Carbon Sequestration, Agriculture and the INDCs; the role of agriculture in the conversation on climate

By Jesse Way

Here in Paris the discussion around how we will limit global temperature rise often focuses on the decarbonization of the energy industry. It is generally accepted here at COP 21 (from nearly every country of the world except Saudi Arabia and those it has been speaking on behalf of) for the need to move from an economy reliant on carbon polluting fossil fuels to one that is based on renewable energy sources. The need for change is acknowledged – the debate here remains more focused on how fast that transition must take place, how much it will cost and who is going to pay for it.

The role of forestry and the need to reduce deforestation is also recognized as our worlds forests play an essential role in sequestering carbon and therefore mitigating the dangerous effects of increasing carbon emissions.

However a third player in this conversation – agriculture – remains for the most part on the sidelines of discussions. How can the sector that is responsible for feeding the world remain such a marginalized component of the conversation? Agriculture, and more particularly small holder farmers and the need to improve their livelihoods, productivity and ecological resilience was a featured topic at this past weekends Global Landscapes Forum but here at COP it is often described only on the fringes of other conversations. We sit here today with not a single instance of the word ‘agriculture’ appearing in the draft agreement.

Although absent from the draft text, over 80% of countries do refer to agriculture in their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions aka how much each country is proposing to cut carbon emissions by). This overwhelming majority of countries mentioning agriculture demonstrates the importance improved methods of food production will play in accomplishing the carbon reduction goals set out by individual countries.

This integral role of agriculture in the conversation on climate was finally made more visible through the side event: ‘Carbon Sequestration, Agriculture and the INDCs: Soils for Food Security and Climate’.

As mentioned agriculture is absent from the Paris draft text agreement released yesterday; food security is mentioned but its role is very much under-appreciated. It was highlighted during the session that there should be as much of a focus on the carbonization of our agricultural systems as there is on the decarbonization of our energy sectors.

The recent launch of the 4p1000 initiative (http://4p1000.org) is a part of the drive to better acknowledge the role of soil carbon sequestration in not only mitigating carbon concentrations in our atmosphere but also increasing the productivity and profitability of agricultural landscapes. The premise is simple: by increasing soil carbon by 0.4% per year in agricultural landscapes we can sequester enough carbon to halt the annual increase of CO2 to our atmosphere.

Agroecological farming practises that lead to increasing soil carbon content are an essential component of achieving global food security, climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as improving the livleihoods of small holder farmers around the world. Through improved pasture grazing, better utilization of cover crops, the addition of perennials into annual crop production, agroforestry practises and other means of more agroecological farming we can not only feed the world but also combat climate change!

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the International Forestry Students’ Association.

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