As the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP28) in Dubai looms just a month away, a powerful coalition comprising more than 80 organizations and prominent figures from across the food systems community has issued an urgent plea to incorporate a food systems approach within the UNFCCC.
A collective open letter, which includes signatures from WWF, the Global Alliance for the Future of Food (GAFF), Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, The Food Systems Partnership, and the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU), is calling on UNFCCC Parties to recognize the pivotal role of food systems. This encompasses aspects such as food production, consumption, waste, land use changes, and nutrition, in the pursuit of the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.
“Food systems represent an undiscovered country for those who want to accelerate climate action,” says Lawrence Haddad, Executive Director of Swiss NGO, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).
“Food systems— choices about what we grow, how we process, how we store, package and transport food, and how we acquire it, prepare it and dispose of it —are all made with scant regard to emissions generation or resilience to the climate crisis. We can no longer afford this complacency and must open up a new line of climate action in the food system arena. Such action can be the next big win-win: good for climate and good for food and nutrition security, which is being so tested so sorely by current world events.”
These demands build upon a comparable initiative during COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, where nearly 100 organizations from the food, climate, and nature sectors joined forces to urge negotiators to incorporate food systems into the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture.
“There will be no food security if we do not minimize the impacts of climate change,” read the 2022 letter. “And there is no way to minimize the impacts of climate change without transforming food systems, from farm to fork. Transforming agricultural systems is critical but is not enough, world leaders need to take a holistic approach to food systems.”
The signatories of the most recent collective open letter advocate for the integration of food systems actions into National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and long-term strategies.
The push is taking place in the context of a significant gap between climate and food systems agendas. As per the GAIN Initiative on climate action and nutrition (I-CAN) report, a mere 2% of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) feature specific action plans to tackle food-related issues. Conversely, a striking 95% of commitments outlined in the Global Nutrition Report fail to incorporate considerations for climate and sustainability.
João Campari, Global Food Practice Leader at WWF, underscores the undeniable connection between food and climate, emphasizing the imperative nature of reducing food-related greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming.
As stated in the joint letter: “Food systems are a significant contributor to the climate crisis, accounting for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time they are also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which undermines food security and adaptation.”
Morgan Gillespy, Global Director of the Food and Land Use Coalition, a co-host of the Food Systems Pavilion at COP28, highlights the urgency of placing food systems at the core of the UNFCCC process to combat the climate crisis and secure a sustainable food future.
“To unlock action that is proportionate to the scale and urgency of the crisis at hand, we must strive to put food systems approaches at the heart of the UNFCCC process,” says Gillespie. “Achieving this at COP28 would be a bold stride in the direction of 1.5C and a healthy, resilient and sustainable food future for all.”
Signatories are calling for national policies that support sustainable food production, reduce food loss and waste, promote healthy and sustainable diets, conserve and restore ecosystems, and scale up healthy soil practices.
“Transforming to a sustainable & resilient food and land use system could avoid $5.7 trillion in damages and generate more than $4.5 trillion per year by 2030,” adds Paul Polman, co-author of best seller, Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More than They Take. “We can’t afford not to have food systems integrated within the UNFCCC at COP28.”
The coalition aspires to raise the ambition of negotiators in preparation for COP28, despite the failure to incorporate a comprehensive approach to food systems in the deliberations of the the Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on Implementation of Climate Action in Agriculture and Food Security (SSJW) during the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June.
“We urge negotiators to consider the opportunities offered by fully integrating actions across food systems in the UNFCCC and rapidly shift to national implementation,” reads the joint letter.
“COP28 is a critical stepping stone in fixing our food systems and safeguarding food and nutrition security for people and humanity. Let’s seize this opportunity.”