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Gerald C. Nelson served as the Agricultural Development Council representative at the University of the Philippines, Los Banos from 1982-85. From 1985 to 2008 he taught in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Gerald coordinates IFPRI's research on climate change and its effects on agriculture.
Nelson: Three different reasons. First, agriculture is going to be dramatically affected by climate change – big impacts – although we don’t know the details yet and we need to do more work on finding out where, how much and who will be affected. So that’s number one.
Number two is that in order to deal with these impacts we need to think about adaptation expenditures. Agriculture is one of the most adaptable sectors in an economy. Farmers adapt ever year to changing prices, input availability, weather. But it’s going to be pushed to the limit by climate change on top of population growth and income growth in the developing world. So we need to have funds available as a result of the Copenhagen agreement to facilitate adaptation in the agricultural sector.
The third thing is that agriculture is unique among sectors of the economy in that it not only contributes greenhouses gases but it actually can take greenhouse gases emitted from other sectors and remove them from the atmosphere, reducing the pressure of global warming. So those are the three reasons: impacts, adaptation, mitigation.
Well, I think that there’s a growing consensus among the people that were here today [the Platform meeting on June 25] (reflecting the various groups that they interact with) that adaptation funding for agriculture will be part of an eventual agreement. I would argue, however, that we need to start before an agreement. We may not have an agreement in Copenhagen and we need to start now with expenditures on adaptation in the agricultural sector.
So I think that adaptation funding is in the pipeline and it will happen. I think the more controversial issue, for which we still don’t have a clear picture of where we’re going to end up, is to what extent there will be offsets; that is restrictions on ‘Annex I’ (or developed) country emissions that can be offset by paying for mitigation activities in the developing world. In other words, transferring funds from the developed countries to the developing countries and in a sense letting developing countries market their ability to mitigate greenhouse gases and selling that capacity to the developed world. There’s some controversy about whether or not we should allow that, as well as about the mechanisms to make that happen.
There are different kinds of stakeholders obviously in this game. There are the traditional, if you will, rural development stakeholders, for whom agriculture is a very important component of rural development. Those groups need to say “yes we need to have adaptation funding for agriculture, and rural development more generally”. I think we’re going to get that, though sooner is obviously better.
Another set of stakeholders might be the funding agencies themselves, who are going to be given direction from the negotiators — and they might have their own opinions about where funding needs to go. So those groups will certainly be active on the adaptation side; it’s less clear that they’ll have much of a role to play on the mitigation side.
Another set of stakeholders is actually the private sector in agriculture. Now when you think about the private sector in agriculture, sometimes people think about giant multinational corporations. In fact, it’s everything from the smallest farmer with a half a hectare of land in Java to large corporations that market the food you buy in the supermarket. So within that large set of private sector interests in agriculture, I think there are roles for different parts of it to play in climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Obviously, the farmers are the ones who are going to have to deal with the climate change directly. They can be helped by the various elements in the marketing chain, whether it’s small marketing firms or international corporations, that can facilitate technology transfer to them, can facilitate funding transfers from the mitigation side let’s say, and that can serve as aggregators to pool essentially the mitigation resources of small farmers, to make them available to companies in the rest of the world who need to buy these offsets.
Now I guess the last set of stakeholders might be the groups that farmers themselves organise. You have various farm organisations around the world. These organisations can play a useful role in technology transfer to farmers about adaptation. They can also play the aggregation role that I was talking about earlier, to provide a single face for several tens, or hundreds or even thousands of farmers to the carbon market that will eventually form.
So lots of different stakeholders, all having similar interests in adaptation funding and, I think, in terms of mitigation offset payments from the developed to the developing world.
I think we need to distinguish between the short run and the long run. We are so uncertain about the location and the nature of the effects of climate change in any particular place right now that investments that are targeted only for climate change would be a mistake in the short run.
What we need to do is ‘no regrets’ investments – things that you would do regardless of the nature of the Copenhagen outcome, but that will make agriculture and small farmers resilient to any potential climate change. So the first thing: good development policies. Make sure that economies grow and make sure that growth is distributed across sectors – and make sure that the smallholders share in that growth.
At the same time, put in place policies that encourage sustainable use of resources, and not destructive use of resources. We need to have sustainable agriculture. If you do that, you’ll build in resilience to whatever uncertainties come down the road – whether it’s climate change or anything else. So that’s the first best thing that we can do.
In terms of specific investments, we need to spend money today on revitalising national agricultural research and extension systems – as they have run down around the world. There are some key exceptions to that, but in general we are spending less on agricultural research and extension today than we ever have in the past, and we need to reverse that decline. And we need to facilitate international efforts to coordinate and collaborate across countries – climate change is a global problem, not a local problem.
Key in the set of things we need to start today is more systematic data gathering. Right now the human race does a very bad job of collecting information on what’s going on on the surface of the earth. So we need to improve our data collection globally. But we also need to find creative ways to disseminate it. Most of these data should be given away free — it’s a public good that we need to have a lot more of in order to understand what’s happening today and where things might go in the future. So, agricultural research, data gathering, depending upon the country and situation, more rural infrastructure is generally good for resilience and income growth. I think these are the important investments we can do today.
We also need to think as we go down the road about how do we do a better job of understanding potential climate change effects twenty, thirty, forty years out into the future? So the whole effort of modelling climate, modelling climate–earth interactions, those are things that we need to think about getting ready for investments that we’ll do ten, twenty years from now.
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