COP27 saw a step change in the focus on food systems as a vital sector for climate action, but investment and policies continue to fall far short. In the lead-up to COP28, the June discussions in Bonn made significant progress in the first week but encountered a breakdown regarding the establishment of a coordination group for collaborative efforts on agriculture and food security. The negotiations concluded with a procedural outcome that is expected to be followed with a draft text in Dubai for delivery of food system transformation that ensures sustainable food security.
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlights the huge impact of climate change on food systems and warns that, without urgent action, millions more people will be at risk of hunger. At the same time, industrial food production systems and ultra-processed foods are fuelling an obesity pandemic. Food systems (across the whole food supply chain) are responsible for 34 per cent of global GHG emissions, and food energy systems are fundamentally intertwined. The challenges to reforming food systems include climate change constraints on pollinators, soil quality, water availability, and crop variety feasibility. However, the threats of unsustainable agriculture as the greatest driver of biodiversity loss (responsible for 80pc of deforestation and 70pc freshwater use) are undermining resilience, increasing fragility in food systems and hampering adaptation efforts. As the world grapples with food shortages, with more than 250 million people facing acute food insecurity, exacerbated by the climate crisis, it is time to change the rules of international finance that are stacked against the world’s poor, and accelerate momentum for fit-for-purpose food systems.
COP28 must set clear goals, laying out pathways and identifying priority policies and investments to deliver food system transformation. The benchmarks for defining pathways and ambition at sub-national, national, regional and multilateral food systems transformation must be guided by a just transition. This will require taking into consideration food sovereignty, global equitable food distribution and protection for farmers, farm workers, processors as well as marginalised communities, placing small-holder and family farms at the heart of food system transition plans.
Moving beyond benchmarks that are already embedded in international agreement and commitments, the new contours require clear goals from governments and the private sector to address food systems reform in an integrated way, including meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), commitments under UNFCCC and the CBD Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.
Food systems are responsible for 34pc of global GHG emissions.
For the Global South, meeting SDG 2.1 to end hunger and ensure access by all people to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round, is becoming a distant dream. This is less a problem of global food supply and more due to food systems that prioritise profits over public health and the environment. Without a massive investment in food systems and wider development needs, large populations in the Global South will face a daily struggle to secure sufficient food for themselves and their families.
The agriculture methane emissions by industrialised countries also need clear, time-bound targets for reducing and implementing policies that focus on the harmful impacts of industrial livestock farming and damage to ecosystems, water quality and health, labour rights and animal welfare. Globally, the use of inorganic fertilisers has increased tenfold since the 1960s. This has been a key driver of industrialisation of agriculture, increasing yields in many places but with knock-out impacts on soil, health and ecosystems.
In Pakistan, 81pc of farm holdings are less than five hectares in size. While smallholders and family farmers are ideally suited for embracing agro-ecological and regenerative practices, they often face investment structures that limit their access to finance and exclude them from supply chains dominated by larger businesses. Pakistan ranks 92 out of 107 countries with 43pc of the population food-insecure and 18pc facing severe food shortages. With rapid urbanisation and greater quantities of food consumed and wasted in cities, Pakistan needs to revisit policies, repurpose agricultural subsidies and align objectives with initiatives like the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact.
The FAO roadmap for food systems announced at COP27 with the first output due at COP28, can help Pakistan improve sustainability whilst also enhancing resilience and improving food security. It is critical to plan and set milestones now for different sub-sectors for the agri-food system to 2050.