Food Systems Emissions Firmly on COP28 Menu

Governments will be invited to sign food systems declaration in Dubai, integrating sector-related emissions into NDCs.

Emissions from food systems will be factored into global climate negotiations for the first time, following announcements made at a key summit last week.  

United Arab Emirates (UAE) Minister of Climate and Environment Mariam Almheiri launched the COP28 food and agriculture agenda at the UN Food Systems Summit, in recognition that tackling food systems emissions is vital to keeping the 1.5°C goal alive.  

At COP28 in Dubai, governments will be asked to sign a Food Systems Declaration, including integration agri-food emissions into nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and other national plans.  

According to FAIRR Initiative Policy Director Helena Wright, the move is a “significant development” and “yet another signal from policymakers that they mean business on food sector emissions”.   

Food systems emissions represent more than a third (34%) of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 40% of methane 

“Integrating emissions from food systems into [NDCs] would necessitate a step-change in government policy governing how we produce and consume food,” Wright said, adding that investors have been calling for this since COP26 in Glasgow, when a group representing US$12 trillion in assets called for all G20 nations to disclose specific targets for emissions reduction in agriculture within or alongside their NDC commitments. 

“It is remarkable to witness that the statement we made back then, urging emission reductions in the agriculture sector to be included in NDCs, has now gained momentum,” she told ESG Investor. 

The Food Systems Declaration has brought attention to the fact that only a very small number of NDCs had included food-related measures at that time,” she added.  

“It is truly exciting to see our call to action being heeded and recognised as a necessary step in addressing food system challenges.” 

Countries’ NDCs – the plans by which they intend to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – will be reviewed at COP28 as part of the first-ever Global Stocktake 

Holistic engagement 

Wright said that the Food System Declaration demonstrates that both policy and corporate engagement are needed by investors to drive climate action.  

In June last year, six fast-food companies, including McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza, committed to set global GHG reduction targets approved by the Science-based Targets initiative (SBTi) following a US$11 trillion collective investor engagement led by FAIRR, an investor network focused on animal agriculture.  

We have seen improvements in terms of corporations setting science-based targets,” said Wright. “However, in terms of policy action, there is a clear need to align incentives with the low-carbon transition. 

“In the past, policy action has been lacking in this area, as demonstrated by the NDCs lacking specific targets on agriculture and food systems,” she added.  

According to Wright, taking action across all high emission sectors is essential to meet the 1.5°C goal, with addressing agri-food systems emissions vital in combatting climate change and its “devastating effects”, evidenced by rising frequency of extreme weather events.  

Roadmap for 1.5°C 

At the summit, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director General Qu Dongyu outlined its planned International Energy Agency-style 1.5°C roadmap for the agri-food system, scheduled for COP28, indicating that the FAO is on track to fulfil the commitment it made at COP27.  

Last year, a FAIRR-led call from investors with US$18 trillion in assets – and backed by Christiana Figueres, Ban Ki-moon and Mary Robinson – advocated for a clear roadmap for agri-food systems to align with the 1.5°C goal.  

The FAO roadmap, while welcomed by investors, must include key, concrete milestones essential to establish a clear and 1.5°C-aligned pathway, said Wright, adding that focus areas like methane reduction, deforestation, and promoting sustainable diets are vital. 

“For the roadmap to be truly useful and effective for both policymakers and investors, it would be ideal if it could be on par with the IEA Net Zero report,” she said.  

“By being equivalent to such a credible and comprehensive report, the roadmap can carry more weight and credibility, facilitating better collaboration and commitment from relevant stakeholders.” 

SDG-focused solutions  

The FAO’s planned roadmap at COP28 will highlight solutions in support of achieving SDG2 (zero hunger) and SDG13 (climate action).  

The roadmap will focus on solutions covering crops and livestock production, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, land, water and soils, as well as those that support resilience, reduce GHG emissions, increase carbon sequestration and ensure food security. 

“It’s helpful to see that the FAO’s roadmap is solution oriented,” said Wright, adding that this approach indicates a proactive and constructive stance in addressing the challenges posed by agri-food systems. 

“Taken together […] it is clear that agri-food emissions are finally on the menu at the top table,” said Wright. “These significant milestones are testament to power of collaborative investor engagement on policy, and investors will be reassured by the clarity that both a roadmap and NDC-driven government policy will provide.” 

As mentioned in a previous statement by FAIRR, investors in the food and agriculture sectors are increasingly acknowledging the risks posed by climate change and are taking steps to implement their own net zero strategies. 

Wright said achieving these strategies will not be possible without effective policy actions.  

“For investors, it is part of their fiduciary responsibility to safeguard their assets over the long term,” she said. “This entails recognising both the risks associated with the business-as-usual scenario and the opportunities that come with transitioning to a net zero approach. 

“We are pleased to see that the role of agriculture, which accounts for approximately a third of global GHG emissions, is now being acknowledged and given the attention it deserves.”

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