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We handpick and explain the most important stories at the intersection of climate, land, food and nature over the past fortnight.
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The UK government – host of COP26 – has pledged to make nature a key focus of this year’s summit. Many countries include nature-based solutions – such as ecosystem restoration – in their strategic plans for addressing climate change, but concerns about greenwashing and carbon-market rules still linger.
The UN Committee on World Food Security met virtually for its 49th plenary session from 11 to 14 October. Key items on the agenda included the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report and following up on last month’s UN Food Systems Summit, as well as women’s empowerment and youth engagement in agriculture.
A new report coordinated by the World Meteorological Association (WMO) has found that nearly 40% more people in Africa suffered from food insecurity in 2020 compared with 2019. The report attributed this to climate change, conflicts, pest outbreaks, economic crises and Covid-19. By 2030, it predicted up to 118 million “extremely poor” people would be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat in Africa.
WHAT: The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) gets underway in Glasgow on 31 October, with the world leaders’ summit on 1 November. Among the UK presidency’s four stated goals of COP26 are “secur[ing] global net-zero” by 2050, including by halting deforestation, and “adapt[ing] to protect communities and natural habitats”. Multiple outlets reported calls by environmental groups to postpone the summit once again due to concerns over vaccine inequity, travel restrictions and quarantine costs. Key priorities for countries include finalising the rules for carbon markets, climate finance for developing countries, loss and damage, and reducing methane and coal emissions.
NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS: Countries are supposed to have submitted revised versions of their “Nationally Determined Contributions”, or NDCs, ahead of COP26 – allowing the first assessment at how the world is progressing towards the goals of the Paris Agreement. A 2020 analysis of countries’ first NDCs showed that about two-thirds of Paris Agreement signatories “outline[d] intentions of working with ecosystems” for climate change mitigation and/or adaptation. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has called for “bold commitments on coal, cars, cash and trees” at the summit, asking leaders to work to “halt devastating deforestation”, the Press Association reported, while the Guardian reported a source inside the UK government calling nature-based solutions “a priority”.
DEFORESTATION: According to the Guardian, the UK government is “pushing for an ambitious agreement” at the summit on halting deforestation and forest degradation. The paper reported that a “coalition of world leaders” is to announce the new initiative on the second day of COP26 – part of which is scheduled for a leaders’ forum on forests and land use – and that both public and private funding towards stopping deforestation “are expected”. The UK and Indonesia are joint leaders of the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Dialogue, which aims to “develop a shared roadmap of actions” that major agricultural producers and consumers together can take towards protecting ecosystems.
AGRICULTURE: At Glasgow, two UN technical subsidiary bodies will report back on the outcomes of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture – established at COP23 in Bonn to recognise the role of agriculture in addressing climate change. This report could provide a roadmap for the process going forward. The Glasgow meeting will also serve as the official launch of the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate), jointly led by the US and the United Arab Emirates. This initiative has a stated goal of pushing for “rapid and transformative climate action in the agricultural sector”, with a particular focus on climate-smart agriculture. AIM for Climate is supported by more than 30 countries, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that more than 30 countries had signed on to the “Global Methane Pledge”. Led by the US and the EU, the pledge has a target of reducing methane emissions from 2020 levels by 30% by 2030. A joint press release from the US and the EU noted that “oil and gas, coal, agriculture and landfills” are all major sources of methane emissions. This pledge will also officially launch at COP26.
Plenary of the Committee on World Food Security
FOOD SECURITY: Coming just weeks after the UN Food Systems Summit (FSS), the 49th plenary session of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) saw delegates from more than 120 members convene virtually to discuss issues of food security and nutrition. Members discussed the 2021 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, which was released in July and showed a “dramatic worsening” of world hunger in 2020, according to an FAO press release. The report stated that hunger has increased in both proportional and absolute terms, much of which is “likely related” to the Covid-19 pandemic.
WEALTH TAX: The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) wrote that in considering the SOFI report’s implications for achieving zero hunger, members “identified a range of actions towards achieving food system transformation”. Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at Columbia University, delivered the keynote address at the session. According to ENB, Sachs stressed both the short- and long-term financial commitments needed to achieve the zero-hunger goal by 2030. Sachs “proposed a 2% wealth tax on billionaires” to achieve that end.
FSS FOLLOW-UP: One key area of debate at the meeting was the role that the CFS would play in following up on the outcomes of the FSS. ENB reported that members “expressed a range of views” on the issue, ranging from the idea that the CFS should play a key leadership role in following up on the summit to the thought that the CFS should “disassociate itself completely”. ENB noted that, “ultimately, a clear position on the role of CFS in the UNFSS follow-up was not found”. ReliefWeb wrote that civil society groups – many of whom boycotted the FSS en masse – remain “deeply concerned” about how the outcomes of the FSS will impact the CFS’s mandate. In an opinion piece published by the Inter Press Service, Nora McKeon, a lecturer at Roma Tre University and the International University College of Turin who previously worked at the FAO, wrote that a call at the plenary for a “globally coordinated policy response” to the food-security implications of the Covid-19 pandemic was blocked by a “steamroller coalition of big commodity exporters”, including the US.
WOMEN & YOUTH: The committee discussed the progress of the zero draft of the CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment in the Context of Food Security and Nutrition, which was “well received”, according to ENB. A finalised draft is expected to be considered and endorsed at the next session of the CFS, in October 2022. The High-Level Panel of Experts introduced their report on youth engagement in agriculture; the recommended policies will be presented to the CFS for endorsement at the next session as well.
Climate change fuels food insecurity in Africa: WMO
WHAT: Climate change worsened food insecurity, poverty and displacement in Africa, said the State of the Climate in Africa 2020 report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) ahead of COP26. The report summarised important climate trends that highlight Africa’s “disproportionate vulnerability” to climate change and the urgent need for investments in climate adaptation and early warning systems. It was produced as a collaboration between the WMO, the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), international and regional scientific organisations and UN agencies.
FOOD POVERTY: Nearly 98 million people in Africa faced acute food insecurity and needed humanitarian aid in 2020, an almost 40% increase from 2019. By 2030, up to 118 million people who live on less than $2 a day would be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat if authorities did not act, the report said. In sub-Saharan countries, nearly half the population live below the poverty line and are dependent on climate-sensitive livelihoods, such as herding, rain-fed agriculture and fishing. These countries could further lose up to 3% of their GDP by 2050 to climate change, the report found. In all, Africa would need over $3tn in mitigation and adaptation finance by 2030 to implement country climate pledges. This, the authors said, required “significant, accessible and predictable inflows of conditional finance”.
CLIMATE IMPACTS: The rate at which temperatures rose across Africa was higher than the global average. Last year was in the top eight hottest years on record, it found. While Sudan and Kenya were the worst affected by floods, South Africa reeled under persistent drought. Cyclone Gati – formed in the Bay of Bengal off India – was the strongest storm ever to hit Somalia. While sea level rise rates were consistent with the global average, this rose higher on the Indian Ocean side of the continent. Climate change could make for a snowless Kilimanjaro. The report estimated that the last three African mountains with snow cover could lose it all by the 2040s.
DISASTER DISPLACEMENT: Floods, storms and drought caused the most internal disaster-related displacement on the continent. Almost 12% of all people displaced in 2020 globally were from East Africa and Horn of Africa, where a 2019-20 locust invasion “of historic proportions” continued to have an impact. The report estimates that 1.25 million people were displaced in conflict-ridden Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where people were already food insecure and forced to migrate internally and across borders.
News and views
EUROPE: Euractiv reported that about one-third of EU countries “have expressed concerns” about meeting the end-of-year deadline for submitting their national strategies for implementing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). One sticking point, Euractiv noted, is that countries also need to submit targets for the Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategies – which, unlike the CAP, “are not legally binding on member states”. The Farm to Fork strategy has come under “an unexpectedly hostile lobbying frenzy” ahead of the parliament’s vote, Politico reported. The strategy passed the European Parliament with nearly 75% approval of voting members (76 members abstained); that result was announced on 20 October.
BAD BANKS: A new report by Global Witness found that banks and investors based in the EU, UK, US and China raked in $1.74bn in income from investments in agribusinesses that it said were complicit in destruction of tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia, Central and West Africa, and Brazil between 2016 to 2020. The “worst offenders” named in the report include HSBC, Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan, contradicting many of their own pledges to the Paris Agreement, as well as “no deforestation”, human rights and environmental safeguards. Global Witness identified JP Morgan as the “biggest deforestation lender”, cutting deals worth roughly $9.38bn with firms that felled rainforests. Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan declined to respond to the report. HSBC cited “traceability gaps” as a challenge.
BEEF BAN: China’s ban on beef from Brazil that has lasted more than a month “threatens to decimate exports” worth $4bn per year, reports the Financial Times. On 4 September, Brasilia voluntarily suspended shipments after confirming two cases of “atypical” mad-cow disease. Stuck in the stand-off are 100,000 tonnes of Brazilian beef that were health-certified and shipped before the suspension, but now have been apparently refused entry at Chinese ports. Brazilian analysts believe that the move could be a means for China “to extract a commercial advantage”, it reported. Meanwhile, China banned British beef from cattle under 30 months effective 29 September after a case was detected in Somerset; its restrictions on imports from Ireland remain in place since last year. On 1 October, China resumed beef imports from Argentina – its second biggest supplier – a month sooner than expected, reported Bloomberg. Other major Brazilian beef importers who have stopped purchases in response to the mad-cow concerns are Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it continued.
MEAT LOBBY: Documents leaked to Greenpeace’s Unearthed revealed attempts by Brazil and Argentina – “among the world’s biggest producers of beef and animal feed crops” – to push “repeatedly” for the removal or dilution of text about reducing meat and dairy consumption in order to reduce emissions from Working Group III’s contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s sixth assessment report, due out in March 2022. BBC News reported that Argentina argued that some evidence shows that “meat-based diets can also reduce carbon emissions”, while Brazil pushed for a stronger focus on “emissions from different production systems, rather than types of food”. Unearthed approached both Brazil and Argentina for comment, but did not receive responses. A spokesperson for the IPCC told both outlets that their processes “are designed to guard against lobbying”.
- Kunming COP15: Big challenges remain after first session – Kong Lingyu, China Dialogue
- Myanmar’s hidden hunger – Thin Lei Win, The New Humanitarian
- Rice, fat, meat, streets – Ahmer Naqvi, Fifty Two
- To fight the climate crisis, banks must stop financing factory farming – Kari Hamerschlag and Christopher D Cook, The Guardian
A new study found that both extreme heat and extreme cold can reduce the daily milk yields of cows, leaving dairy farms “vulnerable” to changing weather conditions. Scientists used high-resolution weather data and monthly data on milk yields in the US dating back to 1981 to determine the relationship between temperature and humidity and milk yields. They found that while the warming trend over the last 40 years has proven “modestly beneficial” to yields so far by reducing cold extremes, “more extreme future conditions may negate these benefits”. They also noted that farmers “routinely undertake management actions” that can help lessen the impacts on their herds.
Who has a beef with reducing red and processed meat consumption? A media framing analysis
Public Health Nutrition
New research based on media analysis found “remarkably polarising” attitudes towards reducing red and processed meat (RPM) consumption around the release of four high-profile reports that focus on its impacts. The study analysed 150 media articles in key meat producing and consuming countries – the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand – and reported views of academics, policymakers, industry and article authors. It found that industry “frequently framed RPM reduction as part of a ‘Vegan Agenda’” pushed by an elite minority and that academics and nutritionists were more likely to be cited in articles that agreed with reports findings. The researchers concluded that this polarisation could “diminish the extent to which political leaders will prioritise this in policy” and that “nuanced and context-dependent messaging” could help create more effective narratives.
No aggregate deforestation reductions from rollout of community land titles in Indonesia yet
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
A new study examined the early effects of the rollout of Indonesia’s community land titling efforts as part of its social forestry program, introduced to correct historical injustices and contain deforestation. Authors used data on community forest titles on 2.4m hectares of land across the country. They found that, so far, community titles aimed at conservation did not decrease deforestation but increased forest loss, while community titles in zones aimed at timber production decreased deforestation, albeit from a higher baseline. Study authors pointed to two reasons for this result: lack of institutional capacity at the community level and the economic opportunity costs of conservation. They concluded that a “social forestry programme cannot systematically decrease deforestation rates without additional resources or incentives” for communities.
In the diary
- 12-30 October: Korinivia intersessional workshop – Part 2
- 30-31 October: G20 Leaders’ Summit
- 1-12 November: COP26 on the Framework Convention on Climate Change
- 2 November: World Leaders Summit on forests and land-use
- 5-6 November: Nature and Land Use Days at COP26
- 6 November: Global Day of Action for Climate Justice
- 15-18 November: 2nd International Agrobiodiversity Congress
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