Paul Dovey - Soil Association Exchange Farming Advisor visited COP28 and gives us an view of how Food and Farming were in the spotlight for the first time.
This was my first visit the COP28, and for the first time the climate-change conference, was to include the topic of food systems and have a whole day dedicated to food and agriculture.
The conference is split into two zones, Blue and Green. The Blue zone is the smaller zone and is where the high level negotiations and meetings take place attended by heads of states, country representitives, politicians and policy makers.
The Green Zone (Expo City) is a vast, outdoor and indoor area covering sectors such as agriculture, food, energy, transport, education, climate finance, people and community and technology and innovation. Showcased through demonstrations, exhibitions, talks, workshops, shows and panel discussions.
At the end of my first day I had visited a quarter of the Green Zone and walked 40k steps...
Agiculture in the spotlight
Each day is themed and I timed my visit to COP28 to cover the Agriculture, Food, Land Use and Education thematic days. The talks, events and panel discussions are also aligned with that day’s theme.
Although the media tended to only focus and report on the discussions around the future use of fossil fuels, there was a huge presence from the food, agriculture and land use sector.
The planet’s food systems account for a third of global GHG’s, how we grow and produce food, the types we eat, food transport and food waste.
Therefore the announcement of the UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, Agriculture Innovation and Climate Action was a great achievement. It was signed by 134 countries, including the UK. The countries that pledged a commitment to the agreement represent 5.7 billion people, 500 million farmers, 70% of world food production and 25% of global GHG emissions.
The declaration recognises that sustainable agriculture and food systems are critical components in both dealing with climate change and building food systems fit for the future.
There has already been an accompanying $2.6b that has been committed to scale climate-smart farming and strengthen efforts to integrate agriculture and food systems into national climate plans and ambitions.
The UAE Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri said “Countries must put food systems and agriculture at the heart of their climate ambitions, addressing both global emissions and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers living on the front line of climate change”
On the ground in the Green Zone, the positivity and momentum behind scaling sustainable agriculture was visible. Each sector from climate finance, agri-tech, education to technology had solutions and innovations to aid in the transistion.
The 2.2ha Al Forsan Park was transformed into Expo City Farm. A demonstration organic farm promoting sustainable agriculture, crop nutrition without chemicals and food security without GHG emissions.
Improving soil health, increasing biodiversity and cooking nutrient dense food were just some of the themes. Each day had a packed programme of events, talks and workshops.
Not surprisingly the soils in the UAE are sandy, high pH and some salinity. Emirates Bio Farm Agricultural Engineer, Medhat Al Barbour explained to me that through the use of compost teas, seed drenchs, bio-fertilisers and biochar. sandy soils can be transformed into superior growing mediums with excellent water holding capacity.
Biochar had a big presence at COP28, from its ability to store sequestered carbon, carbon credits and boosting water holding capacity. A Healthier Earth CEO Alistair Collier explained how they are using biochar in de-desertification projects and LBC are turning camel manure that prevoiusly went to landfill into biochar for use as an organic fertiliser
Vertical Farming was on display, it has a role to play when food cannot be grown due to excessive heat in the Summer. Using Solar PV, energy and water (desalinisation) can be created with renewables to supply the farms.. The UAE has ambitious targets to create a zero food waste and circular economy, whilst I was there they announced the building of a ‘gigafarm’ The largest vertical farm in the world, producing 3 million tons of fresh produce a year. The farm will recycle 50,000 tons of the city’s food waste into fertiliser for the farm using the black soldier fly larvae. The farm will supply 1% of the countries food.
I participated in some inspiring workshops and panel discussions. Dr Elaine Ingham enphasized how fixing soils along with Vandana Shiva’s targets to increase biodiversity were integral to fixing agriculture and climate change.
Both Sir Dieter Helm from Oxford University and Kirstin Morrisson from
Global Green Growth Institute highlighted the importance of natural capital accounting both on a national and farm balance sheet level.
Robynne Anderson from the International Agri-food Network explained to investors that financing Climate Smart Agriculture is critical if we are to meet our global targets. $55 trillion of climate finance needs to be deployed over the next decade if we are to achieve net zero including $3 trillion to the agriculture sector.
So my first COP was completed and although in the final text of the Global Stocktake, sustainable agriculture and nature-based solutions were only mentioned briefly, it is progress.
I have come home though feeling very motivated and encouraged that the work we are doing in the UK to help farmers transition to Climate-Smart Farming practices is the right thing to do. I met a huge number of people from all round the world and they all displayed the same energy and positivity to transform agriculture and food systems.
We now need the UK Government to put agriculture and food at the forefront of its climate ambitions, aligned to the UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture. It will need to design policy that empowers and supports farmers (financial and knowledge support) and that has a clear road map outlining the transition to climate-smart agriculture and scaling resilient food systems that are fair and inclusive.