Scientists should increasingly make critical contributions to ensure food security and environmental sustainability, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) systems ecologist Dr Bob Scholes said on Friday, adding that there was a need to better understand the link between climate change and food production.
More attention should be given to developing agricultural practices that can deliver multiple benefits, such as feeding nine-billion people by 2050, while reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
Writing in the January 20 issue of the journal Science, Scholes and coauthors, many also members of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, urged scientists to lay the groundwork for more decisive action on global food security in the context of international environmental negotiations in 2012.
“There are clearly significant opportunities during this year for scientists to provide the evidence required to quickly generate new investments and policies that would ensure that agriculture can adapt to the impact of climate change – and in ways that mitigate production of greenhouse gas emissions,” Scholes said.
In the run-up to the seventeenth Conference of the Parties (COP 17) climate negotiations in Durban last year, there was a strong political push to launch a new work programme on agriculture climate change adaptation and mitigation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC’s) Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). A group of African agriculture Ministers presented a call to act on climate-smart agriculture in September 2011, as did scientists from 38 countries through the Wageningen Statement in October 2011.
In November last year, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change published seven policy recommendations to help achieve a food-secure world in the face of climate change.
In the Science paper, ‘What next for agriculture after Durban?’, the authors describe the movement on agriculture at COP 17 as a ‘welcome first step’.
“COP 17 produced the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which committed parties to reach a legal framework for reducing global emissions by 2015. The only specific agreement on agriculture was to consider adopting a framework for actions in various sectors, which could include agriculture and for the SBSTA to ‘exchange views on agriculture’, with a March 5 deadline for parties and observers to provide evidence,” the paper reads.
According to the authors, the ideal would be a SBSTA work programme on agriculture, looking at adaption and mitigation, with an agreement on a framework on agriculture for COP 18 in Qatar, in December 2012.
Meanwhile, the world is already outside a safe operating space with respect to agriculture, climate change, and food security. “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 paper stated.
The article pointed to several opportunities for the research community to provide insights that could direct more attention and resources to the critical link between climate change and food production.
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 had earmarked $100-billion for developing countries. They can also assist with inclusion of agriculture in national action plans for climate change adaptation and mitigation that are being developed under the auspices of the UNFCCC.
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 tradeoffs and synergies among the biophysical and human dimensions of systems affected by agriculture and emissions from agriculture. We need to assess who has benefited from actions in agricultural landscapes and food systems and to develop and test potential mechanisms for both mitigation and adaptation,” the authors aver.
“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, one of the few places on earth with underutilised agricultural potential, and highly vulnerable to global climate change,” Scholes said.