Appetizer of grasshoppers, seaweed soup, and as the main course, man-made burgers on the grill. Been twisting the nose? Yet we should get used to similar menus. According to UN estimates, to feed the 2.5 billion additional people, according to some forecasts, who will populate the Earth in 2050, we will need to double world food production, reduce waste, and experiment with food alternatives.
Agriculture is central to feeding the world and reducing poverty.
But conventional forms of agriculture are often unsustainable and drive land degradation. Agriculture is also the world’s leading anthropogenic source of methane (52 percent) and nitrous oxide (84 percent) emissions, and the principal driver of deforestation worldwide. Agriculture and agriculture-driven land-use change contribute 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
We can’t fix what we don’t measure, which is why quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production is a necessary step for climate-smart agriculture (CSA). Greenhouse gas accounting can provide the numbers and data that are important to solid decision making.
We’re doing a lot of talking and listening here at COP 20 in Lima about climate finance – how hundreds of billions of dollars were invested globally last year to clean up the air, get efficient energy to more people, make agriculture more productive, and build resilience to extreme weather events.
We all know and acknowledge much more still needs to be done – the International Energy Agency and others believe we need at least $1 trillion dollars of new investment each year to address climate change.
There’s no way that public money alone can meet that goal. We need to find ways to catalyze the limited public funds we have to unlock private investment. That, of course, means investors need to have the confidence that the right policies are in place to make long-term investments for the climate.
Delivering food and nutrition security in the face of climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. So it’s encouraging to see influential stakeholders around the world taking action today at the Climate Summit. From the private sector’s efforts to put a price on carbon, to the energy sector’s focus on lowering emissions, key stakeholders are realizing that inaction is not an option.
But one sector has yet to get its act together. Climate action may be gaining momentum, but the agriculture sector is largely stuck in ‘business as usual’ mode. Unlike other areas of the economy, it hasn’t made any big, transformational moves towards climate resilience or reducing emissions. We are missing our “electric car”.
With its scenarios of increasing risks as a result of climate change – from sea level rise to disappearing fish populations, food insecurity, and forest diebacks from extreme heat – the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a picture of a complicated future where no one gets by unscathed, where existing vulnerabilities are exacerbated, and where, as Fred Pearce so aptly puts it, we need to “prepare for the worst.”
But, as the scientists rightly point out, it doesn’t have to be like this.
International Green Week in Berlin, the world's largest exhibition for agriculture, food, and horticulture, is the sort of place where you can taste food from all over the world, see animals of all shapes and sizes (ever heard of a Pustertaler Schecken?), and explore the latest innovations in GPS-guided agricultural machinery. The event attracts not only 400,000 curious visitors, it also draws global decision-makers from government, the private sector, science, and civil society, including some 70 ministers of agriculture.
Established in 1926, this event could probably make a reasonable claim that it has seen it all before. But, of course, it hasn’t. This year, the focus was on resilience.
The already present impacts of climate change are demanding innovation and partnership in agriculture on a scale never seen before. It is not an academic discussion about some uncertain future – it is posing challenges to farmers today, and it’s having an impact on their bottom lines.
The countryside around the Obuom farm, where I was traveling last week, is not rich. The landscape is scarred by deep gullies caused by soil erosion. Half the people live below the poverty line; and malnutrition affects 45 percent of children under the age of five. Climate change and the resultant increasingly unpredictable rainfall will make this land even tougher to farm. Over the next 70 years, climate change could reduce food crop yieldsby as much as 16 percent worldwide and up to 28 percent in Africa. Yet climate-smart approaches are giving farmers better options and helping them increase production, incomes, and resilience, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Last week, I had the honor of speaking to the UN Security Council about an increasingly dangerous threat facing cities and countries around the world, a threat that, more and more, is influencing everything that they and we do: climate change.
World Bank President Jim Kim was in Russia talking with G20 finance ministers about the same thing – the need to combat climate change. Every day, we’re hearing growing concerns from leaders around the world about climate change and its impact.
If we needed any reminder of the immediacy and the urgency of the situation, Australia Foreign Minister Bob Carr and our good friend President Tong of Kiribati spoke by video of the security implication of climate effects on the Pacific region. Perhaps most moving of all, Minister Tony deBrum from the Marshall Islands recounted how, 35 years ago, he had come to New York as part of a Marshall Islands delegation requesting the Security Council’s support for their independence. Now, when not independence but survival is at stake, he is told that this is not the Security Council’s function. He pointed to their ambassador to the UN and noted that her island, part of the Marshall Islands, no longer exists. The room was silent.