Greenwashing concerns as food systems take centre stage at COP28

08 Dec, 2023 - 00:12 0 Views
Greenwashing concerns as food systems take centre stage at COP28

eBusiness Weekly

Jeffrey Gogo

The United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP28), currently convening in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, provides a picture-perfect focus for food systems. Organisers have so far obtained the signatures of 136 heads of state, representing countries with more than 500 million farmers, for the “COP28 Declaration on Resilient Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Action”, also known as the “Emirates Declaration”.

Ministers, financiers and implementing partners will close in on the document in a food, water and agriculture session on December 10. The Emirates Declaration invites governments to align their food systems and agriculture strategies with their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.

In light of these developments, climate campaigners laud the Dubai Summit, which seeks to leave the legacy of a “climate policy toolkit for food”, as the first COP to prominently table the relationship between food systems and climate change. On the other hand, some agroecology proponents feel that the document is too loosely worded and gives room to Big Agriculture actors to greenwash their participation in climate mitigation.

Industrial agriculture is part of the problem as it chemically enhances production through fertilisers and pesticides that harm ecosystems. It also leans towards exhausting the land for maximum output rather than organically feeding, healing and restoring it. The food sector accounts for 15 percent of fossil fuel used across the world every year, while food loss and waste accounts for 40 percent of carbon and methane emissions.

CAFOD food systems advisor, Diego Martinez Schuett, said COP28 needs to resolve the conundrum whereby only 0.3 percent of climate finance goes to small-scale farmers although they produce a third of the world’s food.

With respect to the “Emirates Declaration”, she said; “This declaration will only work if it encourages governments to focus on strengthening local food systems through solutions that have already proved effective, especially agroecology.”

Zimbabwe’s delegation said they want to see COP28 officially embracing agroecology, redoubling efforts towards a just transition to green energy and honouring commitments to loss and damage finance as lethargy sees the planet potentially losing the Paris Agreement 1.5C target.

“Agroecology has never featured prominently in any of the Conferences of Parties and we are hoping that Zimbabwe can be able to push that as an agenda on a global level,” permanent secretary of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Professor Prosper Matondi told this paper.

“Last year we were unable to get a decision but an encouragement that we need to continue to have conversations around it,” he added. The final document from COP’s predecessor platform on food systems, Koronovia Dialogue, last year had the words “agroecology” and “food systems” removed, while “food loss and waste” were excluded.

Lack of clarity and finality at this year’s event, critics argue, would open the doors wider to polluters. Gertrude Pswarayi, country co-ordinator of Harare-based farmer advocacy organisation Pelum, sees agroecology as a global solution to environmental damage and food insecurity.

“We hope that the adoption of agroecology as a sustainable farming practice be put on the table and adopted by the globe as an adaptation and mitigation mechanism to the climate and food crisis threatening not only Africa but the rest of the world as it addresses a number of Sustainable Development Goals,” Pswarayi told us.

“Agroecology has not been a topic for discussion at COP meetings. Indications on the ground show that the deepening climate crisis, increasing global food insecurity, continued use of synthetic inputs in agriculture and general disaffection and negative reviews towards agroecological principles as sustainable climate adaptation mechanisms speak to the inadequacies surrounding conversations around agroecology at COP,” she added.

“The COP has become a platform for discussing commercial business interests instead of focusing on critical issues. We would want to see agroecology and sustainable agricultural practices taking centre stage at COP28. We would also want to see critical issues affecting Africa’s agricultural and food systems being discussed by Africans and having solutions to these problems being proffered by Africans,” Pswarayi said.

One African voice

African leaders have a demographic imperative to take up the case of smallholders farmers against Big Agriculture at the December 10 food session. From September 4-6, regional heads of state met to adopt a common position for COP28 and one resolution from the resulting “Nairobi Declaration” was to “support smallholder farmers, indigenous peoples, and local communities in the green economic transition, given their key role in ecosystems stewardship.”

The “Emirates Declaration” gives the vision a headstart with its pledge for “Scaling-up adaptation and resilience activities and responses in order to reduce the vulnerability of all farmers . . . including through financial and technical support for solutions . . . that promote sustainable food security, production and nutrition, while conserving, protecting and restoring nature.”

Among 70 percent of Africans working in agriculture, according to World Economic Forum estimates, more than 60 percent in the sub-Saharan region are smallholder farmers. Government’s preferred support to smallholder farmers often include Big Agriculture seeds and fertilisers presented as political packages.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) said in its COP28 statement, “The predominant agricultural model suggested and promoted for Africa is the industrial agricultural model, which heavily relies on artificial fertilisers and pesticide, which are detrimental to soil quality, biodiversity, and the environment.”

“This model prioritises mono cultures over diversity and encourages mass production for export, transporting food over miles and distorting local markets,” the group lamented, urging COP and member countries to move away from unhelpful positions such as carbon credits and vague wording like climate-smart transition.

The upcoming session presents a new opportunity for participants to hold powerful actors to account. Sustainable support from the COP platform should include agroecological practices, preventing post-harvest losses and preparing for climate shocks.

Unlocking climate finance for inclusive solutions

In Zimbabwe, smallholder farmers, who depend on rain-fed agriculture, have been practising a water conservation zero-tillage method promoted by Government known as Pfumvudza/ Intwasa. Going into COP28, Environment and Climate Secretary Matondi expects financial and technical support for the farmers whom he says have stabilised the country’s food security situation.

He said climate change mitigation has to take aboard farmers, youths, economically vulnerable groups, women and those who are on the margins of society as participants and beneficiaries in the discussion. He also addressed the much-deferred unlocking of climate finance to strengthen local efforts.

“We need to revisit the US$100 billion climate finance pledge that ended in 2020. Now it’s just something that is discussed on the sidelines but we want to see more commitments around it and the issues about human and capacity development, the issues of ensuring that new technologies, new sciences based on artificial or natural intelligence are put to use to be able to help all of us in terms of mitigating the effect of climate change,” Matondi detailed.

Pswarayi of Pelum levelled the blame of food insecurity crises in African countries at the commercialisation of industrial agricultural practices and said she expects the global north to honour its commitments to mitigating climate change.

“In this year’s COP28, we are expecting that the meeting delivers on the key issues arising from previously held meetings in relation to addressing climate issues that are affecting farmers from the global south especially now when the effects of El Nino are widespread and affecting farmers,” Pswarayi said.

Just structural shifts

In the context of disrupted rainfall patterns and warmer temperatures, Dr Leonard Unganai of British nonprofit Oxfam told us that dependence on rain-fed agriculture comes across as one reason for wide-scale vulnerability to climate change in Zimbabwe. Depleted water resources, poor soils, high population density, deforestation, siltation of rivers and poor management of natural resources affect demographics at the bottom of the economic pyramid. In this sense, any climate action has to go beyond subsistence handouts to brave structural changes that include agroecology, he said.

“The situation is really desperate, we need the world to recommit itself to achieving the Paris Agreement goals as a minimum,” said Unganai, who has worked directly with thousands of Zimbabwean farmers to build resilience against climate change.

“We really need to work on the key drivers of climate change which is greenhouse gas emissions and we hope with the current host of Cop 28 being a major oil producer we just hope they will be able to steer the meeting in a way that produces a balanced outcome.”

Unganai warned against abrupt shifts that do not pay heed to the damage that might happen through such a transition.

“We are calling for a just transition in agriculture just like we call for just transition in energy,” he said.

“We don’t want any transition in energy to worsen existing imqualities especially from a gender perspective. We know women form the bulk of agricultural producers and we wouldn’t want to see any further worsening of inequalities in terms of access to resources, access to food, and all those issues that come with any transition so any transition has to be just,” said Unganai.

Meanwhile, oil giants and oil guzzlers are expected to push for carbon capture and carbon storage technologies at the ongoing climate summit.

Wording of resolutions has been contested for not explicitly naming use of fossil fuels as the main driver of global warming just as non-committal phrasing has been under fire with respect to food system pledges.

Feedback: [email protected]


Share This:

Sponsored Links