News Coverage: Many Unknowns about Future Climate Change Effects

This Voice of America article is by Joe DeCapua. It appeared on Dec. 2, 2011. 

Scientists say many of the long-term effects of rising temperatures are still unknown. They’re discussing the problem at the U.N. climate change conference in Durban, South Africa. Researchers say climate change is a complex mix of potential benefits and consequences, especially regarding food production.

In early November, researchers from several countries met in Beijing. They represented the so-called BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – as well as the United States and Indonesia. They discussed climate change and food security and agreed on a number of issues and recommendations to present to the Durban conference.

One of those researchers – Gerald Nelson – said they came up with a work program for climate change treaty negotiators. It concentrates on the role of agriculture.

“The advantage of the work program is that it puts these research findings about the importance of looking at climate change effects on agriculture – and also agriculture’s role in mitigation – directly into the record for delegates to look at,” he said.

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Leading BRICS+ Researchers Recommend Agricultural Work Program to Climate Change Convention Negotiators

See more about urgent recommendations to the negotiators here.

Climate change presents a major threat to sustainable food security. Recent changes to agriculture consistent with climate change include shifts in the production of rice and maize in the northern hemisphere and climate-induced changes in crop productivity across the world.   There will be additional changes as global temperatures rise, precipitation patterns change, and the likelihood of more extreme climate-related events grows.While the general trend of increasing temperatures is clear, major uncertainties remain in the distribution and magnitude of climate change outcomes, the location-specific consequences for agriculture, the possibilities for adapting to a changing climate, and the potential role for agriculture in reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) in the atmosphere.

At the International Conference on Climate Change and Food Security held in Beijing, November 7-8, organized by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), scientists from the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) plus Indonesia and the United States reported results on the food security and climate change challenges facing their countries.  Based on their research, they identified two sets of priority actions to address the challenges from climate change (a) strengthening public sector agricultural research and (b) increasing the amount, appropriateness, and accessibility of spatial data. “Delays in action today will raise the costs of climate change in the future,” said Huajun Tang, vice president of CAAS.

Agricultural research expenditures must be increased substantially to address the needs for agricultural adaptation and mitigation.  While the exact amounts needed and the nature of the research to be funded have yet to be determined, research on the effects of climate change in the following twelve areas are priorities:

  • Pests and diseases—higher temperatures will generally increase their prevalence and pressure;
  • Soil ecosystems—healthy soils are complex ecosystems that contribute to crop productivity;
  • Ruminant agriculture—it contributes to GHG emissions and is likely to grow in developing countries as rising incomes increase demand for meat;
  • Irrigation structure and efficiency—a growing population with higher incomes will increase nonagricultural demand for water, so efficient returns to irrigation investment and best technologies are a must;
  • Perennial crops—have several potential advantages, including carbon sequestration, resilience to stresses, and synergies with annual crops;
  • Grain quality—especially protein content is reduced byincreasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, especially under influence of limited nitrogen;
  • Storage losses—losses in storage and along the food supply chain are reportedly as high as 40 percent;
  • Biotechnology—explore innovative techniques to develop varieties and breeds with desirable traits;
  • Land use change—A major contributor to GHG emissions is land use change (the conversion of forest and savannah areas that store large amounts of carbon in the soil to agricultural use that stores less carbon);
  • International trade—relatively open trade in agricultural commodities can make an important contribution to climate change adaptation ;
  • Intellectual property regimes for new research results—ensure that scientific and management breakthroughs are quickly translated into products and information on the ground; and
  • Human capital development— training researchers, extension workers, and farmers to respond to changing climate

Weather, soil, market access, and prices are crucial variables in a farmer’s decision-making process.  Yet the availability of location-specific data to document changes in these variables over time is extremely limited. Understanding the potential effects of climate change is needed at farm, state, province, and county levels. “It is crucial that major improvements are made in the cost-effective collection of spatial data,” said Gerald Nelson, research fellow at IFPRI.  “These improvements should include more cost-effective design and operation of remote sensing equipment, collection and integration of crowd-sourced data with official collection efforts, and improved tools to easily access the data.”

The recommendations will be presented today at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) side event “Climate Change and BRICS: Findings from the International Conference on Climate Change and Food Security.” “We urge the UNFCCC delegates to approve a Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice work program on agriculture,” said Elisio Contini, head of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation’s (EMBRAPA) Office of International Affairs.  “It would catalyze new research and be a central venue for the world’s research community to report its findings and identify the highest-priority research on adaptation and mitigation to reduce the suffering of the world’s poor and vulnerable.”

These recommendations are endorsed by Roger Beachy, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center; Kevin Chen, IFPRI; Elisio Contini, EMBRAPA; Sikhalazo Dube, Agricultural Research Council, South Africa; David Gustafson, Monsanto; Jarot Indarto, National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS), Indonesia; PK Joshi, IFPRI; Sergey Kiselev, Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU); Geraldo Martha, EMBRAPA; Endah Murniningtyas, BAPPENAS; Gerald Nelson, IFPRI; Roman Romashkin, MSU; Nono Rusono, BAPPENAS; Bob Scholes, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa; Setyawati, BAPPENAS; Deepak Shah, Gokhle Institute of Political Economy; Eugene Takle, Iowa State University; Huajun Tang, CAAS; and Liming Ye, CAAS.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI is one of 15 centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, an alliance of 64 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organizations. 

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ICCCFS Country Reports

ICCCFS featured new insight into the potential future effects of climate change on Brazil, India, China, South Africa, and Russia plus Indonesia and the United States. Download some of the reports, which are still in draft form, here. 




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From Beijing to Durban: Lead Speakers Draft Messages for Climate Change Negotiators

During a special panel on November 8, lead speakers from the BRICS countries, Indonesia, and the U.S. started to craft the messages based on the conference findings that they will deliver to climate change treaty negotiators in Durban. "We can all agree that increased investment in agriculture is crucial," said IFPRI's Gerald Nelson, the panel chair. "So we need to specify where, exactly, these investments need to go." These recommendations will be refined and finalized in time for the ICCCFS side event in Durban on Dec. 1 at 11:00 a.m. See the recommendations here.


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ICCCFS Opens with Remarks by IFPRI’s Gerald Nelson


ICCCFS Officially Begins

IFPRI senior researcher Gerald Nelson joined Sun Chengyong, Deputy Director-General, Department of Social Development, Ministry of Science and Technology; Qu Sixi, Deputy Director-General, Department of International Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture; Song Changqing, Deputy Director-General, Department of Earth Sciences, National Natural Science Foundation of China; Percy Misika, Representation in China, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and Tang Huajun, the Vice-president of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) on the ICCCFS opening panel. His prepared remarks follow.


Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of my Director General, Dr. Shenggen Fan, I would like to welcome you to this food security and climate change research conference. Dr. Fan sends his regrets that he is unable to attend. He has asked me to pass on his congratulations to the organizers from CAAS and the IFPRI-Beijing office for putting together an outstanding conference. He (and I) would like to thank the co-hosts of the conference, the Institutes of Agricultural Resources and Regional Planning and of Agricultural Economics and Development of CAAS, and the sponsors, including the National Science Foundation of China, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, and the Project Adapting to Climate Change in China.

Sometime in the recent past, a baby was born who became the 7 billionth human. By the middle of this century we will most likely add another 2 billion human inhabitants to this planet, one that is already beginning to feel the aches and pains of so much use.

The additional 2 billion people will not be distributed evenly. Instead they will be concentrated in the countries that today we call ‘less developed’. As they join the rest of us, they will want to have, and we hope to be able to provide them, with a standard of living that is much better than their parents. Our home, earth, will be asked to provide even more services, of clean water and air, shelter and adequate food. By some estimates we will need to increase the quantity of food produced by 70 percent. Suffice it to say that record harvests will be needed every year from now until at least the middle of this century.

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ICCCFS: Finishing Touches

The opening panel is already staged.

IFPRI's banners and publications are on display.

Organizers of the International Conference on Climate Change and Food Security are putting the finishing touches on the Main Hall of the Friendship Hotel Beijing. More than 100 participants--from climate change experts from the BRICS countries to university students from all corners of China--are expected to attend the event.

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BRICS and Climate Change: ICCCFS in Context

Participants Register for ICCCFS

Climate change experts from an influential bloc of developing countries known as BRICS—expected to play a key role in upcoming global climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa—will gather in China next week to present new research on the impact of climate change on food security. Representatives of BRICS--Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa--and the United States and Indonesia, will present simulations about potential future weather and crop production changes based on sophisticated climate models at the International Conference on Climate Change and Food Security (ICCCFS), organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS). They will also provide policy recommendations that BRICS agricultural ministers can use to craft mitigation and adaptation strategies. 

 “This is the first time that leading scientists from the most important countries in the climate change negotiations will be meeting together and reporting on the food security and climate change issues—including human wellbeing, calorie availability, and child malnutrition—for their countries,” said senior IFPRI researcher Gerald Nelson.

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Co-Sponsor Spotlight: Adapting to Climate Change in China

Funded by the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and China, the Adapting to Climate Change in China Project (ACCC) aims to develop and share China's experience of integration climate change adaptation into the development process in order to reduce vulnerability to climate change in China and other countries.   For more information about the project download this brochure or visit the project website.

On November 8, ACCC will host a special panel that focuses on the project's findings. Chaired by Emanuele Cuccillato, ACCC's Climate Change Knowledge Management and Learning Adviser, the session will feature presentations by Prof. Xu Yin Long, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Prof. Wang Guo Qing, Nanjing Hydraulic Research Institute, Prof. Pan Xue Biao, Chinese Agricultural University, and Dr.Wang Jianwu, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Prof. Yin Yongyuan, Chair of the ACCC Scientific Advisory Committee, will also present the paper "Adapting to Climate Change and Enhancing Food Security in China" during the opening panel on Nov. 8.

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Featured Presenter: Yin Yongyuan

ICCCFS will feature reports by leading researchers from the BRICS countries, Indonesia, and the United States.

Yin Yongyaun is the Chair of the Advisory Committee for the Adapting to Climate Change in China (ACCC) project. He is a also an Adjunct Professor of Department of Forest Resources Management at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC and contributes to projects funded by Environment Canada.  His areas of interest include: climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation policy evaluation, environmental sustainability, land use and water planning, multiple forestry management, energy efficiency, poverty reduction, and government policy impacts. Dr. Yongyaun recieved his PhD in Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University.

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BRICS Agriculture Ministers Meet

Agricultural Ministers from the BRICS bloc of developing countries--Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa--met this week in Chengdu, China to discuss their commitment to food security and climate change.

The goal of the three-day gathering was to track progress on commitments made in the joint Moscow Declaration, an agreement to battle hunger in the bloc.

The following press releases and articles provide more details about the event:

Xinhau (China): Chinese vice premier urges more agricultural cooperation among BRICS; BASIC countries meet to discuss climate change

South Africa Government Information: Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Tina Joemat-Pettersson attends the Second Meeting of BRICS Ministers of Agriculture and Agrarian Development

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