as timber and palm oil from ZDZs.

For provinces in Indonesia to become ZDZs, local and national governments would have to address the root causes of deforestation.  Specifically, Indonesia would need to:

  • Revise laws that allow and even encourage deforestation; strengthen law enforcement; and address conflicting agendas between local and regional governments, ministries, and powerful private sector actors.
  • Create a definition for ZDZs that fits Indonesia’s national context. The definition would need to put provinces on pathways to produce zero net emissions from deforestation and comply with UN decisions on REDD+.
  • Set up monitoring systems that both the government and private sector would use to enforce deforestation policies and clarify disputed land claims by local communities and plantations.
  • Provide essential economic incentives to producers to reduce deforestation, increase yields on existing plantations, and shift new production to degraded lands.

Figure 1. This spatial map shows that the opportunity costs of the land translated into a minimum carbon price (local-specific) needed to eliminate deforestation in Kalimantan, Indonesia, which varies widely by location from $0 to $100 per ton CO2.

Economic Incentives for Reducing Deforestation in Kalimantan Provinces:

A carbon price could generate much needed economic incentives to reduce deforestation. To predict the carbon price needed to reduce emission from deforestation, EDF performed a 10-year simulation of deforestation in Kalimantan, Indonesia, using the historical relationship between palm oil revenues per hectare and deforestation rates to estimate landowners’ responses to economic incentives.  Kalimantan provides a good case study for Indonesia because it contributes one quarter of Indonesia’s palm oil production.

Based on our empirical analysis, the opportunity cost of conserving forest varies widely across Kalimantan. Figure 1 translates the opportunity cost of the land into a price per ton of carbon.

We further compared the cost in terms of dollars per ton of carbon for reducing emissions from deforestation on low carbon stock (LCS, less than 40 t C/ha) and high carbon stock (HCS, more than 40 t C/ha) lands. In Figure 2, at a carbon price of $10/t CO2e, Kalimantan provinces can reduce 75 million tons (Mt) CO2e per year from LCS areas, 185 MtCO2e from HCS areas, and 260 MtCO2e per year from both HCS and LCS areas. In the latter and highest scenario that conserves both HCS and LCS areas, Kalimantan could reduce emissions from deforestation 74-78% below the scenario without a carbon price.

Figure 2. Estimated cost curves for avoiding emissions from deforestation on high carbon stock lands (red), low carbon stock lands (yellow) and all lands (blue) in Kalimantan, Indonesia. This figure shows that more emissions can be avoided if Kalimantan conserves both high carbon stock and low carbon stock lands.

This result indicates that more emissions can be avoided at a lower cost if Kalimantan conserves portions of all lands, not just high carbon stock lands.

To further illustrate this point, the table below shows that Kalimantan could achieve its contribution to Indonesia’s emission reduction goals of 26% to 41% below business as usual by 2020 at a lower price if both high carbon stock and low carbon stock areas are conserved.

This shows that a “Zero Deforestation Zone” approach focused on an entire landscape has the potential to more cost-effectively reduce emissions than an approach focused on just a particular subset of lands.   This analysis does not consider the potential for “leakage” or shifts of deforestation from one location to another.  Incorporating leakage would lend a further argument for a regional approach that would capture shifts in deforestation across an entire zone.

Table_cost_year_reduction_target (1)


Indonesia has many hurdles to cross before it can level off its rapid deforestation rate and reduce it to zero. But, the haze, health implications, productivity loss and public outrage that ensue from peat fires might just be the wakeup call that Indonesia needs to address its deforestation.


Read more in our paper Zero Deforestation Zones in Indonesia; A proposal to curb deforestation and increase agricultural production.


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3 reasons why the land sector is key to a Paris climate agreement

Trees in a forest

The Paris climate agreement should incorporate the land sector, which includes agriculture and deforestation, in a way that makes best use of its potential for mitigation, adaptation and development. Credit: flickr/final gather

Land use—such as agriculture and forests—accounts for almost a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.

It’s obvious that land use will play a major role in curbing the impact of climate change—and  here are three big reasons why the land sector will be key to an agreement made in Paris:

1) The land sector has huge mitigation potential:

The land sector accounts for about 24% of net global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, it has huge potential to reduce emissions, as well. Forests alone could absorb up to 11% of emissions. The IPCC also estimates that the land sector could provide 20-60% of cumulative mitigation by 2030. Without significant efforts to reduce emissions and enhance sequestration, it will be very difficult to stabilize warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

Read More »

Posted in Agriculture, Deforestation, Forestry, Indigenous peoples, Paris, REDD+| Leave a comment

Ensuring ambition in the land-use sector through the Paris climate agreement

Representatives from countries around the globe met in Bonn, Germany this month to work on what could be the world’s most grueling but important group project: consolidating 90 pages of text into a global climate agreement to be finalized in Paris this December.

Governments and civil society organizations have more work to do before Paris, including ensuring land use is treated in a simple, flexible and ambitious way in the global agreement.

One sector that could play a fundamental role in the agreement is the land-use sector, which includes agriculture, forestry, wetland management, and other land management practices.

The land-use sector contributes about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. But it also has great potential to reduce emissions, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, improve rural livelihoods, and promote countries’ ability to adapt to a changing climate. The land use sector could also be an important part of countries’ emission reduction targets after 2020, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Read More »

Posted in Agriculture, Forestry, UN negotiations| Leave a comment
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