Recognising the power of agriculture
The 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), which took place in Egypt this November, brought together world leaders to discuss climate action. The role of the agricultural and food sector in achieving the UN climate targets were major themes. In light of these discussions, we reflect on the relationship between agriculture and climate change and the power of agriculture to positively impact our climate.
What’s at stake?
COP27 occurs at a time when agricultural practices are becoming increasingly unsustainable. Today's agricultural sector is characterised by an overreliance on fossil fuels and synthetic fertilisers, which leads to the depletion of our soil and natural resources and an increased dependence on foreign supplies. These trends are contributing to climate change, posing a huge risk to global food security.
In fact, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that agriculture is responsible for 31% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, the primary driver of climate change. By threatening every dimension of food security – availability, access, stability, and utilisation – climate change may affect our ability to feed the world's growing population. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, climate change can impact plant growth – and therefore food production – by promoting the spread of pests and diseases, increasing exposure to heat stress and contributing to soil erosion as a result of stronger winds.
Closely related to climate change is the issue of biodiversity loss. The intensification of agriculture – which involves the heavy use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, energy, land and water to produce crops – damages and destructs habitats and ecosystems. That makes it one of the biggest contributors to biodiversity loss. As the world population grows, the demand for food will only increase. The use of chemical pesticides for crop protection, which is critical for meeting this demand, is likely to grow with it, leading to a greater intensification of agriculture and more biodiversity loss. Natural alternatives for crop protection can break this cycle and even reverse the damage that has been done by triggering the restoration of agricultural ecosystems.
Let’s imagine a new world
It's important to recognise that the problem lies not in agriculture itself, but in the agricultural practices being used around the world. Agriculture, in fact, is an integral part of the solution to our climate crisis.
We have the opportunity to pivot to regenerative agriculture. To break the cycle of producing food at the cost of our planet and to transition to a whole food systems approach that benefits the climate, our health, biodiversity and social justice. Let’s imagine a future in which we reset our relationship with nature and a new world where everyone has access to nutritious food. That world is within arm's reach: innovative solutions are already available to growers worldwide.
COP27 ended on November 18. Feedback was mixed, with president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen calling the conference a small step forward. Nevertheless, leaders pledged their financial commitment to transforming agriculture and food systems by 2030, which is necessary for limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius whilst supporting food and economic security. Under the Breakthrough Agenda, first introduced at COP26, countries representing more than 70% of global GDP, defined 25 new collaborative actions to speed up decarbonisation. Within agriculture, the innovation priorities are fertiliser, livestock methane reduction, food loss and waste reduction, alternative proteins, crop and livestock breeding, agro-ecological approaches and digital services. These actions are set to be delivered next year, ahead of COP28.
When society, businesses, and farmers commit to making sustainable choices each day, agriculture can be part of the solution to climate change. And we will do our part. By supporting growers worldwide with the expertise and natural solutions they need to transition towards 100% sustainable agriculture.