As they seek consensus for action against global warming, negotiators at the UN climate summit may skip over food and agriculture while assembling a final statement on climate adaptation, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Sunday. Instead, food and agriculture’s contribution to COP28 would be a non-binding endorsement of sustainable production, unveiled on the opening day of the summit in Dubai.
“There wasn’t enough time to negotiate a text” on agriculture because of a disagreement between the world’s wealthiest nations and the developing world over how to review progress on climate goals, Vilsack said during a teleconference. Some 152 nations have signed the so-called Emirates Declaration calling for food and agriculture to take a central role in national climate efforts.
“This declaration, I think, is a pretty significant milestone,” said Vilsack, because it outlines steps for sustainable food production in the face of a changing climate. Sunday was Food, Agriculture and Water Day at COP28, the first time food and agriculture were given such prominence at the annual climate summits. Nations jealously guard their agriculture and food systems. In America, lawmakers regularly say food security is national security.
Food and agriculture are the second-largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for a third of the world’s emissions, said Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE minister of climate change and environment. “We will not reach 1.5 degrees unless we fix food and agriculture,” she said during a discussion on COP28’s main stage on Sunday.
Climate discussions commonly focus on the goal of preventing a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures compared to pre-industrial times. COP28 is scheduled to conclude on Tuesday.
Overshadowing agriculture at COP28 were arguments about whether to phase down or phase out use of fossil fuels in coming decades. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, president of the summit, appealed on Sunday for an agreement “that keeps 1.5 within reach. And that will help transform economies for generations to come,” reported The Guardian. “Failure, or lack of progress, or watering down ambition is not an option,” said Jaber.
A draft document released by negotiators on Sunday included a reference to “sustainable agriculture” as a solution for climate mitigation and resilience, reported news agency Press Trust of India. “It also includes goals without specific targets related to water, food, health, and agriculture.”
The Emirates Declaration says “agriculture and food systems must urgently adapt and transform in order to respond to the imperatives of climate change.” In its five objectives, nations say they will work expeditiously to “maximize the climate and environmental benefits — while containing and reducing harmful impacts — associated with agriculture and food systems by conserving, protecting, and restoring land and natural ecosystems, enhancing soil health, and biodiversity, and shifting from higher greenhouse gas-emitting practices to more sustainable production and consumption approaches, including by reducing food loss and waste and promoting sustainable aquatic blue foods.”
The United States is a leader in climate adaptation and mitigation, Vilsack told reporters. As proof, he cited USDA’s $3.1 billion climate-smart agriculture initiative, the $20 billion earmarked in a 2022 law for USDA conservation programs with an emphasis on climate work, a recently released federal strategy to reduce food loss and waste, and projects to measure more precisely carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas reductions by farmers and to increase domestic fertilizer production.
At the climate summit, Almheiri and Vilsack announced a near doubling, to $17 billion, in the past year of global commitments to the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate, also known as AIM for Climate. Sponsored by the UAE and the United States, the initiative seeks a significant increase in climate-smart food and agriculture innovations between 2021-25. Vilsack said he’d “be disappointed” if the initiative does not secure $25 billion by next year’s climate summit.