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UN calls for 'drastic' changes in agriculture at COP22 in Morocco

Eradicating hunger and poverty by 2030, while addressing the threat of climate change, will require a profound transformation of food and agriculture systems worldwide, says a UN report.

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    Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), attends a news conference during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, in this December 7, 2015 file photo.
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The 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) began November 7 in Marrakech, Morocco.

Last year’s convention in Paris forged the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change, where an unprecedented number of countries agreed to limit the increase in average global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius, hoping to cap at 1.5 degrees. Most countries submitted their own plans (termed Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)) to reduce emissions prior to the 2015 talks.

While the agreement and its terms are historic, it remains to be seen if the world will successfully limit warming to prevent the point of no return. In Morocco, discussions will be focused on taking specific actions and making policy changes to achieve these commitments.

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Although agriculture is not explicitly mentioned in the original text of the Paris Agreement, agriculture, forestry and land use changes are collectively responsible for one-fifth of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Of that mix, farms emit at least 13 percent of global emissions, second only to the energy sector. Additionally, food waste presently accounts for an additional estimated 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions, nearly equivalent to global road transport emissions.

According to the annual report State of Food and Agriculture, published by U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food and agricultural “policy frameworks need to be drastically modified” to address climate change and food security at the same time. 

“Hunger, poverty and climate change need to be tackled together,” said FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva. “This is, not least, a moral imperative as those who are now suffering most have contributed least to the changing climate.”

The report states that “meeting the goals of eradicating hunger and poverty by 2030, while addressing the threat of climate change, will require a profound transformation of food and agriculture systems worldwide.”

Fortunately, policymakers can look to widely recognized leaders in food system sustainability. Food waste reduction tactics can work to eliminate the 40 percent of wasted food around the world - and people around the world are already pioneering these solutions.

Agricultural practices can be adapted to increase carbon sequestration. For example, Eric Toensmeier, expert in perennial food systems and agroforestry, released The Carbon Farming Solution earlier in 2016.  Carbon farming could be one of many measurable solutions discussed in Morocco.

France has officially spearheaded the 4 per 1000 initiative to demonstrate the key linkage between food security and climate change in building resilient agricultural soils, hoping to engage all other Paris Agreement parties in these efforts. The 4 represents the fact that a 4 percent annual growth rate of soil carbon stock would be enough to cap atmospheric CO2 at the limits set as of December 2015, proving that even a small increase in sustainable soil management can have invaluable impact.

Agroecology, according to many experts, can be the key to combating climate change, yet governments continue to support agribusiness that escalates emissions. COP 22 provides the opportunity for the international community to heed the U.N.’s call to invest in small and mid-scale farmers, including support for securing land tenure, and financially backing infrastructure, social protections, and research and technical support.

It is also significant that the conference is occurring in Africa because 60 percent of the world’s arable land is located on the continent. Regeneration International highlights the role for Africa in the 4 per 1000 initiative. An African COP will encourage leaders to take action on climate change and food security simultaneously, namely through the Initiative for the Adaptation of African Agriculture, which is officially supported by 25 African countries, the UNFCCC, and the FAO.

Dr. Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, recently met with Moroccan Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Aziz Akhannouch to discuss the upcoming convention. Pershing emphasized that “it is necessary to work on how agriculture will be dealt with during the COP22,” and adaptation in agriculture must be encouraged because it is “one of the solutions to environmental problems.”

This story originally appeared on Food Tank.

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