In the Room, with Pauses

In the Room, with Pauses

Chewing it over

I asked, and at least a few of them answered. “The U.S. is interested in livestock,” the lead U.S. agriculture negotiator at the climate talks in Bonn said in an exchange of views between civil society groups and government delegates on agriculture. “It’s clearly important,” he continued, adding that the U.S. was interested in seeing, “what’s out there . . . what’s available in terms of mitigation and adaptation.” Not terribly concrete, but at least something, amid an hour-long session with multiple pauses.

I’d asked about how a “work program” on agriculture (see previous blog) within the UNFCCC would address the livestock sector, given the realities of its significant emissions, the huge livestock populations in the industrialized countries (Annex I in UNFCCC parlance), and the rapid globalization of industrial animal agriculture. “We don’t know,” was how the U.S. delegate began his answer.

Previously, the delegate from New Zealand had clarified that the Annex I countries don’t see mitigation as something for only countries in the global South to do vis-à-vis their agricultural sectors; rather, he’d given a diplomatic version of “we’re all in this together.” Then some pauses. There were quite a lot of those: silence, followed by the moderator asking for more inputs, and often more pauses by the governments, some lasting for a clock-able length of time.

In answer to my question and another that followed on what mitigation related to livestock might look like in the global North—e.g., reductions in fertilizer use on feed crops, or in intensification itself—the U.S. negotiator (the most loquacious of a rather quiet bunch of government officials) said: “We need to do this in a measured way,” through “collaboration among all parties.” The Australian delegate noted the presence of “carbon farming” in Australia’s written submission on the work program, and added that while his and other governments would like to have all the answers we’d asked for during this negotiating session, they wouldn’t. But, he continued, Australia and the other governments did want to talk about issues of substance in relationship to agriculture. Good to have that clarified.

The U.S. negotiator also assured those of us in the room that no one (as in governments) was going to commit to new mitigation targets at this meeting in Bonn; “there’s no intent to impose anything on anyone” was how he phrased it . . . that, of course, includes the industrialized countries.

In reply to a question about consultation (whose views on agriculture would be solicited) and participation (why, it was asked, were small farmers’ movements not represented?), the French delegate replied, elegantly enough: “We need a professional, flexible, inclusive process. . . . We don’t know how far we can go, but it’s certainly something we need to think about.”

During the allotted hour, an EU delegate spoke, as did one from Japan, and the lead agriculture negotiator for the least developed countries, from Gambia. But there was quite a lot of silence. Is it that the delegates didn’t want to tip their hands and possibly derail a deal, or an agreement to get to a deal (incrementalism often being the way at climate negotiations)? Civil society speculated.

The process, surely, is a good one—to have negotiators and constituencies in a room together, talking and listening. And it was excellent to have the livestock-climate change issue there, too. That’s the first time that’s happened in these sessions, I was told. But silence was the response to a final question—about how the work program would deal with the climate impacts of rising meat consumption. Perhaps the government delegates are chewing that one over.

Photo courtesy of John Cudworth