COP26 – It was an honour to represent you

James Johnson, North East farming ambassador during an interview with ITV at NFU's stand during COP26

Writing in British Farmer & Grower magazine, James Johnson, one of the North East's Student & Young Farmer Ambassadors, reflects on his time at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.  

As the nation geared up to host the UN climate change conference, COP26, all eyes were on Glasgow. Us farmers also wanted to see farming on the agenda and staged Countryside COP in the run-up to the main conference in a bid to get a conversation going about the challenges we face and the solutions we offer.

A tremendous opportunity

As someone who is passionate about farming in the most sustainable way possible, I was keen to help, but little did I expect to be one of just a handful of farmers joining the NFU delegation heading to COP to join the conversation for real. To say I felt like Crocodile Dundee in New York for the first time is an understatement, but what a tremendous opportunity to represent my fellow farmers, hear some inspirational speakers and talk to people from all walks of life.

Sitting listening to our Prime Minister, President Biden and Prince William in quick succession was quite surreal but what followed was equally inspiring – the chance to talk to people from so many other countries who were all determined to share ideas, work together and show just what can be achieved with concerted action.

Focusing on food security as well as climate change mitigation

Talking to a representative from an Indian farming organisation was one conversation that struck a real chord. Tree planting is seen as a priority in India just as it is here, but there the emphasis is also on food security and as a result they are planting mainly fruit trees to help keep people fed as well as boosting their carbon storage and environmental biodiversity.

With our food self-sufficiency standing at just 60%, achieving the right balance between the drive to achieve Net Zero and maintaining food production is a key challenge. Painting a picture of how and why we farm in the way we do has never been more important.

NFU at COP26_81363

"Emphasising the role livestock can play in supporting soil health and encouraging biodiversity as well as providing an important food source that’s not as vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather was at times hard work but felt very worthwhile."
James Johnson
North East Young Farmer Ambassador

Painting a picture

The need to get back to basics was brought home to me, standing in the Green Zone at COP and talking both to visitors and journalists.

Some were very knowledgeable, but others were asking more basic questions. Why can’t you grow crops everywhere? Why do you need to keep animals inside during the winter?

Starting from square one allows you to really paint that picture of our climate-friendly farming systems while weaving in the complexities, explaining how things are interlinked and challenging some misconceptions along the way.

Explaining, for example, that hill land is mostly unsuitable for crop production and that not all crops achieve the threshold for human consumption was news to some people.

Emphasising the role livestock can play in supporting soil health and encouraging biodiversity as well as providing an important food source that’s not as vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather was at times hard work but felt very worthwhile.

It’s a conversation that must continue.

So proud of the industry I was there to represent

It was tremendously exciting to be part of the NFU presence at COP, seeing first-hand the effort put in by staff and of course our national officeholders who maximised their time moving back and forth between the Green and Blue Zones to engage with both politicians and other visitors.

Above all, I was so proud of the industry I was there to represent. We have a fantastic story to tell and the contribution we make will only increase as we learn more about how new technology and different practices can help us take our businesses forward into the unknown.

Like most people in different walks of life, this is new to us. We are finding our way and we don’t have all the information we need right now. It is coming though and the next five to 10 years will be crucial. We are not going to be able to carry on as normal, change is coming and it’s so important we are part of it.

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