COP27: Agri-food systems in the focus of the climate discussion
Stephanie Heiland, Project Manager at Sector Project Agriculture and part of this year’s Observer Delegation of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) at COP27, shares her insights on the role of agriculture and food systems at the climate conference. Among other things, she reports from GIZ’s COP27 side event ‘Climate resilient agriculture and food systems in times of multiple crises and fragility’.
We look back on two weeks in Sharm el-Sheik, certainly with mixed feelings. Thus, one thing is clear: the transformation of agri-food systems and their elementary role in overcoming global crises has arrived at the COP.
With climate change, the Corona pandemic and Russia's war against Ukraine, we are experiencing three serious crises at the same time, which further exacerbate global food insecurity. Especially the countries of the global South are strongly affected by the impacts of climate change: Heat waves, droughts and floods, changes in rainfall patterns and extreme weather events threaten crops and the lives of millions of people. At the same time, more than 40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the agri-food sector. The conversion of forests to agricultural land is responsible for up to 90 percent of global deforestation. Also, agri-food systems are considered the main cause of biodiversity loss. Therefore Simon Stiell, the new UN climate chief, emphasised in Sharm el-Sheik:
'Without lowering emissions coming from the entire food chain, we cannot keep 1.5°C alive. Equally, unless we address the ongoing climate crisis, our food system will be at risk.'.
Agri-food systems are both a threat and a powerful lever for promoting human and planetary health. In view of the above, the COP adopted a four-year plan for agri-food security that will promote holistic approaches together with being an important coordination hub for discussions and policy decisions on these issues. While mitigation has not been addressed in decisions within the UNFCCC over the past decade, it is explicitly mentioned in the new Sharm el-Sheik Joint Work on Climate Action on Agri-Food Security. The COP27 final declaration also recognises the fundamental priority of ensuring food security and ending hunger as well as the vulnerability of food production to climate change.
Numerous new initiatives were launched at the COP with the aim of adapting agri- food systems to the consequences of climate change, reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and improving the livelihoods of the world's 500 million smallholder farmers, who produce one third of the world's food. The Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST) initiative, announced by the Egyptian COP27 Presidency together with 20 Ministers of Agriculture, received particular attention: it is a multi-stakeholder programme that aims not only to increase funding for the transformation of agriculture, but also to contribute to adaptation efforts and the 1.5°C global warming limit set by the Paris Agreement, while promoting food security. Another example is the CompensACTION initiative, which was launched as part of the German G7 Presidency. The aim is to promote innovative payment mechanisms that reward smallholder farmers for their ecosystem services. Beyond individual initiatives, the FAO has pledged to develop a climate roadmap for the food and agriculture sector by COP28.
For the first time at a COP, five pavilions focused on the agri-food sector. Yet the topic was discussed in other pavilions and in the official UNFCCC framework programme, with more than 200 events taking place in total. GIZ also focused its official side event, organised jointly with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and Wageningen University, on the topic of "Climate-resilient agricultural and food systems in times of multiple crises and fragility". In his opening remarks, Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, pointed out that the global food system is collapsing under the weight of four interrelated crises: climate change, war, ecological stress, and pandemic. João Campari of WWF International highlighted that the war in Ukraine and the pandemic have shown that global supply chains are weakened, "and when they break, it is at the expense of the poorest populations". To make food and water systems climate-resilient, sustainable financing, sufficient data and long-term thinking are necessary, says Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven, member of the GIZ Executive Board. Financing is considered the biggest bottleneck in the transformation of agri-food systems, underlined by Jyotsna Puri, Deputy Vice President of IFAD. Key dimensions for mobilising private sector action, she said, are measurability and accountability, scaling up smallholder resilient agriculture, and risk mitigation of private investment.
It is encouraging that the need for a sustainable transformation of global agri-food systems, which has been on the table at least since the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, was also taken up and recognised in Sharm el-Shei, since this also levers the development of a climate-resilient and low-emission agri-food sector. Implementing this systemic and holistic approach means thinking not only about supply-side solutions to food insecurity, but also perceiving the demand side and addressing politically contentious issues of ensuring healthy, nutritious, and sustainable diets for all. Unless action is taken across the entire agri-food system – including e.g., food waste and loss, sustainable supply chains and healthy diets – the global food and climate challenges will not be met.