A version of this piece was featured in Food Tank’s newsletter, released weekly on Thursdays. To make sure it lands straight in your inbox and to be among the first to receive it, subscribe now by clicking here.
I’ve been reflecting on what happened at this year’s UN climate change conference, COP28. (And sleeping off jet lag!)
I was so heartened and impressed to hear so many strong voices advocating for a better food system, especially among young activists. Food Tank and our amazing partners and friends convened dozens of events, with literally hundreds of speakers, to shine the spotlight on how we can only solve the climate crisis when we take food systems seriously.
To make sense of the outcomes of COP28, I called on one of my favorite food system experts, WWF global food lead scientist Brent Loken. Our post-COP conversations have become a bit of a tradition over the past few years!
Was this COP perfect? No. But we made tangible gains in terms of recognizing the power of food systems on an international scale, he reminded us. The results of this COP are not a ceiling—they’re a floor, he said, paraphrasing Simon Steele, Executive Director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Finally, we have a floor to stand on—and to build on.
In terms of the tangible outcomes of COP, there were some ups and some downs, Brent said.
One of the biggest disappointments was the breakdown of talks regarding an initiative called the Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work, which centers on the implementation of climate action on agriculture. The stalled negotiations will not resume until next June—a far cry from the multi-year strategic plan we were hoping negotiators would produce during COP28 itself.
But we should see the Global Stocktake as a win, he says. The final text, adopted this week, does indeed recognize food systems for the first-ever time in a UNFCCC document of this variety. Granted, most references to food systems are related to adaptation, not mitigation; most of the food-related references in the mitigation section are around sustainable production and consumption, rather than systems-level analysis.
Global leaders still have a ways to recognize the power of food systems as a key climate solution—but the food movement has been successful in raising the profile of food in just a few short years.
At COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, two years ago, there was no dedicated food day nor any food pavilions at all! The extent to which the food movement has shown our strength over the past couple years has been unprecedented.
“When you take it all together, we should be optimistic,” Brent says. “It does give us something to move forward and really advocate for when we’re looking at implementation—and that’s really where the pivot needs to go moving forward. What does this look like in different countries? How can we start to scale efforts on the ground?”
COP28 gives the food movement some leverage, he says. And now, going forward, we need to use that leverage to make serious on-the-ground gains in individual nations. Our top priority has to be implementing country-level policies that center food as a climate solution and an invaluable way to mitigate the climate crisis.
After COP, “there’s a strong signal at the international level that food systems are at the table,” he says. “It’s our responsibility now to take up that mantle that they’ve given us and make that action happen.”
This means continuing to break down silos. Whether in one-on-one conversations or global conferences like COPs, we have to reach across sectors and build bridges.
We also need to advance the food movement’s goals by demonstrating the interconnections between food and other topics like fossil fuels, which other experts echoed as well.
My full debrief conversation with Brent Loken will be on this week’s episode of the Food Talk podcast, which you can subscribe to HERE.
After we stopped recording, I commended him on his ability to always see a clear pathway forward. It can be easy to feel hopeless, to fall into despair. His optimism is genuine, and that quality inspires me so much. Before we hung up, he made a poignant comment I want to share with you:
“We don’t have time to be negative anymore,” he says. “We can be disappointed, but I think being disappointed and being negative are different things.”
I couldn’t agree more. Negativity stops us in our tracks, but disappointment can fuel us. If we can imagine a better world—a world that’s not disappointing but actually empowering, sustainable, just—we can fight to make it a reality.
Brent is right: After COP28, the food movement has a floor to stand on.
Now, we need to get building.
Articles like the one you just read are made possible through the generosity of Food Tank members. Can we please count on you to be part of our growing movement? Become a member today by clicking here.
Photo courtesy of Vizag Explore, Unsplash