Victories for food and farming in Durban climate deals

Despite slow progress, some outcomes from Durban climate talks may help poor farmers deal with climate change. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT).
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Release date

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK (13 December 2011) - After a grueling two weeks of negotiations, where it looked at times like climate talks might be deadlocked, world leaders on Sunday agreed to a number of decisions including the Durban Platform, which contain some provisions for adaptation, progress on a green climate fund, and a deadline for governments to adopt a new universal legal agreement on climate change by 2015.

Regrettably, the outcomes from Durban do not go far enough to hold global temperatures at a two-degree warmer world, nor is there sufficient finance or appropriate mechanisms in place to tackle the major adaptation challenges faced by least developed countries. But at least there were some outcomes that may eventually help poor farmers deal with climate change, which threatens food security among the most vulnerable.

Agriculture gets a foot in the door 

For agriculture there were some positive steps. “This outcome is historic, as this is the first time that UNFCCC adopts a decision on agriculture,” said Patrick Verkooijen, the World Bank’s coordinator for climate-smart agriculture. Not only is it the first time agriculture is included in an outcome from the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC, it’s also the first time that the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) has agriculture officially on its agenda.

Although many agricultural organisations had pushed for a separate work programme on agriculture to be set up, this was not achieved. Instead, the COP’s Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) concluded that a decision on agriculture will be made at COP18 which takes place November 2012 in Qatar.

In some ways it is unfortunate that this text is under the mitigation section of the document. However, by moving the discussion to SBSTA it is expected that both adaptation and mitigation will be included in the deliberations. It is very clear that developing countries will only move the agenda forward if adaptation is also covered, given adaptation and mitigation are intricately linked in the agriculture sector and given that the priority for agriculture in most developing countries is adaptation.

Meanwhile, negotiations on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) made significant progress on technical issues, although a decision on financing was deferred to the Qatar meeting. Agriculture is an important part of the REDD+ discussions in the UNFCCC negotiations - as one of the major causes of deforestation. “There is growing awareness among both negotiators and development agencies implementing REDD projects that achievement of emissions reductions cannot be done without addressing agricultural productivity,” said Louis Verchot, a lead climate change scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Consideration of agriculture in the context of REDD+ will continue during 2012 in the SBSTA work programme.*

On the negative side, the incredibly drawn out decision-making process has no clear path beyond COP18, and agriculture could get sidelined should the negotiations in Qatar fail.

Early action needed on climate-smart agriculture

According to Wendy Mann, working with the Economics & Policy Innovations for Climate Smart Agriculture team at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), slow progress on agriculture in the negotiations reinforces the need for action on the ground. “It’s important to strengthen the confidence and capacity of nationally and community-led efforts to address food security, development, natural resource management and climate change together, as interlinked issues,” she said. “Such confidence and capacity building could be of direct use to countries but may also pave the way for more fruitful discussion and outcomes at the international level.”

“We need the creativity, leadership, resources, expertise and solidarity of every organization and individual if we are to find solutions to [the] common challenge [of food security in the context of climate change]," said Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).  “We all have a part to play as well in ensuring our leaders do not shy away from the hard decisions necessary to ensure the world we pass on to future generations is a stable, secure, and healthy one.” In Durban, Annan spoke in support of an early action initiative on food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, led by the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

A win on land use emissions measurement

While agriculture’s progress in COP has been slow, some significant advances were made under the Kyoto protocol, notably agreement on rules for accounting for emissions and removals from the land use sector for Annex 1 parties under the Kyoto protocol. “This is a significant achievement,” said Peter Aarup Iversen, Denmark, co-facilitator for the LULUCF (land use, land-use change and forestry) negotiations in Durban.

“It’s the culmination of almost four years of negotiations and it includes a number of new elements compared to the current rules for the first commitment period under the Kyoto protocol” he said.

While this applies only to Annex I (i.e. developed) countries, the methods and approaches developed will be useful in years to come should further progress be made on agriculture under COP. Also under the Kyoto protocol, a work programme will be initiated to see how to expand the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to cover additional land-based activities, including further agricultural activities. This opens up some opportunities for agriculture in developing countries.

What’s next?

Parties and accredited observers to the COP have been invited to submit their views on issues related to agriculture to the UNFCCC secretariat by 5 March 2012. These will be considered by the SBSTA in Bonn in June 2012, with the aim of producing a COP decision on agriculture in Qatar.

“There is also a lot of work to be done to raise political awareness,” said Lindiwe Sibanda of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, a Southern African organization that has championed a “No Agriculture, No Deal!” campaign. “We want negotiators to know about the many opportunities for the agriculture sector to achieve climate adaptation and mitigation goals,” she said.

A major opportunity for raising awareness is in the lead-up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June next year, where world leaders will assess action on sustainable development to date, and hopefully renew political commitment for further actions. With climate change a key issue (the UNFCCC is one of the three Rio Conventions), a decision has been made to host Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2012 in Rio.

“We want agriculture to have a voice, and we want leadership and investment in the innovations and policies that can help poor farmers adapt to climate change and achieve food security, while contributing to mitigation and healthy ecosystems,” said Bruce Campbell of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Bringing this message to the sustainable development conference may inspire action where the UNFCCC has been slow.

This year’s Agriculture Day in South Africa brought together diverse perspectives – researcher, policy-maker, farmer, private sector, and donor – to share successful examples of climate-smart agriculture and push for pro-active policies at the international and national level. This work will continue in 2012, with exciting projects on the ground, and also sights set on a firm agriculture deal in Qatar.


by v [dot] meadu [at] cgiar [dot] org (Vanessa Meadu), CCAFS Communications.

* the preceding two paragraphs were included after initial publication.