Evidence on adaptation-mitigation synergy at UN climate talks

By Elizabeth Kahurani

At the ongoing UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (IAARD), Ministry of Agriculture and The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) joined hands at an official side event to provide scientific evidence and guidance on the issue of synergy between adaptation and mitigation.

In defining the synergy concept, Dr Lalisa Duguma of ICRAF said that usually, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” thus reaching for optimal benefits derived from the two interventions in a way that neither would have achieved independently.

From a study that developed a framework for assessing potential areas for synergy, and applied in developing countries, Dr Duguma noted that most countries were moving towards synergy with a high score on institutional setup although much remains to be seen in terms of implementation for most countries. Read related article

Indonesia is among the exception. The country is implementing several strategies to link adaptation and mitigation in agriculture and peatlands. One of this is the Integrated Crop -Livestock Farming System (ICLS) that is being applied in a rainfed lowland rice  area  of Central Java. According to Dr. Wihardjaka of IAARD, the system significantly improves the productivity of rainfed lowland rice, provides higher  profits and increases resilience of agriculture to climate change. It at the same time reduces greenhouse gas emissions particularly carbon dioxide and methane.

Activities to implement ICLS include “use of direct seeding technique, recycling of organic wastes, crop planting calendar, pest management control, efficient use of fertilizer, water management and control, and high yielding rice variety with low methane emission,” says Dr Wihardjaka. It also involves utilizing natural resources such as biogas for household use, biocompost as fertilizer and  biopesticides that effectively use solar radiation.

“An integrated cropping calendar helps farmers to adapt to unpredictable weather patterns as it acts as a tool for rainfall forecast, provide recommendation for planting time, planting area, risk areas to flood, drought, pests and diseases,” says Mr Fadhlullah Ramadhani also from IAARD. “In fact, it helps to make decisions on fertilizer, seed and pesticide distribution as well as water requirements. We administered multi-channel delivery system including the use of facebook, android, SMS, and Google+” added Mr. Ramadhani. “With the multi-faceted climatic threats, cropping calendar is one among the many adaptation actions being developed and implemented in Indonesia. Other actions include development  of hardy high- yielding varieties, soil and water conservation and crop rotation” added Dr Fahmuddin Agus from IAARD.  

Another source of emissions in Indonesia is degraded peatland. It covers around   25% of the 15 Mha Indonesian peatland area and their high emission potential is exacerbated by the risk of fires. However, this land can profitably be converted for crop production without worsening the environment.

Dr Fahmudin Agus of IAARD and his team conducted a study on viability of agricultural production on peatland. “We found that when properly managed, crop production on peatland is comparable to that of mineral land, and it is quite profitable with an estimated net present value of USD 315 to 4421 per hectare per year,” he says. However, initial investment can be tall order for smallholder farmers. He therefore urges for policy measures that provide incentives to these farmers that could include, “secure and  (semi) permanent land tenure; subsidies for initial investment, especially for smallholder rubber plantation; infrastructure, including drainage canals and water table control system; high quality planting materials and fertilizers; and technical support. Rehabilitation of degraded peatland must be coupled with strict regulatory measures for conserving the remaining  peat forest”.

To objectively determine how such climate change actions as those in Indonesia can be scaled up and applied to different contexts, it is important to know the extent to which countries are ready to implement through policy frameworks provided by the UN processes such REDD.

Dr Peter Minang of ICRAF led a study that developed a framework for assessing REDD readiness in different countries and that can be used to objectively make cross-cutting comparisons. When applied to four countries –Peru, Cameroon, Indonesia and Vietnam, all the countries seem to have adopted most of the UN climate commitment REDD processes and made the required submissions. However, only Indonesia had backed this up with a national policy on REDD linked to the country’s economic strategy, although Vietnam also seem to be making progress with a benefit sharing framework in place. “Most countries scored poorly on benefit sharing; monitoring, reporting and verification; audit and financing,” says Dr Minang. Read related article

Peru is making progress with the launch of their national adaptation and mitigation plans (NAMAs) at the UNFCCC COP 20. Dr Valentina Robiglio of ICRAF was involved in providing technical support to the process. At the IAARD-ICRAF event, she described the NAMA process and how this can be locally adapted especially to cacao production. See presentation.

The Director General of ICRAF, Prof Tony Simons, was moderating the session and concluded by emphasizing the importance of having evidence feed into the official UNFCCC negotiations particularly to influence the formal inclusion of agriculture in these debates.


See presentations

Integrated crop-livestock farming system (ICLS) on rainfed lowland rice for sustainable agriculture

Synergies between Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: National Level Experiences

Improving   the profits   from peatland without exacerbating the environmental impacts

Integrated cropping calendar for adapting to erratic rainfall pattern

Framework to identify mitigation-adaptation synergy potential

Study develops an analytical framework of enabling conditions necessary for synergies between mitigation and adaptation

By Elizabeth Kahurani

The new IPCC report calls for “sustainable-development trajectories that combine adaptation and mitigation to reduce climate change and its impacts."

Indeed, it is becoming more apparent that linking mitigation and adaptation is a more effective and efficient approach to climate change. Discussions at UN climate talks are heavy on the benefits of synergy; and climate finance mechanisms are increasingly looking for projects with linkages to both.

A field extension officer (middle) explains cacao agroforestry farming methods in Cameroon. Findings of a new study show that in developing countries, institutional setup is an area with strong potential for synergy between mitigation and adaptationGiven that initial framing has had the two elements working in parallel, there is need to identify where there exists strong potential to actualize harmony needed to optimize strengths and benefits of mitigation and adaptation approaches.

In a journal paper titled “A systematic analysis of enabling conditions for synergy between climate change mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries” published in Environmental Science and Policy, Dr Lalisa Duguma and  his colleagues from the ASB Partnership have developed an analytical framework within which they explore four conditions necessary for integrating mitigation and adaptation. These are: i) policies and strategies ii) institutional arrangement iii) Financing iv) Programs and projects.

“After a comprehensive review of publications on climate change integration, particularly those on mitigation and adaptation, it was clear that these four conditions are crucial for countries to move towards synergy,” says Dr Duguma.

The four conditions were examined using eight indicators (see table below) to score the synergy potential of 53 developing countries that were selected based on national communications submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Overall, the countries had strongest potential for synergy between mitigation and adaptation on institution setup, mainly because countries had committees to work on national level climate change strategies and also to participate and ensure compliance to mutual climate agreements and submissions to international conventions. Moreover, two thirds of the countries surveyed had programs dealing with both mitigation and adaptation.

The countries were found to be weak on the potential to finance both strategies simultaneously and to develop policies. “This weak link in potential could be because most of these countries are in the early stages of developing policies on climate change and normally funding/budget allocation is informed by already existing policies. Moreover, majority of these countries are almost entirely dependent on multilateral funding, most of which is given for mitigation activities,” explains Susan Wambugu, a co-author in the study.

A comparative assessment between the countries showed interesting variations, with middle-income countries having strong potential to synergy. “Other studies that we have done show that these fast growing economies exhibit strong potential for synergy as they want to boost their image to be seen as responsible global citizens; also to maintain credibility and attract more climate funding,” says Dr Meine vanNoordwijk who was part of the study. Strong potential was also identified with countries exposed to high climate change vulnerability such as the small island states. “Having been among the most affected by climate change already, these countries have no much option but to take on adaptation even as they implement mitigation approaches,” Dr vanNoordwijk explains.

Other least developed countries had a weak potential score for synergy. According to the authors, this is contrary to expectations given that they are also among high climate risk countries and they are strong proponents for adaptation in international policy debates. However, the study is quick to point out that limited large-scale programs within which they implement climate objectives could explain the tendency seen in these countries.

Further analysis of the synergy score against development and environmental indices such as GDP, Human Development Index, and Environmental Performance Index (EPI) confirm the findings of the study. “Among the countries studied, Indonesia and Jamaica are exceptional on this assessment. Indonesia for example has an independent body reporting directly to the office of the president. Such institutional measures with political will and commitment have largely contributed to a high EPI score for the country,” says Dr Peter Minang, one of the study co-authors. “ A similar trend is seen among least developed countries, with countries like Malawi and Ghana emerging with strong synergy potential scores in an environment where the governments have made deliberate efforts to integrate development and climate strategies,” he says.

As climate change discussions focus on ways to generate meaningful impact from actions to deal with the challenge, this framework and evidence presented is among pioneer studies that governments and practitioners could benefit from in an endeavor to gain lost opportunities from the previous siloed approach to mitigation and adaptation and embrace far more beneficial avenues of a synergy approach.

“With the push for global climate communities towards synergies between mitigation and adaptation measures in order to effectively address climate change, it is important that the necessary enabling conditions be known and made to use. This paper is therefore the first attempt to come up with such key elements to promote synergies particularly from developing countries context” Says Dr. Duguma. 


Enabling conditions with their respective indicators used to determine countries’ synergy potentials 

Enabling conditions

Indicators used for each of the enabling conditions for synergy

Policies and Strategies

Does the country have a climate policy that addresses both M+A?


Is there a common climate strategy/action plan for both M+A?


Has the country submitted NAMA (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions)/REDD+


R-PP (Readiness Preparation Proposal) and/or NAPA to the UNFCCC?

Institutional arrangements

Is there a national-level committee addressing both M+A


Is there an implementing body (institution/agency/department/unit) addressing M+A together?

Financing (Funds)

Is there a climate fund for both M+A?

Programs and projects

Is there a joint program addressing M+A?


Are there subnational projects addressing both M+A



Available on open access

Duguma, L. A., Wambugu, S. W., Minang, P. A., van Noordwijk, M. (2014) A systematic analysis of enabling conditions for synergy between climate change mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries.Environmental Science & Policy 42 (2014) 138-148.


Social actors that could make or break agriculture

Sustainable agriculture is driven by a host of factors, key being social actors with the ability to influence decisions and choices by farmers.

 A recent study on Social actors and unsustainability of agriculture published in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability identifies who these actors are, ways they could make agriculture unsustainable, and interventions that could work for sustainability.

Actors in agricultural landscapes whose actions can threaten farm sustainability include investors and creditors who incur lose andA discussion forum with farmers in Cameroon. Social actors such as investors can influence decisions and choices by farmersabandon farms due to low economic returns, neighbors and environmental activists engaged in conflict because they are negatively affected by farming activities, customers concerned with quality of products, and shifting providers and farm regulators who impose restrictions. Individual interests drive these groups and their actions impact on farmer’s ability to benefit or loose from agriculture; and further influence consequent management decisions that in turn affect sustainability.

“Some actors could have either positive or negative influence on different aspects of sustainability such as customers demanding for environment friendly products,” says Florence Bernard, Associate scientist, ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) who is the study lead author. She notes that such consumer behavior is encouraged as it helps to promote agricultural sustainability from an environmental perspective  but because it involves a shift in the way farm activities are conducted, it poses some risks that impact on economic sustainability, at least before farmers can begin to realize benefits to adjustments made.

Several interventions that can empower farmers to deal with risks and threats through adaptive management include implementation of macro-economic policies where governments can provide careful targeted subsidies for farm inputs and encourage availability of long-term credit facilities, reduce import tariffs and export taxes for farmers; harmonizing sectoral policies; participatory land use planning that incorporates stakeholder preferences and that also promotes social learning so that decisions made are not out of current economic benefits but are based on a future outlook that encapsulates environmental and social benefits as well.

Other incentives are payments for environmental services whereby farmers are compensated for opportunities foregone while protecting the environment as well as extension services that make use of new effective approaches such as innovation platforms that promote a two way communication mechanism amongst the various actors and stakeholders. 

The study provides indicators that can be used to identify and avoid pathways that lead to unsustainability along the process of agricultural production. For instance indicators of conducive economic policy reforms might include measures taken to reduce or eliminate market distortions and availability of long-term credit facilities to famers.s innovation platforms that promote a two way communication mechanism amongst the various actors and stakeholders.

Ultimately, sustainability depends on how systems, institutions and technologies evolve and the ability to embrace and or respond to associated changes. Being in a position to identify social actors and pathways along that process is critical. 



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