Agriculture and Climate Change: A Scoping Report

Women bear the brunt of the climate and agriculture challenges

Patrick Luganda NECJOGHA Online
This report, Agriculture and Climate Change: A Scoping Report, is a product of the Meridian Institute-convened Global Dialogues on Climate Change and Agriculture initiated in August 2010. Reflecting the special characteristics of the agricultural sector, this report aims to contribute to continued policy discussion on agriculture and climate change in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Convention).

Agriculture is characterized by a number of special features that distinguish it from other sectors, such as the sector’s role in producing food and meeting basic survival needs; its context and site-specific nature that makes uniform strategies and solutions ineffective; the vulnerability of the sector to being directly affected by climate change compared with most other sectors; its adaptation needs and mitigation potential, mainly through sequestration; and, finally, its complex links to food security, trade, and broader land-use and forestry policies.
Impact of climate change on agriculture. The increase of the world’s population to 9 billion people by 2050, the rise in global calorie intake by 60 percent between 2000 and 2050 due to greater affluence, as well the rising demands on land for the generation of food and fuels, will require significant increases in agricultural productivity in the context of more constrained availability of resources. With agriculture contributing 29 percent of developing countries’ gross domestic product and providing employment to about 20 percent of the global and 65 percent of developing countries’ populations, the impacts of climate change on agriculture have repercussions on livelihoods, food production, and the overall economies of countries. At the same time, the agricultural sector holds significant climate change mitigation potential through reductions of greenhouse gas emissions as well as enhancement of agricultural sequestration.

Food production and climate change. The globally accepted definition of food security is that “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Article 2 of the Convention refers to food security more narrowly when it states that climate change mitigation should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to ensure, among other things, that food production is not threatened, ecosystems can adapt naturally, and economic development is pursued in a sustainable manner.

Given growing global food production needs, a carbon-neutral agricultural sector may be difficult to achieve in the short term. Therefore, it may be more appropriate to focus policy interventions on meeting global food production requirements without commensurate increases in emissions. Climate change mitigation may be achieved through greater efficiency in agricultural production (thereby lowering the emissions “intensity” per unit of production) and in some cases through absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, including removal through sequestration in agricultural soils and biomass. However, increasing the profitability of agricultural lands can act as an incentive to expand them, often at the expense of forests.

Policymakers must consider these interconnected and dynamic opportunity costs to farmers Agriculture and Climate Change and forest communities when faced with the multiple objectives of meeting agriculture and adaptation needs, forest conservation goals, and climate change mitigation targets. Integrated land-use planning and landscape approaches may help in the development of appropriate policies as they allow the integration of multiple goals within spatial planning.

Effective mitigation policies could also increase the capacity of farming and food systems to cope with climate change while maintaining or increasing food production. Both farm-level adaptation options and higher-level policies and investments to enable their adoption will be necessary for effective agricultural adaptation. In addition to agricultural measures, there is considerable scope for adaptation throughout the food chain; for example, better post-harvest storage and distribution of food could have a significant positive effect.
National policies and early action. Although there is widespread recognition that the challenges of food security and climate change are closely linked within the agriculture sector, too often, policy, institutional arrangements, and funding channels for climate change, food security, and rural development are poorly coordinated at international levels, and in many cases, at national levels. Early action on climate change in the agricultural sector allows countries to prepare for near- and longer-term agricultural adaptation and mitigation action, closely linked with national food security and development efforts. The concept of climate-smart agriculture focuses on maximizing benefits and minimizing negative trade-offs across the multiple objectives that agriculture is being called upon to address: food security, development, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
There is as yet no blueprint for climate-smart agriculture. However, there are a number of “early action” measures countries and communities could take to facilitate confidence, capacity, knowledge, and experience to transition to sustainable, climate-smart agricultural production systems. Such measures include data collection, policy development, and the support of demonstration activities. Pursuing early action activities will result in country-specific data and knowledge as well as experience with agricultural practices and policies that could inform long- term national strategies. A strategy that brings together prioritized action, financial incentives, investment policies, institutional arrangements, tenure security, and aggregating mechanisms constitutes an important step in the transition to climate-smart agriculture.
Trade dimensions. Feeding the world’s population in a context of climate change will require a gradual and significant expansion of transborder exchanges of agricultural products. It will be imperative to ensure a mutually supportive approach between climate change and trade policies as they relate to agriculture. The biophysical impacts of climate change will alter crop and animal productivity and will further accentuate current trends toward higher food prices. As a result, developing countries’ agricultural imports are expected to double by 2050 due to climate change. This evolution is mirrored by a similar increase in developed-country exports. These changes will affect individual countries differently depending on the extent to which they rely on agricultural trade as part of their food security and development strategy.

International trade, combined with increased investment in agriculture, can provide an important mechanism to offset climate-induced production decreases in certain regions, and secure access to and availability of food that otherwise may be scantly accessible through domestic production.
Some of the climate change mitigation (response) measures that have emerged in recent years— such as carbon standards and labeling, subsidies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions or promoting alternative energy sources (e.g., biofuels), discussions on border tax adjustments, and free emission allowances under cap-and-trade schemes—may pose challenges to existing trade agreements, depending on how they are designed. Overall, however, good-faith climate change policies are unlikely to breach existing multilateral trade rules, either because they would not be discriminatory or because, if they are, they may be covered by the general exception under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Article XX. Many potential conflicts can be avoided if international consensus on a climate change framework is reached. Possible avenues to advance discussions on trade and climate change can be explored under the Convention more at