How COP28 can address the climate impact of agriculture

The COP28 climate change summit is underway in Dubai, where world leaders are expected to take urgent action to limit global warming and its devastating consequences. One of the key issues that needs to be addressed is the shocking amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by farming, which accounts for about 10% of the global total.

Agriculture and climate change: a vicious cycle

Agriculture is both a victim of and a contributor to climate change. On the one hand, agricultural activities emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which trap heat in the atmosphere and cause the planet to warm up. On the other hand, climate change affects agriculture by altering weather patterns, increasing the frequency and intensity of droughts, floods, heat waves and pests, and reducing crop yields and quality.

This creates a vicious cycle, where farmers have to use more resources and inputs, such as fertilizers, pesticides and water, to cope with the changing conditions, which in turn generate more emissions and exacerbate the problem. Moreover, agriculture is often responsible for the conversion of natural habitats, such as forests and grasslands, into croplands and pastures, which reduces the capacity of these ecosystems to store carbon and provide other environmental services.

The role of livestock in greenhouse gas emissions

One of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture is livestock, which accounts for about 14.5% of the global total. Livestock produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas, through their digestive processes and manure management. They also consume large amounts of feed, which requires land, water and energy to produce, and often leads to deforestation and land degradation. Furthermore, livestock products, such as meat, milk and eggs, have a high carbon footprint compared to plant-based foods, due to the inefficiencies in converting feed into edible products.

How COP28 can address the climate impact of agriculture

According to a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the livestock sector could reduce its emissions by up to 41% by adopting more efficient and sustainable practices, such as improving animal health and welfare, enhancing feed quality and digestibility, optimizing manure management and biogas production, and increasing the share of grass-based systems. However, these measures alone may not be enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, above pre-industrial levels. Therefore, a shift in dietary patterns towards more plant-based foods and less animal-sourced foods may also be necessary to reduce the demand for livestock products and their associated emissions.

The potential of climate-smart agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that aims to enhance the resilience and productivity of agricultural systems, while reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and increasing their carbon sequestration potential. CSA involves the adoption of practices and technologies that are tailored to the specific context and needs of farmers, such as improved crop varieties, soil and water management, agroforestry, integrated pest management, and diversification of income sources.

CSA can also involve the promotion of low-carbon value chains, which seek to minimize the emissions and waste generated along the production, processing, distribution and consumption stages of agricultural products, and to maximize the value added and the benefits for farmers and consumers. Examples of low-carbon value chains include organic farming, fair trade, local and regional markets, and circular economy models.

CSA can provide multiple benefits for farmers, such as increased yields and incomes, reduced risks and losses, improved food security and nutrition, and enhanced adaptation and mitigation capacities. CSA can also contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a set of 17 global goals that address the social, economic and environmental dimensions of development.

The challenges and opportunities for COP28

The COP28 climate change summit is an opportunity for the international community to recognize the importance of agriculture in addressing the climate crisis, and to support the implementation of CSA and low-carbon value chains in different regions and contexts. However, there are also several challenges and barriers that need to be overcome, such as the lack of awareness, knowledge and skills among farmers and other stakeholders, the limited access to finance, markets and technologies, the inadequate policies and incentives, and the competing interests and trade-offs among different sectors and actors.

To overcome these challenges and barriers, COP28 should adopt a holistic and inclusive approach that involves the participation and collaboration of all relevant stakeholders, such as governments, civil society, private sector, research and development institutions, and farmers’ organizations. COP28 should also mobilize adequate and predictable financial resources, technical assistance and capacity building, and foster innovation and knowledge sharing, to enable the scaling up and scaling out of CSA and low-carbon value chains. Moreover, COP28 should ensure that the actions and commitments taken by the parties are transparent, accountable and consistent with the principles of equity, justice and human rights.

By addressing the climate impact of agriculture, COP28 can not only contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, but also to the adaptation and resilience of farmers and food systems, and to the sustainable development of rural communities and societies.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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