Climate talks progress on agriculture, says Irish negotiator

COP23: Greater understanding of what is needed to cut emissions linked to farming

People dressed  in polar bear costumes and a man with a Donald Trump mask during a performance by Danish artist Jens Galschiot during the COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. Photograph: Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images

People dressed in polar bear costumes and a man with a Donald Trump mask during a performance by Danish artist Jens Galschiot during the COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. Photograph: Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images

 

The world’s efforts to tackle climate change, directed by the Paris agreement, have achieved significant progress through the COP23 process, according to a member of the Irish negotiating team who was directly involved in the high-level talks.

Frank McGovern, the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief climate scientist, said the talks had confronted “tricky issues that had hung around for years” – notably, from an Irish perspective, agriculture emissions.

The latest round involving 195 countries could have been very difficult, he said, because of the political backdrop and the US decision to pull out of the Paris agreement. While the outcome might be considered low-key, there was a lot of groundwork done on moving forward with the agreement and greater commitment to “pre-2020 actions”, he believed.

There was now a greater understanding among EU and global partners on what was needed to reduce carbon emissions associated with farming, which in the past, for example, was very focused on the role of forestry when considering land use, he told The Irish Times.

In recent years, he said, Ireland had worked outside the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process with New Zealand and Latin American countries with large farming sectors in assessing best approaches while maintaining food security and protecting food production.

Inherent complexities

Solutions on energy and transport were obvious, but agriculture had inherent complexities, he added. While Ireland was facing a challenge in addressing its agricultural emissions, which was unique with the EU, it had invested in technology and research, and accepted more needed to be done.

The parties have agreed to work on mitigation approaches to reduce agricultural emissions and identify adaptation measures to counter climate change impacts on farming – these will be informed by a special report on land use and food production from the UN’s scientific advisory body, known as the IPCC, in 2019.

Land management would be the key element in reducing emissions, he said. That included improving livestock and managing manure appropriately. While forestry importance in providing carbon sinks was known, the issue of carbon in soils, and how it is measured, needed further work.

As Ireland had committed to “carbon neutrality” in agriculture, it would have to look at use of land resources for food, energy and “ecosystem services” to store carbon – and ensure it had robust systems to quantify associated emissions.

Better inclusiveness

A new approach to future climate negotiations, described as the “Talanoa Dialogue Process”, was adopted. It is intended to ensure better inclusiveness and transparency, and would put pressure on states “to enhance their ambitions in reducing emissions”, he said. This had been a critical demand of small island states in the South Pacific to ensure global temperature rises this century were kept to 1.5 degrees.

With women disproportionately affected by climate change, Mr McGovern said the gender action plan agreed this week was notable – and paid tribute to a member of the Irish delegation, Colin O’Hehir of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, for his key role in getting it adopted.

Ireland had played a prominent part within the EU team, he added.