In a stark revelation, recent research has unveiled that one-third of the world’s food production is teetering on the brink due to the encroaching climate crisis. Astonishingly, the very systems that sustain us are also a significant contributor to climate breakdown. Greenhouse gas emissions stemming from farming and the associated land-use changes, such as deforestation and wetland drainage for agriculture, collectively account for over one-fifth of global carbon emissions, as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Ironically, discussions surrounding the vulnerability and consequences of our global food systems are frequently sidelined during the annual UN climate change negotiations, receiving minimal attention. This can partly be attributed to the divergent responsibilities within the UN framework, with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presiding over food-related matters, including the Food System Summit held in Rome last July. In stark contrast, economics and geopolitics take precedence in traditional climate negotiations.
However, there is a glimmer of hope this year. Cop28, set to convene from November 30 to December 13 in Dubai, under the auspices of the United Arab Emirates, is poised to break from tradition. This year’s event marks a pivotal moment with the inclusion of a dedicated food day and a focus on food, agriculture, and water in at least 22 major events. The ExpoCity will host a dedicated Food4Climate pavilion as part of these discussions.
Notably, the FAO is set to unveil a blueprint outlining the necessary transformation of food systems to align with the globally agreed-upon target of limiting temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Beyond this threshold, the climate crisis’s devastating impacts on food systems may prove catastrophic, and in some instances, irreparable.
Forecasts anticipate that this research will emphasize the imperative need to curtail the expansion of animal farming for meat and dairy, especially to meet the ambitious targets of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Edward Davey from the World Resources Institute emphasizes, “Historically, Cops have significantly underestimated the role of farming—both as a major contributor to global climate change and as a potential solution. Additionally, they have failed to address the profound impacts climate change is already having, and will continue to have, on farming communities worldwide.”
Taking action transcends mere declarations and necessitates financial commitments for adaptation and loss mitigation, particularly for smallholder farmers in developing countries. Furthermore, campaigners advocate for comprehensive reform of farming subsidies in the Western world to curb methane emissions.
Davey underlines the need for nuance in addressing this complex issue. He notes that while wealthier nations, such as the US and the EU, must reduce meat and dairy consumption significantly, for poorer nations, the main focus should remain on food security, nutrition, adaptation, and resilience.
Notably, Sultan Al Jaber, the UAE’s minister for advanced technology and the chief executive of the national oil company, Adnoc, who also holds the dual role of Cop president designate, has emphasized the importance of addressing emissions from all sectors, including agriculture and land use change, to combat climate change.
Nonetheless, experts caution against placing excessive reliance on high-tech solutions, reiterating that the heart of the issue lies in Western diets, which significantly contribute to methane emissions from livestock production, resource wastage, and overconsumption.
As the world turns its attention to Cop28, campaigners hope for a genuine discussion on the inherent unsustainability of the Western diet, which is being exported worldwide to developing and middle-income nations. Addressing emissions from farming is imperative to avert a climate catastrophe and keep global warming in check.