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Smallholder farmers and the Paris Agreement

20 April, 2016 – As 60 million people around the world face severe hunger because of El Niño and millions more because of climate change, world leaders will meet in New York this week to sign the Paris Agreement on Earth Day.

This historic pact, formed during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21), is the first universal climate agreement of its kind.

On 22 April, more than 130 countries are planning to sign and implement the Paris Agreement, including the United States, China, and numerous countries in Africa and the European Union. 

These efforts come at a critical time as projections show climate change is only going to become more problematic.

There are 900 million extremely poor women, children and men in the world today. The majority of them live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for food and income. 

Extreme weather is creating life-threatening droughts, causing extreme flooding, and further exacerbating migration. Raising the global average temperature even 2° C will have widespread impacts, especially on the most vulnerable.

“A temperature increase of 2 degrees does not sound like a lot, but it will change the face of the world as we know it,” said Gernot Laganda, IFAD’s Lead Technical Specialist for Climate Change Adaptation.

“This scenario would mean more climate extremes, especially for farmers in the tropics who are on the frontline of impacts such as heatwaves, droughts, floods and cyclones,” he continued.

“Coastal areas around the world would experience huge new problems with erosion and saltwater intrusion, fishermen would struggle with bleaching of coral reefs and the migration of fish stocks.”

The role of agriculture

According to Laganda, incorporating agriculture into climate discussions has always been a contentious issue.

“Agriculture on the one hand contributes to global warming, and on the other hand is suffering from its impacts,” Laganda said. “Plus, different countries have different agricultural strategies, with some being more carbon-intensive than others. This makes it difficult to have an over-arching agreement that works for everyone. Agriculture was always an ambivalent topic in these negotiations.”

The Paris Agreement overcomes this problem with the use of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs). INDCs communicate to the international community the steps governments are taking to address climate change gas emissions within their own countries.

In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, countries are reporting their intentions to reform their transportation systems and to increase their use of energy-efficient and renewable energy. A majority of these nations are talking about agriculture as well.

“Through the INDCs, the Paris Agreement manages to establish a link with agriculture which has been missing so far,” Laganda said. “Around 80 per cent of INDCs include agriculture, which means that many countries have now recognized that agriculture is part of the solution to global warming.”

Countries are working toward applying climate-smart and climate-resilient agriculture practices. These reforms intend to make agriculture more productive, able to adapt to higher variations in temperature or rainfall and to lower its carbon footprint.

Small farmers

Though the international community plays an important role in climate change mitigation, the real champions of this work are small farmers.

“Smallholder farmers, as the custodians of natural resources, are a very important constituency and a critical pieces of the puzzle,” Laganda said. “If we can empower them with better access to information and technology, and get more climate finance into their hands to build low-carbon farming systems in resilient landscapes, smallholder farmers can help us solve the problem.”

Smallholder farmers manage lands rich with biodiversity and natural resources. They often produce higher output per unit of land than large farms, reducing pressure for agricultural land expansion, and have the potential to significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions and maintain ecosystem services.

However, their proximity to and reliance on the environment make smallholder farmers more susceptible to the negative effects of climate change. Their livelihoods depend on resources such as water, forest production, crops and livestock, which are extremely sensitive to climate fluctuations.

“Climate change is unfair. It aggravates the problems that we already see, and the inequalities that exist between countries,” Laganda said. “Where the negative impacts of global warming are supposed to hit the hardest are already hotspots for underdevelopment and poverty. In these places, climate change will multiply the existing problems people face.

“If you are a smallholder farmer in Bangladesh or Burkina Faso, chances are that your life is intimately linked to climate-related issues. So, whatever happens in the global climate system affects your life directly,” Laganda said.

The immediate needs of smallholder farmers can be addressed through adaptation.

“The greenhouse gasses we have emitted in the past are affecting today’s climate,” Laganda said. “So, countries need to find solutions to help people whose livelihoods are most dependent on the climate to adapt to changes that are already inevitable. This needs to take place in parallel with reducing emissions from the big industrial sectors, such as energy and transport, but also from resource-intensive industrial agriculture.”

These climate change adaptation initiatives are something that IFAD is working towards through its Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture programme (ASAP). ASAP channels climate finance to smallholder farmers within 30 developing countries and IFAD is working to prioritize climate-related solutions within its investment programmes by 2018.

ASAP has become the largest global financing source dedicated to supporting the adaptation of poor smallholder farmers to climate change and gives them the tools and technology to be more resilient to climate-related shocks.

Looking forward

While the Paris Agreement is a crucial step in saving the environment, even more work must be done to combat climate change’s steady march.

The Paris Agreement’s global temperature target, limiting global warming to only 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, is not possible under the current parameters of the agreement.

According to UNEP’s latest Emissions Gap report, the full implementation of the INDCs made in Paris would achieve a warming scenario of below 3.5° C by 2100.

Therefore, countries will have to not only follow the parameters of their original pledges exactly, but increase their commitment in order to meet the 2° C limit.

The next climate change conference, which takes place in Marrakech, Morocco in November, will need the cooperation and determination that made COP 21 so innovative.

“In Marrakech, we need to take the Paris Agreement a step further,” Laganda said. “We must fine-tune ways of reporting on these commitments and make them more ambitious.”

Laganda also believed that COP 22 must focus on climate-finance, which can be implemented through institutions such as IFAD.

Overall, the changing perceptions of climate change is a sign that the world is committed to this daunting task.

“The Paris Agreement is really a very good start in the right direction,” Laganda said. “It demonstrates that there is critical mass and global consensus that climate change is a defining issue of our time, and that we all need to work together to get a grip on that problem.”

This article was originally posted on


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