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Climate Change Considerations

Climate change has gone from being a niche concern to being recognized as a key factor to consider in agricultural development (FAO Climate Change). Climate change poses many threats to agriculture, including reduction of agricultural productivity, production stability and incomes in areas of the world that already have high levels of food insecurity and limited means of coping with adverse weather. In addition, agriculture, forestry and land-use change cause significant levels of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contributing to the exacerbation of climate change impacts in the future. It is therefore imperative to incorporate climate change considerations into overarching agricultural investment planning, as well as into specific projects and programmes. Successful incorporation of climate change can enable stakeholders to confront expected negative impacts and take up emerging opportunities, in order to capture the synergies and manage the trade-offs between adaptation, mitigation, food security and sustainable development. This Note summarizes key steps and approaches to systematically incorporate climate change considerations into agricultural investment planning and project management. 

The focus of integration differs depending upon the project context and objectives. In most cases, the primary focus of climate mainstreaming is on planning for adaptation to climate change and defining specific measures to safeguard development benefits in the medium to long run. In addition, agricultural projects may have a potential for mitigating GHG emissions that can be realized through additional climate change measures. While climate considerations should permeate the design and implementation of all components, specific climate change-related activities may be subsumed in a specific component of a development project that receives separate funding, especially when funding from separate global climate finance mechanisms is targeted. Climate-specific funding for agricultural development is still very limited and often cumbersome to obtain, and while these funding opportunities should be utilized when available, the main funding for climate-smart agricultural development will remain the agricultural development budgets.

BOX 1: Key messages
Agriculture is heavily dependent upon climate, and climate is influenced by agricultural emissions. Climate change has gone from being a niche concern to being recognized as a key factor to consider in agricultural development. Agricultural investment planning must systematically integrate climate change considerations to achieve and sustain development goals. Climate financing mechanisms can complement – but do not substitute for – development budgets, which will remain the main source of funding for climate-smart agricultural development over the foreseeable future.

  • Applying a step-wise procedure: Successful incorporation of climate change considerations requires specific actions at each stage of the project cycle to inform development objectives, interventions, cost estimation and monitoring and evaluation (M&E).
  • Starting with impact assessment: Climate change is global; its impacts are location-specific. It is important to start with assessment of local impact, to identify options tailored to local situations.
  • Adopting an ecosystem approach: Agricultural sectors or systems within an ecosystem are connected to each other. Interventions in one sector or system may have implications for others. Integrated planning at an ecosystem level ensures the consistency of different interventions, and helps to capture the synergies and manage the trade-offs.
  • Targeting high priority issues: Some common issues in developing countries need to be prioritized, including: data and knowledge generation and sharing; institutions, policies and financing mechanisms; sustainable land and water management and biodiversity; development and dissemination of technologies and practices; and disaster risk management.
  • Promoting climate-smart agriculture (CSA): CSA helps to capture the synergies among adaptation, mitigation, food security and sustainable development. Some good practices already exist, but their suitability to specific contexts needs to be verified and approaches adapted and applied within a landscape approach.
  • Embedding climate change into an enabling environment: Climate change considerations not only need to be incorporated in particular projects or programmes, but also become an integral to overarching agricultural investment planning. This includes establishing enabling policies and strengthening institutional capacities to support transition to CSA.

Integrating climate change considerations throughout the project cycle

Successful incorporation of climate change considerations requires specific actions at each stage of the project cycle (see Figure 1) to inform the definition of development objectives, interventions, cost estimation and M&E. Guiding questions and sources of information are summarized in the document “Incorporating climate change considerations into agricultural investment programmes”, Annex 1.

Figure 1: Integrating climate change considerations throughout the project cycle [Click to view larger image]

Specific tasks for each phase include: 

  • Identification: Assess potential climate risks in the project/programme area – for example, through a rapid local impacts assessment (see “Incorporating climate change considerations into agricultural investment programmes”, Annex 2); identify opportunities for adaptation and mitigation based on relevant government strategies and policies as well as local conditions; assess major data and information gaps and recommend options for supplementary research before and during project preparation; and reflect the results in the project/programme concept note.
  • Design and appraisal: Undertake in-depth climate risk analysis; identify and prioritize adaptation and mitigation options; estimate carbon footprint of identified interventions through ex ante carbon balance appraisal tools, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) EX-ACT Tool; adjust and finalize project interventions; and include the results in relevant parts of project/programme documents, including development objectives, components and activities, budget, indicators and M&E framework (see “Incorporating climate change considerations into agricultural investment programmes”, Annex 6).
  • Implementation supervision: Supervise the implementation of adaptation and mitigation interventions; and monitor relevant indicators. (Because of the comparatively high level of uncertainty characterizing climate change-related investments, flexibility of project design and intense monitoring to quickly identify weaknesses and alternative options during project implementation are especially important for climate change activities.)
  • Evaluation: Evaluate the achievements of adaptation and mitigation objectives in accordance with the indicators defined in the M&E framework; assess progress towards longer-term impact – for example, that signified by replication and upscaling of project activities (see, for example here); collect lessons learned and provide advice for necessary improvements as well as opportunities for additional replication and scaling up; and identify priorities for further investments. 

Local impact assessment to inform design

Climate change is global; its impacts are location-specific. Local impact assessments at the conceptualization and preparation stage will help to identify the most effective and efficient options tailored to specific local conditions. This is the starting point of climate change mainstreaming and is frequently the most difficult aspect because of lack of knowledge and information, resulting in high uncertainty. Accordingly, accessing all possible sources of information, from global climate models to traditional local knowledge, becomes all the more important. Assessments generally include four steps: (i) investigating local climate conditions and agricultural systems, and their relationship to each other – for example, by examining seasonal climate and crop calendars; (ii) analyzing historical climate trends, including trends in general climate conditions as well as occurrence and intensity of extreme weather events in recent decades; (iii) assessing the impacts of historical climate change and variations on local agricultural sectors, and identifying climate factors and time periods to which agricultural sectors are most sensitive; and (iv) projecting further climate change impacts by downsizing climate change modelling and projecting local climate change trends. For step-by-step guidance on conducting a local impact assessment see “Incorporating climate change considerations into agricultural investment programmes”, Annex 2). The appropriate depth of the impact assessment differs among various projects and depends upon the availability and quality of data, the cost of data acquisition and the expected general level of the project location’s vulnerability to climate change impacts as a measure of potential benefits.

Climate-smart Agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) has gained significant momentum as an approach that integrates the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) by jointly addressing food security and climate challenges. It is composed of three main pillars: (i) sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; (ii) adapting and building resilience to climate change; and (iii) reducing and/or removing GHG emissions, where possible. The focus is on identifying and exploiting synergies while being mindful of potential trade-offs. Agricultural practices already exist that have the potential to be “climate-smart” if applied in the appropriate context to fit climatic natural resources and socio-economic circumstances. CSA does not focus only at the plot level, however, but applies an integrated landscape approach, promoting coordination among crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry, as well as energy and water, following the principles of ecosystem management.

Key intervention areas to include

Priority interventions that need to be carefully considered when proposing and designing adaptation and mitigation interventions include the following: (i) data and knowledge generation and sharing, as many countries lack basic data and essential knowledge for climate modelling, impact assessment and projection; (ii) institutions, policies and financing mechanisms that create a favourable enabling environment for adaptation and mitigation; (iii) establishment and implementation of sustainable approaches to land and water management as well as biodiversity conservation, as a basis and complement for climate change interventions in an ecosystem approach; (iv) development and dissemination of technologies, practices and processes, as a means to enhance local adaptive capacity; and (v) establishment of systems for disaster risk management as a crucial building block of climate change resilience, enabling local communities to better prepare for and manage climatic risks exacerbated by climate change, in particular with respect to extreme weather events.

Leveraging Global Climate Finance

In the past, accessing international climate financing for CSA activities has been a particularly challenging endeavor. This is the result of numerous factors, including: the limited funds available compared with the range of country needs; the disjointing of mitigation and adaptation funding, which is linked to their separate treatment in the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); and the weak representation of agriculture as a sector in the major mitigation funding mechanisms. Regular development funds provide most of the funding for adaptation and CSA. Climate-specific finance includes the Adaptation Fund (AF), the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The CSA Sourcebook referenced below provides a comprehensive overview of the major financing mechanisms. The mitigation potential of agricultural investment projects/programmes can be assessed ex ante using models such as the FAO EX-ACT Tool (see link below), providing a basis for seeking climate finance. 

Mainstreaming Climate Change into Agricultural Investment Plans and Policies

Climate change considerations should influence not only project design, but also the broader strategic plans that prioritize national investment decisions. Just as localized rapid assessments should inform project design, historical climate data and projections at national level should inform assessment and prioritization of options in terms of adaptation, mitigation and food security benefits. Climate factors, and expected changes to their mean levels and variability, should also be considered when carrying out sector analysis and economy-wide sources of growth analysis. At the plan level, it is particularly important to identify key interventions that strengthen the overall implementation capacity to support transition to CSA approaches. This process includes strengthening institutional capacity of research and advisory providers, transforming policy to address barriers to CSA adoption – be they technical or economic – and promoting appropriate financing mechanisms. 

Key Resources

Incorporating climate change considerations into agricultural investment programmes (FAO, 2012)

Provides basic concept, step-wise procedure and tools and information on incorporating climate change considerations into agricultural investment project and programmes.

E-learning course on "Incorporating climate change considerations into agricultural investment programmes" (FAO, 2014)

E-Learning Course providing professionals working in agricultural development with the necessary knowledge to design, develop and implement agricultural projects and programmes that address the challenges of a changing climate.

Ex Ante Appraisal Carbon-balance (FAO)

Provides ex-ante estimations of the impact of agriculture and forestry development projects and programmes on GHG emissions and carbon sequestration, indicating its effects on the carbon balance. The tool and related are freely available for download from the website in several languages.

E-learning course on “Estimating GHG Emissions and Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use with EX-ACT (FAO, 2015)

Training material for the Ex-ACT tool.

Climate smart agriculture (FAO, 2010)

Outlines practices, approaches and tools aimed at increasing the resilience and productivity of agricultural production systems, while also reducing and removing emissions. It surveys institutional and policy options available to promote the transition to climate-smart agriculture at the smallholder level and makes innovative suggestions regarding the combined use of different sources, financing mechanisms and delivery systems.

Food security and agricultural mitigation in developing countries: options for capturing synergies (FAO, 2009)

Analyzes potential synergies among food security, adaptation and mitigation from land-based agricultural practices; indicates promising mitigation options with synergies, options that involve trade-offs, options for required financing.

Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook (FAO, 2013)

Comprehensive overview of CSA practices and approaches across agricultural sectors including cross-cutting aspects like international finance, governance frameworks, capacity development and M&E.