December 8, 2023

Our Climate Targets Must Have Teeth

Jeff Seale, PhD
Director of Environmental Strategy and Climate Policy

The road to 3 degrees C is paved with good intentions

COP28 has already made clear that our climate targets must have teeth if we are to reach the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. 

In fact, the draft of the First Global Stocktake report, from the UN Convention Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) made this clear well before world leaders gathered for this week’s conference on climate change. 

In my initial assessment of the First Global Stocktake, I said that we must “set ambitious targets in line with current guidance” if we are ever to meet our goals. As we approach COP’s first dedicated Food and Ag Day on December 10, the importance of setting ambitious and aligned targets rings loud and clear.

The road ahead

The Stocktake draft makes it clear that actors in the food and ag value chain needs to set ambitious net zero climate commitments in line with the Science Based Targets Initiative Forest, Land, and Agriculture Guidance and account for and report those emissions reductions according to the upcoming Greenhouse Gas Protocol Land Sector Removals Guidance. But recent word out of Dubai indicates that actions on transforming the food system have been removed from the Stocktake altogether. If this holds for the final Stocktake, then we will have taken a huge step back in holding warming to 1.5C.

Truthfully, our current efforts are insufficient in two regards: 

  1. Current policies for many countries do not allow us to reach NDCs effectively
  2. Not enough organizations have set meaningful, aligned targets for climate action.

The implementation gap: a rift between policies and progress

The UN Environment Programme recently released its 2023 Emissions Gap Report, showing the gap between our progress to date and our climate goals. The report also shows the implementation gap between our climate goals and what we can get done with policies currently in place. 

For the United States, that gap is 19%. For G20, the implementation gap is 4% (see figure 1, below).

In order to close this gap, we need to expand current policies to better enable us to reach NDCs — so long as those policies utilize resources and incentives effectively, and do not place undue burden on the entities that suffer the more severe consequences of climate change (such as farmers and low-income communities, regions and countries).

GHG Emissions Relative to 2015 (UN Environment Programme, 2023)

COP28 is an ideal setting to renegotiate policies and expand guidelines to meet our needs. 

Leaders at COP28 have a responsibility to advocate for advanced policies that support our collective goals. As followers of the COP community (those of us who are not attending COP28), we have a responsibility to hold our leaders accountable for aggressive climate action, including comprehensive policies, guidelines and resource management.

At Regrow, we talk a lot about the space between our current progress, our future goals and what it'll take to get there. We call it the Impact Gap.

The Impact Gap not only addresses policy, but also the investments our partners must make and the programs they must build in order to reach climate goals. Alongside the UN's global implementation gap data, we can use these metrics to build a path toward resilience. You can learn more about this at resilience.regrow.ag.

Not enough organizations have set meaningful targets

Of the 6,779 agriculture- and food-related organizations listed by Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), only 58% (3,928) of those organizations have set clearly-defined, science-based pathways to reduce GHG emissions. And of those, only 17% (658) have set targets at 1.5℃, in line with the Paris Agreement.

To be fair, many organizations have made commitments to develop targets and submit them in the next 24 months. However, those commitments have no teeth between now and 2026, while we’re waiting for the target to be set (not to mention, 2026 is very close to 2030, leaving little room for meaningful progress before our 2030 goal deadline).

It’s time for organizations — especially those in the food and agriculture sector — to set climate targets in line with SBTi FLAG guidance, which will help us reach our 1.5℃ climate goal.

Targets are important beyond climate action 

Food and ag companies should look at targets, and the climate programs that help us reach those targets, as an investment in climate risk mitigation. 

Then, companies need to invest in these risk mitigation programs the same way they invest in other de-risking efforts. After all, climate progress will help us build stability on our farms and across our supply chains — which is a de-risking strategy for our companies and for the world as a whole.

Strong, clear targets allow us to prioritize progress and allocate resources appropriately. Without targets, we may go back to ‘business as usual,’ and business as usual results in a failure to meet the Paris goals. 

Ensuring our targets have teeth

Climate action is not impossible. 

In fact, we have the technology and the capital to make significant change by 2030. Less than a decade ago, we didn’t have the science, technology or infrastructure in place to make significant progress in land-based climate action (a point emphasized by Regrow CEO Anastasia Volkova in a recent letter celebrating the company’s anniversary).

Today, we have some wind in our sails. However, success requires more than money or resources; we must be thoughtful about how we craft policies, allocate funds and bring our plans to life on the ground.

Here’s how we can give ‘teeth’ to our targets:

  • Policymakers should create concrete policies with significant data requirements, true incentives for meeting goals (such as funding, subsidies and other support measures) and real consequences for those who fail to meet their obligations. 
  • Strategic funding is essential in order to achieve our 2030 objectives. Funds should be directed towards initiatives based on scientific research and aligned with the policies and protocols currently in place to ensure integrity and measurable action. 
  • Effective implementation of programs on the ground will be necessary for meaningful change. We need to invest in infrastructure, provide support for new technologies and offer adoption tools and education to those adopting climate-smart farming practices.
  • Collaboration between public and private sectors is key in reaching targets. Sharing the responsibility of funds, research, expertise and on-the-ground support will allow us to build programs that are effective across the value chain and across agricultural systems.

The responsibility for climate action lies with all of us — especially in the agricultural sector, which touches each of our lives in many ways, every day. As we approach Food & Ag Day at COP28, let’s keep the power of our food systems in mind. Let’s work to ensure that we have clear targets — and let’s clear the path to reach them. 

See more insights from Jeff Seale, and keep an eye on our blog for more insights from COP28.

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