Science That Can Make The Paris Agreement a Success

With the ink now dry on the new climate agreement agreed in Paris, the euphoria of achieving a record number of signatories must now give way to practical action from the 177 nations involved. There is little room for self-congratulation, as the Minister of Environment of Morocco reminded summit participants at the recent Climate Action Summit in Washington DC. Tired of the discussions that revolved around what could be done to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by cities in the industrialized world, she asked the frank question: when can Africa, that has been experiencing climate change for many years now, expect solutions instead of speeches?

Africa is still enduring one of the most severe droughts on record, has 500 million hectares of degraded land, 300 million people without access to clean and safe water, and millions migrating to its megacities. Africa is projected to become 56% urban by 2050, while Asia is projected to be 64% urban.

It is time for leaders to wake up from the fog of Paris negotiations and move towards action. Photo: Alain Vidal

At the Bonn Climate Change Conference this week, which convenes the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), scientists are setting out recommendations to move the Paris Agreement from ambition to action, and the daunting challenge of adapting food systems while producing enough nutritious food is a hot topic.

In fact, negotiators representing South East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have already loudly called for the climate talks in Morocco this year to establish a real scientific work program on adaptation in agriculture, which is currently not on the SBSTA agenda. Such a program will need evidence-based and impact-oriented science from scientists all over the world to make it viable. At CGIAR, we are working on papers that will be used as the basis for providing technical support to countries and country groups in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

Here are some more ways CGIAR and our partners believe science can help provide nutritious food in a warming world:

1. Setting a Global Target for Emissions Reductions in Agriculture
Scientists from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the University of Vermont, alongside partner institutions, estimate that the agriculture sector must reduce non-CO2 emissions by 1 gigaton per year in 2030, in order for the world to remain within the 2C warming limit. Yet in-depth analysis also revealed a major gap between the existing mitigation options for the agriculture sector and the reductions needed: current interventions would only deliver between 21-40% of mitigation required. Agriculture (not including land use change) contributes an average of 35% of emissions in developing countries and 12% in developed countries today. Mitigation will require massive investment, information sharing and technical support from scientists to enable a global-scale transition to low emission technologies. There are many promising innovations on the horizon, such as recently developed methane inhibitors that reduce dairy cow emissions by 30% without affecting milk yields. Varieties of cereal crops that release less nitrous oxide also have great potential. But the investment to drive the discovery and dissemination of these scientific advancements must be released from climate funds.

2. Accurately Monitoring Climate-Smart Progress
CGIAR, through its Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), has been called upon by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to be a key knowledge partner for its Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) platform. At the Paris climate talks, WBCSD members (including agribusiness giants such as PepsiCo and Kelloggs) pledged to make 50% more food available, while reducing emissions by 50% by 2030. As Peter Bakker, CEO of WBCSD commented, this will require "new rules for disclosure and reporting". CGIAR will be working with WBCSD on improving businesses' ability to trace, measure and monitor CSA progress, by developing science-based indicators.

In this role, CCAFS aims to link the cutting edge metrics for CSA measurement being developed by the research community to private sector needs. The private sector has a major role in achieving impact at scale, and by partnering with the scientific community, businesses can ensure its interventions reach their full potential.

3. Promoting Access to Science-Based Tools for Farmers
Farmers all around the world - and not only those from the developing world - are confronted with and will be facing more and more adaptation and mitigation issues, from new regulations and changing public opinions to the obvious, new weather patterns. The scientific community has a responsibility to ensure there are enough practical tools being made available to farmers to help them make their contribution towards climate goals whilst feeding the world. Tools like CGIAR's CSA 101,recently launched by CCAFS, helps interested farmers determine appropriate mitigation and adaptation initiatives in agriculture and offers guidance on how to set them up. Other more specific tools like IRRI's Rice Knowledge Bank, is a catalogue of best practices that enables farmers to make the best decisions for both productivity and the environment. Reaching farmers with this kind of practical information is going to be paramount.

We're well on our way to COP22 in Marrakech, and it is imperative to remember that the world, and in particular the poorest and most vulnerable, are expecting - no, needing - action. This action needs to be based on science, and supported by just and transparent public policies and private investments. This is going to be the best way to drive the climate agenda forward and still safeguard our future food supply.