There is little confusion about what would be globally appropriate mitigation actions (GAMA) to keep the warming of our planet in the range of 2 degrees Celsius. Beyond that level of warming planetary feedbacks may kick in, such as changes in oceanic circulation, which are hard to control. There is also little uncertainty in most places, what locally appropriate adaptation and mitigation actions (LAAMA) could look like, to ensure that sustainable development progresses and/or remains in reach. Often such options will include forests, trees and agroforestry. The specifics will be highly context dependent, with external financial co-investment crucial in the poorest (least developed) countries. But, between this GAMA and the many LAAMA’s there’s a gaping hole.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created in Rio in 1992 – at a time that the world seemed to be divided into two parts, I) rich (developed) countries that had not only caused most historical emissions that caused climate change, but were also emitting the most at the time, and II) poor, developing countries that were to suffer most from climate change but had little role in either historical or current emissions. The code sentence became ‘common but differentiated responsibility’. Trenches were dug and at all subsequent events the developing countries asked for stringent emission reduction by developed countries, a free hand to emit as much as they wanted themselves, and finances to pay for the damage done by climate change. The developed countries agreed initially, and the Kyoto protocol reflected a first step to correct for historical inequities. However, early signs of rapid rise in emissions in China, emerging from ‘poor’ to ‘middle income’ challenged the discourse of rich versus poor. With emissions in India following on the China trajectory, the emissions from deforestation and tropical peatlands added further complexity. Simply pointing fingers from safe positions in trenches doesn’t help. The emissions embodied in trade grew faster than other categories and the emission reduction of Kyoto protocol countries did not contribute much to GAMA. The Small Island States are the most under threat.
There are at least three accounting systems for emissions that could be set up to be consistent: area (as in national and sub-national jurisdictions), sectors (including their private sector roles and international trade) and citizens (with per capita emission footprints as key variable). Mixing elements of the three is likely to lead to double-counting and gaps – but the failure of nation states to effectively implement the agreed area-based system leads to consumer pressure on companies to clean up their part of the act. It is hard to see yet how this can really lead to either LAAMA or GAMA, but it’s good to have an alternative approach that the countries that jointly shape the UNFCCC could use to get inspiration from and to build on.
This years’ UNFCCC event (‘Conference of Parties’) was held in Lima. Did Peru and its Lama’s (Peru presented a substantial number of NAMA’s that are supposed to be locally appropriate and that align adaptation as well as mitigation) inspire a breakthrough towards locally appropriate adaptation and mitigation actions? Unfortunately not. Did it bring GAMA any closer? When far enough in the future, way beyond their expected tenure, politicians are willing to make ‘commitments’ – but not for measures that they’ll have to sell to current electorates. There had so far been one bright spot in the polarized rich versus poor discourse: the concept of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions, framed voluntarily by developing countries who wanted to show that they want to be part of the solution. This concept was introduced in the COP in 2007 in Bali (Indonesia), but had a rather checkered history until all other negotiated options failed and it became at least some basis for action. If actually bridging LAAMA’s to GAMA, the NAMA framework can embody ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ for the developing countries, but it needs firm commitments from the high-emission countries (regardless of whether they formerly were classified as rich or poor).
The main outcome of the Lima COP was that Intended Nationally Determined Contributions are now the acronym of the year. INDC – yes, it suggests that the issue is “IN DC”, where the US Congress holds key to decisive action; INDC’s may be indecisive. INDC‘s replace NAMA, or rather, make the non-committal dimension of NAMA apply to all countries. Will this get us out of the 1992 trenches? Comments made at the final plenary of the COP don’t suggest we are.
It probably means that the LAAMA’s have to be prepared for even more adaptation to a globally changing climate that is not brought under control. The more uncertain conditions of a world with more than 2 degrees warming are coming rapidly – and two degrees local cooling is about what we can expect from trees in our agricultural landscapes, so the agroforestry option is only a step in the right direction.
Links and references:
LAMA-NAMA-GAMA blog after Copenhagen
On agroforestry effects on microclimate, see:
van Noordwijk M, Bayala J, Hairiah K, Lusiana B, Muthuri C, Khasanah N, and Mulia R, 2014. Agroforestry solutions for buffering climate variability and adapting to change. Chapter 14 in: J. Fuhrer and P.J. Gregory (Eds.) Climate change Impact and Adaptation in Agricultural Systems. CAB-International, Wallingford (UK) pp 216-232
On area, sector or citizen based emission accounting, see:
van Noordwijk M. Climate Change: Agricultural Mitigation. In: Neal Van Alfen, editor-in-chief. Encyclopedia of Agriculture and Food Systems, Vol. 2,
Read more on UNFCCC COP 20 Lima outcomes: Lima Call for Climate Action Puts World on Track to Paris 2015
About the author:
Dr Meine vanNoordwijk is the Chief Scientist, World Agroforesrty Centre (ICRAF) and is also part-time professor of Agroforestry at Wageningen University. He is based in Indonesia and leads the multifunctional landscape component in the CGIAR research program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and are not necessarily reflective of views held by ICRAF or The ASB Partnership.