Despite a new official agreement being reached on November 20th as COP27’s curtains closed, there have been compromises. There is an unfortunate whiff of COP26 in its aftermath, with not as much meaningful progress made as had been hoped on national reduction targets.
Before we conduct a grim post-mortem, let’s look at the positives. The increased presence for food and farming this year points to the fact that at least COP looks set to develop more as a platform for the promotion of climate change initiatives, discussion and the generation of ideas.
For the first time at a COP, this year there was a dedicated food and agriculture pavilion hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), along with the Food Systems pavilion, hosted by an international coalition of food, agricultural and environmental NGOs, with backing from the EU, showcasing actions aimed at creating healthier, more resilient and more equitable food systems.
But in the past year, there has been little action from countries in strengthening their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts at the conference to get all nations to agree to phase out coal, oil, natural gas and all fossil fuel subsidies have fallen flat. As the international energy crisis worsens, countries have been negotiating new fossil fuel deals. What this does is diminish even further the chances of keeping global warming under 1.5C, which has been the ultimate target for so long. And it’s not just the possibility of surpassing this limit by a small margin; a likely scenario now is that this will be by a large amount. According to an estimate by The World Meteorological Organisation, the chances of reaching the 1.5C threshold is now 50-50, at least temporarily, in the next five years.
Pre-COP27, it had been urged that the event must be used to transform food systems, with the need for a fundamental shift in the perception and overall infrastructure of our food supply system. There was much promise as the UN food agency announced the launch of its 2023 plan to make the world’s food system more sustainable, showing how the food industry and farming can align with the world’s goal of capping global warming at 1.5C.
Yet the lack of attention on and investment in agri-food within national climate strategies at the summit represents a glaring omission, in spite of the fact that farming and food production account for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Global Alliance for the Future of Food’s recent analysis revealed that only 3% of public finance to tackle climate change is directed at food systems, in stark contrast to the energy and transport sectors which combined account for around two-thirds of public climate expenditure.
However, what has been a welcome shift is the increased engagement of non-western emerging economies, many of whom have sizeable emissions. Their apparent commitments to improving their position, while urging others to do the same, will remain to be seen, as this will be tempered by a reluctance to compromise too much on economic development for the sake of climate change.
Nonetheless, we must focus on the positive takeaways from COP27, despite some clear disappointments. It is particularly encouraging that new champions of environmental change appear to be emerging, and have the ability to influence a more accelerated shift towards a better future.
For now, there are still reasons to be optimistic.