COP27 climate smart food initiative accused of greenwashing as partners pledge increased investment in innovation

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Investment in climate smart ag announcement met with accusations of greenwashing / Pic: GettyImages-sarayut
Investment in climate smart ag announcement met with accusations of greenwashing / Pic: GettyImages-sarayut

Related tags: Climate, COP27

The Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) partners have pledged to ramp up their investment in climate smart food systems ahead of Agriculture Day at COP27. But for critics the US$8bn on the table doesn't go nearly far enough and the influence of big ag is all too clear to see.

AIM for Climate is a global initiative launched last November at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) by the United Arab Emirates and the US. Today, partners said that they will double promised investments from partners in climate smart agriculture and food systems innovation.

This has been achieved because the initiative has tripled the number of partners signed-up since COP26. The Mission now claims the support of over 275 government and non-government partners and AIM for Climate revealed negotiators at COP27 have agreed increased investment in climate smart ag of US$8bn, up from the $4bn pledged in Glasgow last year. The rise comprises of over $7bn from Government Partners, with contributions from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, the EC, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Lithuania, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, the US, the UAE, the UK, Uruguay and Vietnam.

The remaining $1bn comes from Innovation Sprints. AIM for Climate announced 22 'sprints' which are led and funded by partners to achieve a specific outcome or output in agricultural innovation. There are now 30 innovation sprints that 'generally align' with one or more focal area: small holder farmers in low- and middle-income countries; emerging technologies; agroecological research; and methane reduction.

"Diversity, gender equity, and inclusion are critical to the success of AIM for Climate, which recognises the wide range of participants necessary to achieve its goal and seeks to create a dialogue and draw on diverse knowledge, experiences and cultures,"​ the initiative said in a press briefing highlighting its commitment to 'significantly increase' investment in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation from 2021-2025.

Tomorrow (12 November), at COP27's Adaption and Agriculture Day, AIM for Climate will also unveil details of the AIM for Climate Summit, which it will stage in Washington D.C. from 8-10 May next year. Supported by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), the Summit will bring together governmental and non-governmental partners to further 'increase and accelerate investment' in climate-smart food systems innovation and spotlight opportunities for climate solutions in the lead-up to COP28 in the UAE.

Greenwashing from big ag?

COP27 has seen food systems become more of a hot topic compared to COP26, when the contribution of agri-food to climate change was given little airtime. This year’s event, billed as ‘Africa’s COP’, has seen four pavilions and nearly 200 events focused on food and farming.

But while initiatives like AIM for Climate might present as progress in the transition towards a more sustainable food system, critics claim that the heavy influence of ‘big ag’ and a preference for tweaks around the edges rather than systematic change mean that it is largely an exercise in greenwashing. Indeed, according to IPES-Food experts, the AIM for Climate announcement should be viewed as some governments offering ‘significant support’ to large agribusinesses and industrial agriculture.

“AIM4C is the latest in a long line of big agribusiness hijacking climate action in bad faith,” ​argued Lim Li Ching, panel expert with IPES-Food, and Senior Researcher at Third World Network. “Despite a wash of green buzzwords, it’s dominated by agri-commercial interests, and continues to prop up a large-scale extractive model of industrial agriculture. It’s crowding out the real solutions we need.”

According to Ching’s assessment, the initiative aims to cluster ongoing projects and entrench an existing industrial logic under the guise of ‘climate smart agriculture’. And a similar scheme is also set to be launched by the Egyptian government and the FAO, Food & Agriculture for Sustainable Transitions Initiative (FAST). 

Million Belay, coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, agrees that transformational solutions are being side-lined by options that promote business-as-usual approaches. “The industrial food system is a major culprit driving climate change but is still not being taken seriously by these climate talks. Real solutions like diverse resilient agroecological farming are crucial for farmers to adapt to climate chaos, but they are being side-lined and starved of climate finance. Africa’s small-scale farmers impacted by droughts and floods have answers, but they need support, they must not be left to their own fate.”

The Koronivia Dialogue - the main UNFCCC forum for addressing agriculture on the side of the negotiations - is struggling to make headway, with sustainable farming approaches such as agroecology having been removed from the text. Countries have also struggled to agree on how they will organise the negotiations and next steps to integrate agriculture into the UN climate agreement.

At the same time, climate negotiations are set to further expand carbon markets and carbon offsets into the land sector. IPES-Food believes this risks land competition and people’s land tenure rights, highly uncertain carbon removals, and further entrenching big agribusiness power.

Meanwhile, the organisation insisted, small-scale farmers are ‘largely shut out’ of the main decisions, and struggle to have their demands heard for additional climate finance to build more diverse and resilient food systems better able to withstand the droughts and storms of climate change. Evidence from the IPCC​ shows diverse agroecological farming working with nature supports food security, livelihoods and biodiversity - and helps to buffer temperature extremes and sequester carbon, IPES-Food experts stressed.

“The industrial food system is responsible for over 30% of global warming emissions and is highly vulnerable to climate impacts - but it’s getting nowhere near 30% of negotiators’ attention. Without a rapid transformation to sustainable and resilient food systems, we face temperature rises beyond 1.5C and mass crop failures. But the voices of small-holder farmers, hit first and worst by climate change, are being shut out of Sharm El Sheikh,” ​Mamadou Goita, panel expert with IPES-Food and Executive Director of the Institute for Research and Promotion of Alternatives in Development (IRPAD), stressed. 

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