Our first day at COP started with a YOUNGO meeting, where I was helping to take notes. YOUNGO is a group of youth-led NGOs, who interact with COP negotiations in a variety of ways: through submitting policy recommendations, doing actions, asking questions of Ministers at meetings called bilaterals, where constituencies can submit (scripted) questions and express their opinions on specific issues. YOUNGO’s governance is arranged in a non-hierarchical way, where there are focal points who are voted in each year as coordinators of 25 different working groups focusing on wide-ranged topics. One of these, which I am working with, is the YOUNGO Agriculture working group.
The YOUNGO meeting started with an introduction to YOUNGO, all of the 50-odd people went around and said who they were and what organization they represented, and we went through the schedule of the day on specific important events that would be happening, for example, opportunities for YOUNGO interventions at high-level events, where a YOUNGO member could take two minutes to express our views and recommendations. We also went through all the working groups with an update, noting when they would meet.
After this I met with the Agriculture working group. Most of the people there were new that week, but one person who had been there Week 1 told us a bit about how the negotiations on Agriculture had gone. For some background, the main negotiations around agriculture are focused on the Koronivia decision, also called Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA). It was signed during COP-23, the first time agriculture was addressed at COP. KJWA asks for collaborative work and decision making on agriculture, to be presented in 2020 at COP-26. The method for reaching this is several workshops where Parties and external experts from international organizations exchange views on the different selected topics. Some of these are soil, nutrient use, water, livestock, methods for assessing adaptation, and the socio-economic and food security dimensions of agriculture in climate change. Through these workshops, NGOs (such as YOUNGO) and UN research groups can submit their positions to be considered by the Parties in their negotiation.
In Week 1 of COP-25 there was a Koronivia workshop on Soil and Manure; nutrient management. Since I wasn’t here, I’m not really sure what it was like, but from what I’ve heard there was a lot of support for agroecology, which is a diversified, context and culture-specific approach to agriculture, where farms are treated as whole ecosystems and agriculture actually improves the natural ecosystem rather than extracting from it. Agroecology also draws on traditional knowledge of how plants and animals and soil microbes interact and grow together, and how humans can help those relationships flourish. While it is a broad term that can apply to many different actual techniques in farming, in general, it refers to farming guided by ecological principles. This means focusing on intercropping (planting diverse plants next to each other to help each other grow), and holistic soil microbes/nutrient management in order to ensure crop strength and productivity.
Although agroecology was talked about a lot in the workshops and at side events, it didn’t show up in the language of the Koronivia decisions for this COP. The negotiators had been up until 2AM on Saturday trying to reach something, and they finally came up with a list of ten bullet points that really don’t say anything. Funnily enough, I also heard that Koronivia has been cited as a success of this COP, since it was resolved by Week 1, and hasn’t caused so much back and forth dithering in the way Article 6 and Loss & Damage have. For the YOUNGO Agriculture working group, who put a lot of effort into making recommendations and researching improved soil and nutrient management, the results of Koronivia were really disappointing, though I’m not surprised. A general theme at COP-25 has revealed disappointing results from negotiations alongside inspiring work from non-party stakeholders.
On Tuesday, even more people showed up for the Agriculture working group meeting (there were about six of us there the whole time and 3-4 others who came and went). We sat on the floor outside one of the side event halls and I took notes for the group while we brainstormed ideas for the livestock Koronivia workshop that’s happening in June in Bonn. YOUNGO is actually partnering with CAN on producing a common position paper on the different topics for the upcoming workshops, two of which will happen in March and two in June. I’ll double-check what they’re all on and update this, but I know one is on water/land use, one on sustainable agriculture methods, one on livestock and one on food security and the socio-economic aspects of agriculture. We met with three people from CAN that day, to brainstorm what we wanted to state for the water and land use and sustainable methods workshops. In both meetings, it was exciting to hear what everyone else had to say; on land use, one person mentioned how agroecological methods could create more climate-resilient soil systems and thus help prevent soil erosion, for example. I found that the things I’d picked up from studying agricultural issues were helpful, but I still had a lot to learn! For example in the YOUNGO brainstorming meeting, I learned that when we’re talking about smallholder livestock farmers we also have to talk about pastoralist livestock farmers who have different needs because their lifestyle is such that they don’t stay in one place but move around to different areas to graze their livestock. Another interesting point that someone brought up was that certain governments that might dismiss agroecology saying that it is too difficult to fund, could reallocate their funds within the funding that they already put towards agricultural subsidies. If governments funded ecologically resilient small scale agriculture instead of subsidizing soil-degrading chemical fertilizer, agriculture’s overall emissions would decrease and the problems that fertilizer subsidies pose for farmers would be gone. The problem is that mostly the private sector fertilizer companies have their governments in their pocket… so it will take more than just a few well-chosen words of advice to shift funding.
On both Monday and Tuesday, I also attended some really interesting side events with indigenous speakers. I want to talk about these in more detail, so my next blog post will focus on conversations about agriculture, deforestation and the indigenous presence and agenda at this COP.