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Amélie Dupendant and Lorine Azoulai

This blog is the first in a series of two posts about agriculture in the U.N. climate negotiations and what to look for in 2020. This blog post was written by youth activists and guest bloggers Amélie Dupendant and Lorine Azoulai, who attended a UNFCCC COP for the first time as YOUNGO representatives in December 2019. Read the YOUNGO statement, presented at the agriculture discussions at COP 25 here


YOUNGO – children and youth – is one of the nine constituencies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that negotiates the climate treaty. We, as part of YOUNGO, were present in Spain at COP 25 as observers. YOUNGO is comprised of young people, students and recent graduates from all over the world. This was our first climate COP, and here is what we learned.

Youth engage in the climate negotiations for different reasons. Some of us want to understand better how these negotiations work and seize the opportunity to influence important decisions that are critical to our future. Others, even as young people, have been working to improve environmental policies in our own spheres for several years. Engaging in COP 25 was a way for us to observe firsthand how our governments make decisions on our behalf and who influences these decisions. We were expecting to witness engaged stakeholders fighting for the planet but instead came away deeply disappointed by the lack ambition. Governments barely reacted when we gave our statements, even when we strongly and clearly called for more action. The UNFCC’s process of decision making is frustrating, slow and often captured by lobbies of private interests.

We remain undeterred, however, mainly because of the incredible people that are part of YOUNGO and other constituencies. These are passionate and powerful people in their actions and words. Though the space is extremely technocratic and at times downright undemocratic, we feel emboldened to continue our work in the hope that together we will make a difference and convince the governments at the COP to be less influenced by Business and industry NGOs (BINGO) constituency. These are some of the ways we tried to make a difference and what we expect to work on in 2020 for a better outcome in Glasgow, Scotland at COP 26:

1) Advocating for conflict of interest guidelines within UNFCCC

During the COP, we collaborated in working groups on agriculture and conflict of interest. The main objective of the Conflict of Interest (COI) working group is to push for a substantive UNFCCC policy on conflict of interest. The youth feel so strongly about this that the working group was formed at the same time as the YOUNGO constituency itself. There are several reasons this policy is critical. First, big corporations, especially the fossil fuel industry, have lobbied within the COP to avoid regulations and slowed down progress of negotiations. Second, other U.N. agencies have adopted conflict of interest guidelines, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the World Health Organization. It seems legitimate that UNFCCC follow the lead considering the importance of its decisions for the emergency of tackling climate change. Even though the COI working group has mostly focused on fossil fuel industries and banks that fund these industries, we started including agribusiness as a focus in June 2019, thus linking our work with the YOUNGO agriculture working group.

2) Pushing for agroecology and a just transition at the COP 25

The Agriculture working group was created more recently in order to follow the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA) and any topics linked to food and agriculture arising within the COP. The working group includes medicine and nutrition students, agronomists and young farmers, among others. They get their accreditation from NGOs, universities, foundations or parties; some already work for these organizations, but most are volunteers. This diversity helped us build a holistic position on food systems, from field to fork, including trade and other policy issues. For example, the position states: “We advocate for systemic and structural changes within and beyond the agricultural sector, in order to develop sustainable agricultural and food systems that are environmentally just and socially prosperous.” 

The Youth unequivocally support agroecology as a solution for mitigation and adaptation. Agroecology principles can be adapted to most countries and can be accessible to all farmers, including small-holder farmers in the global South who are most at risk. It is a knowledge-intensive way of farming, which includes and promotes traditional knowledge, recognizing the importance of already existing natural solutions. It is embedded in a political framework of empowerment and food sovereignty. We do not promote “climate-smart” agriculture because the concept lacks precise definition. It often appears in agribusiness narratives to promote proprietary new technologies and precision agriculture. We think these are false solutions to a just transition, giving even more control of our food system to a handful of extremely powerful agro-chemical industries. We witnessed firsthand the influence of agribusiness, including the International Fertilizer Association, which spoke on behalf of the Business constituency at the KJWA. We, therefore, also advocated for a conflict of interest policy as part of the Ag working group.

In response to the industry, we supported the statement from civil society organizations in the Environmental NGO constituency (ENGOs), asking for transformative agriculture policies. The statement clearly articulated the problem: “78% of global nitrous oxide emissions come from agriculture and the IPCC Land report is very clear on the current situation: ‘Nitrous oxide is continuing to accumulate in the atmosphere at an increasingly higher rate, driven primarily by increases in manure production and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use from the mid-twentieth century.’” The statement also proposed a path forward, including: 1) adoption of agroecological practices into national adaptation and mitigation plans; 2) ending subsidies for synthetic fertilizers and fossil fuel projects and reallocating those funds for an agroecological transition; and 3) considering penalties and taxation for damages caused by synthetic fertilizers as a public policy tool.

3) How do the Youth engage with COP stakeholders?

We acted in various ways to have our voices heard: delivering statements, speaking at press conferences, organizing demonstrations, building alliances and meeting with party members. The YOUNGO Agriculture working group had the opportunity to deliver our own statement in the KJWA workshop at COP 25,previous UNFCCC sessions and side-events. We delivered statements in the Conflict of interest working group as well, but our strategy in this group is centered on direct action in exposing the conflict of interest at the climate talks. At the beginning of the COP, we organized a demonstration at the entrance demanding that the U.N. kick polluters out and make them pay for a just transition. December 6 was Business and Industry day, so we organized “Play Bingo for BINGO day,” handing out Bingo cards at the subway station, naming and shaming corporations that sponsored the COP and lobbied to preserve their interests in fossil fuels, pesticides, fertilizers and other climate-harming activities. 

YOUNGO also organized bilateral meetings with governments. For instance, we met with the U.S. and Nigerian delegations. The Nigerian government included youth for the first time in their delegation! The government negotiators seemed to value Youth perspectives and appeared quite sincere and straightforward in answering our questions. However, they said that they needed time for transition. Our expectations did not match the hugely disappointing results of the climate conference and the existing emissions reduction targets countries have set.

4) Building alliances and common positions

At the end of each week, YOUNGO hosted a press conference to give our perspective on the state of the negotiations, express our concerns and raise issues to the media to spread around the world. YOUNGO also worked with other constituencies to build common positions and to together push for strong messages. Our agriculture working group joined the agricultre working group of the Climate Action Network (CAN), the largest civil society platform at the COP to influence the KJWA. We also met with the young farmers of the Climakers, an association made up of members of the World Farmers Organization and agribusiness interests including Croplife, International Fertilizer Association and International Seed federation. Despite our difference of opinions on the agricultural models we support, we had some things in common. Both groups are interested in working with the Farmers constituency to promote young people in farming activities worldwide in the next decade. We also agreed on the importance of a just transition, the risks and uncertainties of a carbon market in agriculture and on problems with corporate control and socioeconomic impacts of GMOs. We hope to share information together in 2020 and see if we can build common positions to put in our statements.

Looking ahead

On December 11, hundreds of participants gathered in front of the plenary room to protest against the inaction of the parties (governments) and called for the protection of human rights in any climate action governments undertake. They were ejected by the security and some of them had their badges removed. There was a public outcry at the way the UNFCCC handled our protest. Though officials often refer to the Youth ‘s climate strikes and increasingly give us a platform to speak at the climate talks, there is still a long way to go before governments truly internalize our demands and take ambitious steps towards climate action and a just transition.

Yet, we remain hopeful and more energized than ever. We will participate in the next workshops of the KJWA in March and June 2020. New and dynamic youth have joined our agriculture working group and we look forward to working together to advocate for an ambitious and just outcome on agriculture at COP 26 in Scotland. With renewed passion and creativity, we are also committed to getting the UNFCCC to adopt a conflict of interest policy in the climate negotiations for the decisive decade ahead.


About the Guest Bloggers: 

Amélie Dupendant is a French agronomist specialized in agroecology. She works for farmers and gardeners organizations and experimental centers in France. She has volunteered at Engineers without Borders France (EWB) since 2011. This organization gathers students and professionals from an engineering background and seeks to "give meaning to technology for a fairer world." Since 2016, she has participated in EWB’s Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Group. She also represents the group at the agriculture and food working group of Coordination Sud, a federation of international solidarity NGOs. She is currently based in Berlin, Germany.

Lorine Azoulai is a French agronomist. She works on environmental and agricultural policies, and their impacts on ecosystems. She has worked for Pollinis, a NGO advocating for wild pollinator conservation in Europe through promoting agroecology and raising issues about conflicts of interests, regarding chemical companies producing pesticides and their influence on public institutions. She represents Engineers Without Borders France at the French agricultural platform Pour une autre PAC, a French coalition of organizations pushing for fair and sustainable European Common Agriculture Policy (the European equivalent of the U.S. Farm Bill).  

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