The IPCC report: What’s in it for AgR4D?
The earth may be warmer than it’s ever been and the world in disarray, but after reading the IPCC report this month – my only solace lies in the matter that we can either get depressed with what’s in front of us or learn to love the creativity of finding the solutions. Let’s try and choose the latter (easier said than done right?)*.
By Ebony Ackland, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research
“Human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years” states the latest IPCC report1,2. Which I’m sure you’ve heard all the fuss about in recent weeks. As the dust settles – where do us scientists go to find hope in international efforts to mitigate emissions and increase our capacity for transformation and adaptation in a future warmer world?
What is the report?
In case you missed it, The IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was released on August 9 and is the sixth UN-led report detailing the science of climate change and the future of Earth. The role of the IPCC itself, is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to the understanding of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.
Why should we trust it?
The report is prepared by a mixture of scientific, technical, industry and no-profit members, economic and social science authors. The report is then approved by representatives of all governments. The 234 scientists who wrote the report are selected based on their expertise and represent as many countries as possible (there are currently 195 countries represented in their members). The reports then go through multiple stages of drafting and review. The first draft of the current report had more than 23,000 review comments from experts. Each comment received an individual response, and the process continues.
What does it say?
The actual report is nearly 4,000 pages long – so if you’ve got the time to read it, GO YOU! However, most people will have read the “summary for policy makers” a high-level overview with key affect points highlighted (and much more approachable)2. But, if you don’t have time for that either, here are some key take aways for us in the Ag R4D space:
- All regions are projected to experience further increases in hot climatic impact-drivers (CIDs) and decreases in cold CIDs
- Extreme heat thresholds relevant to agriculture and health are projected to be exceeded more frequently at higher global warming levels.
- At 2°C global warming and above, the level of confidence in and the magnitude of the change in droughts and heavy and mean precipitation increase compared to those at 1.5°C.
- Heavy precipitation and associated flooding events are projected to become more intense and frequent in the Pacific Islands and across many regions of North America and Europe. These changes are also seen in some regions in Australasia and Central and South America. Several regions in Africa, South America and Europe are projected to experience an increase in frequency and/or severity of agricultural and ecological droughts. increases are also projected in Australasia, Central and North America, and the Caribbean.
- A small number of regions in Africa, Australasia, Europe and North America are also projected to be affected by increases in hydrological droughts, and several regions are projected to be affected by increases or decreases in meteorological droughts with more regions displaying an increase. Mean precipitation is projected to increase in all polar, northern European and northern North American regions, most Asian regions and two regions of South America.
It is essentially certain that hot extremes (including heatwaves) have become more frequent and more intense across most land regions since the 1950s, while cold extremes (including cold waves) have become less frequent and less severe. The report states with high confidence that human-induced climate change is the main driver of these changes. Some recent hot extremes observed over the past decade would have been extremely unlikely to occur without human influence on the climate system. Marine heatwaves have approximately doubled in frequency since the 1980s, and human influence has very likely contributed to most of them since at least 2006.
What do we do with all this?
I urge you to well, read more – educate yourselves on what research IS happening in this space right now. Knowledge is power right? Whilst it may not always be showcased in the media or readily available to the untrained eye, many people, groups and organisations are working hard in research and trials to make the changes necessary to comply with the 1.5 ºC initiative and work towards increasing the adaptive capacity of at-risk communities due to climate change. I think we all need a glimmer of hope right now, that good work is happening, and progress is being made.
So here we have it folks, somewhere to get started. RAID’s (very unofficial and very incomprehensive) guide to climate research:
This IPCC special report details the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. Chapter 4 in particular, outlines the pathways to strengthening and implementing a global response to maintain temperature rises below 2°C. It also highlights that changing agricultural practises can be an effective climate adaptation strategy (that’s where we come in!). Options emphasised include; Mixed crop-livestock production systems. Improving irrigation efficiency, and community based, well-designed adaptation processes. Regarding food systems, emphasis has been placed on the need for demand-side measures above and beyond production efficiencies. Reducing food loss and waste is of high need, as is changing dietary behaviour (with multiple co-benefits seen here) but evidence of successful policies to modify human choices remains limited.
Read it here: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GRA): Circular Food Systems Network (currently Chaired by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research CEO, Andrew Campbell)
This newly developed network aims to develop an international network of researchers int eh field of circular food systems to increase the development and implementation of circularity within the agri-food system. In circular food systems- all produced biomass is used to a maximum extent to reduce loss (resource efficiency). This follows the current scientific progression towards “whole system” approaches that integrate individual elements of the food system toward a common goal. In this case, emissions reduction. Circular Food Systems will contribute to increased food security and reduction of emissions by increasing resource availability (use of waste reduces need for inputs e.g. land, water, fossil energy, and nitrogen and phosphorus as mineral fertilisers). By mitigating the net greenhouse effect of emissions from CO2, N2O and CH4 during the different stages of the food systems (such as methane emissions reduction and carbon sequestration in soils and biomass) multiple benefits may be seen. As well as food security, increased biodiversity and development of opportunities for eco-systems services may result from “thinking circular”.
You can stay updated on their work here:
For a more in-depth dive into Circular Food Systems, read here3:
The Biden Administrations “AIM for Climate”
The United States and the United Arab Emirates announced plans to launch the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) in April of this year3. The plan is endorsed by the United Kingdom’s COP 26 Presidency and supported by Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Israel, Singapore, and Uruguay. The goal of AIM for Climate is to increase and accelerate global innovation research and development (R&D) on agriculture and food systems in support of climate action. AIM for Climate will be advanced at the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021 and launched at COP26 in November 2021. AIM for climate will home in on three main investment channels related to; Scientific breakthroughs via agricultural research through national-level government agricultural R&D academic institutions, public and private applied innovation and R&D to support international institutions, and development and deployment of practical, actionable research to producers and other market participants through national extension systems. The main areas of focus here are: sustainable productivity improvements, land, water, carbon and other input use efficiencies, resilient crop, and livestock production, enhanced digital tools and inclusive, equitable and sustainable food systems.
Stay up to date with COP26 and the launch of these initiatives here:
Recently at the United Nations Food Systems Summit, the CGIAR announced their new research and innovation prospectus. The prospectus of Initiatives sets out the future focus of a unified and more impactful One CGIAR. Through these new Initiatives, CGIAR builds on its history of research and innovations that have changed the world, improving food and nutrition security for the world’s most vulnerable people and lifting millions out of poverty. What may be of most interest to us here at RAID is the impact area titled “Climate adaptation and mitigation: Improving small-scale producers’ resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food systems”.
It should also be mentioned that I am writing this whilst working on staff at ACIAR’s newly developed Climate Change program. This program is dedicated to supporting and brokering research that aims to build adaptive capacity and reduce vulnerability of smallholder agricultural systems to climate change. ACIAR continues to engage internationally on climate change and play a greater leadership role through participation and collaboration on national forums.
You can stay tuned on upcoming projects and the future work of ACIAR in the climate space here: https://www.aciar.gov.au/program/climate-change
It may take a bit of investigation and digging when it comes to staying up to date on climate action resources, but it is there. Do we want there to be more of it? Yes! It is important however to not lose sight of the real and tangible scientific work that is happening to fight the climate crisis. We are not starting from scratch, efforts towards mitigation, transformation and adaptation have been ongoing for years behind the scenes and they deserve to be amplified. Improving productivity of existing agricultural systems to reduce the emissions intensity of food production offers strong synergies with rural development, poverty reduction and food security objectives and thus strongly aligns with RAID. We encourage you to get in touch with us via our website if you would like to become a representative, would like your research highlighted or are interested in finding a network full of people passionate about agriculture’s intersection with climate change.
The IPCC findings are distressing yes but let them not distract us from our global climate efforts. Instead, lets refocus toward what we already knew: Staying below 1.5℃ warming is extremely important but maintaining the lowest global warming we can – whether or not we exceed the 1.5℃ goal – is what really matters for our future.
*Notably this saying may be the understatement of the century here… but you get my point.
- IPCC, 2021: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S. L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M. I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J. B. R. Matthews, T. K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.
- IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [MassonDelmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S. L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M. I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J. B. R. Matthews, T. K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.
- Philip, S., Kew, S., van Oldenborgh, G. J., Otto, F., Vautard, R., van der Wiel, K., King, A., Lott, F., Arrighi, J., Singh, R., and van Aalst, M. 2020 ‘A protocol for probabilistic extreme event attribution analyses’. Advances in Statistical Climatology, Meteorology and Oceanography, vol. 6., pp. 177–203, https://doi.org/10.5194/ascmo-6-177-2020, 2020
- United States Department of Agriculture, 2021. ‘Launching Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate’, Fact Sheet, Office of the Spokesperson. https://www.state.gov/launching-agriculture-innovation-mission-for-climate/