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What an amazing day for food systems at COP28 on Food, Agriculture and Water Day!
All across the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the food movement showed our strength. We showed that there’s not just one single way to change the food system—there are countless starting points, pathways to follow, and impactful actions to take at the local, national, and global levels.
But one thing is clear: We need change now.
“We are at this reckoning point where we have to move away from pure awareness raising and actually start changing habits,” says Yvette Cabrera, the Director of Food Waste for the People & Communities Program at NRDC, during a discussion at the Nordic Pavilion.
During a morning fireside chat at the Sustainable Agriculture of the Americas Pavilion, Karen Ross, the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, underscored why we can no longer afford to wait.
“Our future is happening right now,” Secretary Ross told me. “That’s why it’s so important that we work together and think about how we continue to nourish people in a changing climate. The status quo isn’t going to do it.”
Going forward, what sorts of real, meaningful, tangible actions should we be thinking about?
Buy from small farms that support resilience and food sovereignty.
“Big farms don’t build resilience to a system,” says Million Belay, the General Coordinator for Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, during a discussion at the Food & Agriculture Pavilion. To achieve real food sovereignty and regenerativeness, we need the long-term perspective that smallholders have.
“Food sovereignty asks where the food is coming from,” he says. “How is it produced? Is the food culturally appropriate? And it also goes beyond and asks generally: Who owns the food system?”
Elevate women across the globe.
Women still face significant challenges to accessing economic resources and knowledge. But these barriers are being dismantled: In West Africa, for example, Fairtrade International has created a women’s leadership school and is working to build financial empowerment.
By teaching students to negotiate, bargain, engage with commercial partners, and interact with the financial sector, the organization is helping them “to become women who are able to address challenges within their communities and… to become women in trade,” says Sandra Uwera, Global CEO of Fairtrade International, at the Food and Ag Pavilion.
In India, the Andhra Pradesh Community Managed Natural Farming initiative has been a success in this regard. Organizers have worked to remove barriers to entry, ensure scientific knowledge reaches women farmers, and build scalable partnerships with government.
Now, “women are driving this program,” says Vijay Kumar, the head of the program and the Vice Chairman of Rythu Sadhikara Samstha, at the Food & Ag Pavilion.
Get serious about stopping food loss and waste.
Discussions about food waste often misunderstand a key reality: “Food loss in the Global South and the Global North are very, very different,” says Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, the President and CEO of Food Systems for the Future, at the Nordic Pavilion. In the Global North, she says, solutions are focused on consumers and retail—but in the Global South, we need better infrastructure around cold storage and refrigerated trucking.
The food industry also has a major role to play—but we need policymakers to help accelerate the change, says Marc Zornes, the CEO of Winnow Solutions. We also need serious investment to make it a strategic priority. When we get these factors aligned, he says, we can have an impact.
“This is in the economic interest of the hospitality industry to actually understand their waste in more detail and prevent it,” Zornes says. “It’s entirely possible to make substantial change.”
Make sure the food we eat aligns with our values.
Those of us who have the resources to do so need to make food choices that align with regenerative values, panelists said during a great discussion at the Food4Climate Pavilion.
The environmental impacts of certain types of livestock production and other industrial agriculture are well-known. If we’re not careful, experts said during another conversation there, our diets could become climate culprits.
By voting with our wallets and our forks, we can make sure sustainable food producers can survive in a climate-impacted world.
“It really is a very intricate dance between what happens on the land and what happens in the water, and the vulnerability of one amplifies the risks of the other and the challenges of the other,” Ledama Masidza, the Head of Partnership & Program Development at Oceans Alive Trust, said at the Food Systems Pavilion.
And most importantly, we cannot do any of these things alone.
“Cohesiveness is very critical when you’re attacked by a climate crisis,” Million Belay says. “You can mobilize together. You can help each other.”
His word choice is striking. The climate crisis is not something that’s happening passively: It’s an active threat to our future. By doing nothing—or even by not doing enough—we are choosing to sacrifice our planet. It sounds dramatic, but with every new data point, we see even more clearly that it’s true. We cannot give up.
The question is no longer if farmers should adopt more sustainable business models, says Daniela Chiriac, the Manager for Climate Finance at Climate Policy Initiative.
“There’s no alternative but to take that into account. It’s more the ‘How?’” Chiriac says at the Food & Ag Pavilion. “What are the practices, what are the technologies, that are able to bring those adaptations to the farmers? And how can they get the finance they need to expand their businesses?”
I’m pleased to see that, finally, tens of billions of dollars have been pledged for food and ag since the beginning of COP28, according to Bloomberg. Governments, philanthropic interests and private funders have committed US$3 billion in official funding, alongside massive regional initiatives like the US$10 billion Africa and Middle East SAFE Initiative and a multimillion-dollar pledge to help smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia adapt to climate change. Financial needs for a sustainable and just food system transition remain significant, so we can’t stop here.
COP28 is coming to a close; today and tomorrow are designated for final negotiations between world leaders. We’ll debrief more fully after the conference ends, but here’s where we stand right now.
On the Global Stocktake, negotiations are now taking place behind closed doors, and it’s not clear how much the COP28 Presidency has been able to push holdout nations. An update is expected this afternoon.
Joao Campari, WWF’s Global Food Practice Lead, did not mince words: “A text that ignores food effectively tears up the Paris Agreement. It does nothing other than set us up for collective failure. Time is running out and negotiators need to act now.”
Among the many positive outcomes of COP28’s official Food, Agriculture, and Water Day yesterday:
A COP28 Agriculture, Food and Climate Action Toolkit was launched by a global taskforce and has a major potential to help countries translate global commitments into ambitious local action.
The Alliance of Champions for Food Systems Transformation, consisting of Brazil, Cambodia, Norway, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, has come together to commit to using the “whole of government” to supercharge their approaches to food and climate progress.
And the Transforming Urban Rural Food Systems (TURFS) Consortium launched its Strategy for Food Systems Transformation at COP28 yesterday to empower and support cities to improve the way we produce and consume food in urban and rural areas.
Plus, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Roadmap was released yesterday, and the consensus from experts so far is that it’s a good start—and incredibly useful to have in our toolbelt—but it stops short of making some of the transformative recommendations we need.
As we head home from Dubai, we’re thinking about what comes next. Over the next week, I imagine we’ll hear a lot of talk about COP29 next year. After last year’s COP, policymakers were already talking about this year’s COP!
But we cannot wait another year to continue meaningful climate action.
No matter what happens at the negotiating table, it’s up to all of us to make a difference.
We have to start now, and we have to work together. Together, we’ll build a more sustainable food system!
What We’re Thinking About and Reading as COP28 Continues:
- “Agriculture, Food and Climate National Action Toolkit” — this new toolkit comes from a broad coalition of partners including WWF GAFF, Climate Focus, NDC Partnership, FAO, CGIAR, Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT”
- Pledges from climate talks not enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, IEA says” — CNN reports that emissions pledges from COP28 would have some effect but are nowhere near enough to put the world on track to limit warming
- “Alliance of Champions for Food Systems Transformation” — learn more about this strategic coalition of ambitious countries determined to act urgently, together
- “Climate negotiators urged to reach a consensus on curbing warming as COP28 talks near crunch time” — from The Independent, a look at what’s happening behind closed doors—especially as negotiators are being encouraged to narrow their options to at least make some agreement
- “Fossil Fuels on Our Plates” — this report from Les Amis de la Terre France clearly outlines what decarbonizing our diets looks like
Powerful Quotes from COP28 Discussions:
- “Nutrition comes from diversity and diversity is a source of resilience.” — Million Belay, General Coordinator, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa
- ““When you empower a woman, you empower an entire community.” — Sandra Uwera, Global CEO, Fairtrade International
- “The time for pilots is over … We need to get the funding right at the beginning so we can go all in and learn as we go.” — Dorothy Shaver, Global Food Sustainability Director, Unilever
Concrete Ways to Take Action:
Heed the call:
- via The Nature Conservancy: We know our natural world is in crisis, but there is still time to turn things around. Join the call for a #NaturePositive, net-zero emissions and equitable world. Learn more HERE.
- via WWF: “We urgently need to see finance reaching the communities driving change on the ground – for every moment matters in the future of globally important ecosystems like the Amazon and the Congo rainforest, that humanity cannot afford to lose.” – Kirsten Schuijt, Director General of WWF International. Read more HERE.
- via FAO: Accelerated climate actions can transform agrifood systems and help achieve food security and nutrition for all, today and tomorrow. READ the FAO’s Global Roadmap to achieve #SDG2 without breaching the 1.5ºC threshold.
Encourage your country to become a champion:
- via GAIN: The #AllianceOfChampions has officially launched at #COP28 🌍5 trailblazing countries will transform national #FoodSystems to deliver better outcomes for people, nature and climate. Find out more HERE. Become a champion today.
Don’t leave anybody behind:
- via The Global Alliance for the Future of Food: NEW toolkit: It’s vital we wean #FoodSystems off fossil fuels to prevent climate breakdown. Discover the essential tools, priority actions and case studies that governments need to enact ambitious food systems change.
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Photo Courtesy of Nathaniel Sison, Unsplash