News digest: COP26, climate change and food systems

What’s happening at COP26?

You can view the overall schedule and themes here.

What events are relevant to food systems?

As well as the international negotiations, there are many “Green Zone” events and side events. The following selection focuses on natural resources, agriculture, and the ACP regions.

Green Zone

You can join these events virtually by subscribing to the COP26 YouTube channel.
Links to each free live stream will be found on the Green Zone webpage.

Date in November Time (GMT/UTC) Event Organiser
1st 10:30–12:00 Preserving the planet – Women in agriculture Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
2nd 16:30–18:00 Fairtrade farmers: Our food and the fight for climate justice Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International e.V.
6th 16:00–17:30 A just rural transition towards sustainable agriculture and halting deforestation and conversion from agricultural commodities – Working collaboratively to deliver for climate, nature and people Meridian Institute/Just Rural Transition co-sponsoring with Tropical Forest Alliance / FACT Multistakeholder Track
8th 10:00–11:30 Unlocking climate solutions: From the Pacific Islands to the Arctic, why Indigenous knowledge must take centre stage One Young World
9th 15:00–16:30 Technology and data are key to save the environment Hitachi
10th 10:00–11:30 Plant powered to become climate positive Unilever
11th 14:00–15:30 Fix the economy to fix climate change: The role of the circular economy Ellen MacArthur Foundation

The full list is available here.

Side events

Date in November Time (GMT/UTC) Event Organiser
3rd 10:30–11:30 Why nature-based solutions are crucial for climate and resilience EU GCCA+
3rd 13:15—14:30 Accelerating the implementation of the Paris Agreement through innovative climate resilient agri-food systems Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
3rd 15:00—16:15 Agriculture’s ambition – Delivering food security, resilience and mitigation in a changing climate National Farmers Union, Agricord vzw, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, German Farmers’ Organization e.V.
3rd 18:30—19:45 Putting farmers first for fair resilience in cocoa – A debate with industry, farmers and activists Fairtrade Foundation, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International e.V. (FLO e.V.)
4th 11:30—12:45 Climate action in Africa to build forward better and greener African Union Commission African Development Bank Group, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa
4th 15:00—16:15 Scaling out ecosystem-based adaptation interventions in Africa International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Watershed Organisation Trust
4th 16:45—18:00 Pacific innovative solutions to build resilience against climate change Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), Cook Islands
5th 13:15—14:30 Means of implementation: High level event on the needs of developing countries Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
5th 16:45—18:00 Accelerating climate finance for nature-based solutions – Climate, land and biodiversity targets Commonwealth Secretariat, Namibia, Zambia 
5th 16:45—18:00 Bridging the science-policy gap for impactful, demand-driven food systems innovation Massachusetts Institute of Technology, American University of Beirut, Columbia University
6th 15:00—16:15 Taking action for a brighter future: Transforming food, land and water systems in a climate crisis CGIAR System Organization, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
8th 16:45—18:00 Developing climate resilient food systems pathway – Approaches from sub-Saharan Africa Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, CAB International
9th 11:30—12:45 Transforming agricultural innovation for people, nature and climate: A global action agenda Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), International Potato Center (CIP), Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU)
9th 16:45—18:00 No more omissions: Addressing the ambition & scale of change required in global food systems Brighter Green, Inc. et al.
10th 13:15—14:30 Raising resilience ambition: Leadership from small islands Overseas Development Institute, Dominica, Spain

The full list is available here.

About COP26

What is COP26, who will attend it, and why does it matter?

What is the UNFCCC? What is the Paris Climate Agreement? What are Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)? Why does COP26 matter? This article provides answers to the key questions. An increasingly important aspect of the climate debate is around “nature-based solutions” – how nature (forests, agriculture and ecosystems) can become a climate solution for absorbing carbon and for protecting against climate impacts. COP26 will start to discuss how to integrate nature-based solutions into the Paris implementation strategy.

Source: Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, October 2021

Climate change: A call to act now

In August the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the first part of its sixth assessment report , which will form the cornerstone of climate science for the years ahead. Summarising the physical science basis for climate change, the report pulls together the findings from more than 14,000 peer-reviewed studies. The authors conclude that it is “unequivocal” that humans have warmed the planet, causing “widespread and rapid” changes to Earth’s oceans, ice and land surface. They warn that the present state of many parts of the climate system is “unprecedented over many centuries to many thousands of years”. Many of these changes – particularly to the oceans, ice sheets and global sea levels – are “irreversible”, the authors say. Abrupt changes and tipping points – such as rapid Antarctic ice sheet melt and forest dieback – “cannot be ruled out”. One of the key developments since the IPCC’s last assessment report in 2013-14 is the strengthening of the links between human-caused warming and increasingly severe extreme weather, which is now “an established fact”. But despite the bad news, the report’s authors are also certain that near-term emissions cuts can “really reduce the rate of unprecedented warming”.
Across Africa, “Mortality-related heat stress levels and deadly temperatures are very likely to become more frequent”– even given a temperature rise of only 2°C. Equatorial regions, where the heat is compounded by high humidity levels, are particularly at risk. The study finds that most African regions will experience an increase in heavy rainfall that could often lead to flooding – although north Africa and regions in southern Africa will see agricultural drought and ecological drought expected across much of the continent.
For the small island nations – particularly islands in the Caribbean sea and Pacific ocean, sea level rise is a “major threat” as it can “exacerbate the impacts of other climate hazards on low-lying coastal communities and infrastructures, ecosystems, and freshwater resources”. The Carribean is particularly at risk, and will see coastline retreat approaching 200 metres, relative to 2010.
The report also states that tropical cyclones have “devastating impacts” on small islands due to the intense winds. As the climate warms, storms will generally become less frequent but more intense. However, there is “substantial variability across small island regions given projected regional shifts in storm tracks”.

Source: Carbon Brief, 9 August 2021

Are the COP26 climate change negotiations ready to embrace agriculture?

Even though agricultural and land sector emissions contribute almost one-quarter of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, it has been a long struggle to properly recognise and discuss within the UNFCCC framework the contribution that these sectors can make to the global mitigation effort. This is despite the fact that many countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions highlight the potential for abatement in these sectors, though commitments are often made contingent on receipt of external finance. A major breakthrough occurred with the adoption of the Koronivia Joint Work Programme on Agriculture at COP23 in 2017. The two UNFCCC subsidiary bodies charged with implementing this work programme will report back on its outcomes at COP26 in Glasgow in November.

Source: Eurochoices, 31 August 2021

What is the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture?

The Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture is named after Fiji’s Koronivia Research Station, in honour of Fiji’s Presidency of COP23 in 2017 where it was adopted. Koronivia is a landmark Decision of the UNFCCC, recognising agriculture’s role in tackling climate change. The Koronivia Joint Work consists of a series of workshops examining how to conduct agriculture in a world undergoing climate change, and is due to report to COP26. See the video here:

Small island nations won’t tolerate empty promises on climate change

Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, writes tht COP26 must be the summit where nations that grew prosperous burning fossil fuels make good on their commitments. Countries at the biggest risk from climate change have the clearest motive to transition away from fossil fuels. Antigua and Barbuda has committed to 86% renewable energy generation in the electricity sector, en route to net zero in 2050, and has pledged that all new vehicle sales will be electric by 2030. Other islands are on similar pathways. However, it costs significantly more for SIDS to cut emissions than for wealthier nations. Small island developing states (SIDS) need equitable support and accessible climate finance to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and truly advance. Small island states are looking to the world’s richest nations to deliver the transformative COP we all need.

Source: Financial Times, 6 September 2021

Suriname’s climate promise for a sustainable future

In January 2020, Suriname became the second nation in the world to outline its updated plans to fight climate change in the hope of ensuring that any future increase in the temperature of the planet does not exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Suriname stated as far back as 2014 that it has a carbon-negative economy, which means that any global warming gases it produces are offset by natural resources that absorb those gases. Suriname and Bhutan are currently the only two nations to achieve net zero emissions (see “Net Zero Emissions Race”). The South American country is 93% covered by forest, which acts as a massive carbon sink. Suriname’s updated NDCs focus on four key areas; forests, electricity, agriculture and transport. It is committed to maintaining 93% forest cover, but says “significant international support is needed for the conservation of this valuable resource in perpetuity.” Agriculture is the cause of 40% of the country’s total emissions but also provides a valuable source of income. Suriname is focusing on the development of climate-smart farming, including water resources management, the promotion of sustainable land management, and adopting innovative technologies, for example converting biomass into energy.

Source: UN News, 31 January 2020

News digest

Climate change impacts on horticulture

Climate change and agricultural production

Global warming and its consequences were visible around the world in 2021 (Mexico, intense drought in May; Canada, heat dome in June; severe drought in central Brazil; exceptional frost in Zimbabwe and Chile in early July, heavy rains in Cameroon in early September…). In a study entitled “Anthropogenic climate change has slowed global agricultural productivity growth”, conducted by the American universities of Cornell, Maryland and Stanford (published in early April 2021 in the journal Nature Climate Change), the historical influence of anthropogenic climate change on the agricultural sector is highlighted. The report shows a reduction in global agricultural productivity of around 21% since 1961. This decrease is even greater in the warmer regions of Africa and Latin America where it is between 26 and 34%.

Source: Commodafrica, 28 April 2021

Global warming and its consequences for European horticulture

Since the spring of 2021 a number of climatic events have been recorded in Europe and elsewhere in the world. In Europe, an exceptional cold snap in March-April affected many European countries (Germany, Spain, Austria, France, Italy, Hungary, etc.). There were dramatic floods at the beginning of the summer in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, with consequences for summer fruit production, with a drop in the volumes marketed and a rise in prices for certain products (cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots). European countries have set up national plans to support the affected sectors, and the European Commission has just published its exceptional measures to support the European wine and fruit and vegetable sectors.

Source: Fresh Plaza, 8 avril 2021, Fruchthandel, 27 mai 2021, European Commission, 6 octobre 2021

Europe: Climate change impacts on fruit and vegetable processors

PROFEL, the European Association of Fruit and Vegetable Processors, first reported in 2019 that climate change has become a very serious concern for the sector. Increasingly unfavourable weather conditions have had a severe impact on the growth of vegetables in Europe as the combination of extreme hot and dry weather led to premature dieback of crops. And areas with above-average rainfall coupled with hot temperatures saw an increase in vulnerability to pests and diseases. Climate change translates into higher costs for fruit and vegetable processing businesses, which will have to invest to find solutions and adapt to this situation. Growers and processors will need to make investments for irrigation, and support farmers to continue growing vegetables despite the risks of less efficiency in factory equipment and production lines.
A report by the European Environment Agency, “Climate change adaptation in the agricultural sector in Europe”, predicts that climate change could cut the value of European agriculture by 16% by 2050 due to an increase in droughts and higher rainfall. According to the report, climate change could turn the entire EU agribusiness upside down as crop productivity in the Mediterranean countries is expected to fall (by more than 80% by 2100), while northern and western regions may experience longer growing seasons and more suitable conditions for agricultural intensification. In particular, drought frequency will increase, especially in the Mediterranean during spring and summer.
In July 2021 PROFEL pointed out that extreme weather conditions in Belgium, the Netherlands and large parts of Germany are impacting the harvesting and sowing of several vegetable crops. The pea harvest has seen serious damage and in some cases total losses due to heavy rainfall. The sowing of green beans and flageolets is delayed or impossible because of the wet conditions, which entails more risk given that beans are very sensitive to early frost conditions.

Source: PROFEL press release, 30 July 2021

Climate change impacts on markets

The facts about food miles

A recent BBC article explains how food miles tell us only one thing: distance. Many other factors can affect a product’s carbon footprint. The biggest portion of any food’s environmental impact comes from production, not transport. For example, UK tomatoes grown in heated greenhouses may actually have a higher carbon footprint than tomatoes imported from hotter countries – even including the extra transport. And “if we stopped importing food altogether, we’d take away a valuable source of income from communities all over the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, around 1.5 million people depend on exporting food to the UK. And ending this trade relationship would only reduce UK total greenhouse gas emissions by less than 0.1%.”

Source: BBC Good Food, March 2021

UK: Food labelling for environmental impact

Food groups and retailers including Nestlé, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer are among the big names working with Foundation Earth to explore how environmental labelling can work as the clock ticks down to November’s COP26 climate summit. The label rates food on a sliding scale from A+ (great) to G (not good) in an ambitious attempt to give consumers the power to re-engineer a food industry that contributes up to 37% of global greenhouse gases. The Foundation Earth “enviro score” is based on four measures: carbon, water usage, water pollution and biodiversity. Shoppers can read detailed explanations of a product’s score on the non-profit organisation’s website.

Source: The Guardian, 8 October 2021

Why food must be at the heart of environmental action before COP26

The Beacons of Hope initiative describes the example of COLEACP member Eosta, an organic fruit and vegetable distributor in the Netherlands that is enabling consumers to make more informed decisions in the supermarket. Eosta uses True Cost Accounting (TCA) to show customers the hidden costs that come as a result of industrial modes of food production, from underpaid farm workers to the overuse of pesticides. Fruit and vegetables sold by Eosta are accompanied by price tags that clearly compare the impact of industrial farming systems versus organic farming systems, encouraging customers to make purchases that are fair to producers, society, and the environment.

Source: Euronews, 17 July 2021

World’s first True Price Store opens in Amsterdam

True Price is a social enterprise with the mission to realise sustainable products that are affordable to all by enabling consumers to see and voluntarily pay the true price of products they buy. The Amsterdam store initially is open on Saturdays, beginning with coffee and chocolate to remediate for under-earning and climate change. The proof of concept is intended to inspire other stores, restaurants and supermarkets to follow.

Source: True Price, 20 February 2020

Land restoration

Restoration of degraded lands and forests in Africa

A “Review of forest and landscape restoration in Africa 2021”, carried out by the FAO and the African Union-NEPAD, notes that 65% of Africa’s productive land is degraded. Desertification affects 45% of Africa’s land surface and forests continue to disappear at a rate of 4 million ha per year. The potential for restoration in Africa is estimated at over 720 million ha, of which 221 million ha are in drylands (166 million ha in North Africa, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and 55 million ha in the Southern African region). Initiatives have been launched contributing to this progressive restoration of landscapes and forests: in 2015 the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100); in 2018 the Pan-African Action Agenda for Ecosystem Restoration piloted by the African Union and NEPAD; and the Great Green Wall over 8,000 km.

Source: Commodafrica, 29 September 2021

Major destruction of tropical forest in Africa over the past 30 years

According to a study published in Science Advances, “Long-term (1990-2019) monitoring of forest cover changes in the humid tropics”, conducted by scientists from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), CIRAD, CIFOR and INPE, 220 million ha of tropical rainforest have been lost in 30 years, an average of 7 million ha per year. The study highlights that current tropical forests are highly degraded due to timber exploitation, small-scale fires and natural disturbances such as storms. It also points out that forest degradation has accelerated in recent years.

Source: Commodafrica, 9 March 2021

Togo: Restoration of degraded forests and land

In Togo, the European Union is participating in actions over three years (2019-2021) for the sustainable management of forests and land. This funding, of more than 570 million CFA francs, allows the implementation of the Support Programme for the Fight against Climate Change (PALCC) by accompanying the Organisation for Development and Incentives for Self-Employment (ODIAE) and its partner FAGAD (Frères Agriculteurs et Artisans pour le Développement) to strengthen the resilience of the populations of southern Togo. “The overall objective is to contribute to strengthening the resilience of farms and forest ecosystems in the maritime and plateau regions in the face of climate change,” explains Georges Koffi Egbenou, executive director of the NGO ODIAE. This programme focuses on the development of community forests, the sustainable management of exploited agricultural land and the diversification of production.

Source: Agridigitale, 9 Juillet 2020

Germany’s contribution to the reforestation of Cameroon

At the end of June 2021, the Cameroonian government and the German bank KFW signed a financing agreement for the restoration of degraded landscapes and the reforestation of forests in Cameroon, worth €10 million (6.5 billion CFA francs). Specific actions will be carried out on a total area of 46,000 ha in the North and Far North regions, threatened by desertification. This programme contributes to financing Cameroon’s commitment to restore 12 million ha of forest by 2030.

Source: Investir au Cameroun, 1 July 2021

Sustainable food systems – policy

G20 commitment to sustainable food security

The G20 Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting, held in Florence on 17-18 September, ended with the approval of a Final Declaration (the “Florence Sustainability Charter”) reaffirming the commitment to achieve food security in the framework of the three dimensions of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. For G20 Ministers, climate change, extreme weather events, parasites, animal and plant diseases and shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic require coordinated and effective responses. They agreed not to adopt any unjustified restrictive measures that could lead to extreme volatility of food prices in international markets, thus threatening food security.

Source: G20 News, 18 September 2021

UN Food Systems Summit – Nearly 300 commitments

The first-ever UN Food Systems Summit saw nearly 300 commitments from around the world and across all constituencies to accelerate action to transform food systems, currently being recorded on the UNFSS Commitments Registry. These commitments are aligned to the Summit’s five Action Areas:

  • Nourish all People
  • Boost Nature-Based Solutions
  • Advance Equitable Livelihoods, Decent Work, and Empowered Communities
  • Build Resilience to Vulnerabilities, Shocks, and Stresses
  • Supporting Means of Implementation

Source: UN press release, 24 September 2021

EU Farm to Fork strategy voted one step closer to legally binding

MEPs on the Environment, Public Health & Food Safety, and Agricultural Committees have adopted the report on the Farm to Fork Strategy. The report will be put in front of the full Parliament in the coming weeks. When the report was first published, it listed 27 measures to facilitate greener food production, healthier and more sustainable diets, and less food waste. These include targets in organic farming – notably an ambition to increase the size of EU organic agricultural land to at least 25%. By 2030 the strategy calls for a 50% cut in the use and risk of pesticides, and a 20% cut in the use of fertilisers. It also stipulates that farmers must earn a fair share of the profit of sustainably produced food.

Source: Food Navigator, 10 September 2021

Science digest: Climate change and horticulture

Pests and diseases and climate change: Is there a connection?

Climate change can affect the population size, survival rate and geographical distribution of pests; and the intensity, development and geographical distribution of diseases. In general, an increase in temperature and precipitation levels favours the growth and distribution of most pest species by providing a warm and humid environment and providing necessary moisture for their growth. However, when temperatures and precipitation levels get too high, this can slow the growth and reproduction of some pest species and destroy them by washing their eggs and larvae off the host plant. Research shows that since 1960, crop pests and diseases have been moving at an average of 3 km a year in the direction of the Earth’s north and south poles as temperatures increase. Despite high confidence among scientists that climate change will cause an increase in pests and diseases, predicting exactly when and where they will spread is no easy task. There is significant variation between different species of pests and types of pathogens, and climate models can only provide estimates of where infection or outbreaks might occur. To address these uncertainties, experts increasingly recognise the need to monitor pest and disease outbreaks and have called for a global surveillance system to monitor these and improve responses.

Source: CIMMYT News, 27 February 2020

Climate change and locust outbreak in East Africa

A letter to Nature Climate Change points out that recent intense desert locusts outbreaks can be linked to anthropogenic climate change and the increased frequency of extreme weather events. In May 2018, an unusually powerful tropical cyclone (Mekunu) made landfall over the Arabian Peninsula. Tropical cyclones usually weaken upon reaching land, but Mekunu crossed over Oman, causing heavy rainfall that created desert lakes over the ‘Empty Quarter’ in Saudi Arabia. The warm, sandy and wet soil was the perfect environment for desert locusts to hatch from eggs, develop and breed. The dry conditions in this region would normally kill these breeds, but another tropical cyclone (Luban) followed in October 2018, providing a lifeline for the continuation of the first outbreak. By the end of 2019, the winds of yet another tropical cyclone, Pawan, facilitated the migration of desert locusts to East Africa. A lack of preparedness, chronic political instability and limited capacity made the invasion the worst in a quarter of a century for most countries, and the worst in 70 years for Kenya. Attribution of a single event to climate change is difficult. However, climatic changes such as increases in temperature and rainfall over desert areas, and the strong winds associated with tropical cyclones, provide a new environment for pest breeding, development and migration. It is crucial for each government in the region to put in place a multi-hazard early warning system. As part of climate justice, the developed countries have a moral obligation to support those countries that do not have the resources for such investment.

Source: Nature Climate Change (2020) 10: 584–585

Rising CO2, climate change projected to reduce availability of nutrients worldwide

New research finds that, over the next 30 years, climate change and increasing carbon dioxide could significantly reduce the availability of critical nutrients such as protein, iron and zinc. The total impacts of climate change shocks and elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are estimated to reduce growth in global per capita nutrient availability of protein, iron and zinc by 19.5%, 14.4% and 14.6%, respectively.

Source: Science Daily, 18 July 2019

Effect of environmental changes on vegetable and legume yields and nutritional quality

There is evidence that environmental changes, including climate change, air pollution, and water scarcity and salinisation, will reduce the yields of starchy staple crops – but impacts on vegetables and legumes remain largely unknown. Nutritionally important (non-staple) vegetables and legumes appear to be relatively sensitive to environmental changes. For example, tomatoes and beans have lower failure point temperatures (the ambient temperature at which growth stops) than staple crops and are more vulnerable to heat stress. Several vegetables and legumes are particularly vulnerable to develop visual injury (and hence marketability) due to environmental stress, with legumes, leafy vegetables, and Solanaceae (including tomatoes) among the most sensitive crops. This review found that environmental change would have a negative impact on yields without suitable responses from the agricultural sector.

Source: PNAS (2018) 115(26): 6804–6809

Climate-smart agriculture – case studies

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has just published “Climate-smart agriculture case studies 2021: Projects from around the world”. The case studies focus on activities that contribute to the three pillars of climate-smart agriculture: sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; adapting and building resilience of people and agri-food systems to climate change; and reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions where possible. The report includes case studies from Mali, Senegal, Somalia, Ghana, Botswana and St Lucia.

Source: FAO, 2021

Global study supports sustainable horticulture and self-assessment

A 2018 study comparing various types of food production systems compiled data on the environmental impacts of 38,000 farms producing 40 different agricultural goods around the world. The study concludes that:

“Most strikingly, impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change. Cumulatively, our findings support an approach where producers monitor their own impacts, flexibly meet environmental targets by choosing from multiple practices, and communicate their impacts to consumers.”

Source: Science, 2018, 360(6392): 987-992

Those least responsible suffer the worst effects

Recent research by Oxfam shows that the average British person emits as much carbon dioxide in five days as a person in Rwanda does in a year. And in two weeks the average Briton’s emissions overtake the annual per capita emissions of a further six African countries: Madagascar, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Guinea and Burkina Faso. Annual emission of carbon dioxide per head of population is 0.09 tonnes in Rwanda, 0.19 in Malawi and 0.25 in Burkina Faso. Further up the scale, Nigeria emits 0.49 tonnes of carbon per person every year, while in India the figure is 1.68. These figures compare with a global average of 4.7 tonnes per person per year; in Britain the figure is 8.3.

Source: Oxfam Media Centre, 6 January 2020

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