Heading into COP 19, agriculture was agenda item number 10 for the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). Plans were in place for the first-ever SBSTA workshop on agriculture, and it looked as though the Polish National Stadium might be where agriculture finally came in off of the sidelines of the climate change negotiations.
But by Wednesday evening, when SBSTA held its second plenary meeting, the Chair’s report on informal consultations was short—while the Parties had agreed to acknowledge the value of exchanging their views at the workshop and to consider the workshop’s report at SBSTA 40 next June, there was no apparent progress on establishing an agriculture working group within SBSTA at this COP.
For the time being, progress on agriculture appears limited to sharing information rather than developing formal texts for agreement. This is far from the goal many had hoped for, and unfortunately, it means more delay on this critical issue.
Progress on agriculture hit a snag right from the start. When the SBSTA Chair proposed a contact group for agriculture, an opportunity for Parties to negotiate text that the plenary could adopt formally, Fiji, speaking for the G-77 + China and supported by several other countries, opposed the contact group. The U.S., the E.U., and a handful of other countries supported the contact group. The Chair decided to consult informally with the Parties and report on progress at the next plenary meeting.
Despite the hangup, Tuesday’s SBSTA workshop on agriculture proceeded as planned. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) representative opened the discussion by noting that impacts from climate events depend on the nature and severity of the event, vulnerability of the affected people and area, and exposure. Although this causes great variations in climate change impacts at sub-regional levels, he identified a few broad trends in threats to agriculture: inland flooding in North America, increased risk of droughts in Africa and Oceania, and temperature extremes in Europe and Asia.
FAO then described climate-smart approaches to agriculture as incorporating resource efficiency (for mitigation) and resilience (for adaptation). The FAO representative emphasized the need to take an ecosystem-level approach, but acknowledged the difficulty of modeling at that level.
Countries were then invited to share their national experiences with effects of climate change on agriculture, adaptation of agriculture to climate change, and the application of scientific knowledge for enhancing adaptation in their country. From changing temporal rain patterns in Switzerland to decreased quality of some agricultural products in India, workshop participants had stories to share. They also identified current adaptation approaches within their countries. Australia listed some of its most important adaptation practices as improved soil management, optimum fertilizer use, efficient water use, and agroforestry. Malawi noted that conservation agriculture showed great promise, but was conducted primarily in pilot projects and that funding was needed to scale it up. The Malawi representative also expressed interest in integrating scientific and indigenous knowledge in climate risk management.
Some of the most interesting contributions came from countries that shared their hopes for how SBSTA could contribute to the discussion on agriculture in the climate change negotiations. Argentina would like SBSTA to focus on development of an early warning system for adverse climate impacts, examine social factors that impede local take-up of adaptation practices, and conduct studies of pests, diseases, and vulnerabilities. Bolivia wants to integrate loss and damage into the agriculture discussion at SBSTA 40. The United States identified common themes cropping up throughout the discussion, including knowledge management, needs assessment, technology transfer, and consideration of co-benefits with sustainable development and poverty eradication.
Yet, despite the urgency expressed by many, time is running out to advance agriculture into any formal agreement on climate change that might emerge from Paris COP in 2015, when a new climate agreement must be formalized.Photo courtesy of Emily Spiegel. Emily Spiegel is a student at the Duke University School of Law. She has volunteered to support EcoAgriculture Partners and the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative at the UNFCCC COP19 in Warsaw, as part of a practicum on the UNFCCC negotiations run by Duke.