Day 3 Blog: COP 22 - University of Reading Perspective

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Farmers Day at COP22.

Session: Role of Farmers in the Implementation of the Paris Agreement

Run by:  World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) and the International Fertiliser Industry Association (IFA)

“Climate change knows no boundaries – it affects everyone”.

 Particularly in developing countries, farmers have the frontline experience of the direct effects of climate change by witnessing increased weather extremes, decreasing water supplies and soil degradation. As global food security uncertainties grow, farming systems need to adapt to become more resilient and sustainable.

The Paris Agreement came into force on 4th November 2016, ahead of time. Within the Agreement, several top priorities directly involving agriculture include: increasing food security, alleviating world hunger and reducing the vulnerability of food production to climate change. The global food demand is projected to increase by 60 – 70% by 2050, as the global population reaches 10 billion. The question arises: how to sustainably increase food supply whilst combating climate change?

Thomas Malthius once theorised that the finite resources on Earth would limit the world’s population. However, population carries on increasing and in fact, estimates from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) suggest that 40% of population owes its life to higher crop outputs enabled from the use of fertilisers. Sub-Saharan regions in particular have greatly benefited from increased crop yield over the recent years. However, by stimulating soil microbes and denitrification, nitrogen-based fertilisers result in increased nitrous oxide emissions which are even more dangerous than carbon dioxide emissions.

More environmentally friendly alternatives include mineral fertilisers and organic matter, such as locally sourced manure – as advocated through the integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) scheme. However, organic fertilisers are less nutrient rich and it is suggested that there are simply not enough animals to meet demand– not globally, let alone locally.  An idea promoted by the 4R Nutrient Stewartship campaign in Canada focused on ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’: applying the 4R’s to fertiliser usage, i.e. right rate, right time, right place and right source, trying to minimise negative environmental impact.

The session also featured the importance of sharing agricultural knowledge internationally, from Canada to Denmark to Zambia. At the heart of the debate was the issue of land use changes: how should farmers ensure that on a particular type of soil, the most appropriate type of crop is grown to optimise the balance between crop yield and quality? The ‘Food vs Fuel debate was also touched upon, as the amount of land used for biofuels increases, detracting more land from food crops and adding to the imminent problem of deforestation. It is therefore evident that attempting to tackle world hunger comes with many interlinked pieces of the puzzle and the environmental, social and economic importance must all be weighed equally.

Session: The 1.5C challenge: Promises and Pitfalls of Technofix Climate Politics

Run by:  Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF), ActionAid International and MISEREOR

Paris was the “what”, this is the “how”

In ratifying the Paris Agreement participating governments agreed to make a combined effort to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, giving hope to those most vulnerable to climate change. However, the feasibility of achieving such an ambitious target remains uncertain.

With discussions at COP22 largely focussed on establishing how to reach this goal, the afternoon session featured an engaging discussion around so-called ‘Technofix’ climate mitigation solutions.  The discussion centred on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and solar radiation management technologies as ways in which to limit future levels of warming. Both of these Technofixes involve geoengineering at the planetary scale and unprecedented human intervention with the climate system, with uncertain consequences. But do these solutions solve the problem or do they create renewed problems for those most vulnerable to climate impacts?

ActionAid’s representative Teresa Anderson highlighted that these Technofixes could be a “lose-lose situation” for vulnerable communities. Often these technologies are not yet fully developed, therefore we cannot afford to just wait in hope for them to work and be a silver bullet. Furthermore, models which are used to determine what actions need to be taken are often based on unreasonable assumptions about future economic scenarios, or simply not adequately communicated from the scientists to policy makers. One model assumes the use of 6 billion hectares of land for CCS, but – to put that in context -1.5 billion hectares are currently used for crops.

Another point raised in the session was that only 10% of the population produce 45% of the world’s emissions. This means that high emitters need to be targeted, fossil fuel use must peak as soon as possible, and more transparency about their continued use is needed. More local-level solutions are needed, rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach with global geoengineering solutions.

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University of Reading students interviewing Teresa Anderson to learn about ActionAid’s participation at COP

After the session, we interviewed Teresa Anderson to learn about ActionAid’s participation at COP. The organisation represents the perspective of the typically underrepresented, most vulnerable communities who have contributed to climate change the least, yet suffer the most. ActionAid works ‘from the ground up’ by gathering first-hand information, such as farmers’ direct experience of how changes in the weather have affected them over the past decade. These views are then brought into light through ActionAid’s negotiations with academic scientists and NGOs here at COP, and it is important to realise that the negotiators really do appreciate hearing about first-hand perspectives of the developing communities. This is a two-way connection facilitated by ActionAid’s involvement in the process: just as information travels from the grassroots up through the chain, the responses have to be carried back across to the developing communities to make them aware that their voices are being heard. Ms. Anderson also highlighted the need for more research into the social and economic impact of new technologies. Instead, funding flows freely into research on ‘shiny new innovative approaches’ without fully addressing their long-term impacts.

Our interview made it clear that COP22 feels very different from the last one: discussions were becoming increasingly exciting in the run-up to Paris, but now the world must come together as one to seriously talk about how to implement the proposed solutions. Ms. Anderson is due to publish a report on the role of the El Nino this year as the hottest year with the biggest drought affecting 400 million people globally. And yet, statistics like these are totally obscured by the excitement of securing a target in Paris in the media, and of course the US presidential election…

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