Our Common Future under Climate Change

By Katy Wiilson

our common futureAt the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris this December, governments are expected to agree a new climate change agreement, setting the climate governance and cooperation regime for years to come. This agreement is planned to come into effect in 2020. Ahead of COP 21, the marathon process of negotiations has been bogged down in discussions of terminology and have, so far, failed to build expectations that we can expect any significant change.  After a meeting of climate change negotiators in Bonn in June resulted in little progress (only cutting down an 89 page draft text by four pages), co-chairs of the negotiation have now been given the task of making changes to the draft, which will be presented when they meet again later in July.

Ahead of the next round of negotiations, however, we will hear from the science community at the “Our Common Future under Climate Change” conference in Paris from the 7th to 10th July. The international scientific community will come together, assess and present existing knowledge, explore innovative solutions to the challenges and help prepare for the new climate agreement.

Although registration for the conference has now closed you can follow the proceedings on Twitter (@ClimatParis2015) and on their blog. A list of presentation abstracts from the conference is also available here. While the main themes of the conference include climate science, building resilience, predicting shocks and stresses and improving governance for a changing climate there is some focus on the likely impacts and appropriate adaptation strategies for food security and in sub-Saharan Africa.

From the conference blog, a post on “Why is socially-just climate change adaptation in sub-Saharan Africa so challenging?” is particularly interesting, discussing why farmers may not modify their farming practices in response to weather changes. It is reported that in South Africa an estimated 62% of farmers haven’t changed how they farm as temperatures and rainfall have varied under climate change. In a review by Professor Sheona Shackleton and colleagues the main barriers to adaptation in Africa are identified as “a consequence of poverty, corruption, inappropriate policies and inadequate governance systems”. Similarly inequality, poor health, population growth, conflict and the marginalisation of some communities are huge barriers to people being able to effectively adapt. Sheona Shackleton and Penny Urquhart will, on Thursday 9th July, from 14:00, present on the obstacles to implementing adaptive strategies in sub-Saharan Africa.

The region was also the focus of a recent study by Adhikari et al investigating the impacts of climate change on fourteen strategic crops for eight sub-Saharan Africa countries, results of which are largely negative. Of these crops, wheat is particularly at risk, with a 72% reduction from current yields predicted by the end of the century. For maize, rice and soybean yield reductions are predicted at 45%, millet and sorghum less than 20%, root crops by some 10-15%, and tea and coffee up to 40%. Cash crops such as sugarcane and cotton are more resilient to rainfall variability thus it seems that crops important as food sources will suffer most under climate change in sub-Saharan Africa. Authors suggest widespread development of small-scale irrigation systems and water harvesting methods as potential solutions but acknowledge that for many farmers, these types of technologies are currently inaccessible.

From prioritising adaptation activities to identifying and addressing the barriers to adopting adaptation strategies, the scientific community has a critical to play in setting climate change research and policy agenda. Whether their contributions at the conference next week will spur negotiators to start agreeing real changes, that can help the world limit climate change to under a global average of 2°C, is yet to be seen.

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