COP28: Was it worth it?

I spent time over the holidays reflecting and reviewing my notes from COP28, trying to determine whether it was worth the investment of my time and money.

And, to set the record straight, I did pay my own way – no part of my trip was funded by the Saskatchewan government. So, all the critics on Twitter/X, who claimed that this “mediocre white guy” was traveling on their dime, have it all wrong.

Well, you can be the judge about “mediocre” but, my wife doesn’t think so and that’s all that matters.

What did we accomplish?

I know a lot of people have questioned the value of traveling to COP28. Even other farmers were cynical about my trip to Dubai. I never took this decision lightly. Time away from the farm, the business, negotiating land deals, holiday prep and 2024 business planning are all key priorities at this time of year and need to get done. But, I put them all on hold for 10 days AND took my kids out of school…and here’s why.

I refuse to let these discussions take place without an actual farmer in the room. I care too much about the future of our industry to let the narratives from these meetings continue to portray agriculture in a negative light. I wish more farmers would realize that we need to start treating our farms as businesses, and the key to being successful in business is building your network and creating relationships.

Did I sign a $200,000 deal as a result of COP? No. Do many more people of influence know about Hebert Grain Ventures, the carbon sequestration project our farm is involved in? Yes. Do they now know that Saskatchewan produces crops with the lowest carbon footprint per tonne of production compared to competing countries? You bet they do. And, that is the ROI. 

Some key takeaways from my experience at COP28 

Saskatchewan knocked it out of the park.

I’m super proud to live in this province and impressed with the leadership of the provincial government and Premier Moe who committed to doing this for our province. It took guts and they received a lot of heat, but no other province stepped up the way Saskatchewan did. I had a great chat with former Deputy Prime Minister Jean Charest who, without question, supported what Saskatchewan did, how they went about fostering great conversations and panels on resourced-based conversations and promoting not only Sask but Canada.

Kristjan Hebert and Jean Charest at COP28 in Dubai

To my knowledge, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault did not make an appearance at any agriculture-related event at COP28. It became abundantly clear to me that he really does not consider agriculture a priority and that he is an activist disguised as a politician. 

If not for the Saskatchewan Pavilion, I’m pretty confident there would have been no mention of Western Canada and the work being done in sustainable agriculture. Disappointing to say the least. 

I’m not a climate skeptic, I’m a climate realist 

This was the first year agriculture and food production had its own dedicated day at COP. It was encouraging to see the focus on sustainable ag, food system issues and nature-based carbon sequestration methods. 

I did several different panels and enjoyed seeing who was in the audience – the Sheikh responsible for trade in the UAE, a senior Canadian government bureaucrat responsible for negotiations and the VP of Bayer. This is what I mean when I say people of influence. These are people who need to hear about what we’re doing on our farms.

I had an interesting exchange with a UAE climate activist after one of the panels. She said to me, “You sound like you care about climate, but you also sound like you’re a climate skeptic.”

I told her that it’s pretty frustrating to wake up on a 28-degree day in Dubai and see smog outside of my hotel room window. Yet, if we were to have coffee on my deck on a 28-degree day in Moosomin, she would see thousands of acres of prairie land, wheat blowing in the wind and a clear blue sky. We would be breathing the cleanest air in the world, yet I’m at COP28 because people in the room feel like I’m a large emitter of greenhouse gasses.

I’m not a skeptic, I’m a realist. I care about global emissions…not agriculture emissions or Canadian emissions, but global emissions are what matter. If Canada has less emission per metric tonne of production (as we’ve seen in this Global Institute for Food Security study) then Canadian producers should be selling more crops, not less, while other nations catch up. Canadian farmers shouldn’t be forced to reduce output, as globally, this increases the production of higher-emitting countries.

She couldn’t argue with that.

Three key words – Simple, Reliable and Profitable 

For any climate policy to work, these three things must be in place. If it is not simple, reliable and profitable, farmers are not going to do it. Most business people won’t do it.

This was a message that I tried to drive home to decision-makers. This is also why I’ve said that the carbon tax doesn’t work – it’s punitive, not profitable. Some of the discussions I had with natural resources companies who were also on the mission confirmed for me that the Cap and Trade system, which was announced while we were at COP, might even be tolerable if other punitive measures were rescinded. There was a lot of talk about what might happen in that regard if there is a change in government at the federal level. That remains to be seen. 

The Cap and Trade system, if you think about it, makes some logical sense as it encourages large emitters to buy/trade carbon credits, effectively flowing money back down into the economy and into the hands of producers and others who are sequestering carbon.

Many other countries around the world have a Cap and Trade system, but few have a carbon tax like Canada. 

In my opinion, there are huge opportunities for the agriculture sector as insets/offsets are needed. This is why I’m optimistic about the CANZA project we’re involved in. Many key stakeholders are working on different models that can help finance farmers and the positive impacts they have on the environment. Again, another reason why I attended COP.

Canada’s reputation globally is hurting

One thing I did hear at COP28 is that Canada’s reputation concerning international trade is suffering.

Despite producing some of the highest quality and most ethically-produced natural resources products in the world, Canada is becoming known as unreliable. I wrote about this in a previous blog

This is due largely to unnecessarily strict climate policies, supply chain logistics and port closures due to unions and strikes. 

I hope our federal politicians were listening as there’s work to be done to repair these international trade relationships. At the Saskatchewan Pavilion, I know we did our part to convince our trading partners otherwise. I hope the feds did the same. 

So, back to my original question…was it worth it? This mediocre white guy says YES!