Guest Article #80

Bonn Climate Talks: Negotiations on Agriculture Slow but Country Interest High and Growing

After two weeks of meetings, SBSTA conclusions on agriculture resulted in the few lines reproduced below, which foresee its further consideration by SBSTA 37 in Doha at the end of this year. The conclusions do not call for further submissions or an in-session workshop. They are procedural and contain no substance.

Conclusions on agriculture, SBSTA 36: “The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) initiated, in accordance with decision 2/CP.17, paragraph 75, an exchange of views on issues relating to agriculture and agreed to continue consideration of this agenda item at its thirty-seventh session.” (FCCC/SBSTA/2012/L.19).

For those that see the glass half-empty, this was a disappointing outcome, but for those that see the glass half-full, the SBSTA exchange of views on agriculture issues followed an unprecedented number of initiatives. More than 30 submissions on agriculture (24 Party submissions, including those on behalf of multiple countries - EU, LDCs, Africa Group and EIG) and additional submissions on agricultural NAMAs were made. Various informal pre-session facilitation and coordination meetings for negotiators were held. At the negotiations, there were a growing number of delegates from agriculture ministries and side events on agriculture.

The balance between mitigation and adaptation, global and national levels and the inclusion or exclusion of the UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibilities were areas of contention. This was despite some apparent common ground on the importance of Article 2 of the Convention that stabilization of greenhouse gases should be at a level which does not threaten food production, as well as the need to: safeguard food security; capture synergies between agricultural adaptation and mitigation; and recognize that adaptation of agriculture is a priority for many developing countries, given that agriculture, especially smallholder agriculture, is crucial for their food security, provides employment for the majority of their populations and is the engine of economic growth for their development.

The lack of progress on agriculture at the international level, within the context of the UNFCCC, contrasts with a growing appetite on the part of many developing countries for, implementation of agricultural adaptation and mitigation activities at national level. In particular, there is an increasing interest in how this might best be done within specific national/sub-national contexts and nationally-owned policies/strategies, using different financing and investment options.

Building capacity, experience, confidence and early action at national level to address food security/development and climate change issues, which are closely linked within agriculture, may not only form of part of national efforts to address these challenges but may also eventually contribute to the identification of some of the necessary ingredients for an agreement on agriculture and climate change at the international level.

There are many initiatives that are already ongoing, including: those of countries that are using their own resources (e.g. those with emerging economies already have ambitious agricultural mitigation and adaptation activities); developing country activities that use both domestic resources and those provided by developed countries through bilateral, multilateral, regional or NGO channels or directly (Adaptation Fund); various financing mechanisms; and those for the exchange of agricultural research, knowledge and technology.

There is no blueprint for how countries might proceed, rather different countries will follow different pathways over different time horizons. The metrics for measuring and rewarding the multiple benefits that agriculture might generate still requires further work. The design of future financing mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund need to ensure that adequate flexibility can accommodate the specificities of agriculture and the diversity of farming systems.

There is uncertainty as to whether or not a SBSTA work programme on agriculture will be created by the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC at its 18th session in Doha later this year. What is more certain, however, is that the impacts of climate change on agriculture and the consequent adaptation required are likely to be significant and that with business-as-usual approaches emissions from agriculture will increase to meet the needs of larger populations and changing diets. The keen interest to pursue agricultural adaptation and mitigation action at national level in ways that allow necessary food security and sustainable agricultural development to be enhanced offer important opportunities for learning-by-doing and scaling-up. This in turn may also help to shape more effective international instruments for sustainably addressing closely linked food security and climate change challenges.