Governments met at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from November 6-20 in a context of converging climate and food system crises. For two weeks, 40,000 people from around the world gathered in this Red Sea resort town for the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Throughout the conference, many civil society participants raised their voices to critique the Egyptian government’s authoritarian rule and human rights violations, providing a controversial backdrop to the event.
COP26 (held last year in Glasgow) is estimated to have resulted in 102,500 tons of carbon dioxide: the jury is still out on COP27’s carbon and environmental footprint. What is clear, however, is that in theSharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan (the cover decision resulting from the COP), governments failed to agree to language that requires the phaseout of fossil fuels. They merely recommitted to language agreed in the Glasgow Pact at COP26 to limit warming to 1.5˚C and "enhancing a clean energy mix, including low-emission and renewable energy" with the reference to “low-emission,” criticized by civil society for endorsing fossil gas. In contrast, climate science predicts that to prevent temperature overshoot of 1.5˚C heating, global emissions must peak by 2025 and be cut by 43% by 2030. Governments’ emission reduction commitments, known as their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), remain far below what is needed to meet these targets.
In better news, COP27, promoted as the “Implementation COP” by Egypt, did deliver a landmark decision by agreeing to create a Loss and Damage Fund for assisting developing countries devastated by the rising human and material costs of climate change. The fund is a critical part of a three-pronged climate emergency funding agenda: emissions reduction to stop causing harm; adaptation to prepare for climatic changes now in motion; and loss and damage for the lives already in jeopardy. Thirty years in the making, this historic outcome was the result of concerted civil society engagement and the long-standing demand from poorer countries that have said for decades that they are already paying for climate change, a problem they had little or no role in creating. There is not enough money on the table to properly finance the fund, and rich countries continue to shirk their responsibility. However, the decision to establish the fund was a crucial first step. Its success will depend on decisions at next year’s COP28 on who will pay for these costs, manage the funds and the criteria for receiving these funds.
IATP at COP27
IATP staff were present at COP27 for the first week of the conference. One of our objectives was to influence the negotiations on agriculture and carbon markets as members of Climate Action Network (CAN) International and the Climate Ambition Rights Alliance (CLARA). A second objective, through panels organized with IPES-Food, CIDSE and Maryknoll Global and the launch of two major publications (The Fertilizer Trap with GRAIN and Emissions Impossible: Methane Edition), was to underscore that climate action on agriculture requires ending “net-zero” loopholes for polluters, regulating methane and synthetic fertilizer of Big Agriculture, and shifting largescale investment globally towards climate resilience, ecosystem restoration and agroecology for food sovereignty.
COP27 outcomes on agriculture and carbon markets
Agriculture was first seriously negotiated at the UNFCCC in 2009 when major agriculture exporters, such as New Zealand and the U.S., pushed for negotiations on mitigation in agriculture, with an emphasis on technological solutions and agricultural intensification that would not challenge business as usual. FAO and others first coined the term “climate-smart agriculture” around this time, creating a technology-centered agenda for climate and agriculture. More than 13 years later, global agribusiness corporations and governments that dominate the trade and production of agriculture commodities continue to push techno-fixes over system transformation. For IATP and our allies, shifting this narrative in the coming years is a central advocacy goal to ensure a just transition to build climate resilience and real reductions in the sector’s emissions.
In 2017, the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA) was agreed by parties to be run under UNFCCC subsidiary bodies. It resulted in a series of workshops on critical issues related to agriculture adaptation and mitigation. At COP27, parties essentially agreed to continue these workshops for four more years until 2026, instead of taking more concrete action. By next June, parties are expected to reach agreement on what issues the work program will discuss in the next series of workshops. The new work program will occur in a context of much higher public awareness of the sector’s contribution to climate change and increasing pressure on governments to make firm commitments for climate action on agriculture. Climate change is already devastating food systems, affecting small island states and developing countries with large populations dependent on agriculture for livelihoods and food security disproportionately.
In many respects, the joint work is a continuation of discussions under the KJWA. KJWA was also under the aegis of SBSTA and SBI and resulted in six “official” workshops and an additional two proposed by New Zealand. COP27 adopted conclusions stemming from these workshops, called for implementation of the KJWA outcomes and the start of discussions of “future topics” related to “adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and mitigation.” This call to discuss mitigation was highly contentious, with India as the most outspoken opponent of including the reference. The concern is long-standing and relates to the historical responsibility of industrialized countries for emissions and the vastly different role that agricultural livelihoods and food security play for developing countries compared to their industrial counterparts. Most developing countries want UNFCCC action on agriculture to prioritize finance and capacity building for climate resilience and adaptation, rejecting outcomes that will put the onus of mitigation on their agricultural sectors.
What will follow now will be focused and heated debates among governments and civil society organizations both within and outside the Climate Action Network (CAN) about how to prioritize adaptation, its “co-benefits” and agricultural mitigation. With the latter, it will be critical to assess which entities and governments should carry the onus of mitigation, at what cost and with which trade-offs. For more than a decade, IATP has analyzed and reported extensively on industrial agriculture’s climate impact with a focus on global meat and dairy corporations. The four reports in our Emissions Impossible series provide estimates of these corporations’ emissions and outline the structural and regulatory changes needed to cut emissions from these huge polluters. There is plenty in the Sharm el-Sheikh decision on agriculturefor everyone to have something to fight for, as well as to disagree on. IATP will be monitoring the following key deadlines and outcomes:
SBSTA and SBI have been asked to provide an annual synthesis report of the joint work.
The UNFCCC secretariat will support the Joint work in holding in-session and hybrid (virtual) workshops on topics agreed by parties at the first regular session of these subsidiary bodies. The next and 58th session of SBSTA and SBI, where the topics will be agreed, is slated for June 2023.
By March 27, 2023, all parties and observers (including UNFCCC-registered CSOs) must submit views on topics for the workshops for the 58th session in June 2023.
The establishment of the Sharm el-Sheikh online portal “for sharing information on projects, initiatives and policies for increasing opportunities for implementation of climate action to address issues related to agriculture and food security.” Parties are to decide how to operationalize this portal in the 58th session, and parties and observers are invited to submit their views on the portal’s use by March 27, 2023.Note: Developing countries hope that they can match their initiatives on climate and agriculture to funding via this portal.
Paragraph 19 “invites” various groups, including other U.N. bodies, civil society organizations and farmers, “to strengthen cooperation, collaboration and partnerships in relation to the joint work referred to in paragraph 14.” Note: This gives CSOs an opportunity to ensure that discussions at the UNFCCC are connected to CSO demands and discussions at the U.N. Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and other relevant bodies that have a deeper, more holistic understanding of food systems change. It may also be an opportunity to call for more finance for holistic changes that deliver on agricultural climate resilience.
In four years, at COP31, SBSTA and SBI are asked to report on the final “progress and outcome of this joint work.”
Carbon removals and carbon trading
At the start of COP27, the proposals on what would count as carbon removals under the UNFCCC and how they would be integrated in the UNFCCC rules governing carbon markets caused alarm. IATP has written extensively about how carbon markets do not work for agriculture. At COP26, after years of deadlock, countries agreed on rules to govern and implement international carbon markets and non-market-based mechanisms. These rules are being negotiated under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. Article 6.4, specifically, concerns the establishment of a global carbon market. A supervisory body has been designated to approve carbon credit methodologies and shape the scope of the carbon market mechanism, which would then be open for use by corporations worldwide. In Glasgow, governments tasked this Article 6.4 supervisory body to issue a set of recommendations on carbon removals. These recommendations, hastily drafted behind closed doors and without input from civil society just prior to COP27, were rejected in Sharm el-Sheikh.
In the end, the supervisory body was asked to go back to the drawing board to produce new recommendations at COP28. Governments and observers have been asked to submit their views on what these recommendations should look like by March 15, 2023. These include “appropriate monitoring, reporting, accounting for removals and crediting periods, addressing reversals, avoidance of leakage, and avoidance of other negative environmental and social impacts”(Para 19 of Article 6.4).
Article 6.2 negotiations are on the rules for carbon trading among countries (as opposed to corporations). There was a major setback on the transparency necessary to hold governments to high standards of climate ambition, as reported by Carbon Market Watch:
“Rather than clarifying the ambiguity surrounding conditions for ‘confidentiality’ in country-to-country carbon credit trades, the poor outcome at Sharm el-Sheikh failed to establish any meaningful guardrails,” said Jonathan Crook, a CMW expert on global carbon markets. “This transparency loophole risks being exploited by countries seeking to shroud their emission trades in secrecy. If a country wants to be clandestine about their engagement in Article 6.2 bilateral agreements and carbon credit trades, they now have a free pass to do so.”
“Let’s tell it like it is. Using bogus ‘net-zero’ pledges to cover up massive fossil fuel expansion is reprehensible. It is rank deception. This toxic cover-up could push our world over the climate cliff. The sham must end.” —Secretary-General António Guterres' remarks at launch of report of High-Level Expert Group on Net-Zero Commitments [as delivered]
The corridors and pavilions of COP27 were rife with corporate interests, corporate-sponsored panels and climate announcements, including this Roadmap from 14 of the biggest grain traders, grain processors and livestock companies in the world. They, like so many other companies, have pledged “to urgently reduce emissions,” committing to targets and reporting of their actions. Nearly 1,500 companies have signed up with the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) to set climate targets. SBTi is completely voluntary and based on self-reporting. In the first week of COP27, the High Level Expert Group of Net Zero Commitments launched a high-profile report with recommendations to set ground rules for the hundreds of voluntary initiatives involved in net-zero pledges. A key recommendation follows:
Non-state actors must report publicly every year, and in detail, on their progress, including greenhouse gas data, in a way that can be compared with the baseline they set. Reports should be independently verified and added to the UNFCCC Global Climate Action Portal. Special attention will be needed to build sufficient capacity in developing countries to verify emission reductions. The recommendations of this report are therefore relevant to both the UNFCCC global stocktake (GST) process and the anticipated mitigation work programme.
IATP welcomes this recommendation from the HLEG and has called for a regulatory approach to corporate reporting and independent verification of emissions in all four of our Emissions Impossible reports.
For agriculture, there is no question: With each small rise in temperatures, food systems become more disrupted and stressed. Agriculture is as much a casualty of climate change as a culprit. The corporate and intergovernmental push for techno-fixes and tinkering with business-as-usual fails to confront the profound disruptive force that climate change is having on the sector.
Food systems advocates, including IATP, are pushing for radical solutions and transformative change. We are on the right side of history. In the runup to COP28, we must elevate this narrative of radical transformation in the food and agriculture sector to reflect the urgency of the crisis we face and the possibilities to protect the world we want. We have the solutions, which include:
Government regulation of agribusiness, mandating that the companies report, verify and cut emissions without passing the costs and risks onto food growers and consumers. Governments must regulate not just greenhouse gases, but also all the pollutants stemming from industrial agriculture. The costs of business as usual for agribusiness are untenable for many of their workers and for the environment; they should cease to be profitable for the companies.
Decentralizing food production and distribution, and redirecting the billions of dollars in national and global public money now spent on agriculture towards agroecology, which empowers rural communities and builds climate resilience.
Agriculture is at a crossroads — diversity in crops, cropping, seeds and animal genetics are key for climate resilience and biodiversity; soil health and water quality are essential for ecosystem restoration. We have the solutions: Now we need governments to support their implementation.