Issues related to climate change are high on the agenda of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). FAO is an active partner in the implementation of the different conventions related to climate change, notably UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN-FCCC ), UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UN-CCD), and the Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD). FAO is particularly concerned with the effects of agricultural (including forestry and fisheries) practices on climate change, the role that agriculture can play to mitigate these effects, the impact that climate change may have on the food security situation in developing countries as well as adaptation strategies to face challeges of climate change.
Agricultural activities can be both a problem for and a solution to climate change concerns. Land use conversion and soil cultivation practices have contributed and continue to contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere, and agriculture is thought to be a driving factor for about a third of the GHG emissions according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2000). Agricultural activities such as ploughing land and shifting cultivation practices ("slash and burn") release significant amounts of CO2 in the air. A large part of the human-caused methane (CH4) emissions originates from the decomposition of organic matter in flooded rice paddies. About 25% of the world methane emission comes from livestock. In addition agriculture is responsible for about 80% of the nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions through the breakdown of fertilizer and manure and urine from livestock. On the other hand, the use of improved agricultural and forestry practices would significantly mitigate these emission levels, while at the same time store considerable amount of carbon in the soil and biomass.
In its current medium-term plan, FAO is implementing a series of activities within its so-called Priority Area for Interdisciplinary Action on Climate Change (PAIA-CLIM). An
Interdepartmental Working Group on Climate Change has been established to guide and coordinate the work of PAIA-CLIM in developing and disseminating normative and methodological approaches integrating climate change aspects into agricultural, forestry, and fisheries activities, and providing technical support to member countries on climate change questions and activities related to agriculture.
FAO plays a key role as a neutral mediator between the agricultural community and international agencies and institutions in the international negotiations process. Thereby, FAO contributes to the implementation of agreements that ensure the fair and balanced participation of all countries, particularly developing countries.
FAO collaborates on technical matters via the flow of information and the development of methodological tools. Furthermore, FAO has made available comprehensive data sets that can be very useful in the design and implementation of specific projects. Capacity building is another key activity in which FAO is heavily involved. FAO has vast experience assisting developing countries to consider climate change in the formulation of their national agricultural development policies. Specifically, this refers to the development of policies that create incentives for farmers and land users to limit their GHG emissions that promote carbon sinks in agriculture and forestry.
The work of FAO aims to identify, develop, and promote cultural practices that reduce agricultural emissions and sequester carbon, while contributing to improve the livelihoods of farmers, especially in the developing countries, through increased production and additional incomes from carbon credits under the mechanisms that have emerged since the Kyoto Protocol (KP). Specific activities include the promotion of practices that prevent desertification, land degradation, and loss of biodiversity, improve nutrient cycling, and increase carbon sequestration (CS), and consequently, food security. Examples are the intensive activities promoting conservation agriculture (FAO, 2002a), efficient plant nutrition management (FAO, 1998), soil biodiversity (Bennack et al., 2003), and assessment and prevention of land degradation (FAO, 2002b).
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