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COP28: Businesses and governments rally behind food systems sustainability

134 countries have signed the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, and will incorporate food into their climate plans.
Melodie Michel
COP28 food systems sustainability
Photo by wilsan u on Unsplash

More than 150 non-state actors including Unilever, Nestlé and Danone call for the transformation of global food systems, and 134 countries commit to integrate food into climate plans by 2025 on Day 2 of COP28.

This year’s climate change conference in Dubai is keen to deliver on its promised outcomes: after operationalising the loss and damage fund yesterday (the first time an agreement is achieved on Day 1), global stakeholders have signed a landmark declaration to make food systems more sustainable and resilient to climate change.

No less than 134 countries – including Brazil, China, the EU and the US, which have some of the highest food-related GHG emissions – have signed the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action. This means they will have to incorporate food and agriculture into their next nationally determined contributions, by COP30 at the latest – supporting private sector efforts to make food supply chains more regenerative.

The declaration, announced by UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan today in Dubai, was an expected outcome of the conference, but the large number of signatories is a welcome confirmation that food is now top of the global climate agenda. 

“The launch of this declaration is the moment when food truly comes of age in the climate process, sending a powerful signal to the nations of the world that we can only keep the 1.5 degree goal in sight if we act fast to shift the global food system in the direction of greater sustainability and resilience,” commented World Resources Institute President and CEO Ani Dasgupta.

However, he also noted that the declaration’s success will be determined by whether countries follow through on these commitments with “substantial policy reforms”. Brazil, for example, recently failed to include agribusiness into its newly-created emissions cap-and-trade scheme, so policy adjustments will be necessary.

Non-state actors call for supportive policies and “stand ready to support implementation”

Meanwhile, a group of over 150 businesses, farmers groups, financial institutions, NGOs and Indigenous Peoples Groups – including food giants Danone, Nestlé and Unilever – have signed a call to create “time-bound, aligned, holistic, global targets for food systems by COP29 at the latest”. 

Among key priorities, the coalition believes policies and actions should focus on supporting frontline food systems actors to adapt to climate change, reduce absolute emissions from the sector, in part by transition away from fossil fuel use, and improve the availability and accessibility of healthy and nutritious food, with “more diversified sources of protein”.

Signatories also hope to see government support to scale up sustainable approaches to food production that improve soil health and enhance water resilience, including agroecology, organic, regenerative and nature-positive approaches and sustainable aquaculture.

Many large food companies such as the ones mentioned above are investing in making their supply chains more sustainable, but regenerative agriculture still faces significant barriers to implementation – including short-term losses for farmers making the transition.

In its white paper Together for regenerative agrifood ecosystems, also released today, the European Alliance for Regenerative Agriculture notes that “pluralism in governance and knowledge systems” will be required to enable supportive policy-making, and advocates for policies “that remunerate agroecosystem health performance”. These policies include payment for ecosystem services, a mechanism promoted by many in the regenerative agriculture space.

In their call to action, the coalition calls on governments “to reorient agricultural policies, redirect subsidies away from harmful practices and repurpose public support, address trade, finance and regulatory barriers, and introduce mandatory climate- and nature-related risk disclosure”.

Read also: Nature Restoration Law: How can Chief Sustainability Officers prepare?

Call to action signatories also said they welcome today’s Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, and “stand ready to support its ambitious implementation”.