Sharm el Sheikh skyline


Quite a lot of water, some of it no doubt contaminated with sewerage and pesticides, has passed under environmental bridges since COP26 took place in Glasgow, during November 2021. That conference attracted a lot of media attention and generated numerous promises from world governments, many of which do not appear to have been implemented (see our previous report here). Indeed the world appears to be in a very different place as the COP27 conference approaches, which is being held in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt in mid November. 

As part of the lead up to this conference a series of webinars are being held by Table, a collaboration between several Universities, including the University of Oxford, which aims to establish a well informed and independent debate on issues that will be important at COP27.

Table: 'seeks to facilitate informed discussions about how the food system can become sustainable, resilient, just, and ultimately “good”. We impartially set out the evidence, assumptions, and values that people bring to food system debates’. You can find out more about their aims and services at their website.

The webinar, which was held on 14th September debated the topic: Carbon sequestered or carbon trashers: what is the role for grazing ruminants in a 1.5C world?  The debate was well organized and addressed a number of issues relevant to the main topic, with a strong focus on soil chemistry and the often undervalued ability of soil to act as a major carbon sink.

The concept of carbon saturation of soil was one I found interesting, with different types of soils exhibiting a varying ability to absorb carbon. Long term carbon bonding involves inorganic chemistry; organic carbon can accumulate faster but will not be retained long term unless it becomes bound into inorganic compounds. Many arable soils, after several generations of intensive agricultural activity, have the greatest potential to act as carbon sinks and the role of grazing ruminants in providing an easily assimilable form of carbon into these soils was central to the discussion.

Grasslands are a natural phenomenon which have been inhabited by large grazing ruminants for millions of years. The arrival of ‘farmer man’ over the last 10,000 years or so has changed the geographic distribution and usage of these grasslands and indeed, many farming grasslands now occupy areas that were once forest. The debate on whether we are overstocked with animals or whether better grazing practices can improve carbon sequestration continues, with accurate modeling of grassland carbon still some years away - grasslands are complex systems.

The science background to the discussion was presented by well qualified speakers and the ongoing Q&A facility allowed for engagement with listeners. While some aspects of the discussion were a little academic and possibly a little too biased to USA ranching systems, the entire debate provided much valuable background. You can listen to the debate (which I would highly recommend to all linked with VetSalus) here.

Take a look at the entire series and register for the next one on 17th October here.

As preparation for COP27, these webinars provide excellent background information. But what can we expect from COP27 in a world still dominated by supply issues, economic crises and energy supplies? With just over one month to go there appears to be considerably less media build up and it seems likely that a world in crisis will once more sweep these important climate issues under the short term crisis carpet.