What the FOOD happened at COP27: Disappointments and glimmers of hope for smallholder farmers
Is the global community really serious about climate change? What emerged from the over-charging Sharm El Sheikh, the city that hosted the biggest ever set of delegates from fossil fuel industries, and with no vegetarian dishes for delegates at the venue in the first days.
There were some positives:
- Most important would seem to be the decision to move the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA) to an implementation phase.
- A Loss and Damage fund was created – a mechanism that could bring much-needed finance to farmers hit by weather events that wiped out their agricultural assets.
- Several food and agriculture pavilions where food systems were at the heart of the program: Food Systems Pavilion, Food and Agriculture Pavilion, and the Food4Climate Pavilion.
- There was a first ever Agriculture and Adaptation Day (unofficially called the ‘Food Day’ by many) which launched the Presidency’s flagship Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST) initiative and brought attention to policy, innovation, and finance as key topics to enable a transformation. On the same day the Initiative on Climate Action and Nutrition (I-CAN) was launched as well.
- For the first time there was official space for young people at a COP – at the Children and Youth Pavilion. Many of the official delegations also included youth representatives.
- There were hundreds of announced initiatives and pledges – from private sector, governments, civil society organisations, agricultural research organisations, and multilateral agencies.
The above are the glimmers of hope. Some of the pledges, initiatives and programmes are truly exciting. Some examples are:
- The G7 announced a first contribution of €200 million to the “Global Shield” – a new insurance system to provide swift financial aid for nations hit by the devastating effects of climate change. However, there has been criticism about where this money is going, and if it deflects attention from the formal process of Loss and Damage.
- The commitment by the UN Secretary General to counter greenwashing in net-zero pledges. Many companies in the food sector have announced net zero pledges. While these are welcome, we suspect some (or many) involve a fair degree of generous and dubious accounting. We need transparent mechanisms to hold net zero pledges to account.
- The establishment of the four year “Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security” to implement outcomes of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture.
- The COP27 Presidency’s Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation initiative seeks to accelerate the implementation of climate action in the food and agriculture sectors.
- The Sustainable Food Systems Roadmap which will be launched by COP28 by the FAO and set out key milestones and a cost-effective pathway to transition the world’s food system to one that provides affordable, nutritious and plentiful food, while protecting livelihoods in the face of climate change, and aligning with 1.5C. The announcement came at an event hosted by the FAIRR Initiative, following calls from an $18 trillion investor coalition for a roadmap that addresses financially material risks to which the food system is exposed.
- Sharm-El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda sets out to enhance the lives of 4 billion people by the end of the decade through the 30 goals in the agenda. This initiative will help us hold global leaders to account, given the targets that have been defined.
- The AICCRA program run by the CGIAR involving national and regional organisations and bringing climate-informed agricultural advisories to millions of farmers in Africa.
- The Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) of the Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) and African Development Bank, designed to reach at least 30 million farmers and improve food security in 26 countries in Africa by 2025.
- Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced $1.4 billion for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to enhance resilience in the face of climate change.
- Germany’s G7 Presidency launched the CompensACTION initiative, which includes a policy brief with recommendations on mobilizing smart income mixes for smallholder farmers and a €15 million investment in IFAD to pilot projects in Brazil, Ethiopia and Lesotho.
But let’s also be critical of COP27 and what has gone before at previous COPs:
- Since the first COP, there have been thousands of “Work Programs”, “Agendas”, “Initiatives”, “Pledges” and “Agreements”, and yet GHGs levels are still rising. We are heading for a 2.4 – 2.8 degree warmer world, food insecurity is a pressing issue, SDG2 on zero hunger will not be achieved and poverty is widespread. While this was the “Implementation COP” – its hard to see that what we have got is much different from the past.
- Old and new arguments in the food sector continue to divide negotiators and organisations. For example, for the past decade “mitigation” was not to be mentioned in agricultural decisions within the UNFCCC (see India’s position at COP27). It is blatantly obvious to anyone who has studied GHG emissions that agriculture and food systems have to contribute to emissions reductions and many have demonstrated the possibilities.
- Now we also have newer divisive words: food systems, agro-ecology. Let’s get context specific and look what farmers and society can and should do in specific localities, and how farmers and value chain actors need specific forms of support to accomplish that. Let’ s stop arguing about concepts.
- Negotiations can be all-consuming. But what do they achieve. On the positive side, they raise the profile of issues – agriculture has now had much more attention in the UNFCCC. But the time and expense devoted to negotiations could arguably be spent elsewhere with more impact on the ground.
- For example, KJWA has been ongoing for several years. The conclusions from it are somewhat underwhelming and have had limited impact on the ground. Now we get the four-year Sharm El Sheikh Joint Work which will call for submissions, workshops and an online portal, At the end of four years, will that have stimulated more action on the ground?
- There was a big push to get “food systems” into the final text, which would allow focus on the full system rather than just production. Yes, it should be there, but would it make any difference to global outcomes to have it discussed in the above Joint Work program? We already have many initiatives on consumption and it is widely recognized as a crucial element of climate action. The private sector, nutrition-focussed civil society, citizens and the youth will do more for the consumption agenda than any text in a UNFCCC agreement.
Back to the glimmers of hope, which need to be turned into scaled-up action to transform the food system. The COP venue is an amazing opportunity to network. We had very exciting meetings with partners (some partners unusual) on new initiatives that we think could stimulate change and climate action: solar irrigation with Electricians Without Borders and IWMI, rethinking fertilser input subisidies to ensure soil health outcomes with the World Bank and Just Rural Transition, alternate protein possibilities with Novozymes, urban agriculture initiatives with Infarm, amongst many others.
Many of the food sector organisations were busy with such meetings, and these informal or formal meetings are undoubtably going to help shape climate action and positive outcomes for food systems.