International climate change negotiators in Africa later this year will be looking back on the famine now sweeping eastern parts of the continent, and ahead to predictions that climate change will hurt Africa's future food production, a World Bank expert said Tuesday.
"The challenges are overwhelming," Andrew Steer, the World Bank's special envoy on climate change, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"Africa needs to triple food production by 2050," he said. "At the same time, you've got climate change lowering average yields .... So, of course, we need something different."
Steer is hoping for a new focus on agriculture at the talks in South Africa's eastern city of Durban, the first in Africa since Nairobi hosted a round in 2006. South Africa has said that as chair of the Durban conference, it will champion calls for industrialized nations to deliver money and technology to help developing countries in Africa and elsewhere to develop clean industries and cope with the droughts, floods and other disruptions associated with global warming.
Africa, hard hit by the effects of climate change even though richer parts of the world produce more global warming gases, needs money for managing water and developing seeds for food crops that can withstand droughts and floods, Steer said.
Researchers under the auspices of the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate that worldwide, agriculture accounts for 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than transportation's 13 percent and close to industry's 19 percent. Farming's contribution to global warming could be offset by techniques to store, or sequester, more carbon in trees and soil.
Sequestering carbon is good for the climate and has been shown to increase yields, Steer said.
"You invest in things that are good for yields, good for resilience and also sequester more carbon," Steer said. "You can have it both ways if you get carbon back in soils."
Steer said it was difficult to say how much money was needed, and cautioned that while agreements on helping poor countries and a focus on agriculture may emerge at Durban, the cash will come only later.
Durban is "not a pledging session," Steer said on the sidelines of a conference on climate change and farming that drew agriculture ministers from across Africa to Johannesburg.
In a speech opening the Johannesburg conference, South African agriculture minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said, "Food security, poverty and climate are closely linked and should not be considered separately."