One hundred and fifty-nine countries have now signed on for the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, pledging to incorporate food into their climate strategies by the year 2025— representing more than 80% of the signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
While agriculture is one of the largest contributing sectors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions— representing one-third of GHG emissions— it is also one of the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Incorporating agriculture into Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) is essential to tackle the sector’s susceptibility to climate change, guarantee food security, bolster economic stability, and actively contribute to global initiatives aimed at combating climate change and fostering sustainable development.
Implementing climate-smart agricultural practices and sustainable land management can simultaneously reduce emissions from agriculture and increase resilience to climate-related challenges. Strategies to lower emissions in agriculture typically prioritize enhancing efficiency, embracing sustainable practices, and encouraging the adoption of renewable energy in farming operations.
The Emirates Declaration centers on redirecting national policies and the $700 billion allocated for agricultural subsidies towards initiatives that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, prevent ecosystem loss and degradation, enhance ecosystem resilience, and promote better human and animal health.
The Emirates Declaration was originally announced on December 1st during the “Transforming Food Systems in the Face of Climate Change” gathering at the World Climate Action Summit (WCAS) Leaders Event at COP 28 in Dubai. At the time, there were 134 signatories, covering 70% of the world’s land. On December 10th— Food Agriculture and Water Day at COP28— dignitaries and ministerial leaders reconvened to deliberate its implementation in their respective countries and at a global level.
Signatories pledged to have their pertinent ministries collaborate on producing a comprehensive progress report on these objectives for presentation at COP29.
Sir David Nabarro, Co-Director and Chair of Global Health at Imperial’s Institute of Global Health Innovation was reinstated as emcee of the second phase of the public proceedings pertaining to the Emirates Declaration. Dr. Nabarro stressed the interconnections between climate and farming.
“What makes sense for the climate also makes sense for the farmers,” he said.
Overall, the two-hour event presented an ideological roadmap for executing the Declaration’s goals through the year 2025, highlighting the thoughts of global agriculture leaders. While there were two panels on the agenda, it was disappointing that there were no actual free form discussions among the political and food systems leaders who instead delivered scripted speeches.
Introductory statements made by Mariam Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment; Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, Minister of the Environment of Italy; Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Maximo Torero, Chief Economist of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) all referenced the necessity for food systems to be included in the climate agenda.
This was the first year that food systems were formally included and directly addressed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC). The Emirates Declaration established the fundamental basis for the worldwide directive to prioritize food systems in future climate policies.
Mohammed said that the Emirates Declaration is a “powerful declaration of political will” to have food systems included in so many countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
“Let us seize this historic opportunity,” she said.
Also launched on day 10 was the FAO roadmap. Maximo Torero described the roadmap as FAO’s first step in devising a strategy to eradicate severe hunger while simultaneously helping to reduce one-third of greenhouse gas emissions from food systems, with emphasis on fostering a just transition.
The first panel on the agenda was entitled “Putting the Emirates Declaration in to Action: Exchanging Experiences of National Leadership in Agriculture, Food Systems, Water Management and Climate Action.” Speakers were Tom Vilsack, United States secretary of Agriculture; Ildephonse Musafiri, Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources of Rwanda; Claudia Muller, Parliamentary State Secretary, Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Germany; Fernando Costa, Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries of Uruguay, Vatimi Rayalu, Minister of Agriculture and Waterway of Fiji; and Marc Fesneau, Minister of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty of France.
“The [Emirates] Declaration recognizes that food systems are context-specific… There is no universal prescription or one size fits all approach,” affirmed Minister Rayalu of Fiji.
Fiji, a Small Island Developing State in the South Pacific was among fourteen small island nations that were actively involved in the framing of the tool kit.
Small Island Developing States typically struggle with land management issues, susceptibility to extreme climate events, coastal erosion, heavy reliance on imports, flooding and permanent land submersion due to rising sea levels. These all pose a significant threat to food sovereignty.
From a policy perspective, Dr. Martien van Nieuwkoop, Global Director, Agriculture and Food Global Practice at the World Bank offered perspectives on enhancing tools and country support mechanisms for planning, policy, innovation and finance as they applied to the objectives of the Emirates Declaration.
On the second panel of the day, Mr. Stefanos Fotiou, Director, UN Food Systems Coordination Hub and Director, FAO Office of Sustainable Development Goals moderated a panel of ministers who shared how they were implementing the declaration in their respective countries, with a focus on synergizing partnerships, country-led platforms, tools and financing.
The Hub which Fotiou heads is tasked with aiding countries in advancing or executing their national food systems transformation pathways, pertinent dialogues, and other procedures. This is achieved through provision of individualized technical and policy support.
The panel included Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for Development and Africa in the United Kingdom; Rob Jetten, Minister of Climate and Energy Policy, Netherlands; Henry Musa Kpaka, Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Sierra Leone, and Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, Minister of International Development of Norway.
“The global food system is failing to deliver on multiple fronts,” said Minister Kpaka of Sierra Leone. “We are here to talk about national leadership and taking action…”
Sierra Leone is one of five countries on The Alliance of Champions for Food Systems Transformation (ACF), a strategic coalition of countries (Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Brazil, Cambodia and Norway) that is collaborating towards the transformation of food systems.
Joao Campari Global Food Practice Leader, WWF said that the ACF, which was also launched on Food, Agriculture and Water Day at COP28, represents a group of countries that are “determined to go further, faster, by taking ‘whole of government’ approaches and learning from each other.”
Minister Tvinnereim of Norway, one of the alliance partners, echoed Minister Kpaka’s enthusiasm for The ACF and stressed that leaders must “break out of their silos.”
The Emirates Declaration implementation event came on the heels of public outcry around limited reference to food systems in the Global Stock Take (GST).
The GST serves as a thorough assessment of worldwide efforts to combat climate change. It identifies achievements, remaining tasks, and strategies for addressing challenges. This process informs individual countries about challenges, actions, and support needed for their next round of Nationally Determined Contributions.
Following the strong negative response, a new draft of the GST was unveiled on December 9th which made more reference to food and agriculture. Many advocates are continuing to urge for a more substantial acknowledgment within the document, emphasizing the crucial role of food systems to both climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The COP28 legacy “climate policy toolkit for food” which was unveiled at the event will serve as a guide to assist signatories of the Declaration in expediting the implementation process of the Emirates Declaration.
“I congratulate the presidency for creating this tool,” said Parliamentary State Secretary, Claudia Muller of Germany.
Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA and UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the 2021 Food Systems Summit stressed that the momentum needs to continue.
“We need a roadmap… tools that should take us forward,” she said.
Renata Miranda, Secretary of Innovation, Sustainable Development, Irrigation and Cooperatives of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of Brazil delivered the closing remarks for the event, referring to the love-hate relationship that the climate sector has with food systems as a “magical paradox.”
Secretary Miranda advised that the implementation of the declaration would not be straight forward and should be country-specific as per each country’s different capabilities. “Unilateral measures should be strongly rejected,” she said.
The message that came through strongly is that no sector has the ability to remove emissions from the atmosphere in the way that food systems do— food systems must be a part of the solution.
“Food is the key of success,” said Secretary Miranda. “Food connects people… The implementation of this declaration should acknowledge this symbolism.”