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Climate change action needs forests and farms working together

Foresters and farmers have an 8000-year history of dealing with climate variation and providing food and provisions - they may have climate change solutions. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

The UNFCCC COP-18 in Doha worked overtime to finally agree not to disagree. The Secretariat was quick to make a release that declares success and highlights four results:

  • Amendment of the Kyoto Protocol

  • Timetable for negotiating a 2015 agreement

  • Decisions on new UNFCCC institutions, including the Green Climate Fund

  • Reiterating the ambition for $100 billion per year of climate finance by 2020, and acknowledging a total of $6 billion in pledges for the next years, exclusively from European countries.

What strikes me is the historically low profile of forestry and agriculture (the “green sectors”), both in the results and in the commentaries.

The UNFCCC release makes a strange singular note that “Governments have further clarified ways to measure deforestation, and to ensure that efforts to fight deforestation are supported”.

Besides reducing REDD+ to be only about deforestation, this official press release makes no mention of important progress on multiple benefits and drivers. True, a stalemate in the talks on verification meant that REDD+ did not make expected progress this time, and therefore apparently falls off the radar for communicators.

For agriculture, Doha was even worse. The topic fell off the radar altogether, in the shadow of struggles to keep the main tracks of the negotiation process alive.

The straw to clutch is the planned 2015 climate agreement. This is the next opportunity to rearrange how the convention deals with real-world issues. We have a few years to provide new thinking, research and analyses from the side of the green sectors, to show how these fit into the climate change challenge and what solutions may look like.

A recent FAO report states that investment in agriculture in some 76 low and middle income countries is about $200 billion per year, dominated by private capital. The global investment in agriculture is at $5 trillion per year, and the trade in forest, agriculture and food products is worth around $2.5 trillion per year.

What influence can we expect climate finance to have on the sectors that account for up to a third of our emissions, provide livelihoods for several billion rural people, are subject to important food security policies, and at the same time are the most affected by climate change?

Not much, given the lack progress in Doha, and the lack of attention to the green sectors.

There seems to be a case to rethink.

The green sectors have an 8000-year history of providing food and provisions for our civilisation, while dealing with climate and climate change hazards year after year. The climate challenge is arguably bigger than ever, and definitely requires more haste. But isolating the climate challenge within the green sectors is not possible.

Climate change is an integrated part of these sectors that deals also with other challenges of our future. Forestry and agriculture are therefore not part of the solution – they are the solution.

We should flip the coin and include climate change action in the normal business of the green sectors, rather than the other way around. This could be more effective in meeting UNFCCC’s objectives than waiting for environment-driven negotiations to provide solutions. The green sectors, with their billons of dependants, are the main stakeholders when it comes to climate change: they have an incentive.

Action from the green sectors perspective, on all scales and in the face of climate change, to secure and develop livelihoods, natural resources, low-carbon growth and food production seems like a smart approach - possibly even profitable. We can call this a landscape approach.

Some interesting discussions in this direction have happened in the margins of COP-18. A paper by Tony La Viña et al. suggests that the separate efforts on REDD+, agriculture and land use change could be combined, going towards a 2015 agreement. The Forest and Agriculture Days have agreed to come together into a Landscape Day as the issues are inherently cross-sectoral.

Similar discussions were heard in side events, and have been discussed on CIFOR’s blog (here, here and here).

So these are also exciting times! Building on the agreements, knowledge, ambitions and experiences in REDD+, including voluntary initiatives, and working with stakeholders across the green sectors could lead towards a new platform for 2015. Developing an understanding of a landscape approach will be central in this effort.

Maintaining the role of each of the green sectors as engines for green growth, mitigation and adaptation is critical, as is an open dialogue within the UNFCCC. But more than anything, we depend on partnerships where we are prepared to cross old boundaries.

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