India called emissions arising from agriculture “survival emissions” and not luxury emissions as seen in richer countries. Photo: UNFCCC

Issue of mitigation in agriculture remains a sticky subject

Developing countries such as India vehemently opposed any references to mitigation language saying rich nations were looking to push responsibility for their own emissions on to poor, small-scale farmers

Another hot topic at COP27 was agriculture and food systems. While some progress was made, the issue of mitigation remained a bone of contention. This was true for developing countries such as India, especially in the context of Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, a work programme established at COP23 in 2017, which looks at mitigation and adaptation in the agricultural sector to tackle climate change.

Initiatives launched at COP27

Forty-two countries pledged $8 billion to an initiative that looks to help farmers combat and adapt to climate change. This is double of what was pledged last year. The initiative, called the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate, was launched last year, and focuses primarily on agricultural technology, such as robotics and nanotechnology. Around $1 billion will be allocated to small-scale farmers in developing countries in order to ease their access to such technology. 

Another initiative looked to eliminate deforestation because of the food industry. A total of 14 agricultural commodity companies, which produced palm oil, beef, cacao and soy, announced their plan to reduce the number of trees felled. These companies include major players such as Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and JBS. Critics, however, pointed out that the policy had too many loopholes and was not strict enough. 

The UN launched a new climate finance initiative as well called the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST). The initiative aims to transform the quantity and quality of climate finance contributions towards agriculture and food systems by 2030. 

Some progress on the Koronivia work programme

Member countries had their work cut out for them this year with regards to this work programme. A decision needed to be taken on how to operationalise the inputs received from the work programme last year. But a deadlock meant this had to be taken up at COP27, so pressure to deliver was high. While recommendations from this work programme have been included in the cover text, there was a lot of back-and-forth regarding the introduction of mitigation language in the text especially from India

The country accused rich nations of not wanting to reduce their own emissions through lifestyle changes, and instead looking for cheaper solutions aimed at disrupting the traditional practices of poor, small-scale farmers. India called emissions arising from agriculture “survival emissions” and not luxury emissions as seen in richer countries. India did not succeed in removing the mitigation language entirely, although negotiators did manage to get the language watered-down substantially and heavily caveated in the final text, bringing national and local circumstances into the frame as being key determinants of how climate action would be carried out within the agricultural sector.

The final text adopted on agriculture now includes a few mentions of terms that could be interpreted as being aligned with mitigation outcomes such as “sustainable agriculture” and “climate action” as well as one direct reference to mitigation. The decision landed in COP27 details yet another four-year work programme— the Sharm el-Sheikh joint work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security, which is tasked with figuring out how to update and operationalise the information that has thus far been gathered on the climate impacts of agriculture and reducing the contributions of the sector toward future climate change. In his closing speech at COP27, India’s environment minister Bhupendra Yadav once again reiterated the country’s stand on mitigation in agriculture. “We note that we are establishing a 4-year work program on climate action in agriculture and food security. Agriculture, the mainstay of livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers, will be hard hit from climate change. So, we should not burden them with mitigation responsibilities,” he said.

But developed countries, particularly the US and the UK, fought hard to get mitigation-centric language included in the text. The US, in particular, showed scant regard for millions of farmers worldwide struggling to cope with worsening extreme weather and slow-onset climate impacts. In closed room consultations, negotiators from the world’s largest historical emitter allegedly even went as far as stating that they view climate action in agriculture as primarily an issue of mitigation and not adaptation, according to a delegate from the G77+China bloc involved in negotiations on the agriculture work programme. Interestingly though, neither the US, nor the UK would have any decision that addressed the wastefulness of food systems or consumption patterns.