What next for agriculture after Marrakech climate conference?

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What did COP22 deliver for agriculture? Photo: G. Smith (CIAT)
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Nov 29, 2016

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Vanessa Meadu, Dhanush Dinesh, Anette Engelund Friis, Sonja Vermeulen, Bruce Campbell (CCAFS)

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Reflections on the role of agriculture in the Marrakech climate talks

Food and farming were in the spotlight at the recently concluded UN climate talks in Marrakech, no surprise given the enormous role that agriculture plays in Africa. The Moroccan conference hosts positioned this meeting as one of “action” – so what did it deliver for agriculture, and what happens next?

Steps toward implementing the Paris Agreement

Now that the Paris Agreement has come into force, most discussions focused on how to put plans (formally known as “Nationally Determined Contributions” or NDCs) into action. Since 98% of all African countries, and large majority of all parties plans include actions on mitigation and adaptation in agriculture, critical questions related to quantifying and measuring progress is key in this sector. Article 13 of the Paris Agreement focuses on transparency, which means countries will need technical support in the following areas:

  • Quantifying adaptation and mitigation targets in nationally determined contributions (NDCs)
  • Prioritizing options in agriculture that help countries move towards their targets
  • Greater focus on MRV – establishing baselines for adaptation and mitigation, quantifying emissions, emissions reductions, and sinks; tracking adaptation and resilience building to progressive climate change and extreme events
  • Quantifying mitigation co-benefits of adaptation measures, and providing more evidence of the adaptation-mitigation synergies (and trade-offs)
  • Support to technology transfer and capacity building – both within the context of UNFCCC processes and directly with countries

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is already working with national partners on these issues, and will continue to build a body of evidence that can help countries deliver on a progressively more ambitious set of targets.

Inspiring examples of action on agriculture

Many countries are taking steps on their own accord, seeking collaborations and partnerships to lay the groundwork for action at the national level. The enthusiasm and interest by African countries, civil society and the private sector is definitely encouraging. In addition, the international community is actively supporting action in the sector. In 2014, the World Bank announced that by 2018 the Bank’s annual agriculture lending of around USD 8 billion would mainstream climate-smart agriculture approaches and practices. At the regional level, the Asian Development Bank has committed to double annual climate financing to USD 6 billion by 2020, of which nearly USD 2 billion will be for adaptation including through climate-smart agriculture.

In Morocco we heard from several important initiatives that are already working in Africa and beyond to support country implementation of climate-resilient agriculture, such as NEPAD’s Vision 25 x 25 program, IFAD’s Adaptation to Smallholder Agriculture Program (ASAP), the World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s Low Carbon Technology Partnership, and the “4 per 1000” initiative on carbon sequestration in soils. Many more countries and regional bodies, including Southeast Asian and Nordic countries, showcased progress on agriculture, as did civil society (such as the World Farmers Organisation), and of course research for development organisations such as CGIAR. The Moroccan government’s Adaptation for African Agriculture (AAA) initiative was also prominent, including an event on “Science for Action” co-organised by CCAFS and partners.

We saw many excellent examples of innovation across Africa, from index-based crop and livestock insurance that helps farmers overcome risks and adopt new practices, to heat-tolerant maize varieties that have just been developed in anticipation of changing conditions in Zimbabwe, to water management techniques that African farmers adapted based on an Asian model. There is no lack of solutions.

Impasse on agriculture in formal negotiations

Since the 2011 Durban Agreement, there has been an agricultural agenda item at the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). The process was set to conclude in Marrakech, which generated hopes that a decision would deliver the much-needed support to the sector, including elements of finance, technology, knowledge sharing, and capacity building. However, countries were unable to reach a conclusion after the first week of negotiations, and the decision was postponed to May 2017.

Significant efforts have gone into the agriculture negotiation process in SBSTA over the past five years, including in-session workshops and written submissions processes, in which both countries and observers like CCAFS actively engaged (see our overview of 10 options for agriculture in Marrakech). However a decision could not be reached, as the rift between developed and developing countries, which has historically undermined climate talks, reappeared in these negotiations. Countries failed to reach an agreement on how mitigation in agriculture can be addressed, together with the differentiated responsibilities of countries, and fear over potential implications for trade in agricultural commodities. In order to reach a conclusion in May 2017, developed and developing countries will need to agree on how they refer to mitigation within the decision, while clarifying implications if any for trade and clarify their respective roles in advancing action in the sector.

CCAFS research has found that mitigation often comes as a natural result of adopting better practices, so it does not necessarily have to be seen as a burden. It can also open up opportunities for funding to developing countries, as there is more funding in general for mitigation-related activities. For example, the Green Climate Fund has prioritised agriculture as a sector for investment and specifically calls for projects that combine adaptation and mitigation, and that aim for transformative change.

What does this mean for agriculture?

It’s clear that there is already important momentum for action on agriculture at the country level. But in the absence of a decision, agriculture will continue to be dealt under different venues within the UNFCCC, including the Nairobi Work Programme, the Cancun Adaptation Framework, finance mechanism, gender, and the technology mechanism. This path could lead to a highly fragmented approach that does not address synergies and trade-offs for food security, adaptation and mitigation.

There is also uncertainty about funding for climate actions. Adaptation costs are estimated between US$20 to 30 billion per year until 2030, according to the African Development Bank, yet Africa is the continent least able to afford to fund such measures.

Countries promised USD 20 billion per year to the Green Climate Fund by 2020. To date, USD 10.3 billion has been pledged and 1.2 billion committed – which falls short of the total ambition and creates a serious gap for developing countries that want take action but lack the resources. New political uncertainty could also take a toll: the United States is the biggest pledger to the GCF, having pledged USD 3 billion in total and paid in USD 0.5 billion so far. If the new President backtracks on USA’s climate change funding commitments, this could put developing countries in a very insecure position, especially as agriculture already receives a lesser share of overall climate funds.

That said, new research by CCAFS and IFAD shows there is a strong case for investing in agriculture under climate change, with positive returns across a range of different agro-ecosystems and practices. This kind of evidence could help countries mobilise finance from a broader range of sources.

Despite these shortcomings, the overall forecast is positive, with countries leading the way, working closely with the international agriculture community to put plans into action. We saw an unprecedented focus on agriculture at COP22 from countries, international organisations and stakeholders. Even if negotiations didn’t show much progress, action is set to start at the country level, which is crucial for adaptation and mitigation in the sector and especially for farmers and their future livelihoods.