Saturday, 9 November 2013

A Negotiator’s Perspective: the Future of Agriculture in the UNFCCC Negotiations

Post written by H. Griffin.

With this year’s annual international climate change (UNFCCC) negotiations kicking off in Warsaw on Monday, now is a good time to look at agriculture’s place in the negotiations and where things might be headed in the future. 

Due in part to socio-economic and food security issues, progress in agricultural negotiations within the UNFCCC has been very slow. This is because of the role agriculture plays as a source of employment for many of the world’s poor, and the fact that many developing countries have had recent experiences of drought induced famine.

A new agreement is currently being negotiated and is expected to come into force in 2020 at the end of the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period. Whilst the Kyoto Protocol placed mitigation obligations on industrialised nations, the post-2020 agreement will be applicable to all nations. The negotiations are currently in a phase of design and preparation for the post-2020 agreement. It is particularly important that progress on mitigation and adaptation in the agricultural sector is made in preparation for the next agreement.

To give us a better idea about what is going on in the negotiations, Paul Melville from the Ministry for Primary Industries has kindly agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Paul is in Warsaw with the New Zealand government delegation as a negotiator in the area of agriculture.

Q. What is New Zealand hoping to achieve in relation to agriculture at the negotiations in Warsaw?

A. The discussions on Agriculture had a breakthrough at the inter-sessional meeting in Bonn this year. After many years of inconclusive negotiations, Parties agreed to a submission and workshop process as a first step of SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice) work on Agriculture. This will be a useful opportunity for Parties to share experiences and lessons learned on agricultural adaptation and adaptation co-benefits. This workshop should facilitate more focussed negotiations on agriculture at Warsaw and future SBSTA sessions.

A successful work programme would aim to provide the UNFCCC with detailed scientific advice on issues relating to agriculture. One workshop will however unlikely deliver this. Though, it is often said that the hardest part of any process is taking the first step. The challenge for COP19/Warsaw is to ensure that Bonn was the first step in a wider process by continuing and building upon this work. If Warsaw was to fail to continue the progress made in Bonn we risk falling back into the previous pattern.

Q. What role can New Zealand play, both within and outside of the negotiations?

A. New Zealand likes to be a flexible thought leader wherever possible, piloting new ideas and working with a broad range of countries. We have expertise and a particular interest in issues related to agriculture, forestry and carbon markets.

Q. How is domestic policy in New Zealand relating to agricultural GHG emissions influenced by the international context?

A. There is a two-way relationship between domestic and international policy: domestic policy in New Zealand influences New Zealand’s international position; and international policy has an influence on New Zealand’s domestic policy.

While there is an influence in both directions, the two remain different. We promote international rules and commitments that are suitable for New Zealand’s domestic circumstances; and once agreed we implement commitments and rules using policies and measures that best suit our domestic policy environment.

Q. In your opinion, what would be the best outcome for agriculture in the post-2020 agreement?

A. The agricultural sector faces unique challenges. Agriculture is responsible for approximately 10–12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is also an extremely vulnerable sector to the impacts of climate change. In addition to the challenge of having to simultaneously manage greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to climate change, it is forecast by the FAO that global agriculture will be required to increase production by 70 percent by 2050 to meet rising demand.

Outlining a best outcome for agriculture is difficult at this early stage of the negotiations as we are still working collectively in the UNFCCC on the design of the post-2020 agreement. However, by focusing on what we do know we can begin to understand what a good outcome for agriculture could look like.

We know the post-2020 agreement will include measures that will be ‘applicable to all’ Parties. We assume it will include, amongst other things, mitigation, adaptation and finance. We know that agricultural systems, including considerations of capacity, scale, culture, environment, efficiency and productivity are extremely varied, and it will probably not be possible to design a one size fits all rule set.

Therefore, in order to remain applicable to all, a key feature of any treatment of agriculture will be a need to adopt an approach with sufficient flexibility to cater for this broad range of national circumstances. In this sense, although agriculture has its own unique features, the broad principle of ensuring Parties are able to take commitments consistent with their specific national circumstances remains relevant here, too. New Zealand has outlined a concept of ‘Bounded Flexibility’ in a number of fora including the below submission which builds on this idea of a flexible framework.

Beyond outlining that any treatment will need to be sufficiently flexible to cater for national circumstances, it is very hard to predict or prescribe outcomes for a post-2020 agreement at this early stage.

About Paul:
I am a Senior Policy Analyst in the Ministry for Primary Industries International Policy Team. Our team covers environmental policy related to forestry or agriculture. In addition to agriculture in the UNFCCC, I also have responsibilities related to common metrics in the UNFCCC (global warming potentials), environmental footprinting policy and carbon footprinting policy. Prior to working for MPI I was a member of Fonterra’s Sustainability team. While at university and high school I paid my bills by milking cows and operating a successful calf rearing business on my parent’s dairy farm near Te Awamutu.

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