GLASGOW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Forty-five nations pledged on Saturday to step up protection of nature and overhaul farming to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the British hosts of the COP26 U.N. climate summit said.
With a rising world population, an official statement issued in Glasgow said it was vital to curb global warming stoked by farming, deforestation and other land use changes that account for about a quarter of humanity’s planet-heating emissions.
On Saturday, the COP26 talks focused on ways to enlist nature to keep alive a goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F) above pre-industrial times, the toughest ambition of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
Average surface temperatures are already up about 1.2C.
“To keep 1.5 degrees alive, we need action from every part of society, including an urgent transformation in the way we manage ecosystems and grow, produce and consume food on a global scale,” said UK Environment Secretary George Eustice.
“We need to put people, nature and climate at the core of our food systems,” he added.
The statement said 45 governments “pledge urgent action and investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming”.
Backers include major economies led by the United States, Japan and Germany and developing nations such as India, Indonesia, Morocco, Vietnam, Philippines, Gabon, Ethiopia, Ghana and Uruguay.
The statement did not give the total amount of funding, but said the measures include “leveraging over $4 billion of new public sector investment into agricultural innovation, including the development of climate-resilient crops and regenerative solutions to improve soil health”.
Among the measures, Britain said it would give a 500-million-pound boost to protect more than 5 million hectares – equivalent to more than 3.5 million football pitches – of tropical rainforests and create thousands of green jobs across Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Greenhouse gas emissions from land use range from carbon dioxide released by the burning of forests to clear land for farming, to methane from cows and other livestock as they digest food.
Some environmental activists say Britain has shifted the way host countries of climate summits or COPs – formally known as Conferences of the Parties – run the global gatherings, where they usually work behind the scenes to build consensus.
Instead, Britain has grabbed headlines last week by announcing new alliances, for instance by more than 40 nations to phase out coal, or another by major investors with $130 trillion at their disposal to boost the green economy.
Some climate activists are wary that the high-profile pledges may not be fulfilled.
“Important as these announcements may be, they are not legally binding,” said Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a Kenya-based think-tank. “This cannot be a COP run by press release.”
He said the test of the agriculture commitments would be how far they are built into each of the 45 nations’ formal climate action plans.
And Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace, said the UK media announcements often turned out to be exaggerations.
“We actually want to find things to celebrate here, but it’s hard when there is a constant concern that everyone is getting played,” she said in a statement.
Matt Williams of the London-based Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said food and farming had so far been largely missing from the COP26 summit, as well as from many countries’ 2030 climate plans.
“This deal plants the seeds for food and farming to be considered serious parts of the route to net zero emissions,” he added.
The UK-led nature statement noted that land clearance to produce food such as “beef, soy, palm oil and cocoa is a major driver of deforestation”.
It said 28 nations that are big consumers of those commodities had joined a Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade (FACT) Roadmap launched in February this year.
To safeguard the planet’s seas, which are suffering from over-fishing and warming waters, the COP26 statement said more than 10 new countries had signed up to a goal of protecting at least 30% of the oceans by 2030.
They are India, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jamaica, St Lucia, Sri Lanka, Qatar, Samoa, Tonga, Gambia and Georgia.—Reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Megan Rowling