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Feb 10, 2012

Agriculture key to climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions

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The world’s agriculture sector can contribute to climate change mitigation, while at the same time helping countries to adapt to climate change, say 14 scientists writing in the January 20 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Science.

Members of the contributing team are drawn from 12 countries and it includes South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research systems ecologist, Dr Bob Scholes.

They are critical of the separate mitigation and adaptation discussions being held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), saying these separate discussions are obscuring opportunities for a sector such as agriculture, which can deliver both mitigation and adaptation benefits.

Nations agreed to adopt a framework for sectoral actions, including agriculture, by March 5, at the seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP 17), in Durban. “It is not the adoption of a formal work programme on agri- culture that many wanted,” the report states.

Agriculture exacerbates climate change when greenhouse gases (GHGs) are released as a result of land clearing, inappropriate fertiliser use and other practices, the writers assert. However, alternative agricultural practices, tailored to different regions, show promise for reducing the net GHG emissions and maintaining or improving yields, despite extreme weather. This can reduce the threats to food security posed by climate change and aid in mitigation efforts.

“In Niger, five-million hectares has been regenerated by using agroforestry, which has benefited more than 1.25-million households, sequestered carbon and produced an extra 500 000 t of grain a year,” the group writes.

Actions agreed in Durban come from the conference’s mitigation track, which has led to concerns that the focus on agricultural adapta- tion to climate change, a priority for developing countries, will be reduced, the scientists state.

Common Ground
To enable movement on the food security and climate change mitigation and adaptation fronts, scientists the world over must develop common definitions for a number of concepts, including climate-smart agriculture and sustainable intensification.

The writers urge scientists to lay the groundwork for more decisive action on global food security in the context of international environment discussions in 2012, including at COP 18, in Qatar.

“There are significant opportunities for scientists to provide the evidence required to rapidly generate new investments and policies, which will ensure that agriculture can adapt to the impact of climate change – and in ways that mitigate production of GHG emissions,” says Scholes.

Meanwhile, the world is already outside a safe operating space for agriculture, climate change and food security, he adds.

“To mobilise increased investment, scientists must document ways that farmers, industry, consumers and government can move toward, expand or shift the safe space and achieve multiple benefits from sustainable farming practices,” the scientists write in Science.

“More integrated research and improved knowledge systems on what works in different regions, farming systems and landscapes are needed, especially in the most vulnerable socioecological systems,” they state.

For example, scientists can help with identifying robust opportunities for investing in agricultural adaptation and mitigation with financing now available through the Adaptation Fund of the Kyoto Protocol, the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism and the Green Climate Fund, which has earmarked $100-billion for developing countries, says Scholes.

They can also assist in ensuring the inclusion of agriculture in national action plans for climate change adaptation and mitigation that are being developed under the auspices of the UNFCCC, he adds.

Another contribution from the field of science would be the development of new information systems.

“To help countries evaluate potential mechanisms for agricultural adaptation and mitigation, geographically explicit estimates of risks and benefits are needed that better describe and manage trade-offs and synergies among the biophysical and human dimensions of systems affected by agriculture and emissions from agriculture,” Scholes says.

Further, the impending collision between the imperatives of food security and environmental sustainability will largely play out in Africa – the location of much of the future growth in food demand, and one of the few places on earth with underused agricultural potential and which is highly vulnerable to global climate change, he notes.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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