Guiding Principles to Enable Climate Smart Solutions from Agriculture

September 25, 2019

Much of the world’s focus this week is on New York City where representatives from businesses, governments, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other interests from around the globe have gathered to put a renewed emphasis on climate action.

Climate Week is an annual event – first launched in 2009 and held alongside the United Nations General Assembly – that puts heightened emphasis on the commitment needed from all to address the ongoing escalation of dangerous climactic conditions. Among those facing the biggest risks are farmers, ranchers and forestland owners: A UN report released last month says climate change is putting dire pressure on the ability of humanity to feed itself.

That same report found that the window to address the threat is closing rapidly. A half-billion people already live in places turning into desert, and soil is being lost between 10 and 100 times faster than it is forming, the research shows.

Given those findings, it stands to reason that among the 11 subjects by which the week’s events have been categorized is one covering food, land and nature-based solutions. The voices expected to be heard will represent a wide range of political and philosophical perspectives.

Unfortunately, many of those voices – as they have at other global negotiating scenarios that deal with food and land – will call for over-simplified, “back-to the-garden” proposals. Misguided interests would reject current, technologically enhanced means of producing the food, feed, fiber and, to some extent, energy, that have gone a long way toward meeting the needs of a population that has grown exponentially over the past century.

The urgency with which the world must produce sufficient food and resources is underscored by population growth rates that took the world from an estimated 5 million people around the dawn of agriculture in 8000 B.C., growing to as much as 600 million by 1 A.D. With a growth rate of under a half-percent per year, population reached one billion people by 1800 A.D., only to see the second billion achieved in only 130 years, by 1930. A count of 3 billion people was reached in only 30 years (1960); the fourth billion followed in less than 15 years (1974); and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987).

Even with the slight reduction in the population growth rate occurring over this century, the world population is expected to grow by more than 25 percent – from 7.7 billion today to nearly 10 billion people – in just 30 more years.

With the advent in global climate negotiations more than two years ago of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA), the sector took an important step forward in the talks being held under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The KJWA emphasizes the importance of agriculture and food security in the climate change agenda. By mainstreaming agriculture into the UNFCCC processes, the KJWA can support and grow current agricultural and food systems by addressing the synergies and trade-offs between adaptation, mitigation and agricultural productivity.

Key to achieving the goal of ensuring adequate production of food, feed and fiber in the coming decades is the inclusion of the voices from agriculture and forestry into ongoing negotiations. Solutions from the Land and the North America Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) are farmer-led organizations that have been at global climate talks over each of the last three years, assuring those who work the land can help mold the policy that will enable them to adequately meet the needs of the world under the growingly stressful conditions imposed by a changing climate.

In their work on the KJWA, SfL and NACSAA have called on other negotiators to respect a strong set of guiding principles developed to insure that farmers be at the center of all discussions and decision-making. The principles, which assert that findings must be science-based, also recognize that there is no silver-bullet solution for enhancing the resilience of agriculture. The KJWA must embrace a systems approach that recognizes the tremendous diversity of agricultural landscapes. Furthermore, outcomes (rather than means) applicable to any scale of enterprise must be emphasized, without predetermining technologies, production type or design component.

Climate Week NYC is a time and place where the world gathers to showcase leading climate action, build on ambition and demonstrate how to do more. In coming years, farmers must and will be seated at the table.

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An Agricultural Renaissance, led by innovative and entrepreneurial farmers, ranchers and foresters constructing sustainable, profitable and resilient systems that lay the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales capable of producing nutritious food, feed, fiber, clean energy, healthy ecosystems, quality livelihoods, and strong rural economies.