UN lauds ‘significant’ COP26 progress for agri-food sector but did it go far enough?19 Nov 2021
UN Climate Change says ‘significant progress’ in making the farming sector more climate-resistant and climate-respectful was made at COP26 – but critics have slammed the absence of technologies such as cell-cultured meat from the sustainability agenda.
The global food and farming system is a victim of climate change, vulnerable to rising temperatures, flash floods, and periods of drought. However, it is also one of the main polluters, responsible for 60% of global nature loss and over a third of total greenhouse gas emissions – nearly 19 times that of the commercial airline industry, according to environmental non-profit WWF.
This month, the 26th edition of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, was held in Glasgow, Scotland from 31 October to 13 November 2021.
The United Nations secretariat that supports the global response to climate change, UN Climate Change, said COP26 resulted in “significant progress” in both reducing the impact of climate change on the agriculture sector and lowering the sector’s contribution to global warming.
Agreement reached on key topics
Governments considered the outcomes of the last three workshops of the Koronivia road map – a roadmap that aims to address climate change issues related to farming – and found “significant agreement” on all three topics under consideration, for instance.
“At COP26, governments recognized that soil and nutrient management practices and the optimal use of nutrients lie at the core of climate-resilient, sustainable food production systems and can contribute to global food security,” said UN Climate Change in a statement.
“It was also recognized that while livestock management systems are vulnerable to climate change, improving sustainable production and animal health can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing sinks on pasture and grazing lands.”
States would continue working on agriculture issues under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process and aimed to adopt a decision at COP27 in 2022, UN Climate Change added.
However, the Good Food Institute (GFI), a non-profit that advocates an animal-free supply chain, said food and agriculture issues were under-represented on the COP26 agenda, particularly those relating to animal-based agriculture for meat and dairy.
The Good Food Institute believes that both plant-based and cell-cultured meat and dairy alternatives is a critical tool to limiting world temperature rises to the critical 1.5ºC target.
“We can make the shift necessary to hit our climate targets by giving people better options and making sustainable plant-based or cultivated meat the default choice. These products can provide the meat people want while producing 92% fewer emissions and using up to 95% less land compared to conventional animal agriculture,” wrote Alice Ravenscroft, head of policy at GFI.
WWF: ‘Food production is one of the biggest threats to our planet’
There were some private sector pledges made during the COP26 event.
The UK food industry trade association, The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which had previously announced its ambition that the UK’s food and drink manufacturers reach new zero emissions by 2040, published a roadmap for this and handbook containing practical advice for food businesses.
Meanwhile, five of the UK’s biggest supermarkets - Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Co-op and M&S – pledged to halve the environmental impact of a weekly food shop by the end of the decade. They would achieve this by reducing carbon emissions, deforestation, food waste and packaging. The British retailers’ efforts will be monitored by the WWF.
Tanya Steele, WWF’s chief executive said: “We can’t tackle climate change and keep global temperature rise to 1.5C without halting nature loss - and we can’t save nature without changing what’s on our supermarket shelves.”
“Food production is one of the biggest threats to our planet and we will only tackle the climate and nature emergency if food retailers play their part,” she added.
But with global temperatures rising steadily and climate shocks becoming more violent and disruptive to global food producers, are such pledges enough? Only if followed through, one could argue – and this is not always as easy as making the pledge in the first place.
Nestlé, for instance, recently had to backtrack on its commitment to source only deforestation-free palm oil by 2020. Instead, it launched a communications campaign, Beneath the Surface, to outline to consumers the complexities of the global palm oil supply chain and explain why it failed to meet its target.
Euromonitor tracks rise of climate certification
Another question is, are consumers willing to pay for climate-conscious food? Only if the price premium is reasonable, says Euromonitor.
Despite the attention given to climate-neutral product launches, penetration is extremely low. Euromonitor has tracked carbon-neutral or reduced carbon claims on less than 0.1% of stock keeping units (SKUs) even in Western Europe, which it says is the region with the highest prevalence of such claims. A more positive statistic is that the use of carbon-neutral or reduced carbon claims is on the rise, registering 18% growth in 2020, and product launches have continued throughout 2021.
This year, Danish egg producer Dava Foods reduced the climate impact of its eggs by 50% by swapping the soy in its chicken feed that was sourced from areas linked to rainforest deforestation with climate-certified corn gluten and potato protein. UK-based company Respectful launched carbon-neutral eggs while Germany discounter Lidl made headlines with its carbon-neutral cheese.
Euromonitor analyst and senior consultant David Ingemar Hedin said: “Availability of climate certified eggs is a milestone on the way to making climate-certified complex packaged foods a possibility, as these depend on availability of a wide range of certified ingredients. Climate certified meat and dairy may also soon become a reality.”
NutriScore algorithm update a ‘step in right direction’
7 Sep 2022
Campaigning organisation Foodwatch International is hailing the update to the NutriScore algorithm as a “step in the right direction” but says there is still space for further improvement.Read more
Are new WHO sweeteners guidelines ‘a disservice’ to public health?
6 Sep 2022
New draft recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) warn that zero-calorie sweeteners should not be used to help weight control or reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases’ (NCDs) – sparking mixed reactions from industry groups.Read more
How the Ukraine crisis may affect the food chain transition
2 Sep 2022
From supply issues to price surges, the impacts of the Russo-Ukrainian war on the global food value chain are significant. What pain points has this crisis exposed, and what should the response be?Read more
Canadian authorities report titanium dioxide is safe in food, in the face of EU ban
1 Sep 2022
Health Canada joins the UK’s Food Standards Agency in concluding that titanium dioxide is ‘safe to consume’, putting it squarely at odds with recent safety assessments in Europe that led to a ban of the ingredient.Read more
Most food businesses are placing inflationary costs on consumers, survey finds
31 Aug 2022
Consumers are being hit with product price increases as manufacturers pass on higher costs to the public. But with some major food manufacturers registering profits, is a public backlash on the cards?Read more
Hyperlocalisation promotes food system resilience and diversification
30 Aug 2022
Climate change action and new technologies are driving a rise in hyperlocalisation throughout the global food chain, improving the industry’s adaptability and ability to meet consumer demands for greater choice.Read more
Tackling the rise of antimicrobial resistance
29 Aug 2022
As the 2030 goal of halving antimicrobial use edges closer and a 2022 regulation is brought in to reduce antibiotic use on farm animals, the food industry is loudening its calls for action amid the increasing resistance to antimicrobials.Read more
WWF report slams Europe’s damning effect on the global food system
26 Aug 2022
Europe may not be helping, but in fact hindering the global food system by inciting gross environmental, societal, and fiscal harm, a recent WWF report shows. Consumers however are hungry for change.Read more
Researchers develop automation method to isolate volatile food ingredients
25 Aug 2022
A research team in Germany has applied automation to a long-standing method to isolate volatile food compounds, creating advantages over the existing manual process, which include food manufacturers’ potential to increase yields and lower the contamina...Read more
New partnership strives to improve cocoa farming in Ivory Coast
24 Aug 2022
Conseil du Cafe-Cacao and IDH’s Sustainable Trade Initiative launch a new programme, Cocoaperation, to support cocoa farming and improve the livelihoods of cocoa producers.Read more