Saturday, December 26, 2009

COP 15 : Nothing to cope for agriculture

Amidst buzzing expectations, rallying protestors, leaked emails and draft Danish texts, the much awaited 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) took place at Bella Center in Copenhagen from the 7th to the 18th of December, 2009. The Conference with participants from 192 countries representing governments, business community and civil society was aimed to evolve a successor to Kyoto protocol the first phase of which expires in 2012.

The issues that were on board to be discussed were the quantum of emissions that can be allowed for each country. To keep the warming below the 2°C, scientists recommended cuts of 25-40% by 2020(relative to 1990 levels). Developed economies such as US and UK which has grown on carbon rich economy, should logically agree for deepest cuts. Although the carbon foot print per person in developing economies is comparatively less, they cannot also shy away from their obligation of proper cuts. Another issue that was discussed was the one regarding the financial assistance to poorer nations to cope with climate change. Poorest countries which cannot afford to evolve with climate change need help financially and technologically. The EU proposal of $100 bn a year was tabled even though the estimates range up to $ 600 bn a year.

After two weeks of deliberations and regular walk outs, an agreement was reached which was widely publicized as a ‘political accord’. The ‘accord’ rife with ambiguities was drafted by the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa on December 18. The accord was "recognized", but not "agreed upon". The document recognized that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the present and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases to below 2°C and support for a US$ 30 billion fund over the next three years for the developing countries. It also includes aims to create medium-term financial mechanism that will be able to provide US$100 billion dollars every year to the developing countries from the year 2020. A very specious part of the deal was the inclusion of a commitment from the BASIC countries, all of which are rapidly growing emitters, to allow “international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines” of their voluntary national actions. Further, the document is not legally binding and does not contain any legally binding commitments for reducing CO2 emissions not even for the greatest emitters. Although the Heads of States participating in the conference were cautious enough to use words like ‘pleased’ and ‘meaningful’, the futility of the whole exercise was widely evident from their cautious words and measured optimism.

The accord, as of now, is only a draft and has to be adopted by consensus by the 193 members of the UNFCCC to come into effect. If adopted, it will form the mandate to continue the negotiating process into next year and finalise a legally-binding international treaty -- something that was originally planned to happen in Copenhagen itself.

What it holds for agriculture is significant. By now, it is evident that climate change is not a possibility but a real threat, the signs of which are apparent from the untimely rains, drought, flood and declining crop productivity. With the changing climate, the crops will be facing newer challenges. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in its most recent assessment that “At lower latitudes, especially in seasonally dry and tropical regions, crop productivity is projected to decrease for even small local temperature increases (1-2°C), which would increase the risk of hunger. So even when the countries at the conference are complacent of their 2°C agreement, their implications on the subsistence farmers are abysmally grave.

A warmer globe means a threat to low lying areas. They can be inundated. Sea water can intrude and invade the farming space. So anticipating a drier, saltier and wetter climate, we will be in need of more of varieties that can tackle these situations. The scientific communities who are sensitized with the issue are already on that path.

As far as the farming community all over the world is concerned, this accord was disappointing. In pursuit of economic development, the heads of state have denied the poorest of the poor their right to survive.

- Anjana Nair-

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