The food industry at COP26: FoodNavigator’s digest of news and views from Glasgow

The food industry at COP26: FoodNavigator’s digest of news and views from Glasgow

World leaders have gathered in Glasgow to take part in the COP26 summit, a UN conference that hopes to build consensus on how to avert some of the most disastrous consequences of climate change.​

The summit follows the monumental 2015 the Paris Agreement, which was inked by over 190 countries. The landmark deal enunciated a shared global determination to limit rising global temperatures to well below 2°C, with an ambition of keeping global heating to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.​

But the past six years have been bruising for the climate agenda. In this context, Glasgow has been billed as our last best hope to agree a shared roadmap to bring emissions in-line with levels required to reach the Paris targets.  ​

“Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It’s one minute to midnight on that Doomsday clock and we need to act now,”​ British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.​

This sense of urgency – but also a message of hope – has been a prevailing theme in the conference’s first days.​

“Glasgow must be the start of a decade of shared ambition and innovation to preserve our future,”​ US President Joe Biden said, insisting that he has taken measures to reverse the climate-sceptic policies of his predecessor former President Donald Trump. “We can do this – we just have to make a choice to do it.”​​

Whether this optimistic note will ring true at the end of the two-week event, which runs from 31 October to 12 November, will in large part depend on whether collective approaches can be agreed, and compromises struck. Over the next two weeks, leaders from more than 190 countries, thousands of negotiators, scientists and citizens will come together in an attempt to hammer out a global response to the threat of climate change.​

Our rolling news blog will keep you updated on the latest COP26 news from across the food industry.​

Unilever CEO backs Manifesto for climate recovery as business and finance take centre stage – 3 November 2021The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) launched the ‘Business Manifesto for Climate Recovery’ on day three of COP26 in Glasgow. 

WBCSD is calling for the development of a new Corporate Determined Contributions (CDCs) mechanism to capture private sector progress in the global climate recovery. This would be comparable to the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) mechanism that measures the public sector’s contribution to climate recovery.

The CDCs would be a common mechanism to assess business progress and delivery against climate action targets. CDCs would be based on reported targets and progress in emissions reduction for annual assessment at the COP. WBCSD said this offers a ‘transparent and measurable approach’ that would enable business to build trust with regulators, policymakers, and consumers, and avoid unjust accusations of greenwashing.

“The time to act for a net-zero, nature positive and equitable transformation is now,”​ commented Peter Bakker, President and CEO of WBCSD. “Hot on the heels of the release of our new strategy, the Manifesto provides an added focus on the actions needed now with the biggest impacts to halt temperature rises and support climate recovery. Businesses are ready to deliver pragmatic and impactful solutions and be held accountable for their progress.”​

The manifesto consists of twelve action priorities framed around the imperatives to reduce, remove and report GHG emissions. All priorities require collaboration between the public and private sector, an area WBCSD believes could be ‘optimized’ within the COP process.

“Public-private sector collaboration is critical to the global climate recovery. There is a strong desire for existing business climate action to be recognized, but at present, there is no common mechanism in place to measure progress in the private sector,”​ commented Claire O’Neill, Senior Advisor for Climate & Energy at WBCSD and former COP26 President-Designate. “Therefore, at COP26, we are calling for the development of CDCs to ensure that business action is recognized and held to account in the global fight for climate recovery.”​

The Manifesto has secured the backing of Unilever CEO Alan Jope. “I am yet to meet a credible business leader that does not recognize the threat of climate change, and the urgent need to deliver the Paris Agreement. Net zero is now table stakes, yet delivering this transformation is far from straight forward. WBCSD have provided a clear guide on priority actions for governments and businesses to secure our future prosperity,”​ he commented.

The call for a more transparent reporting mechanism came from business on the same day that UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak outlined plans to require all UK financial institutions and listed companies to publish their plans to transition to net zero. The UK Government said the requirement would help make the UK the ‘world’s first net zero financial centre’. 

Hosting ‘finance day’ at COP26, Sunak also unveiled a deal that will see private companies covering $130 trillion of financial assets – equivalent to 40% of the world’s total financial assets – align their investment priorities with the goals of the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5°C. 

The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ)​ brings together 450 firms from across the financial industry, based in 45 countries and spanning six continents. 

These commitments will help to create a ‘huge pool of cash’ that could fund our net zero transition, including the move away from coal, the shift to electric cars, and the planting of more trees, the Treasury said. 

‘Finance day’ at COP26 in Glasgow sees commitments on sustainable investment / Pic: iStockweerapatkiatdumrongUS, EU spearhead 2030 methane commitments — 2 NovemberWorld leaders have signed up to a pledge to curb methane emissions in a move that US President Joe Biden described as a ‘game-changing commitment’.

The Global Methane Pledge, unveiled on Day 2 of COP26 in Glasgow, sees governments from 90 countries promise to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030.

“One of the most important things we can do in this decisive decade to keep 1.5°C in reach is to reduce our methane as quickly as possible,”​ Biden said.

Methane is one of the most potent GHGs, with a more significant short-term impact on global heading than carbon dioxide. It is emitted by oil and natural gas operations as well as landfill and animal agriculture.

However, according to FAIRR Initiative – a $45 trillion investor network focusing on ESG risks in the global food sector – the pledge concentrates on the reduction opportunity in the energy sector at the expense of critiquing the food industry’s impact.

“There will be concern in the markets that much of the focus for these cuts seem to be on the energy sector, rather than putting forward specific plans to tackle methane emissions from animal agriculture – which is the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels,”​ said FAIRR policy director Helena Wright.

“Investors representing over $6.4 trillion AUM have called on nations to commit to specific targets for reducing agricultural emissions within their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). While today’s commitment is welcome, we still need a clear roadmap for the agriculture and land use sector if we are to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees.”​

‘More sophisticated debate’ on meat and emissions needed, Indigenous alliance argues — 2 NovemberLivestock production has emerged as a critical food-related debate at COP26, with proponents of plant-based diets urging government’s to add meat reduction targets to their national carbon reduction plans.

However, fresh research suggests the global picture of livestock’s impact has been distorted by ‘faulty assumptions’ focusing on intensive farming practices.

As countries commit to reducing methane emissions as part of the COP26 Global Methane Pledge, a ‘more sophisticated debate’ is needed, researchers urged. The report, Are livestock always bad for the planet?,​ warns that important decisions about climate mitigation, food systems and land use – including dietary shifts, tree planting schemes and rewilding – risk being based on ‘partial or misleading evidence’.  

The report points to the people whose livelihoods depend on livestock production and highlights that pastoralism – which is relatively low impact – has been ‘inappropriately lumped in’ with intensive farming systems.

The World Alliance for Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP) is gathering pastoralists in Glasgow, with events including a photo exhibition looking at how pastoralists respond to climate change and other uncertainties.

Pastoralists argue that animal-source foods are vital for nutrition in low-income populations and in places where crop production is not possible. Changes must focus on the most climate-damaging production systems and diets. This means focusing on intensive farming and the rich ‘consumption elite’ not poorer pastoralists living in the world’s extensive rangelands, they insisted.

“The livestock sector has become the ‘climate villain’ of agriculture. But as global leaders respond to the urgent threat of climate change at COP26, it’s vital to understand the differences between ways of producing animal products in different parts of the world,”​ report co-author, Ian Scoones from the PASTRES programme – which is funded by the European Research Council – commented.

“While richer consumers should undoubtedly rethink their diets, for many people throughout the world, pastoralism can and should remain part of a low-carbon future.”​

FoodNavigator’s recent investigation into the importance of grasslands to biodiversity and climate can be read here.​​​ 

Deforestation commitments from ag food giants — 2 NovemberTen of the world’s largest agricultural trading companies have promised to publish a roadmap on how to align their supply chains with the 1.5 target by this time next year.

The companies, including Cargill, ADM, Olam International, JBS, Wilmar and Amaggi, detailed their commitment to enhanced supply chain action ahead of COP27, stating that they would provide increased transparency on their Scope 3 emissions and the climate impact of their indirect supply chains. 

Deforestation is likely to be a particular focus. The companies collectively acknowledged they have a ‘shared commitment to halting forest loss associated with agricultural commodity production and trade’.

“We recognise that significant progress has been made, but this progress must be accelerated and scaled-up to support global efforts in reaching net zero emissions globally by 2050, halting biodiversity loss, and providing sustainable livelihoods,”​ a statement published by the alliance​ reads.

“So we intend to build on our shared efforts, working with governments, farmers, and other key stakeholders in our supply chains, to accelerate sector-wide action and to identify opportunities for public-private collaboration to catalyse further progress on eliminating commodity driven deforestation.”​

World leaders pledge action on deforestation in agricultural commodities / Pic: GettyImages-StockbyteThe statement came as the COP26 World Leaders Summit ‘Action on Forests and Land Use’​ brought together an alliance of governments, companies, financial actors, and non-state leaders to raise ambition on forests and land-use. 

Over 100 leaders, accounting for more than 86% of the world’s forests, committed to work together to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.

Trading in agricultural commodities and the impact the sector has on deforestation was directly addressed when 28 governments, representing 75% of global trade in key commodities that can threaten forests, signed up to a new Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Statement​. This statement is part of a Roadmap of actions designed to deliver sustainable trade and reduce pressure on forests, including support for smallholder farmers and improving the transparency of supply chains.

Tate & Lyle delivers coal commitment — 2 NovemberIngredient supplier Tate & Lyle announced it has eliminated coal-based energy from its global operations.

The commitment was delivered four years ahead of its 2025 target. Progress, the company noted, is thanks to a US$150m multi-year capital investment programme.

“Moving away from onsite coal consumption is a key part of our sustainability programme to drive a significant reduction in our Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions. We have now fully decommissioned all onsite coal systems at our sites,”​ Sara Leeman, Tate & Lyle’s Global Environmental Lead, said.

Tate & Lyle has previously detailed 2030 carbon reduction targets that have been validated by the Science Based Targets initiative. The company has said it will deliver a 30% absolute reduction in scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions and a 15% cut in scope 3 emissions by 2030.

“It’s clear that time is running out to make the changes needed to tackle climate change and enable societies to prosper. With COP26 taking place this month, we recognise the need for businesses to play their part in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. By eliminating the use of coal-based energy in all our plants we have taken a significant step forward in our sustainability journey. We know we can, and need, to do more in the weeks, months and years ahead, and are committed to living our purpose, of which caring for our planet is a key pillar,”​ CEO Nick Hampton commented. 

Heura calls out meat and dairy climate impact, COP ‘greenwashing’ — 1 NovemberOn World Vegan Day (1 November), proponents of plant-based diets took the opportunity to highlight the ‘single biggest way’ for citizens to cut their carbon footprint.

According to data from European plant-based brand Heura cutting meat and dairy from your diet can reduce your personal carbon footprint by as much as 73%. ‘Why aren’t world leaders adding this topic to the COP26 agenda?’ Heura queried, suggesting that ‘greenwashing’ is running rampant at the event.

Heura co-founders Marc Coloma and Bernat Añaños  decided to shine a light on the issue through projection mapping from George Square, an area of Glasgow long known for political events and activism. The food activists want world leaders to acknowledge the environmental impact of the current ‘obsolete’ food system. 

Heura highlights meat impact at COP26 / Pic: Heura“With the support of our Good Rebel community, we decided to take a stand and unleash the ‘elephant in the room,’ through large-scale projection mapping designed to raise awareness and demand change,”​ said Añaños. “Our goal is to not only gain the attention of the powerful government officials having closed door conversations but also to empower people all around the world to vote with their fork. Because at Heura we understand that every meal is an opportunity to drive positive change on the planet.” ​

“Since we know the data proves a vegan diet to be effective in fighting climate change, it’s our responsibility to act. World leaders need to prioritize protecting the planet, not the status quo, and  start having real debates on a global platform about the best ways to transition the population to a more plant-based diet,  if we want to reduce emissions to keep the planet below 1.5 degrees of warming,”​ added Coloma.

Heura originally launched a petition​ making the request for the UK Government to ensure plant-based diets were included as a topic of discussion for COP26 earlier this year. The petition on Change.org received more than 2,000 signatures within days.

Hellmann’s puts food waste ‘front and centre’ — 1 NovemberOne third of the food we produce is wasted and if food waste was a country it would be the world’s third-largest GHG emitter, behind only the USA and China. Up to 10% of GNG emissions originate from food waste and loss.

However, according to Unilever condiments brand Hellmann’s, food waste often doesn’t receive the attention it deserves in discussions about the climate crisis.

For this reason, Hellman’s has teamed up with artist Itamar Gilboa to put food waste ‘front and centre’ at COP26. Gilboa has creasted an instillation, The Food Waste Effect, which features 403 plaster replicas of food items inside a class greenhouse. This represents a total of 117kg of food waste – the amount produced by the average UK family every six months. An LED ticker displays a stream of data quantifying the scale of food waste and GHG contributions.

Hellmann’s instillation at COP26 / Pic: Hellmann’s“Through the work, I wish to create a space where conversations on ecology, permanence and personal responsibility can emerge. My hope is that the work will encourage people to think about the implication of their personal consumption habits on global food and climate issues, and, as a result, inspire them to recognise how much power they hold to combat waste and climate change,” ​the Israeli-Dutch artist commented.

Christina Bauer-Plank, Global Brand Vice President Hellmann’s at Unilever, said she hopes to help raise awareness of household food waste. “Globally, 70% of people agree “avoiding food waste” is important to them, yet household food waste remains a massive issue and significant contributor to climate change. In a major recent behaviour change study conducted by Hellmann’s we found that small changes can make a big difference.  Adopting a single Use-Up day per week, for example, making a meal from only the food you already have in your home using a simple ‘flexipe’ can help cut household food waste by one third. With 60% of food waste happening in the home, we can all drive positive change from our own kitchens.​”

Read more about the work Hellmann’s is doing to raise awareness on food waste in our in-depth interview with Bauer-Plank, available here.​​​

The Vegetarian Butcher calls for leaders to acknowledge ‘elephant in the room’ is animal agriculture — 28 OctoberThe Vegetarian Butcher – a plant-based brand owned by COP26 sponsor Unilever – has urged world leaders to acknowledge that the environmental impact of meat consumption is the ‘elephant in the room’.  

Food production is responsible for one-third of the GHG emissions we produce, and animal agriculture can be linked to almost 60% of this total.

The need to address consumption of animal proteins has been highlighted by the European Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy, the Food and Land Use Coalition and the UK’s Climate Change Committee. Nevertheless, the issue is absent from the COP26 agenda and lacking from European policy, The Vegetarian Butcher noted.

“The numbers don’t lie. A transition to diets that incorporate more plant-based food is a vital part of the solution to the climate crisis. We can all do our bit as individuals to switch from animal meat to plant-based protein, but the onus can’t just be on us. We need to see increased collaboration between NGOs, policy makers, and businesses for decisive progress to be made in building a more sustainable, food system,” ​Hugo Verkuil, CEO of The Vegetarian Butcher, said.

The brand wants governments to embed meat reduction into their national action plans. The Vegetarian Butcher has launched its ‘Elephant in the Room’ campaign and Instagram filter to raise awareness. It has also partnered with Glasgow-based artist SMUG to curate a giant ‘Elephant in the Room’ mural on Pointhouse Road, appearing just in time for the start of the Summit.

The Vegetarian Butcher launches awareness campaign at COP26 / Pic: The Vegetarian ButcherVerkuil continued: “There are some amazing new products out there that mean that we can still eat foods with similar flavour, texture and nutrition to animal meat – so we don’t have to sacrifice our traditions or taste. But more importantly, we don’t have to sacrifice the health of the planet.”​

Fairtrade says climate change ‘serious risk’ to ag production and livelihoods — 27 OctoberA delegation of Fairtrade farmers from climate vulnerable nations is gathering at COP26 in Glasgow to warn political leaders that the summit presents their ‘last, best chance’ to reverse climate damage to their livelihoods, crops and communities.

The Fairtrade group – which includes small-scale farmers from Ghana, Paraguay, India, Malawi and Côte d’Ivoire – are speaking at a series of advocacy events to urge rich, high polluting governments to meet their pledges on emissions cuts and climate finance.

Fairtrade has released new research ahead of COP26 that shows the organisations 1.8m farmers and workers worldwide had ‘directly under threat’ from climate change.

Conducted by researchers from the Vrije University Amsterdam and Bern University of Applied Sciences, ‘Fairtrade and Climate Change’ reveals the intensifying effects of climate change pose a serious risk to global agricultural production in key regions worldwide. It paints a bleak picture of the future of popular foods such as bananas, coffee, and cocoa, warning that in some areas, the climate crisis will make crop production very difficult in the near future.

This places millions of farmers and smallholders at risk of financial collapse.

Fairtrade is advocating increased investment in climate adaptation and resilience measures.

“The report’s results are extremely alarming and a clarion call for immediate and comprehensive climate action,”​ said Dr Nyagoy Nyong’o, Global CEO at Fairtrade. “The threat to the future of many supply chains is very real and our planet’s farmers and agricultural workers are on the frontline of this global climate crisis. We must do everything to ensure they are not left behind and that they are indeed a part of the solution.”​

Currently, just 2% of climate finance goes to small-holder farmers in low-income countries. Yet, 80% of the world’s food comes from 500 million family farms, Fairtrade stressed.

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