Agriculture contributes around 14 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC, 2014) and is a main driver of global deforestation. At the same time, the agricultural sector is also particularly vulnerable to the climate change and extreme weather shocks, as evidenced by recent drought throughout Africa and delayed monsoons in India. World Food Day, held on October 16, focused on these links between agriculture, climate, and food. The main message of this year’s event was “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must, too.”

The intensity and impact of climate change on agriculture, through higher temperatures and the increasing frequency of weather-related disasters, has increased in recent years, and the world’s poorest are the hardest hit. Simultaneously, the global population is expected to increase rapidly in coming decades, reaching over 9 billion by 2050. Together with changing dietary habits, this population growth will place significant strains on the global food system. To meet the increased demand for food, the FAO estimates that global agricultural production needs to increase by 60 percent by 2050.

Multiple actors and organizations are working to improve our understanding of the relationship between climate change and agriculture, while simultaneously promoting food security and adaptation and mitigation activities. For example, the CGIAR research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is made up of a consortium of institutions. These organizations conduct research on: climate smart agricultural (CSA) practices, climate risk management, low emissions agriculture, gender and social inclusion, and policies and institutions to address climate change and food insecurity. A significant amount of CCAFS research and activities focuses on improving and supporting smallholders’ resilience and adaptation to climate change. For instance, CCAFS recently released a CSA guide as well as a programming and indicator tool which aims to support smallholders in adopting CSA practices.

Protecting agricultural production against the negative effects of climate change will not be enough, however, since agriculture is itself a contributing factor to climate change. Mitigating the contribution of agricultural activities to GHG and climate change will require a multi-pronged approach including reducing food loss and waste (an estimated one-third of all food produced is lost or wasted) and encouraging the global adoption of climate smart agricultural practices. Research shows that the largest potential decrease in emissions from agriculture can be achieved through reducing deforestation and the conversion of peat lands.

The global community is increasingly recognizing the need to act and supporting transitions that improve agricultural resilience, reduce emissions, and ensure food security. This is particularly well illustrated by the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015, when 193 countries agreed to end hunger by 2030, and the Paris agreement at COP 21 in December 2015, which mapped out a blueprint for climate action in the coming decades. The next UN Climate Change Conference (COP22) will be held in Marrackech, Morocco on November 7-18. This conference aims to gather and share information and best practices regarding greenhouse gas emissions, set out national practices for addressing emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change, and determine how best to provide financial and technical support for climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries.

  1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2014. “Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report.” Available at http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_All_Topics.pdf.
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