Looking Ahead to COP: Climate Week Takeaways for Food & Agriculture

After a whirlwind and inspiring New York Climate Week, I’m looking ahead to COP28 and reflecting on the key themes that I want to carry forward. This year more than ever, food and agriculture sector issues were front of mind in the conversation, given companies even more opportunities and resources to take action. I came away with three main takeaways for companies in the food and agriculture sector:

It’s time to act

2030 is fast approaching and a changing climate is already here. The time to take bold climate action is now. Food & ag companies have a unique opportunity to signal to investors, policymakers and consumers that they are investing in and adopting solutions to drive down global emissions and incorporate nature as a critical part of their climate strategies.

There are a few key strategies companies can take for the greatest impact. For the food and agriculture sector, it is critical to accelerate actions that tackle the biggest, and most potent, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions first.

With more than 80 times the warming of CO2 in the near term, one of the most potent greenhouse gases is methane–and it’s clear that we’re in the midst of a methane moment. High profile international commitments like the Global Methane Pledge and the Global Methane Hub have raised the profile of methane as a powerful climate pollutant among policymakers and investors. Increasingly climate-minded consumers are also seeking more sustainable food options, and the spotlight is on meat and dairy because of livestock’s outsized methane footprint.

This means that food companies have a tremendous opportunity to lead and capture market share by addressing the methane challenge and sharing those results with investors and consumers—but the methane moment also creates potential risks from not engaging, as others will craft the narrative instead.

Nitrous oxide is another potent greenhouse gas presenting opportunities for impact for the food & agriculture sector. A whopping 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the near term, nitrous oxide emissions account for 46% of GHG emissions from agricultural soils, largely from soil and nutrient management such as tillage and fertilizer application. Better accounting for GHG potency and timeframe is essential to prioritizing decarbonization pathways that don’t just lead us to our climate targets, but do so in the way that minimizes the warming and impacts we could experience both long-term and near-term.

Finally, another theme that arose was the urgency to incorporate nature into corporate climate targets. Around $44 trillion of economic value generation–over half the world’s total GDP–is potentially at risk as a result of the dependence of business on nature and its services. Climate and nature are intertwined, and your strategy should similarly combine both approaches.

Acting now on potent greenhouse gases and building in a nature strategy is that rare triple-win—you’ll protect your supply chain and bottom line, grow your reputation, and protect people and the planet. There’s no time to lose.

We have the tools to begin

While investors and policymakers must support corporate efforts by enabling strong policy and fund innovations to tackle emissions and protect nature in the food & agriculture supply chains, companies can’t wait to take action. Solutions exist today. Moreover, because climate action cannot wait, progress over perfection is key when it comes to new climate action at the scale of what is needed to solve these challenges. Explore these resources to learn how your company can start taking bold action for climate and nature today:

Environmental Defense Fund’s Food & Forests team will also be launching new reports and guidance on these topics throughout the fall—so keep an eye on this space!

Collaboration is critical

Reducing supply chain emissions requires partnering with farmers and other supply chain partners to deliver incentives, technical support, and education to transition to more climate-smart production practices. Companies should also support farmers by investing in innovative solutions, particularly to tackle enteric methane.

We know that these tools cannot get deployed on the ground if they do not work for farmers’ bottom-lines. For example, in exploring the barriers to action on agricultural methane, a recent EDF survey of beef and dairy producers showed that less than 30% would be willing to bear the costs of enteric methane products.

Policymakers, innovators, and investors must collaborate with food companies and farmers to innovate novel solutions to help ensure that farmers do not bear an undue financial burden for implementing these solutions. Collaboration will be key to driving down emissions and creating a climate stable future.

Food and agriculture businesses have a tremendous opportunity to act now to drive down emissions, protect nature, and increase supply chain resiliency. Today, solutions exist that you can employ to protect the climate—while also protecting and growing your business.

Take these next steps to establish your company as a climate-smart leader:

  1. Set ambitious climate targets that include supply chain emissions. This should also include a methane-specific reduction milestone as part of your climate strategy.
  2. Implement current reduction practices in partnership with farmers in your sourcing regions, including halting land use change, improving manure management, and increasing fertilizer efficiency.
  3. Invest in new innovations that can drive further reductions over time.
  4. Transparently report progress on supply chain climate goals.
  5. Support policy that will deliver incentives to farmers for lower-emitting practices.
  6. Learn more and contact us at business.edf.org to discuss how we can help you achieve an ambitious climate strategy.