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food Food Was a Focus at COP28. Here’s What You Need To Know

At the world’s biggest conference on climate change, global leaders tried to make moves for a more sustainable food system.

During COP28, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Commission released a list of recommendations for what needs to change in the global food system to meet climate goals. ,

Every fall, the United Nations holds a global meeting to discuss the state of climate change and necessary actions. This two-week gathering is for the signees of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and is called the Conference of the Parties, or COP, for short. Also in attendance are policymakers, NGOs, lobbyists, scientists and more.

COPs are historically where key climate decisions are made, such as the Kyoto Protocol, in which signing parties agreed to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and the Paris Agreement, which committed parties to the goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

However, current world government actions are not enough to meet the climate goals set by the Paris Agreement, and even promises made at this year’s conference (and in years past) may not be enough to move the world closer to those goals. The climate conferences are not without their share of criticism. This year, the president of COP28, Sultan Al Jaber, has come under fire after claiming there wasn’t sufficient scientific evidence that a phase-out of fossil fuels could help lower global temperatures. Food production accounts for 26 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and past COP conferences have been accused of greenwashing, in part by offering meat on the menu while talking about reducing global meat consumption. Critics have long accused COP conferences of being all about the talk, with little action. It remains to be seen what, if anything, will actually happen as a result of this year’s discussions. 

This year, at COP28 in Dubai, global food systems and agriculture were discussed more than ever before. Here are the key food and agriculture takeaways from this year’s conference, which wrapped up today.

Takeaway 1: Leaders linked climate and food systems with declaration

More than 130 countries signed the Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action, also known as the Emirates Declaration. That’s a mouthful, but the declaration appears to have weight behind it. More than $2.5 billion has been put aside for this declaration, including a $200-million fund from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation looking specifically at agricultural research. 

This declaration, first and foremost, emphasizes the importance of including agriculture and food systems solutions to meet climate goals. “We stress that any path to fully achieving the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement must include agriculture and food systems,” says the declaration.

Signees commit to taking action by 2025 to scale up and strengthen mechanisms for resilient food systems, with the goal of reducing environmental impacts and increasing security for those who work in the food system. Signees will review their progress next year, at COP29. Read the full text.

Takeaway 2: The FAO released a roadmap for sustainably feeding the growing population

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During COP28, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Commission released a list of recommendations for what needs to change in the global food system to meet climate goals. The goal of this roadmap is to successfully feed the growing world population while staying aligned with emissions targets.

One of the recommendations in this roadmap was that meat consumption should shift to favor lower-impact animals that still meet nutritional needs. This is in reference to the emissions produced by animal agriculture, which are the food items that have the greatest environmental impact.

Meanwhile, companies and groups such as Tyson Foods, JBS and the North American Meat Institute attended COP28 to make the case that they have a place in the future of food.

Other recommendations include increased adoption of precision agriculture technologies and addressing obstacles to land tenure, with a special focus on women and Indigenous peoples. Read the full roadmap here, or click through this visualization here.

Takeaway 3: Countries made plans to tackle food waste, starting with the US

Announced first at COP28, the USDA has released a draft of the new National Strategy to Reduce US Food Loss and Waste. With an initial investment of $30 million, the strategy sets out four goals for the federal government. 

The goals include  the prevention of the loss of food where possible and preventing the waste of food. The other goals are to increase recycling rates for organic waste and, finally, to support policies that echo these aims. With roughly one third of available food going uneaten globally, a strategy centering food loss and solutions such as composting could make a big difference in the US.

“Food loss and waste poses a real challenge to agriculture, food and the climate. In order to tackle this problem, and in turn build a resilient food system and mitigate climate impacts, we must explore and implement innovative solutions,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a release.

The policy is a joint effort between the USDA, FDA and EPA, and a 30-day public comment period is now open. You can add your comments on the policy here

Takeaway 4: Negotiators had trouble nailing down specifics

Sunday was Food, Agriculture and Water Day at COP28, and negotiators released a draft document, intended to help countries move towards sustainable agriculture and track progress. However, as reported by Indian media outlets, while the document references sustainable agriculture, it doesn’t pin down specific targets for goals related to food, water, health and agriculture. The document also points out that the funding required to adapt these systems “remains insufficient,” but it does not specify how much is actually needed. Other climate agreements have seen a softening in languageas well, moving from a “phase out” of fossil fuels, to a “reduction.” 

Speaking at COP over the weekend, Vilsack even said that the final statement from the convention may not mention food or agriculture, as “there wasn’t enough time to negotiate a text.” Vilsack referenced disagreements between nations on how to measure progress of climate goals. 

Vilsack did highlight the US’s contributions to COP’s overall goals, including the investment of close to $20 billion to help agricultural producers reduce emissions and enhance carbon sequestration in their soil. 

Takeaway 5: New partnerships and coalitions emerged

This year’s COP has resulted in the emergence of several new initiatives that will be worth keeping an eye on. One was the International Soil Carbon Industry Alliance, formed among 28 organizations, which will focus on developing our understanding of soil carbon sequestration, a topic that has had an amorphous definition in the carbon credit market. 

Soil naturally stores carbon, making it a valuable resource for fighting climate change. However, the carbon credit market, which allows companies to offset their carbon footprint by purchasing carbon credits that, in theory, protect carbon sinks from being disturbed, lacks consistency and is therefore vulnerable to greenwashing. A better understanding of soil carbon sequestration can lead to best practices for land management and carbon storage. Read our breakdown of some of the obstacles the carbon credit market faces here.