Soil at COP (2).jpg

COP26: where do we go from here?

COP26: where do we go from here?

As COP26 moves to its final stages, with several key outcomes still to be negotiated, attention will invariably turn to whether it has been a success. Ultimately, this will depend on whether our leaders are truly committed to keeping 1.5 degrees of global warming within reach and ditching our reliance on fossil fuels.

These are worrying times but joining COP26 in Glasgow with Soil Association colleagues was a joyous experience. The crowds, which included many young people, that gathered across the globe demonstrated there is a vigorous movement who care about leaving a healthy planet for future generations.

We must now see action, implementation, and genuine leadership from the UK to close the gap between rhetoric and policies. Read on to hear our take of the COP and how we’ve been involved.

We brought agroecology to COP26

We were honoured to march in the farmer’s bloc with land workers from across the globe on the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice to champion agroecology as a climate solution. We handed out hundreds of Soil Association climate action packs to eager protesters keen to learn about our role in tackling the climate and biodiversity crises.

It was moving to hear from an array of speakers, representing the global south, indigenous communities, trade unions and social movements from across the globe. These were testimonials from communities affected by climate change right now and their anger was truly palpable. The message to global leaders couldn’t be clearer: act now and embed social justice at the heart of climate action.

And within COP itself, we’ve got an exciting array of programmes on Thursday 11th November that you can join virtually or catch up on at a later date, related to agroecology and sustainable food systems:

A COP of pledges

But what about the negotiation outcomes? Well, watching Greta Thunberg deliver an impassioned speech to 30,000 youth strikers at the end of the first week calling COP26 a ‘global north greenwash festival’ I couldn’t help but agree she had a point.

But glossing over the alarmingly high presence of fossil fuel lobbyists and the fact that COP26 has been labelled by some as the least inclusive COP ever held, has there been any progress?

Early on we saw the Global Deforestation Pledge, where more than 100 nations, including Brazil, China and Russia, pledged to end deforestation by 2030 (although indigenous leaders say they were not consulted). And twenty-eight countries signed up to the new forests, agriculture, and commodity trade ‘road map of action’ to address the impacts of agricultural commodities that are linked to degradation of forests and other important ecosystems.

Day six was Nature and Land Use Day, and with it came a headline announcement that forty-five governments will pledge urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming.

And over 100 countries have pledged to reduce their methane emissions by 30% by 2030. This initiative, spearheaded by the US and EU, is seen by some as a significant opportunity to reduce warming in the coming decades given methane’s potency as a greenhouse gas. We need to make sure the focus is on the real problem here – leakage from fossil fuel extraction and industrial ruminant livestock systems.

But a need for action post-COP

So, lots of words, pledges, and commitments. Clearly action and further ambition are now both needed, and the UK must not shirk its responsibilities in assisting the global south in this in addition to its domestic agenda.  

Whilst it was pleasing to see the UK government’s rhetoric around global regenerative practices at COP, this now must be reflected in domestic agricultural policy, with a shift to support for organic and agroecological farming that place farmers at the heart of decision making. With the Environment Bill receiving Royal Ascent, but lacking protections for soil health, we look to a strong Soil Health Action Plan for England in the New Year. After all, healthy soil is critical in combatting climate change - a solution that is under our feet!

Looking ahead to the Biodiversity COP in Kunming in April 2022 it is vital that the UK leads the way in ensuring climate actions do not come at the expense of nature. Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, made this point emphatically at our annual Peter Melchett Memorial Lecture and we’ll be pushing hard to ensure this is achieved through agroecological solutions, with lots in the pipeline for agroforestry.     

We must tackle our own demand for overseas commodities that harm ecosystems. We’ll be working hard to draw attention to the impact of commodities grown in sensitive environments in Latin America to feed intensive livestock systems in the UK. As part of this is our campaign calling for Peak Poultry and our calls for dietary changes to include less and better meat. Additionally, given global ambitions on deforestation, we’d like to see Defra to build on the recently approved Environment Bill to ensure that commodities we import are not linked to any type of deforestation.

Was it worth the long train journey to be there? Emphatically yes. Every voice and action count now, both in limiting temperature rise and in making the case that we need to transform food and farming to do this. And we need to keep hope alive on climate change. If not the COP – then what?