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Linking Climate with Agriculture, Biodiversity and Oceans

Brittaney Warren, G7 and G20 Research Groups
August 26, 2019

French president Emmanuel Macron put three core environment issues on the G7 agenda for the Biarritz Summit: climate change, biodiversity and oceans.

Of those three issues, the G7 has governed climate change the longest. From 1979 to 2018, the G7 dedicated over 32,000 words, or 5%, of its public communiqués to climate change. Coming out of these deliberations were 327 collective commitments. The G7 Research Group has assessed 86 of those commitments and found that G7 members complied at an average of 74%. Conversely, the G7 has dedicated just 0.2% of its communiqués to biodiversity and made 162 commitments. Compliance with these commitments has yet to be monitored. In between are oceans, with 2% of communiqués dedicated to the issue, 176 commitments and 79% compliance with the five assessed ones.

Tying these three issues together is agriculture and land use. According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture and land use account for 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions (just 3% less than the energy sector). Agriculture is also a leading cause of biodiversity loss and a leading cause of ocean pollution, in turn leading to ocean dead zones. Agriculture is also one of the most vulnerable sectors to global heating and a priority area for building resilience and adaptation measures. Up to 2018, the G7 dedicated 6% of its communiqués to agriculture, made 252 agriculture commitments and complied with the 14 assessed commitments at an average of 78%.

Yet historically the G7 has not made this trilateral link. And although it has linked agriculture and climate change in terms of adaptation, it has not recognized agriculture's large contribution to climate change.

The Amazon fires and Macron's attention to them provides a focal point for these linkages. Indeed, Macron has directed the world's attention to the Amazon fires that have been raging for several weeks. He has been successful in engaging the media's attention on this issue. That Macron was able to leverage his position as host of the G7 this year to turn all eyes to Brazil, an issue that most mainstream media had largely been neglecting, is a case in point of the added value the G7 platform can have in the global climate governance landscape. As chair of the flexible forum, Macron had freedom to add the Amazon fires to the summit agenda. The G7 will hold emergency talks over what Macron has labelled an international crisis.

Yet what comes out of Biarritz will be significant if it acknowledges the root causes of the fires and their link to climate change, biodiversity loss and oceans. Acknowledging the cause and effect is a necessary precursor for effective governance. According to scientists and global environmental organizations, the Amazon fires were started by intentional burning to clear land for animal agriculture (namely cattle for beef and dairy), as well as for soy beans. Loggers and miners are also implicated. Although slashing and burning the Amazon is not new, since the Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro took office and gave the green light to businesses to accelerate development of the Amazon, fires have dramatically increased in number and scale. Despite giving permission to burn Indigenous land, Bolsonaro, without irony, accused France of colonialist interference when Macron publicly rebuked Bolsonaro for his handling of the fires. The psychological phenomenon of climate denialism, supported by capitalist profit-driven ideals, is arguably the driving cause of the Amazon's deliberate and wildly irresponsible deforestation.

But with strongly held cultural and profit-driven beliefs in the need to eat and trade emissions-intensive foods (such as red meat and dairy — billions of animals are slaughtered each year for human consumption), a meaningful recognition of cause and effect seems unlikely. It is more likely that the G7 will recognize, for example in their expected outcome document on biodiversity or in a chair's summary, that the fires are caused by humans and that support will continue to be offered to fight the flames. A passing reference to Indigenous peoples of the Amazon may appear, but commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is not likely.

To take meaningful action against climate change and deforestation, the G7 must address the root causes of the problem. It can start by endorsing UNDRIP and by aligning itself with the latest science. The latest IPCC report states, with high confidence, that diets featuring plant-based foods, with some room for animal-based foods produced in low greenhouse gas emission systems (for example, via agroecology), "present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health." Low-emissions diets — of which plant-based diets are the lowest — can free up millions of square kilometres of land. In this way the G7 can use its comparative advantage as an adaptable, flexible forum to begin to change the "big agriculture" status quo and create the necessary linkages needed for an effective response to the climate crisis.

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Brittaney WarrenBrittaney Warren is director of compliance and lead researcher on climate change for the G7 Research Group, the G20 Research Group and the BRICS Research Group at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. She has published on accountability measures in summit commitments, the G7 and G20's compliance and governance of climate change, and the G20's governance of digitalisation. She has worked in Spain and Peru. She is currently working towards a master's degree in environmental studies at York University. Follow her at @brittaneywarren.

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