"WE have evolved ourselves into a circular firing squad. Reducing our options to the binary and unhelpful mentality of who is right and who is wrong, and we are descending into a place of who is to blame.”

Those were the words of Christiana Figueres, who many will recognise as not only one of the world’s leaders on climate action, but the main architect behind the 2015 Paris Accords.

I had the honour of hearing her speak during COP26 at the 43rd TB Macaulay lecture and her powerful speech reminded us all that the complexity of the challenge to tackle climate change requires a kaleidoscope of approaches and that not only is there a space for differences between nations but a need for them.

She pleaded with delegates that the polarisation surrounding the climate debate has to stop and that it will take all of us working together “pushing and pulling each other with honesty and respect to accelerate emerging solutions”.

Sadly, the tone of debate over the past two weeks has been characterised by deep division and victim-blaming. And until we can turn the tone into one of collaboration and hope then we won’t stand a chance of inspiring the action needed to deliver tangible solutions by the end of the decade.

Over the past few years, similar finger-pointing has been aimed at the door of the agricultural industry and has unhelpfully led to alienating farmers from positive discussions around how they can play their part in becoming a sustainable solution.

The COP26 organisers missed a trick by not giving farming its place on the main programme and, in doing so, have failed to send the loud and clear message that farming has an absolutely vital role to play in regenerating our degraded soils, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, restoring lost biodiversity, all the while feeding an exponentially growing population.

No-one is denying that modern agricultural practices are in part to blame for rising global GHG emissions and declining biodiversity loss. For many years, following the end of the Second World War, global farming practices were incentivised to deliver high yields to tackle food insecurity, which has meant that our soils have paid the price by over-cultivation.

I was lucky enough last week to hear Professor Rattan Dal – winner of the global food prize in 2020 – who praised “The Green Revolution” between the 1940s and 1960s for saving hundreds of millions from starvation, but stressed that we have been left with degraded soils, polluted waters, aggravated global warming, dwindling biodiversity and denuded landscapes.

He told COP26 delegates “we need to move from a system of depleting, destroying, degrading, discarding and dominating the land to one that reduces, reuses, recycles, regenerates and restores land to nature”.

His tone wasn’t one of blame but one that recognised the changing requirements of agricultural practices and that the focus now had to be on equipping farmers to be part of the solution to ensure future land management works hand in glove with nature, not in spite of it.

On the contrary, the allegation by environmental campaigner Chris Packham that countries hadn’t gone far enough by failing to announce plans for compulsory reduction in livestock farming was not only ignorant but launched a dangerous attack on farming livelihoods.

Climate activists like Packham are fuelling division and hatred in the climate debate by pushing for policies that are so black or white in nature.

What is needed is for governments to publicly acknowledge that climate policy must also work in synergy with social and economic outcomes, but they fear accusations of not doing enough. Their silence is allowing industries like farming to take the fall.

Their silence means that many continue to see farmers as the problem but too often they fail to realise that farmers are often the victims of climate change. They are the ones on the front line experiencing first-hand the dire impact of climate change when their lands are flooded or impacted by drought and crops are destroyed.

For many years now, long before globally binding climate commitments were part of any discussions, farmers have been taking action to improve soil by moving to organic practices, reducing fertiliser use, embracing precision farming techniques and moving to no-till farming: they knew that action was needed long before government policy caught up and began to rethink agricultural support.

Governments know they have been slow off the mark but are still too afraid to put food and farming at the top of policy discussions, which is perpetuating accusations that farming is escaping scrutiny in climate talks.

What many do not realise is farming wants to be heard, it wants a place at the policy table, where a constructive discussion can be had on changing course of farming and ensuring that it can deliver on the environmental outcomes it is perfectly positioned to offer.

The problem all comes back to the point by Christiana Figueres that climate discussions have become too divided and, although there are many passionate voices included in the debate, they too often ignore the variety of approaches that are needed to deliver effective climate action.

During her speech she stressed: “more than blame or punishment, we must restore the depletion in ourselves.” She called for a tone of hope around climate dialogue, and for people to feel inspired not alienated.“I don’t want this to ends up in despair and grief. I want us to step into our agency and do what needs to be done.”

The climate debate cannot continue to be dominated by ignorance and blame. Real change this decade will require us all to stop shouting and start listening.

For those who would like to listen to Christiana Figueres and the rest of the 43rd TB Macaulay lecture, visit https://www.tbmacaulaylecture.co.uk/recording