As UN climate talks stall, experts identify new approach to tackling climate change, food insecurity and poverty
Global experts made an impassioned plea to change the way the world is tackling food insecurity, climate change, poverty and water scarcity — and warned that UN climate negotiators in Warsaw risked “turning their backs on some of the most vulnerable and poorest people in this world”.
“We are wasting precious time as a result of a disjointed, discombobulated dance,” Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development, told participants at the Global Landscapes Forum, held on the sidelines of the climate talks. If the world continues “to fund crop expansion on one hand but forest protection on the other, we are simply wasting taxpayers’ money.”
Experts called for a “landscape approach” to rural development, hailed as a way to bring together the agricultural, forestry, energy and fisheries sectors to come up with collaborative and innovative solutions to ease increasing pressure on the world’s resources, which are threatened by climate change.
“Landscapes are not just an important part of the solution. They are the solution,” Peter Holmgren, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research, told the forum’s 1,200 participants from 120 countries. “We must put our hope in landscapes. Fragmentation is our enemy and a recipe for disaster.”
The most recent disaster in the Philippines should be a call to action on climate change, said Bruce Campbell, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. “How many superstorms will we have before the world starts to take climate change seriously? As a scientist, I know we have the knowledge we need to act, so let’s do it.”
Historically, farming, fisheries, energy and forestry have been managed in isolation despite their many links. Agriculture is the chief driver of deforestation even though it depends on forests for water, pollination and other ecosystem services.
Speaking at the conference, His Royal Highness Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso of the Kingdom of Lesotho described himself as a “messenger for Africa” and said that “the impact of climate change on livelihoods, food security and nutrition at household levels and the environment has been disastrous.”
“By failing to safeguard our natural resource base, farmers are … having to sell off their meager physical assets. … They are failing to feed their own families,” he said. “Only when we take a landscape approach … can we boost agricultural production while adapting agriculture to climate change and reducing agricultural emissions.”
Ruth DeFries, a renowned professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, warned there is “no single prescription” for managing the differing functions of landscapes.
“It is possible to bring together competing interests to achieve multiple objectives … it requires an on-the-ground approach that cuts across ecological, economic, cultural and political dimensions,“ she said. “But there is much science to be done … and even more hard work on the part of policy to provide the right set of incentives.”
She gave the example of her home city of New York where a forest 100 miles (160 kilometers) away is crucial for the regulation and filtration of water for city dwellers.
Sara Scherr, President of EcoAgriculture Partners, cited another example from Ethiopia where “integrated landscape management has already made a huge difference to the livelihoods and economies of millions of people”.
Kyte said that science has advanced far enough that the world has the necessary technical capacity to quantify and visualize the connections between human activities and the environment. “From crowdsourcing to satellite imagery, from natural capital accounting to participatory mapping, we have more data, more resources, more images, more evidence.”
Referring to a breakdown in talks on agriculture this past week in Warsaw, Kyte said that “these negotiations run the risk of turning their backs on some of the most vulnerable and poorest people in this world and that will not build a climate negotiation that works.”
Tackling the world’s pressing challenges requires urgent action from all, said Marcin Korolec, the Polish Minister of Environment and president of the 19th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “The global challenge of climate change requires that we seek no less of our leaders than of ourselves.”