Food security and climate change: one year after the Commission's report

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Commission Report on Achieving food security in the face of climate change. Read about the journey, from idea to finalized product here on our blog. Photo: S. Padulosi (Bioversity Int.)

by Dr Christine Negra

How do we achieve food security in the face of climate change? Answering this question means weaving together many strands of evidence about our complex food and climate systems to produce a clear image.

In response to this challenge, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), with support from the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, convened the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, thirteen senior scientists working on agriculture, climate, nutrition, economics and natural resources in governmental, academic and civil society institutions around the world.

The process began in The Hague in October 2010, where global leaders met for the first time to confront the linked agendas of agriculture, food security and climate change. At that meeting, several of the world’s foremost science and development institutions converged on the need for an independent, evidence-based assessment of how policymakers can take up the challenge of achieving food security in the face of climate change. The Commissioners had their work cut out for them.

Throughout 2011, the Commissioners reviewed the major drivers of the linked global food and climate systems including the link between poverty, degrading ecosystems and low crop yields; inefficiencies in food supply chains; gaps in agricultural investment; the role of changing diets; and globalized food trade, production subsidies and food price volatility. By integrating issues that have commonly been 'stovepiped' into different realms of science, economics, policy and geography, the Commissioners were able to distill the seven most important ways that a constellation of governments, farmers, food companies, investors, researchers and consumers can make global food security and climate stabilization a reality.

The final report, released one year ago at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London, called for changes in policy, finance, agriculture, development aid, diet choices and food waste as well as revitalized investment in the knowledge systems to support these changes. The report was complemented by a video animation illustrating the need to balance how much food we produce, how much we consume and waste, and how much agriculture contributes to further climate change if we find a ‘safe operating space’ for people and the planet. Commission messages have been shared through Science and other peer-reviewed journals, the New York Times and other media outlets, as well as presentations at major international events.

Galvanizing progress in global policy

The Commissioners’ primary focus was galvanizing progress in global policy, and they worked hard to bring their findings into major international forums. Commissioners pushed for visibility within and around the UNFCCC process and their findings were used to validate Bangladesh’s submission on agriculture to SBSTA in May 2012. The Commission also brought its messages into the Rio+20 Earth Summit, which culminated in a political document that has catalyzed a major multi-lateral policy process focused on the post-2015 development agenda. As a source document for the High Level Panel of Experts’ report, the Commission report informed the UN Committee on Food Security’s decisions on food security and climate change. The Commission undertook a supplementary study on food price volatility and hunger that reviewed actions taken by the G20, which has delivered important ‘no regrets’ responses to food price spikes and has begun convening G20 agriculture ministers to address underlying concerns. Last May, the G8 nations partnered with several African leaders in committing to a New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition designed to foster investment in agricultural productivity, one of the Commission’s seven priority recommendations.

Informing national policies

Commissioners also found ways to infuse the recommendations into national policy development. For example, the Commission’s preliminary findings were presented to the Mexican Congress during its consideration of the General Climate Change Law, which was enacted in April 2012. In Kenya, the Commission report was a key background document supporting the agricultural reform bills, which were signed into law in January 2013. In many ways, there has been more policy progress at the national than the international level. In September 2012, the Vietnamese Prime Minister approved the National Green Growth Strategy, which calls for the greening of production and consumption. In South Africa, the National Climate Change Response Policy White Paper outlines the government’s strategic risk-based approach to resilient development. In the United States, the Solutions from the Land multi-stakeholder dialogue is exploring policies and practices that can deliver integrated land management.

Learning from action on the ground

And in many places, including Commissioners’ home countries, valuable innovation is happening at the project-scale. In Australia, a total of 46 eligible offsets projects have been approved under the Carbon Farming Initiative, which was introduced in late 2011. In October 2012, Ethiopia became home to the first forestry project in Africa, the Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration project, to be awarded temporary Certified Emission Reduction credits under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism. In preparation for a national scheme scheduled for 2020, China is piloting emissions trading systems in 7 municipalities and provinces. Bilateral engagement on sustainability issues is also on the rise. For example, Brazil recently mandated its agricultural research corporation to expand its South-South exchange of innovative technology and policy as Embrapa International.

Advancing international dialogue and debate

As engines for advancing international policy, international organizations have also been an important focus for the Commission, which has convened dialogues among leaders from multi-lateral agencies (eg, United Nations, OECD), national institutions (eg, USAID, DfID), global donors (eg, World Bank, Gates Foundation), agribusinesses (eg, Syngenta, Bungee), research organizations (eg, CGIAR) and other groups working toward food security and climate stability. A wide array of public and private sector initiatives are working to scale up climate-friendly farms and supply chains while key international institutions are helping to create an enabling environment. For example, FAO’s five new strategic objectives reflect many dimensions of the Commission’s recommendations. The Knowledge Systems for Sustainability (KSS) collaborative, spearheaded by one of the Commissioners, has interjected Commission recommendations into a wide array of platforms including creation of a “knowledge track” within the UN Global Compact’s Voluntary Sustainable Agriculture Business Principles process.

Certainly, progress has been made since the 2010 Hague conference, which spawned a series of scientific and policy meetings including last week’s global Climate-Smart Agriculture science conference in California.

Moving into a food-secure future

Increasingly, the global community of policymakers, agricultural producers, agribusinesses, global development partners, researchers and civil society are recognizing their collective responsibility and power to shift policy, mobilize financial resources, gain on-the-ground experience, share knowledge and re-shape supply chains and consumption patterns. As the growing set of sustainability initiatives begin to align their actions, this will escalate momentum for transformational change in policies and practices.

Dr. Christine Negra coordinated the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.