Decision-support for assessing mitigation priorities, baselines, and trade-offs

From forests to rice fields: CCAFS is helping decision-makers find the right balance. Photo: D. Murdiyarso (CIFOR)
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Supplying decision makers with the information they need to plan for climate change mitigation

Reducing climate change involves weighing alternatives and then setting priorities. For example, planting trees stores carbon, but may reduce the amount of food that can be grown on the same land. Adding fertilizers can boost food production, but may require more energy and increase emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). 

Decision-makers planning for climate change balance reducing emissions with sustaining future food production and protecting environmental health. Yet the information needed to plot that course is often unavailable, especially in low-income countries, because models require huge amounts of data and hours of computer time. The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) aims to provide policy-makers wth decision-support tools that will allow them to move us toward a food secure, low-emissions agriculture future. Specifically, CCAFS is focusing on:

  • Identification of mitigation hot spots
  • Geographic optimization of mitigation options
  • Socio-economic inclusion, particularly for women
  • Linking adaptation and mitigation

IPCC Working Group III author Chuck Rice describes three mitigation opportunities in Agriculture in this video clip

Identification of mitigation hotspots

Policy discussions around agriculture and mitigation often do not consider the differences among countries or among types of farmers, in part because research has just begun to identify where mitigation is likely to have the greatest impact and be most feasible. For example, would mitigation by many resource-poor farmers have more impact than by fewer larger-scale farmers? If mitigation by resource-poor farmers is essential to meet climate targets, what are the most important things they could do, and where would they have the highest impact?

In the developing world, Brazil, China and India are the biggest emitters of GHGs, but are not currently obliged to reduce their emissions under the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change though they have the capacity to invest in technological change and the infrastructure to support the extension services that farmers need. Would it be logical to target mitigation in the rapidly developing BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China?

To answer such questions CCAFS is working with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and other partners to map pathways to low-emissions agriculture. The ultimate users of the information will be policy makers at global, regional and national levels, and the goal is to make it easier for them to explore alternatives, so the project will also develop simplified tools to allow policy makers to manipulate the data and see the impact of their different choices.

IIASA is assessing the impact of mitigation by different groups, for example BRICs and developed countries versus non-BRIC countries. Studies of large farms versus small farms in developed and developing countries will indicate whether resource-poor smallholders do need to participate in mitigation. The models will consider fertilizer use and changes in land use, as well as shifts in diet and changes in farm practices, such as an increase in agroforestry. They also will examine nitrogen and phosphorus levels on farms and how that might influence changes in land use and biodiversity. For example, more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers should help reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, while at the same time increasing the productivity of the land in ways that reduce the pressure to clear forests.

IIASA will also examine the most important sources of emissions and places with mitigation potential that are consistent with meeting food security needs. They are focusing on specific future scenarios and economic analysis of different mitigation options, the goal being a global map of mitigation hotspots, organized by different mitigation activities. The final step will be to develop a tool that ensures the information will be useful to regial and national decision-makers. 

decision tools for mitigation trade-offs: climate change agriculture and food security

ccafs is working to develop a map of mitigation hot spots

Geographic Optimization of Mitigation Options

Some commonly proposed mitigation options for agriculture have different relative effectiveness based on their location, primarily due to the fact that carbon fluxes and nitrous oxide emissions are functions of climate and soil in addition to management. With support from CCAFS, researchers at the University of Aberdeen are using this approach  to develop into an easy-to-use, scalable decision-support tool for spatially-linked identification of effective mitigation options for sites and regions.

Further reading:

Socio-economic inclusion, especially for women

Our gender strategy for low-emissions agriculture identifies three priorities for research that cut across all of our research priorities: 

  1. Political ecological analysis of key actors within climate change mitigation
  2. Support for local innovation by increasing its visitbility and identifying the conditions that enable it
  3. Assessment of women't contribution to low-emissions agriculture and women's ability to adapt introduced agricultural innovations to local conditions

CCAFS and partner ETC Prolinnova seek to understand women's role as drivers of innovation for climate change adaptation and mitigation and to identify opportunities to link farmer innovation, especially innovation by women, to lowering greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture whilst promoting more just gender relations. Understanding women's roles in action research projects in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Honduras will provide a pathway for decision-makers to encourage and ensure that women are empowered actors in the future of low-emissions agriculture.

Further reading:

Linking adaptation and mitigation

It is a challenge is to identify places where mitigation can be compatible with practices that also allow farmers to adapt to climate change. Coffee, an important cash crop for many resource-poor farmers, offers an interesting example. Coffee is very sensitive to temperature, so as average temperatures increase with climate change the most suitable zones for coffee will move to higher altitudes. Those higher areas are often forested and therefore are areas that store carbon. If farmers adapt to climate change by moving to higher elevations, large amounts of carbon will likely be released back to the atmosphere and other amenities from the forest will be lost. What is the overall impact on climate change of replacing forests with coffee? And might there be opportunities for growing coffee and trees together?

Planning adaptation strategies is essential because coffee is a perennial that takes some years to become productive. To provide data to inform those strategies, CCAFS scientists from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), along with several local and international research partners, have started looking in detail at coffee and cocoa systems in East and West Africa.

Further Reading