COP26: Nations collectively agree to sustainable food systems policies and pledge to accelerate green agriculture innovation

Proceedings today (6 November) at COP26 will focus on nature

Ahead of the day’s proceedings, which will begin at 9am today (6 November), the UNFCCC has announced a string of high-level commitments intended to create more sustainable land use systems. The body estimates that land use generates at least one-quarter of global annual emissions and that three-quarters of deforestation to date has been driven by the agri-food system.

A total of 45 nations have signed on to a new Policy Action Agenda, designed to help policymakers make the necessary changes to deliver a food system that is not only low-carbon and deforestation-free, but that supports farmers and others across the food chain; consumes less water and chemicals and produces less waste. Around one-third of all food produced globally is wasted.

To help support these changes, the World Economic Forum (WEF) is launching a new global initiative to help 100 million farmers access the education, funding and innovations they need to decarbonise and restore nature. Farmers will be supported by businesses and civil society groups.

“Bringing these governments together – from the global south and north – to tackle the issue of commodity production and deforestation head-on is a very significant development,” said the WEF tropical forest alliance’s executive director Justin Adams. “Continued dialogue after COP26 will be critical to progress.”  

Also launching today is a Global Action Agenda on Innovation in Agriculture, signed by the same 45 nations, plus more than 100 other organisations including businesses, research institutions, farmers groups and regions and states. The Agenda will aim to leverage more than $4bn of public investment in innovations such as climate-resilient crops, digital technologies and solutions that improve soil quality.

UK Government funding

From the UK specifically, it has been confirmed that a £500m package from the £3bn pledged for International Climate Finance on nature and biodiversity will be used to conserve five million hectares of rainforest. The UK Government is expecting this package to also leverage £1bn of private sector investment.

Other funding to be allocated from the £3bn, which was first announced in January and formally launched this week, includes a £25m pot for developing sustainable forest supply chains in tropical countries and a £28m pot for global agriculture research organisation, CGIGAR. 

Additionally, a £40m allocation will be used to set up a Global Centre on Biodiversity for Climate, which will research how best to conserve biodiversity to contribute to decarbonisation and climate adaptation in developing countries; and a £65m allocation will be used to launch a Just Rural Transition Support programme, to support farmers in implementing new technologies and approaches, and to help them have their voices heard in the policymaking process.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “To keep 1.5C alive, we need action from every part of society, including an urgent transformation in the way we manage ecosystems and grow, produce and consume food on a global scale.  

“We need to put people, nature and climate at the core of our food systems…. there needs to be a fair and just transition that protects the livelihoods and food security of millions of people worldwide – with farmers, indigenous people and local communities playing a central role in these plans.”  

A word of caution – it will likely be some time before the likely real-world impacts of the pledges being made will be calculated, many have stated.

Among this cohort is thinktank Power Shift Africa’s chief executive Mohamed Adow, who said: “COP26 is in danger of drowning the UNFCCC in an announcement blitz. These announcements may generate headlines but assessing their true worth is hugely difficult, especially at speed during a COP meeting. They are eye candy but the sugar rush they provide are empty calories.”

Adow also noted – as the edie team have – that the UNFCCC press releases so far have all badged announcements as “led by the UK”. While the UK Government holds to COP26 presidency, the UNFCCC is built on the principle of negotiated decisions with responsibility shared between all participating nations.

Scottish Government funding 

The Scottish Government will, separately, launch a new Nature Restoration Fund, which will provide £55m for projects domestically over a five-year period. 

Large-scale, multi-year, multi-partner projects will be supported, the Government said in a statement, including those relating to lochs, peatlands, wetlands. 

“Today’s investment is our biggest ever grant scheme specifically targeted at nature restoration, reaffirming our commitment to addressing the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change,” said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. “Most importantly, following the UK government’s withdrawal from the EU Life scheme, it will enable large-scale, multi-year, projects of the kind which are simply not possible with annual grants.”

WWF Scotland’s acting head of policy Fabrice Leveque said: “We’ve been calling for nature to be the climate hero of COP26, and so it’s good to see this five-year commitment to restore and protect our natural resources. 

“This cash will allow projects working hard to protect our species and habitats to plan ahead.  This will help us restore important habitats for nature that can also store carbon, such as our native woodlands and precious peatlands.  However, if we’re really to address the nature crisis we’ll need to see legally binding targets for nature recovery and greater investment and ambition from the Scottish Government.”

COP26 comes between the two halves of the UN’s 15th Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) with the first half having taken place virtually and the second due to take place in Kunming, China, next spring, after delays of more than 18 months. This event will see nations agreeing on post-2020 biodiversity targets. In its current form, the draft plan outlines pledges to halt nature loss by 2030 and deliver a net-positive impact thereafter, that humanity may “live in harmony with nature” in all geographies by 2050. Scientists, businesses and green groups are hoping the plan will be strengthened before there is final sign-off. 

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from COP26 with edie’s Live Blog. 

Sarah George

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