2016 Needs a Game-changer

By Emily Alpert

The climate deal reached in Paris last month was controversial, to say the least. You can read about 8 perspectives that claim the agreement is everything from ‘our best chance to save the planet,’ to a complete fraud.

Some of the positive aspects include a commitment to keep global temperature rise ‘well below’ 2°C above pre-industrial levels with an aim to limit rises to 1.5°C, a promise to spend $100 billion per year by 2020 on adaptation in developing countries, a signal to phasing-out fossil fuels and a renewed sense of faith in multilateralism. Yet, by many accounts, the text is just rhetoric. There is so much grey matter, so few terms or concepts adequately defined, and too little that is legally binding that the success of the agreement can only be proved by voluntary action. George Monbiot from The Guardian wrote “By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.”

The agreement falls short on agriculture…

Akanyaru Watershed Protection Project Rwanda, photo credit: Green Fund Rwanda

Take for example the treatment of agriculture and food security in the text. The preamble directly refers to “safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change.”  Food is also mentioned a second time in Article 2.1 of the agreement where parties agree to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by: increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production.” But, this is where it stops.

The word ‘agriculture,’ isn’t even mentioned once. Despite being a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and the source of livelihoods for the majority of the world’s poor and vulnerable populations, and efforts advising to the contrary, agriculture, food, farming, food and nutrition security were all disappointingly overlooked. Reaching a 1.5°C target demands urgent mitigation in the agriculture sector, but does the agreement really “open[s] the door for more adaptation and mitigation” in agriculture?

…and on accountability…

The Montpellier Panel brief “Farmers on the Climate Frontline” offers 6 recommendations for addressing agriculture in the UNFCCC negotiations. These include commitments to adaptation and mitigation in the agriculture sector, reducing risk and building resilience for vulnerable populations and environments, fostering innovation and improving technology to speed up these processes and providing adequate finance to carry out all of these activities. Arguably, only one of these recommendations that was reasonably addressed in the agreement: finance. But even the pledge to provide $100 billion per year to developing countries by 2020 is fraught with many challenges.

First of all, it is not a new promise. It was first made 5 years ago at the Cancun COP in 2009 and the funds have been very slow to matriculate. As outlined by the Brookings Institution, the promise in the agreement is also considerably vague, leaving it up to the imagination just who is supposed to provide the finance, how much they are to give and by when. This funding will also only be “maintained through 2025”with a view to revising the goal by 2020 suggesting that this amount could become a ceiling rather than a floor. Further as what exactly constitutes climate adaptation and mitigation versus general development aid still lacks clarity, transparently monitoring how much climate finance is provided will more than likely continue to be elusive.

Back to the question of food, agriculture and nutrition…the agreement does not explicitly state anywhere that these funds – should they be mobilized – require any attention to the sector. Of course tying aid or finance has its drawbacks too, but given the severity of the impacts of climate change on food availability, safety, and nutritional quality, especially in Africa, concretely addressing these challenges needs a stronger foothold in the 2016 climate negotiations.

…but maybe the Green Climate Fund holds some promise.  

game changer

Photo credit: Gabriel Saldana 2012

In 2016, negotiators are set to flesh out what it means to provide compensation for ‘loss and damage,’ climate impacts that occur when the limits of adaptation are reached. The SBSTA, will be considering adaptation measures that take into account the diversity of agricultural systems and assessing agricultural practices and technologies to enhance productivity in a sustainable manner. The challenge lies in linking up these two processes to ensure that agriculture, food and nutrition are formally addressed as part of countries’ adaptation and mitigation commitments, at the very least to avoid reaching the point of loss and damage. But equally, once the technical body provides some answers, these practices and technologies will need some funding.

For this, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) holds some promise. Set up in 2010, it was initially envisioned as the main conduit for climate finance, yet the fund has only raised $10 billion and only approved its first set of 8 projects in worth $168 million in November 2015. Although off to a slow start, the Fund’s board has set a goal of expanding its investment portfolio to $2.5 billion in 2016.  With the objective of funding projects that aspire to be ‘game-changers,’ hopefully the GCF will see past the shortcomings of the UNFCCC and embrace the agriculture sector.

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