New report identifies “regret-free” approaches for adapting agriculture to climate change

A new report from the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) charts a path for farmers to adapt to climate shifts despite uncertainties about what growing conditions will look like decades from now.

The study, Addressing uncertainty in adaptation planning for agriculture, which was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS), finds that the uncertain aspects of climate forecasts are no excuse for paralysis in agriculture adaptation policies.

“Climate projections will always have a degree of uncertainty, but we need to stop using uncertainty as a rationale for inaction,” said Sonja Vermeulen, head of research at CCAFS and the lead author of the study.

“Even when our knowledge is incomplete, we often have robust grounds for choosing best-bet adaptation actions and pathways, by building pragmatically on current capacities in agriculture and environmental management, and using projections to add detail and to test promising options against a range of scenarios.”

The CCAFS analysis shows how decision-makers can sift through the different gradients of scientific uncertainty to understand where there is, in fact, a general degree of consensus and then move to take actiion. It also encourages a broader approach to agriculture adaptation that looks beyond climate models to consider the socioeconomic conditions on the ground, which will determine whether a particular adaptation strategy is likely to succeed.

“Getting farmers, communities, governments, donors and other stakeholders to embrace various adaptation strategies can end up being equally or more important than seeking higher levels of scientific certainty from a climate model,” said Andy Challinor, a professor at the Institute for Climate and Atmosphere Science, School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, who was also an author of the study and who co-leads research on climate adaptation at CCAFS.

Some of the strategies involve relatively straightforward efforts to accommodate changes in the near-term that will present growing conditions that are not significantly different from what farmers have experienced in the past.

The authors also explore how, in other parts of the world, adaptation planning must consider long-term changes that exceed historical experience and require “wholesale reconfigurations of livelihoods, diets, and the geography of farming and food systems.”

“In planning for climate change, we face all of these variables and uncertainties, but sometimes what we do know what matters most. By embracing these certainties, we can help these farmers weather the coming storm and protect a vital source of income.”

As short-term and long-range agriculture forecasts reveal disturbing trends, especially in developing countries, many decision-makers acknowledge the critical importance of moving forward with climate adaptation.

In Kenya, for example, rain-fed agriculture contributes more than 25% of GDP. Recent droughts have left millions without access to adequate food and slowed the nation’s economic growth by an annual average of 2.8% between 2008 and 2011. In March 2013, Kenya formally launched its national climate change action plan.

“In Kenya, as well as in many countries in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world, climate change is a critical policy priority,” said James Kinyangi, regional programme leader for CCAFS in East Africa. “It is imperative for developing nations to embrace the adaptation planning process and for industrialized countries to unlock much-needed funding support so that this planning fast tracks climate adaptation actions.”

“Some farmers and countries are going to need to make big transitions in what food they produce,” concluded Vermeulen. “Science is now reaching a point where it will be able to provide advice on when – not just whether – major climatic shifts relevant to agriculture will happen. Helping governments and farmers plan ahead will make all the difference in avoiding the food insecurity and suffering that climate change threatens.”

A possible global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius in the next few decades threatens to trap millions of people in poverty, according to a new scientific report released on June 19th by the World Bank Group. The report, prepared by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics, reveals how rising global temperatures are increasingly threatening the health and livelihoods of the most vulnerable populations, crucially magnifying problems each region is struggling with today.

Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience is an analysis of the latest climate science, as a means to better understand the risks of climate change to development. Key findings include:

In Sub-Saharan Africa, by the 2030s droughts and heat will leave 40% of the land now growing maize unable to support that crop, while rising temperatures could cause major loss of savanna grasslands threatening pastoral livelihoods. By the 2050s, depending on the sub-region, the proportion of the population undernourished is projected to increase by 25-90% compared to the present.

The report says impacts across its study regions are potentially devastating. Across all the regions, the likely movement of impacted communities into urban areas could lead to ever higher numbers of people in informal settlements being exposed to heat waves, flooding, and diseases.

Despite the potentially alarming future scenarios outlined in the report, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim says:  “I do not believe the poor are condemned to the future scientists envision in this report. In fact, I am convinced we can reduce poverty even in a world severely challenged by climate change”.

“We can help cities grow clean and climate resilient, develop climate smart agriculture practices, and find innovative ways to improve both energy efficiency and the performance of renewable energies. We can work with countries to roll back harmful fossil fuel subsidies and help put the policies in place that will eventually lead to a stable price on carbon.”

“We are determined to work with countries to find solutions,” Kim said.

“But, the science is clear. There can be no substitute for aggressive national mitigation targets, and the burden of emissions reductions lies with a few large economies.”

Partly in response to the findings of the two Turn Down the Heat reports, the World Bank Group is stepping up its mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management work, and will increasingly look at all its business through a “climate lens.”

Today, the Bank is helping 130 countries take action on climate change. In 2012, it doubled its financial lending that contributes to adaptation.

Meanwhile, the first Climate Science Symposium of Zimbabwe, which sought to create a platform for stakeholders to share knowledge and experience on climate change-related issues at the local, regional and international level, ended recently. The three-day symposium was held under the theme: Life in a changing environment and brought together weather experts, academics, NGOs, government and other community-based organisations to discuss a wide range of issues on climate change. It also attracted participants from the SADC region to discuss various strategies to strengthen the fight against global warming.

Some key topics discussed included climate science, climate variability and change climate prediction and indigenous knowledge systems as well as the social and environmental impact of global warming.

This was the country’s first scientific symposium directed to explaining the natural driving forces that cause natural climate change. It was also convened to share new understanding of the natural driving forces of climate change and enable a reasonable prediction of future climate trends.

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