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Keeping Up with the Koronivia
What happened at COP27 to an obscure, technical agreement crucial in tackling both food and climate challenges
**This was supposed to have gone out yesterday (Friday) but I was also starting a work trip and let’s just say the logistics didn’t go as planned and here we are.**
The Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA) is a little-known but important agreement reached in 2017 during COP23 in Fiji, to address issues surrounding food and agriculture.
Yes readers, it wasn’t until five years ago that countries agreed to talk about the “unhappy marriage” between climate and food production at COP. Don’t even get me started.
It’s the only formal process through which these issues are included in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under whose auspices the COPs are held.
It had a four-year lifespan and was supposed to end at last year’s COP26 in Glasgow but nations pushed the deadline by a year to 2022.
This short video from the FAO has more information on Koronivia.
Ok, but does it affect me?
“What the world's climate process has to say about food will ultimately affect all of us, and the decisions our societies take about food.”
Ed Davey, International Engagement Director for the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU)
“While these are technical processes, ordinary people should care because the processes will strongly influence our ability to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – and limit the impacts of climate change on our everyday lives. From how much food we can grow to how safe our homes are from extreme weather like forest fires and floods.”
Joao Campari, Global Food Practice Leader at the WWF
What this means is that discussions under it often make their way into government policies, investments and agriculture development plans.
So did Koronivia get renewed?
Yes, it did, and that’s the good news because at one point, it wasn’t at all clear whether that was going to happen.
The new four-year plan is a mouth full - “Sharm el-Sheikh joint work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security”.
It will “promote holistic approaches to addressing climate impacts both on and from agriculture and food security and will be a key coordination hub for discussions and political decisions on these matters” and will include an online portal to share information, the UNFCCC said in a press release.
You can read the full decision here.
Your answer makes it sounds like there’s bad news to follow.
Unfortunately, there is. The process survived and a new mandate was created, but calls to expand it beyond the farm fell on deaf ears.
It wasn’t just groups in the food and climate space who were asking for this. The World Health Organisation (WHO) published a paper before COP27 requesting governments to “establish a permanent, comprehensive, inclusive workstream on food systems under the UNFCCC”.
However, the new process, like its predecessor, focuses narrowly on agricultural production, when we know that in reality, food and climate issues do not stop at the farm gate and a holistic view is essential.
This did not happen.
In fact, “References to food systems approaches have been reduced and the original text has been stripped of critical interventions such as nutrition and dietary shifts, adaptation and mitigation workplans,” said the organisers behind the Food Systems Pavilion.
IPES-Food also said that across COP27, “small-scale farmers have been left outside the tent, and the solutions they propose, such as diverse and resilient ‘agroecological’ food and farming, deleted as a potential solution for adaptation to climate change, despite compelling evidence of its benefits”.
Jennifer Chow, Senior Director of Climate-Resilient Food Systems at the Environmental Defense Fund, also shared her disappointment with me via e-mail.
“The narrow focus ignores the negative impact (and possible positive contribution) that processing, transport, marketing, use and waste of food resources has for our biodiversity, climate and health. Without addressing food issues through a systemic lens and looking at trade-offs linked to food-water-energy-health, we will continue to shift bad practices to other parts of the food system and inadvertently shape perverse incentives.”
Who were the holdouts?
Media reports point to some countries in the Group of 77 and China - the main group of low- and middle-income countries at the U.N. - as well as the U.S. and that countries such as UK, France and Switzerland were in favour of the expansion, but it is hard to know definitively.
Folks who were there said the negotiations were “feisty” and “violent”, Big Ag lobbying was evident, and that the U.S. was responsible for deleting references to diets, nutrition and food waste.
For Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio from FOLU, a lack of understanding of what a food system approach does and does not entail probably plays a role in negotiators choosing to stick to the narrow scope.
This includes a “perception that food systems are a trojan horse for imposing mitigation requirements on developing country farmers, putting them at a disadvantage or increasing domestic food insecurity” when instead it encompasses ensuring food security, access to healthy food for all, helping farmers to prosper and become resilient, and improving nutrition, she said.
WWF’s Campari echoed del Rio’s analysis that mitigation is viewed as both ‘anti-farmer’ and threatening food security but said it is absolutely necessary.
“The reality is that we must continue to rapidly decarbonise all sectors to limit the most severe impacts of climate change. Ultimately, in a hotter, drier world the amount of productive land, the length of growing seasons, yields, and nutrient density are all forecast to decrease. Adaptation alone cannot protect our food security.”
Note - adaptation is broadly about adjusting to changes in climate (for example, altering inputs like fertilisers and feed so crops and animals are more resistant to drought and salinity, diversifying income) and mitigation is to reduce activities that are contributing to climate change (for example, reducing methane emissions from livestock and N₂O from fertiliser use)
Does it matter that the new mandate is narrow?
My dear Watson, let me count the ways in which this matters…
1. Food systems are both causes and victims of the climate crisis.
The way we grow, process, transport, consume and discard food is responsible for a third of total greenhouse gas emissions. So why wouldn’t governments include mitigation in the new mandate?
Agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of biodiversity loss, which can affect our ability to adapt to changes in climate.
Food production is also extremely vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and this is not something that is going to happen in the future. It is already happening. According to the U.N. climate science panel IPCC, Africa has seen a 34% reduction in agricultural productivity growth since 1961 due to climate change.
2. We produce enough food to feed everyone but up to 1 in 10 people go to bed hungry in 2021 and hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine. This shows the problem isn’t about production.
3. We waste an obscene amount of food. It’s unconscionable.
4. Our food systems are unfair and inequitable.
This is mainly because they’re heavily concentrated, with the big conglomerates controlling so many aspects of the food value chain and enjoying massive profits while the actual food producers and workers struggle to make ends meet.
For example, the ABCD group - ADM, Bunge, Cargill and (Louis) Dreyfus - together account for between 75% and 90% of the global grain trade. Four firms (Sygenta, Bayer, BASF, and Corteva) control 62% of the world’s agrochemical market.
5. If you’re still unconvinced, read this open letter from more than 100 organisations, including the WWF, Care, Environmental Defense Fund, FOLU, and African Biodiversity Network. Excerpt below.
“There will be no food security if we do not minimise the impacts of climate change. And there is no way to minimise the impacts of climate change without transforming food systems, from farm to fork.
Transforming agricultural systems is critical but is not enough, world leaders need to take a holistic approach to food systems.”
So what now?
Well, the new mandate will last four more years and while the narrow focus on agricultural production was a source of deep disappointment and frustration to many, they also said all is not lost.
“There are some positive signs of movement in the right direction: a recognition of the adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and mitigation opportunities related to land and food systems, acknowledgement of the need to restore ecosystems and reduce food loss and waste, and references to ‘systemic’ approaches,” said Oliver Camp, Senior Associate at Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).
He acknowledges that this needs to go further but still welcomes the new workplan.
“In parallel, we also need to double down on the other mechanisms that we have available to us: incorporating food systems into Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans, Mitigation Strategies, and – beyond the UNFCCC processes – we can continue to work on UN Food Systems Transformation Pathways, and at national and subnational level on food security and nutrition action plans.”
Here’s an insightful Twitter thread he wrote based on a draft text of the new mandate.
FOLU’s del Rio also also sees “several footholds for a more comprehensive approach in the final decision, and the cover text from COP-28 makes clear the importance of food systems to tackling the climate crisis.”
WWF’s Campari agrees.
“There is still a possibility to engage with the new four-year plan and increase ambition to take a truly holistic approach in its implementation… Even though negotiations on the new Joint Work failed to deliver it, we'll continue to work together to accelerate the implementation of the needed action.”
Quotable quotes from experts I spoke to
“Ordinary people know that the food system isn’t working for them – they see food deserts, or wasteful practices. Some people struggle to access and afford nutritious food items. Others are affected by bad practices from some food production and processing factories in their region that are polluting their waterways and making their kids sick.
Many farmers and fishers and those whose livelihoods are touched by the food system know that some crops are producing less, new insects or diseases are attacking their fields, that their livestock are more stressed are producing less, and the fish are not as abundant.
They may know there is a linkage between food systems, climate, and all of these impacts they are experiencing daily. But without a direct line of accountability and work to tackle the food-climate crisis together, as a shared global problem, these challenges will get worse.
This is why we were a leading organization on the Koronivia open letter – food systems isn’t showing up on the negotiations table and we are missing a major opportunity for systems solutions that impact real people in real places.”
Jennifer Chow, Senior Director of Climate-Resilient Food Systems, Environmental Defense Fund
“In a way (we are disappointed), but we were actually not expecting much on this, because for the past four years when (Koronivia) was being negotiated on/upon, food systems was not much on the agenda. What has disappointed me is that there is no institutional mechanism nor financing in place to carry out the joint work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security. Will it be again all talk for the next years? I just felt relieved that there was a decision, because for a time I thought, there would be no mandate.”
Esther Penunia, Secretary General of the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA)
“The only way to bring food systems within a 1.5 degrees Celsius carbon budget is to take action on all of production, consumption and loss and waste. If we don’t, we won’t be able to limit the most severe impacts of climate change, and we are likely to trigger irreversible changes to the planet. That’s even if we decarbonise all other sectors by 2050.”
Joao Campari, Global Food Practice Leader at the WWF
WWF’s Good COP, Bad COP briefing paper
Open letter to the negotiators
FAO page on Koronivia
When fishing and organised crime collide
Here’s something that married my food and climate hat with my role as host of The Index, a podcast based around the Global Organized Crime Index, an online tool that ranks the level of criminality and resilience in 193 countries.
The latest episode is on Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) Fishing in Oceania and how this precious commodity is linked to transnational organised crime networks.
Yes, fish may just be food, albeit a tasty one, to you and me, but to criminal actors, it’s a billion-dollar business opportunity. In fact, one in every five fish caught around the world every year could originate from IUU fishing, according to the UN.
You can listen to it here.
As always, have a great weekend!