Farming in focus at Paris climate summit

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Farmers, like this woman from Senegal, are keenly aware of the impact of climate change.

It’s a mouthful, but the research program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, as part of CGIAR (a consultative group of agricultural research from around the world), hosted a Farmers Day yesterday at the conference of world leaders taking place in Paris this week.

Coordinated by the World Farmers’ Organisation, Farmers Day brought together farmer groups, researchers, civil society, and other advocates to share perspectives on agriculture in light of the United Nation climate change negotiations happening in Paris.

There is worldwide consensus that avoiding dangerous levels of climate change is essential for eradicating poverty and achieving truly sustainable development that benefits all people and the planet. Despite failed U.N. negotiations in the past, actions and multiple commitments have actually grown in recent years. The reason is painfully clear: nations are beginning to experience the impacts of climate change, ranging from more severe storms to more prolonged droughts.

Seeking solutions to agricultural challenges

The list of events for Farmers Day (Dec. 2) included sessions on improving agricultural resilience and productivity in a changing climate, and promoting agroecology as a viable solution for a sustainable food system.

Experts from the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures focused on soil loss. They reported that nearly 33 per cent of the world’s arable land has been lost to erosion or pollution in the last 40 years and vital action must now be taken to prevent the devastating knock-on effects.

The Sheffield scientists made urgently clear that a sustainable model for agriculture is crucial to cope with the increase in food production needed to feed the world’s growing population. Read more about their efforts here.

We also recommend viewing this well-produced four-minute video — The Soil Solution — narrated by author Michael Pollan.

The key take-away from Farmers Day is that agriculture is a crucial sector to achieve both food security and limited carbon emissions in global action to minimize climate change:

  • According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the effects of climate change on crop and food production are already evident in several regions of the world, with more negative effects more than positive ones. Solutions exist to reduce the negative impacts of climate change on food security, but effective adaptation strategies need to be scaled up.
  • Agriculture and land-use change (often linked to agriculture expansion) are also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for around 24% of such emissions. Agriculture has therefore an important role to play to reduce carbon concentration in the atmosphere – and to do so without threatening food security.

The Church raises her prophetic voice

The Church has taken this to heart. Pope Francis issued his encyclical, Laudato Si’: Care for our Common Home, earlier this year as a way to express his prophetic voice on climate change. Just as climate impacts are now evident, transformational action is needed to put the world on course for less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

On the opening day of the international conference in Paris, the Vatican secretary of state told attendees they have the pope’s encouragement for a fruitful outcome, but that the high-stakes gathering does not represent the end or start of action, but the path forward.

“COP21 is not a moment of arrival or a starting point, but rather a crucial path in a process that without doubt will not end in 2015,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin said, referring to the abbreviation of the summit, formally known as the 21st Conference of the Parties.

The cardinal repeated common Vatican principles for a climate deal, that it be founded on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation. He also said the outcome of talks should seek three interrelated objectives: mitigating climate change, eradicating poverty, and promoting human dignity.

Cardinal Parolin added that serious consideration must be given to education and training — in the implementation of sustainable models of production and consumption, along with new attitudes and lifestyles — as the areas are “often situated at the margins of negotiations for international agreements.”

Catholic Rural Life is devoted to transformational action, as called forth by Pope Francis, as this pertains to agriculture and food production. Visit our dedicated website Faith, Food and the Environment to follow these developments. Coming soon is a comprehensive reflection, The Vocation of the Agricultural Leader, which is calling forth those who will lead the agricultural transformation the world now needs.

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