Agriculture, forests and soils: where does the living world fit into COP26?

Call to action 28 October 2021
From 31 October to 12 November, Glasgow will be hosting the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, COP26. To tackle the crisis, CIRAD advocates a far-reaching transformation of food systems. Agriculture, forests and soils, which are both victims of and solutions to climate change, must have a place in actions aimed at mitigating climate change.
Traditional stock enclosures in the Thiès region, Senegal © J. Bouyer, CIRAD
Traditional stock enclosures in the Thiès region, Senegal © J. Bouyer, CIRAD

Traditional stock enclosures in the Thiès region, Senegal © J. Bouyer, CIRAD

The agricultural sector, which had long been overlooked in global climate talks, is now an integral part of the debate, because of both its role as a greenhouse gas emitter and a victim of climate disruption, and its mitigation potential. CIRAD has contributed to this global recognition via the Koronivia joint work on agriculture adopted in 2017 at COP23. 

The agricultural and food sectors are both responsible for and victims of climate change

Crops will primarily be impacted by three climate factors: increased temperatures, higher atmospheric CO2 levels, and altered rainfall patterns. The latest IPCC scenarios prompted worrying new studies. For instance, rainfed rice yields in Senegal are set to halve by 2100.

Extreme climate episodes, such as droughts, are also likely to be increasingly frequent, with immediate adverse effects in terms of agricultural yields and carbon capture capacity.

At the other end of the chain, food loss and waste are responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

Rethinking land use and food systems

The food sector has to reinvent itself in response to this vicious cycle.

We also need to rethink land use and soil management.

The forestry sector: there are calls for global governance

Tropical forests are vital carbon sinks, but they are also under threat as a result of climate change. They too are set to become net carbon emitters.

Furthermore, those forests are also continuing to suffer the consequences of deforestation. This has prompted calls for global forest governance.

Hear CIRAD's Alain Karsenty talking about the geopolitical issues surrounding the world's forests in the "Géopolitique, le débat" programme on RFI on 17 October (in French)

Soils are mitigation tools

Soil carbon sequestration also has a major role to play in mitigating climate change. The IPCC models include carbon storage and greenhouse emissions in their assessments of changes in practices or in soil use. However, those biogeophysical factors are not the only ones that affect the climate balance. Surface albedo, in other words the soil's capacity to reflect or absorb sunlight, affects land temperature.

Nevertheless, it is important not to overestimate the climate benefits of some farming practices, particularly as regards nitrous oxide. Nitrogen fertilizers are vital for agricultural intensification in many regions, notably in Africa, but nitrous oxide is also a major greenhouse gas.

Crop biodiversity, a means of resilience and adaptation for agriculture

To tackle these challenges, several CIRAD projects are banking on biodiversity. While monocropping is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate disruption, crop diversification and intercropping make farming systems both more productive and more resilient. 

Here are a few examples of the role of crop biodiversity: 



Public policy support

Lastly, CIRAD researchers are involved in assessing agricultural adaptation and greenhouse gas reduction policies. Their results serve to draft more environmentally and socioeconomically effective public policy.