Agriculture in the international climate negotiations: supporting sustainable development or just dubious emission reductions?

Agriculture in the international climate negotiations: supporting sustainable development or just dubious emission reductions?

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Kaplan, Marcus
Briefing Paper 16/2012

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

Climate change will have increasingly negative impacts on agricultural activities through fluctuations – and in many world regions a permanent reduction – in crop yields. Through their direct dependence on agriculture, smallscale farmers in developing countries are hit particularly hard by this development. At the same time, agriculture contributes approximately 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigation of emissions in agriculture, in contrast to adaptation, is a relatively new topic within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Currently, it is under discussion to establish a work programme that would mainly deal with mitigation, but also with other climate-related aspects of agriculture. A decision on whether to establish it could be taken at the next Conference of the Parties (COP) in December 2012.

Many developing countries are concerned that the process could be biased towards mitigation and its integration into carbon markets, while other aspects of importance to them could be neglected, such as food security, adaptation as well as avoiding trade restrictions. Furthermore, they point out the complexity of the agricultural sector and existing scientific uncertainties concerning the monitoring of emission reductions. The following recommendations for the future role of agriculture within the UNFCCC can be drawn from the analysis of the international discussion:

  • Measures for mitigating emissions in the agricultural sector must consider the multiple functions of agriculture. More concretely, such strategies should have benefits for food security, economic and social development, adaptive capacity as well as ecosystems and their services. There are many integrated approaches that fulfil these requirements.

  • Often, smallholders do not have clear property rights for the land they are using. Increasing competition for land resources must not result in losses for smallholders. Therefore, either guidelines should be developed or existing guidelines developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Bank should be referred to.
  • Existing scientific knowledge should be utilised, and links with existing mechanisms within the UNFCCC should be established. Due to the close connection between agriculture and forestry, the experience from the REDD negotiation process in particular should be taken into account.
  • Highest priority must be given to improving the methods for measuring emission reductions from agricultural activities. As long as there continue to be great uncertainties that would require significant efforts to overcome – thereby making such methods unrealisable for many countries – agricultural mitigation projects should not be included in carbon markets.
  • A work programme under the UNFCCC could, at first, have two lines of focus – one on adaptation, the other on mitigation.

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