Addressing sustainability in the food and agriculture sector is a must at this year’s COP28.
COP28, the annual climate summit, will be held in the UAE in less than three weeks. The summit will mark the conclusion of the first Global Stocktake (GST) since the Paris Agreement. The GST is a critical process that will assess global progress towards meeting the 1.5°C goal. It will also identify any remaining gaps and opportunities for increased action.
Additionally, the GST will measure progress in efforts to adapt to climate change impacts, particularly efforts to increase adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerabilities. If the latest IPCC report is anything to go by, we will hear that we simply have not done enough.
In fact, even if all present commitments to tackling climate change are implemented, we will still see global temperatures rise by over two degrees Celsius by the middle of this century. So, there’s a commitment gap – the world needs to commit more (time, money, and expertise) to tackling climate change.
There is also an implementation gap – it is what prevents the commitments that have been made from being fulfilled. This is because of a number of reasons, from lack of capacity for implementation, access to finance and changing political priorities.
The world is also facing an innovation gap, particularly in relation to climate change and its effects on food and agriculture. Scientists have estimated that even if all known innovations were applied at scale, we’ll only achieve 40 per cent of the emissions reductions needed from the sector. This means we need more innovation.
Finally, there is also a leadership gap. On the one hand, we need world leaders to embrace innovation and take action. But it is not just the responsibility of heads of state; it is also on each and every one of us, as we are all stakeholders in the food system. We need to ensure that companies or organisations we work for walk the talk on climate and food systems.
By addressing all these gaps, COP28 can accelerate action on climate change and make the food and agriculture sector more sustainable. To make this a reality, we call on stakeholders to do three things:
Work together to test and scale innovations
Agricultural innovations go all the way from better seeds (e.g., seeds of more productive, resilient food crops) and better crop protection (e.g., biologicals) to new, more sustainable ways of producing fertiliser (e.g., green ammonia) or digital agriculture solutions (using digital technologies for farming).
Innovations like these are what drive regenerative practices in agriculture and can help farmers become solution providers in the fight against climate change. We have a pipeline of solutions that can help tackle the climate crisis, but these are dependent on testing, scaling and lesson learning.
Embrace failures and learn from them
It is important to learn from failed attempts at innovation as they offer lessons for improving future efforts. For example, Thomas Edison made 1,000 failed attempts before inventing the light bulb. We need to take risks, make mistakes and learn from them to respond to the climate change challenge. This is what we have been doing through the #Failure4INNOVEAT campaign, and we call on you to join us.
Take a systemic view
According to a recent survey conducted by Bayer with 800 farmers equally sourced across Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Kenya, Ukraine and the US, 71 per cent say that climate change has already had a large impact on their farms.
Farmers are living with climate change. It is impacting them and will continue to impact them. But, as with regulation, they are adapting to it rather than trying to influence it. Innovation in the agricultural sector cannot take place in silos, and there is a need to adopt a systems approach to advance regenerative agriculture.
For example, digital farming technologies offer a lot of potential. They are key to helping tailor the right solution to the specific conditions of each individual farm and allowing farmers to make more informed decisions about how to grow more crops with fewer resources and a better climate footprint. But to achieve scale, we need to improve access, connectivity, coherence in data management, training and education.
Moreover, regenerative agriculture as a farming practice can help to mitigate climate change and build resilience to its impacts. A systemic approach and national-level food systems pathways are key to enable innovation in this area, while delivering net benefits to nature in terms of better soil health, restored biodiversity, reduced water use and sequestered carbon.
In this context, the upcoming COP28 calls on governments to ensure food systems and agriculture are central to climate action efforts are a welcome development. Agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, accounting for around 24 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, it also has the potential to be a major solution to climate change.
At COP28, decision-makers have the opportunity to walk the talk and address the commitment, implementation, innovation and leadership gaps, by working together, embracing failure and taking a systemic view. This needs to go beyond a new initiative, or wording or funds, to a shift of culture to actually implement actions on the ground. But it is not just up to governments. We all have a role to play.
An inclusive and action-oriented approach will be essential to bringing together the Global North and the Global South, and uniting all stakeholders and sectors—public, private, academic, civil society, women, youth, and indigenous peoples.
This op-ed was first published on Arabian Business and has been revised to meet Farming First’s editorial guidelines.