Climate Change


Significant steps on a long journey

Charles Godfray

Professor Sir Charles Godfray FRS is Director of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford. He is a population biologist with broad interests in the environmental sciences and has published in fundamental and applied areas of ecology, evolution and epidemiology. He is interested in how the global food system will need to change and adapt to the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, and in particular in the concept of sustainable intensification, and the relationship between food production, ecosystem services and biodiversity.


  • Glasgow saw a number of achievements
  • The private sector is becoming increasingly engaged in the move to net zero
  • Geopolitical issues are slowing progress in key areas
  • The difficult issues about changing people’s behaviour have not been tackled
  • The UK Government needs to develop a land-use framework as a matter of urgency.

There were a number of positive developments at Glasgow: completion of the Paris Rule Book and an increasingly large number of countries committing to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for example. India’s ambition may need to increase over time, but the mere fact that they have set a timeframe – albeit 50 years ahead – is important.

Written into the final communique is the need for a 45% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 and a reaffirmation of the 1.5˚C target. There were positive statements on the importance of putting a price on carbon and making carbon border- adjustments. There has been progress in the EU over the past year on that.

There were also negative aspects. Progress on transferring $100 billion annually from the rich to the poor world to help for mitigation and adaptation was glacial. This question of geographic equity is going to be such an important issue at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh.

The complex issue of the Loss and Damage Fund was discussed but without much progress. Interestingly, only Scotland and Wallonia have made contributions to the Fund so far! 

The alliance that Mark Carney put together of 400 financial institutions is potentially important. Those companies are responsible for $130 trillion of assets under management. If those assets are genuinely aligned to net zero, that will make a difference. There is a real air of change in the private sector about this (though there is still lots of greenwashing about).

The initiatives on forests are welcome. We have, of course, been here before in 2014. Now, though, more countries are involved and there is some real money on the table. Forests are complex and the agreement lacks legal enforceability. Yet there has been enormous progress in the ability to monitor deforestation in real time and 75% of the avoided emissions from forestry occur in just three countries, Brazil, Congo, and Indonesia. So by concentrating on those three countries we can make real progress. It was good to see the UK put in an investment of £500 million towards the protection of forests.

I am concerned by the geopolitical headwinds evident at Glasgow. The Chinese were engaged, but not as much as might have been hoped. The China-US Joint Statement was a positive development but the hope that China would focus on climate change in isolation from all the other things it is concerned about was never going to be realised.

On methane there is a commitment to reduce emissions by 30% by 2030, although it needs to be 45%. Also, China, Russia and India are not among the signatories. Looking closely at the declaration, there is a lot of detail on the technological innovations that could reduce methane emissions from gas pipelines and from livestock. Some of the difficult issues are avoided, though, including diet change which will have to happen. Methane is a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas and action here will be essential if the world is to remain below the 1.5˚C threshold.

Nature and climate are becoming more closely linked. The UK is committing £40 million for a global centre on biodiversity and climate which is welcome. The issue of food has been outside the main COP process over the years but that seems to be changing. There were a series of announcements from the UK which, while modest, are exciting. £25 million will go to the CGIAR system of international laboratories responsible for the Green Revolution, which have been starved of funds over the past 10 years.

There is also a USA-UAE agricultural innovation mission for climate which has now attracted £4 billion. More research into agriculture is desperately needed, research which seeks not just to increase yields but also to increase sustainability. However, it is relatively easy to make these commitments on  the supply side. Countries are still shying away from some of the hard demand-side issues, such as action on sustainable (and healthy) diets. There is also the politically difficult subject of pervasive and counter- productive subsidies. Most people know about the way these are used in the energy sector, but they are almost as common in the food sector and they act against sustainability.

There was a series of announcements from the UK which, while modest, were exciting.

There is one thing the UK Government should do as a matter of urgency. It has made a series of commitments on biodiversity, on net zero and on the rural economy. It is not clear that these all add up. We need to have a land-use framework in order to bring these all together in a coherent way.

Now that we no longer in the EU, we can use the money we put into rural economies in different ways. Several years ago, Defra published a document called Health and Harmony: in my view the most interesting document to come out of an environment and farming sector since the last war. This articulated a commitment to net zero and the possibility of completely reformulating the way we support our rural economy to produce a multitude of public and private goods. If we can get that right, it will have a major effect on both climate and biodiversity.

Countries are still shying away from some of the hard demand-side issues, such as action on sustainable (and healthy) diets. There is also the politically difficult subject of pervasive and counter-productive subsidies.