A step forward for agriculture at the UN climate talks – Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture

Photo: G. Smith (CIAT

Momentous decision on agriculture at COP23 opens the door to bold, transformative action to make farmers’ livelihoods and food supply more resilient, while mitigating climate change

The 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), concluded last week in Bonn, Germany. COP23 marks a milestone for negotiations on agriculture. COP 17 brought agriculture into the negotiations, by asking the UNFCCC’s technical body (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice - SBSTA) to consider issues relating to agriculture. Since then, SBSTA has convened in-session workshops and meetings to discuss the topic. CCAFS has actively engaged in the process, by making submissions to SBSTA and supporting meetings of African, South East Asian and Latin American countries, and a global meeting of negotiators in 2016 – these are also good learning environments for CCAFS, helping to shape research around topics considered important for stakeholders. Negotiations have been tortuous due to differences among countries. Now, COP23 has broken the deadlock, and reached a decision on next steps for agriculture within the UNFCCC framework, the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture.

But what does this decision mean, and what next steps should stakeholders take?

From science to implementation

A key feature of the decision is that while so far negotiations have remained in the technical body of the UNFCCC (SBSTA), the COP has now asked SBSTA and the UNFCCC’s implementation body (Subsidiary Body for Implementation – SBI) to jointly address issues related to agriculture through the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture. This will bring greater focus on implementing climate actions in the sector as opposed to negotiations focused on scientific and technical aspects only. This expands the scope of recommendations that countries can make to COP. However, the modalities of this proposed collaboration remains similar to the process undertaken by SBSTA, i.e. convening workshops and expert meetings.

Securing inputs from countries and stakeholders

The COP decision enables countries and stakeholders to share their views on the elements to be included in the work ahead of the next session of subsidiary bodies in April-May 2018. This presents an opportunity for countries and observer organizations to air their views on a number of issues, “starting with but not limited to the following”:

  1. Modalities for implementing the outcomes of the in-session workshops organized over the past years.
  2. Methods and approaches for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience.
  3. Improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility under grassland and cropland as well as integrated systems, including water management.
  4. Improved nutrient use and manure management towards sustainable and resilient agricultural systems.
  5. Improved livestock management systems.
  6. Socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in agriculture.

While this list excludes several key areas for climate action in agriculture, such as agroforestry, aquaculture, stress tolerant varieties, climate information services, and weather index-based agricultural insurance, the words “starting with but not limited to” indicate an opening to make the case for other priority topics.

Priorities for the agricultural development community

The the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture offers an opportunity for the agricultural development community to coordinate and consolidate experience and information to date to support each of the focal areas.

Methods and approaches for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience: Measuring and monitoring results of climate actions in agriculture is challenging, but there are many emerging examples of work on this topic. CCAFS developed a framework of readiness, process, and progress indicators to do this at different scales, through taking stock of indicators used by major agencies including DFID, World Bank, CCAFS, USAID, IFAD, GIZ and FAO, to achieve common ground on the topic. There is an opportunity to build on such work through UNFCCC processes, particularly achieving synergies with the Global Stocktakes, and through supporting the alignment of private sector efforts geared towards sustainability and resilience building. Measurement and monitoring will require improved data sharing among ministries, new statistical data, and sufficient detail to capture adaptation co-benefits. Indicators may require periodic updates to reflect changes in production systems and productivity.

Improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility under grassland and cropland as well as integrated systems, including water management: Healthy soils can help rural communities become resilient to climate change, while also sequestering carbon. Practices such as use of contour stone bunds, composting, and intercropping with legumes can help improve soil fertility and health, and sequester carbon. The 4 pour 1000 initiative launched by France at COP21 is a key initiative to catalyse ambitious action to improve soil health and fertility and generate mitigation co-benefits.

Improved nutrient use and manure management towards sustainable and resilient agricultural systems: Inefficient use of nitrogen inputs by plants contributes to GHG emissions from agriculture. Manure from livestock can be another source of emissions if unmanaged. However efficient use of plant nutrients and good manure management can turn this challenge into an advantage by reducing costs and re-using waste to generate energy or crop nutrients.  Site-Specific Nutrient Management and integrated manure management are practices, part of integrated crop management, that can be scaled out to improve use of nutrients and manure.

Improved livestock management systems: Improved feed and fodder management, breeding for resilience, and improvement of animal health are interventions that can improve the resilience of smallholder livestock systems, while also helping countries transition to low-carbon development pathways. Improved management in dairy systems is as a quick win area for agricultural actions under climate change. The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases is working to support improved livestock and manure management that also reduce emissions.

Socioeconomic and food security dimensions: Climate action in agriculture is not only about technical interventions, but also about supporting social and institutional structures that increase the resilience of smallholders and help achieve food security. The capacity of women and youth to adapt to climate variability, for example, is restricted by lack of access to capital, limited land ownership and access, and limited participation in decision making in households and communities. In the context of increased urban migration, these gender and youth gaps take on increasing significance. At the village level, approaches such as climate-smart villages are promising, and are currently being scaled up in India and Nepal.

From decisions to decisive action: Transforming agriculture under climate change

The work under the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture is only due for reporting back to COP26 (November 2020). In view of the climate change challenges – both adaptation and mitigation – faced by the agricultural sector, bold actions are needed within the next decade. We therefore need urgent and transformative actions, led by countries, farmers, researchers, investors and the private sector. Actions on the ground – and learning from them – can inform the discussions that will take place. In order for this transformation to occur, agriculture has to be seen in a broad sense as including policies, services and institutions. Public private partnership will be a cornerstone for this transformation, together with efforts to scale up climate financing to the sector, transforming agricultural research for development, and building capacity, including through South-South cooperation mechanisms.

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Dhanush Dinesh is the Global Policy Engagement Manager of CCAFS. Bruce Campbell is the Director of CCAFS. Lini Wollenberg is Low Emissions Development Flgship Leader of CCAFS. Osana Bonilla-Findji is the Science Officer of Climate-Smart Technologies and Practices Flagsip of CCAFS. Dawit Solomon is the East Africa Regional Leader of CCAFS. Leo Sebastian is the Southeast Asia Regional Leader of CCAFS. Sophia Huyer is the Gender and Social Inclusion Flagship Leader of CCAFS.