COP 27: An opportunity to advance a more productive, resilient and low-carbon agriculture
Walter Oyhantçabal, advisor to IICA on climate change policies and international negotiations.

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica (IICA) — The upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27), to be held in November in Egypt, will provide a valuable opportunity for countries of the Americas to showcase the progress achieved by their agriculture sector from an environmental standpoint, as well as share their needs to drive changes aimed at achieving greater sustainability, resilience and mutual benefits with respect to mitigation.

This was noted by Walter Oyhantçabal, who specialises in climate change policies and in the complex world of international negotiations that have taken place in recent years to drive necessary changes in production methods.

For more than 20 years, Oyhantçabal served as the coordinator of the Sustainability and Climate Change Unit of the Ministry of Livestock and Agriculture of Uruguay. An agricultural engineer with a master's degree in environmental sciences, Oyhantçabal is an international specialist in greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories in the agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sector. He formed part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 and 2019, and is currently an advisor to IICA.

Agriculture and change in land use already contribute 25 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The expert indicated that the upcoming COP in Egypt will place special emphasis on agriculture. Therefore, the event will hold great significance for the Latin American and Caribbean region, which accounts for a high percentage of global agrifood trade and is a guarantor of global food and nutritional security.

"Given its unique vulnerability to climate change and its close relationship with food security, agriculture, unlike any other sector, has its own agenda item in the Climate Change Convention. This represents a tremendous opportunity. Since 2017, a work programme called the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture has been underway. The programme seeks to reduce vulnerability to climate change as well as protect food security and the livelihoods of billions of people while preserving natural resources, contributing to GHG mitigation and increasing productivity," explained Oyhantçabal.

The global meeting in Egypt will provide an ideal opportunity for countries of the region to reach a political decision that would allow for mobilising the necessary means of implementing agricultural transformations, particularly in developing countries.

Some farmers are using drones to help monitor their fields for things like pests and even heat stress in plants.

These means of implementation are related to three key areas: funding, capacity building, and technology transfer and development for ambitious climate action.

"Only by unlocking and scaling up means of implementation can developing countries establish more ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. GHG mitigation targets are included in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which can also include climate change adaptation targets. It is worth noting that adaptation is very costly for countries in our region, which must face the consequences of global warming — caused primarily by developed nations. That is why the Paris Agreement takes up the important principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, taking into account respective capabilities. This was already included in the text of the 1992 Framework Convention," indicated Oyhantçabal.

Protected agriculture is one way farmers are making their production climate resilient. These facilities often use up to 80 per cent less water and plants use less chemicals.

Agriculture's potential for climate action

The Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture recognises the fundamental priority of adapting agricultural systems to protect livelihoods, countries' economies and food security.

Work carried out up to 2021 included workshops on relevant topics as soil, manure and nutrient management; sustainable livestock farming; methods for evaluating adaptation; as well as the dimensions of climate change related to socio-economic development.

Climate change events often leave farmers devastated.

Koronivia now faces the major challenge of implementing the results of these technical workshops to enhance climate action. To this end, however, COP 27 must result in a political decision to create an institutional environment under the convention that can improve coordination and provide increasing volumes of technical and financial resources.

"Funding must be increased. Developed countries, which pledged to provide US$100 billion a year in assistance starting in 2020, must fulfill their promise, as was highlighted at COP 26 in Glasgow," noted Oyhantçabal.

"Our region is undertaking valuable efforts to make food production more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable, and we are making improvements. To continue on this path, however, we need means of implementation to be provided by the convention, through its different bodies and funds," he added.

A farmer shows the produce of his land.

COP 27 will be a great sounding board for agriculture. With this in mind, IICA, together with its member states, as well as producer organisations and other agricultural stakeholders from across the region, will set up a pavilion called the Home of Sustainable Agriculture in the Americas, with the slogan "Feeding the World, Nurturing the Planet".

This space will host around 60 high-level political and technical events over the two weeks of COP 27, and will share good practices, experiences and lessons learned in the Americas in direct seeding, the implementation of agrosilvopastoral production systems and better management of pastures, among other topics.

According to the Uruguayan expert, Latin American countries must build monitoring systems that provide a solid foundation for estimating the soil's function as a carbon sink and for improving the quality of their sectoral GHG inventories.

In this regard, because it is carried out outdoors and depends on climate and biological factors, agriculture is highly vulnerable to and more heavily impacted by climate change, compared to other sectors. As noted by the IPCC, the effects of climate change will be much graver if global warming were to exceed pre-industrial levels by more than 2° C.

"The impact on agriculture in developing countries is markedly disproportionate to its contribution to total global GHG emissions. Compared to fossil fuels, agriculture is a minimal source of GHGs. That is clear," said Oyhantçabal.

The expert also pointed out that contributions in means of implementation must take into account the key importance of adaptation, support mitigation, as well as recognise the broad diversity of production systems and the need for sustainable development in countries.

Sustainable agriculture remains at the margins and no single practice has been adopted by more than 4 per cent of farmers.
Some farmers have integrated renewable energy measures on their land to help supply the grid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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