What is COP26 and how does the food sector fit in?

11 October 2021, 11:05 AM
  • Speciality Food looks ahead to the historic climate conference that will be held in Scotland later this year to find out if sustainability in food and drink is on the agenda
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What is COP26 and how does the food sector fit in?

While Speciality Food and Too Good To Go are encouraging the fine food industry to consider making sustainable changes to their business throughout October with Sustainable Food Month, world leaders and climate experts will join the sustainability conversation from 31st October to 12th November for the 26th Conference of the Parties, or COP26.

What is COP26?

This year, the important gathering of 197 party members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), plus campaigners and climate experts, will descend on Glasgow to agree how to tackle climate change. The meeting was originally billed for 2020 but was rescheduled due to Covid-19.

COP26 is widely seen as one of the last chances for countries around the world to limit global warming before the window for achieving this closes.

World leaders will be in the spotlight, as COP26 will provide them with the first chance to update the rest of the group on their progress towards the goals of the pivotal Paris agreement (more on this below), which were set out during COP21 in 2015. You can view the schedule of events here.

Are food and farming represented at COP26?

The global food system will play a huge role in the climate change fight, as it currently accounts for a third of total greenhouse gas emissions.

The first ever Food and Agriculture Benchmark by the World Benchmarking Alliance found that the food and agricultural sector is not on track for transitioning to a sustainable food system. It discovered that while 73% of companies have a sustainable development target, only 26% are setting holistic time-bound targets, and 27% have no sustainability strategy. Only 26 of 350 of the world’s most influential food and agriculture companies have set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets aligned with the Paris agreement.

Despite this, food and farming are largely absent from COP26’s programme of events. More than 30 NGOs, leading academics, local governments and industry bodies have called on COP26 president Alok Sharma to bump food systems up the agenda.

“A third of the dangerous greenhouse gases which are harming the environment come from food, so how we produce food, what we consume, and the level of food waste are central to our drive to be carbon neutral by 2030,” said councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, leader of Brighton & Hove City Council. “I implore Alok Sharma, the President of COP26, to use this international platform to let world leaders know that not enough is being done to reduce the incredibly harmful impact of the current system of food production on the climate, and push for real change.”

“We can’t tackle the climate and nature emergency without fixing our broken food systems,” added Simon Billing, director of the Eating Better alliance. “We need transformational change to a sustainable food and farming system, which is better for us, better for nature and better for the planet.” COP26 will be a historic event, but the absence of food and farming would certainly leave a big hole in preparations for a more sustainable future.

What is the Paris agreement?

The Paris agreement was a commitment among 191 countries to limit global warming to below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees, which scientists say would reduce the risks of climate change. At 2 degrees of global warming, there would be widespread and severe impacts on people and nature, with a third of the world’s population being regularly exposed to severe heat. What’s more, almost all warm water coral reefs would be destroyed, and it is predicted the Arctic sea ice would melt completely at least once per decade.

At 1.5 degrees, the impacts would still be serious but less severe. However, the world is currently not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, highlighting the importance of securing new commitments at COP26.

Who will be at COP26?

It’s estimated that around 30,000 people will be travelling to Glasgow, including the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, Pope Francis and Sir David Attenborough. Climate activist Greta Thunberg has not yet confirmed whether she will be there.

What are the goals of COP26?

The UK has set out four key goals:

    • Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach.
    • Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats, including protecting and restoring ecosystems and building defences and resilient infrastructure and agriculture.
    • Mobilise finance, including developed countries making good on a promise to raise $100bn in climate finance per year.
    • Work together to deliver action on tackling the climate crisis.

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