COP28's Food and Climate Outcomes

Vilsack Touts US Leadership Over Ag and Food at UN Climate Summit

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Farmers in Kenya hoe weeds in a small plot during a visit by international journalists. Developing countries, such as Kenya, at the COP28 meeting in the United Arab Emirates pushed for more detailed language on food and agricultural policy but there wasn't enough time to reach a larger agreement on those issues. Still, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said the U.S. showed its leadership in agriculture at the COP meeting. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The final COP28 declaration on how the world should avoid global warming won't include a detailed dive into agriculture and food, but U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack still said a lot was achieved for agriculture over the past two weeks.

COP28 -- officially the Conference of the Parties, the main decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -- has been taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and is scheduled to conclude Tuesday.

When it comes to agriculture and food, the United States, Canada and Mexico were among 157 nations that signed on to the "Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action," declaring any pathway to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, a 2015 international treaty on climate change, must include lowering emissions from agriculture and food systems. Other key U.S. trading partners, such as China, Japan and South Korea, also signed the CCOP28 declaration.

Vilsack, on a call Sunday with U.S. reporters, said he believed the declaration on food and agriculture was an important accomplishment, along with commitments from companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to finance projects toward that goal.

At least 25 major agricultural and food companies agreed to scale up "regenerative agricultural practices" across 160 million hectares (395 million acres). Some of the major companies signed on to this agreement include ADM, Bayer, Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, Nestle, PepsiCo, Rabobank and Syngenta.

Reuters stated eight of the world's top commodities traders have pledged to stop buying soy from farms that ruin South American grasslands, adding to previous commitments to shun growers who clear forests.

Bloomberg reported more than $3 billion in climate finance has been pledged for food and agriculture since the start of the COP28 summit, but overall funding commitments on food and agriculture have been low.

Vilsack also emphasized the importance of a special day devoted to agriculture and food policy in which he and many U.S. farm and food leaders participated. Still, COP28 was expected this year to include more specifics about food policy, but Vilsack said a request from a group of 77 developing countries for "another layer of review and participation" meant there was not time to negotiate text on agriculture and food. That means those talks will be pushed to a later COP meeting.

That essentially means, although countries had signed onto the Emirates Declaration, there's no agreement on a strategy to achieve those goals said Ernest Shea, president of Solutions from the Land, a U.S. group that focuses on the COP.

"The failure to agree on a roadmap to implementation is a major disappointment and a failure to move beyond process to implementation," he said. "The lack of constructive dialogue and willingness to find common ground means that a year has been wasted."

Still, Vilsack saw COP28 as a win for U.S. agriculture's role in climate change. He said he had attended many annual COP meetings and this one "was unique for agriculture and food."

"We flipped the script for American agriculture," which in the past has been accused of not being concerned about emitting greenhouse gases, he said. "There was no need for us to be defensive, we could showcase the script of what American farmers and ranchers are doing."

Vilsack said he underscored the voluntary, incentive-driven and market-based U.S. initiatives across all commodities and all states and shared that information with the world.

Vilsack also said he highlighted the significance of the Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate, a joint initiative by the United States and United Arab Emirates to address climate change and global hunger "by uniting participants to significantly increase investment in, and other support for, climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation over five years (2021-25)."

Asked Sunday if he had heard much about reducing meat consumption, Vilsack said he had not but instead had heard about strategies on how to reduce methane.

Vilsack said the United States is providing leadership on methane reduction through four strategies: research, feed additives that can reduce methane production, recapturing the methane that cows produce for energy production, and separating solid and liquid manure so the extract from liquids can be used as an organic fertilizer and the solids can be pelletized as dry fertilizer.

Vilsack declined to comment on the larger question of whether COP28 will call for a reduction or elimination of fossil fuels use, saying agriculture and food were his "slice of this discussion."

While Vilsack highlighted U.S. agriculture's leadership, a U.S. envoy for global food security, Cary Fowler, told the British newspaper The Guardian that farming and food production will suffer severe impacts even if global temperature increases are held to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F). Fowler pointed to declining agricultural productivity in some parts of the world, particularly in Africa.

"Agriculture will have significant problems at 1.5 C, it's going to be even more problematic than today," Fowler told The Guardian. "The worst years climatically for agriculture in the past will be the best years for agriculture in the future. That is pretty sobering. We have to do everything we can to reduce global warming."

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at

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DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

Jerry Hagstrom