Climate Change Mitigation

Reflections on COP28: A Breakthrough for Food System Transformation

The annual international climate meetings in Dubai, known as COP28, have nearly concluded. I have been to several COPs (which stands for Conference of the Parties) over the years, but the meetings in Dubai felt very different.

Set in a sprawling conference center, the activities spread across dozens of meeting halls. The space felt more like a small village than an event venue. Thousands of people milled about each day—government officials, business executives, donors, activists, and representatives of indigenous communities. While COP includes formal negotiations, for many people this felt secondary to the events and networking opportunities. There’s always a certain amount of criticism aimed toward the annual climate gatherings—and some of it is well deserved—but the significance of these gatherings lies in their ability to bring together a range of voices from around the globe and to push for a consensus view that can spur action.

While the overall outcome of COP was mixed, for GFN and the broader community working on food security and related topics, this COP had a lot to offer.

GFN sent a small delegation to COP28—just a few staff members, who were joined by food bank partners from Mexico, Thailand, and Ireland. While there, we joined with many colleagues and partners working to create a more sustainable global food system.

A Breakthrough for Food

This year’s COP represented a breakthrough when it comes to the food system. Going into COP, the food sector was already high on the agenda, as people have been increasingly making the connection between food transformation and climate action. These two systems are deeply linked, with food and agriculture responsible for nearly one-third of global emissions. Climate change has a major impact on food access, with events like extreme droughts and heat waves that disrupt the food supply. And, sadly, the global food crisis continues to be acute, with nearly 800 million people facing hunger last year.

Leading into this year’s COP, the global community rallied around the need to address the global food system. On the second day, countries released a Declaration calling for action to transform the food system. By the end of COP, the Declaration had been signed by more than 150 countries, far exceeding expectations. Later in the week, non-state actors, including GFN and several of our partner food banks, signed a letter calling for governments to take action on food.

Another positive development was the launch of a new high-ambition coalition, the Alliance of Champions for Food Systems Transformation, a group of governments—led by Brazil, Norway and Sierre Leone—committed to driving systemic change on the food system. The FAO also released a first-ever roadmap to transform the food system in order to eradicate hunger, while staying within the 1.5 degree threshold.

In addition, a group of donor organizations released a separate roadmap on food loss and waste reduction. Led by the Bezos Earth Fund, the Robertson Foundation, and IKEA Foundation, the FLW Roadmap presents specific projects and activities that are ripe for investment to accelerate progress on food loss and waste. GFN fed into the report, emphasizing opportunities to collect and redistribute food as an essential lever for action. We look forward to supporting our partners to advance this effort in the coming weeks.

These announcements came alongside dozens of events focused on food-related issues, including some hosted by GFN. On December 8, GFN hosted a day of events spotlighting the importance of reducing food loss and waste. The food banking model supports food loss and waste reductions because it relies on collecting surplus food that would otherwise be wasted and redirects it to people who need it. As many people at COP pointed out, it’s truly appalling that one-third of food produced is lost or wasted, especially when so many people lack access to healthy and nutritious diets. GFN’s events provided a platform for leaders and experts across the food sector to discuss these topics and share insights and ideas to spur action. You can watch the recordings here.

As of the publication of this article, the official COP28 text, known as the Global Stocktake, contains brief language within the adaptation section referring to the food system. The Stocktake language will inform countries national climate plans (or NDCs), which are used to inform national and sub-national policies. While the content is limited, it offers a signal to governments about the role of food and provides a building block for the coming years.

The Road Ahead

Of course, declarations and events are not the end goal. We urgently need to accelerate progress that can drive down greenhouse gas emissions and expand food access. At GFN, we will continue to push the agenda forward through our work to advance policies, investments, awareness, and action to reduce food loss and waste, as we work with our partner food banks and others around the world to get food to those who need it.

As we leave the buzz of Dubai behind, GFN will work with our partners to build on the momentum from COP28 to drive forward the food system agenda in the days ahead.

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