Cop26 countries commit to food and agriculture transformation

UK launches package to protect rainforests and farmland, and restore carbon sinks

Dense forest in Gabon, Central Africa. The UK government is launching a £500 million ($674m) package to protect five million hectares of rainforest. Reuters
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Dozens of countries have pledged to protect their farmland and revamp humanity’s food production in a drive to make the natural world an ally in the fight against climate change.

The promise by 45 countries on the sixth day of the Cop26 summit was described as necessary to reduce emissions from agriculture and restore the carbon sinks that help to rein in global warming.

They intend to spend billions of dollars to make farming more sustainable, including by improving soil health and developing climate-resilient crops.

To support these goals, the UK is putting its weight behind a $4 billion agricultural innovation plan spearheaded by the US and the UAE.

It will spend another £500 million ($675m) to protect the world’s rainforests and create jobs in sustainable agriculture and forestry - with activists alarmed at the continuing pace of deforestation despite the pledges being made in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, nearly 100 businesses have agreed to work towards “halting and reversing the decline of nature by 2030” by planting trees and sourcing more sustainable goods.

Companies including fashion brand Burberry, retailer Marks & Spencer and UK supermarket giants Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose are committing to cut down their environmental impact.

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said protecting nature was key to keeping alive the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

“Land can be a great source of emissions or a great carbon sink, depending on how we manage it,” Mr Eustice told delegates in Glasgow.

“We must all work to raise the ambition of our actions on sustainable land use and commodity trade.”

Agricultural emissions make up about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas output, the UK government said, including methane produced by livestock.

Cutting emissions and thereby limiting global temperature rises would have the additional benefits of protecting endangered species and reducing floods and droughts, said Patrick Vallance, the UK government's chief scientific adviser.

"The natural world is depending on us - let’s work together for our planet," he said.

Dozens of countries this week promised to clamp down on emissions of methane, which is many times more potent than CO2 at warming the planet.

In a separate pledge, more than 100 countries – covering more than 85 per cent of the world’s forests – said they would turn the tide on deforestation.

They are among a series of agreements at Cop26 that Britain has described as milestones on the journey to protecting the planet, but sceptics see as insufficient to tackle global warming.

Activists from Greenpeace raised the alarm over continued deforestation, saying the area of the Amazon rainforest cut down in October was more than four times the size of Glasgow.

“Signing or endorsing agreements does not change the reality of the forest floor,” said Greenpeace campaigner Romulo Batista.

“Deforestation and fires remain out of control and violence against indigenous peoples is only increasing.”

Former UK prime minister Theresa May, chairing part of Saturday’s talks, said the world needed to plant substantially more trees than were being felled.

She said humanity’s mismanagement of land and nature, the main theme of day six in Glasgow, was worsening the climate crisis.

“From the huge climate footprint of our cities, to the destruction of natural habitats for agriculture, we have taken our environment for granted,” she said.

“But nature can be our ally in this climate crisis. Nature is our best carbon capture storage. And with sustainable management of our critical ecosystems, we can keep the pathway to 1.5 alive.”

Greg Hands, a minister in the UK's energy department, said the UK's £500m package would protect rainforests and create thousands of green jobs.

The £500m is part of a wider UK government plan to spend at least £3 billion of climate finance on nature and biodiversity.

“If we are to keep the 1.5°C target in reach, we need to work with other nations to halt global deforestation, investing in the sustainable trading of commodities that will help communities thrive, while protecting our planet for generations to come,” said Mr Hands.

Updated: November 06, 2021, 11:58 AM