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Food decarbonization comes of age at COP28

Governments, funders and businesses are rolling up their sleeves at the climate summit to transform food systems.

Urban microgreen farm

Important commitments by governments and civil society organizations will ensure that food and agriculture emissions will be aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Source: Shutterstock/Irina Zharkova

A week into COP28, it’s clear that the climate summit represents a major moment for transforming food systems. Action on food and agriculture has long stood in the shadows of climate negotiations despite accounting for a third of global emissions and being highly vulnerable to climate shocks. 

This year, a series of global policy commitments, finance announcements and industry coalitions are elevating the topic to a new level. That’s the first step to taking the food transition as seriously as energy decarbonization.

Here’s a breakdown of the milestones. 

Commitments embed food in the climate agenda

Three important commitments by governments and civil society organizations will ensure that food and agriculture emissions will be aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement while keeping the sector’s social, economic and health impacts in mind:

134 countries signed the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action:

  • Signatories include key producer and consumer countries such as Brazil, China, Germany, Indonesia, the U.K. and the U.S. Together, all the signatories account for 70 percent of global food consumption and are responsible for 76 percent of food system emissions. As a result, countries will need to include food and land use emissions in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and national adaptation plans by 2025.

128 countries signed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate and Health:

  • The first health day at COP acknowledged the growing health impacts of the climate crisis and prominently noted the need to adopt sustainable and healthy diets to meet climate and health goals. Agreeing on diet shifts has long been controversial for global policymakers, so this is a breakthrough.

Over 150 entities signed a Call to Action for Transforming Food Systems for People, Nature, and Climate

  • This coalition includes frontline communities, NGOs, businesses, and financial and research institutions. It demonstrates that actors from all levels of society are moving in the same direction to transform food systems, which will help break down some historic roadblocks. 

Investors are backing up commitments

Climate action can’t happen without aligning policy and finance, so it’s encouraging to see significant investments that will enable faster implementation of new commitments. Key finance announcements include:

The Green Growth Institute established a $10 billion public-private partnership:

  • The partnership addresses the interconnected issues of food security, climate change and vulnerable rural livelihoods in Africa and the Middle East by unlocking green investments, promoting climate-smart agriculture for rural farmers and creating green jobs.

Innovation and research institute CGIAR secured $890 million in funding:

  • CGIAR’s work focuses primarily on smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries. Donors include the Netherlands, the U.K., the U.S. and Norway. 

The Bezos Earth Fund announced $57 million in grants for initiatives that address food’s climate and biodiversity impacts:

  • The new funding will include projects focused on reducing livestock methane emissions, curbing Amazon deforestation and reducing food loss and waste. The grants are part of the foundation's $1 billion fund earmarked for the intersection of food, climate and nature.

Industry coalitions pave the way 

Because companies dominate global food supply chains, progress remains impossible without them on board.   

The World Economic Forum announced the First Movers Coalition for Food:

  • The coalition plans to create a procurement commitment for low-carbon agricultural commodities with an estimated $10 billion-$20 billion value by 2030. The coalition replicates a similar purchasing demand mechanism launched for hard-to-abate industries two years ago. It includes major food corporations such as Bayer, Cargill, Nestlé and PepsiCo and aims to "de-risk upfront investments into more sustainable food production systems." 

A group of 28 businesses and organizations working on soil carbon sequestration founded the International Soil Carbon Industry Alliance:

  • With founding members that include Indigo Ag, Nutrien, Regrow, Yard Stick and Climate Farmers, the alliance aims to address key barriers to soil carbon projects, including accounting methods, measurement, modeling and financing. It’s a much-needed effort because the voluntary carbon credit market has faced significant criticism this year, and high-quality soil carbon credits are especially complicated to issue. 

The Environmental Defense Fund launched the Dairy Methane Action Alliance:

  • The alliance represents more than $200 billion in revenue from companies such as Bel Group, Danone, General Mills and Kraft Heinz. The companies commit to measuring and disclosing methane emissions of their dairy supply chains. The alliance, however, didn’t agree on concrete targets for reducing emissions. 

The coming years will show whether governments and companies take these issues seriously enough to deliver on the promises made in Dubai. At the very least, the need for food decarbonization is in people’s awareness, and a direction has been set. 

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