Measuring success from COP21: Agriculture, food security and climate adaptation


In an exclusive interview with Maria Helena Semedo, deputy director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Semedo shares her views on the role of agriculture, food security and climate adaptation at COP21 and what still needs to be done to overcome the adaptation challenge.

Here are some highlights from that conversation at COP21 in Paris:

What has been the “missing ingredient” for food security and adaptation in the Paris discussions?

There was a misperception of the role of agriculture for several reasons. First, agriculture has been seen as a threat because livestock contribute to emissions … Maybe another reason is that when talking about agriculture, you always [refer] to trade — and you know all the discussions at the [World Trade Organization] and this unfinished business on trade negotiations.

What we tried to bring to this COP is that agriculture could be part of the solution to climate change. If we really bring innovation, if we really bring new technologies to agriculture, we can adapt to climate change in such a way that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.

A number of people we’ve spoken to in Paris have warned that there’s a lack of resources to fund adaptation. What are the most effective ways to mobilize additional finance and how can it be best invested?    

Before Paris, countries presented their [Intended Nationally Determined Contributions]. In these talks, 80 percent of the countries said they will work on sectors — such as agriculture, forestry, fishery, land and water — to adapt to climate change, to reduce emissions. … At the same time, countries say they don’t have enough internal national resources to invest in those sectors and  in adaptation. This means that we need consequent financial resources, such as the Climate Adaptation Fund, the Green Climate Fund …  [and] additional pledges [with] adaptation as a high priority.

What’s the role data play in the definition of adaptation programs and projects, and in accessing funds?

[FAO] produces these public goods — statistics, information, data, even our publications on the state of food insecurity, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, where we present country-related figures … We can use those data for policy makers to define policies and strategies for projects and programs. And through those projects and programs, we can help countries access those resources.

Another very important area for FAO is capacity building. It’s not enough to have the information. At country level, they need to have the capacities to understand the information and use [it] for monitoring and evaluation, to measure progress.

Capacity building also seems to be quite relevant here, when using technologies or implementing strategies for adaptation. When you talk about the need for innovation, what does this mean for the FAO?

We need to create an enabling environment for innovation, to create a platform where we can exchange good practices between countries.

FAO has a network of representatives around the world that can help us to connect farmers and countries in such a way that, for example, a climate-friendly practice in Bangkok or Bangladesh could be used in Africa, and vice versa.

They could be techniques or they could be seeds. We work a lot with South-South cooperation and I think [this] could be a very important element in the adaptation process, in the exchange of information on adaptation.

And what are the most innovative ways to invest scarce resources to really make a difference?

These resources will have really an effect on climate, and on achieving the goals agreed in Paris. We need to ensure that through those investments we have technologies, we have innovation and we have capacity building.

If you have these three investments — and we need to have indicators to measure the impacts of these investments — I am sure we can bring really good energy and excitement to investment on adaptation.

What have been the most important lessons learned during COP21?

What I have learned is that even when we have an objective, when we are genuine in our objectives, we need to be very patient … We have 195 countries at the table and every one has its own interests, its own specificities and to have a common interest is not an easy process.

Unfortunately, food security — and I am not even talking about agriculture here — and smallholder farmers, the most vulnerable, have not been at the table. [Negotiations] have been more [focused on] the countries that have polluted, that have created this, but not being fair on the others that didn’t necessarily contribute. There has been a lot of injustice towards those countries, but we have to remember that it is a long-term process.

Originally Published: | 16 December 2015