Researchers call on the international scientific community to assume a more active role in the inclusion of agriculture in the rounds of negotiations at the UN Convention on Climate Change (photo:Gov.Tocantins)

Scientists should participate more actively in climate negotiations

February 8, 2012

By Elton Alisson

Agência FAPESP – The modest advances toward including agriculture in the rounds of negotiations at the UN Convention on Climate Change represent a call to action for the global scientific community. Scientists worldwide must contribute effectively for the agricultural sector to adapt to climate change and simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing productivity to meet the growing global demand for food.

The evaluation was made by a group of scientists from many nations, including Brazil, in an article published in the January 20 edition of Science magazine.

Contributors to the article included researchers from the United Kingdom, India, Australia, Mexico, France, the United States, China, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Vietnam and Brazil, represented by Carlos Nobre, Secretary of Research and Development Policies and Programs for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI).

Nobre is a researcher at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and member of the board of directors of FAPESP’s Research Program on Global Climate Change (PFPMCG).

The article’s main author is John Beddington, chief scientific adviser for the government of the United Kingdom, who visited Brazil in May 2011.

At that time, Beddington made a presentation at a PFPMCG workshop and participated in the signing of a cooperative agreement between FAPESP and Nottingham and Southampton Universities.

In the article, the authors urge scientists to assume a more relevant role in supporting the decisions made during the 2012 UN climatic negotiations so that participants are well informed by clear data on the ways in which climate change places food safety at risk and recognize what can be done to avoid a catastrophe.

In their opinion, the 17th UN Conference on Climate Change (COP 17), held at the end of 2011 in Durban, South Africa, represented a very opportune political moment to create an adaptation and mitigation program for the impacts of climate change on agriculture under the direction of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

During the conference, the participating nations committed to engage in the establishment of a legal accord by 2015 that allows for reduced global greenhouse gas emissions and begins to discuss ways to include agriculture in climate negotiations through sector actions.

However, the authors of the article report that the actions agreed upon in Durban were based on mitigation, followed in the Climate Convention negotiations, which are separate from talks on adaptation.

“This obscures the opportunities for agriculture, which could benefit from both (mitigation and adaptation) and leads us to the conclusion that the focus on agricultural adaptation—a priority for developing nations—will be reduced,” they stated.

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change (CSACC) was created by scientists from six continents in March 2011 to develop political recommendations and adapt the agricultural sector for environmental pressures. Based on the obstacles and opportunities that arose in Durban as well as the recommendations released in November by the CSACC, in the article, the authors suggest areas in which the scientific community can contribute to help UN climate negotiations move forward.

Among the areas are “silviculture and agriculture,” “new information systems,” “climate financing” and “national actions.”

“More integrated studies are necessary, focused on appropriate sustainable agricultural practices for different regions, and cultivation and landscape systems, particularly in more vulnerable socio-ecological systems,” they emphasize.

According to the authors, the objective is to define a safe space for agricultural operations. In this safe space, farmers can produce enough food to meet global needs, adapting to climate change and minimizing the environmental impact of agricultural production.

The article also indicates that scientists can help with the identification of robust opportunities for research on adaptation and agricultural mitigation with resources from the Adaptation Fund to Climate Changes, the Kyoto Protocol, the Clean Development Mechanism and the Green Climate Fund, which will invest US$ 100 billion each year for mitigation and adaptation to climate change in developing nations.

In the article, the authors highlight particular alternative agricultural practices developed in different regions of the world, promising the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions while increasing productivity.

They also outline many suggestions for the UN Convention on Climate Change and call on scientists to begin their involvement with the COP-18, to be held at the end of this year in Qatar.

“By increasing knowledge of agricultural practices that can bring diverse benefits and of the connection between agriculture and silviculture, scientists can contribute greatly to these initiatives,” they conclude.

Brazilian contribution

According to Carlos Nobre, the Brazilian scientific community, unlike the scientific establishments of other nations, has historically played a fundamental role in international climate negotiations.

“Brazil’s audacious and innovative position presented at COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, which was to voluntarily establish goals by 2020 resulting in reductions in 2005 emissions levels, was formulated with support and direct participation from Brazilian scientists from Rede Clima, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change and a number of scientific institutions,” he told Agência FAPESP.

According to Secretary Nobre, research is being performed in Brazil in order to understand the potential impact of climate change on agriculture within the country and to find solutions for adaptation. However, the farming and cattle-raising sector is conservative in terms of innovation and new paradigms, such as sustainable agriculture.

“Many public policies today are leaning toward sustainable agriculture and, eventually, the sector will speed up the introduction of sustainable practices, including the sustainable intensification of production. That means increased productivity with fewer emissions and greater capacity for adaptation to changes in the climate with less environmental impact, especially on biodiversity,” he affirmed.

Among the existing public policy incentives for the farming and cattle-raising sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Nobre cites the Agricultura de Baixo Carbono [Low Carbon Agriculture] program (ABC), launched by the Ministry of Agriculture more than a year ago.

The program, which includes sector initiatives aimed at meeting the nation’s voluntary greenhouse gas emissions goals, will offer R$ 2 billion for the introduction of sustainable practices that reduce emissions by the sector, such as integrated cultivation and cattle raising, no-till farming, recuperation of degraded pasture land, and biological nitrogen fixation. Few farmers, however, have utilized the resource.

“It can be noted that the farming sector is still reluctant to take these credits and change the high-scale production paradigm. However, it’s certain that sustainable agriculture is the best trajectory for Brazilian agriculture, and sooner or later, the sector will adopt this posture,” predicted Nobre.

The article "What next for agriculture after Durban?" (doi: 10.1126/science.1217941) by Carlos Nobre and others can be read by Science subscribers at