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The 25th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Madrid, Spain from December 2-15, 2019. Despite a last-minute venue change, COP25 brought together over 27,000 delegates from around the world. IFOAM – Organics International attended several events to speak for the organic food and farming community and raise awareness on how organic agriculture can contribute to climate change mitigation.

The Climate Negotiations: Not as Successful as Hoped

COP25 was planned as a technical conference for negotiators to complete the “Paris Rulebook”, the manual to operationalize the Paris Agreement by 2020. This rulebook is intended to fully equip countries with guidelines to plan, implement, and review their actions to halt climate change.

Despite protracted negotiations that lasted until Sunday morning, parties were not able to reach an agreement on the rulebook’s missing section Article 6, which should have settled decisions on to how to restructure the emission trading system.

It is widely acknowledged that these COP25 negotiations felt profoundly disconnected from the call for greater action put forth by people Friday after Friday in thousands of squares worldwide, which culminated in a demonstration of half million people in Madrid on Friday, December 6, 2019.

Despite expectations for greater ambition and concrete action, IFOAM – Organics International, along with several civil society organizations (CSOs) attending COP25, welcomed the decision to postpone an agreement on Article 6. A poorly run and implemented international trade agreement – as was the case until now – would maintain perverse incentives that could jeopardize other efforts for reaching Paris Agreement targets. You can read a technical analysis on this emission trading issue from the Heinrich Böll Foundation here.

Greater Action and Ambition is Needed

The Climate Action Tracker’s 2019 Annual Update, released at COP25 on Tuesday, December 10, 2019, highlighted that

“under current government action, global temperatures are set to rise by 3˚C. The most optimistic policy scenario would be 2.8˚C.”

Parties are supposed to enhance ambitions in their updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which should be submitted before next year’s COP26 in Glasgow.

However, despite the urgency to take action and huge gaps between global goals in decarbonization and concrete implementations, parties were not even able to agree on common timeframes for the NDCs implementation period.

Until now, countries have implemented varying timeframes. Although it seems that 5 years would be the most appropriate timeframe to ensure rapid enhancement of commitments, prompt evaluation, and adjustments.

The Role of Agriculture and Food Systems at the Negotiations

Food systems and agriculture are increasingly taken into consideration at climate negotiations. In addition to the official program on agriculture established in 2017, many COP25 side events also addressed the challenges and opportunities of the land and agricultural sectors for achieving climate neutrality and delivering on adaptation and mitigation.

Agriculture first made its comeback in climate negotiations at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Since then, parties and observer organizations have debated key topics linked to agriculture and the climate crisis as part of a dedicated work stream known as the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA).

The KJWA And Our Involvement

The KJWA is organized as six topic-specific workshops held in conjunction with the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) meeting. SBSTA serves as an advisory body to negotiators participating in the UNFCCC process.

IFOAM – Organics International contributed to the KJWA process by bringing organic farmers’ voices to these workshops and assisting their participation at events whenever possible. In Madrid, we held the fourth KJWA workshop, which focused on improved nutrient use and manure management.

Bringing Farmers’ Voices to COP25

Our views were presented at COP25 by Francisco Cornejo Soms, a seasoned organic farmer from Chile. Francisco showcased how organic agriculture offers a viable option for farmers around the world by making farms resilient to extreme climate events. He also explained why improved nutrient use, if done properly, cannot be a stand-alone issue. Read our position here.

Ellen Matupi, a smallholder farmer and Vice President of the Rural Women Assembly & National Smallholder Farmers Association in Malawi, also spoke. She shared her first-hand experience on how the climate crisis is causing food scarcity and severely impacting the lives of rural women in her country. She presented agroecological techniques, such as cover cropping and manure-based fertilization as solutions for climate resilient agriculture.

In general, most experts and constituencies, except for representatives of fertilizer manufacturers, expressed widespread support for agroecology. There was also general acknowledgement that synthetic fertilizers generate negative environmental impacts and the consumption of meat products stemming from intensive agriculture needs to be reduced.

The workshop’s draft conclusion refers to “no regret” options to be discontinued. Unfortunately these options are not clearly defined. Despite the need for more research, governments already know there are practices that should be rapidly phased out to really increase soil carbon, improve soil health and fertility.

Observations: More Conversations Around Plant-based Diets

With the 2019 launch of EAT-Lancet Commission’s report calling for sustainable diets based on significant reductions in animal-based food, the vegetarian movement is experiencing unprecedented momentum. This momentum is easy to grasp at global talks like COP.

In addition, numerous side events around topics like transitioning to plant-based diets and taxing meat, have resulted in high-level representatives of this segment of the food industry to be invited to the table for discussions on the future of food systems in the context of climate change. Some have even taken the concept further by envisioning a world fed primarily by lab-grown food.

They argue that the land freed from agriculture can be restored and returned fully to nature. Debates on the economic viability, environmental sustainability, and social acceptance of scenarios related to plant-based diets and lab-grown food are surely to be expected more and more on the global scene over the coming decades.

On The Sidelines Of COP25

Our Side Event

During COP25’s second week, we organized the side event ‘Transforming Our Food System to Support Natural Carbon Sinks’ together with Biovision, Shumei International, Regeneration International and speakers from Zambia and Zimbabwe. This event highlighted concrete solutions for increasing soil carbon and reducing ocean acidification to mitigate climate change. These solutions showed that initiatives based on organic farming have multiple benefits for farmers, rural communities, ecosystems and the climate.

IFOAM – Organics International also actively contributed to the joint interventions of the negotiations by the Farmers’ Constituency, of which we are a member.

Food Systems Dialogue (FSD)

The Food Systems Dialogues take place in the margins of international meetings and have a connection to, or focus on, sustainable development and food systems and lead up to the 2021 Food Systems Summit. The December 2019 Madrid session allowed for multi-stakeholder dialogue on food systems transformation within the context of negotiations on climate action. This was the fourth time IFOAM – Organics International was able to participate at an FSD.

4 Per 1000 Initiative Day

The aim of this initiative is to demonstrate that agriculture and soils can play a central role in food security and climate change. The initiative is led by a consortium, which includes IFOAM – Organics International. This year the event was held at the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture and resulted in a situation where, although delegates discussed how to capture carbon in soils to mitigate climate change, regional organic farmers from Castile-León protested directly outside the building against resources being redirected from organic farming.

What Comes Next?

Planning for COP26 is underway and will be held November 9-19, 2020 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. Throughout 2020, there will be several occasions to continue work on integrating agriculture and land use issues into climate change discussions. Two such occasions are the:

  1. Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture workshop in June 2020
  2. A workshop on agricultural matters in March 2020

The two main outcomes envisioned for COP26 are: finalizing Article 6 and analysis of the enhanced NDC ambitions.

COP25 Publications Of Interest

Numerous reports were launched at COP25. Two are particularly relevant for our mission.