Landscapes debate could reinvigorate U.N. climate talks in Warsaw – negotiator

crops forest
The time has come to put agriculture at the center of U.N. climate talks, Friis said, adding that the world needs take a coherent approach to agriculture. Image:

A dedicated Global Landscapes Forum to coincide with upcoming international climate change talks in Warsaw will highlight the benefits of taking a holistic approach to land-use management and could give the strategy a key role in efforts to curb global warming, an international climate negotiator has said.

Negotiators are expected to broaden the scope of talks rather than solving some of the controversial details related to the verification of carbon emissions under the U.N.-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions caused by Deforestation and forest Degradation) scheme, which stalled during climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, last year.

“It’s very important to have Landscape Day for agenda-setting,” said Tony La Viña, a forestry expert who negotiates on behalf of the Philippines.

The Warsaw climate summit is an important step leading up to the 2015 deadline for striking a new international climate deal and for defining the framework over the next two years. However, while observers of the climate policy process expect to do a lot of hard work as they wrestle with key sticking points, they are not expecting to see a single big decision made at the summit, which is unofficially referred to as COP19.

“This is a chance to actually influence what will happen in these negotiations, which are still an empty vessel for forestry, land use and agriculture. It’s nothing yet, so this is a chance for the community to put what should be in the agreement,” La Viña said.

Negotiators are expected to continue discussions over whether emissions reductions claimed by countries should be verified by an independent international body or by individual countries.

A compromise involving joint international analysis of reported emissions reductions is now on the table, providing draft text that could be decided in Warsaw.

Some negotiators want to embed the carbon emission-focused REDD+ program into a more integrated approach that would combine different land-use sectors such as agriculture and forestry.

“If forests are seen solely as a carbon vehicle, this might be good for climate change, but it’s actually bad for communities, forests and biodiversity,” La Viña said.

Several sessions at the Global Landscapes Forum in Warsaw will focus on REDD+, its impacts on the landscape and how existing climate finance and governance mechanisms can be extended to include agriculture and other sectors.

Linking sectors to mitigate impact

If a unified landscape approach makes its way onto the COP19 agenda, it will open the door for policymakers to address climate issues that will become more pressing as global population growth, which the U.N. projects will rise from 7 billion to more than 9.6 billion by 2050, increases the already high rates of deforestation in tropical regions and exacerbates threats to health.

In 2012, U.N. food agencies estimated that at least 870 million people were hungry and that more than 2 billion suffer from micronutrient deficiency, or “hidden hunger.”

Links between the agriculture and forestry sectors have a significant impact on their performance and climate footprint.

Deforestation, for example, is not just a forestry issue — trees are felled around the world often because of growing hunger for food and energy.

On the other hand, agricultural production depends on the services that healthy ecosystems provide: Forests supply an estimated 75 percent of usable water globally. Land-use activities account for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Agriculture, which contributes an estimated 10 to 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, has a potential for mitigation, said Anette Engelund Friis, who is responsible for climate issues with the World Farmers Organization.

But agriculture is not yet discussed during high-level climate change negotiations.

“Agriculture is and has always been a political issue,” Engelund Friis added. “That‘s why it’s important that a workshop on agriculture is planned to take place in Warsaw, where negotiators can discuss the complexities of agriculture, and hopefully this can lead to a future COP decision on a scientific and technical (SBSTA) work program on agriculture.”

It is hoped that a new SBSTA (Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice) work programme would document and share knowledge of improved agricultural practices to inform decision-making around agriculture and climate change as national strategies are prepared to address climate change.

The time has come to put agriculture at the center of U.N. climate talks, Friis said, adding that the world needs take a coherent approach to agriculture.

“It’s clear that agriculture plays a big role in climate change adaptation as food security is key for resilience,” she said.

More than 200 U.N. climate negotiators have registered, and more than 350 are expected to attend the Global Landscapes Forum, which will bring together stakeholders from forestry, farming and other land-based sectors to exchange ideas, organizers have said. Marcin Korolec, COP19 president and Polish environment minister, will deliver a keynote address and open the main plenary session.

Proposals for Paris

Based on any groundwork laid in Warsaw, and following discussions at 2014 U.N. climate talks in Peru, expectations are high that landscapes research and other climate-related lobbying will influence a deal at the Paris talks in 2015.

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