Yesterday, AgFood Future (AGF) held a webinar to discuss the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) Implementation Plan for Emission Reduction and Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture and Rural Areas. This was a major policy decision by the Central Party Committee which will greatly impact agri-food sustainability in China. AGF’s one-day event fleshed out the development of low-carbon policy and new opportunities within China’s agri-food industry, with speakers sharing insight and addressing questions on their respective industries. This has come at a critical time both for climate change and global food security since nations have generally agreed on low-carbon transitions in energy, industry, and transportation, but often have overlooked the agri-food sector (34% of global emissions).
Xue Yan, Chairman of the Center for a Sustainable Future (CSF):
“Two years ago, my country solemnly pledged to achieve carbon peaking by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060,” Mr. Xue stated in his opening. From there, Mr. Xue provided context on MARA’s Plan.
Transforming the food system is a complex and systematic project, Mr. Xue noted. To do so, it is necessary to not only play both leading and supporting roles in scientific and technological innovation, but to consider concurrent demands of socioeconomic development and food security in the race to net zero. According to Mr. Xue, formulating transformation pathways which conform to local policies, socioeconomic conditions, and industry development is a challenge for governments and enterprises at all levels. It is in response to this challenge that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) jointly issued the “Implementation Plan for Carbon Reduction and Sequestration in Agriculture and Rural Areas” to make systematic arrangements for carbon emission reduction in agriculture and rural areas. This Plan represents the latest developments in agri-food and carbon-neutral regulation and policy. In his speech, Mr. Xue underscored that agri-food is the missing piece to achieving carbon neutrality. Even if all other industries became carbon neutral, without the agri-food sector, the 1.5-degree target can never be reached.
Socioeconomic Development Perspective: Agri-Food Industry Needs Synergy
Cong Hongbin, Researcher and Chief Engineer at the Energy and Environment Institute and Planning and Design Research Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA):
Mr. Cong offered an analysis of the Plan from a socioeconomic perspective. The main challenge the Plan faces now is stabilizing production and ensuring the effective supply of key agricultural products while reducing carbon emissions and sequestering carbon within the agri-food sector. Despite this great challenge, the current agricultural modernization and innovation is very promising, especially in the high-quality development of agriculture and standardized markets. Mr. Cong affirmed that to effectively implement the Plan, pollution reduction and carbon reduction must be given great attention.
Key to implementation is the careful coordination of:
- National strategic needs
- Enterprise development needs
- Front and back end of the industrial chain
- Both the down and upstream processing for planting and breeding industries
Mr. Cong assessed that vertical integration can vastly improve industry effectiveness and save cost, therefore creating development opportunities for downstream enterprises. Additionally, carbon sequestration can be converted into even more economic growth via the carbon trading market.
Sustainable Agricultural Development
Qin Xiaobo, Researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Environment and Sustainable Development of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS):
Mr. Qin shared his insight on the Plan’s effectiveness from the perspective of a researcher for sustainable agricultural development. As China’s first major policy document that combines the promotion of high-quality agricultural development with carbon emission reduction and sequestration, the Plan provides clear policy guidance for the sustainable agricultural development paradigm. Mr. Qin stated that, to create a new pattern of harmony between humans and nature, it is necessary to promote an efficient and sustainable agricultural model with low input and high output. The Plan is aligned with this paradigm and defines a clear pathway for implementation. It also shares a high degree of synergy with the “Greater Food” concept highlighted by the president, which emphasizes the shift in food infrastructure, the formation of modern agricultural production and regional development, and the modification and improvement of industrial and regional layout.
International Perspective: Requires Cross-Sector & Cross-Country Cooperation
Li Peiyi, Secretary General of the U.S.-China Agriculture and Food Partnership of the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham China); director of the Center for a Sustainable Future (CSF):
Ms. Li interpreted the Plan from an international perspective. Achieving global net zero goals requires attention to more than the traditional industries such as energy. It requires the inclusion of the agri-food sector, which is often overlooked. The transformation of the agri-food industry is directly related to realizing low-carbon goals, food security, and food system transformation. Ms. Li emphasized that this Plan has national strategic significance and requires cross-industry and cross-country cooperation. The entire industry, from seeds to retail, must work together. In both the short and long term, the main goals are to implement policy within the agri-food industry and transform carbon emission reduction actions into economic benefits through various solutions. Ms. Li referenced the U.N.’s conference on green finance last year and noted that linking agri-food emissions to green finance must be a consideration in the near future.