Scientists have been talking about the impact of agriculture on climate change for years and finally it will be discussed at COP28.

A third of the world’s food production is at risk from the climate crisis, research has found – but at the same time our food systems are one of the key contributors to climate breakdown. Greenhouse gas emissions from farming and the land use change that often accompanies it, such as clearing forests and drying out wetlands to make room for crops and livestock, amount to more than a fifth of global carbon output, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But discussions of the world’s food systems, their vulnerability and their impacts, are confined to the sidelines of the annual UN climate change negotiations and given scant attention.

In part this is due to the divided nature of UN responsibilities, with food under the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which has its own summit machinery, such as the Food System Summit that took place in Rome in July. Climate is just one aspect of the threats to food systems, where economics and geopolitics traditionally play out very differently than in the climate talks.

This year promises to be different. For the first time there will be a dedicated food day, and food, agriculture and water will be the focus of at least 22 major events during the fortnight of Cop28 talks in Dubai, from 30 November to 13 December, presided over by the United Arab Emirates. There will also be a dedicated Food4Climate pavilion in ExpoCity, where the talks will be held.

For the first time, too, the FAO will outline how food systems must change for the world to stay within the globally agreed goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which the impacts of the climate crisis on food systems will rapidly become catastrophic, and in some cases potentially irreversible.

This research is expected to show that animal farming, for meat and dairy, must be reined back from its continued growth around the world, if targets to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 are to be met.

“Cops have, historically, significantly overlooked the role of farming, both as a major contributor to global climate change, as a potential solution to climate change, and also in the context of the significant impact climate change is having – and will have – on farming communities across the world,” said Edward Davey of the World Resources Institute. If world leaders could come together to discuss commitments to looking at the link between food and climate, this would be historic, he said.

Any action would need to go far beyond a declaration, and include finance for adaptation and loss and damage to be directed towards smallholder farmers in the developing world, while farming subsidies in the west should be reformed to reduce methane emissions in particular, according to campaigners.

Davey said: “For many countries in the wealthier parts of the world – such as the US and the EU – significant reductions in meat and dairy consumption should absolutely be part of the commitments our nations make to addressing the climate crisis. But for other, poorer nations, where rates of per capita meat and dairy consumption are often very low, the main story on food and farming is much more to do with food security, nutrition, adaptation and resilience; a dynamic which the proposed declaration addresses head on.”

It is worth noting that Sultan Al Jaber, the UAE’s minister for advanced technology, as well as the chief executive of its national oil company, Adnoc, and the Cop president designate – a dual role for which he has been heavily criticised – takes a keen interest in food issues. He has told the Guardian in interviews that it is not enough to focus on the emissions from fossil fuels, and that emissions from all sectors, including agriculture and land use change, must be taken into account.

“It’s not only oil and gas that contributes to climate change by the way. And you know that 30% comes from industry, another 30% comes from agriculture. We need to be a little careful here in defining the sources of carbon emissions. So we need to get the world to unite, in solidarity, against carbon emissions. We need to stay focused, laser focused on decarbonisation.”

Food experts caution that hi-tech solutions, no matter how appealing to politicians, must not be a substitute for tackling the real issue of western diets and their impact, in terms of methane from livestock production for food and dairy, and the waste and careless overuse of resources involved.

“From treating cow burps to robotic weeders, none of the false solutions on offer at Cop27 come close to stopping the industrial food production from being an engine of planetary destruction,” said Raj Patel, food justice scholar and author of Stuffed and Starved. “Agribusiness and governments offered a series of patented patches designed not to transform the food system, but to keep it the same.”

Campaigners will be hoping that Cop28 supplies instead a real discussion of why the current western diet, being exported around the world to developing and middle-income countries, is inherently unsustainable, and what can be done about that.

“How we farm sustainably and ensure the people that need food the most can get it, should be a major priority for leaders in Dubai,” said Jennifer Larbie, the head of UK advocacy and campaigns at Christian Aid. “The emissions from farming is a huge driver of the climate crisis and one which needs to be tackled at Cop28 if we are to keep global heating in check.”

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com

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