Key takeaways from COP28 from a food systems perspective

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By Aditi Mukherji, Director, CGIAR Climate Adaptation and Mitigation Impact Area Platform

The 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – COP28, concluded in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) last month. It was a significant COP for all of us working in agri-food. This COP was convened in the backdrop of broken climate records, including the fact that 2023 was the hottest year on record, with the average global temperature exceeding the preindustrial average by 2°C for the first time, for two consecutive days in November 2023. While such a temporary breach does not mean that we have crossed 2°C, it shows that unless urgent climate action is taken on all fronts, we will miss the temperature targets set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Historically, most COPs have focused on energy issues; COP28, however, centered on agriculture, food security, and food systems. We know that food systems account for up to one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, with smallholder farmers in the Global South at the forefront of climate impacts. Therefore, adaptation, mitigation, losses, and damages are all pertinent to food systems.

These are my five takeaways from COP 28 regarding outcomes for the agri-food sector, which is CGIAR’s work domain.

Renewed Climate Action: A Focus on the agri-food sector

A notable early success was the UAE Declaration on Food and Agriculture, signed by 154 countries. This declaration marks a significant milestone by prioritizing food systems on the climate agenda, compelling signatories to strengthen their commitments regarding agriculture and food systems in their enhanced National Adaptation Plan (NAP) and Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets. Moving forward, CGIAR must assess these new NDC and NAP documents to determine whether they include enhanced commitments related to food systems and evaluate their impact on achieving the 1.5 to 2°C temperature goals.

Filling the Loss and Damage Fund: A welcome development

COP28 started on a positive note. Thanks to the deft handling of the presidency, the Loss and Damage Fund was swiftly filled with a little more than $500 million in pledges. While this initial funding is a step in the right direction, it falls short of what is needed to address loss and damage. The agri-food sector is one of the most climate-exposed sectors globally, and climate-vulnerable countries of the Global South are experiencing most of the losses and damages. As a result, CGIAR research can help quantify these losses and damages, work with external partners to improve attribution science, and devise methodologies and insights that can aid in operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund in the future.

Global Goals on Adaptation: Sectoral goals on agri-food systems made it to the final text

As COP28 commenced, I hoped for successful negotiations regarding the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA). The lack of clear goals and targets has constrained funding for adaptation, with only approximately 10% of climate funds allocated to it and even less directed toward climate action for smallholder farmers. The final GGA text was encouraging as it urges all Parties to establish targets for reducing climate-induced water scarcity, enhancing resilience to water-related hazards, and achieving climate-resilient food and agricultural production and distribution – areas that are crucial to CGIAR’s mission. Indeed, some of the wordings for the final text were similar to the wordings in a blog that I contributed to along with colleagues from the University of Cape Town. The GGA text also proposed a two-year work program to develop quantified targets, including those related to food and water. This presents an opportunity for the CGIAR to contribute peer-reviewed literature and submissions to support the development of these targets.

Inconclusive Discussions on Sharm El Sheikh Joint Work on Agriculture

While discussions on Loss and Damage Funds and the Global Goal on Adaptation were promising from a food systems perspective, it was disappointing that the Sharm El Sheikh Joint Work on Agriculture failed to reach a clear decision. This has resulted in plans to reopen negotiations in Bonn during the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice session in June 2024. The core contention revolves around Global South countries’ concerns that mitigation efforts could compromise food security.

Here, CGIAR and its partners’ research can demonstrate how low-emission pathways in agriculture can be achieved without compromising food security. In 2023, CGIAR published the Agriculture Breakthrough Report, which showcased a range of technologies and policy options for reducing emissions across various aspects of food systems while safeguarding food and livelihood security.

Addressing the Funding Gap for Food Systems Transformation

CGIAR seized the opportunity at COP28 to emphasize the importance of investing in research and innovation to transform food systems. Food systems transformation receives very little funding, with a global funding gap of 350 billion dollars annually. Current investments fall significantly short of the mark, with organizations like CGIAR working in over 100 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America having budgets smaller than those of some U.S. universities. This shortfall starkly contrasts with the trillions lost due to agri-food systems architecture unsuitable for purpose.

At COP28, CGIAR launched its investment case, seeking $4 billion in funding, and has thus far received pledges totaling $890 million. CGIAR colleagues actively participated in over 100 sessions, covering topics ranging from gender and climate security to water-energy-food nexus, finance, research, and innovations. These efforts underscore the critical role of research and innovation in achieving sustainable food systems transformation.

Indeed, COP28 served as a pivotal turning point in addressing climate change with a new focus on the agri-food sector and the importance of science and innovation. CGIAR can and must play a pivotal role in transforming food systems through its research innovation so that smallholder producers in the Global South for whom we work do not continue to suffer disproportionately due to climate change.


Header image: An event at the Food and Agriculture Pavilion at COP28. Photo credit: CGIAR.

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