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Yesterday was the first day of the UN climate talks (COP 24) being held in the coal region of Poland. Katowice, the small city hosting this massive conference, has attracted 30,000 government representatives, media and civil society organizations from around the world. It is nestled in a region with 20 active coal mines and 30 coal-fired power plants. At times, we can smell the sulfur in the air. While the energy sector will get the headlines, many countries are grappling with how best to deal with climate impacts to agriculture, as agricultural emissions are nearly a third of all global emissions. IATP will be following how parties deal with agriculture in this COP.

But the core agenda for governments over the next two weeks is to decide how they will implement the Paris Agreement. They are calling this the “Paris Rulebook.” This is supposed to be the biggest outcome of the COP (Conference of the Parties)—the 24th time these governments have come together at the highest level since the climate treaty was first agreed on in 1992. The new IPCC 1.5°C report released in October tells us that we have 12 years to act (not just talk) or face catastrophic climate change for many ecosystems and people.

The other major intended outcome of the meeting is to ramp up national-level ambition to actually meet the Paris goals because currently, the country level commitments get us to a world that will warm up to 3°C, wreaking havoc on life on Earth. The Trump administration, of course, has announced its intention to pull the U.S. out of the climate agreement with American cities and municipalities now leading the fight against climate change.

The IATP delegation includes Laurel Levin, our intern and Fossil Free climate activist, who is studying at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and myself. We arrived here by train from Berlin on Friday and have already attended three major civil society network meetings collaborating to push our governments for an ambitious outcome, build awareness, strategize, criticize and network to varying degrees.  These include the Climate Action Network, the Demand Climate Justice and the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA). Attending these meetings gives us a sense of the state of play and allows us to identify who we can collaborate with on one of our main goals: making agriculture a key part of the solution to climate change rather than the emitter of one-third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while respecting human rights and planetary boundaries.

Shefali Sharma and Laurel Levin at COP 24
Shefali Sharma and Laurel Levin at the main entrance to COP24


Part of that effort has been to build public awareness on the role that major meat and dairy corporations play in global agricultural emissions, the key countries that should be held accountable for the bulk of these emissions and the need for a just transition to an agroecological food and agricultural system. We are here with stacks of copies of our joint report with GRAIN: Emissions Impossible: How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet and our new, glossy 4-pager titled, Livestock’s contribution to the 1.5°C Pathway: Where transformation is needed. It is intended for policymakers that will have their first workshop tomorrow in an obscure workstream of the COP called the Koronivia Joint Work on Agricultue (KJWA).

Last year, governments agreed to begin discussions on agriculture within the climate negotiations in earnest. While no major decisions will be taken on agriculture at this COP, countries agreed last year to hold as many as six workshops on critical issues facing agriculture, including adaptation, soils, improved nutrient use, manure management to create agricultural resilience, improved management of livestock and the socioeconomic and food security dimensions of agriculture. Five expert meetings called “in-session workshops” have already taken place that prepared “outcomes” to be discussed in these workshops agreed for the KJW. It is hoped that these workshops will result in a series of decisions on agriculture in the climate negotiations by November 2020, at COP 26. The FAO has a good overview of this process here.  

Today (Monday), they are conducting the first of the six workshops on Modalities for implementation of the outcomes of the five in-session workshops on issues related to agriculture and other future topics that may arise from this work (emphasis added). Modalities is UN-speak for setting up a process for implementation. We will be in the room and trying to follow along this provisional agenda, keeping track of country positions, especially influential agricultural powers in the negotiations like New Zealand, who are putting in money “to support the work of the KJWA on topic 2(e): improved livestock management systems, including agropastoral production systems and others.” They would like parties to agree on a decision in this session today that allows New Zealand to organize a workshop in New Zealand on these issues. This would essentially shut out all governments and CSOs unable to financially support travel to New Zealand for yet another climate-related meeting. Our colleagues in CLARA that are part of the Climate Action Network helped draft our own input into this process.

At the COP, IATP will be on two panels on Thursday, December 6th to highlight the role of livestock in the land sector: At 11:30 with our colleagues from CIDSE, FERN and Uppsala University and at 3pm with ActionAid International, CCFD-Terre Solidare and Rights and Resources Institute titled Climate Action in the Land Sector: Rights, Food and Ecosystems for a 1.5 Degree Pathway. These will be livestreamed by the UNFCCC secretariat. Additionally, we will take advantage of this global gathering to host a strategic conversation with like-minded civil society organizations on how we can hold global meat and dairy corporations and the governments that prop them up accountable.

As we have articulated in Missing Pathways to 1.5 °C: The role of the land sector in ambitious climate action, a CLARA report which IATP helped co-author: There is no room for complacency. For too long, agribusiness has been left off the hook for their part in warming the planet. It is clear here at the COP that governments will increasingly include agriculture commitments into their climate plans and in this international body. We need to ensure that our governments act to dramatically reduce their GHGs associated with agribusiness production of meat and dairy and that this is reflected in revisions of their climate plans. These revisions must include clear strategies to work with farmers and ranchers for a just transition towards adoption of regenerative agricultural practices enshrined in agroecology.