How Caring for Our Soils Helps Fight Climate Change

By Katrin Glatzel, Originally posted on Agrilinks.org, Dec 10th 2015

As the International Year of Soils comes to an end, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been passed and COP21 is wrapping up in Paris, it is time to reflect on the role soils can play in future development agendas.

The decision made at the Rio+20 conference to develop a set of SDGs and the agreement “to strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world in the context of sustainable development” created momentum to discuss the role soils play in the global sustainable development agenda. It also initiated discussions concerning the need to develop clear soil and land indicators, necessary implementation mechanisms, supporting governance instruments, and the role of public participation.

This is now, at least partially, reflected and anchored in SDG goal #15, “Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.” Furthermore, the French government’s “4 per 1000” initiative, submitted in spring 2015, is aimed at making agriculture a solution in addressing climate change while advancing food and nutrition security. Specifically, it is based on the premise of sequestering atmospheric carbon in the world’s soils at the rate of 0.4 percent a year.

Smallholder farmers are part of the solution [Read more…]

Climate change and agriculture: solutions from the past or the future?

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Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Agriculture, being a significant contributor to climate change, will no doubt be on the agenda at COP21 discussions being held in Paris at the moment. Despite being a noted omission from UNFCCC negotiations to date, it is a sector which can’t be ignored if we are to halt climate change. Recent research found that while emissions from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses (AFOLU) were dropping in terms of their contribution to overall emissions (29% of man-made emissions in the 1990s to 21% in 2010), emissions from agriculture are growing at around 1% per year. Yet there is a lack of public awareness of the magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions from farming. In a global survey by Chatham House less than a third of people surveyed thought that meat and dairy production significantly contributed to climate change, despite it having a larger carbon footprint than the transport sector.

In France the food chain is responsible for approximately 30% of greenhouse gases. Over half originate from agricultural production (the majority of this from methane from livestock and nitrous oxide from soil fertilisation) the remainder from processing, distribution and going to purchase food. In a bid to reduce agriculture-related emissions, supporters of climate-smart agriculture are in Paris to promote the systemic change needed if agriculture is to significantly reduce its role in bringing about climate change. The way in which agriculture should change is the topic of much debate, however.

A recent report, Outsmarting Nature? by the ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation lays out some of the more extreme interventions in biotechnology, which fall under the climate-smart farming agenda. Such synthetic biology approaches include altering plant photosynthesis and releasing “gene drives” to alter natural populations of weeds. In part the report is taking a stand against the world’s largest agro-industrial corporations, many of whom are attending the climate summit as well as against hi-tech, intensive, industrial agriculture, which most would agree we need to move away from. The report claims such technologies, that design and engineer crops for industrial production from scratch, are not only risky for food production but may also fail to tackle climate change as well. Many civil society groups would argue instead for greater support of agroecological, small-scale and peasant farming systems, systems which support millions of smallholder farmers around the world. Although the report is extreme in its views against Big Agribusiness corporations, which they say are responsible for climate change in the first place, it does raise legitimate concerns over our reliance on technology and profit-making solutions instead of tackling the underlying issues, such as exponential economic growth and increasing consumption. It does seem absurd to be chasing technologies that alter the fundamental way in which plants function over transforming agriculture to be more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. Particularly if we assume that techno-fixes will eventually come to the limits of what they can fix.

When considering technological solutions to agricultural climate change mitigation, an important consideration of many civil society groups is “who will benefit?”. In Outsmarting Nature? the benefactor is assumed to be the corporations and their profit margins. Whether this is true is debatable and being a large corporation does not necessarily mean you are not eager to bring about genuine change and benefits for the broader population. What does seem to be the case is that technologies are often only accessible to the relatively well-off. For many smallholder farmers in developing countries even commonly used or small-scale technologies such as fertiliser, drip-irrigation, storage sacks or improved seeds are unaffordable or unavailable. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Nutrition and Food Secuirty

What Works for Nutrition? Success stories from Vietnam, Uganda & Kenya, Results, Concern Worldwide and University of Westminster

Beans and Other Paragons of Dietary Virtue, CIAT Blog

24 TED Talks That Will Help Save the Food System, FoodTank

Good Governance Is the Only Real Way to Provide Food Security, World Politics Review

Can the G7 new alliance reduce hunger and poverty in Malawi? Concern Universal, ChristianAid, CISANET & CEPA

In Kenya, Improving Food Security and HIV Outcomes through Farming, Scientific American

Climate change 

Warming set to breach 1C threshold, BBC News

Rapid, Climate-Informed Development Needed to Keep Climate Change from Pushing More than 100 Million People into Poverty by 2030, World Bank

UN climate fund releases $183m to tackle global warming, The Guardian

The devil is in the detail, E3G

Leadership on Climate Change: COP21 & Beyond, SustainAbility

Linking Food Security and Climate Change: what role for the private sector? ecdpm [Read more…]

Climate Change, Nutrition and Food Security: How to keep the ship afloat – CFS 2015

By Alice Marks and Katrin Glatzel

Credit: FAO, G. Carotenuto

Credit: FAO, G. Carotenuto

Last week, delegates from over 100 countries, civil society organizations and the private sector convened in Rome for the 42nd meeting of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). In light of the 2015 development agenda dominated by the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the international climate negotiations taking place in early December, this year’s CFS focused on the cross-cutting theme of food and nutrition security. In her keynote address, Mary Robinson used the sinking of the Titanic as a metaphor for the oncoming food crisis; when the ship sinks it will not only be those in steerage who drown. What she meant was that we should all show interest in nutrition and food security, because it will affect rich countries as much as it will affect poorer, developing ones. Over- and under-nutrition currently affects 1 in 4 people in Africa, a worrying statistic that has repercussions far beyond the shores of the continent.

Credit: FAO G. Napolitano

Credit: FAO G. Napolitano

A side event that we hosted in cooperation with the Global Panel, The Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and John Kufuor Foundation looked specifically at Climate Change, Food Security and Nutrition. Tom Arnold, a member of both the Global Panel and the Montpellier Panel, expanded upon Mary Robinson’s warning using the example of the food price crisis of 2007/8. The crisis demonstrated that as people are no longer able to afford to buy food for themselves and their families – be it due to rising prices or lower incomes – they not only go to bed hungry, but the food they do eat is of a lower quality with less nutritional value. This is a big challenge and particularly problematic for pregnant women and young children. [Read more…]

Why an ambitious climate deal is key to achieving zero hunger

By Katrin Glatzel

As climate negotiators and delegates from nearly 200 countries gather in the beautiful city of Bonn for a last time before the international climate negotiations take place in Paris in early December, much is at stake. Not only do we hope to reach an agreement that will put our world on course to limit global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we also need to reach an agreement that makes the poorest of the poor more resilient to weather extremes in the coming years.  This is a tall order. And as if it wasn’t already enough, we also need to overcome poverty and hunger. “Good news” is that these two challenges go hand in hand.

©UNICEF Ethiopia

©UNICEF Ethiopia

The two biggest challenges we are confronted with this century is managing climate change and ending poverty and hunger. As Lord Stern recently put it: if we fail at one, we will fail on the other. We cannot achieve a world of zero hunger if we do not tackle climate change. Climate-related disasters, such as floods and droughts, increase food insecurity and malnutrition, when agricultural land is affected and essential food supplies are no longer available. [Read more…]

African smallholder farmers responding to an uncertain climate future

By Katrin Glatzel and Alice Marks

Originally posted on Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute Blog

Farmers in Tanzania. Credit :Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Farmers in Tanzania. Credit :Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

With just a couple of months left till the world’s leaders gather in Paris to agree on a new international climate change agreement, the Montpellier Panel launched a report last week addressing some of the key challenges we face in helping smallholder farmers become more resilient in the face of climate change.“The Farms of Change: African Smallholders Responding to an Uncertain Climate Future” also argues that smallholders can be the drivers for steering Africa towards low-carbon development pathways – provided they are given the right support and incentives to do so.

As we all know, two of the greatest challenges of the 21st century are the increasing demands for food, water and energy from a growing population – and climate change. Agriculture and smallholder farmers are central to both, perhaps nowhere more so than in Africa. And while Africa is already battling against the impacts of climate change, smallholders and their families are amongst the most vulnerable with the least capacity to adapt. Rising temperatures signal more extreme weather events that will put the lives and livelihoods of millions of farmers at greater risk, increasing their vulnerability to drought, famine and disease. Whilst progress has been made during the last two decades to reduce hunger and to improve farmers’ livelihoods, climate change jeopardises these gains.

High levels of poverty and underdevelopment, combined with insufficient infrastructure, exacerbate the already severe impacts of global warming on resources, development and human security. In order to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, international organisations and governments must provide smallholders with the right support and with the incentives to reduce and offset greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Whilst agriculture is commonly seen as part of the problem, it is an even larger part to the solution. [Read more…]

Ecomodernism: creating more questions than it answers

ecomodernistBy Katy Wilson

In April 2015 ahead of the 45th Earth Day, a group of 18 authors, including the founders of the Breakthrough Institute, released An Ecomodernist Manifesto, a report outlining how to “use humanity’s extraordinary powers in service of creating a good Anthropocene”. Released on the 26th September in the UK, the publication outlines the authors’ beliefs that human well-being must be decoupled from environmental destruction and that alongside reducing our impact on the environment we must refrain from trying to balance nature with development if we are to “avoid economic and ecological collapse” and “make more room for nature”. This decoupling is to be achieved through several ways such as intensification, demographic change and through the use of technological substitutes.

Intensification of agriculture, energy extraction, forestry and human settlement is believed to be key to separating the natural world from ongoing human development and to enhancing nature, alleviating poverty and mitigating climate change. Authors use as evidence of this effect the fact that since the mid-1960s the amount of land needed for growing crops and animal feed for the average person has decreased by about half. Net reforestation has also been made possible in some areas such as New England due to agricultural intensification and a reduction in the use of wood as fuel.

Technology has, over history, reduced our reliance on natural ecosystems (or at least their directly obtained goods) and increased our resource-use efficiency but it has also allowed the human population, and associated consumption, to expand exponentially as well as increase the reach of society’s impact on global ecosystems. Although our consumption patterns are changing (in developing countries diets are shifting to include more meat and processed foods, while in some developed countries more sustainable protein sources are growing in popularity) and human population is predicted to peak and decline this century, globalisation and the distance between societies and the resources they consume, continues to increase. The development of technological substitutes could lower the impact our lifestyles have on ecosystems far away. Technological development supported by the report include urbanisation, nuclear power, agricultural intensification, aquaculture and desalination. On the other hand suburbanisation, low-yield farming and some forms of renewable energy production are believed to increase human demands on the environment. [Read more…]