New scientific commission on climate change and agriculture to inform next steps for policy, farmers

New scientific commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change


Amid last week’s Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, where ministers, scientists and NGOs produced a roadmap for action, plans were also revealed for a new International Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.

The Commission, which is set up by the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security programme (CCAFS), with additional funding from the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, will identify what policy changes and actions are needed to help the world achieve sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change. Specifically, the Commission will focus on bringing together existing evidence on sustainable agriculture that contributes to food security and poverty reduction, and helps respond to climate change adaptation and mitigation goals. The Commission was introduced at a side event on 5 November, chaired by UK Chief Scientist Sir John Beddington, who welcomed the initiative for taking on a set of complicated questions with no ready answers. “If you think scientific research is expensive, try ignorance," he said, paraphrasing the former president of Harvard University Derek Bok. The costs of inaction in this case are incredibly high, as the impacts of climate change are already unfolding for farmers worldwide.

The panel at the commission event

The panel included Professor Rudy Rabbinge, of Wageningen University, who  highlighted the need for an increased focus on agriculture and climate change from all actors including the policy world, researchers and investors. Specific knowledge on the impacts of climate change in different areas is essential, he said, adding that the Commission will be valuable if it can uncover where specific knowledge exists or is missing.

Michael Hailu, Director of CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation), underlined that raising public awareness of climate change and agriculture in developing countries is key for adaptation. He stressed that the Commission must have at the outset a clear strategy for engaging with the public, in addition to engaging with key policy processes. He also suggested the Commission engage with people from a range of different disciplines, such as economics, finance, sociology as well as agronomy.

Speaking on behalf of the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (GDPRD), Sam Bickersteth, Senior Climate Change and Agriculture Advisor, UK Department for International Develompent (DFID), said the Commission can draw attention to the issues, pull together best evidence, and enable and push forward action that will make a difference to farmers.

Rudy Rabbinge
Rudy Rabbinge, Wageningen University
Michael Hailu
Michael Hailu, CTA
Sam Bickerseth
Sam Bickersteth, DFID
Sir John Beddington
Sir John Beddington

As Director of CCAFS, which is setting up the Commission, Dr. Bruce Campbell outlined some of the basic questions and actions that will shape the Commission’s work. See his presentation below.

Finally, Sir John Beddington invited comments from the audience, which included over 50 people from across the agriculture-climate change domain, such as donors, researchers, ministers, UN agencies, and NGOs. Response to the Commission was overwhelmingly positive, with most expressing their interest and approval of the concept.

Comments and discussion fell under the following points, as summarized by David Howlett, commission coordinator:

  • Geographic scope: the Commission will operate globally and not necessarily focus exclusively on developing countries
  • Engaging with information users: The Commission must engage with users of information from the very outset, and a clear strategy for linking with international, regional and national policy processes
  • Short timeframe: The Commission has a one year timeframe due the need to urgently deliver something concrete, and to keep it nimble and responsive
  • Looking at economics: The economics of climate change in agriculture is still understudied, and was  suggested by some audience members as an area of focus for the Commission
  • Barriers to action: It was suggested the Commission look at the institutional barriers to proper uptake of science

Audience at the side event

The Commission is still being formed, and next steps will include selecting Commissioners according to their expertise and regional representation and determining the key research questions.

The Commission plans to start its work in early 2011. Additional comments and views are welcome; please leave your comment below.

Updates about the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change will be posted on the CCAFS homepage and this blog. An information note and Q&A are attached.