Policy-makers from 175 countries are meeting in Bonn to lay the groundwork for an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations-sponsored treaty on climate change that expires in 2012. Negotiations on a new treaty began two years ago in Bali and will conclude in Copenhagen in December.
As negotiators draft language on how nations can reduce climate-changing industrial emissions and mitigate global warming, Gerald Nelson says one word that's missing is agriculture.
It was absent from the Kyoto agreement, and the research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute [IFPRI] doesn't want that mistake repeated. He says as countries did their national inventories and more information became available, it was clear that, in fact, agriculture was also important.
Along with urbanization and the loss of forests, agriculture contributes more than 30 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions responsible for global climate change. Nelson says the relative emissions differ dramatically by region.
"If we look at the role of the developing countries, agriculture is 60 percent of the total contributions [30 percent overall], and essentially 100 percent of the forest and land use change emissions come from the developing countries," Nelson says.
Scientists predict a warmer climate will dramatically intensify the challenges farmers already face from drought, floods, pest infestations and disease. Mark Rosegrant, IFPRI's director of environment and production technology, says that intensification will be most evident in developing countries, where people are already hardest hit by poverty and hunger.
"For example, we are finding that rain-fed maize production is likely to decline by 17 percent globally, and irrigated rice fields could decline by 20 percent globally," he says.
IFPRI is predicting higher food prices due to climate change, "reducing food security and well being among poor consumers," he says.
Farmers will have to adapt to the impending climate change regardless of efforts to curb greenhouse gases. But Nelson says new technology and management practices can both reduce emissions and lessen the risks to small farmers.
"How do we do that? Change crop mixes, use cultivation systems that leave residues, shift land use from annual crops to perennial crops or to pasture or to agriforestry."
Nelson suggests that a post-Kyoto agreement could incorporate ideas already being put into practice.
"The World Bank and many other institutions actually have done research over the last five to 10 years, and not just research, but actually on-the-ground projects for payments for environmental services."
The Carbon Exchange in Chicago has been paying farmers in the United States for sequestering soil carbon.
A vital part of any new agreement, says Rosegrant, is a fund targeted to help agriculture adapt to a changing climate. He says that would include research to better understand the connection between agriculture and climate change and where to best channel the monies.
Rosegrant says developing nations are looking for incentives as they stake out positions in the ongoing climate talks.
"I think the money is going to be out there. I don't think that developing countries will sign on to a Copenhagen agreement that does not provide for substantial funding."
IFPRI's Gerald Nelson adds that the new climate negotiations offer an opportunity to both mitigate the effects of global warming, and by supporting the world's food producers, to help millions of the world's poor win their fight against hunger and poverty.
A detailed outline of the IFPRI's Agenda for Negotiation in Copenhagen is posted on the ifpri.org Web site.