Putting together a list of the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture is always a daunting exercise. Drought, severe weather, rising sea levels, pest infestations, compromised harvests and flooding are becoming more frequent, more intense, and more worrying. The impact that these weather changes have on the world’s farmers has the potential to be catastrophic.
Yet up until this year’s COP21 conference, agriculture had rarely been given priority in climate discussions. Finally, at this year’s COP21 summit in Paris, there was an entire day dedicated to agriculture and the issues surrounding it.
The agriculture sector currently represents approximately 13% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is only set to increase as the population reaches 9.5 billion by 2050. Plainly, more efforts must be made to reduce the intensity of agriculture’s carbon footprint. At COP21, the agriculture industry, along with climate partners showed that we were up to the task.
During the agriculture focus day, Monsanto co-chaired a working group on Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) with other leading agri-business companies including PepsiCo, Olam and Kellogg Company. The Working Group was set under the guidance of the CGIAR’s Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) programme. Their Action Plan launched on December 1 aims to make “50% more food available and strengthen the climate resilience of farming communities whilst reducing agricultural and land-use change emissions by at least 50% by 2030”. What is Monsanto prepared to do to achieve this?
Monsanto believes that if we use the right products and practices, crop production systems could absorb and store as much or more greenhouse gases than are emitted from the practices used to produce them. Most of this job will fall on farmers, our job is to support them, to help them make informed decisions and give them the means to make them a reality.
We have announced a first-of-its-kind program to introduce a model for carbon neutral crop production that will help reduce the carbon footprint of crop production. We will offer farmers incentives and practices – including conservation tillage, precision agriculture and the planting of cover crops – to promote the adoption of best management crop production practices. A recent study by Giessen University in Germany has found that minimizing the use of tilling reduces the loss of fertile soil from wind and water erosion, by replacing tilling with practices such as cover crops the soil is able to absorb more water and store carbon.
Even though agriculture is not included in the Paris agreement, food security is mentioned. Before the conference, countries were asked to submit “blueprints” of their Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDCs). According to an analysis on Landscapes.org, 80% included agriculture in climate change mitigation targets or actions and 64% noted agriculture’s importance in climate adaptation strategies. Those numbers are promising because they show an acknowledgment of the role agriculture must have in the debate and they prove that there is a shared desire to make a change. What is lacking at the moment is a focus on agriculture in climate finance talk. The implementation of climate-smart agriculture will require a common financing effort to support initiatives which always seems to the trickiest part of negotiations.
Yet, there are more than enough reasons to be optimistic. There is a hope that twenty one years from now COP21 will be remembered as the conference that finally moved the process along. This is the first time that so many member states (186) committed to climate action, the mood of the conference was different this year, and reluctance was replaced with determination. Everyone accepted it; it was time for a deal.