Will agriculture continue to be ‘the elephant in the room’ in 2013 climate change talks?

20 December 2012

One of the many disappointing takeaways from the climate change conference in Doha few weeks ago, was the collapse in attempt by delegates to seriously address agriculture in the climate change negotiation process. It was disheartening to once again see that despite the obvious fact that agriculture is central to two major global challenges we face – catastrophic climate change and food insecurity, there was no international consensus on the way forward on how to deal with climate change mitigation (reduction in Green House Gases GHGs) and adaptation in agriculture (coping with climate change impacts).

In the Doha talks, agriculture was basically the ‘elephant in the room’, and a very common practice in such cases is to procrastinate. But the big question is whether in the 2013 climate change negotiations (in Bonn and Warsaw), regional interests and politics will be put aside for solutions-based conversation and possibly international consensus on mitigation and adaptation.

As long as there is no international consensus on how to deal with mitigation in agriculture, businesses in intensive agriculture (vis-à-vis aquaculture and livestock farming) continue to enjoy the license to operate down the unsustainable path. Intensive livestock agriculture for example, is one of the biggest contributors to global anthropogenic GHGs; and is responsible for at least about 18% of human-induced emissions. With business as usual, experts project that this will increase to 39% by 2050! Concrete actions on climate change mitigation in agriculture are needed. In 2013, one of Fairfood International’s advocacy actions will focus on the livestock industry; our focus will be to encourage companies to adopt initiatives and measures that reduce associated GHG emissions, provides viable feed alternatives for animals, better health and welfare of farm animals and illegal logging and destruction of biodiversity.

When governments shove aside serious talks on how to increase the resilience of vulnerable groups to climate change effects, millions of vulnerable groups (especially smallholder farmers) suffer a great deal, food prices increase and global food insecurity continues to mount. One of Oxfam’s climate change adviser puts it clear: “Extreme weather means extreme prices. Our failure to slash emissions presents a future of greater food price volatility with severe consequences for the precarious lives of the people in poverty”. In the wake of the Doha Climate change negotiations, The Philippines was hard hit with one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever (Typhoon Bopha), leaving untold damage to agriculture and infrastructure in the island of Mindanao and claiming hundreds of lives. Last year, we also saw how tropical storm Washi left huge damage to Mindanao’s agriculture. [Mindanao is one of Fairfood’s food issue hotspots where our advocacy focuses on the sustainability of the pineapple industry].

Agriculture is very much part of the global climate change problem, but when it is sustainable, it has the opportunity to be part of the solution. CGIAR recently put forward a solutions-based paper that discusses synergies between climate change adaptation and mitigation in agriculture, outlining how to achieve “low-climate impact agriculture that reduces emissions while achieving food security, economic well-being and sustainability”; such research initiatives should strengthen future talks and form a good basis for consensus between negotiators from rich and poor countries.

Image by Pat Roque  (AlJ)