Let's make the case for agriculture undeniable at the UN climate talks

These two weeks countries are meeting in Bonn for the annual UN climate talks. No grand decisions are expected for this year’s COP as it is more of a working meeting leading up to decisions being made next year in Poland. But one subject is returning to the agenda again and again: agriculture. So what can we expect for this year? Or rather, what do we need for agriculture this year at COP?

Fiji holds the presidency, which should be very symbolic for agriculture. Fiji is a small island state and 70% of its population is working in the agriculture sector. Still, agriculture is not high on the official COP agenda. But should it be?

Let me start with a brief personal account of my 8 years following the UNFCCC process. When I was first introduced to the negotiations on agriculture, I was part of the Danish delegation and representing the Danish Ministry for Agriculture. This was in 2009, just before COP15 where Denmark held the Presidency. At that time, negotiators were trying to get agriculture on the agenda of UNFCCC’s technical body, and almost succeeded. But it wasn’t until 2011 and with a big push from farmers and various international organizations working on agriculture that this actually happened. By then, I had moved on to work for farmers and to being responsible for climate issues within the World Farmers’ Organization. Since 2012 we have seen a number of submissions from countries and observers on agriculture, and a number of UNFCCC workshops, leading to further discussions of the issue. Now, I am working for CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS), and together with Farming First and CTA we have made a more detailed overview of the history of agriculture in the UNFCCC.

Two years ago in Paris we finally saw progress on agriculture, but not as part of the technical discussions under SBSTA. As part of the Paris Agreement, countries committed to submitting their National Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reaching the two-degree target.

We may not have agriculture formally included in the negotiations but food security ranks high on the agenda. And a majority of countries see agriculture as a sector important enough to have it featured in their NDCs and overwhelmingly prioritize the sector for climate action. 119 countries include agricultural mitigation in their NDCs, and of the 138 countries that include adaptation, almost all (127) include agriculture as a priority (Richards et al. 2016). Agriculture is also key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set by countries. Where do we go from here?

On the sidelines of COP23, CCAFS and a wide range of partners have organized a series of events under the theme “Agriculture Advantage”. Agriculture is both part of the cause of climate change and also part of the solution, and agriculture is central to any debate on global warming and extreme weather events. The interactions between the agricultural sector and climate change have undeniable implications for both global food security and our environment.

“Agriculture Advantage: The case for climate action in agriculture” is an initiative and collaborative effort between different organizations with the same mission to transform agricultural development in the face of climate change. The series of events aims to articulate the different dimensions of climate actions in the agricultural sector and unpack six agriculture advantages for climate action. These include the gender transformation which can occur in the sector, the responses to increasing pressure on land and water, achieving mitigation co-benefits, strengthening policy processes through science, tapping into genetic diversity to cope with stressors, and building the case for business action.

What is the agriculture advantage?

At the opening of the “Agriculture Advantage” event series, CCAFS Director Bruce Campbell presented his vision for agricultural transformation. This incorporates the technologies and services mentioned above but argues for centrality of the private sector if scale is to be reached, the crucial importance of an enabling policy environment, and strong farmer organizations and networks.

We already know what works for adaptation. CCAFS and partners have recently released a new working paper on the 10 best bet innovations for adaptation in agriculture.

These innovations are:

If a transformation of agriculture has to occur, thus achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and strengthening the resilience of the 550 million smallholder farmers, a suitable enabling environment is needed.

Currently, the UNFCCC discussions on agriculture risk halting implementation. We already know what is working and the time for talk is over. It’s time for action. It’s time to realize our agriculture advantage.


Join the Agriculture Advantage closing event on 14 November, 1-5 PM at the German Development Institute (5-minute walk from the Bula zone) or tune in to the livestreaming. The event will call on countries, international organizations and businesses to take cognizance of the advantage offered by climate investments in agriculture, and urge stakeholders to come together for the transformation required within the sector. Click here to register for the event.

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