Understanding of the Link Between Agriculture and Climate Change

Agricultural practice and policies need to adapt to the impact of climate change - and in ways that are environmentally sustainable. And scientists must make critical contributions towards this effort by "expanding the understanding of agricultural practices that deliver multiple benefits, such as feeding 9 billion people by 2050 while reducing agriculture's environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions."

So says Dr Bob Scholes, systems ecologist at the CSIR in Pretoria. Writing in the 20 January issue of the journal Science, Dr Scholes and co-authors, many also members of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, urge scientists to lay the groundwork for more decisive action on global food security in the context of international environmental negotiations in 2012.

In preparation for COP17 in Durban December 2011, there was a strong political push to launch a new work programme on agriculture climate change adaptation and mitigation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

A group of African agriculture ministers presented a call of action on climate-smart agriculture in September 2011, as did scientists from 38 countries through their Wageningen Statement in October 2011. In November last year, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change published seven policy recommendations to help achieve a food-secure world in the face of climate change. However, the authors describe COP17 as a 'welcome first step' in the Science paper, "What next for agriculture after Durban?"

"COP17 produced the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which commits parties to reach a legal framework for reducing global emissions by 2015. The only specific agreement on agriculture was to consider adopting a framework for actions on various sectors, which could include agriculture, and for the SBSTA to 'exchange views on agriculture', with a 5 March deadline for parties and observers to provide evidence," the paper reads.

According to the authors, the ideal would be a SBSTA work programme on agriculture, looking at adaption and mitigation, with an agreement on a framework on agriculture for COP18 in Qatar in December 2012.

In addition, "The impending collision between the imperatives of food security and environmental sustainability will largely play out in Africa - the location of much of the future growth in food demand, one of the few places on Earth with underutilised agricultural potential, and highly vulnerable to global climate change.

"With well-founded scientific guidance, the outcome will be much more beneficial than if the competing claims of hunger and the need for a liveable future climate are simply left to chance," concludes Dr Scholes.

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