• Around 25 percent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and 45 countries have pledged to transition to sustainable farming.
  • The countries promise to combine more than $4 billion in public sector investments to make agriculture more resilient to the climate crisis.
  • The UK pledged to use at least £3 billion in International Climate Finance on nature and biodiversity, including £500 million to protect 5 million hectares of rainforest from deforestation.

Forty-five countries including the UK have pledged to protect nature and transition to more sustainable farming.

The announcement was made on Nature and Land Use day at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, which the UK is hosting, and comes with a promise to use more than $4 billion in public sector investments to make agriculture more resilient to the climate crisis and make new innovations accessible to farmers around the world.

"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," Environment Secretary George Eustice said in a statement.

Around 25 percent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and land-use change, which means addressing this sector is key to resolving the climate crisis and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The new pledge said that the $4 billion or so in investments would be used to develop climate-resilient crops and new techniques for regenerating soil, as well as to share these new techniques widely.

a chart showing agriculture emissions
Agriculture is a large contributor to emissions.
Image: CCAFS

At the same time, countries will support "Action Agendas" that policy makers and farmers can follow to create more sustainable food systems. Specifically, 16 countries will launch a "Policy Action Agenda" while 160 stakeholders will build a "Global Agenda for Innovation in Agriculture."

The UK specifically pledged to use at least £3 billion in International Climate Finance on nature and biodiversity, including £500 million to protect five million hectares of rainforest from deforestation.

Other countries signing on to the pledge include the U.S., Japan, Germany, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Vietnam, Philippines, Gabon, Ethiopia, Ghana and Uruguay, Reuters reported.

The promise is one of several announced during the first week of COP26, including a pledge to end deforestation by 2030 and another to phase out coal use. However, some advocates have issued caution about the effectiveness of these pledges, since they do not necessarily factor into countries' individual commitments under the Paris agreement.

"Important as these announcements may be, they are not legally binding," Mohamed Adow, director of Kenya-based think-tank Power Shift Africa, told Reuters. "This cannot be a COP run by press release."

Others argue that the new agriculture pledge in particular does not address the true problems at the root of the global food system.

"World leaders seem finally to be catching up with the science in recognising the critical need for a reform of our food system with additional funding to back it, but the plans announced today go nowhere near far enough," Greenpeace UK Head of Forests and Food Anna Jones told the i Newspaper. "And there's nothing on the need to reduce demand for products like meat and dairy that are driving deforestation – a real red flag for cash going straight into the pockets of the big ag companies that caused the nature crisis in the first place."

The announcement does mention the fact that commodities like beef, soy, and palm oil put pressure on forests, but it does not mention reducing demand as a solution, focusing instead on making more sustainable supply chains.

Ultimately, Slow Food argued that COP26's entire approach to agriculture during the "Nature and Land Use" discussions was flawed. The solutions focused on reforestation on the one hand and technological innovation on the other, instead of working towards a holistic agroecology that transforms food from a mass-produced commodity into part of a sustainable system that works within natural boundaries.

"Agricultural ecosystems must be restored in harmony with the natural environment," Slow Food Europe director Marta Messa said in a statement emailed to EcoWatch. "Techno fixes are a false solution, they are not based on the real innovations that communities come up with to be resilient. We want to see by the end of COP26 binding commitments and no empty promises."