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Global WarmingMeaningful Progress and Missed Opportunities on Food System Emissions

Meaningful Progress and Missed Opportunities on Food System Emissions

COP27: Meaningful Progress and Missed Opportunities on Food System Emissions

Benjamin Ritter and Kevin Karl
|December 16, 2022

man sits at a fruit stand

Photo: Carlo “Granchius” Bonini https://www.flickr.com/photos/granchius/2709808416

In accordance with data developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization, global food systems are chargeable for nearly a 3rd of total GHG emissions. Nonetheless, world leaders and policymakers have been slow to give attention to food systems as a priority area for deep decarbonization.

When leaders met in Egypt for this yr’s COP27 climate conference, many observers were hopeful that the role of food systems in global climate change — each as major emission sources and as opportunities for significant cuts — would finally be addressed within the high-level climate negotiations.

Other than exciting recent additions to the Blue Zone and references to food and agriculture in the ultimate draft cover text, what exactly did policymakers commit to — or avoid — throughout the COP27 deliberations? And did the conference fully deliver on its billing as the primary “food COP”?

A missed opportunity

Going into this yr’s conference, one of the crucial vital developments related to food systems and climate motion centered on the efforts to define a successor to the Korinivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA).

The Korinivia agreement was finalized in 2017 during COP23 and was the primary official UN recognition of agriculture as a critical component and potential tool in international climate change efforts.

With the KJWA now about to run out, many observers and policy advocates signed an open letter urging world leaders at COP27 to adopt a recent agreement focused on implementing the KJWA findings to chop food-related emissions and help create “sustainable, equitable, and resilient food systems” aligned with 1.5-degree climate pathways.

But many experts and food-climate advocates expressed disappointment with the resulting draft agreement, which did not retain language around “sustainable food systems” that might have helped ensure an ambitious and holistic approach to mitigating agrifood system emissions.

This language was scaled back in response to resistance from the G77 group of nations and others. China desired to avoid introducing recent, less-defined food systems references, and the US preferred to give attention to supply-side solutions that avoid politically sensitive issues, akin to sustainable diets and nutrition.

The result’s a recent four-year mandate to give attention to the implementation of KJWA actions with a narrow give attention to agriculture and food security, reasonably than the hoped-for broader food systems approach.

While this mandate will definitely prove vital, there’s general agreement from many civil society and policy experts that the COP27 negotiators failed to completely seize the chance to re-center global food system transformations as a serious tool to deal with our pressing climate and food crises.

Other food-related initiatives and developments

Fortunately, there have been several other food-related initiatives and announcements which will prove to be exciting in the long run.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Egyptian Presidency overseeing this yr’s COP announced the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation initiative to speed up investment in food systems aligned with a resilient, food-secure 1.5-degree pathway.

Similarly, the WHO, FAO, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition launched the Initiative on Climate Motion and Nutrition to supply planning and technical support for governments, agrifood industries, and financial institutions to design policies and motion on the intersection of climate and global nutrition.

Thirteen countries now recognize and endorse the Breakthrough Agenda, a plan to speed up the decarbonization of power systems, road transport, steel, hydrogen and the agriculture sector. The plan goals to spice up investment in agricultural research, development and demonstration to fulfill the dual challenges of food insecurity and a climate-friendly food system.

The US also launched the Global Fertilizer Challenge to assist tackle the worldwide shortages related to the war in Ukraine. This system doubles the initial investments and reach of the Agricultural Innovation Mission for Climate initiative, speeding up funding for climate-sensitive and sustainable food systems over the following three years.

A recent roadmap for food system transformations

Perhaps most fun, nonetheless, is the FAO’s commitment to supply a roadmap for the food and agricultural sectors to decarbonize in alignment with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5-degrees.

The plan will seek to supply decision-ready data and clarity to firms, investors, and policymakers to enable a just transition inside agriculture and food systems.

Set to be released by COP28 next yr, the FAO’s roadmap could serve an analogous function because the International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Outlook analyses, which have helped drive investments and policy decisions in the continued transition to low-carbon energy systems.

So as to be truly effective, this recent food systems roadmap needs to be accompanied by efforts to define an internationally standardized greenhouse-gas accounting framework for national food systems, which is able to help countries higher measure, manage, and mitigate their food-related emissions.

The accounting framework would also support the flexibility of national governments to design and submit enhanced nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement to incorporate food system transformations that address climate change.

Residents and stakeholder groups may also find a way to leverage the roadmap to grasp and compare the food and agricultural emissions footprints of various countries and regions and hold leaders to account for perceived shortcomings inside their food system climate motion plans.

Within the wake of the narrowly defined Korinivia successor, each of those initiatives should — if successfully funded and implemented — help to further connect global climate mitigation and adaptation efforts to facilitate urgent food system transformations.

The decision

Taken together, it seems greater than fair to recollect COP27 as the primary conference to completely recognize and include discussions of agriculture and food systems at the very best levels of international climate change negotiations.

While the successor to the Korinivia agreement may lack the scope and ambition that many observers hoped for, the inclusion of food-related initiatives across the conference agenda — from the ground of the Food Systems Pavilion to the key recent programs by the FAO — reflects a crucial recognition of the inextricable connections between our global climate and food crises.

But as with the long history of international climate commitments, the precise wording of agreements and the exciting announcements of recent initiatives matter far lower than the harder work of implementation, coordination, and accountability.

Policymakers and stakeholders from across the energy, climate, and food and agricultural sectors might want to construct off the achievements of COP27 to further speed up recent mitigation and adaptation efforts, ensure a just transition that empowers smallholder farmers and includes appropriate demand-side actions in developed countries, and help create the sustainable, equitable, and climate-resilient food systems needed to fulfill our future food and climate demands.

Benjamin Ritter is a graduate student in Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Kevin Karl is a research associate at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, where he focuses on the intersection of food systems and climate change as a member of the Food Climate Partnership.

The Food Climate Partnership is a consortium of scientists and policy practitioners from Columbia Climate School’s Center for Climate Systems Research and Center on Global Energy Policy, the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project, and Recent York University’s School of Environmental Studies. The group supports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in its environmental statistics work.


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