Emirates Declaration: Landmark new sustainable food systems pledge backed by 130+ governments

Image: CGIAR

Launched at COP28 in Dubai, the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action reaffirms existing international commitments to halt climate change and nature loss while building in more resilience. It outlines how bringing these agendas together will be crucial to ensuring food security in the decades to come.

Representatives of those signed up to the Declaration will meet at a roundtable this weekend, within the annual UN-led climate conference, to make connections that should enable collaborative delivery.

The Declaration covers issues including:

  • Adapting food systems to climate change that is already ‘baked in’, with a focus on the specific needs of the most-affected groups including smallholder farmers and Indigenous groups
  • Helping these groups maintain their livelihoods
  • Enhancing early warning systems
  • Enhancing water management in agriculture, which accounts for more than 70% of global freshwater use each year
  • Protecting and restoring soils and ecosystem
  • Reducing food loss and waste, which is accountable for at least 8% of global annual emissions
  • Promoting more sustainable aquaculture
  • Encouraging changes in consumption, with a focus on the Global North
  • Ensuring and improving access to nutrition, with a focus on the Global South

There is a vague mention of “shifting from higher greenhouse-gas-emitting practices”, but the Declaration stops short of mentioning fossil fuels outright. Agriculture is estimated to account for around 15% of global annual fossil fuel use. Fossil fuels are used to power equipment on farms an in supply chains, and is also used to make synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

This omission has disappointed some, and there are other finer details yet to be agreed upon, too. Read on for our round-up of reactions.

Ani Dasgupta, president and chief executive, World Resources Institute:

“It’s a big deal that 150 countries today agreed to put food at the heart of their climate plans. The launch of this declaration is the moment when food truly comes of age in the climate process, sending a powerful signal to the nations of the world that we can only keep the 1.5C goal in sight if we act fast to shift the global food system in the direction of greater sustainability and resilience.

“This is an opportunity for countries to increase their ambition to protect and nurture fresh water when the linkages between water and food have never been more urgent. These plans must also ensure that everyone can access nutritious food, bolster people’s livelihoods, especially for smallholder farmers whom we depend on so much, and actively contribute to protecting and restoring nature.

“All countries must leave COP28 with a commitment to incorporate food and food systems fully into their next round of NDCs and arrive at COP29 and COP30 with real progress in hand. In the end, the Declaration’s success will be determined by whether countries follow through on these commitments with substantial policy reforms.”

Dr Aditi Mukherji, director, CGIAR’s climate change adaptation and mitigation action platform:

“CGIAR welcomes this wholesale recognition by heads of state and government that food and agriculture have an intrinsic role in both slowing down and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Access to food is a human right, and climate action is therefore necessary on all fronts to protect it.

“However, it’s imperative that governments translate this acknowledgement into urgent action to deliver the commitments made in the Declaration. Science and evidence-based innovations can be the fuel that drives forward the transformation needed across food systems but this needs adequate funding and integration into policymaking to achieve impact at scale.

“Many promising agricultural innovations already exist to address the challenges outlined in the Declaration, from malnutrition to rural poverty. But ensuring they reach all those who need them requires a substantial increase in political will and funding. CGIAR stands ready to work with governments willing to lead this transformation and unlock the full potential of science and innovation.”

Professor Appolinaire Djkeng, director-general, International Livestock Research Institute:

“The Declaration is a valuable step towards recognising the essential linkages between food, agriculture and climate change.

“However, all countries must be encouraged and supported to implement climate strategies that account for their specific national dietary needs, climate challenges and differing resources. Across the Global South, where the environmental impact of food systems is comparatively low and malnutrition high, this makes animal agriculture and livestock a fundamental reality.

“Empowering developing countries to sustainably increase the productivity of livestock offers the opportunity to achieve climate goals while also improving food, nutrition and income security.”

Patty Fong, programme director, Global Alliance for the Future of Food:

“The Declaration doesn’t set out how governments will tackle food emissions, and makes no reference to fossil fuels, despite food systems accounting for at least 15% of fossil fuels burned each year—equivalent to the emissions of all EU countries and Russia combined. This is a glaring omission.

“However, the commitment to integrate food and farming into domestic climate action plans is welcome and long overdue. More than 70% of countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions lack adequate action on food systems—updating them is where there is real potential to tackle emissions and unlock climate finance.”

Jennifer Morris, chief executive, the Nature Conservancy:

“This declaration will only be meaningful if we see follow-through on the ground. The 134 countries who have committed to the Declaration will need to work with every actor in the food system to deliver real lasting change, as well as immediately phase out fossil fuel use both within and outside of the food economy.

“By ensuring that farmers and producers are at the centre of the solution, food systems can be part of the climate solution, and support farming communities and livelihoods. Only then will we see the results needed to meet this challenge.”

Champa Patel, executive director of government and policy, the Climate Group:

“Today’s declaration on sustainable food systems is welcome, but we need to move to action as soon as possible if we want to cut back food-related emissions in time.

“The war in Ukraine showed how feeble our food supply chain actually is – we need resilient, sustainable food systems to tackle emissions and ensure food security. We are working with companies and governments throughout the world to ensure supply chains and food production meet those criteria and we are bringing them together this Sunday (3 December) during a roundtable to discuss exactly that.”

Diego Martinez Schuett, food systems advisor, CAFOD:

“The Emirates Declaration launched today by the COP28 Presidency is a step in the right direction because it addresses our broken global food system by targeting support for indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers, and in recognising the need for local solutions.

“But the irony is glaring: the Declaration’s plans to boost global trading systems through the World Trade Organization are only going to benefit industrial giants and not farmers. Currently, only 0.3% of climate finance goes to small-scale farmers although they produce one third of the world’s food. This Declaration will only work if it encourages governments to focus on strengthening local food systems through solutions that have already proven effective, such as agroecology.”

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