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January 2010, Volume 16, Number 1

Climate Change and Agriculture

Leaders and representatives of 193 nations met in Copenhagen on December 7-18, 2009 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to update the 1992 Framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. No politically binding agreement was reached, but most countries agreed to "take note" of an agreement shaped by the US, China, India, South Africa and Brazil that requires these four leading developing country emitters to list voluntary climate targets on an international registry and to allow third parties to scrutinize whether the four are making the emission cuts they promised.

The next global climate change meeting is scheduled for Mexico City in November 2010.

The "Copenhagen Accord" codified individual country commitments to reduce emissions but did not lay out a timetable to reach a binding international agreement that would restrict the global rise in temperature is to be limited to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) by 2050.

The key issues debated in Copenhagen included: (1) how much effort to make to reduce rising global temperatures; (2) how greenhouse gas reduction targets should vary between industrial and developing countries and how emissions should be monitored; and (3) how much aid industrial countries should provide to developing countries to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change (estimates range from $25 billion to $75 billion a year).

China (6.1 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2007) and the US (5.8 billion tons), which each emit about 20 percent of the world's greenhouse gases (30 countries generate 90 percent of global CO2), made last-minute concessions. The US pledged to reduce its emissions by 2020, and China offered to lower its carbon dioxide output relative to the size of its economy by 2020. However, China refused to allow international monitoring of its emissions; violations of emissions targets could lead to punitive tariffs on Chinese goods.

In terms of kilograms of CO2 per dollar of output, Russia emitted the most in 2007, 0.99 kg per dollar; followed by China, 0.6 kg; and the US, 0.5 kg. In emissions per capita, the US emitted 19 metric tons of CO2 per person in 2007; followed by Canada at 17 tons; Russia at 11 tons; and China at five tons.

The UNFCCC developed a Least Developed Countries Fund in 2001 to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, but it has not yet received the $180 billion pledged in 2001. Some developing nations demanded reparations from industrial countries for accumulated emissions in the atmosphere; the US rejected reparations. The Group of 77 (130 developing countries) walked out during the conference to protest the $10 billion a year offered in "quick-start" funding between 2010 and 2013 so that climate change aid flows quickly to developing countries? they wanted far more.

Eventually, industrial countries pledged to seek $100 billion a year for developing countries by 2020, mostly raised from carbon trading markets created in industrial countries that require emitters to buy carbon emissions allowances. Some developing countries predicted it may be hard to spend climate-change funds because of the reporting and verification systems likely to accompany them, and aid groups warned that funds may be shifted from health and education to flood defenses.

Other issues were how to curb greenhouse gas emissions? tax carbon emissions or create a cap-and-trade system with tradable permits? and what target for carbon concentration in the atmosphere; 350 parts per million is the most discussed figure. In 2010, carbon concentration in the atmosphere was approaching 400 parts per million.

The Copenhagen Accord did not include references to climate-change refugees, persons who "cross an international frontier as a result of, or find themselves abroad and are unable to return owning to, the effects of climate change." Estimates of the number of persons who may be displaced by climate change by 2050 range from 150 million (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) to 200 million (Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change).

US. In Copenhagen, the US did not commit itself to new emissions and insisted on monitoring emissions from other countries, conditions aimed at not putting the US at a competitive disadvantage with other countries. It is not clear if these US positions, which disappointed many environmentalists in Copenhagen, will smooth passage of a climate change bill in the Senate.

The US Chamber of Commerce, with 300,000 members who pay up to $50,000 a year, strongly opposes climate change legislation, arguing that it would impose too many costs on US business. The Chamber, which has a $200 million a year budget, opposes the bill approved by the House in June 2009 that would introduce a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse emissions.

US agriculture accounts for about six percent of US greenhouse gas emissions through the burning of crop residues, methane released from decaying manure and the digestive tracts of cattle, and gases emanating from fertilized soil (globally, agriculture accounts for 14 percent of emissions).

WB. The World Bank's 2010 World Development Report deals with Development and Climate Change. Chapter one emphasizes that climate change can slow development, as governments in countries affected by changes in temperature or precipitation respond with adaptation, mitigation, and prevention strategies. Some of these responses can accelerate development, but others may divert resources that could be used to improve education or health care into coping with floods or droughts.

Developing countries contribute half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions and have 85 percent of the world's residents.

The world's population is expected to increase from almost seven billion in 2010 to nine billion in 2050; almost all of the growth will be in developing countries, where almost half of the residents of developing countries live on less than $2 a day. Climate change imposes another burden on development, along with poor policies, corruption, and lack of resources. However, the WDR worries that, with more developing country residents achieving middle-class status, greenhouse gas emissions could increase at a faster rate as consumption rises.

Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions means incurring costs now for future benefits. A major policy question is the appropriate discount rate that should be used to compare current costs and future benefits? a low discount rate generates higher future benefits. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, released in October 2006, used a 0.1 discount rate to argue that one percent of global GDP should be invested to reduce global warming to avoid losses of five to 20 percent of GDP in the future.

However, since future generations will be richer, and thus better able to spend some of their higher incomes to cope with climate change, most economists prefer a higher discount rate such as three percent [Stern's review assumed that per capita global GDP would rise from $7,000 today to $94,000 in 2200]. William Nordhaus, for example, suggests doing little to reduce carbon emissions in the near future, and instead invest to increase the physical and human capital now to better cope with climate change in the future.

Chapter two discusses adaptive management policies to help poor people to prepare for climate change, such as ensuring that growing cities in developing countries are not vulnerable to floods and diseases that may accompany global warming (a quarter of the world's poor live in cities in developing countries). WDR 2010 notes that "migration related to climate change is likely to be predominantly from rural areas in developing countries to towns and cities."

Chapter three turns to the impacts of climate change on agriculture. With the worlds' population rising nine billion in 2050, agricultural productivity must rise to feed more people without farming marginal land and depleting fresh water supplies. Dealing with rising food prices, paying farmers to store carbon in soil and forests, and reducing farm subsidies of $260 billion a year in rich countries could be the spurs to help agriculture become more productive and climate sensitive.

Most of WDR 2010's discussion deals with water. Agriculture uses 93 percent of the world's water that is consumed, usually rain and groundwater. The average person drinks two to four liters of water a day, but eats food that required 2,000 to 5,000 liters to grow? with meat far more water intensive than grains. Water markets, transferable water rights and other policies are discussed to improve the management of water used in agriculture.

IGCC. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 concluded that human activities were the dominant force driving warming. Hacked emails from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in Britain in November 2009 showed that IGCC-affiliated scientists actively tried to discredit their critics and withheld data.

Policy makers who are asked to enact and implement policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions want scientific certainty that, if they do not act, there will be costly consequences in the future. However, there is uncertainty about how fast temperatures will rise as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases gather in the atmosphere and trap more of the sun's heat. Nine of the world's 10 hottest years occurred in the past decade.

Indonesia. China and the US are the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Indonesia is number three, in part because of the burning of peat, the decomposed trees, grass and scrub that contains huge quantities of carbon dioxide; in some places, the peat is 50 feet deep.

Deforestation accounts for 20 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and the UN's Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program is expected to compensate countries that slow deforestation. In Indonesia, some of the paper companies that allegedly deforested land are now hoping to receive REDD payments to stop deforestation.

The Kalimantan region of Borneo is losing its forest cover as land is cleared for planting, and the burning of its peat lands released an estimated two billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2006, equivalent to the combined total of Germany, Britain and Canada. In 1997, when fires were especially bad, Indonesia?s emissions exceeded those of the US.

Logging and palm oil companies want to develop Kalimantan. In the mid-1990s, the Indonesian government tried to develop 2.5 million acres of peat land for rice faming. This plan failed, but the cleared land was often planted with rubber and palm oil trees.

Brazil is the fourth largest emitter. The Washington Post reported November 23, 2009 that zig-zag policies that first prompt deforestation and later tree protection and planting are moving toward protection. One reason is that multinational buyers of farm commodities such as soybeans often require producers to certify environmentally friendly practices. In one area of Mato Grosso, farmers plant 35 percent of their land in native vegetation or pay to preserve Amazon rainforest elsewhere.

Netherlands. About two-thirds of the Netherlands is below sea level, prompting the construction of an extensive dike and levy system managed by the Netherlands Water Partnership, a public-private venture.

Bangladesh. Cyclones and other environmental issues are encouraging more villagers to move to Dhaka and other cities, often with few resources and skills. More intense storms and floods that destroy housing, salinization that reduces crop yields, and worsening river erosion have left many people who were attached to the land rootless.

Perhaps three million Bangladeshis have been displaced by environmental degradation or disasters. Many move to Dhaka, with 12 million residents and growing by 400,000 a year? it is the world's fastest-growing megacity. Dhaka, Jakarta and Manila are among the megacities most vulnerable to the effects of global warming.

Many migrants wind up in Dhaka's shantytowns and slums, where fires and kidnappings are common. Many want to move on, but few can save enough to find better housing.

Joanna Kakissis, "Environmental Refugees Unable to Return Home," New York Times, January 4, 2010. World Bank. 2009. Development and Climate Change

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