As world leaders gather at the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), in its new publication, calls on U.N. member governments to tackle agricultural emissions head on by redirecting public funds away from Big Ag, ending agribusiness impunity and transitioning farming to a growing movement of regenerative agriculture called Agroecology. The U.N. Secretary General is asking governments to deliver concrete commitments to nearly halve planet warming gases in the coming decade. With agriculture and forestry accounting for 82 percent of the world’s nitrous oxide and 44 percent of global methane emissions from 2007-2016 alone—a just agroecological transition is essential to getting there.
Governments spend large public funds on corporations that expand global industrial livestock and feed production. For instance, 40 percent of the EU’s budget goes towards agriculture disbursed through the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). According to Greenpeace, nearly half of the EU’s CAP budget (up to 31.6 billion Euros) goes towards the livestock sector, with large-scale operations as the main beneficiaries. This public investment in large-scale livestock has come at the expense of rural communities and degraded land, water and air. Similarly, the U.S. Farm Bill heavily subsidizes cheap, often below cost feed (corn and soy) that supplies mega factory farms associated with widespread rural water and air pollution–often in African American and Latino communities. The expansion in factory farms, and loss of smaller, independent producers, is largely responsible for the steady increase in U.S.-based agriculture-related GHG emissions.
Another major reason for runaway emissions from the agriculture sector is the impunity with which agribusiness is allowed to pollute water, air and degrade land with the public incurring the environmental and health costs. In our Emissions Impossible report, GRAIN and IATP found that just 20 transnational companies combined emitted more GHGs than several industrialized countries. Just five combined emitted more GHGs in 2016 than Shell or Exxon or BP and yet none are legally required to report, verify or reduce their emissions. Nitrates choke our estuaries and saturate our soils; nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, leaks into our atmosphere to heat our planet. Strengthening regulations for the rapid reduction of nitrogen-related emissions is essential to getting on a 1.5°C pathway.
“Nature-based” proposals such as those that governments will discuss at the Summit and which big international institutions will present at the conference called the Nature’s Climate Hub must no longer ignore these structural realities contributing to climate change. Thankfully, ecologically and economically just solutions are gaining ground around the world. Well-advanced principles are now coalescing around Agroecology, a transformative approach that can galvanize a just transition for farmers and workers to (re)build ecosystems and agricultural resilience while supporting localized, fair food systems and local communities. The recent report from the U.N. High Level Panel of Experts of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) on Agroecological and other innovative approaches recognizes that agri-food systems are coupled with social-ecological systems, from production to consumption. Governments gathered at the Climate Action Summit could turn the report’s findings into action by committing at the summit to increase their support for agroecological approaches to food production and marketing as key to ensuring sustainable food systems.
In our report Missing Pathways to 1.5°C, written as part of the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance (CLARA), we offer several ways the livestock sector, in particular, can use agroecological principles and practices to transition the sector away from high emissions and environmental impacts. Together with addressing food waste, agroecological practices for crops and livestock and healthy diets, we found that the agriculture sector alone could avoid as much as 7.5 Gigatons of GHG emissions per year by 2050 and sequester over 1 Gigaton of CO2 equivalent through agroforestry. There is thus enormous mitigation potential from land with policies and practices that respect planetary boundaries and human rights. These findings must be taken seriously by the U.N. and governments focused on nature-based solutions.