Sixteenth Session

Rome, 26-30 March 2001, Red Room


Item 5 of the Provisional Agenda

Table of Contents


1. Climate fluctuates naturally on all time scales, from days and years (variability proper) to decades and centuries (climate change). FAO has considerable experience in dealing with the first, which is a major cause of the variability of inter-annual agricultural production. It has less experience, however, in the area of climate change and needs strengthening to handle the many new challenges and opportunities arising under international climate change negotiations. Since agriculture is now seen as a part of the solution to the climate change problem, there is even the possibility that new resources, for the agriculture sector at the national level and for sustainable rural development in general, will become available through the Kyoto Mechanisms during climate negotiations. Since climate affects almost all sectors of agriculture, a proper and coordinated climate programme should be developed to support FAO activities. This should focus on policy formulation, data, capacity building, and collaboration with the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It should also strengthen several fields of renewed relevance in the climate change context, such as sequestering carbon, reducing green-house gas emissions, substituting fossil fuels by biofuels, and generally improving the resilience of agriculture to climate variability and change.

2. This paper illustrates the relevance of FAO's involvement with climate issues in the light of the many interactions between climate and agriculture (3 to 9), and food security at different scales and time horizons (10 to 15). The subsequent paragraphs (16 to 20) summarise FAO climate-related activities, leading to an analysis of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol (KP) to identify the provisions most relevant to FAO's work (21 to 25). The remaining sections assess the potential role of FAO in the current international climate negotiations (26 to 38); examine potential new obligations (27 and 29), and areas with renewed raison d'être (30 to 32); and identify areas which need strengthening (33 to 38) and for which the guidance of COAG is being sought (39).



3. Recognising the problem of potential global climate change, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. During the same year, FAO created an ad hoc Interdepartmental Working Group on Climate Change and Variability in Relation to Food Security.

4. IPCC stated, in 1995, that there was a discernible effect of man on climate1, through the emission of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxides (NOx), which together are responsible for most of the warming effect. It is generally agreed that about one quarter of the main greenhouse gas (CO2) stems from agricultural sources (land-use change, deforestation and biomass burning). CH4 accounts for a smaller fraction of the warming effect but most of it comes from agricultural sources such as domestic ruminants, forest fires, wetland rice cultivation and waste products. Conventional tillage and conventional fertiliser use together are the source of 70% of the NOx. Altogether, agricultural sources are responsible for about 30% of global warming.

5. In 1996, several UN Agencies, including FAO, established the Inter-Agency Committee on the Climate Agenda (IACCA) to coordinate their climate activities in the wake of Agenda 21. The 111th session of the FAO Council unanimously supported the association of FAO with this initiative.

6. The World Food Summit (WFS), organized by FAO in 1996, and in particular the WFS Plan of Action (WFSPA) underlined that the resource base for food, agriculture, fisheries and forestry was under stress and threatened by problems such as desertification, deforestation, overfishing, loss of biodiversity, inefficient use of water and climate change. Climate change itself can exacerbate climate variability, which remains one of the main factors behind the inter-annual instability of food production. Climate variability includes altered frequencies of extreme events.

7. With the aim of countering the environmental threats to food security, the WFSPA encouraged governments to take the anticipated impacts of natural climate variability and climate change on rainfall and temperature into account in developing agricultural and land-use policies.

8. The WFSPA further called for the early implementation of the 1992 UNFCCC, which entered into force in March 1994. The main objective of UNFCCC is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

9. The UNFCCC was supplemented in 1997 by the Kyoto Protocol (KP), which is generally expected to enter into force around 2002. The agreements commit most Annex I countries2 to quantified reductions of their greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 values during the first commitment period (2008-2012). Developing countries are not currently bound by any reduction targets, but the KP makes provision for several mechanisms (the Kyoto Mechanisms) that will foster sustainable development through collaboration between developed and developing countries.


10. There are many interactions between climate variability and change, and agriculture. Agriculture is affected by the vagaries of climate, and contributes to increasing climate variability and change, directly and indirectly, through the emission of greenhouse gases, the disruption of natural cycles of many elements and water through land degradation and deforestation, etc. In addition to considering the technical and scientific aspects, the international community is now taking measures, mostly in the policy, legal and institutional spheres, which will commit countries to adopting new practices and legislation affecting the agriculture and forestry sectors.

11. Because the patterns of climate variability are modified only gradually, climate change can go un-noticed for some time. Climate variability per se is not necessarily harmful; the problems arise from extreme events, and the uncertainty which derives from the difficulty of predicting weather beyond a week or so.

12. The effects of climate variability on all forms of agricultural production are well known. Depending on the level of development and technological influences on yields, 10% to 100% of the short-term variability of production can be ascribed to vagaries of the weather. The losses associated with the background variability of climate are significantly higher than those associated with spectacular but localised weather-related disasters like cyclones and flooding.

13. The possible effects of climate change are still being debated in the scientific community. Ignoring hypothetical impacts, the following global changes are described as "very probable to virtually certain3" between now and 2100 (local values can be significantly larger or smaller than the average figures):

14. Potential impacts of climate change on agricultural production will depend not only on climate per se, but also on the internal dynamics of agricultural systems, including their ability to adapt to the changes. In the words of Reilly (1996), the most "robust conclusion" that does emerge from the studies is that climate change has the potential to change the productivity significantly4... In comparison with global impacts, impacts at the level of plants and animals are relatively easy to assess:

15. Global impacts of climate change on food production and food security may include:


16. Formal climate-related work started in 1968 when FAO, WMO and UNESCO established the Interagency Group on Agricultural Biometeorology, which was later joined by UNEP. After the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment and the 1974 World Food Conference, FAO launched two activities with a major climate component: the Agro-Ecological Zones Project (coordinated by the Land and Water Development Division) to estimate the food production potential of developing countries, and the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture to continuously monitor the crop prospects and food situation throughout the world and alert the international community of impending serious food shortages. Both have led to the development of climate databases and methods for assessing the impact of climate on agriculture (Environment and Natural Resources Service, SDRN) for planning (Land and Water Development Division, AGL) and monitoring purposes (Commodities and Trade Division, ESC).

17. FAO's ad hoc Working Group on Climate, established in 1988 (paragraph (3) above) is currently chaired by the Director of the Forest Products Division (FOP), while SDRN handles the secretariat. All technical Departments and the Legal Office participate in the Group.

18. A number of documents directly or indirectly related to climate and climate change have been produced, in particular FAO position papers on climate change which were distributed to major meetings such as the UN General Assembly, the Second World Climate Conference, UNCED, the World Food Summit and various international gatherings like the Conference of the Parties to UNFCCC.

19. FAO has participated regularly in the activities of the WMO Commission for Agricultural Meteorology (CAgM). The Organization has also organized and participated in a number of international fora and conferences with climate change and sustainable development as core issues, such as IPCC meetings, the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological Advice (UNFCCC/SBSTA), and in particular the recent (June 2000) sessions that discussed the Special Reports on Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (SRLULUCF).

20. In addition to these activities, which are largely meant to serve government planners, FAO's work is also directed at (1) improving knowledge of issues related to climate change (the 1990 Expert Consultation on Forestry and Climate Change, the 1993 Expert meeting on Global Climate Change and Agricultural production, and the 1993 Expert Consultation on Biofuels for Sustainable Development), and (2) improving farmers' capacities to reduce risk or make optimal use of climate resources (rainfall, sunshine, etc.) by better understanding their variability. More recently, the Organization has also examined the complex relationships between land degradation, carbon sequestration and biodiversity in a joint FAO/IFAD Expert Meeting (1999), prepared documents on El Protocolo de Kyoto y el Mecanismo para un Desarollo Limpio - Nuevas Posibilidades para el Sector Forestal de América Latina y el Caribe - (1999), Climate Change and the Forestry Sector: Possible Legal Responses and Their Implications (2000), and assessed the relevance of the Verification of Country Level Carbon Stocks and Exchanges for developing countries in an expert meeting (September 2000). The Organization co-sponsored the Expert Workshop on Carbon Sequestration, Sustainable Agriculture and Poverty Alleviation in WMO (Geneva) in August-September 2000.



21. While the UNFCCC makes only brief mention of agriculture and forestry, the Kyoto Protocol deals explicitly with the subject and puts special emphasis on sustainable management practices and the promotion of sustainable forms of agriculture in the light of climate change considerations. Land-use changes, enteric fermentation, manure management, rice cultivation, agricultural soils, prescribed burning of savannahs and field burning of agricultural residues are all listed as sources of greenhouse gases which will have to be taken into consideration by countries in their reports on anthropogenic sources and sinks to the Conference of the UNFCCC Parties.

22. Several articles of the KP are of particular relevance to the agricultural community and Members of FAO. They include the sections on Afforestation, Deforestation and Reforestation (Article 3.3) as well as other sources and sinks, including soil and biomass storage, (Article 3.4) and their estimation (Article 5). Also particularly relevant are tradable permits5 (Article 6), annual reporting (Article 7), review and control mechanisms (Article 8), improved methodologies to assess emissions and sinks (Article 10), and especially the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which is described in Article 12.

23. Article 10 commits countries to formulating national and regional programmes to improve scientific cooperation, education and training programmes, inventories of emissions and sinks, and to improve mitigation as well as adaptation potential. Article 11 makes provision for developed Parties to assist developing ones. This includes, in particular, reporting commitments and technology transfer (Article 4 of the UNFCCC).

24. The double purpose of the CDM is to assist developing Parties in achieving sustainable development and developed Parties in achieving compliance with their emission limitations and reduction commitments. The CDM will allow Annex I Parties and Non-annex I Parties to jointly implement projects which will result in certified emission limitations. This mechanism complements the tradable permits approach between Annex I Parties. While details of the implementation of the CDM are still being debated, in particular as regards the fossil fuel substitution by biofuels and the admissibility of soil carbon pools as sinks, its potential as a sustainable development mechanism has to be carefully assessed.

25. The active participation of international organizations in international climate issues is clearly stressed in the KP. UNFCCC lists several categories of country which will require specific assistance, including: small island countries, countries with low-lying coastal areas, countries with arid and semi-arid areas, forested areas and areas liable to forest decay, countries with areas prone to natural disasters, countries with areas liable to drought and desertification, and eventually countries with areas with fragile ecosystems, including mountainous ecosystems.


26. FAO and its members are faced with several challenges directly or indirectly deriving from the current climate negotiations. These include (1) new obligations (commitments), (2) new opportunities linked with the fact that carbon has now become a new `commodity' which has to be monitored, quantified and sometimes managed differently than in the past, (3) a renewed raison d'être for several activities in which the Organization has been involved and which are being requested by the climate change community, and (4) some areas which need strengthening. Under the KP, Parties have to formulate, implement, publish and regularly update national and, where appropriate, regional programmes containing measures to mitigate climate change and facilitate adaptation to climate change in the energy, transport and industry sectors as well as agriculture and forestry.

New obligations

27. Inventories of sources and sinks: the UNFCCC commits all signatories to carrying out detailed inventories of anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases (strictly those greenhouse gases not covered by the Montreal Protocol). The KP is more specific in that it states that countries are committed to verifiable changes in carbon stocks, including those deriving from land-use changes and which are of direct relevance to the agricultural community. FAO statistics in general, while not detailed enough for many of the new reporting commitments, such as carbon distribution in sequestration projects or GHG emissions by type of activity, still provide a useful benchmark and a historical perspective which other data lack. FAO statistics have to be re-examined, in particular in the light of the new reporting commitments and national carbon accounting.

28. Mitigation of emissions of agricultural greenhouse gases is largely compatible with a no-regrets approach (often termed win-win situations) since most emissions from the agricultural sector are indicators of inefficient and sometimes unsustainable farming. Such emissions constitute losses to farmers and there is room for significant reduction in many instances.

New Opportunities

29. Many activities have been carried out by the farming and forestry communities to increase the sustainability of production systems. These, listed below, may now qualify for one of the Kyoto Mechanisms, and as such earn carbon credits, thereby increasing farmer income or attracting investment benefiting sustainable development and the population at large. Due attention should also be paid to the ecological/ecosystem functions of carbon when assessing the scope and relevance of `carbon' activities in agriculture.

30. The activities include:

Renewed raison d'être

31. The Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) was established jointly by FAO, ICSU, UNEP, UNESCO and WMO in 1996 to provide policy makers, resource managers and the research community with the long-term data they need to detect global change and to assess the capacity of terrestrial ecosystems to support sustainable development. The secretariat of GTOS is located in FAO. One of its priority areas is climate change and GTOS is now leading the development of a Terrestrial Carbon Observation Initiative (TCOI) which is aimed at assisting countries to assess and monitor the carbon sources and sinks in the agricultural and rural sectors of their countries through the systematic collection of carbon-related data using ground and satellite observations. TCOI is intended to fill data and information gaps in the terrestrial carbon cycle and build globally-consistent carbon data sets that will eventually be required under the UNFCCC. Both activities fill a gap in the data requirements of the UNFCCC.

32. A broad range of data is collected and maintained by FAO, which is of direct relevance not only to the climate change problem in general, but also to the more immediate operational (reporting) requirements of countries under the UNFCCC. Unlike the above-mentioned national and sub-national agricultural statistics, these data are mostly geo-referenced. They include:

33. Bio-energy and fossil fuel substitution by biofuels. The substitution of carbon from fossil fuels by biofuels and other renewable forms of energy are a most sustainable approach to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Global climate change and the realisation of the potential of biomass energy as a substitute for fossil fuels have triggered new attention on the energy function of agriculture. Currently biomass is the main source of energy in many developing countries and provides about 15% of the world's energy, but this could be increased significantly through modern conversion technology. Much of this energy comes from various types of agricultural and forestry residues, although in the future various types of energy crops and plantations are expected to provide the main source. Since the early 1990s, the increasing interest in biomass for energy has been manifested in most energy scenarios showing biomass as a potential major source in the 21st century. The expected increase could have a significant impact for mitigating CO2 emissions, sequestering carbon and increasing employment for many farmers in remote rural areas.

Areas which need strengthening

34. FAO does not currently have a clear climate change programme, although the AG, ES, FO, TC and SD Departments have been working on climate variability issues for decades. New emphasis on climate change has been covered on an ad hoc basis but suffers from the lack of a coordinated programme that would encompass climate variability and change, and allow the Organization be more proactive at all levels, from the international scene to the individual farm.

35. Capacity building stands high on the agenda of all international climate meetings and negotiation fora, starting with the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the UNFCCC. FAO does not currently have the capacity to respond to the requests coming from the international and national climate community. FAO has experience in preparing training programmes, and developing and disseminating appropriate techniques which can be used to improve the capacity for dealing with climate change issues of decision makers, national experts responsible for reporting on carbon issues, and agricultural personnel at all levels. FAO could also take a more active role in ensuring that climate variability and change issues are well covered in the curricula of agricultural training institutions at all levels.

36. More research will be needed in the development of measures for adaptation to climate change, the application of existing knowledge and the systematic assessment of anticipated impacts of climate change in agriculture. This includes prevention, protection, impact assessment and rehabilitation in the case of extreme climatic events, as well as drought and desertification impact reduction, especially in Africa. Much of the work of FAO derives directly from the need to adapt farmers' practices to adverse conditions and to help stabilise and possibly increase production under a very variable environment. As such it responds directly to UNFCCC concerns. An important option is Response Farming (a set of techniques to optimise on-farm decision making by closely monitoring crop growing conditions, in particular weather, and modelling the combined impact of environment and management), modernised through the use of current satellite and ground observation and data transmission techniques. Other immediate options include improved use of weather and climate forecasts; early detection of epizootic diseases based on satellite images and climate prediction, better crop forecasts, and better farming practices.

37. Policy formulation: FAO should strengthen its capacity to assist countries to take climate change considerations into account in the formulation of their national policies, not only in the field of environment but also in the broader development of socio-economic policy. This includes the promotion of policies that create incentives for land users to limit emissions or generate sinks, as well as the development of bioenergy and the adjustment of the institutional and legal context to improve the resilience of production systems to climate variability and change. Where necessary, FAO should be in a position to assist in the formulation and harmonisation of regional policies.

38. FAO should develop closer and more systematic collaboration with the UNFCCC secretariat and with IPCC regarding a number of issues, starting with the crucial issue of definitions, which are extremely important in the international legal framework. The Organization has to ensure that the requirements of the agricultural community are duly taken into account in the international negotiations, and that the adopted measures and policies are realistic, feasible and equitable. FAO should also encourage synergies and collaboration in the agricultural domain between the UNFCCC and IPCC and the other environmental conventions, in particular those on desertification (UNCCD) and biodiversity (CBD).

39. FAO should take an active role in several aspects of the collection, verification, standardisation and dissemination of the data required for the implementation of the UNFCCC. This specifically includes the formulation of agricultural statistical methods compatible with the reporting requirements of the UNFCCC, the Forest Resources Assessment, soil carbon monitoring, GHG emission inventories, the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) and particularly the Terrestrial Carbon Observation Initiative (TCOI).


40. COAG guidance is requested on how to promote and take advantage of the fact that agriculture constitutes one of the solutions to current concerns about climate change. This includes both technical and institutional aspects, which are of relevance to most Departments of FAO. In particular, guidance is sought on the following issues and proposals that have direct implications for FAO's current and future activities in this field:


1  Houghton, J.T., L.G. Meira-Filho, B.A. Callander, N. Harris, A. Kattenberg and K. Maskell (Editors), 1995. Climate Change 1995, the science of climate change. Cambridge University Press, 572 pp.

2  Annex I to the UNFCCC includes mainly developed countries and countries that are undergoing the process of transition to a market economy, indicated by an * in the following list: Australia, Austria, Belarus*, Belgium, Bulgaria*, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic*, Denmark, European Union, Estonia*, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary*, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia*, Liechtenstein, Lithuania*, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland*, Portugal, Romania*, Russian Federation*, Slovakia*, Slovenia*, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine*, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America.

3  Mahlman, J.D., 1997. Uncertainties in projections of human-caused climate warming. Science, 278:1416-1417.

4  Reilly, J., 1996. Climate Change, Global Agriculture and regional vulnerability, pp 237-265 in Bazzaz, F., and W. Sombroek (Eds.), Global climate change and agricultural production. Direct and indirect effects of changing hydrological, pedological and plant physiological processes. FAO and John Wiley & Sons, 345 pp.

5  The wording "tradable permits" does not occur in the KP. According to Article 6 any party included in Annex 1 may transfer to, or acquire from, any other such party emission reduction units...