THE BLOG
11/15/2013 12:51 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Why Have Farmers Yet Again Been Forgotten at the UN Climate Talks?

As I sit inside the negotiating chambers of the climate talks in Warsaw, I am watching yet again a huge potential solution to climate concerns being neglected. Despite a united effort from the global agricultural community since 2009 to commit to climate change solutions, the world's farmers continue to be sidelined for yet another year.

One billion farmers stand on the front line of climate change -- and stand to see their livelihoods severely affected, not to mention the nine billion people they will be required to feed by 2050. It is estimated that food demand could rise by 35 percent by 2030, 77 percent of which will need to come from higher crop yields -- a difficult task when harsher weather conditions are likely to reduce crop yields in years to come.

With this in mind -- how can climate change negotiators still not take responsibility to help farmers adapt and miss the incredible opportunity that the agricultural sector can make to mitigate future climate change?

The tales of horror and destruction in India and most recently the Philippines should have been a sobering warning to bring agriculture front of mind at COP19. Filipino farmers have had thousands of acres of rice plantations destroyed, and coconut plantations have been "completely flattened". Coconuts account for nearly half the Philippines' agricultural exports and the country is the world's biggest producer of coconut oil -- so it is clear to see that the need to prepare countries for extreme weather conditions and therefore protect farmer livelihoods -- is increasingly urgent. In the context of an ever-changing climate, it is vital that farmers are given the tools they require to adapt to new growing conditions and produce the food and fuel the swelling population demands.

In June this year, the United Nations' Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) invited countries to submit their views on the current state of scientific knowledge on how to enhance the adaptation of agriculture to climate change impacts, while promoting sustainable development, agricultural productivity and food security - recognising the crucial part agriculture plays in all these areas. This should also take the diversity of agricultural systems and differences of scale into account -- as well as adaptation co-benefits.

This move was welcomed by the global agriculture community - who have repeatedly called for a specific Work Programme on Agriculture to be implemented under SBSTA, which would outline the multiple, proven ways agriculture can both adapt to and mitigate climate change and better integrate this vital sector into future climate discussions and decisions. Once gaps in knowledge have been identified and decisions have been made on where to focus future research and are presented by SBSTA, the road for agriculture to be included in any future framework laid out by the United Nations will have been paved.

However, contact groups that would discuss possible solutions and determine next steps have been blocked -- for reasons that remain unclear to even those of us in attendance at the negotiations. No further commitments regarding agriculture will be made here on the ground. As a frustrated global community we collectively ask: Who is responsible for this stalemate and can we afford to wait for it to be resolved?

The future of agriculture and climate change are inextricably linked. Food security and farmers' ability to adapt to changing weather are threatened by climate change while agriculture also has a huge mitigation potential against future climate change. Agriculture accounts for around 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions. By improving a range of agricultural practices and making them 'climate-smart', we could begin to rein in emissions levels that are already at a critical point. A report released last week by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) calculated agriculture's potential for tackling emissions to be worth up to 4.3 GtCO2e.These numbers are too vast to ignore.

We had hoped that country negotiators would come to the table in Warsaw and show that they meant business. When so much had been promised in terms of progress, it is bitterly disappointing to see agriculture slip into the sidelines once more.

Groups such as the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) are producing abundant examples of climate-smart agriculture in action. Their recent publication "Climate-smart agriculture success stories from farming communities around the world" explores 16 communities where action is already being taken to adapt to climate change and reduce emissions from agriculture. For example, improved agronomic practices for producing rice in India have reduced methane emissions by as much as 62 percent. Herbicide tolerant maize crops are reducing fuel consumption by up to 44 percent due to a lesser need for mechanised weed control. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has also carried out extensive research into the policies, practices and financing structure needed to promote climate-smart agriculture -- so to neglect this area at COP19 is simply baffling.

Articulating the complex relationship between climate change and agriculture can be a great challenge, but this has also been tackled successfully through a toolkit produced by Farming First, CCAFS and the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA). Brimming with facts, farmer voices and infographics, it illustrates the need for concerted action, now.

The portfolio of agricultural interventions to adapt to and mitigate climate change is at our disposal. But without the support of a United Nations Framework, it is unlikely they can be scaled up and disseminated to the people who need them most. We will continue to advocate for a Work Programme on Agriculture, to build resilient livelihoods, protect the environment, and ensure there will be enough food for future generations. We will not stop until our voice is heard.