Selected category: Agriculture

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.

Also posted in Marrakesh| Leave a comment

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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How sustainable rice farming in Vietnam is increasing revenue while reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Co-authored by Joe Rudek, Lead Senior Scientist and Trần Thu Hà, VLCRP Director

October 2013 028 (003)v2

Example of Vietnam Low Carbon Rice Project (VLCRP) sampling site. Greenhouse gas was sampled using a static chamber placed in the rice paddy. Note water depth sampling tube in foreground, left of center, and square quadrat marker, just above center, where rice plant characteristics were measured over the course of the crop season. Image Source: Environmental Defense Fund, Joe Rudek

Rice production in Vietnam has increased significantly over the last few decades such that enough rice is produced there not only to supply Vietnam’s needs but also to support a major export industry.

About half the rice in Vietnam is grown in the Mekong Delta, at the southern end of the country; The water-rich Mekong Delta with its tropical climate is well suited to rice production in flooded paddies. However, flooded rice paddies also result in substantial emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Rice grown in the Mekong Delta alone is responsible for about 8 to 9% of the Vietnam’s total GHG emissions, according to the Vietnam 2014 Biennial Report to the UNFCCC and this is a conservative estimate.

For the past several years, EDF has been working with agricultural experts from Can Tho University, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), Extension System officials, and farmers in two provinces (Ag Giang and Kien Giang) to pilot a sustainable low carbon rice farming system known as 1 Must, 6 Reductions (1M6R) which is a modification and advancement of a Vietnamese government recommendation. The 1 Must factor in this system is the use of certified rice seed. The 6 Reduction factors are water use, fertilizer, pesticides, seed density, harvest loss and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Vietnam Low Carbon Rice Project (VLCRP) partners developed the specifics for the 1M6R package of practices and piloted them over a two-year period in the two provinces. The pilots showed that 1M6R reduced input costs, increased yield, increased plant vitality (important to survival during late season storms) and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Net revenue was increased by as much as 60% as a result. Not surprisingly, farmers are readily adopting the new set of practices.

The sustainable farming system reduced input costs, increased yield, increased plant vitality, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

An important part of VLCRP was interaction with farmers, organization of farmer groups and efforts to improve opportunities for women. Adult learning techniques were employed and agricultural experts in the partnership met with farmers, organized into groups, throughout the crop seasons to train them in the 1M6R techniques and in record keeping via daily diaries.  Farmer leaders were trained so they could teach their peers. This approach has allowed the proliferation of the 1M6R techniques beyond the project boundaries.

One of the most challenging scientific aspects of VLCRP was the measurement of GHG emissions. Gas samples were drawn from static chambers placed in the rice paddies and transported to a lab at Can Tho University for analysis. Most important to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is the use of alternative wetting and drying (AWD) of the soils and reductions in nitrogen fertilizer. The interruption of flooding to allow the soil to dry and become re-oxygenated is key to the reduction of methane emissions. However, this practice can increase nitrous oxide emissions, an even more potent greenhouse gas than methane. The reduction in nitrogen fertilizer (among other factors) is key to minimizing nitrous oxide emissions.

The completion of the 1M6R pilot research which was funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (formerly known as Australian AID), has been documented in a project summary and a set of project proceedings, which are being prepared for submission to peer reviewed journals. The findings offer Vietnamese farmers a means to increase revenue while greatly reducing the environmental footprint and GHG emissions of their rice production.

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New studies point to a pathway to find India’s most effective climate-smart farming practices

india measurements

EDF-Fair Climate Network science team training a new village volunteer to collect air samples from a groundnut farm. EDF and FCN have collaborated with international research groups to develop new greenhouse gas emission measurement techniques and train local groups to measure emissions during crop production. Source: Environmental Defense Fund, Rakesh Tiwari

Agriculture around the world is already experiencing the effects of the changing climate, including more intense droughts, heat waves, floods, and a growing influx of pests and diseases. This contributes to unstable livelihoods for the world’s 2 billion rural poor who depend on small-scale farms and live on the margins of the poverty line.

With these challenges, the world is increasingly shifting toward climate-smart agriculture, which the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations defines as an umbrella of agricultural practices that lead to a “triple win” because they:

  1. sustainably increase agricultural productivity and income;
  2. adapt and build agricultural resilience to climate change; and
  3. reduce and/or remove greenhouse gas emissions.

The FAO’s definition offers initial guidance for climate-smart agriculture. However, for the global scientific community, national policy makers, and those who care about global food security, there remains a need for more solid evidence around how the triple win can be achieved across geographies, crop types, and different farm scales, especially small-scale farms spread across much of the developing world.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has released two new peer-reviewed journal articles that contribute important evidence to support a triple-win approach to feeding the 9 billion people who will be living on this planet in 2050. In the first article, we present a rigorous pathway to measure climate impacts of farming practices, especially in the tropical and developing parts of the world. In the second article, we demonstrate that carefully chosen climate-smart farming practices can improve resource use efficiency, enhance food security, increase farmer savings, and provide better ecosystem services while decreasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

With our partners, we conducted the research in India, where there is a huge opportunity to implement climate-smart agriculture. India has 100 million small-scale (under 2 acres of land) farming families, which means it’s in the best interest of India and its farmers to learn to adapt in a way that maintains (and preferably improves) crop yields and secures their profitability while also reducing agricultural GHG emissions.

Read More »

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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.

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Also posted in Deforestation, Forestry, Indigenous peoples, Paris, REDD+| Leave a comment

A novel approach to reducing deforestation: linking supply chains and REDD+ in “Zero Deforestation Zones”

By Chris MeyerSenior Manager, Amazon Forest Policy and Dana Miller, Research Analyst

Two tropical forest conservation efforts have gained momentum in recent years: zero deforestation commitments from the private sector and the policy framework Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). Both efforts are necessary, but not sufficient in themselves to eliminate global deforestation.

In a recently published paper in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, we find that linking REDD+ and zero deforestation commitments offers a more efficient and effective solution to stop deforestation, which we call Zero Deforestation Zones (ZDZ).

The current state of private initiatives and REDD+

Deforestation, which is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gases, is primarily caused by conversion for the production of four commodities in Brazil and Indonesia: beef, soy, palm, and timber products. To address this urgent problem, companies that control more than 90% of soy purchases in the Amazon, around half of cattle slaughter in the Brazilian Amazon, and 96% of palm oil trade globally have committed to stop deforestation.

While these company commitments are promising, many producers that clear forests can still sell commodities to companies that don’t have deforestation commitments, or they can even sell indirectly to the companies that have committed to zero deforestation. In other words, under the current policies even if companies clean up their own supply chains, they could be just creating islands of green in a sea of deforestation. Read More »

Also posted in Brazil, Deforestation, Forestry, News, REDD+, Supply chains| Leave a comment
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