More than 130 world leaders have for the first time pledged to slash the impact food and agriculture have in driving climate change at COP28 in the UAE.
A landmark declaration about food systems transformation was announced on the second day of the UN climate conference in Dubai, where King Charles joined other leaders to address the effects of the global food industry on the environment.
The food and agriculture industry currently contributes to around a third of greenhouse gas emissions that are behind the rise in global temperatures.
The countries that signed up to the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action represent 75% of all emissions linked to global food production and consumption, the UAE government said.
The UK, EU, China and the US, among others, should now prioritise food carbon emissions in their efforts to tackle global warming as they work towards the net zero by 2050 goal, as per the new pledge.
The declaration has been welcomed by experts and campaigners alike, who for a long time have been calling for a greater focus on the role food systems play in climate change.
“Getting so many countries to support the COP28 declaration on food systems and climate action is a positive step forward,” said Kate Norgrove, WWF executive director of advocacy & campaigns.
“Our current food system accounts for 30% of climate emissions and 60% of biodiversity loss, so we can’t tackle climate change without transforming the way we produce and consume food.
“WWF stands ready to work together with farmers, producers, retailers, financial institutions, and politicians to turn these high-level plans into workable solutions.”
Wanjira Mathai, MD for Africa and global partnerships at the World Resources Institute, said: “There is no pathway to reaching a 1.5°C degree world, feeding the world, and safeguarding nature without urgently transforming the ways we produce, transport, process, distribute, and consume food and use our land.
“The focus on food and nature at COP28 is welcome but it requires more than warm words – there must be decisive action, with clear targets, timetables and funding, and a focus on local communities to adapt,” she warned.
Anna Lappé, executive director of the Global Alliance for Future of Food, agreed that “putting food on the menu at COP is long overdue”, but that a focus on food systems at this year’s conference “should not distract us from phasing out fossil fuels”.
“Indeed, with at least 15% of emissions coming from the food system, phasing out fossil fuels will require food system transformation.
“Amidst a renewed push by industry to increase dependencies on energy-intensive agriculture and inputs like agrochemicals, frontline leaders are calling for real solutions to deliver sustainable and resilient food systems.
“At COP28 we need urgent action from governments to back these solutions.”
The relationships between food and agriculture and climate change have been under increased scrutiny in recent years as it has become clearer that adverse weather caused by global warming has pushed food prices up.
Just last week, the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) thinktank found the climate emergency’s impact on global food production accounted for one-third of food price inflation in the UK this year – which, paired with soaring energy costs driven by the Ukraine conflict, meant the average British household paid an additional £605 for food in 2022 and 2023.
Signatories of the Emirates Declaration agreed to working collaboratively towards “scaling up adaptation and resilience activities and responses in order to reduce the vulnerability of all farmers, fisherfolk, and other food producers to the impacts of climate change, including through financial and technical support for solutions, capacity building, infrastructure, and innovations, including early warning systems, that promote sustainable food security, production and nutrition, while conserving, protecting and restoring nature”.