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  • U.S. dairy took the stage at COP27 as a climate-smart solution to feed the world

    By Paul Rogers December 2, 2022

    USDEC and DMI showcased U.S. dairy’s contributions to global climate and food security goals and the work that lies ahead.  

    Animal agriculture, including dairy, is under the microscope globally and often subject to decisions made by people who have never been on a dairy farm or in a dairy processing plant. That’s why the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) felt it was so critical to engage with global policymakers, allied agricultural organizations and, particularly, groups that have been critical of dairy at last month’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

    COP27 brought together more than 40,000 people to collaborate on climate solutions, and U.S. dairy was in the thick of it. USDEC President and CEO Krysta Harden and Dairy Management Inc. (DMI) Chair Marilyn Hershey co-led a high-level U.S. delegation to highlight U.S. dairy’s critical contributions to global climate and food security goals.

    “At this pivotal moment for agriculture and climate, USDEC was honored to contribute to the global conversation on sustainability generated by COP,” said Harden. “More importantly, COP27 is the perfect platform to share our ambitious commitments, celebrate progress and realistically communicate the hard work that remains to secure U.S. dairy’s critical role in a more sustainable global food system.”

    Throughout the conference, the U.S. dairy delegation collectively participated in panels, program discussions and bilateral meetings with other organizations active at COP. This article provides a one-stop roundup of what U.S. dairy accomplished at COP27 and why. It includes a sampling of social media messages and images posted by USDEC during the Nov. 6-18 global gathering.

    IICA Pavilion: center of dairy activity
    USDEC was a major contributor to the first-ever Sustainable Agriculture of the Americas Pavilion hosted by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). This opportunity was a natural outgrowth of USDEC’s strong partnership with IICA focusing on supporting science-based food standards and promoting the critical role of dairy in sustainable food systems—critical themes that USDEC is committed to bringing to the COP forum.

    COP27 is the latest in USDEC’s ongoing efforts to engage with the voices who are playing a major role in shaping global policies to mitigate the challenges of climate change and to raise U.S. dairy’s profile as a committed partner. It builds on USDEC work with the United Nations agencies like the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and on DMI’s efforts domestically, strengthening relationships, fostering goodwill and enhancing U.S. dairy’s reputation by showcasing the industry’s commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

    IICA’s pavilion was the center of dairy activity in the official “Blue Zone,” with hundreds visiting the location throughout each day. In addition, it served as the focal point for producers, agriculture experts, academics, dairy industry leaders, supply chain partners and senior government representatives to address COP27 negotiators and influential stakeholders.

    USDEC convenes dairy panel
    Among other programming, USDEC convened the panel, “Climate Smart and Sustainable Dairy Production,” at the IICA Pavilion, to increase awareness of the climate actions, sustainable initiatives and progress made by the dairy sector at global, regional and national levels.

    Featuring U.S. dairy’s experience, the panel highlighted the ways the dairy sector globally is working to reduce emissions, contribute to GHG mitigation and explore opportunities for enhancing productivity by adopting practices and technologies that can have a meaningful impact on the sector’s environmental footprint.

    Harden moderated the panel, which included speakers Hershey; Donald Moore, executive director of Global Dairy Platform (GDP); Caroline Emond, director general of the International Dairy Federation (IDF); and Cecilia Jones, a coordinator with Uruguay’s National Institute of Agricultural Research. In addition, the Pan American Dairy Federation (FEPALE) provided videos of sustainability work its members are conducting in Chile and Uruguay to implement solutions for their unique production systems and geographies. USDEC has a long-standing relationship with FEPALE, working together on numerous issues impacting the dairy industry, dairy consumption and global trade, with an increasing focus on sustainability in the face of global trade challenges like the EU Farm to Fork strategy.

    Hershey talks dairy with Vilsack
    At a separate panel put on by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), DMI Chair Hershey highlighted U.S. dairy climate-smart initiatives to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and other U.S. agricultural leaders.

    Vilsack provided updates on major U.S. sustainability programs impacting dairy.

    • USDA added $300 million to its initial $2.8 billion investment in 70 pilot projects from the U.S. Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities. Among the first-round funding was $400 million for nine dairy-focused projects to help develop markets for climate-smart dairy commodities and help the dairy sector more effectively monitor, verify and report greenhouse gas reduction benefits. The additional $300 million is earmarked for new projects aimed at small and underserved producers.
    • The Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate), which was launched by the U.S. and UAE in conjunction with COP26 in 2021, has earned backing by more than 60 nations and nearly 250 multi-national organizations and companies, including USDEC. (USDEC is an official AIM for Climate “knowledge partner.”) The program supports sustainability progress in agriculture to make it part of the sustainability solution, while building resiliency and providing innovative tools, funding and other resources for producers.
    • Pathways to Dairy Net Zero rolled out prior to COP26 last year. Created by Global Dairy Platform (GDP) and, with the backing of USDEC and other partners such as the UN FAO and the U.S. State Department, Pathways seeks to reduce the environmental impact of the sector as a whole.

    The Pathways initiative is an important effort that shows the world that the global dairy industry is serious about addressing environmental impact while doubling down on the important role that dairy has in the future of the global food system.

    “At a time when many detractors are looking for ways to marginalize the role of dairy, this is a critical initiative on which the industry must stand together on a pre-competitive basis,” said Harden.

    Networking reception
    Harden also hosted a USDEC/IICA reception and dinner that drew close to 100 attendees from 14 countries. The guests included several ministerial and ambassador-level officials, a former UN Secretary-General and representatives from groups often critical of the environmental impact of dairy and skeptical of the nutritional value of animal-sourced foods.

    Representatives from USDA, major global organizations (such as food and agriculture companies JBS Foods, Corteva and FMC Corp.), food-focused nonprofits like EAT, and environmental groups like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Nature Conservancy were on hand for the networking event. Presentations during the dinner highlighted programs demonstrating agriculture’s power as a climate solution through innovation, adaptation and productivity growth, including the U.S.-led Sustainable Productivity Growth Coalition (SPG Coalition) and Virginia Tech's Global Agricultural Productivity Initiative.

    Bill Hohenstein, director of USDA's Office of Energy and Environmental Policy, outlined the SPG Coalition, which was formed with USDEC’s support at the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021.

    The SPG Coalition aims to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food systems using a holistic approach to productivity growth—a key theme USDEC supports—that considers impacts and tradeoffs among multiple objectives, including food security and nutrition, food safety, food affordability, farmer incomes, animal welfare, biodiversity, water quality, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and other factors. The SPG Coalition created an influential group of like-minded organizations and countries with which USDEC is working to ensure that productivity growth—essential for U.S. dairy to achieve its own environmental goals—features prominently in global dialogues like COP. Productivity growth has been an important rallying cry to defend modern U.S. agricultural practices at COP against ideologically driven critics favoring agroecological approaches such as those embodied in the EU Farm-to-Fork Initiative.

    Influencing minds
    A major goal of USDEC’s presence at COP was engaging with influential groups active in the forum who are skeptical of U.S. dairy’s role in a sustainable food system and often advocate solutions supporting local production at the expense of international trade. Several engagement breakthroughs were achieved through bilateral meetings, particularly with global health and food security groups, like EAT and the FAIRR Initiative.

    “We felt that we needed to be at COP27 as an organization to provide facts, to correct some misconceptions, to participate,” said Harden. “We wanted to build stronger relationships and strengthen U.S. dairy credibility with those groups we have been working with on sustainability for years, and we wanted to better engage with those who may not see dairy as compatible with their vision of sustainability.”

    “At times, some of those discussions were difficult. But talking with those groups who don’t agree with us is just as important as talking with those who do agree with us,” she added. “COP allowed us to sit down in a civil presence and have those discussions. The conference is the convening of disparate idea, but with some underlying consistencies. All of us care about our planet. We care about feeding people in a sustainable way … we just have a different way of going about it.”

    Paul Rogers is a correspondent for the U.S. Dairy Export Council who has covered the dairy industry for 25 years. 

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    The U.S. Dairy Export Council fosters collaborative industry partnerships with processors, trading companies and others to enhance global demand for U.S. dairy products and ingredients. USDEC is primarily supported by Dairy Management Inc. through the dairy farmer checkoff. How to republish this post.  

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