Increasing Importance of Sustainable Food Systems during COP

It has been nearly two months since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) at Dubai’s Expo City in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Expectations had been high ahead of COP28 on progress on negotiations on sustainable food systems, particularly as the UN Food Systems Summit, UN 2023 Water Conference and the COP28 Presidency had committed to achieve net-zero, nature-positive and resilient agri-food and water systems.

Unlike the previous COPs, there was a significant increase in the importance of sustainable food systems. COP28 kicked off with an announcement during the World Climate Action Summit (WCAS) when 134 countries endorsed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action.

These countries alone represented 5.7 billion people, seventy per cent of the global food consumption and 76 per cent of the total emissions in the agriculture sector. An additional 25 countries later endorsed the Declaration to bring the signatories to 159 countries.


Implementing the Emirates Declaration on Resilient Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture,​ and Climate Action​​​ at Al Waha Theatre during the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 at Expo City Dubai on December 10, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by COP28 / Christophe Viseux) –



The Declaration intends to, among others, strengthen countries’ respective and shared efforts to pursue broad, transparent, and inclusive engagement by integrating agriculture and food systems into National Adaptation Plans, Nationally Determined Contributions, Long-term Strategies, National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans, and other related strategies before the convening of COP30.

Countries will review progress in the implementation of the Declaration during COP29 and consider next steps in 2025 and beyond. Although the Declaration is not legally binding, it signifies countries’ intention to integrate food and agriculture into their climate plans by 2025.

Similarly, for the first time, COP featured a whole day devoted to food and agriculture. This was an improvement compared to COP27, whose fourth thematic day focused on adaptation and agriculture. While COP27 had five event spaces (“pavilions” in COP language) in the Blue Zone focused entirely on food and agriculture, COP28 had an entire building hosting Food and water pavilions.


Bob Aston from ALIN moderating a side event on empowering Women smallholder farmers.jpeg


Another important milestone was the creation of the Agrifood Sharm-El Sheikh Support Program. The three-year initiative aims to drive consensus within the UNFCCC process and ultimately enable countries and regions to unlock finance and support for farmers, food producers, small agribusinesses and local communities.

Possibly the most important and awaited moment was the first-ever Global Stocktake (GST) at COP 28.  The process for countries and stakeholders to see where they have collectively made progress towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement was key, particularly as different reports have shown that we are not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The final Global Stocktake (GST) decision mentioned safeguarding food security, ending hunger, mitigating vulnerabilities in food production linked to climate change, and protecting water systems. It also encourages the implementation of integrated, multisectoral solutions, such as land use management, sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems, and ecosystem-based approaches.

Adequate funding for sustainable food systems has always been a challenge. However, COP28’s Food, Agriculture and Water Day secured major commitments to address climate impacts and keep 1.5C within reach. This included mobilising more than USD 7.1 billion for climate-positive action in the food system sector.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also initiated the  Global Roadmap for Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) without Breaching the 1.5°C Threshold. The roadmap emphasises the symbiotic relationship between the transformation of agrifood systems and climate actions, urging the mobilisation of climate finance for implementation. It identifies 120 actions and key milestones within ten domains. These domains include clean energy, crops, fisheries and aquaculture, food loss and waste, forests and wetlands, healthy diets, livestock, soil and water, and data and inclusive policies.


Bibong Widyarti, Council Member Inofo of Indonesia speaks during Farmers and Traditional Producers at the Heart of Food Systems Transformation​ at Al Waha Theatre during the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 at Expo City Dubai on December 10, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by COP28 / Christophe Viseux) –



On the emissions front, it aims to reduce agrifood systems’ methane emissions by 25 per cent by 2030 relative to 2020, achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, and transform them into a carbon sink by 2050, capturing 1.5 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Despite the various milestones achieved during COP28, Parties failed to achieve a breakthrough on the four-year Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on Implementation of Climate Action on Agriculture and Food Security (SSJW). COP28 required parties to establish a roadmap for SSJW. This included agreeing on the set of topics for three workshops, establishing an online portal for submissions under the workshops and determining how the work should be carried out and synthesised.

Negotiations on SSJW began with little progress as some countries supported starting on a clean sheet. In contrast, others supported using the informal note prepared during the last sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) in Bonn in June 2023.  The informal note captured elements of the SSJW based on the Parties’ views.  This included topics for the workshops and the operationalisation of the online portal.

A proposal put forward for a coordination group to help facilitate the implementation of SSJW also became a sticking point as countries could not agree on its structure, while others raised concerns over what it would achieve and the costs that the coordinating group would incur to implement additional meetings.

The postponement of negotiations on the Joint Work until June 2024 shows that a lot still needs to be done to ensure that countries prioritise addressing challenges facing the agriculture sector. Most developing countries also believe that this might result in reduced climate finance investments for agriculture and food security in the short to medium term. Similarly, although the final Global Stocktake (GST) decision mentioned food systems, most delegates wished that the language in the final document would have gone further to acknowledge the huge mitigation potential of food systems and shift food systems away from dependence on fossil fuels.

As the focus shifts to COP29 and COP30, everyone is now looking at COP30 with the expectation that it will make significant headway on food systems as countries are expected to accelerate ambition in their next round of climate action plans due in 2025.


Bob Aston works as a project Officer at the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN),


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