Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Who set up the Commission?

The Commission is set up by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security programme (CCAFS). CCAFS is doing this to help get scientific evidence into use by policy makers, thereby helping meet its mandate as an international research body. CCAFS with the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development are funding the Commission. Additional sponsors are most welcome.

Q. What will the Commission do? What are its objectives?

The Commission will identify what policy changes and actions are needed now to help the world achieve sustainable agriculture that contributes to food security and poverty reduction, and helps respond to climate change adaptation and mitigation goals. The Commission will aim to provide answers under four headline questions:

  • What are the main challenges confronting agriculture as a result of climate change, in particular for vulnerable farmers in developing countries and in helping achieve food security, and how do these relate to other challenges facing agriculture?
  • What are the costs of action relative to inaction, particularly in relation to mitigation and adaptation in agriculture systems?
  • What approaches to agricultural development should be scaled up to meet the growing demand for food while addressing global and local environment and poverty objectives?
  • What are the main changes and policy actions needed to promote these more sustainable approaches?

These objectives are being finalised and will be posted here soon.

Q. Who are the members of the Commission?

The thirteen Commissioners have been chosen as eminent scientists with international reputations, who have a good understanding of policy processes at the national, regional and global level. The Commissioners represent all major regions of the world and have a wide range of scientific backgrounds in agriculture, climate, ecology, economics, trade and nutrition/health. The Chair and Commissioners are honorary positions. Read more about the Commissioners...

Q. Why is a new Commission needed? What is its added value? What makes it different?

There is currently a “mixed bag” of messages on what is needed on agriculture and climate change. This confusion, at best risks inaction, and at worst inappropriate actions. The likely outcomes of both are higher future costs to society. The Commission will address this and add value by producing a clear set of findings on what the world need to do now.

The Commission is different in that it will build upon existing knowledge, in effect undertaking a synthesis of major studies to identify the actions and pathways to address food security in the context of climate change. It is also different in that given its composition of senior and internationally scientists, it has the opportunity to provide a clear and authoritative set of policy findings based on science.

Q. Will the Commission’s findings repeat those of other reports on agriculture and climate change? 

No, the Commission will not repeat the work that led to these reports (list below), but will draw on them to produce a set of findings to directly inform policy changes and actions.

Major reports include:

These reports while providing ample evidence that agriculture is crucial for the attainment not only of long-term global food security and poverty reduction targets but also of climate change mitigation and adaptation objectives, have not, so far led to the change in the policies and investments needed to help secure a more sustainable future and food secure world. The Commission’s aim is to help achieve these changes.

Q. How long will the Commission last?

The Commission is expect to last until December 2011. It will not set up a new institution or body.

Q. How will the Commission work?

Commissioners will work independently of their host organisations or affiliations. We expect the Commission to meet physically twice. Additional virtual meetings using telephone or video conferencing facilities are also possible.

CCAFS has set up a technical Secretariat to assist the Commission in its work. They will take direction from the Commission, and as part of this members of the Secretariat are expected to undertake a synthesis of existing evidence, and prepare reports for the Commissioners to consider.

CCAFS will also ensure it sets up contact points with other major initiatives on agriculture and climate change. This will be done so that the Commission can obtain knowledge from these initiatives, and to help consider them when developing its findings.

Q. Will the Commission take new evidence?

No. There are no plans for public hearings or for the Commission to invite new evidence. We would expect the Commissioners and Secretariat to identify and use existing knowledge and evidence.

Q. Why a focus on the agriculture sector and not other sectors?

Other sectors are important in relation to climate change, and are receiving focussed attention. The Commission while focussing on sustainable agriculture and how this can contribute to food security, will also look at the links to other sectors such as forestry, water, energy and transport.

Q. How will the Commission tackle contested areas, such as genetic modification and trade issues?

This is not the focus of the Commission, but where these issues arise the Commission would aim to reach a scientific consensus on such issues.

Q. The Commission uses the term sustainable agriculture. What does this mean?

In order to avoid any potential confusion, the Commission will base its definition of sustainable agriculture on those in recent reports by the National Academy of Science and Royal Society

Definitions of Sustainable Agriculture

From, the National Academy of Sciences report: Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century

Improving sustainability is a process that moves farming systems along a trajectory toward meeting socially determined sustainability goals as opposed to achieving any particular end state. Agricultural sustainability is defined by four generally agreed upon goals:

  • Satisfy human food, feed, and fibre needs, and contribute to biofuel needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the resource base.
  • Sustain the economic viability of agriculture.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers, farm workers, and society as a whole.

From: the Royal Society report: Reaping the Benefits Reaping the Benefits Science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture

The concept of sustainability in the context of agricultural and food production is central to any future challenges. It incorporates four key principles:

  • Persistence: the capacity to continue to deliver desired outputs over long periods of time (human generations), thus conferring predictability;
  • Resilience: the capacity to absorb, utilise or even benefit from perturbations (shocks and stresses), and so persist without qualitative changes in structure;
  • Autarchy: the capacity to deliver desired outputs from inputs and resources (factors of production) acquired from within key system boundaries;
  • Benevolence: the capacity to produce desired outputs (food, fibre, fuel, oil) while sustaining the functioning of ecosystem services and not causing depletion of natural capital (e.g. minerals, biodiversity, soil, clean water).

Q. What policy processes and international events will the Commission findings inform?

The Commission will take a strategic approach to maximise the use of its findings. It is expected to target climate change, agriculture and sustainability policy processes and international events. Its findings are expected to inform: UNFCCC negotiations and COP17 in South Africa; plans for the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil in 2012; the G-20; the Global Panel on Sustainability; and, the Committee on World Food Security.

Q. How does the Commission relate to the UN Global Panel on Sustainability and other initiatives?

Sustainable agriculture is an important element of sustainable development. The new UN Global Panel on Sustainability is now developing its work plan, and we will explore how the results of the Commission on sustainable agriculture can contribute to the Global Panel.

Q. How will different stakeholders, including civil society and private sector, be involved?

The Commission will review existing reports and knowledge. Some of these in their preparation involved different stakeholders including civil society (e.g. IAASTD) and the private sector. Some of the Commissioners as senior scientists are also expected to have a background of working in, or with, the private sector and civil society. The Commission will not undertake a public consultation.

Q. Is this Commission solely focussed on influencing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations?

No. It will look at actions in both climate change and food security/agriculture policies. It could provide evidence that policy makers and negotiators can use in the UNFCCC process.

Q. Will the Commission not duplicate the work of the IPPC 5th assessment, or a possible SBSTA work programme on agriculture, or the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gas emissions?

No. The Commission will not duplicate the work of the 5th assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), nor any work programme set up under the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), nor the work of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GRA). The Commission is different in that is focussed on marshalling evidence to inform policy.  Its findings could look at the role of, and need for, research and assessments in a particular area on agriculture and food security. These could therefore support the work of the IPPCC, SBSTA work programme and the GRA.