FAO Liaison Office in New York

Agri-food systems as part of the solution to the climate crisis

02/12/2021

With the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) behind us, we spoke to Eduardo Mansur, Director of the FAO Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment, on FAO’s participation in Glasgow where it called for linkages between the climate and food security agendas.

What are the key takeaways from COP26, and what will they mean for FAO’s work? 

We need to roll up our sleeves; we have a lot of work ahead if we are to meet our global commitments by 2030. The UN Food Systems Summit raised the profile of the importance of food systems and, more broadly, agri-food systems. They were more debated than at previous COPs, as many countries were interested in increased support for adaptation.

Our objective at COP was to make sure that people understand that agri-food systems can be part of the solution to the climate crises. For this to happen we need to make our agri-food systems more resilient and sustainable. Green and climate-resilient agriculture offers solutions that align with FAO’s mandate, supports the reduction of emissions, and contributes to agricultural adaptation to climate change.

There were at least two pledges made during COP26 of major relevance to FAO – the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use aiming to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, and the Global Methane Pledge aiming to curb methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. These and other pledges made at COP26 give us opportunities to raise ambitions, upscale our ongoing work, and advocate for integrated policies and approaches to sustainably use and safeguard our natural resources. 

Other important advances at COP26 were the call for developed countries to double their adaptation financing by 2025 from 2019 levels; the first pledge of the United States to the Adaptation Fund; and its return as a donor to the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF). If, at COP27, we consolidate the gains from the mitigation and adaptation measures in agri-food systems advanced in Glasgow, we are certainly moving in the right direction, as we are not there yet!

We’ve seen these global meetings advocate for integrated policies and approaches to managing and safeguarding our natural resources. How is FAO’s work driving this holistic approach to natural resource management?

There is no other option but to adopt an integrated approach when it comes to agriculture and safeguarding natural resources. This is well reflected in FAO’s new Strategic Framework, and integration is a priority for the FAO Director-General. We must break silos and look at how the ‘Four Betters’ contribute to one another. This has been made easier by the fact that many of our Programme Priority Areas are cross-cutting. As our work develops, we are exploring every opportunity to ensure areas of work are integrated, including in landscapes and seascapes approaches, the use of digitalization, and the combination of modern and traditional methods that engage all parties every step of the way. 

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is one of these opportunities. We all depend on healthy ecosystems for food and energy security, water supplies, and biodiversity. Their continued degradation contributes to climate change and biodiversity loss. FAO and UNEP have been invited by the UN General Assembly to lead the efforts for implementation of the Decade. We need to become #GenerationRestoration for people, nature, and climate. Everyone is welcome to engage, you can learn how by visiting the Decade’s website: www.decadeonrestoration.org

With COP26 behind us, what transformative actions are needed across the climate action and food security agendas to make Zero Hunger a reality?

FAO is constantly evolving to deliver better and to contribute more efficiently to the Sustainable Development Goals. This includes our contribution to achieve SDG 13 – Climate Action. We are just now developing a new Strategy on Climate Change in consultation with Members and partners, that continues to encourage collaboration at all levels. One of the proposed pillars is to ensure that agri-food systems are at the centre of international climate-related agendas. The other pillars focus on actions at national and local levels. FAO data, tools, and technical expertise can help ensure the implementation of effective climate actions globally. 

COP26 also marked a turning point for the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA), which focus on agriculture and food security under the UNFCCC. Countries found significant agreement on key topics like soil management and animal health, and FAO will continue to support the KJWA, for a COP decision on agriculture and climate action to be taken at COP27 in Egypt next year. 

With regard to climate finance, we have solid partnerships with the Global Environmental Facility and the Green Climate Fund, and have a growing partnership with the Adaptation Fund. These are concrete opportunities for us to support our member countries access climate finance and we don't do it alone. If we work with the partners, including of course national partners, it's good for everyone. 

The current climate crisis is the result of a wide array of converging factors, such as GHG emissions, poor management of natural resources, biodiversity loss, and unsustainable production and consumption patterns. How can we reverse these closely interconnected trends?

Various UN reports like the recent IPCC Working Group report I and the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report released this year have warned that the world is at a critical juncture. We need to be more innovative and focus on new areas, too. For example, the continuum between rural and urban areas. FAO launched a new endeavor called the Green Cities Initiative because we need to be more active in cities where almost 80 percent of energy and 70 percent of the food products are consumed.

We also need to enhance the collaboration with the private sector and development banks to trigger investments that can support, for instance, adaptation in developing countries, especially least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developed countries (LLDCs), and small island developing states (SIDS). SIDS are facing increased vulnerability to shocks and stresses as their adaptive capacities and ecosystem services are eroded with the intensity and severity of the climate crisis.

We can do more, and we have to do more. For instance, avoiding food loss and waste, which has indeed become an issue of public concern. It contributes a lot to greenhouse gas emissions, too. Less food loss and waste would lead to more efficient land and water use with positive impacts on climate change but, above all, on livelihoods! 

What kind of tools do we need to take climate action in the agricultural sector?

We have to look at all demands of the technical, policy and financial assistance, and work with partners to support our Members in their climate actions. This includes data generation for effective measurement, reporting and verification. FAO has a lot of data collection and processing tools and methods, and as a result we became a source of credible data processes. 

Countries and partners really expect FAO to continue supporting them on mitigation and adaptation metrics, and in other areas as well. We have, for instance, a growing collection of knowledge and compiled experiences on climate change approaches for sustainable agri-food systems. Some of them can be easily accessed in FAO websites like the FAO Climate Change Knowledge Hub and in the Green and climate-resilient agriculture website. I encourage everyone to take a look – some are interactive tools which provide data, learning materials, policy advice, and other information that can help countries and practitioners to meet their climate and biodiversity commitments. It can also connect you with peers, experts and capacity building providers. 

As we cannot carry out this work alone, we need to join forces, inside and outside FAO. That is one of the main roles of our office: to make sure that climate change, biodiversity and environment are embedded in the great work that FAO units are doing in headquarters and in decentralized offices, to eradicate hunger, malnutrition, and poverty from the face of the planet, once and for all.