Paris Agreement Recognises Vulnerability of Food Production Systems

Agriculture finally received a welcome boost in the new climate agreement that was concluded at COP21 in Paris on the 12th of December after two weeks of marathon negotiations involving 195 countries. The adopted agreement now includes important clauses that “recognize the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change”. Despite the indirect language, this is a significant improvement from the draft text published in November ahead of the meeting which completely sidelined agriculture. The long awaited binding global agreement commits to a common goal of limiting global warming to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and outlines mechanisms to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. One of its three objectives is “to pursue a transformation towards sustainable development that fosters climate resilient and low greenhouse gas emission societies and economies, and that does not threaten food production and distribution”. Given the difficult road that agriculture has travelled in these negotiations, this is a significant victory that places the sector in a strong position for the detailed negotiations on how the broad objectives set out in this agreement will be achieved.

While this is a big step in the right direction, real success is only possible if this agreement leads to the development of robust mechanisms for mobilizing finance, technology, capacity and institutional changes needed to support the transition to a climate resilient agriculture. Without innovation, transparency and accountability in mechanisms to deliver these key elements, the good intentions reflected in this agreement are unlikely to bring relief to millions of farmers across the world whose livelihood is under threat from a changing climate. Urgency is now needed to address the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and the ‘where’ of a climate response for agriculture. The negotiations on agriculture-related issues currently underway within the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) now need to be accelerated and broadened in scope to ensure a comprehensive response.

Highlight of the Paris agreement

The Goal

The agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty by,

  1. Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
  2. Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;
  3. Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

Main Elements Covered By the Agreement

  • Mitigation – reducing emissions fast enough to achieve the temperature goal
  • A transparency system and global stock-take – accounting for climate action
  • Adaptation – strengthening ability of countries to deal with climate impacts
  • Loss and damage – strengthening ability to recover from climate impacts
  • Support – including finance, for nations to build clean, resilient futures

Other Details

  • Countries will submit updated climate plans – called Intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) – every five years, thereby steadily increasing their ambition in the long-term. Emissions should peak “as soon as possible” and then be rapidly reduced. There are five-year reviews, and “the efforts of all parties will represent a progression over time”, which means at each step countries should increase their levels of emission cuts from today’s agreements.
  • All countries need to rapidly move from fossil fuel energy to renewable sources. But the challenge is larger for the developing world, they need funds to “leapfrog the fossil fuel age”. A key part of the agreement provides USD 100 billion per year by 2020, and more than that after 2020 to support such actions.
  • Governments agreed that they will work to define a clear roadmap to increase climate finance to USD 100 billion per year by 2020 while also before 2025 setting a new goal on the provision of finance from the USD 100 billion floor.
  • This will be underlined by the agreement’s robust transparency and accounting system, which will provide clarity on countries’ implementation efforts, with flexibility in line with countries’ differing capabilities.
  • All countries will submit adaptation communications, in which they may detail their adaptation priorities, support needs and plans. Developing countries will receive increased support for adaptation actions and the adequacy of this support will be assessed.
  • The existing Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage will be significantly strengthened.
  • The agreement includes a robust transparency framework for both action and support. The framework will provide clarity on countries’ mitigation and adaptation actions, as well as the provision of support. At the same time, it recognizes that Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States have special circumstances.
  • The agreement includes a global stocktake starting in 2023 to assess the collective progress towards the goals of the agreement. The stocktake will be done every five years.
  • The agreement includes a compliance mechanism, overseen by a committee of experts that operates in a non-punitive way.

Following the adoption of the Paris Agreement by the COP, it will be deposited at the UN in New York and be opened for one year for signature from 22 April 2016.The agreement shall enter into force once at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification.

For further information, contact Dr Manyewu Mutamba Tel +27 (0)12 644 0808 E-mail