Challenging Sacred Cows

It’s great that today is Farmers’ Day! That way, ECO gets to celebrate and protect the 2 billion smallholder farmers who feed most of our fellow planet dwellers, using less than a quarter of the world’s farmland.

Large-scale industrial agriculture drives the majority of emissions from the agriculture sector. Synthetic fertilisers create high levels of emissions. They require large amounts of water, threatening water tables and wetlands and making crops more vulnerable to climate change. What’s more, intensive meat production generates high levels of methane emissions and deforestation to grow livestock feed.

In contrast, many smallholder farmers—especially women in developing countries—use agroecological techniques to strengthen adaptation, nurture biodiversity, soils and natural fertility, all while avoiding emissions.

Putting all that into consideration, it is time to freshen up the SBSTA agriculture talks, which have gone stale. With clear references to food security, sustainable consumption patterns and human rights in the Paris Agreement, negotiations on agriculture have a critical opportunity to make these a reality for the world’s farmers facing climate change.

A new SBSTA Work Programme on Agriculture and Food Security is critical to provide a sustained space for open dialogue, where countries can consider how to implement their own agriculture NDC pledges, whether on adaptation, mitigation or both.

This new programme should also develop guidance to ensure that food security and farmers’ rights, including safe access to land, are protected in the face of climate change or risky new technologies. It should be a space where all aspects of food security—including social, environmental, gender, biodiversity and food production—can be addressed. And guidelines for finance to support the right types of agriculture should be developed.

In particular, a work programme on Agriculture and Food Security must address mitigation in those areas, which, when addressed, have the greatest potential for meeting the 1.5°C goal. These are industrial livestock, intensive agriculture, food waste and retail and consumption patterns. Protecting smallholder farmers means targeting countries with the highest per capita emissions. Now, post-Paris, it’s time to challenge a few sacred cows.

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