What has COP26 taught us about Sustainable Agriculture?

The 2021 Conference of Parties to the UN brought together representatives from governments, private corporations, institutions, and scientists, to work towards the Paris Agreement initiatives. For agriculture, highlights of COP26 included the development of key action plans, financial investments, and cross-party partnerships, all aimed at making food production more sustainable and environmentally beneficial.

What is COP26?

A background of climate urgency to address food insecurity

From October 31st to November 13th 2021, the 26th Conference of Parties (CoP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, referred to as COP26, was held in Glasgow, and presided by the UK cabinet minister Alok Sharma.

Amid unprecedented heatwaves in British Columbia, New Zealand, and elsewhere around the world, as well as strong tornadoes occurring in the southern United States, government and company representatives converged with scientists to discuss the current state of conservation and agriculture in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), QU Dongyu, started discussions on food production and set the tone by stating that eliminating world hunger by the end of the decade requires urgent action and innovative solutions to the way we produce, distribute and consume food.

In a recorded message, Qu highlighted the “untapped potential for technological innovation and digitalization” that can support food production to build sustainable and climate-resilient agri-food systems, adding, “we need innovations that span across agri-food systems, from food production to consumption and waste management, as well as policy and financing.”

This was echoed by COP26 President Alok Sharma, who said “If we are to limit global warming and keep the goal of 1.5 °C alive, then the world needs to use land sustainably and put protection and restoration of nature at the heart of all we do.”

COP26 was therefore started amid a growing urgency to address climate change, with decisions being made to meet the Paris Agreement goals in the hopes of addressing biodiversity loss whilst meeting a growing demand for food.

Agriculture and nature – a fragile tandem

During COP26, agriculture was discussed as part of ‘Nature Day’ on November 5th, with representatives already having pledged to address deforestation (Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use) and reduce methane emissions, both already associated with agricultural practices.

Nature day saw 45 countries come together to design the ‘Sustainable Agriculture Policy Action Agenda for the Transition to Sustainable Agriculture and Global Action Agenda for Innovation in Agriculture’. This was part of the effort to transition towards sustainable and climate-resilient food systems, taking into consideration the vulnerability of agriculture to the impacts of climate change.

Specifically, participants of the agenda acknowledged the value of soil and nutrient management practices and the sustainable management of livestock systems and will implement strategies to improve practices in order to reduce emissions.

Further initiatives were also launched including the global effort of 100 million farmers to aim for net-zero and nature positive innovations by 2030 via a multi-stakeholder platform convened by the World Economic Forum (WEF) involving farmers’ organizations, civil society, businesses and other partners.

UK representatives also vowed to invest into research and innovation to transform food production into climate-resilient food systems, with the newly named Gilbert Initiative to coordinate safe and healthy food production efforts using sustainable and inclusive strategies till 2030.

Additional discussions were also held on the tools for risk management in the face of emerging agricultural threats including anti-microbial resistance and emerging diseases. Policies were also developed to help economically disfavoured farmers with new technology to access markets to reduce financial risks and increase overall incomes.

Sustainable Agriculture

Image Credit: seamind224/Shutterstock.com

Other major takeaways during COP26 for agriculture

Further initiatives included the US pledging 1 billion USD in a joint effort for sustainable agriculture, called AIM for Climate (AIM4C) along with the UAE and 30 supporting countries. The initiative aims to find new smart agriculture technology, with the project raising over 4 billion USD by the end of COP26.

On a global scale, the World Bank also committed to spending 25 billion USD in climate finance annually to 2025 through its Climate Action Plan, including a focus on agriculture and food systems. 

Efforts were also made by 95 high-profile companies to become ‘Nature Positive’, as representatives agreed to work towards halting and reversing the decline of nature by 2030. Commitments include supermarkets pledging to reduce environmental impacts and fashion brands guaranteeing the traceability of their materials.

Among others, one of the leading UK supermarkets, Sainsbury’s, partnered with WWF and committed to halving the environmental impact of the average UK shopping basket by 2030. This plan, called ‘basket measures’, will focus on climate change, deforestation, sustainable agriculture, sustainable diets, marine ecosystems, waste and packaging.

Ultimately, COP26 witnessed the implementation of a range of policies, but critics are already calling plans insufficient to tackle global climate change. For agriculture, COP26 represented a shift towards greener, regenerative, and innovative technologies, but progress ahead of COP27 next November remains the only proof of action amid growing food insecurity and a rapidly changing climate.

Read Here: How is Climate Change Affecting Food Security?

Sources:

  • COP26: participants recognise need for sustainable food systems to. (2021, September 11). European Commission - European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/info/news/cop26-participants-recognise-need-sustainable-food-systems-ensure-global-food-security-and-achieve-climate-objectives-2021-nov-09_en
  • COP26: Urgent action is needed to make agriculture greener and more resilient. (2021, September 11). PRD-Newsroom. https://www.fao.org/newsroom/detail/FAO-cop26-agriculture-green-resilient-innovation-technology/en
  • Danaher, L. (2021, November 6). Nations and businesses commit to create sustainable agriculture and land use. UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) at the SEC – Glasgow 2021. https://ukcop26.org/nations-and-businesses-commit-to-create-sustainable-agriculture-and-land-use/

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 19, 2022

James Ducker

Written by

James Ducker

James completed his bachelor in Science studying Zoology at the University of Manchester, with his undergraduate work culminating in the study of the physiological impacts of ocean warming and hypoxia on catsharks. He then pursued a Masters in Research (MRes) in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth focusing on the urbanization of coastlines and its consequences for biodiversity.  

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