Food emissions ‘solutions’ worry experts after Cop27 | environment

IIn some ways, this year’s UN climate summit in Egypt was about food. In the context of crop failures and food insecurity, due to harsh weather and dwindling diversity, as well as soaring food prices exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine and a tight grip on corporate monopolies – Cop27 featured the first ever day dedicated to food and climate.

It is clear to scientists that the interdependent climate, environmental and food crises require bold transformative action to significantly reduce greenhouse gases and improve resilience. Food systems produce a third of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock farming is the main driver of Amazon rainforest loss, while industrial food production is the biggest threat to 86% of the world’s endangered species.

US food emissions from 1990 to 2019

But in Cop27, as in the broader debate, corporate interests dominated. Activists and NGOs say the food industry’s fingerprints have been in all of the solutions being touted, including a range of technologies and incentives that they say will do little to reduce Big Food’s huge climate footprint, reduce diet-related disease or increase food security and capacity. To adapt to the climate in the long term.

“From tackling cow burps to robotic weeders, none of the missteps presented at Cop27 to stopping industrial food production come close to being an engine of planetary destruction,” said Raj Patel, food justice scientist and author of Stuffed and Starved. “Agricultural companies and governments have offered a series of patented patches designed not to change the food system, but to keep it the same.”

There’s still a lot to take away from Cop27, but here are some food “fixes” that experts told the Guardian they were most concerned about:

The rise of climate-smart agriculture

The phrase “climate smart” – the mother of all buzzwords – has made its way into climate plans and policy-making, embraced by corporations, governments and multilateral agencies, such as the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Billions of dollars are being earmarked for research on so-called climate-smart technological solutions such as robotics, artificial intelligence, net-zero dairy, cultured meat, and precision farming, including drone, GPS, and drip irrigation technologies. While proponents say this will increase productivity, help farmers adapt to the climate crisis, and cut emissions, critics say the phrase “climate smart” has become a blanket cover for renaming harmful agricultural practices.

A major proponent of climate-smart agriculture is the Aim4C Agricultural Innovation for Climate Mission (Aim4C), a joint initiative led by the United States and the United Arab Emirates, which has promised $4 billion in agricultural innovation to reduce emissions. It is backed by 40 countries and some of the largest food companies in the world including PepsiCo, meat giant JBS and CropLife, an association of agrochemical companies. More than two-thirds of its partners are based in the US or Europe, according to DeSmog’s analysis, with not a single group representing Indigenous communities listed among Knowledge Partners.

Aim4C has no clear plans to slow or significantly reduce activities such as industrial meat production and fertilizer use, which climate scientists say are key to curbing global warming.

“AIM agricultural technology solutions are not a strategy for environmental change in the 21st century that benefits all of humanity and the web of life. Rather, this is more business as usual,” said a spokesperson for the International Coalition for Climate and Agriculture, a coalition of activists and civic leaders.

2 technical fixes for the giant food methane problem

Methane is a short-lived but powerful heat-trapping gas that accounts for about a third of the rise in global temperature since the pre-industrial era. Livestock – through livestock burping, manure and the cultivation of fodder crops – is responsible for nearly a third of global human methane emissions, which is why scientists are clear that reducing meat and dairy consumption in the global north is essential to limit global warming to 1.5C. .

But the focus at Cop27 was not on changing the human diet but instead on the diet of the cows — to make belching less gassy.

There’s been a lot of excitement from JBS and Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, and meat and dairy trade groups about the boom in methane-reducing feed additives made with ingredients like seaweed, ozone, enzyme inhibitors, green tea, and garlic.

But the long-term risks and benefits of these emerging products remain unclear, and those currently on the market can only be afforded to industrial livestock farmers and food companies that invest in meat and dairy farming, not reduction.

Sheep are fed seaweed extract to reduce methane emissions in Ireland in August 2021. Photograph: Clauda Kilquin/Reuters

“At best, these technologies provide cover for large meat and dairy companies to continue overproduction on polluting factory farms,” ​​said Amanda Starbuck, director of research at Food and Water Watch.

3 Increase access to fossil fuel-based fertilizers as an answer to food insecurity

The global food system is a heavy user of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which are produced in an energy-intensive process that relies on fossil fuels. They are credited with helping to increase crops and reduce hunger, but their expansion has come at a huge cost to the environment, climate, and human and animal health.

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are responsible for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2022 study, which found that reducing their use “offers significant mitigation potential” in addition to other health, environmental and economic benefits.

However, reducing synthetic fertilizers was not on the agenda at Cop27, rather the focus of industry representatives and European and US officials was on fertilizer access and “efficiency” — helping farmers use increasingly costly nitrogen inputs in smarter ways.

The United States, the European Union, Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands have announced $109 million in public funds (plus $26 million in private investment) to expand access to and efficiency of fertilizers to combat food insecurity.

An unmanned aerial vehicle spreads fertilizer over a tea plantation at the Kipkebe Tea Estate in Musereita, Kenya.
An unmanned aerial vehicle spreads fertilizer over a tea plantation at the Kipkebe Tea Estate in Musereita, Kenya. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt/AFP/Getty Images

But according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhry: “Chemical fertilizers do not guarantee food security. Their widespread use sometimes increases crop production in the short term, but creates long-term dependence on businesses and trade… It must The ultimate goal should be to wean them from this dependency as soon as possible.”

Describing fertilizer efficiency as a climate action is further evidence of the industry’s control of the narrative, said Lily Fuhr, deputy director for climate and energy at the Center for Environmental Integrity. “Synthetic fertilizers are just fossil fuels in another form. Fertilizer companies know they will soon come under scrutiny and are trying to shift attention from production to more efficient use by farmers.”

The fertilizer industry, which would benefit directly from new taxpayer-funded subsidies, is already booming: Nine of the largest companies are expected to post $57 billion in profits in 2022 — more than four times as much as in 2020.

4 Industrial farming is the only way to feed a growing population

The industrial food sector presents itself as the only way to feed a growing population. Yet small farmers (less than two hectares) produce more than a third of the world’s food – despite having access to only 12% of farmland. Much of the world’s population is undernourished or overweight, which indicates that we are not producing or eating well.

However, momentum and money seem to be tilting in favor of industrial agriculture, allowing it to continue to grow and resurge. Nearly 90% of the $540 billion in global food subsidies, which play a large role in determining what food is produced and what we eat, has been deemed “harmful” to the planet – by harming health, climate and nature as well as excluding small farmers.

“Subsidies are a major change agent. They make it difficult for farmers to make changes, and they stop the market changes that consumers would normally drive. This is not a level playing field,” said Stephanie Haskezen of the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return Initiative (Fairr).

Low-impact forms of agriculture often receive little or no financial support. Proponents such as La Via Campesina argue that agroecology — a form of farming steeped in indigenous and ancestral knowledge that works with nature and local conditions to sustainably produce food and protect biodiversity and soil quality — offers a greener, healthier, and fairer alternative to large scale farming.

But neither subsidies nor agroecology were on Cop27’s agenda. “It was very disturbing to see a large group of corporate lobbyists influencing the process while small farmers were excluded and dumped,” said Million Belay, Ipes-Food Expert and General Coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa. , which is a very popular movement. “Farmers have demanded recognition of diverse and resilient agriculture, agroecology and climate finance, but they are left with little.”

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