ICTSD-IPC Platform on Climate Change Agriculture and Trade: Considerations for Policymakers

Date period
28 October 2009

SummaryClimate Change is expected to increase the likelihood of extreme weather events and contribute to longer-term changes in temperature and precipitation. Given agriculture’s reliance on the weather, the agricultural sector will be seriously impacted by climate change. The sector is also a significant contributor of greenhouse gasses and will need to play a role in mitigating climate change. At the same time, however, increased demands on the sector will require that agricultural production more than double by 2050.

Given these challenges, global food security requires substantial adaptation efforts directed towards the agricultural sector. Emphasis must be placed on strengthening adaptive capacities in developing countries, with an eye toward also promoting socio-economic development and food security.

As it pursues climate change mitigation, the international community must be aware of potential negative spillover effects for food security and make provisions to address them, particularly in order to protect the world’s poor and vulnerable. The agricultural sector must strive to reduce agricultural greenhouse gasses without jeopardizing food security. Increasing agricultural productivity on arable and degraded land so as to reduce deforestation, which contributes 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions, must be a priority. A focus on relative carbon intensity and soil carbon sequestration is also advisable.

Innovation and dissemination of new technologies will be important for both adaptation and mitigation. Public as well as private research will be required to ensure that this can take place, especially given developing countries’ limited capacity to fund new research in this area. At the same time, existing tools and knowledge can already be employed and should be encouraged via concerted extension services. An improved policy framework is required to provide incentives for mitigation in the agricultural sector, in particular for developing countries, where agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are the highest.

An open and equitable trade system for food and agriculture is vital for food security and can contribute to both climate change adaptation and mitigation; it can help off set climate-induced production decreases in certain regions and facilitate the transfer of food and agricultural products from regions where their production requires relatively less greenhouse gas emissions to regions where production would result in higher emissions. Concluding the Doha Development Round would reduce tariff barriers, establish new ceilings on trade distorting support and eliminate agricultural export subsidies, which can encourage environmental degradation and discourage investment in developing countries.

Climate change and international trade policies should be coherent with each other. This will be more difficult to achieve if countries adopt unilateral trade-related climate change measures. Members of the World Trade Organization should engage in a process to consider the range of climate change/trade issues, with a view towards increasing members’ understanding, a possible clarification of WTO rules or even as preparation for future negotiations. Such a process does not require a new institutional framework or mandate and can occur within the WTO’s Committee on Trade and Environment.