This Thanksgiving day, many people prepare to spend a day with family and friends and ponder our blessings around a rich table, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid thoughts of the increasing challenges of our global food system. The serious discussions surrounding COP27, the lingering fallout from the war in Ukraine, this year’s cadence of worrying UN climate reports – there’s a lot to digest.
Agriculture is currently responsible for more than 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US alone. Most farmers are committed to conservation, while few companies are as dependent on natural resources. But there’s only a limited amount they can personally do to tackle climate change with the tools they’ve had access to in the past.
With all these factors, it would be hard to find hope for tomorrow. Sometimes yes, but most days we see a growing optimism as there are many opportunities to make a meaningful impact, especially in agriculture.
As we read the reports of this year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we see repeated evidence of the need for adaptation – that while some degree of mitigation of climate change remains possible, humanity prioritizes adaptation to our collective changing reality got to. In addition, humanity will have to adapt much faster than today to prevent the worst-case scenario.
This is an incredibly challenging assessment, but this concept of “customization” actually gives us hope as well. That’s because some of the latest and most promising innovations in agriculture address this need head-on. For example, the convergence of advances in technologies such as gene editing and artificial intelligence enables incredible feats such as B. Plants that can yield much more while using much fewer natural resources.
It’s not hard to imagine a future where farmers’ access to land and natural resources will be much more limited than it is today. Because of the breakthrough technologies that are now being developed, they will be able to adapt and continue to feed people while sustaining the planet.
measurement and modelling
There has been a steady barrage of new news that challenges the environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings that some investors use to assess companies’ commitment to sustainability. This has uncovered some serious red flags. If an oil company, which is a business dependent on environmentally harmful activities, is rated positively, then something is clearly wrong. While ESG ratings still serve a purpose, it’s hard to argue that part of it is helping companies ensure they are having a positive impact on nature.
Companies that have committed to making a real difference have shown they know better than to rely on ESG ratings to guide strategy. Instead, these organizations use incredibly sophisticated — and incredibly informative — dynamic systems modeling that not only measures, but guides their sustainability efforts. By understanding the impact of the key levers and decision points the organization can address, this approach allows leaders to dig deep into the systemic impact of their decisions, in some cases right down to their value chain and avoided emissions, also known as Scope 3 and 4 emissions. That goes far beyond the direct emissions and indirect emissions from purchased energy or Scope 1 and 2 emissions that most companies report – a significant step forward considering that Scopes 1 and 2 account for less than 10 percent of a company’s emissions.
Because dynamic systems modeling takes into account a company’s actual decision points, it becomes an immediate measure of how sustainable a new product or program will be. As the climate clock ticks and every decision gains additional meaning, this is incredibly powerful information.
A collective effort
With no silver bullet in sight, it is clear that the climate challenge requires an “all hands on deck” approach. Fortunately, despite all the negative attention agriculture is receiving for its historical emissions, it is also determined to find a solution together.
You can see it in the way farmers – a relatively small but tight-knit community – are actively sharing new techniques and best practices on their social channels. You see it in the wave of farming startups that are creating new, tangible solutions. And you see it in global initiatives like the World Economic Forum’s 100 Million Farmers, which aim to drive large-scale transformative change by catalyzing and supporting local ideas.
Climate change is the challenge of our time and we have a lifetime to make a difference. Such an important industry as agriculture is gaining positive momentum and coming to the fore.
Ponsi Trivisvavet is CEO of Inari and former President of Syngenta North America.