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COP26 Day 7: Divergent responses to pledges on nature and land-use day

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By Cathryn Teverson


Published 08 November 2021


The full range of responses to the deluge of pledges coming out of COP26 was on display as the focus switched to nature and land use on Saturday.

45 countries – out of the 196 represented in Glasgow – pledged urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming and food production, on land and sea.

A series of new partnerships were created to help accelerate the adoption of more climate resilient and sustainable agriculture practices with the aim of delivering healthy diets and improving trade in agricultural goods.

Among these was the Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Roadmap which has been backed by 28 governments, including the UK, representing 75% of global trade in key commodities that can threaten forests – such as palm oil, cocoa and soya. Its aim is to deliver sustainable trade and reduce pressure on forests, including support for smallholder farmers and improving the transparency of supply chains.

There was a recognition that farmers’ livelihoods are under increasing pressure as climate change impacts on their productivity and measures to help farmers adapt and make food production more resilient and sustainable were included in many of the plans announced on Saturday.

This has already prompted divergent responses around the world.

Americans can carry on eating meat while keeping the world within safe limits on global heating, Thomas Vilsack, US secretary of agriculture told The Guardian, as he moved quickly to reassure the huge US meat industry. Americans eat nearly 100kg of meat a year, more than any other country.

“I do not think we have to reduce the amount of meat or livestock produced in the US. And a significant percentage is exported. It’s not a question of eating more or less or producing more or less. The question is making production more sustainable”, said Vilsack.

In Finland the response was at the opposite end of the scale with Helsinki’s city authorities announcing that meat and cow’s milk will no longer be served at public events, seminars, meetings or workshops from the beginning of next year. Coffee and tea will come from fair trade providers, oat-based products will replace cow’s milk, and menus will consist of seasonal vegetarian dishes or responsibly sourced local fish served with water and fermented milk. This has not been greeted with enthusiasm by the country’s agriculture sector.

Elsewhere there were other indications of the divergent responses to the promises world leaders have been quick to sign.

The first big announcement at COP26 last weekend was a plan backed by over 110 countries to end and start reversing deforestation by 2030. The optimistic tone this created was very welcome but, once away from the hall, some signatories have been distinctly lukewarm, including Indonesia, one of the major contributors to deforestation.

Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said forcing Indonesia to commit to zero deforestation by 2030 was "clearly inappropriate and unfair".

Despite President Joko Widodo signing the forest deal, she said development remained Indonesia's top priority: "The massive development … must not stop in the name of carbon emissions or in the name of deforestation," she said.

This gives a flavour of the challenges the UN will face in making sure the pledges that have been signed are translated into meaningful action.

Sustainability pledges will cause real issues in the cities as well, according to Christopher Stanwell, partner and ESG in Real Estate lead at DAC Beachcroft. “The demand for sustainable offices is only going to increase and the planning obligations around them are likely to become ever more stringent.”

These issues will come to the fore in Monday’s COP26 discussions and climate campaigners will also be watching, ready to pounce on failures to match words with action.