Addressing food system emissions in the face of climate change

Tuesday, December 19th, 2023 01:30 | By
A total of 134 countries placed food, how we grow it, and its relationship to climate change firmly on the international radar.
A total of 134 countries placed food, how we grow it, and its relationship to climate change firmly on the international radar. PHOTO/Print

More than 134 global leaders at the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 28) came to a close signed the ‘UAE Declaration’ focusing on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems and climate action.

The declaration will see signatory countries fully incorporate food and food systems into their next round of nationally determined contributions. The countries will also mainstream climate action across their policy agenda and actions related to agriculture and food systems by 2025.

“There is no path to achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and keeping 1.5C within reach, that does not urgently address the interactions between food systems, agriculture, and climate,” said Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE’s minister of Climate Change and Environment and COP28 food systems lead.

The 134 countries, which include the United States, United Kingdom, Brazil, and China are home to 5.7 billion people and almost 500 million farmers producing 70 per cent of all food produced worldwide signed the accord. India, a major global producer of agricultural commodities and the world’s most populous nation, so far has not signed the accord.

At the same time the USAID has announced Sh15.3 billion (US$100 million) in continued investments for the next two years. The funding will support climate-smart agriculture innovation efforts and demonstrates how United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is ramping up efforts to strengthen climate action in food systems under the US government’s Feed the Future initiative.

These investments build on USAID’s previous contributions in support of the Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate. During the launch of AIM for Climate at COP26, USAID – through Feed the Future committed Sh33 billion (US$215 million) over five years to the CGIAR. USAID has already exceeded this commitment and these investments are now enabling millions of smallholder farmers to access climate-smart innovations and continue to sustainably produce food in the face of climate change.

Joint commitment

“It’s encouraging to see that food systems are finally taking their place at the heart of climate negotiations and at the highest levels of government,” said Lim Li Ching, co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems(IPES-Food) and senior researcher for Third World Network.

Additionally, the UAE, along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have also announced a Sh30.7 billion (US$200 million) joint commitment to focus on agricultural research, scaling agricultural innovations, and funding technical assistance to implement the declaration.

On top of that the UAE announced a new “technical cooperation collaborative” to deliver on the declaration’s objectives. The collaborative partners, which have pledged Sh30.7 billion (US$200 million) total, include Italy, the U.S., U.K., World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR), and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), among others.

Overall reaction to the declaration from food systems and climate advocates has been positive. However, many advocates said the declaration is merely a starting point. Among their criticisms, included, it’s not legally binding and does not mention phasing out fossil fuels from food systems.

Lim said while this is an essential first step, the language remains very vague and specific actions and measurable targets are conspicuously missing, including shifting to healthy sustainable diets, phasing out fossil fuels, and reducing overconsumption of industrially produced meat.

Industrialised farming

“Agrifood systems, including production, transport, storage, consumption, and disposal of food emit at least one-third of all global greenhouse gasses and account for at least 15 per cent of fossil fuels burned annually. The biggest culprit is industrialised farming, particularly livestock and fertilisers,” said Lim.

Elizabeth Nsimadala, president of the Eastern African Farmers Federation said that the declaration recognises that the world’s 440 million small-scale family farmers are “key to delivering” the vision of food systems transformation. “We need a real say in decisions on food and climate and more direct access to climate finance. We receive just 0.3 per cent of international climate finance despite producing a third of the world’s food. If governments work with us and invest in us we will create resilient and sustainable food systems, which will feed the world for generations to come,” said Nsimadala.

Alongside the leaders’ declaration, a coalition of at least 150 farmers and other frontline food systems groups, including businesses, civil society groups, and philanthropies have signed “a non-state actors’ call to action” that highlights food and agriculture as solutions, and not just drivers, of the global climate crisis.

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