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Progress of sorts at COP28 – but Six Inches of Soil premiere is a triumph





The 28th COP – the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – was notable for being the first to commit the world to “transition away from all fossil fuels”.

Good news for sure, though the initiative didn’t impress everyone. At the conference in Dubai was Eliot Whittington, executive director, Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), who said the deal “is limited and slow compared to the scale of what is needed but represents probably the most active and inclusive global process in the world”.

Six Inches of Soil screening at COP28, Dubai
Six Inches of Soil screening at COP28, Dubai

Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) Alumni Council member Bob Hoogendoorn said: “Reducing emissions is important, but what is the net impact if investment in oil exploration is reaching an all-time high and fossil fuels still receive around $7tn in subsidies?”

Nina Seega, CISL’s director for sustainable finance, said: “Ultimately, in the year when climate shocks have dominated the news, the lack of a sufficiently clear multilateral commitment to a phaseout of fossil fuels is what this COP will be judged for. Business and finance need a strong and ambitious policy framework to support an orderly transition, a fact that has at least been recognised in the text of the agreement.”

The COPs have long been accused of being a vehicle for industry lobbyists whose intention is to water down commitments as part of an agenda to protect markets. At last year’s COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, were a record 636 lobbyists representing the interests of the fossil fuel industry. This year in the United Arab Emirates, there were 340 representatives from major food and agriculture companies – three times the number at COP27. Livestock contributes around a third of the global output of methane, a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming.

Protesters at COP28 calling for a complete end to the use of fossil fuels. Picture: Peter Dejong/AP
Protesters at COP28 calling for a complete end to the use of fossil fuels. Picture: Peter Dejong/AP

In the House of Commons last Friday (December 14), Cambridge MP and shadow food minister Daniel Zeichner called on climate minister Graham Stuart to outline the government’s plan to cut emissions in the food sector, and challenged him on what changes will be made to UK policy in the light of agreements made at the annual climate conference COP28.

In his reply, the minister acknowledged the importance of sustainable agriculture, and argued that the government was working very hard on that goal at home and abroad – but commenting afterwards, Mr Zeichner said: “It was telling that the minister offered no change to UK policy, despite the government’s failure to cut emissions from agriculture.

“I welcome that the minister agrees with me that sustainable agriculture is key to achieving net zero. However, I worry that the government is once again engaging in empty promises. One minister was flown back to the UK from COP28, even as the conference reached its most important point, as the government fretted over the vote on its Rwanda plan.”

Global premiere for Six Inches of Soil at COP28 in Dubai Picture: DragonLight FilmsDragonlight Films
Global premiere for Six Inches of Soil at COP28 in Dubai Picture: DragonLight FilmsDragonlight Films

But Cambridge had a success story in Dubai too – the world premiere of the long-awaited Six Inches of Soil took place in the #ActionOnFood hub on December 9. Six Inches of Soil, which has been in production at Cambridge-based DragonLight Films for more than two years, follows the highs and lows of three new farmers in the first year of their regenerative farming journey.

Dr Lucy Wallace, chief of staff at EIT Food and head of the Secretariat for the Food Systems Pavilion, called the film “incredibly valuable”, adding: “It is important for us to be able to give real context to the international discussions about climate change, highlighting the importance of soil and making the case for a just transition to regenerative food production.”

Michael Aggrey, from Movement Strategy Center, said: “I never thought I could watch a movie about soil and get emotional. I think it’s high time the world begins to pay more attention to farmers and give them all the necessary support – because without food the world cannot survive.

Global premiere for Six Inches of Soil at COP28 in Dubai Picture: DragonLight FilmsDragonlight Films
Global premiere for Six Inches of Soil at COP28 in Dubai Picture: DragonLight FilmsDragonlight Films

“I’m from Nigeria, and I’m taking this message back home and I’m going to push for the government to give more support to farmers; not just in Nigeria but globally. I’m going to become an advocate because of this movie.”

CJBS visiting fellow David Pitt-Watson concluded: “The climate talks in Dubai are the 28th time the world’s nations have met to agree how we address this issue.

“Yet we still do not have a clear path which will lead us to a sustainable world.

“That is a real frustration, because the longer we delay, the more difficult it is to plan, and the more costly any transition will be.”



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