Can Doha produce a breakthrough on agriculture?

Recent Conferences of Parties (COP) have resulted in a discussion and/or a decision on at least one sector/theme agreed by majority of the Parties. Typical examples include the establishment of the Adaptation Fund (also to be used for capacity building through technology transfer) at COP7 in 2003, the adoption of Nairobi Work Plan at COP12 in 2006, and the formal REDD+ mechanism for developing countries to contribute to mitigation actions at COP16 in 2010.

At all these meetings, there has been no single allusion to agriculture in any of the agreements resulting from the COPs. This is despite agriculture’s contribution of about a third of the GDP of developing countries and providing for employment of nearly two-thirds of developing countries’ populations. Furthermore, any impact of climate change on agriculture will negatively affect food security, rural livelihoods and the whole economy of many developing countries. Agriculture contributes significantly to global warming by emitting major greenhouse gases (GHG) – CO2, CH4 and N2O. Around 80% of agricultural emissions, including deforestation, enteric fermentation, manure management, occur in developing countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and other tropical forest countries.

The only mention of agriculture at COP meetings was on four events, 1. In the Kyoto Protocol (1997) where promotion of sustainable forms of agriculture was mentioned, 2. COP9 (2003), where the Adaptation Fund could potentially be used to support adaptation of the agriculture sector, 3. at COP15 (2009) where despite the agricultural text being advanced, there was no general COP agreement, and 4. at COP16 (2010) where agriculture was unfortunately dropped because of its linkage to bunker fuels and because of the controversy around trade.

My expectation is that at this COP18 in Doha, agriculture will be a key discussion issue so that it plays its part in reducing GHG emissions and in preventing land cover change. More importantly, given agriculture’s ability to contribute to adaptation to climate change impacts and mitigation of GHG emissions the overall synergies should be explored for multibenefits between the two mechanisms in this sector.