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COP23: Climate Conference Tip-Toes Around Regenerative Agriculture as Solution to Global Warming

By Ercilia Sahores

On Nov. 6, the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) kicked off in Bonn, Germany, the nation's former capital. Germany is one of the world's worst offenders when it comes to pollution. It's also the largest polluter in all of Europe. But Germany is not alone in the polluting business—and countries are not the only big polluters.

The world's top 20 meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than all of Germany, according to a report published by GRAIN, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and Heinrich Böll Foundation.


Let us briefly go back to COP23, where Big Meat and Dairy are also participating. Several statements have been made so far at the meeting and there have been a few surprises. Unfortunately, it seems that COP23 will not be particularly innovative, especially when it comes to agricultural policies.

COP23 Started Under the Following Premises:

1. There is no time to waste and the Paris agreement must be implemented as soon as possible.

2. The climate disasters we experienced in 2017 (devastating hurricanes and floods, long droughts and extreme temperatures) are not isolated, random events. Rather, they're directly connected to climate change and unless we do something about it, they'll become more and more frequent.

3. With or without the U.S. being part of the negotiations, those countries that have signed up must commit to reaching the goal of making sure warming is limited to 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally, 1.5 degrees Celsius.

4. Rich countries must compensate poor countries, which are the most vulnerable to climate change, even when they have been the least responsible for it. The financial commitment agreed upon in Paris is now being reviewed to see if it is sufficient and adequate. It's also crucial to determine how the funding that would have come from the U.S. will be covered once it officially leaves the agreement in 2020.

COP23 Surprises

1. Syria, the only country that had not signed the Paris climate agreement after Nicaragua joined in late October, has finally agreed to be part of it. As a result, the U.S. has become increasingly more isolated as it's now the only nation on Earth that does not recognize the agreement.

2. The general mood (COP's halls are usually the best place to get an idea of what people are really thinking about—beyond protocol) is that the U.S. government's decision to leave the agreement has only created a stronger sense of solidarity among nations, which can now implement and lead the charge to reverse climate change. Many nations are competing to be the recipient of international recognition, as well as the distribution of copious amounts of funding, which in turn will pave the way for the creation of a number of agencies, departments and many other intermediate bodies.

COP23 As Usual:

1. The negotiation of agreements behind closed doors while civil society organizations and NGOs host side events. This is a way to prove that during COPs, there is civil society participation, but without ever really having to compromise.

2. Giving more relevance to controversial solutions to which much capital has already been invested and promised, such as geoengineering and nuclear energy. It's not a coincidence that despite saying the U.S. will not be part of the negotiations, the Trump administration sent a team to COP23 to advocate for more fossil fuel use.

3. Pushing existing projects that have proven effective for fighting climate change, but don't seem to have the same financial incentive.

4. Unfortunately, from what we've seen so far, the negotiations seem to ignore regenerative agriculture as being the solution to climate change. While predictable, this is actually a greater setback than other COPs, which have at least mentioned agriculture, desertification and soil restoration as being key factors in reversing climate change.

Why Agriculture?

As previously mentioned, last year the world's top 20 meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases than all of Germany. Industrialized agriculture, which doesn't account for the 500 plus million small farmers and 200 million herders that exist in the world, is a type of production that pollutes the atmosphere, our soils and waterways.

Industrialized agriculture has huge negative impacts on human health too. While producing and selling poison, Big Agriculture ruins not just local economies, but also the means of life and survival of thousands of farmers who rely on a healthy environment for their production.

At Regeneration International, we know that industrial agriculture is a critical part of the problem. But we also know that agriculture, done the right way or rather the regenerative way, is a fundamental part of the solution.

The conversations at COP23 would be entirely different if Big Meat and Dairy giants like Cargill, Tyson or JBS were held accountable for the health and environmental destruction they have caused—a significant portion of which has been funded by government subsidies.

COP23 negotiations could actually focus on real solutions if polluting corporations acknowledged their contribution to climate change, and transitioned away from chemical- and factory farm-based agriculture to a system focused on soil health, animal welfare, nutritious food and farmworker rights.

Instead, the negotiations have thus far focused on whether or not the Paris agreement is achievable, a lack of funding and Trump's latest insult. A genuine effort to hold polluting corporations accountable would shift the mood at COP23 from the same corporate rhetoric we so often hear to one centered on human health, environment and climate-related solutions.

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