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Weather extremes: Hindsight on foresight


Debate over the agenda of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks is often much more than a procedural fight; its about the content, context and paradigm for the negotiations.

At the Bonn talks which concluded after two bitter weeks of negotiations at the weekend, there were divisions over whether mitigation for the pre-2020 time frame should be considered by the Adhoc Working Group on the Durban Platform or under the existing agreed negotiation mandates.

Some rich countries reportedly pulled international climate regulation apart at the seams.
The African Group of Negotiators (AGN) emphasised that there must be a greater focus and support for farmers in poor countries to adapt to the impacts of an already changing climate.

In most of Africa, Zimbabwe included, agriculture is the mainstay of livelihoods for three out of four Africans and therefore adaptation to climate change in this critical sector is not an option but a necessity.

Zimbabwes population, 70% of which stays in the countryside and practice farming, is already seeing changes in the starting of rains, in the severity of rains, in temperatures and in the progressive drying of their soils.

So global temperature rise must be limited urgently to avoid serious impacts on agricultural production, hence international offset programmes providing a substitute for action in developed countries, will further threaten food security in Africa, the AGN says.

The AGN position was that discussions of enhancing synergies between adaptation and mitigation offset efforts was a dangerous and costly distraction from the most pressing needs for adaptation.

At 0,74C of warming, farmers are seeing changes in the timing of rains, in the severity of rains, in the temperatures they and their crops and animals are exposed to, and in the progressive drying of their soils. Food production is already threatened by the temperature rise of the last century, and the committed warming due to greenhouse gas emissions of the last decades.

A doubling of the warming seen to date to 1,5C will mean crops in some regions especially in Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland regions among others will fail too often for crop producers to maintain that livelihood strategy.

Two degrees will be too much for agriculture in the country adaptation in many areas will simply not be an option.

Recent science shows that from 1980-2008, due to rising global temperatures, global maize and wheat production has already decreased by 3,8% and 5,5% respectively.

And with 1Cof warming the level expected approximately one decade from now roughly 65% of current maize growing areas in Africa are predicted to experience yield losses under optimal rain-fed conditions; under drought conditions, 75% of areas can expect yield declines of at least 20% for 1C of warming.

At the current rate of temperature increase, global average temperatures will have increased 1,5C by 2050. Average predicted production losses by 2050 for African crops are; maize 22%, sorghum 17%, millet 17%, groundnut 18%, and cassava 8%. Warming as low as 1,5C therefore threatens food production in Africa significantly.

Due to current and significant near-term predicted impacts on crop yields, adaptation in agricultural systems is an urgent imperative.

Any chance at maintaining adequate production under the rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns expected in coming decades requires that significant adaptation efforts must start now, with sufficient finance, technology transfer and capacity-building resources provided by rich nation.

Slow onset temperature riseis already having and will continue to have serious consequences for farmers.

Hence, a UNFCCC work programme on loss and damage must include consideration of significant and widespread impacts from increasing temperatures on agricultural yields, regional and global food production, and the livelihoods of thosedependent on agricultural production.

Clearly the impacts of climate change on Africa are expected to be severe, what with Zimbabwe expected to import maize from Zambia this year to feed its population.

Yet, UN climate talks have to date failed to adequately reflect the severity of impacts expected in Africa; the mitigation responses necessary to prevent those impacts; and the scale of financial, technological and capacity-building resources that will allow countries to adapt with the speed and effectiveness required to protect agricultural production and food security for the millions of people living in Africa.

It is important to bring a more detailed, up-to-date understanding of climate impacts on agriculture in Africa both current and anticipated into the UNFCCC discussions.

This fact cannot be emphasised enough interms of its bearing on the African position in the negotiations to accept a global goal of 1,5C already means to accept significant hardship, reduction and elimination of livelihoods, andserious disruption of food security across the entire African continent.

The centrality of agriculture to the UNFCCC and global action to prevent dangerous anthropogenicinterference with the climate system is evidenced by the reference in the Conventions objective that stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere should be at a level achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensurethat food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in asustainable manner.

Ironically, agriculture appears in the UNFCCC negotiations principally as a crosscutting issue relevant toalmost all of the main negotiating topics, yet for the most part appearing only incidentally.

Only one small portion of the negotiating text deals exclusively with agriculture, within themitigation section on cooperative sectoral approaches.

But the potential and imminent impacts on agriculture from climate change should have anenormous bearing on African negotiating positions, particularly in the context of; a global goal to limit average global temperature increase and enhanced action on mitigation.

In particular, the severity of climate change impacts on agriculture has significant bearing on theglobal goal and the ambition of rich countries emission reductions.

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