COP21 spotlights climate change and agriculture
More than 40,000 delegates from 195 countries are in Paris for COP21, the global climate change talks. General Mills played a prominent role in one of the side events that addressed agriculture’s role in greenhouse gas emissions.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and John Church, executive vice president of our global supply chain, gave keynote addresses Dec. 2 at the forum titled “From Field to Market: Leadership and Collaboration in U.S. and Global Agriculture.”
The forum was hosted by global sustainable business network Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.
The event convened key leaders in agriculture and the food industry including grower representatives from the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Corn Growers Association, the United Soybean Board and the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance; executives from other leading food companies like the Kellogg Company, Mars, Unilever and PepsisCo; as well as leaders from The Nature Conservancy and the United Nations Environmental Program.
Climate risks to agriculture and vice versa
“Growers and the agriculture supply chain have frequently not been heard on the topic of climate change,” said Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills, who also traveled to Paris for COP21. “The Field to Market event came at a critical time for these important voices to be heard during COP21, calling for clear guidance and action on climate change from policy makers.”
Few other industries or sectors have as much at stake as the agriculture community in addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by climate change. Not only do the livelihoods of these individuals depend on Mother Nature and healthy ecosystems, the food system is now being challenged to feed a growing world population with fewer resources.
“Climate change is one of the most pressing environmental issues that our world faces today,” said John, in his keynote address to kick off the event. “And in the face of needing to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050, those of us in the food sector have a unique and important challenge.”
The risks climate change poses on the food system are abundantly clear – increased frequency of severe weather events, reduced yields, higher commodity prices, and more. However, business leaders and farmers at the event also acknowledged the significant impacts the food system has on climate change.
It’s estimated that roughly one-third of annual greenhouse gas emissions on earth are a result of agriculture, food production and food waste. Agriculture itself contributes to about 10 to 14 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and more than half of all non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions such as nitrous oxide and methane gas.
Collaboration will lead to progress
Tackling the impacts of agriculture on climate change requires collaboration across the entire food value chain – including farmers and growers, food and beverage companies, policymakers, and civil society.
Don McCabe, the president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, Canada’s largest voluntary farm organization, made a specific plea to COP21 negotiators: “Let’s get COP21 to be a bumper crop and bring agriculture into the fold,” McCabe said. “I’ll be 20 percent of the solution if you give me the right rules.”
In his keynote, John called on colleagues in the food and agriculture sector to view climate change as a “pre-competitive issue” and urged them to share data and best practices that can lead to improved sustainability and performance.
“We need to prove that sustainability leads to profitability leads to more sustainability,” he said.
John outlined four key tenants to drive positive action on climate change during his keynote address in Paris, including:
Deforestation – According to IPCC, land use change like deforestation is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. Protecting important remaining forestland and even reforesting on degraded land will be a critical piece to reducing the environmental footprint of food and agriculture around the world.
Soil – Research shows building carbon in the soil can sequester as much as two tons per hectare per year, leading to improved yields and more resilient farms. Organizations like Field to Market will enable us to share best practices and to promote healthy soils at the farm level.
Animal Livestock – Animal livestock account for as much as 30 percent of agricultural emissions. Through organizations like the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, we are working to scale best practices like dietary measures and methane digester technology that can help to mitigate the climate impacts of animal livestock.
Policy – Effective, efficient and proportionate government policy will play an important role. These policies must support farmers and provide a level playing field for all participants in the food system.
While General Mills’ recent climate commitment is significant, we recognize that no one company or party can close the gap on climate change alone.
“Addressing a challenge of this size and complexity will require unprecedented collaboration between governments, businesses and societies across the globe. Our hope is the outcome of COP21 will be an agreement that provide clear guidance and drive greater collaboration,” John said.
Read more about key topics discussed at the BSR and Field to Market event and highlights from the COP21 discussions at BSR.org.
To learn more about General Mills climate commitment, visit GeneralMills.com/Responsibility.
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