By Sara J. Scherr, President, EcoAgriculture Partners
The UNFCCC 19th Conference of Parties starts today, and so the world gathers to discuss how to avoid further escalation of the climate crisis (mitigation), and how to deal with the problems we face on an already warming planet (adaptation). What we have learned over the past decade shows that, when it comes to land use, there are many strategies that accomplish both. And yet, as the climate talks begin, some are saying now is not the time to take advantage of those synergies.
A recent piece on Trust.org by Nannette Lindenberg and Pieter Pauw of the German Development Institute compares finance for adaptation and mitigation to apples and oranges. They argue, that to “accomplish the necessary speeding-up and scaling-up of private climate finance in particular, Parties in Warsaw should separate adaptation from mitigation when they debate and decide about future climate finance.” In the case of land use, at least, Lindenberg and Pauw are wrong.
Recent studies, papers, and reports, including work by EcoAgriculture Partners and our partners in the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative, indicate that ignoring adaptation concerns when addressing mitigation can result in critical lost time and resources, as well as unintended negative consequences. Moreover, adaptation, like mitigation, is indeed a global issue, and saying adaptation finance has “local impact” only or even mostly (as Lindenberg and Pauw do) is to ignore the interconnected nature of our food system as well as human rights commitments to the right to food.
Planning for climate change theoretically takes the form of adapting to the unavoidable impacts of climate changes or trying to mitigate those negative effects while there is still the time to do so. Without proper awareness of the landscape level impacts of climate-smart strategies, however, we could be sacrificing one benefit for another. For instance, increasing agricultural inputs for maintaining food production could be an adaptation strategy, but would likely also be a source of greater emissions. On the other hand, growing biofuel crops could significantly impact the ability of agriculture to maintain adequate food production. The ability of agriculture to capture carbon in the soil as well as the tendency for agricultural expansion to contribute to deforestation illustrates the complex relationships that planners have to grapple with in determining the most effective land use and management strategies.
With land use, it is as the naturalist John Muir wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Mitigation and adaptation are, rather than apples and oranges, just two of many interrelated demands we place on the land. At their core, that’s what climate-smart agricultural landscapes strive to do: harmonize these two policy imperatives to reduce trade-offs and capture the synergies that exist between them, while managing our agricultural ecosystems to ensure long-term benefits. A new paper in Conservation Letters by Celia Harvey (of Conservation International) et al. calls for more “transformative changes in current policies, institutional arrangements, and funding mechanisms,” and identifies a host of management practices in tropical agricultural landscapes that are potential sources of both mitigation and adaption.
Capturing synergies between adaptation and mitigation actually enhances the effectiveness of investments and interventions, rather than increasing risk, in the right contexts. We won’t continue to discover those contexts and take advantage of those synergies if we stop considering adaptation and mitigation together. For example, agroforestry systems have increased carbon storage capacity in the trees, while increasing crops’ adaptive capacity to water and heat stress. In the case of cocoa, a profitable crop grown under shade, a canopy of banana trees can provide both additional food and absorb more carbon. Many of these systems, whether they fall under the heading of agroforestry, sustainable agriculture, evergreen agriculture, silvopastoralism or another name, yield a variety of benefits for people, nature, and climate. But do they fit neatly under one heading of adaptation or mitigation?
Silos of funds for mitigation and adaptation can present a formidable challenge when implementing integrated projects, across a landscape scale, in order to reach objectives on both sides of the climate change coin (and beyond). A key recommendation in a 2012 paper by colleagues at EcoAgriculture Partners, as well as in Harvey et al, standing in direct contrast to Pauw and Lindenberg, is that governments, funding agencies, and donors require both mitigation and adaptation outcomes as a precondition for any programs they fund. Those studying climate change impacts on land use systems know that separating adaptation and mitigation is a losing strategy. Integrating funding sources and bringing down certain barriers to eligibility can give landscape managers the opportunity to plan for multiple benefits both at landscape scales and over longer time-frames, including simultaneous advances towards mitigation, adaptation, poverty alleviation, and food security.
Perhaps we shouldn’t compare apples and oranges; but ultimately, there is a limited amount of money to spend on all the fruit we need. To pretend that we’ll get more mitigation for our buck if we segregate adaptation is untrue, and dangerous for the world’s poor and vulnerable. It is also risky for all of us who depend on continued, sustainable increases in agricultural production to support the global food system. Rather than pit mitigation against adaptation, creating division when and where we most need a united front, let’s use these two weeks in Warsaw to think creatively about how to finance the actions needed to fight climate change in every way possible.
Harvey, et al. 2013. Climate-Smart Landscapes: Opportunities and Challenges for Integrating Adaptation and Mitigation in Tropical Agriculture. Conservation Letters. doi: 10.1111/conl.12066.
Shames, S, R. Friedman, T. Havemann. 2012. Coordinating Finance for Climate Smart Agriculture. Ecoagriculture Discussion Paper no.9. EcoAgriculture Partners: Washington.
Scherr, S., S. Shames, R. Friedman. 2012. From Climate-Smart Agriculture to Climate-Smart Landscapes. Agriculture and Food Security 1(12).