Climate change

Summary of the issue:

Climate change

People around the world are experiencing the effects of climate change: extreme weather events and drought, altered growing seasons and pest outbreaks. These changes are destabilizing many communities and compromising the ability of people to provide decent livelihoods for themselves and their families.

In farming

Climate change is taking its toll on many farming communities worldwide. For example, “coffee rust”—a destructive fungus that attacks coffee plants—is wreaking havoc on farms in several regions of Central America where changing weather is exacerbating the fungal outbreak. Similarly, unpredictable and untimely rains are deepening agrarian distress for cotton farmers in West Africa and South Asia. Whilst smallholder farmers are the hardest hit, large scale industrial food production is also affected by climate change. Yet, it is also a major contributor of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Agriculture and its associated land-use change contribute up to 25 percent of all global GHG emissions, principally from deforestation or conversion of other habitats, use of fertilizers and methane emissions from livestock.

Supply chain tools address climate challenges in different ways. Many programmes including most agriculture standards, require farmers and other supply chain actors to take steps to reduce GHG emissions and increase the storage of carbon in plants and soil—practices that can also support farm productivity and livelihood stability. For instance, planting of fruit and timber trees, and restoration of steep slopes and stream sides with natural vegetation, can provide triple benefits for carbon storage, farm productivity, and diversification of income. Other strategies focus on climate change adaptation or increasing climate resilience. These aim to increase the capacity of the farm and the farmer to sustain productive agriculture under a range of environmental conditions and are typically a bundle of activities such as:

  • increasing the water-storage capacity of soils using ground covers, compost, and other techniques;
  • adopting drought- or pest-resistant crop varieties;
  • adjusting planting or harvest cycles in response to changing climate patterns;
  • increasing the diversity of crops and plants on the farm to mitigate the risk of catastrophic crop loss; and
  • providing better training and fostering peer-learning networks to increase farmers’ knowledge of climate-smart practices and adaptation strategies.

In other sectors

Beyond farming, climate change is also an area of focus for supply chain initiatives. In forestry for instance, many tools prohibit illegal logging or forest degradation from various extractive operations, thereby reducing overall GHG emissions from these activities. Standards working in other sectors also seek to reduce GHG emissions – in business operations such as mines, smelters, processing facilities, or mills – or by requiring certified entities to measure their energy use or to use more renewables in their processes. Still other standards focus on the certification of dedicated GHG emission reduction projects (e.g. REDD+ or carbon offset projects), or on avoiding emissions through certifying the responsible production of fossil fuel alternatives such as biofuels. Standards and certifications in the aquaculture sector focus on reducing nitrogen discharges in fish farms, thereby reducing GHG emissions.

Some resources that examine the impact of standards, certification and related supply chain tools on climate change are:

Available evidence

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