Synergies and trade-offs between agriculture adaptation and mitigation identified

by Lucy Holt

As the recent negotiations in Doha showed, the adaptation of our food systems to a changing climate and growing population, and the mitigation of emissions created by those systems, are too often viewed as mutually exclusive goals. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this need not be so. As many of the success stories from Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day (ALL5) give testament to, adaptation and mitigation often come hand-in-hand. What's more, with proper planning and implementation, switching to climate-smart agricultural practices can increase agricultural outputs, not decrease them. 

While not all adaptive practices will help mitigate the impacts of climate change, and not all mitigative practices will help to increase food production, the question remains, how can we find synergies between adaptation and mitigation and scale-up these specific success-stories to help plan for a sustinable food secure future?

Setting the Agenda: Climate change adaptation and mitigation for food systems in the developing world is a new Working Paper by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) that provides a framework to answer this question.

The paper sets concrete goals and priorities for researchers and policy makers and identifies and addresses current knowledge gaps. Further, it outlines a number of international actions, steps that must be taken by the international community in order to achieve these goals:

  • Allocate fast-track financing to support capacity building and action toward agricultural adaptation and mitigation,
  • Include food security in international climate agreements,
  • Ensure that REDD+ and other forest conservation efforts address agricultural drivers and support sustainable, low climate impact agricultural strategies,
  • Include agriculture and landscape approaches in mitigation finance mechanisms, such as the Clean Development Mechanism,
  • Create safeguards to rural livelihoods and food security, and
  • Represent the interests of smallholder farmers and low-income countries in decisions about agricultural climate change adaptation and mitigation.

For researchers and policy makers working within adaptation, the paper highlights a need to identify vulnerable farming systems as well as resilient crop varieties and livestock. It stresses the importance of well-planned management systems and institutions for famine and crop failure relief and mechanisms for rapid learning by farmers.

For researchers and policy makers working within mitigation, the paper prioritises the development ‘low-climate impact’ agriculture that reduces emissions while achieving food security, economic well-being and sustainability; as well as the development of efficient interventions, incentives for large-scale shifts in practices, and monitoring systems.

To bring these two research and policy areas together, the paper stresses a need to develop tools and frameworks which are synergistic. Just as planning for a food secure future will require joint consideration of adaptation and mitigation practices, so too will planning for the frameworks that those plans are made within. The paper provides a framework to help identify areas of synergy, and better understand the trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation.

Figure: Research and policy priorities for climate change adaptation and mitigation in agriculture. From Working Paper 29

Read the Working Paper:

Setting the agenda: Climate change adaptation and mitigation for food systems in the developing world, by Wollenberg E, Herrero M, Wassmann R, Neufeldt H, Vermeulen S, Rosswall T, Campbell B, Hellin J, Jarvis A, Challinor A, Snook L, Smakhtin V, Kinyangi J. 2012.

Learn more about scaling up successful climate smart agriculture practices:

The large-scale implementation of adaptation and mitigation actions in the agriculture and food sector (Draft research paper).


Lucy Holt is an assistant at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Follow us on Twitter for more updates @Cgiarclimate