Climate Change Conference Gets Mixed Reviews
Climate Change Conference Gets Mixed Reviews

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There's been a lot of talk about boosting agriculture to ensure food security in the coming years.  But Thursday, at the Barcelona climate conference, a new report linked agriculture and climate change.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says while agriculture has been hurt by climate change for many areas, it also contributes 14 percent of global greenhouse gases.  The report looks at ways of reducing those emissions while benefitting food production.

Leslie Lipper, FAO senior environmental economist, presented the new report in Barcelona. 

"One of the main findings," she says, "is that agriculture is really at the center of two global crises – the food security and the climate change challenges.  Because agriculture will be affected by climate change and will need to adapt, but also agriculture has the capacity to provide significant mitigation benefits and reduce climate change."

What to do about soil emissions?

"You can actually make improvements in agricultural production systems that reduce emissions that are consistent with agricultural development," she says.

Improving the management of soil is the biggest factor in reducing greenhouse gases from agriculture.

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"What it means is that you need to protect the soil.  You keep it covered…improve the amount of organic matter in soil.  And organic matter and carbon are very closely related.   It's like you're pulling back emissions into the soil," she says.

That, she says, has known agricultural benefits "in terms of fertility, in terms of water-holding capacity…and in a reduction of emissions."

To do this, many farmers would need to change the way they do business.

"This could be anything from keeping it (soil) covered, soil conservation, water conservation, better management of tillage, using improved rotation systems -- these kind of things," she says.

Covering soil to reduce emissions includes mulching, composting and planting crops.

"One of the big things is moving from bare fallow to a cover crop," she says.

Holistic agriculture

"Holistic way is very important," she says, "Although I think it's really important to say that food security is clearly a key priority, especially in developing countries.  What we're looking at is ways that mitigation (of emissions) can also be supportive of food security strategies," she says.

The report recommends financial programs that support both emission control and food security.

The FAO report says, "Despite its significant potential, agricultural mitigation has remained relatively marginal within the climate change negotiations."

It's unclear whether the issue will receive serious consideration at COP 15, the major climate change conference scheduled for Copenhagen in December.   

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