Agriculture on the sidelines at COP 17

Agriculture’s concerns about climate change were unlikely to play a part in multilateral negotiations at the 17th Conference of the Parties.

Agriculture’s concerns about climate change were unlikely to play a part in multilateral negotiations at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17), the United Nations (UN’s) climate change deliberations held in Durban.

Selby Bokaba, spokesperson for Tina Joemat-Pettersson, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said the department had been lobbying “for months” in the hope that “we can get a single line in the final resolutions of the COP, acknowledging the impact of climate change on agriculture. This would be unprecedented—never before has there been a single allusion to agriculture in any of the agreements resulting from the COPs.”

Joemat-Pettersson was to have chaired three of the agricultural-themed sideline events planned for COP 17. But expert sources said the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff’s) efforts were unlikely to succeed.

“The viability of that idea goes right to the heart of what makes these COPs such hollow events – the unwillingness of the most developed nations to take their fair share of responsibility for the harm they’ve done,” said Durban-based activist and writer Patrick Bond. “It demonstrates naivety about what the big blockages in these multilateral negotiations are about.”

The issue of climate change’s impact on agriculture in the region came under the spotlight in the months leading up to the conference. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR’s) Dr Bob Scholes published research which warned of “strong warming” from 2010 to 2050.

Dr Scholes told Farmer’s Weekly, “Although per-hectare yields of maize and wheat are predicted to rise moderately until 2050, a continuously rising demand means that nett imports of maize are projected to increase five-fold, which is a serious food security concern”.

Organised agriculture leaders this week confessed to feeling alienated from government strategising around climate change. 
“DAFF had a climate change planning session at the CSIR in August which the minister didn’t attend,” said Louis Meintjies of the TAU SA.

African Farmer’s Association of South Africa (AFASA) president Mike Mlengana said AFASA had expressed concern about climate reliability. “We watch with a certain sense of disenfranchisement all of this international backsliding from emission reduction protocols, and the lack of government action on the concerns about climate change that it’s constantly vocalising. The question is simple: do you desecrate your own home? No, and yet this is what we are doing,” he said.

Agri SA’s Nic Opperman said the organisation would not be represented at COP 17 this year because the registration period had ended before the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, representing agricultural interests at COP 17, was disbanded and reconstituted as the World Farmer’s Organisation.

He said DAFF had pro-actively partnered with Agri SA to promote adaptation and mitigation techniques for agriculture, but said it was disappointing that “SA’s COP 17 strategy paper has been finalised but not shared with organised agriculture.” – Sean Christie