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Concluding Remarks by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director at the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development Meeting

Advancing Agriculture in a Copenhagen Agreed Outcome and Beyond

Brussels, 25 June 2009 - Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

It can be a bit tough delivering the concluding remarks at a conference to which one has only just arrived.

But let me say that I attach the highest importance to your theme and your goals.

I am a development economist by education and by training: but agriculture was in my blood from a very young age - indeed I was raised on a farm on Brazil.

Meanwhile, climate change and the urgent need to seal a scientifically-credible deal in Copenhagen in just 164 days time is among the central preoccupations of an Executive Director of UNEP.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Green Economy and Agriculture

In response to the food, fuel, financial and economic crises, UNEP launched its Global Green New Deal/Green Economy initiative last October.

In a world of multiple challenges - including the aforementioned ones - plus climate change and looming natural resource scarcity the economy needs an urgent transition to a low carbon, resource efficient path.

Every dollar, yen, Euro and rupee needs to work on multiple fronts to deliver multiple opportunities.

Markets need the right signals and incentives to become investors rather than miners of the planet and its life support systems - that includes the atmosphere, that includes our forests, our freshwaters and our soils. - that includes our farmers and our food producers.

Agriculture and climate change are two key cornerstones of the Green Economy initiative, so I am delighted to have been invited here today.

I believe there is much that can be done to make agriculture and food production generally far more climate friendly and an ally in combating climate change, while also improving the lives and incomes of farmers and perhaps delivering alternative or diversified livelihoods.


UNEP coordinates World Environment Day on behalf of the United Nations every 5 June and this year the main host was Mexico.

We prepared a rapid assessment report entitled the Natural Fix - looking at the potential of soils and vegetation to sequester carbon.

As you may know, several developed economies are looking to spend billions of dollars on carbon capture and storage - essentially taking C02 off smoke stacks at power stations and burying it underground.

But there is a tried and tested method of carbon capture and storage which is the biosphere and it has been doing the job for millennia.

The report suggests - and suggests conservatively - that investing in forests, but also mangroves, dryland soils, grasslands and other ecosystems could carbon capture and store over 50 gigatones of carbon over the coming decades with the right market signals.

The Natural Fix report suggests that agricultural sector could be broadly carbon neutral by 2030-equal to 6 Gt of CO2 equivalent or up to 2 Gt of carbon if sustainable management practices were widely adopted.

It is a real possibility that paying tropically-forested countries not to cut down trees will form part of a Copenhagen deal under the banner Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation either as a fund or as a carbon market mechanism.

I UNEP, in collaboration the UN Development Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organization, is hosting the UN REDD secretariat and with funding from Norway and others we are investing and building the capacity of nine pioneering developing countries to be ready, when REDD takes off.

But if forests can be funded what about these other key ecosystems some of which interface directly with agriculture and farming?

Carbon Benefits Project - Carbon Farming

We are certainly preparing for that eventuality if the international community moves that way.

Only a few weeks ago UNEP, with funding from the Global Environment Facility and many, many partners such as WWF and Colorado State University, launched the Carbon Benefits Project.

Here we are working with farmers and landowners in western Kenya as well as in Niger, Nigeria and China.

Perhaps one of the missing links in the debate is how much carbon different natural landscapes including farms and agroforestry systems can actually sequester under different management regimes.

The project aims to resolve this and set the stage for the possibility of farmers supplementing incomes via the carbon markets by farming carbon into soils and vegetation. The first results are expected in around 18 month's time.

Sustainable Agriculture

If carbon payments for sustainable agriculture can be advanced the Green Economy benefits could be many.

UNEP, in collaboration with the UN Conference on Trade and Development, recently published a survey of 114 small-scale farms in 24 African countries. It found that:-

  • Yields had more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices had been used, with the yield jumping to 128 per cent in east Africa.
  • The study found that organic practices outperformed traditional methods and chemical-intensive conventional farming and also found strong environmental benefits such as improved soil fertility, better retention of water and resistance to drought.
  • The research also highlighted the role that adapting organic practices could have in improving local education and community cooperation.
  • Organic and sustainable agricultural practices also sequester carbon - indeed this is one reason why yields had improved.


    And there are other possibilities which are in need of increased research and development, such as perennial crops.

    Experts suggest that 'moving back to the future' to these kinds of multi-year crops with deep roots can also boost soil fertility and stability 50-fold while assisting in adapting to climate change

    Perennial crops are also 50 per cent better at carbon capture and storage than their annual cousins, according to some estimates.

    Because they do not need to be planted every year, they use less farm machinery and require fewer inputs - reducing greenhouse gas emissions further.

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    The Food Chain and its Carbon Footprint

    It is not just what happens down on the farm that echoes to your climate theme - there is a great deal that can be achieved in terms of the distribution, post harvest and consumption of the food we eat.

    In response to the recent food crisis, UNEP produced a report with the conclusion that we need a green revolution, but with a capital G!

    The report shines a light on perhaps one of the least discussed areas - food waste, from the farm and the seas to the supermarket and the kitchen.

    Food waste that reflects wasted energy and thus unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions in terms of the fertilizer inputs but also the fuel used in tractors and trawlers to trucks and vans up to the shopper driving to the supermarket by car or on the bus.

    Greenhouse gas emissions too presumably from rotting food, discarded in landfills.

    Ladies and gentlemen,

    The facts seem to be that over half of the food produced today is either lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain.

    There is evidence within the report that the world could feed the entire projected population growth of the coming decades by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet - while also taking pressure off forests and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Losses and food waste in the United States could be as high as 40-50 per cent, according to some recent estimates. Up to one quarter of all fresh fruits and vegetables in the US is lost between the field and the table.
  • In Australia it is estimated that food waste makes up half of that country's landfill. Almost one-third of all food purchased in the United Kingdom every year is not eaten.
  • Food losses in the developing world are also considerable, mainly due to spoilage and pests. For instance, in Africa, the total amount of fish lost through discards, post-harvest loss and spoilage may be around 30 per cent of landings.
  • Food losses in the field between planting and harvesting could be as high as 20-40 per cent of the potential harvest in developing countries due to factors such as pests and pathogens.
  • This underlines the need for greater agricultural research and development which in Africa amounts to just 13 per cent of global investment, versus over 33 per cent in Latin America and over 40 per cent in Asia.

    So in conclusion, yes there is great scope for advancing the argument that sustainable agriculture and other key ecosystems and their multi-trillion services be included in carbon financing or markets.

    But also strong arguments that in term of agriculture and food production, action on as broad front inside but also outside a formal climate agreement in Copenhagen and beyond could also have significant climate benefits.

    And benefits too in terms of the wider sustainability agenda including the poverty and hunger-related UN Millennium Development Goals.

    In short an opportunity to move the global economy towards a low carbon, far more resource efficient Green Economy able to match the needs and aspirations of six billion people, moving to more than nine billion by 2050.

    Thank you