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Food and agriculture taking centre stage at COP28

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By Zitouni Ould-Dada

· 6 min read

How does food and agriculture feature at COP28?

Awareness of the importance of transforming agrifood systems to provide solutions for the climate and biodiversity loss crises and the Sustainable Development Goals has been growing recently, particularly since COP26. High attention is now given to this topic with the COP28 Presidency making agriculture and food systems one of its top priorities in its Presidential Action Agenda. The United Arab Emirates has elevated the food and agriculture agenda to heads of state and government through the “Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action” to be launched at COP28 at the World Climate Action Summit on 1st December. This is a unique achievement as it will be the first time that world leaders commit to addressing the linkages between climate change and food security and integrate food and agriculture aspects into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), and National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs). The UAE COP28 Presidency is also dedicating two full thematic days to food and agriculture: one to food, agriculture and water on 10 December and one to nature, land use, and oceans on 9 December.

The FAO has been working with the UAE Presidency and other partners to develop a framework to accelerate the transformation of agrifood systems for launch at COP28. The framework includes four main outcome areas focused on the state level to support countries (which includes the Emirates Declaration), non-state actors level (which includes farmers, consumers, and businesses), scale up agri-innovation, and finance.

The FAO has set its vision and strategic direction for its work on climate change in its Strategy on Climate Change 2022-2031 and its Action PlanAs part of delivering this Action Plan, the FAO will be actively engaged at COP28 to continue to build on achievements made at previous COPs in supporting countries to enhance climate action. This includes improving nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and national adaptation plans (NAPs), and advancing the implementation of initiatives such as the Sharm el-Sheikh joint work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security and the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation Partnership. In addition, the FAO will launch reports on loss and damage and on a global roadmap for achieving SDG2 and the 1.5°C goal.

Why does it matter?

Our agrifood systems are a major driver of climate change and biodiversity loss as they are responsible for about a third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At the same time, they are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change which is affecting billions of people around the world who rely on agrifood systems for their incomes and livelihoods. The recent State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 report revealed that around 691 to 783 million people faced hunger in 2022, representing an increase of 122 million people compared to 2019 since the Covid-19 pandemic started.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been warning about the increasing impacts of climate change on agrifood systems and food security. This has also been acknowledged and emphasized through various international forums. In their Nairobi Declaration adopted at the first Africa Climate Summit, African heads of state emphasized the importance of climate-resilient and regenerative agriculture for food security and green growth in Africa. This was echoed in multiple international fora such as G7 and G20, in the UN Secretary General’s Call to Action for Accelerated Food Systems Transformation at the UN Food Systems Summit Stocktaking Moment, and in the Political Declaration agreed at the UN Sustainable Development Goal Summit in September.

This is worrying since the global demand for food, due to a growing global population, is expected to increase by 60 percent by 2050. We must therefore transform our agrifood systems by making them more efficient, inclusive, sustainable and resilient in order to ensure food and nutritional security. This transformation would enable countries, farmers, consumers and the whole sector to realize the full potential of agrifood systems in providing solutions for climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience. It would also ensure food and nutrition security, increased biodiversity, ecosystem restoration, improved livelihoods, and economic development. 

What do we expect COP28 to deliver?

The launch of the Emirates Declaration at this COP will signal a strong political message and commitment by world leaders to accelerate the transformation of agrifood systems. This would be complemented by a similar declaration from non-state actors. In parallel, there are some key areas under the UNFCCC negotiations that need to advance to help speed up this transformation. This includes making progress in the implementation of the Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on Implementation of Climate Action on Agriculture and Food Security, on finance, technology, loss and damage, and the global goal on adaptation. 

Increased finance is needed for adaptation and for smallholder farmers who are most affected by the impacts of climate change and only receive around 0.3 percent of climate finance. The FAO is advancing the Food & Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST) multi-stakeholder initiative that was launched at COP27 to improve financing for climate adaptation and agrifood systems’ transformation. 

The outcome of the Global Stocktake at COP28 should be used to identify gaps, opportunities and success stories related to food and agriculture to encourage higher ambition and climate action. 

We need to capitalize on this growing political will for agrifood systems’ transformation and use COP28 as an opportunity to leverage this momentum and accelerate this transformation. We need to make stronger connections between COPs by adopting a multi-COP approach to food and agriculture to continue to build momentum for transformational change towards 2030 and beyond. We also need to build on achievements made at previous COPs through the UNFCCC process and UN Food Systems Summit as well as the ongoing technical, policy and financial support provided by UN agencies and others to countries through projects and initiatives on the ground. Let’s make COP28 a breakthrough moment for accelerating the transformation of agrifood systems. The case for food systems’ transformation has never been stronger, and we need to translate this momentum and political will into concrete action and investments with clear deliverables and timelines towards COP30 and beyond.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Dr. Zitouni Ould-Dada is the Deputy Director of the Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment at the FAO. He has 26 years' experience working with the UN and the governments of the United Kingdom and France in high profile areas including climate change, food security, energy security, and sustainable development. He has been a member of many UN Task Forces established by the UN Secretary General including for climate change, food systems and SDGs. 

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