Dec 11, 2014

Climate Change: Time to shift gears in agriculture

At the recently concluded G-20 Heads of the State meeting in Brisbane, host Australia tried its best to keep climate change out of the final communique. It was only after the United States and European Union exerted pressure that the final declaration had a vague statement about climate change. 

The Brisbane declaration finally had a paragraph that supported strong and effective action to address climate change, consistent with sustainable economic growth and certainty for business and investment, a reaffirmed G-20 resolve to adopt the recommendations, protocol and legal instruments agreed at the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change scheduled to be held in Paris in 2015.

The G-20 reluctance to address the global concerns over climate change comes a few days after US President Barack Obama and the Chinese President Xi Jinping, heading the two biggest polluting countries, announced a so-called promising US-China agreement on greenhouse gas emission. Accordingly, while China will make its best efforts to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, the US has set-up a target of reducing its emissions by 28% in 2030 from the commitments it made for the 2005 level.

While the US media has hailed this as a ‘potentially landmark climate change agreement’ in reality it is a sweet deal benefit both the polluting countries. The Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, has in an analysis shown that both the US and China have worked out a mutually convenient programme of inaction that allows both the countries the freedom to pollute.

China has to do nothing to limit or reduce its emissions for the next 16 years, by which time its per capita emissions would reach around 12-13 tons. The US, which had a target to reduce emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, will now get a breather and its per capita emissions will also equal 12 to 13 ton by 2030.  In other words, both US and China have crafted a self-serving deal while the world not only mutely looks on, but also applauds.

In contrast, India’s per capita emissions which hover around 1.6 ton of carbon dioxide equivalent at present, is not expected to exceed 4 ton by 2030.

Since both US and China are responsible for more than 40 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions, the freedom to pollute unhindered for the next 16 years has serious implications for the global climate. Needless to say worst impact of the resulting climate change is being felt by developing and least developed countries, who have hardly any role in the acerbating the crisis. Rising temperatures is leading to serious climate disruptions, resulting in melting of glaciers and the rising of ocean levels. The impact is going to be catastrophic on food and water, with many experts pointing to escalating political crisis within and among nations as a consequence.

One-third of the global greenhouse gas emissions actually come from agriculture and forestry. According to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which governs the 15 agricultural research centres, “reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint is central to limiting climate change.”Food production system, including deforestation and land-use changes, account for the release of 12,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere every year. Such a huge contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is not only leading to climatic aberrations but also necessitates adaption and mitigation technologies for the small farmers who face the brunt.

Considering the role agriculture plays in climate change, a pro-active stand on food security from G-20 was expected. Although food security figured prominently in the Seoul Development Consensus in 2010, and did get a push with the development of an Action Plan on Food Price Volatility and Agriculture under the French presidency in 2011, everything ended with the formation of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS). Except for the usual rhetoric and an unsuccessful attempt to create food reserves in western Africa, food security has for all practical purposes disappeared from the G-20 agenda.

In the 2013 declaration, G-20 did emphasis on the central theme of food security. The G-20 Food Security and Nutrition Framework do recognize “the importance of boosting agricultural productivity, investment and trade to strengthen the global food system to promote economic growth and job creation.” However, except for the usual talk of assistance to smallholder agriculture to boost productivity, the Framework does not talk of addressing the systemic problems that has led to global agriculture turning into a major villain of climate change. The Framework itself reads well, and does mention that business as usual may not be the right approach but still the underlying emphasis is on more of the same.

The CGIAR does admit that the food-related emissions and the impact of climate change will profoundly alter the way we grow food crops, but the G-20 Framework talks of integrating smallholders into markets. In a way, integrating farmers with global markets and bringing in more investments to enhance productivity – which is what the World Economic Forum too desires – only shows that no lessons have been learnt from the climate debacle. Intensive farming is what led to agriculture becoming the biggest contributor to climate change, and therefore it is futile to accept that more intensive farming will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in future. 

As temperatures rise, and water becomes scarce, irrigated wheat yields in developing countries are feared to fall by 13 and rice by 15 per cent by the year 2050. CGIAR also estimates that production of crops like potato, banana, and other cash crops will dramatically slump. Several other studies, including those by Indian Agricultural Research Institute, too points to a bleak farming scenario in the years ahead. But strangely, while the international effort, especially by the donor agencies, is to provide financial support to civil society groups for mitigation and adapting small farmers to the effects of climate change there is no mention of any serious effort to suitably make systemic changes in the way crops are being farmed.

While it is true that the G-20 has great convening and coordinating power over other international actors, it isn’t in a position to disregard some of the principles that have failed to enhance food security. In 2008, the same prescription of linking crop production to global markets led to the global food crisis sparking food riots in 37 countries and creating food deficiencies in several parts. Moreover, the entire thrust of the food security and climate change deliberations seem to be industry-driven with hardly any space for reinventing the sustainable agro-ecological methods of farming.

The G-20 Framework on Food Security therefore needs to be redrawn based on the recommendations of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) which was an inter-governmental effort under the co-sponsorship of FAO, GEF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO and World Bank. This report, submitted in 2008, calls for a radical change in the ‘business as usual’ approach. #  

जानी-पहचानी अनदेखी Dainik Jagran, Nov 29, 2014 

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