Behind-the-Scenes of COP28 Week One

December 8, 2023

Ray Gesser is energized after Week 1 of the United Nations Climate Change Convention in Dubai (COP28). Gaesser, a Solutions from the Land board member and Iowa farmer, says the SfL team has gone in with the mindset of wanting to get as much done as possible to uplift farmer voices. And the team is excited about the positive momentum it’s making.

“It’s been a team effort, as it always has been,” says Gaesser, reflecting on the past seven days. “Our focus is farmer-to-farmer and farmer-to-folks-who-make-decisions as well as communicating with delegates from other countries. We’re here to, as much as anything, avoid having (global) decisions made that aren’t beneficial to agriculture.”

Agriculture is complex, Gaesser explains. As attendees talk with one another, the complexities are present across the board – from infrastructural barriers to the varying ways different countries can market agricultural commodities. It’s why farmers need to be front and center in these conversations, and why a one-size-fits-all approach to the industry tackling challenges isn’t possible. 

“To explain the COP, it’s like going to Washington D.C. and lobbying, on a much larger scale in a world-affairs setting,” Gaesser says. “We’ve got almost 200 countries represented here and everyone has their own agenda.” 

SfL Makes Headway on Putting Farmers First

How has SfL helped put farmers front and center of pertinent conversations so far? The answer: networking and not being afraid to strike up conversations. The strong connections and friendships SfL has made since first attending COP in 2009 have been one of the many keys to expanding agricultural impact at COP28, Gaesser explains.  

“We’ve had a lot of opportunities to talk about agriculture,” Gaesser says. “The first time I went to COP four years ago there were very few opportunities that put a focus on agriculture. This year there’s a whole week about agriculture!” 

Each morning, SfL and global representatives of farmer-based organizations gather for a Farmers Constituency meeting where agricultural groups from around the world share what’s happened since they last convened and their agenda for the day ahead along with any other pertinent information the groups need to know or decide on. The Farmers Constituency Group is a non-governmental constituency within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, representing the many millions of farmers from all corners of the world, from smallholder farmers to large-scale farmers, those planting crops, raising livestock, practicing silviculture and fisher folk.

The COP28 meetings have also led to interventions with multiple stakeholders. During the constituency meeting on Dec. 4, SfL President Ernie Shea spoke with Kaveh Zahedi, director of the FAO’s Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment (OCB), about the importance of being more transparent and proactive in engaging farmer organizations in the development and implementation of FAO’s FAST and Roadmap to 1.5° initiatives. 

Zahedi acknowledged this concern and reported working to improve farmer and private-sector engagement. SfL applauds Director Zahedi’s commitment to improving private-sector collaboration and enabling FAO partners to help co-create solutions to food system challenges. 

“When walking around going from one thing to another, you just run into leaders from all around the world,” Gaesser said. “In a lot of cases, we know them and talk with them, and share what’s going on, along with solutions, ideas and concerns we have.”

The SfL team has had multiple impromptu side meetings and conversations with Lloyd Day, deputy director general of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA); Dr. Qu Dongyu, director-general of the FAO; and Gina McCarthy, former White House national climate advisor.

Every conversation has the potential to make a difference in what will ultimately need to be a collective effort, with farmer voices at the center, to achieve the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals and reduce the impact of climate change.

“As we share information, our ideas and our experiences, we hope to collaborate more to advance farmers’ messages and the agriculture industry,” Gaesser says. 

Learning From and Educating Others  

So far at COP28, Gaesser, Shea and SfL’s other week-one delegates have led or participated in several Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) presentations. 

Each topic showcased diverse opinions to give attendees a well-rounded viewpoint so they can make decisions fit for themselves, their operations and their efforts against climate challenges.

“You’ve got to be willing to share ideas, as well as listen to each other at the same time,” Gaesser says. “It’s not all one-sided. You learn from being at COP28 and hearing what others are doing. It’s interaction at its finest.” 

Gaesser spoke at both of SfL’s sponsored IICA events, on data collection and circular bioeconomy systems. He provided first-hand experiences as a corn and soybean farmer from Corning, Iowa.

“On our farm, we grow corn and soybean, but the majority of our corn goes to the ethanol plant which is only 14 miles away,” Gaesser said. “The corn winds up creating renewable energy and environmentally friendly fuel for folks that use it in their cars. The leftover corn goes to feed the animals where we live. All the protein that’s in the corn is still there. So, we work with our neighbors who have livestock, supplying a portion of our corn for their feed. They then provide the animal waste to fertilize our fields for the next round of corn. The work we’re doing is all a part of a circular bioeconomy system.”

While some attendees came into sessions with their minds already made up on certain topics, Gaesser says he felt by the end of each discussion there was at least some common ground that “we all must work together” and move the needle on combating climate challenges. 

Are you ready to learn from the experts and help move the needle? Click the links below to catch up on our week one events! Then stay tuned for updates about Week 2 at COP28. 

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