COP26 – our news from week two

Floral design at COP26 in Glasgow

Our news from Week Two of COP26, with politicians, celebrities and experts mixing, as conclusions are reached and deals struck.

Week two in Scotland's biggest city was just as busy, varied and interesting as week one for the NFU team.

Nature Day – Hollywood comes to Glasgow

Before boarding the evening train back south, NFU President Minette Batters spoke in two panel discussions on Saturday 6 November. 

Firstly, she took part in a COP26 Presidency event in the main Cairn Gorm hall entitled 'Accelerating a just rural transition to sustainable agriculture'. Participants included US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and UN Goodwill Ambassadors actors Idris and Sabrina Elba.

Speaking on behalf of the World Farmers Organisation, Minette stated that “farmers are the eco-workers of the future, and part of the solution to climate change.”

Later, she was part of a debate in the more intimate setting of the UK Pavilion, alongside Secretary of State George Eustice and WFO President Theo de Jager, with supply chain representatives from Sainsburys, the Food and Drink Federation and British Retail Consortium.

Adaptation Day – Obama's way with words 

Refreshed by a day off for most delegates, we were bolstered by new NFU arrivals in Glasgow from our Net Zero steering group on Monday 8 November.

We had some chance encounters, bumping into Opposition climate spokesman Ed Miliband, the chief executive and chair of the Climate Change Committee popular media commentators Richard and Sepi from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, and former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull.

Over at the Green Zone public exhibition area, we admired the strawberry-picking robot and JCB’s hydrogen-powered telehandler.

Everything and everyone stopped to watch the screens broadcasting Barack Obama’s address to the conference. That man hasn’t lost the power of rhetoric – he had us all transfixed.

Gender, Science and Innovation – train debates

Tuesday 9 November brought us more interesting presentations and panel discussions.

We attended a fringe event on adaptation with the EA’s Emma Howard Boyd and junior agriculture minister Jo Churchill, but perhaps the most memorable part of the day was the interminable 45-mile rail journey between our Edinburgh hotel and central Glasgow.

On the train home again, livestock farmer Andrew Loftus engaged in earnest debate with a young Argentinian delegate on the subject of GWP, the alternative methane accounting framework that treats ruminant emissions more fairly.

Transport Day – the prime minister returns

One of the busiest and most varied days for the NFU team was Wednesday 10 November. The day included a brief audience for climate change adviser Ceris Jones, along with other Constituency Focal Points, with Boris Johnson (who had chosen to return to Glasgow by train instead of jet).

Stuart Roberts, Jonathan Scurlock and Andrew Clark had to make their way through a police cordon to attend a meeting on bioenergy that was under siege by anti-forestry protestors.

Jonathan went on to co-chair a fringe session on 'Delivering a Decarbonised Agriculture Sector' with the Renewable Energy Association.

We rounded off the evening with presentations at a reception organised by the Coalition for Negative Emissions, a key cross-industry alliance in our development of Pillar 3 of the NFU’s net zero ambition.

Cities Day – trying to find common ground

As COP26 neared its end, the NFU team thinned out on Thursday 11 and Friday 12 November.

Jonathan attended a breakfast fringe meeting on bioenergy and negative emissions organised by the Bright Blue Conservative Party think tank. Also in attendance were representatives from Greenpeace and the Renewable Energy Association. Ceris remained until the end of international negotiations.

The second week saw ministers returning to Glasgow to find political solutions to technical debates which should have run their course. However, in true COP-style all discussions ran in parallel as pairs of Ministers sought to find common ground on carbon markets and on reporting of progress.

With no penalties in the climate regime, transparency in reporting is critical.

Safeguarding food security

The pandemic skewered the agriculture negotiators’ intentions report on the entirety of the Koronivia roadmap at COP26.

However, this year’s draft conclusions were positive about sustainably managed livestock systems playing “broad roles in safeguarding food and nutrition security, livelihoods, sustainability, nutrient cycling and carbon management”.

Also among the positives were "improving sustainable production and animal health, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the livestock sector while enhancing sinks on pasture and grazing lands, can contribute to achieving long-term climate objectives." 

The "fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger by designing sustainable and climate-resilient agricultural systems” and the need to “improve the enabling environment for mobilizing resources to implement action at the local, national and international level” were mentioned too.

What next at COP27

All eyes will now turn towards COP27 in Egypt when all farmers are hoping that agriculture and food security will be a priority.

Outside the official negotiations, research and innovation in agriculture briefly took centre stage when the US and UAE launched their Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate.

This was followed by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office joining forces with others to promote Climate Shot, to find new technologies and methods of producing food which protect nature.

Negotiations went to the wire as the COP again over-ran into the weekend. And even as all gathered for the closing plenary to await COP President Alok Sharma bringing down his gavel on proceedings, India broke ranks and requested a last minute change...(to be concluded).

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