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COP28 Conclusions Place a Question Mark over Farmers’ Role in Climate Action

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After one year of diplomatic engagements and two weeks of intense negotiations, COP28 concluded recently with an unprecedented call on governments to “transition away” from fossil fuels as part of a broader agenda to keep 1.5°C within reach.

The compromise language on fossil fuels is the cornerstone of the UAE Consensus, the final text agreed upon by 198 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), centred around the conclusion of the first-ever Global Stock-Take (GST), a mid-term review of the progress that member states were making towards the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Besides the conclusion of the GST, the COP28 Presidency also oversaw the operationalisation of the new funding arrangements for responding to loss and damage, securing $792 million of early pledges, and the development of a framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), that countries could use to guide their adaptation efforts.

Farmers had high expectations of a COP that started by putting our sectors high on the agenda with the launch of the UAE Declaration on Agriculture, Food and Climate, adopted under the UAE Presidency.

The World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) had come to COP28 with an 80-member strong delegation of farmers and farmer leaders who actively engaged in meetings and events to clamour for more significant consideration of farmers and our priorities in the COP28 Food Systems and Agriculture Action Agenda.

We left Dubai with many questions, two major disappointments, and a stronger-than-ever commitment to our mission in the process.

COP28 Fallout: Farmers’ Voices Overlooked in Climate Action

The over 150 Heads of State and Governments who have signed the Declaration committed to expediting the integration of agriculture and food systems into their climate action and mainstream climate action across agricultural policies and the food system agenda.

However, these commitments are only reflected to a very low extent in the conclusions of the COP28.

The lack of progress in the negotiations on agriculture and food security, on the one hand, and the lack of recognition of the role of the farmers in the UNFCCC process, on the other, are missed opportunities for the global community striving to tackle climate change.

Firstly, government negotiators in Dubai failed to agree on a roadmap for the Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on Implementation of Climate Action on Agriculture and Food Security (SSJW), the only formal UNFCCC workstream to acknowledge and address the unique challenges of adapting to and mitigating climate change in our sector.

The SSWJ was established last year at COP27 as a 4-year programme to promote a holistic approach to addressing issues related to agriculture and food security including providing support and technical advice to Parties, promoting synergies, and strengthening partnerships among relevant stakeholders.

One year of the SSJW mandate has already passed, and the Parties agreed to continue debating the process during the inter-sessional meetings in Bonn in June 2024.

We need governments to cut that talk short and focus on supporting the important work farmers must do and are already doing on the ground.

n light of the above, the failure of the GST to acknowledge the important role and active engagement of farmers in addressing and responding to climate change is all the more disturbing.

In line with the provisions of the Paris Agreement, the document recognizes “the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger” and the vulnerability of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change.

In what seems to be a first for a COP cover note, the document stresses the importance of systemic solutions, including sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems. It also set a deadline of 2030 for substantially reducing non-carbon dioxide emissions, including methane, as well as “increasing sustainable and regenerative production” in the context of climate adaptation.

However, the document fell short of providing clear guidance to Parties on raising credible ambition and action for our sectors by engaging farmers in the definition of goals and objectives which are achievable and quantifiable and take into account the protection of farmers’ rights and livelihoods, the well-being of rural communities and the unique biological nature of farms.

Most significantly there is no mention of ‘farmers’ in the outcome document and in particular in Art. 158, where other observer constituencies are listed among key actors who can contribute to the collective progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement.

A few obvious questions come to mind: Who will walk the talk about food systems transformation in the context of climate change? What is the role of farmers in the implementation of the joint food and climate agenda? How can the UNFCCC high-level principles translate into lower emissions and enhanced resilience at the farm level if the farmers are not empowered to identify and scale up locally appropriate solutions?

Conversations around food and agriculture without farmers at the table will lead to no practical action on the ground unless we are heading into a future of producing food without farmers.

Beyond COP28: Farmers at the Forefront of Global Climate Action and Inclusive Climate Finance

Looking beyond COP28, farmers are eager to engage with governments and other relevant stakeholders to resolve the current impasse in the SSJW negotiations at the next available opportunity in June 2024 in Bonn; stimulate ambition in the next round of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) due to be submitted in early 2025 ahead of COP30; and unleash the great potential that agriculture and its people have in adapting and mitigating to climate change.

Farmers in all their diversity are striving to produce food, fibre and energy for all whilst contributing their unique experience and solutions to the global effort to tackle climate change. The participation of the young farmers from the WFO Gymnasium at COP 28 served as a stark reminder that the next generation of agriculture leaders holds tremendous potential to drive the transition towards more sustainable food systems.

The biggest agenda item at COP29, due to take place from 11-22 November 2024 in Baku, Azerbaijan, will be the establishment of a New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance (NCQG) for the post-2025 period.

As stressed by the UNFCCC Farmers’ Constituency in the high-level joint statement published ahead of COP28,  “securing adequate climate finance for farmers (…) is crucial to achieving a just transition towards more resilient, equitable and inclusive agrifood systems and create an environment where youth see agriculture as an attractive career path.”

This goal can only be achieved by unlocking new and inclusive sources of climate finance, involving farmers directly in designing and administrating climate programmes and financial mechanisms and targeting farmers’ organizations as direct recipients of funds.

The WFO is keen to work with Parties and other key stakeholders in the lead-up to COP29 and beyond, including through the newly launched FAST Partnership, to enhance the volume and effectiveness of financial flows in fostering a sustainable and inclusive transformation of agriculture and food systems.

President Arnold Puech d’Alissac recently pointed out, “When farmers see their crops and animals, their lives and livelihoods are under threat, they cannot sit on their hands.”

The WFO has long recognised the impact of climate change on the agricultural sector and the need for farmers to contribute to global efforts for mitigation and adaptation.

We have played a leading role in ensuring farmers’ participation in the UNFCCC process and have offered our support to multi-stakeholder initiatives promoting integrated approaches to climate action.

We participated in the first-ever COP ministerial dialogue on building water-resilient food systems and are a founding member of the two-year partnership launched in Dubai to address the critical interdependencies of soil health, water cycles and food systems in the context of climate change.

We welcomed the efforts of the COP28 Presidency to put food high on the climate agenda and the attention given to the participation of farmers in key events and initiatives.

However, having farmers on stage is simply not enough when their experience and solutions are not put at the centre of climate strategies and actions.