Climate change, agriculture, and the Philippines

Every day, there is bad news related to climate change. Heat wave in Europe. In the Poles, Antartica, and Greenland – unprecedented melting of glaciers and ice sheets that’s bound to raise estimates of sea level rice. And right here in our very own backyard, intense monsoon rains aggravated by a typhoon that has resulted in successive days of suspended classes.

But the mother of all news on climate change this week is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land and the release of the report’s Summary for Policy Makers. And the news is not good either; in fact, it is alarming and governments and stakeholders everywhere must take note and respond approrpietely and effectively to its findings and recommendations.

The IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land, was commissioned in 2016 and prepared by three working groups of 107 scientists from more than 50 countries across all regions of the world – with more than half of the contributing authors from developing nations. It consists of 1200 pages with an executive summary and, following normal IPCC practice, includes a Summary for Policy Makers that was negotiated and approved early this week.

The Special Report addresses greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes in land-based ecosystems , land use and sustainable land management in relation to climate change adaptation and mitigation, desertification, land degradation and food security. According to the IPCC, this report provides an updated assessment of the current state of knowledge while striving for coherence and complementarity with other recent reports, including the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C), the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Report on Land Degradation and Restoration, the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and the Global Land Outlook of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

The report begins with a clear understanding of the role of land for human society and well being: “Land is integral to human habitation and livelihoods, providing food and resources, and also serves as a source of identity and cultural meaning.” It is also absolutely clear that “the combined impacts of climate change,  desertification, land degradation and food insecurity pose obstacles to resilient development and the  achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” In other words, we are in trouble, with experts warning that the rise in global temperatures, linked to increasing pressures on fertile soil, is now threatening food security for the planet.

The Special Report provides important information (there is high and medium confidence by the IPCC scientists in most of these conclusions) on the state of land in the planet and how climate is changing that:

“People currently use one quarter to one third of land’s potential net primary production for food, feed, fibre, timber and energy. Land provides the basis for many other ecosystem functions and services, including cultural and regulating services, that are essential for humanity. In one economic approach, the world’s terrestrial ecosystem services have been valued on an annual basis to be approximately equivalent to the annual global Gross Domestic Product.”

Land is both a source and a sink of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and plays a key role in the exchange of energy, water and aerosols between the land surface and atmosphere. Land ecosystems and biodiversity are vulnerable to ongoing climate change and weather and climate extremes, to different extents. Sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors, including climate change, on ecosystems and societies.”

Data available since 1961 show that global population growth and changes in per capita consumption of food, feed, fibre, timber and energy have caused unprecedented rates of land and freshwater use with agriculture currently accounting for ca. 70% of global fresh-water use. Expansion of areas under agriculture and forestry, including commercial production, and enhanced agriculture and forestry productivity have supported consumption and food availability for a growing population.”

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Data available since 1961 shows the per capita supply of vegetable oils and meat has more than doubled and the supply of food calories per capita has increased by about one third. Currently, 25-30% of total food produced is lost or wasted. These factors are associated with additional GHG emissions. Changes in consumption patterns have contributed to about 2 billion adults now being overweight or obese. An estimated 821 million people are still undernourished.

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Global warming has led to shifts of climate zones in many world regions, including expansion of arid climate zones and contraction of polar climate zones). As a consequence, many plant and animal species have experienced changes in their ranges, abundances, and shifts in their seasonal activities.

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Climate change has already affected food security due to warming, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of some extreme events. In many lower-latitude regions, yields of some crops (e.g., maize and wheat) have declined, while in many higher-latitude regions, yields of some crops (e.g., maize, wheat and sugar beets) have increased over recent decades. Climate change has resulted in lower animal growth rates and productivity in pastoral systems in Africa. There is robust evidence that agricultural pests and diseases have already responded to climate change resulting in both increases and decreases of infestations.,Based on indigenous and local knowledge, climate change is affecting food security in drylands, particularly those in Africa, and high mountain regions of Asia and South America.

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Climate change creates additional stresses on land, exacerbating existing risks to livelihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure, and food systems, Increasing impacts on land are projected under all future GHG emission scenarios. Some regions will face higher risks, while some regions will face risks previously not.  Cascading risks with impacts on multiple systems and sectors also vary across regions.”

To arrive at these conclusions, the authors of the IPCC Special Report examined thousands of studies and identified potential responses. Because of its forward looking approach, the report has been described as a vital guide for governments as climate change risks grow in a world with a growing population (we could get to 10 billion people by 2050 just when the worst impacts of climate change are expected to accelerate if business as usual continues).

Fortunately, the report finds that there are many solutions to reduce the impacts of climate change on agriculture and food security.  But coordinated action is needed. In the press briefings held in Geneva, Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of one of three Working Groups, pointed out that: “It takes time for ecosystems, soils and trees to take up carbon, so early action gives more benefits. It also takes time for education, capacity building and training, so the practices are learnt and can be implemented. These reasons are why early action is particularly important in the land sector.”

The  Philippines will not be spared from this threat of climate change. Already, our agriculture sector and food security is under great stress from physical causes aggravated by economic, political, and governance mismanagement by several administrations.

That is why I welcome the appointment of William Dar as acting Secretary of Agriculture. What a relief that we finally have a professional in this crucial position and especially at this time of the climate emergency.

I have known Willie from the mid-1990s and has followed his outstanding work domestically as Estrada’s agriculture secretary from 1998 to 1999 and globally as a longtime director general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat). As someone who was active in the governance of similar international agricultural research organizations (I was in the board for six years each of Icrisat’s sister research organizations Biodiversity International and Center for Forestry Research), I am aware of how high Secretary Dar is looked up to by the global agriculture community, having led Icrisat for 3 5-year terms – from 2000 to 2014.

The week has seen bad news for agriculture and climate change. Thankfully, we have had good news as well with Dar’s appointment. Because for sure Willie Dar knows what we need to do to respond to the climate emergency and its threat to our food security and the livelihoods of our farmers.


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