Expectations should be low for UN’s Food Systems Summit

Farmers in Canada should expect more green policies will head their way following the UN Food Systems Summit. | Screencap via un.org

If current sentiments stay as they are now, Canadian producers should prepare themselves for disappointment coming out of the upcoming United Nations’ Food Systems Summit.

Planned to take place in New York this September, the summit will look to launch new strategies to deliver on the UN’s 17 development goals.

In Canada, dialogues have been focused on reducing food waste, the sustainable implications of exports, food security and regional resiliency.

Canada is still developing its final positions, but it has declared that its priorities align with the UN’s sustainable development goals, and its policies so far demonstrate a strong focus on climate change.

The Paris Agreement came out of 2015 meetings hosted by the UN that resulted in an international agreement to address climate change.

Like Paris, the Food Systems Summit is expected to result in new actions to transform food systems, and set targets on how to become more sustainable.

It seems inevitable that any consensus will be built on green policies aimed at reducing climate change.

European Union members are poised to come to the talks armed with ambitions to fulfill the Green New Deal and “Farm to Fork” strategies that, among other measures, call for a reduction in pesticide use by 50 percent and more organic farming.

Surely seeing this, and other proposals that could impact Canadian producers, industry groups are scrambling to ensure sustainable practices already taking place within the sector will be recognized.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association joined with Nature Conservancy of Canada to formulate a submission espousing the environmental benefits of grazing, for example. As well, grower groups have looked to gain recognition for previously sequestering carbon.

It is worthwhile to seek recognition for work producers do to combat climate change, and regional concerns must be raised, but expectations of success should remain low.

Arguing that farmers should be credited for carbon they’ve previously sequestered can barely gain traction in Canada. Offset credits now being developed for Canada’s carbon market won’t be given to farmers for any emissions they’ve removed before 2017.

The argument isn’t likely to fare better on an international stage.

Given what we know about farmer enthusiasm for recent green policies, the sector should prepare for disappointment.

Farmers in Canada continue to oppose carbon pricing and many were unimpressed with the 2021 federal budget, which invested millions of dollars into making agriculture greener.

In one instance, a commodity group responded to the federal government’s commitment to buy 1,400 grain dryers by saying the move wrongly suggested farmers aren’t already adopting the newest innovations.

That is an odd reaction to your industry getting $50 million to make farms greener.

Now that it has become clear that a carbon market is here to stay, farmers seem more focused on potential cash gains rather than the environment.

In fact, for all the talk we hear about farmers being dedicated to the environment, the industry spends quite a bit of time complaining about policies aimed at doing just that.

Which is fine. Sometimes policies are bad, or are disproportionally harmful to a specific region or industry. But efforts to refocus attention on past efforts to reduce emissions will continue to be countered by reports showing Canada’s agricultural emissions are moving in the wrong direction.

Credible studies suggesting that reduced demand for livestock and fertilizer is needed to solve the climate crisis are often ignored by industry.

Farmers in Canada should expect more green policies will head their way following the UN Food Systems Summit.

My bet is that whatever they are, producers won’t like it.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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