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IEEP at COP23: 3 Takeaways for Climate, Forestry and Agriculture

Authors: Ben Allen, Kamila Paquel

While the stand-off on agriculture is continuing between developed and developing countries within climate negotiations, there is a growing consensus among experts that agriculture –and more generally the land use sector–needs to rise at the top of UNFCCC agenda.

At COP23, IEEP contributed to this emerging debate through two events focused on EU policies in this area. Here are our three takeaways for European policy-makers:

  1. Agriculture, forestry and land use are becoming progressively vital from a climate change policy perspective. 

    Decarbonising energy and transport has been the focus of climate negotiation to date. However, natural carbon “sinks” –through trees and soil– will be increasingly important the implement the Paris goal of very low, or net-zero, emissions by-mid-century. The way we use and manage land can also be a source of emissions, both carbon and other GHGs. For example, carbon is released when soils oxidise and when wood is burnt. Livestock also release emissions in the form of methane and nitrous oxide. For both sinks and sources, the understanding of how policies and measures can reduce emissions quickly, effectively, and in the long-term, is still developing.

    Adequate EU policies on agriculture, forestry and land-use will be vital to ensure an ambitious outcome within UNFCCC negotiations, in line with science. Legislation under discussion in the EU is a good start but more needs to be done as part of Europe’s long-term mitigation strategy.
  2. The current actions to encourage a land use contribution to climate change mitigation in the EU depend heavily on requirements and support under the CAP. 

    IEEP’s first event on Monday, 6 November, reviewed what EU Member States are doing to encourage natural carbon sinks and to limit GHG emissions from the land-using sectors. 

    Our work discovered a wide variety of actions being used by Member States, but these were often triggered by compliance with EU environmental legislation or were supported by EU funds, notably the CAP. The research suggests action to reduce emissions and increase carbon storage would be more effective if based on dedicated long term strategies. Promoting long-lasting wood products for material purposes, such as furniture or the building sector, is a promising way of storing carbon sequestered by trees. The current actions to encourage a land use contribution to climate change mitigation in the EU depend heavily on requirements and support under the CAP.

    Further progress depends on the implementation choices of the Member States under the current EU policy and financial framework and a positive and progressive change in the next one.
  3. The way forward is balancing climate action with the multiple societal roles of rural land 

    IEEP’s second event on Friday, 10 November, considered what transition pathways can help make significant and lasting GHG emission reductions in the agriculture sector and how net-zero emissions could be reached in 2050. 

    Reacting to a presentation by IEEP, our panel of discussants from a range of sectors including land-owners, development NGOs, finance sector, researchers and farm advisory and research organisations set out their views and key issues.  Perhaps what was most encouraging was the progressive nature of the discussion. Rather than a heated debate on party lines, the main questions tended to focus not on whether we should act, but on what action could be taken and what it could look like. This is encouraging for our future work, but no less challenging in identifying tangible actions that balance the urgent need for action with the multiple roles agriculture plays in society. In this regard, the livestock sector, a major source of emissions, came up as a key issue for Europe to address. 

    Overall the effects of climate action in the forest and land use sectors will take decades to be realised in practice. Understanding is growing that this means policy action is needed urgently if we are to make the right choices, consistent with a 1.5 degree target, or even to meet a 2 degree target.

    The time has come for European policy-makers to focus on agriculture, land-use and forestry, especially if Europe wants to take a leadership role in negotiations on mid-century pathways at the UNFCCC.
    Listen to the speaker interviews from our event:– Craig Hanson, Global Director of Food, Forests & Water, World Resources Institute here.- Robert de Graeff, Senior Policy Advisor, European Landowners’ Organization here.- Teresa Anderson, Policy and communications officer, Action Aid here.

IEEP latest work in this area can be found here.

Contact Kamila Paquel and Ben Allen for more information.

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