Adaptation in the Agricultural Sector

For most of the decade since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was opened for signature in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the emphasis in research, research assessments, and negotiations has been placed heavily on mitigation rather than adaptation. Mitigation refers to actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon in soils and biomass, and has been addressed by the Kyoto Protocol. More recently the negotiations at meetings of the Conference of the Parties are beginning to focus attention on adaptation. Adaptation refers to "adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change." (IPCC, 2001, p. 879).

As a result of the increased interest in adaptation a new set of questions is now being directed from the policy makers to the research and expert communities at both national and international levels. Some of these questions have not yet been strongly articulated, but it is not difficult to see them coming. Many of them can be related to agriculture. To what extent can agricultural systems be adapted to rapid anthropogenic climate change? By how much can the estimated adverse impacts be reduced by adaptation? What are the costs and benefits of adaptation likely to be and how will they be distributed? What new opportunities might become available

Climatic Change (2005) 70: 191-200

© Springer 2005

under new climate regimes? Where and when is adaptation likely to be most and least effective? Where and why do farmers have or lack the capacity to adapt? What should be done to assess and then enhance adaptive capacity? What are the obstacles to effective adaptation and how can they be addressed? Is world food supply in danger from climate change? In any given place what new risks does agriculture face? How can these risks best be managed? What places, and what people are especially vulnerable? What policies and measures should governments and the private sector promote or facilitate? What kind of international cooperation would be helpful?

It has to be admitted that fully satisfying answers to these questions are generally not available. Nevertheless recent summaries of the scientific literature do offer some relevant information for preliminary conclusions. These partial answers are summarized as a prelude to a discussion of some of the current problems of climate and agriculture today, and some suggestions for a research agenda. We conclude with a proposed framework for the development of more appropriate policies and measures.

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