Climate Change

FAO at COP25 - Small steps pave the way to climate resilience and CO2 mitigation


FAO saw several positive outcomes for work within the agriculture sectors to build climate resilience and limit CO2 emissions, at this year’s UN Climate Conference (COP25) in Madrid. 

But despite its branding “time for action”, the conference was described by the media as a ‘disappointment’ and a ‘lost opportunity’.    

Countries failed to agree on many of the hoped for outcomes, including rules to set up a global carbon trading system and a mechanism to channel finance into countries severely affected by the impacts of climate change. 

Developments for FAO included:

-Increased country commitment to the ‘Koronivia Joint work on Agriculture
-A mandate for the continuation of the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action
-The recognition of FAO as a leading figure in the fight against deforestation
-The inclusion of oceans in final COP decision texts
-The launch of a new report on enhancing access to climate information and services for climate-resilient development. 

Agriculture, including forestry, fisheries and livestock production, generate around a fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions yet these sectors also hold many of the solutions to the crisis. This was stressed by the FAO Director-General QU Dongyu himself highlighting the key role of agriculture in offering nature-based solutions to address climate change, at a special event on Sustainable Development Goal 15 – Life on Land.  

Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture

It was not just the success stories from Kenya, Brazil, Indonesia, Austria, Luxembourg and Poland on improved soil carbon health and fertility under grassland and cropland, better water management, and integrated systems, that came out of events on the less-discussed element of COP: the Koronivia Joint work on Agriculture (KJWA). More than 100 member countries are now onboard and part of the ‘Koronivia’ process – this alone is evidence that countries are on the right track and committed to achieving similar goals.  

The Koronivia workshops praised agroecological techniques such as cover cropping, mulching, and manure-based fertilization, and practical advice emerged on ways to improve nutrient use and manure management.

“Animal manure presents a largely untapped potential for climate action” said FAO’s Steinfield, Coordinator in FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division.

“One example is that manure and slaughterhouse waste can be used to generate fertilizer and biogas as a source of renewable energy”. The new FAO report Five practical actions towards low-carbon livestock launched during COP 25 calls on countries to invest in innovations that lower livestock greenhouse gas emissions and ensure future food security.

Climate services promote climate resilient development

FAO contributed to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) 2019 State of Climate Services Report, that was launched during the first week of COP and highlights both challenges and opportunities for climate services aimed at promoting climate change adaptation.

"Every dollar invested in early action has generated a return on investment ranging from USD2.5 to USD7 in avoided disaster losses" said FAO Deputy Director Zitouni Ould-Dada, putting the facts on the table at the launch.

FAO/UNDPs NAP-Ag (Integrating Agriculture in National Adaptation Plans) programme, a multi-year initiative funded by the Government of Germany, led two side events and negotiations regarding additional technical and financial support.  It was an important opportunity to create a better understanding of the NAP process, and how the programme is helping an increasing number of partner countries to identify and integrate adaptation measures into relevant national planning and budgeting.

Integrating gender considerations

The guide on ‘Gender in Adaptation Planning for the Agriculture Sectors’, launched at one of the Nap-Ag side events came at a key moment, before governments adopt a new 5-year Gender Action Plan (GAP) addressing many of the concerns raised by women and gender groups, calling for greater focus on implementation, and scaling up gender-just climate solutions.

Blue COP?

Carolina Schmidt, this year’s COP president and Minister of Environment of Chile, announced in the second week of the conference that 39 countries have now committed to including oceans in their future NDCs.

Oceans and coastal areas are rising on the climate agenda and the momentum gained within the UNFCCC led to the development of the recent IPCC special report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in changing climate and to the inclusion of the oceans in a ‘COP’ decision text for the first time in history.

Another positive outcome from last week’s conference is that FAO is part of the UNFCCC/Nairobi work programme specialized group of experts on oceans, contributing to a scoping paper on adaptation and preparing the ground for work that is sure to expand in the future.

Working to protect vulnerable forests and their people

Deforestation took on a new level of relevance at this year’s COP and FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, brought further attention to the topic and FAO’s work speaking at the "turning the tide on deforestation" dialogue.

"It is possible to reconcile food security, agriculture production and forest conservation," he said.

Through this holistic approach over 20 developing countries have managed to reduce the number of undernourished people and to improve agricultural productivity, while maintaining or increasing their forest area.

During COP FAO also launched a framework methodology to analyze the vulnerability of forests and forest-dependent people to climate change providing a simple approach to conducting relevant assessments. 

Hiroto Mitsugi, Director-General of FAO’s Forestry Department said the tool will enable assessments that are “indispensable for ground-level action to adapt to climate change.” FAO has called for immediate action to “increase forest resilience and reduce the threat posed to the livelihoods and well-being of forest-dependent households.”

The fact that temperatures continue to rise cannot be ignored, the IPCC report on land stipulates actions that must be taken to limit this warming to 1.5 °C. The impacts of a rise to 2 degrees would be devastating, from floods and rising sea levels to an alarming drop in crop production. The work must go on and this COP25 was another reminder that we have to step up the pace. Small steps through programmes and policy work at every level must lead to greater changes before we all run out of time.