Despite Lukewarm Reviews, COP25 Offered Bright Prospects for Role of Ag

December 18, 2019

Assessments in the press and among many policy advocacy groups panned the two-week global climate talks that closed last week. But the negotiations were not without high points, including a greater recognition of the role of agriculture in meeting the challenges of a changing climate.

The results of the Conference of the Parties in Madrid, or COP25, were “widely denounced as one of the worst outcomes in a quarter-century of climate negotiations,” reportedThe New York Times. A story in The Guardian said that the talks ended with a “partial admission that carbon-cutting targets are too weak, but few concrete plans to strengthen them in line with the Paris agreement,” a global pact reached in 2015 calling for a cap on the increase in global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.

Helen Mountford, vice president for Climate and Economics at the World Resources Institute, issued a statement contending “the negotiations fell far short of what was expected,” and “the can-do spirit that birthed the Paris Agreement feels like a distant memory.”

Even UN Secretary General António Guterres said in a post-conference statement that negotiators “lost an important opportunity” to tackle the climate crisis.

Of particular concern among those lamenting the lack of considerable movement on the issue was the release in the weeks leading up to the Madrid talks of a UN scientific report asserting the world was “on the brink of missing the opportunity to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“If we rely only on the current climate commitments of the Paris Agreement, temperatures can be expected to rise to 3.2 degrees Celsius,” the report states, warning that, “Temperatures have already increased 1.1 degrees, leaving families, homes and communities devastated.”

To meet just the projected target needed in 2030 to stay on the glidepath toward a 1.5-degree cap by century’s end, the world must achieve at least a 7.6-percent rate of annual reduction in emissions over the next 10 years.

Negotiators in Madrid, however, got hung up in contentious, and unresolved, debates, like that over the establishment of an international market for the trading of carbon permits, and another over the call for compensation for smaller nations to be paid by larger, high-emitting countries.

But Guterres, the UN’s top official, said negotiators “must not give up…I am more determined than ever to work for 2020 to be the year in which all countries commit to do what science tells us is necessary to reach carbon neutrality in 2050 and a no more than 1.5 degree temperature rise.”

The UN leader’s determined optimism is justified, given some of the positive developments during the Madrid talks, including the emergence of viable and effective strategies to combat a changing climate that can come from agriculture. The sector is among the most vulnerable to the torrential rainfalls and flooding, as well as withering heat and droughts.

As strongly emphasized by SfL and North America Climate Smart Agriculture (NACSAA) representatives to COP delegates and other UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) members over the past two years, the sector offers well-proven strategies and practices for carbon retention and greenhouse gas reduction – cover crops, no- and low-till soil preparation, rotational grazing, precision input management, animal waste conversion to energy, among others – that should become a focus of the recommendations expected to come out of COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, next year.

Critical to the success of those agriculturally based approaches is the compensation that should be paid to those who work the land and are taking on the additional effort and expense to implement landscape scale solutions. While the discussion and promotion of climate smart agriculture (CSA) appears to be ramping up on the global level, we urge all stakeholders – farmers, ranchers, forestland owners, supply chain interests and others – to carry the CSA message to local, state and national policy makers. The world deserves to know that the agricultural sector is a valuable ally in stemming the volatile changes to our climate. Please join with SfL in calling for the adoption and implementation of policies that will best guarantee that these solutions from the land are put to work.

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