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U.S. and UAE-backed initiative announces $9 billion more for agricultural innovation projects

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An additional $9 billion of funding to tackle agriculture's role in the climate crisis was announced on the sidelines of the United Nations climate talks on Friday.

The Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate, a joint initiative led by the United States and the United Arab Emirates that debuted at the climate talks in Glasgow two years ago, now has $17 billion to invest in agriculture and food systems innovation. Food systems — all the processes involved in making, shipping and disposing of food — account for about a third of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Countries have been convening at the annual Conference of the Parties to discuss and negotiate what to do about climate change that has Earth bumping up against the Paris agreement target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since industrial times. With difficult negotiations still underway on how aggressively countries might agree to cut fossil fuel use, it's been easier for nations and companies to announce funding for programs not directly related to that issue.

This year's summit, COP28, is unique in its emphasis on farming. “We would not be able to reach 1.5 degrees if we don’t fix our food and ag sector,” UAE Minister for Climate and the Environment Mariam Almheiri said in a press conference in Dubai on Friday.

The funding announced Friday is enough money and will support enough different approaches to be a good start, said Mario Herrero, a professor of food systems and global change at Cornell University. But he added that the real test will be to see whether more money comes in, and whether the projects are held accountable for doing what they say they will.

“That's something we will need to monitor very carefully, whether this is largely greenwashing,” Herrero said.

Projects the initiative has funded in the past include building a $500 million agri-processing plant in Nigeria, restoring degraded pastureland in Brazil and backing research to reduce synthetic nitrogen.

The new projects being funded address a wide range of areas. Some, like a $500 million action agenda on “regenerative agriculture,” have no single definition but involve a range of techniques that encourage farmers to switch to practices that lower emissions. Others target food manufacturing and processing or animal feed and fertilizer. The most futuristic range from developing microbes to store carbon in soil to using food-safe industrial waste to produce microalgae that help grow oysters on land.

Many of the projects are targeted at middle- and low-income countries, where farmers often have less technology at their disposal to combat climate change. But while some are targeted at reducing waste, none of the new projects mentioned had an explicit focus on reducing consumption. Wealthier countries eat more of the foods like meat and dairy that make up the vast majority of global food-related emissions.

If the funding helps low- and middle-income countries adapt to climate change while also helping them mitigate emissions, that's a good thing, Herrero said.

“Now the hard work starts,” Herrero said.

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Walling reported from Chicago.

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Melina Walling And Joshua Bickel, The Associated Press