Farming for a better climate future

By Katrin Glatzel

While negotiators from nearly 200 countries gather in Bonn to shape the negotiating text for a new global climate change agreement to be finalised at the 21st COP in Paris in December, more than we can imagine is at stake.

UNFCCCWe are on track to reach a world that is 3°C warmer than pre-industrial levels by mid-century – which, in itself is a daunting scenario. Yet, this is not just a problem of the future –many people across the world are already experiencing the (predominantly) negative impacts of global warming. Crops, grazing land, trees and livestock are inherently affected by climatic extremes such as heat or drought. In some African countries, reductions in yield for some crops could be as high as 50% by 2020. These impacts mostly affect the millions of smallholder farmers in developing countries who own one hectare of land or less and live on less than $1 a day. These are the people most vulnerable, yet with the least capacity and resilience to adapt to climate change.

In order to secure a livelihood for the most vulnerable people, especially under a changing climate, there is an urgent need to make food security an integral part of the climate change negotiations. It is important to understand that climate change not only affects yields, but also the quality and safety of food and its delivery to consumers in both developing and developed countries.  

While agriculture contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is hence part of the problem, it is precisely this sector that is also part of the solution.

Last week, the Montpellier Panel published its latest policy brief “Farmers on the climate frontline: Six recommendations for addressing agriculture in the UNFCCC negotiations” to inform the negotiations in Bonn. The Panel outlines that a sustainable climate future is not possible without recognising agriculture’s role in the adaptation and mitigation of climate change. It goes on to argue that the negotiation of a new international climate change agreement presents an unique opportunity to address agriculture’s need for adaptation and its vital role in achieving the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2°C from pre-industrial levels.

Negotiators can ensure that these opportunities are not missed by firmly rooting agriculture in the major elements of the negotiations:

AdaptationGovernments must support, develop and build upon community-based adaptation actions
Adaptation in agriculture includes the research, development and adoption of improved crop varieties, livestock breeds and orphan crops that are most suitable to a changing climate. For every $1 spent preparing for disasters, $7 is saved in the cost of post-disaster recovery efforts.

UNFCCC1Mitigation- Governments must fund sustainable land management practices and support farmers to increase ecosystem resilience to a changing climate whilst minimising GHG emissions
Agriculture produces GHG emissions – carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane – and thus contributes significantly to anthropogenic climate change. The process of carbon sequestration, adding more organic matter to the soil than decays, can help minimise emissions, whilst agroforestry systems can capture carbon in the range of 2-4 tons per hectare per year.

Risk & Resilience – Governments need to implement pro-active policies and provide investments for resilient agricultural growth
In the face of intensifying climatic stresses and shocks, policies that reduce the risks posed by climate change and enhance both the agricultural sector and farmer livelihoods are increasingly important.

Innovation & Technology – Governments need to ensure that innovative and affordable technologies are available to smallholder farmers
Successful agricultural development rests on continued technological innovation. Technologies that enhance farmers’ resilience and adaptive capacity include water catchment and conservation, the dissemination of weather data through mobile phones and the development of drought-tolerant crops.

Financing – Governments must provide the right incentives for farmers in developing countries to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change whilst contributing to the mitigation of GHG emissions
Developing countries need adequate funding for adaptation and mitigation projects.Between 2010 and 2050 the annual costs for adaptation to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) alone will be at least $18 billion and up to $50 billion for the entire continent. This is an additional cost to the funding required to place SSA on a low-carbon development pathway.

Capacity building & Institutions – National and regional policies must complement and reinforce climate change adaptation and mitigation goals
The barriers to implementing adaptation strategies range from limited financial resources to strained institutional capacities. The integration of climate change adaptation strategies into national agricultural development plans under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) serves as a role model for developing countries.

Now is the time for governments to recognise the key role that agriculture can play in building smallholder farmers’ resilience against the adverse impacts of climate change, whilst drawing on the sector’s potential to contribute to a reduction in GHG emissions through mitigation co-benefits. To read the full policy brief, please follow this link.


  1. Interesting post – thanks for sharing!

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