Win for agriculture as 134 countries endorse climate plan inclusion

Environment CS Soipan Tuya and President William Ruto at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). [PCS]

Agriculture was a big winner after 134 world leaders endorsed the COP28 Presidency Declaration on Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action.

In the declaration, they pledged to integrate food and agriculture into their national climate plans for the first time, in a move hailed by observers despite fears over its silence on the role of fossil fuels.

Among the countries that signed the declaration were the US, the European Union, China, and African Nations including Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

Experts however said the declaration does not set out how governments will tackle food emissions and makes no reference to fossil fuels, despite food systems accounting for at least 15 per cent of fossil fuels burned each year - equivalent to the emissions of all European Union countries and Russia combined.

Hilal Elver, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and member of the Steering Committee of the High-Level Panel of Experts on food security and nutrition, underscored the multifaceted impact of food systems on climate change.

"The destruction of nature and climate change threatens food security, rural livelihoods, and nutrition, but our food systems also cause a third of global emissions and are a primary driver of wildlife loss," said Ms Elver.

"It's about time the COP put them on the main menu. Food and agriculture must be at the heart of new climate plans and funding if we are to meet the Paris Agreement and have enough nutritious food for everyone," she noted.

Food systems are responsible for roughly a third of human-made greenhouse gases but are increasingly threatened by global warming and biodiversity loss.

Some 134 countries which produce 70 per cent of the food eaten worldwide signed the declaration, including the United Arab Emirates.

The declaration said countries will strengthen efforts to integrate food systems into their plans to cut down emissions.

Nations will also pursue efforts to support farmers and other vulnerable food producers, including through increased funding, more infrastructure and developing early warning systems, it added.

It also emphasised the importance of restoring land, shifting from green house-gas emitting agricultural practices, and reducing food loss.

The 134 nations are home to 5.7 billion people and represent more than three-quarters of all greenhouse gas emissions from the global food system - or 25 per cent of total emissions worldwide, the Cop28 statement said.

Wanjira Maithai, Managing Director for Africa and Global Partnerships at the World Resources Institute, emphasised the transformative shift signalled by the Emirates Declaration, urging governments to promptly incorporate food and agriculture into national climate plans.

"The global food system, which accounts for a third of emissions and is highly vulnerable to climate impacts, is now on the climate agenda, and the countdown to action has begun," said Ms Maithai.

"Governments must immediately include food and agriculture into national climate plans - this means concrete actions, targets, timetables, and finance to get fossil fuels out of our food system, promote more diverse and nature-friendly farming, support small-scale producers and reduce methane," she added.

Elizabeth Nsimadala, President of the Eastern African Farmers Federation, hailed the Emirates Declaration as the beginning of a transformative journey for the global food system.

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