Increasing agricultural productivity, climate resiliency, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions are triple imperatives. The global food system will encounter an unprecedented convergence of pressures over the next few decades. On the demand side, global population will increase from nearly 7 billion currently to over 9 billion by 2050; many are likely to be more affluent, creating demand for a more varied, high-quality diet requiring additional resources to produce. On the production side, competition for land, water and energy will intensify significantly, while the effects of climate change will become more and more evident. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate will also become crucial. Over this period, globalization will further expose the food system to the vagaries of economic and political forces.
To achieve food security, agricultural production must increase by 70% to feed over 9 billion people by 2050 – whilst conserving the natural ecosystems. Agricultural activities are highly sensitive to climate and weather conditions, and the accelerating pace of climate change adds to the challenge of meeting the food security needs of the growing population. Farmers will be affected by an increasingly uncertain climate in the years ahead with more frequent and severe droughts, more floods and decreasing potential yields of most crops in most developing countries. We cannot address climate change without addressing emissions from the agriculture sector. Agriculture, livestock and deforestation/forest degradation together account for around thirty percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But agriculture is also part of the solution. With better agricultural, land and water management practices, the sector could sequester 13% of current annual GHG emissions.
Agriculture is the only sector that offers a triple win of enhanced productivity and food security, increased climate resilience and reduced greenhouse gas emissions growth. Achieving this triple win may require a redesign of the whole agricultural system to bring sustainability to the fore.
Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) addresses the challenges of food security, climate adaptation and mitigation in an integrated fashion, rather than in isolation. CSA seeks to sustainably increase agricultural productivity, increase agro-ecosystem resilience (adaptation) to climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by agricultural production systems and enhance the achievement of national food security and development goals. The CSA transition requires transformations in the management of soil, water, landscapes, technologies and genetic resources to ensure sustainable higher productivity and resilience while reducing the greenhouse gas footprint. Achieving the needed level of growth on a lower greenhouse gas emission trajectory requires maximizing synergies and minimizing trade-offs between productivity and emissions per unit of agricultural product.
There is increasing recognition of the links between agriculture, food security and climate change, and a number of important processes are under way to advance this agenda. The CGIAR (Consultative Group on Agricultural Research) has launched a major five year program on agriculture and climate change. The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases brings together more than 30 countries to collaborate in research and development of technologies and practices to produce more food with fewer emissions. The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change will launch a major report on agriculture, food security and climate change prior to COP17 in Durban in December 2011. The Commission is led by Sir John Beddington, the UK Chief Scientist, and includes imminent scientists from 13 developed and developing countries. And agriculture, food security and climate change was the subject of a high level event in the margins of last years’ climate change negotiations in Cancun. The proposed scientific conference in Wageningen builds on these processes, and provides also the knowledge and science link between the November 2010 Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change in the Hague and the African conference in Addis Ababa which preceded it in September 2010, and following global conferences including the 17th UN Climate Change negotiations in Durban, the official follow-up of the ‘Down2Earth conference’ in Vietnam and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, RIO+20. During the The Hague Conference more than 60 Ministers discussed the so-called Roadmap for Action, highlighting the critical role of agriculture to achieve global climate change and food security goals. The current conference builds on this roadmap.