Big Story 10

U.N. talks plant seed for greener, more climate-savvy agriculture

BONN, Germany (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.N. climate talks in Bonn broke a long stalemate on agriculture this week, an important step which is expected to lead to wiser and better-funded government policies to help farmers, negotiators and development experts said.

Discussions on agriculture were blocked for several years over concerns they could result in obligations for developing states to curb emissions from farming, and for rich nations to pay for poorer farmers to adapt to a changing climate.

With the deadlock now resolved, the U.N. climate process can start to focus more on “real-life solutions” to make agriculture less polluting and better able to cope with climate change, said Teresa Anderson, climate and resilience policy officer for ActionAid International.

“The U.N. system can (also) provide more strategic support to countries that need it,” she said on the sidelines of the climate talks.

Agriculture, forestry and changes in land use together produce 21 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, making them the second largest emitter after the energy sector, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Agriculture also suffers about a quarter of losses and damage caused by climate-related disasters, such as floods and storms, rising to more than 80 percent when droughts hit, the U.N. agency says.

For a long time, experts and developing countries complained the stalemate was out of kilter with growing recognition of the role agriculture needs to play in tackling global warming, as well as expanding efforts on the ground to aid farmers to maintain yields as the weather gets wilder.

Those measures include using crop varieties better suited to drought or heavy downpours, cutting down the use of plows in fields, putting in solar-powered irrigation pumps, and buying drought-hit livestock from herders before their animals starve to death.

But this week’s decision to link the work of a technical body and another focused on implementation - which still requires final approval at the close of the talks, due on Friday - has opened the door for gaps in practical needs to be identified and filled, experts said.

Some of the topics that could be taken up include how to keep soils healthy and store more carbon in the ground, improved ways of managing livestock, and how the impact of climate change on farming could affect food production.

Gambian negotiator Sidat Yaffa said the decision meant his West African country would be able to submit proposals about key challenges for its agriculture sector to the U.N. process, and receive technical advice, potentially enabling it to access funding more easily.

About 90 percent of countries that have submitted plans on how they will contribute to meeting the Paris climate agreement goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, included agriculture in them.

Developing country governments will need assistance to roll those plans out, said Tonya Rawe, global lead for food and nutrition security with international aid agency CARE.

What happens at the U.N. climate talks creates a global framework that informs what countries do at the national level, she said. That would “ideally ensure there is support for small-scale food producers and for women in particular”, she added.

Bruce Campbell, director of a major international research program on climate change, agriculture and food security (CCAFS), said it was good that the U.N. process “is catching up to action on the ground”.