A Missing Link in Climate Change Policy

By Bruce Campbell, Director CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

Later this month, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change holds its first meeting, bringing together top policy-connected scientists from around the world. Over its ten-month tenure, the international Commission will come up with specific policies and actions needed to secure food for all in an increasingly uncertain climate.

Climate change is probably the single greatest threat to future growth in agriculture. How successfully developing countries cope with it, starting now, will determine to a large degree whether they can feed their people, reduce poverty and maintain social stability as the global population climbs to nine billion by 2050.

Scientists readily acknowledge that there is still much uncertainty surrounding their estimates of expected climate change impacts in agriculture. But one point on which they entirely agree is that agriculture is highly vulnerable even to a two-degree, or low-end, rise in average temperatures.

Many studies now suggest that crops, livestock and biological diversity will all be profoundly affected by rising temperatures and other changes. For developing country farmers, this often means lower yields and incomes as a result of increasingly severe weather, changing rainfall patterns, worsening water scarcity and sudden outbreaks of diseases and pests.

Last year’s flooding in Pakistan, for example, damaged food storage containers while encouraging a growing threat to food safety from a burgeoning population of poisonous fungi. Threats such as these are compounded by rising food prices, which can contribute to civil unrest, as we have recently seen in Tunisia.

Science also points to possible solutions. Rural peoples are beginning to receive seasonal climate forecasts, for example, while innovative insurance schemes are helping them to manage the climate risks they already face. And researchers have identified new ways to help farmers address growing demand for food in the coming decades despite climate change, while significantly reducing agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, which account for about 12% of the global total.

The sheer variety of perspectives on the best ways to adapt agriculture to climate change and reduce emissions while boosting carbon storage in the soil has resulted in a confusing mix of messages, which are leading to inaction or, worse still, the wrong actions.

We need new approaches for sharing knowledge and tools between scientists and decision makers at all levels, including farmers and the organizations that represent them. The idea is to make science more comprehensible and to involve all key actors in decisions about how its results are interpreted and used.

As a start toward identifying solutions that hold the most promise, the CCAFS program is launching the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, to come up with the specific policies and measures that must be taken to boost food production, reduce poverty and cope with climate change in agriculture.

The Commission’s unique mission is to identify the actions needed to address climate change and achieve sustainable agriculture and food security, by building upon existing knowledge. It will focus on specific policies and actions that move beyond general calls for action; it will focus on the food security of poor people. Given its composition of senior and internationally-recognized scientists, it also has the opportunity to provide a clear set of policy findings based on science, and link between national and international policy processes in the agricultural and climate sectors, and beyond.

Their findings, expected by December 2011, should provide welcome guidance for translating scientific knowledge into action.


The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is a strategic partnership between the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). The 10-year program aims to overcome the additional threats posed by a changing climate to achieving food security, enhancing livelihoods and improving environmental management.

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change is supported by CCAFS and the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development.

For more information about CCAFS and the Commission, please visit www.ccafs.cgiar.org