New Look at Agriculture, REDD and Incorporating Islam into Climate Change Mitigation

Panelists and audience members at a side event

The big draws at COP18 these initial days are side events. These offer a stage to observer organizations where they can go deeper on issues related to climate change. The events are 90 minutes long and feature a panel of experts—usually from various countries and organizations—speaking and answering questions posed by the audience at the session’s end.  The events “provide opportunities for information dissemination, capacity building, policy discussions and legitimizing global governance,” according to the UNFCCC.

Attending a few of these events makes one realize their importance, because the concerns of people around the world and perspectives upon which they are based are staggering in number. Today, I attended a few events to get a sense of agricultural concerns related to climate change, the latest findings around Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD), policy approaches and carbon capture policy, and how Islam factors into climate change mitigation strategies. From Norway to Chad to Mongolia, panelists discussed these issues and how they fit into the COP agenda.

Alexander Muller, Assistant Director General of the Natural Resources and Management Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, chaired an event today entitled: “Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change—How Can Climate-Smart Approaches Help Build Resilience in Food Security and Agriculture?”

According to the latest statistics, there are 870 million people going hungry at the moment, Muller said. The number, for the entire world, has dropped while the number of those going hungry in Sub-Saharan Africa has risen, he added. The panel was formed around the idea that climate change mitigation strategies go hand-in-hand with sustainable agriculture, to the point that Muller said that “climate change adaptation must be incorporated … there is no distinction between agricultural development and mitigation.”

“Climate smart agriculture” as it is termed in policy documents, has three pillars: sustainable increase in productivity, strength and resilience of crops and an increase in the mitigation of emissions. Yet, while in the past, agricultural models have depended on increased use of fertilizer, engineered seeds and increased irrigation to produce high yields, these methods are not climate smart, Muller said.

Alexander Muller, Assistant Director General of the Natural Resources and Management Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and panelists at side event

Incorporating mitigation into agricultural planning strategies means thinking in terms of broader ecosystems. “We know that climate change will have an impact on ecosystems and ecosystems are what agriculture relies upon,” he said.

A panelist from Malawi, Austin Tibu, Senior Conservation Officer, Department of Land Resources Conservation, Ministry of Agriculture and  Irrigation Development, Government of Malawi, discussed the issue being faced there, particularly drought and flooding as well as yields that do not meet the needs of a growing population—the problem facing most Sub-Saharan African countries.

Damdin Dagvadorj, Special Envoy on Climate Change, Ministry of Environment and Green Development, Government of Mongolia, explained the problem of overgrazing therein and the fact that climate change is affecting the lives of people there due to harsh weather conditions. The winter of 2008/2009, in particular, he said, lead to the loss of a large percentage of livestock.

Agnes Otzelberger, Africa Climate Adaptation/Global Gender Adviser, CARE International-Poverty, Environment and Climate Change Network (PECCN), spoke of approaches her organization has developed to work with smaller farmers. She explained the importance of technology transfer as opposed to simply applying methodology and leaving the farmers to cope. “[Agricultural] innovation should be done together, through social learning, farmer-to-farmer learning approaches that are flexible and forward-thinking.”

Agricultural approaches must be flexible, she said, since decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty in terms of how the climate is changing from year to year. She spoke of a scenario in Africa where farmers said had they had access to more information about climate, they would have made better decisions in response to this information.

James Kinyangi, CCAFS Regional Program Leader East Africa, ILRI, East Africa, asked if the poor and most vulnerable will benefit from climate-smart approaches. “Are they benefiting? Will they benefit? We don’t know,” he said. It’s time to ask: Where is the missing link that prevents us from answering these questions?

“One of the things we can do is target and create a critical mass of practitioners of climate-smart practices to address the need for food security,” he said citing the current negative correlation between food security and the inability of farmers to innovate. “Farmers can’t make changes and thus nobody can see what would happen if they did, and nobody will get out of poverty.”

A lot of people in Africa today, he said, are participating in small-scale farms, micro-industry and small businesses, actively working to get out of poverty. “We are doing things to be able to transfer from that stage,” he said, “we can engage decision makers to invest in places where the results will be most effective.”

Humans are increasingly dealing with conflict and crisis as well as competition for resources, he said. “We are moving more into a place where we are seeing different nutrition patents, moving into a world where the private sector is expanding in terms of the profit motive. These are external drivers, and you have to think of the poor and vulnerable.”

He stressed the importance of multidisciplinary and information-rich approach to innovation, saying it’s important to work in partnerships—“not just farmers, but experts, policy makers, funders and experts to make sure that the poor and the vulnerable benefit.”

“We want to present sustainable agriculture as part of the solution … climate smart agriculture can move people out of poverty, feed people and help mitigate climate concerns.”

Muller brought the concept of Fair Trade into the discussion (as it was a part in COP 17), calling on Carlos Vargas, a producer representative from Costa Rica, to describe the methodologies of this approach. Vargas explained that Fair Trade as a concept implies working with vulnerable people and giving them the opportunity to reach high production levels on smaller plots of land using sustainable methodology, including soil management and protection techniques, planting forest cover in order to prevent erosion and keep humidity in the soil, and the use of natural pest control, organic fertilizer and, whenever possible, organic production methods.

Muller reminded the audience that while the number of hungry has reduced worldwide, that number is on the rise in Africa as well as Asia—lands that have dense populations and yet face impacts of climate change and a reduced ability to produce food for themselves. While the number is rising in Africa, Asia, he said, comprises the highest number of hungry on the planet.

Side event: What Doha and the Durban Platform need to do about REDD and LULUCF?

Discussion here revolved around adapting policy to what is being discovered through research of natural systems.

Nils Hermann Ranum, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Regneskogfondet, said that REDD strategies must incorporate incentives that reward beyond carbon and reward for the long term.  He said that REDD has gained traction at these conferences because it is a “win-win-win” strategy protecting forests and natural ecosystems, securing rights and livelihoods of forest-dependent peoples and reducing carbon emissions. But this is not enough to drive change at the rate and to the degree that’s needed, he argued.

He said there needs to be focus actions that have been tested to work and incentives around these, such as emissions reductions based on simplified measurements.

“There’s a lot of consensus about how we can do this,” he said. “Good governance to address drivers of deforestation and degradation, protect natural forests, strengthen land tenure.”

He argued further that system establishment takes so many resources and that land tenure reforms are still not given a high priority. Furthermore, he said that discoveries since Bali necessitate another look at where policy efforts should be directed now. “We need a wider set of parameters around governance issues, social and environment issues.”

Professor, Dr. Hans Joosten, Greifswald University, spoke of a compelling source of carbon emissions that deserves consideration because of its perpetual nature.  Peat soils, which are damp soils in healthy forests that supply nutrients to the flora therein, become atmospheric carbon sources when the forest is removed and the land is drained of its moisture. Peat soils from tropical soils, especially, contain and emit many times more carbon. “When drained, these soils become vigorous and long-lasting sources of carbon dioxide,” he said. “Peatland changes the scale of carbon emissions because the leaching of peat soils creates an annual CO2 rise. Decreasing the area of deforestation is the only way to reduce this rate.”

“We need a moratorium for peat soils,” he continued. “Reducing tree biomass, drainage and fire all increase emissions and this is an important consideration. Peatlands are forest carbon pools that emit because of what happened to their forest. These are long-term effects of deforestation and must be counted in deforestation initiative and mitigation strategies.

“Peatland conversion is rapid and irreversible,” he continued, “it is persistent and increases emissions. Conserve, reforest, rewet.”

Islamic Values and Traditional Knowledge in Drylands

Dr. Crawhill, center, and panelists

Dr. Nigel Crawhall, Director of the Secretariat for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), discussed the concept of incorporating Islam as well as traditional knowledge into policy around land use.

“We are looking at a different approach to climate—right now we are locked into a pattern whereby ‘if one gains, the other loses,’” he said.

A shift in emphasis on religion and traditional values results in a duty-driven approach and a responsible approach. The strategy at IPACC, Crawhill said, involves a traditional-knowledge system that is value driven and ecosystem specific. “How do you take an oral knowledge system in indigenous languages and bring it into an international framework?”

The Holy Quran was born and spread in dryland regions, he said, so this is a great opportunity to have a dialogue between African peoples and the people of West Asia about traditional approaches to climate change mitigation. With the theme of Quranic teachings we are responding to the risk in approaching these issues competitively instead of collaboratively.

An expert from Bahrain joined on the panel to give context to the Islamic perspective. “People say we are in a clash with nature,” he said. “We should not be in a clash with nature. In the Quran, we learn that many things we as humans learn is through the observation of nature. Any Muslim that plants a tree, for instance, is blessed because they have given alms. They will get the benefit because others will use that tree.

“Nature is the greatest gift to mankind and the Quran is the user’s guide for this gift. We are to explore nature and this lively Earth. The Quran is a culture, and God manifests in every creature and everything in nature. When you give water to a dog, you are saying a prayer, you are being subservient to God.”

The panel consisted of those involved–as filmmakers and participants–in a social research project in Chad. They continually mentioned Ramadan as a unifying factor among participants, whereby people from various ethnic groups joined together in prayer five times a day and this produced an air of solidarity around the project and the mission. They said this enhanced collaboration among the people.

Crawhill introduced a video about the Chad project, which involved the M’bororo indigenous people, of Baïbokoum, Logone Oriental, in southern Chad, who are pastoralists. They participated in a 3D mapping project in August of 2012 (during the Holy Month of Ramadan) whereby around 40 stakeholders—not to be confused with land owners since they graze their livestock on shared land—used GPS data and cartographic tools to map out and negotiated terms around every part of a zone of land that they depend on.

They employed a system that’s over 500 years old, he said, to negotiate terms around the land and then to present these terms to policy makers who oversee the land from Chad’s modern, central government. The argument on the table is that this old system is more intelligent because everything is carefully discussed and every single decision involves the perspectives of all involved. In the end, the map that was produced gave the participants a sense of power and clarity around the arguments they presented to the government officials.

The project results demonstrated what happens when there is a merging of local and scientific knowledge systems because aerial photos of the land were superimposed on the map. Through the use of science and technology, the deep traditional system was ushered into the modern scheme.

The project, as described, also displayed an ability to preserve the old tradition that is under threat of disappearing because it doesn’t tap into modern presentation or communication systems. The technology and science used in this experiment can be employed in any social system around the world where indigenous knowledge is under threat. Qatar being a perfect example since the rate of development here is so fast.

Naturally, Islamic values would have room for discussion and incorporation into any schemes that result from such activities.

Takeaway: The striking need for a link between research findings and policy

What I’m seeing in these sessions is an effort on the part of experts to voice findings from on the ground and convey these findings in a way that policy-makers can leverage as important in the grander scheme of socio-economic realities. Now, more than ever, the transparency around these findings is critically important. Experts from an array of disciplines join together on individual side event panels and share knowledge with each other and other experts. The rooms are jam-packed. Knowledge around these issues, underpinned by (social and physical) scientific discovery, is of the essence.

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