Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Climate change adaptation and mitigation



A2 – 1.1. Adaptation and Mitigation in the UNFCCC process 

International negotiations on climate change initially focused on mitigating climate change, through political agreements to limit emissions of GHG in the atmosphere. In 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, a global governance on climate was established through the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Commitments from countries to reduce their GHG emissions played a central role in the UNFCCC negotiation process, acknowledging the “common but differentiated responsibilities” between industrialized countries and developing countries, as the former have benefited more from past emissions and therefore must take a larger responsibility for future mitigation.

The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 during COP3, was the first multilateral agreement setting quantified objectives of GHG emissions reduction, binding a limited number of industrialized countries and some being in transition. It was relying partly on creating “carbon markets” – mechanisms that established quotas of GHG emissions that could be traded. A somehow similar market-based approach is being applied to deforestation issues, through the REDD+ mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. 

Mitigation was the dominant item on the agenda until the late 2000s, mainly addressed through voluntary commitments to reduce GHG emissions from willing countries. However, this approach had limited effectiveness, and GHG emissions in the atmosphere kept increasing dramatically, while impacts of the changing climate was increasingly felt, especially by developing countries, which started to voice a stronger concern on how to adapt to these impacts.

New concepts progressively gained attention, such as adaptation, vulnerability, and resilience. Adaptation became a central part of IPCC reports, and dedicated work streams were developed under the UNFCCC negotiations and its Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA). In November 2006 at COP 12 in Nairobi, the SBSTA was mandated to undertake a programme to address impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, named the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP).

While two work streams were developed in parallel under the UNFCCC, one on mitigation and one on adaptation, with specific concepts, approaches and methodologies; important efforts were deployed by the international scientific community to highlight synergies between mitigation and adaptation, build convergence between these work streams, and ensure that mitigation and adaptation action took place across the spectrum of spatial scales. This led to emerging attention to the concept of adaptation and mitigation co-benefits, of particular importance to the agriculture sectors. Indeed, with sufficient effort, food and agricultural systems can be adapted to climatic changes while also protecting and enhancing natural resources. There is also considerable climate change mitigation potential in many agricultural systems, both in the form of reducing emissions intensity per unit produced, and carbon sequestration in soils and biomass.

The Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC adopted in Paris in December 2015 at COP21 introduced two major shifts in the fight against climate change. For the first time, adapting and building resilience to climate change, and making finance flow consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development, are fully-fledged objectives in addition to the objective of mitigating climate change. For the first time as well, efforts to be made by Parties are based on nationally determined (voluntary) contributions with a level of ambition that must keep increasing, instead of an allocation-based approach tentatively binding for countries.

The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) adopted by countries are now calling for a more comprehensive approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation in the agricultural sectors, building on synergies and co-benefits between food production, adaptation and mitigation.

A2 – 1.2. Adaptation and Mitigation in the INDCs

At the UNFCCC Climate Conference (COP21) in December 2015, countries submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in which they outlined the effort that their country had the ambition to make towards climate change mitigation and adaptation. The INDCs served as a basis for negotiations at COP21 and provided the foundation for the Paris Agreement on climate change. Unless a Party specifies otherwise, its INDC will become its first Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) upon submitting its instrument of ratification for the Paris Agreement. INDCs/NDCs outline countries’ climate change priorities for the post- 2020 period and include not only targets, but also concrete strategies for addressing the causes of climate change and responding to its effects.

As of 29 July 2016, 189 countries (190 Parties) had submitted a total of 161 INDCs and 22 NDCs to the UNFCCC, 21 of which were originally submitted as INDCs. The information in this module is based on an analysis of these 22 NDCs and 140 remaining INDCs (FAO 2016a). In the remainder of this module, these are collectively referred to as “the INDCs”. The INDCs were not prepared according to a standard format. While many Parties followed non-binding guidance, the INDCs are heterogeneous in length, coverage and level of detail. All 189 countries refer to mitigation commitments in their INDCs, while 134 countries include concrete information on adaptation areas and/or actions. Some INDCs (in particular from developing countries) specify detailed measures in specific sectors, while others only point to existing plans for further reference. This heterogeneity calls for caution in comparing country priorities and actions beyond broad patterns. Furthermore, many of the developing countries’ INDCs/NDCs are contingent on sufficient external funding being made available to support the implementation of their contributions.

The agriculture sectors (crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture) feature prominently in most countries’ national mitigation and adaptation goals – particularly those of the least-developed countries (LDCs). Many of these countries highlight the role of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture in economic development, particularly for employment, exports and rural development. Many countries also point to the vulnerabilities of these sectors to climate change. This is a clear signal: the agriculture sectors are central to the global response to climate change and in contributing to sustainable development.

Box A2.1  Methodology and Country Classification 

Each INDC was read and analyzed in detail to ensure a comprehensive assessment of the coverage of the agriculture sectors. Original text was extracted into a database, which facilitates the replication and re-examination of the screening process. The data was cross-checked using a keyword search. 

Countries were aggregated according to their status of development (least-developed countries, developing countries, economies in transition and developed countries). As the focus of the analysis is on developing countries, these groups were further sub-divided by region.

Source: (FAO, 2016a)

A2 – 1.2.2. Adaptation

The agriculture sectors are the foremost priority for adaptation in the INDCs. Among the 131 countries that include priority areas for adaptation and/or adaptation actions in the agriculture sectors, 127 countries refer to crops and livestock, 116 to forestry and 84 to fisheries and aquaculture. The emphasis on the agriculture sectors is particularly pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where all developing countries point to the agriculture sectors in their adaptation section.126 countries mention Climate-related hazards including extreme events, long-term impacts and increased variability are mentioned by 126 countries in their INDCs. To address these hazards, 95 percent of developing countries include an adaptation section, ranging from 100 percent in Sub-Saharan African and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, to 79 percent in Oceania.

Countries also highlight the vulnerability of the agriculture sectors to climate change. Of the countries that discuss climate-induced risks at the sector level, most countries mention agricultural production. 74 countries explicitly refer to water resources in the context of adaptation in the agriculture sectors. 54 countries include food insecurity and malnutrition among the major risks they face under climate change.

The agriculture sectors are the foremost priority for adaptation. Among the 131 countries that include priority areas for adaptation and/or adaptation actions in the agriculture sectors, 127 countries refer to crops and livestock, 116 to forestry and 84 to fisheries and aquaculture. The emphasis on the agriculture sectors is particularly pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where all developing countries point to the agriculture sectors in their adaptation section.

Figure A2.1. Percentage of countries that include adaptation sections and that refer to agriculture sectors in adaptation

Source: (FAO, 2016a)

Most LDCs highlight extreme events as their central adaptation challenge, whereas developed countries emphasize temperature rise. Among the 126 countries that highlight climate-related vulnerabilities, the majority point to extreme events (i.e. droughts, floods) as a foremost threat to the environment and socio-economic development, while almost half of the countries refer to changes in weather patterns. However, there are significant disparities when results are disaggregated by development status: the large majority of LDCs mentions droughts and floods among their immediate threats, whereas developed countries identify the rise in temperature as the major hazard.

Figure A2.2.  Reference to the agriculture sectors in adaptation sections

Source: (FAO, 2016a)

Countries reflect on the importance of disaster risk management in the agriculture sectors. 47 countries mention DRM in the agriculture sectors: 48 percent of the LDCs, 29 percent of developing countries and 29 percent of the economies in transition. Within the different regions, countries in Asia particularly often refer to the agriculture sectors in the context of DRM (62 percent of the countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, 38 percent in Southern Asia). The most common measures include reducing community vulnerability to crisis and disasters and to monitor crisis and disaster risk.

A2 – 1.2.1. Mitigation

Agriculture and land use, land-use change and forestry (collectively referred to as LULUCF) are among the most frequently included sectors in countries’ mitigation contributions (targets and/or actions). LULUCF is referenced in 83 percent of all countries’ INDCs, and as such is second only to the energy sector. Agriculture is included in 78 percent of countries’ mitigation contributions. When considered together, 89 percent of countries cover agriculture and/or LULUCF. When including the countries that mention bioenergy as a mitigation strategy, this percentage increases to 92 percent. 

Sector specific targets are rarely quantified in the INDCs, but most countries consider mitigation in agriculture and/or LULUCF as part of an economy-wide GHG target. 86 percent of countries (128 out of 148) include agriculture and 76 percent of countries (120 out of 157) cover LULUCF in their economy-wide GHG target. Many countries specify actions (policies and measures) related to mitigation in agriculture and/or LULUCF. Actions put forward by countries in agriculture focus on cropland management, livestock management and grazing land management. For LULUCF, the actions mentioned by countries can be grouped under forest management and restoration, afforestation/reforestation, and reducing deforestation. The mitigation potential of agriculture and LULUCF is prominently acknowledged by developing countries in all regions and by all economic groupings: 98 percent of developed countries, 88 percent of economies in transition and 86 percent of developing countries (including least developed countries) point to agriculture and/or LULUCF when outlining their mitigation contributions in the INDCs. As illustrated in Figure A2.3, 96 percent of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa refer to these sectors under their mitigation contributions. The corresponding figure in Eastern, South-Eastern and Southern Asia ranges between 89 to 100 percent. Among the Latin American and Caribbean countries, 91 percent refer to agriculture and/or LULUCF in their mitigation section. In Northern Africa and Western Asia, the figure is a more modest 69 percent. In Oceania, the agriculture sectors feature in 50 percent of developing countries’ mitigation contributions.

Figure A2.3.  Mitigation in Agriculture and LULUCF in the INDCs

Source: (FAO, 2016a)

84 percent of developing countries in Sub-Saharan African refer to mitigation in agriculture (crops and livestock). In most other regions this figure ranges from 69 to 78 percent, with the exception of Oceania where 21 percent of countries do so (see Figure A2.4). 94 percent of developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and 85 percent of developing countries in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia refer to LULUCF in their mitigation contributions, indicating an emphasis on forest management in certain regions.

Figure A2.4. Percentage of developing countries indicating mitigation contributions in agriculture (crops, livestock) and LULUCF by region

Source: (FAO, 2016a)

A2 – 1.2.3. Synergies and co-benefits

The agriculture sectors are most often referred to in the INDCs as having potential for adaptation-mitigation synergies, with associated socio-economic and environmental co-benefits. Opportunities for realizing these synergies are specified by some countries. Fifty-seven countries endorse or even prioritize actions based on the potential synergies between mitigation and adaptation. Several countries mention social, economic and environmental co-benefits, particularly rural development and health, poverty reduction, job creation, and conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity. With regards to gender equality, the agriculture sectors are highlighted – more so than any other sector – as providing diverse opportunities for empowering women and reducing their vulnerability to climate change. 

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is highlighted as contributing to both adaptation and mitigation (Figure A2.5). 32 countries, almost half of which are LDCs, specifically refer to CSA in their INDCs. Seventy-five percent (equivalent to 24 countries) of these 32 countries are in Sub-Saharan Africa. The remaining countries are located in Eastern, South-Eastern and Southern Asia (5 countries), LAC (2 countries) and Western Asia (one country).

Figure A2.5.  References to CSA in the INDCs

Source: (FAO, 2016a)

A2 – 1.2.4. Need for implementation support

All of the LDCs and more than 90 percent of the other developing countries make their INDCs contingent on receiving financial and technical support. Regarding possible funding sources across various sectors, about 24 percent of all countries mention the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Technology transfer most often relates to renewable energy, energy optimization and mitigation and adaptation technologies and data collection. With regard to capacity building, countries prioritize technical capacities, followed by capacity development for engaging stakeholders, and formulating mitigation and adaptation strategies and policies. Making sufficient financial and technical support available to developing countries to realize the ambition level of the INDCs is one of the major issues facing the global community in the context of the Paris Agreement.