The Food COP
Food finally takes the stage at the annual climate summit, but is there much to savour?
Special thanks to the folks doing the hard work in Dubai so I can write this in the comfort of my warm-ish home office: Ed King, Jenny Briggs, Peter McFeely, Anna, the Carbon Brief team, the Green Queen team, and many, many PR professionals.
I’m publishing this before Dec 10, the day dedicated to food and agriculture at COP28 - the first for these U.N.-led climate talks - because a lot of things have already happened (or not happened) and it’s worth taking stock before the bright lights and spin distract us on Sunday.
At the end of 2017, I wrote an article asking if agriculture and climate will fix their “unhappy marriage” in 2018, after the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bonn finally broke the 30+ years of taboo of never discussing the linkages between food, agriculture, and climate change at these negotiations.
It seemed like a no-brainer, considering that food systems account for a third of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions heating up our planet and that farming is so vulnerable to the vagaries of weather. But hey, multilateralism operates on its own calendar.
Still, I can’t help but feel like it’s one step forward and half a step back, because there is so much resistance to deviate from the status quo. Anyway, you can judge for yourself.
The Good Bits
The first day of COP28 breathed real life into the U.N.’s new “loss & damage fund” when nations signed off on the deal to help poor countries already in the grip of climate change. So far the fund has about $700 million in its coffers, including $100m from the hosts, $100m each from Germany, France, and Italy, and a measly $17.5m from the US.
This is a fitting tribute to the late Saleemul Huq, climate scientist and journalists’ friend who passed away a month before the latest COP.
Still, there is much to be done. The agreement is “very much the bare minimum” said Teresa Anderson, ActionAid International’s Climate Justice Global Lead.
A sobering context: The $700 million worth of pledges are about the same as the cost of the 2023-2024 Newcastle United football team, according to Ed King.
Also on the opening day, 134 governments endorsed the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action. These included Brazil, China, EU, Indonesia, UK and US.
The three-page document outlined five objectives: scaling up adaptation and resilience, promoting food security and nutrition, supporting food systems workers, strengthening water management, and maximising climate and environmental benefits while reducing harmful impacts.
Governments also pledged to “expedite the integration of agriculture and food systems into our climate action”, which food systems experts and civil society have welcomed. The declaration isn’t legally binding but it does signify intention, so it’s a good first step.
Still, the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) criticised the vague language, a lack of concrete actions or targets on things like food loss and waste, the lack of commitment to shift to healthy, sustainable, diets or to reduce overconsumption of industrially produced meat, and for not including the phasing out of fossil fuels from food systems. IPES-Food said food systems consume 15% of global fossil fuels.
A non-state actors call to action was released on the same day and signed by some 150 farmers’ organisations, cities, businesses, and many more. It has similar objectives to the Emirates Declaration, but goes further, by pledging to slash emissions from food systems, transition to more diversified sources of protein and energy, and scale up sustainable approaches.
The Declaration on Climate and Health, endorsed by 132 countries, also touched on food, saying, “We recognize the urgency of taking action on climate change, and note the benefits for health from deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, including from just transitions, lower air pollution, active mobility, and shifts to sustainable healthy diets.”
The Bad Bits
No reference to food systems and agriculture in the first-ever Global Stocktake, often referred to as GST. This is a process that analyse how country-level climate efforts are stacking up against Paris goals. It happens every 5 years.
Here’s a short summary of this boring-but-crucial review: “It sets the parameters for new national plans, identifies what they need to include and offers a headline take on what they need to deliver.”
This is why it’s a big concern that food and farming do not appear in the updated draft of the Global Stocktake outcomes published on Dec 5. Worried about this turn of events, more than 100 organisations have published an open letter urging the UNFCCC to include food systems in the decision text.
“The global stocktake cannot deliver its mandate and build a resilient, equitable future for all without considering food systems as a solution for both mitigation and adaptation,” the letter said.
So yeah, despite the Emirates Declaration, we have yet to see world leaders walking the talk. Also, the COP decision making process is based on consensus, which means unless everyone agrees, there won’t be an agreement.
The awkwardly-titled “Sharm el-Sheikh joint work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security” (SSJW), the successor to the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, ran into roadblocks because, according to one, negotiators couldn’t “even agree to discuss the same topics that were outlined in the Emirates Declaration”.
If that alphabet soup of titles confused you, all you need to know is that this is 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. If you want to dive in further, however, below is a link to something I wrote a year ago when the SSJW was agreed.
The negotiations on Dec 5 concluded with no agreements of substance and the talks won’t resume until Jun 2024 in Bonn. “This is a major missed opportunity and a negative signal to farmers and food producers,” according to one take.
There is a lot of greenwashing at COP28 around food and agriculture.
These include the meat industry’s drive to promote it as “beneficial to the environment” and “sustainable nutrition”, as reported by DeSmog and the Guardian, and El Surtidor report on how agribusiness groups seemed to have had a hand in changing Paraguay’s stance on COP28 talks.
The biggest pesticide companies and commodity traders also took the stage to make pledges on 'regenerative agriculture’, saying they will convert 160 million hectares to more nature friendly farming. The catch? No concrete targets.
Two scientists expressed worries that animal welfare will become COP28’s sacrificial lamb. In an op-ed for TABLE, Cleo Verkuijl and Jeff Sebo warned of “a growing risk that interventions to cut greenhouse gas emissions from farmed animals will undermine these animals’ welfare as well as introducing new public health threats such as zoonoses”.
For example, "sustainable intensification” often “leads to practices with harmful or unknown impacts on animal welfare, including genetic modification, intensive confinement, feed changes, and microbiome changes”, they said.
Crowding animals together in small spaces can also facilitate diseases to emerge and spread quicker because living in such conditions increases stress, which weakens animals’ immune systems and makes them more vulnerable to diseases.
The Waiting-With-Bated-Breath Bits
Everyone is eager to get their hands on a copy of the FAO’s new roadmap for food systems, which is supposed to come out in a few days. Bloomberg had a big scoop two weeks ago on what the U.N.’s food and agriculture agency planned to say in this report.
Titled, “Eat Less Meat Is Message for Rich World in Food’s First Net Zero Plan”, Agnieszka de Sousa reported that, “The world’s most-developed nations will be told to curb their excessive appetite for meat as part of the first comprehensive plan to bring the global agrifood industry into line with the Paris climate agreement.”
If true, this will be a big, massive thing, particularly because the deep-pocketed meat industry has been going all-out to avoid just such a statement. It’ll also be interesting to see the response from the U.S. Below is a nugget from Helena Bottemiller Evich’s Food Fix newsletter.
“Though the roadmap is non-binding, this can still rile up a political fight in the U.S. where any dietary advice even approaching the issue of sustainability is a third-rail issue. (Seriously, several years ago scientists advised the government to include sustainability as part of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and it sparked an all-out war in Washington, and now the issue is so toxic it’s not even really on the table, at least not for the time being.)”
The Let’s-Wait-And-See Bits
1. The Bezos Earth Fund committed $57 million for food as part of a $1 billion climate fund. The bulk of it - $30 million - will go towards reducing methane emissions from livestock. There are also grants to limit deforestation in the Amazon and promote climate-smart agricultural practices, and a small portion to catalyse food systems transformation.
2. Norway is donating $47 million for climate adaptation in the least developed countries, much of which is directed toward smallholder farms, agrobiodiversity and preventing food loss.
3. CIGAR, the world’s biggest publicly-funded agricultural research network, secured more than $890 million. It said the money will be used to support smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income nations, cut farming emissions, and boost access to nutritious, healthy foods.
4. Six big dairy companies committed to report on and reduce methane but stopped short of agreeing to emission reduction targets. However, the list is missing some of the biggest dairy polluters like Arla, Dairy Farmers of America and Fonterra (although Fonterra unveiled plans to reduce emissions in November). Nusa Urbancic, CEO of the Changing Markets said this is “a step in the right direction” but expressed “big disappointment” in the absence of diary giants.
5. The US, Canada and Kenya were among 63 countries to join the Global Cooling Pledge, which aims to cut climate-warming emissions from cooling, including refrigeration for food, while also improving access to cooling to reduce food loss.
6. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) released US$100 million through AGRA to support smallholder farmers in 10 African countries to reduce food losses.
7. The $10 billion Africa and Middle East SAFE Initiative, a public-private partnership to Scale-up Agriculture and Food systems for Economic development in Africa and the Middle East (get it?), was officially launched.
8. IFAD, the U.N. financial institution on agricultural development, and partners launched a $200million blended financing mechanism to help small-scale food producers in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda adapt to a changing climate.
9. One Acre Fund has announced ‘One Acre Fund Re’, a reinsurance facility for smallholder farmers affected by extreme weather, to be operational by 2024. The scheme will start with 1 million farmers and increase to 4 million by 2030. Disasters have caused about $3.8 trillion worth of lost crops and livestock production over the past three decades globally, yet only 3% of African farmers have insurance coverage, the social enterprise said.
Who Represents Farmers? - Green European Journal
Yours truly wrote this analysis based on the Copa-Cogeca investigation we did earlier this year, arguing that while farming needs support and its representatives should have a presence in Brussels, what is currently happening is that both of these are only going towards the big farms.
“Power without representation can lead to policies skewed to benefit the few that wander the corridors of power in Brussels, rather than the millions of farmers toiling away in the fields.”
This is a very accessible and interesting keynote from a scientist whose work I admire and have quoted multiple times in Thin Ink. The whole video is 71 minutes long but Paul’s part is less than half an hour long. Having said that, contributors from the other experts are also worth a listen.
How to eat like a Climavore - Inkcap Journal
Lovely piece from Doreen Grant about eating in a way that “will not shun or favour a rigid list of ingredients, but rather adapts their consumption to the specific problems facing their local environment” and the work of Cooking Sections, a London-based artist duo that coined the term.
Nish Meets Fredi NSFW - Climate Science Translated
All the four videos in the series are fantastic but this one is my favourite. Please watch it and weep. It came out a month ago but I thought it’s timely, what with the COP and all.