Support for a work program on agriculture is urgently needed at Doha to incorporate the growing sector into international efforts to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change as well as address looming food security issues, said experts.
"Agriculture is still considered a sideshow in the climate arena and a decision has been lacking over several years of U.N. climate negotiations. Agriculture will be massively impacted by climate change, both the increase in extreme conditions and the rising temperatures.
We need global action to ensure food security under climate change," said Bruce Campbell, head of the CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) research program.
While the adaptation challenges are immense, agriculture is also a source of greenhouse gasses. Recently published CGIAR research analysing the global carbon footprint of the food industry showed that food systems contributed 19 to 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions - between a fifth and third of emissions worldwide. Agriculture accounts for around 80 percent of these emissions.
At last year's climate talks in Durban, agriculture was included in an outcome for the first time in history when the ad-hoc working group on Long-term Cooperative Action requested the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to consider issues related to agriculture at its meeting last June.
"There were more than 30 submissions on agriculture prior to the SBSTA meeting, so discussion in June was wide-ranging, but no decisions were reached. There will be further discussion at SBSTA in Doha," Campbell said.
"Despite many issues of common interest, there is still disagreement on the balance between adaptation and mitigation, and the inclusion or exclusion of the UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibilities."
Proponents are looking for next week's climate summit to cement some progress on agriculture. Unlike forestry, which has a dedicated negotiating stream under REDD+, agriculture discussions are scattered in many different streams (read the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's Roadmap to Agriculture at UNFCCC here).
This is problematic because agricultural adaptation and mitigation are intertwined, Campbell said. Agriculture needs a dedicated work program where a variety of issues are tackled, including the adaptation needs for different crops and farming systems; adaptation and mitigation trade-offs and synergies; adaptation options that have mitigation co-benefits; and the incentives are needed to implement these options.
However, there are some points of contention that need to be negotiated to reach this next stage, as outlined in a report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development. These include questions of whether to focus a work program on mitigation, adaptation or both; the trade implications of addressing agriculture in a climate change agreement; and the role of carbon markets and agricultural offsets.
Work by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has shown that the agricultural sector is one of the main drivers of deforestation in regions such as Africa and Asia.
As negotiators move towards a 'post-Kyoto' phase at the Doha talks, integrating agriculture into agreements on the UN-backed Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program will also be critical for the program's success, according to research by CCAFS.
Innovations such as CIFOR's landscape approaches to land management demonstrate that agriculture and forests are already connected and that there is potential for the two to coexist.
"What happens in forests has an impact on water quality and quantity. What happens to water has an impact on agricultural productivity. What happens to agricultural productivity has an impact on how much forest is removed from that landscape," said Louis Verchot, Director of CIFOR's environment research programme.
Momentum is growing for negotiators to recognise the links between forests and agriculture. In March, an international research group led by Sir John Beddington, Britain's chief scientific advisor, published a list of recommendations in the journalScience, calling for an agreement in Doha to expand understanding of sustainable agriculture practices and the relationship between agriculture and forestry.
This call was also reiterated in the final report of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, set up by CCAFS to identify the necessary policy changes needed to help the world achieve sustainability in the agricultural sector.
"We need to develop agriculture that is 'climate smart' - generating more output without the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions, either via the basic techniques of farming or from ploughing up grassland or cutting down rainforest," Sir John told BBC News.
In the lead-up to the Doha talks, the Qatari government hosted an international conference on food security in drylands, a move that Campbell thinks could potentially indicate a stronger focus on the food issue when the parties meet.
Agriculture will also be discussed at a number of side events at Doha, including during a discussion forum on forests on a cultivated planet at Forest Day 6 on December 2 and at Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day on December 3.
However, Campbell remains sceptical that significant progress will be made on agriculture until decisions have been reached on some broader UNFCCC issues - especially the key questions of climate finance and legally binding emissions commitments.
"To make progress on sustainable agriculture, we really need these big issues to be settled."