The declaration marks a significant step in recognising the need to transform global food systems, but is missing clear targets and fails to mention livestock.
The 5-page Cop28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action, the first of its kind, acknowledges the critical role of agriculture and food systems in causing and addressing climate change. It recognises the serious risk to the availability of food, especially for vulnerable communities, and outlines objectives to switch to lower-emissions diets, enhance resilience, improve food security, and support marginalised workers.
The declaration includes commitments to:
Adopting adaptation measures to improve food resiliance for farmers and fisherfolk
Improving social inclusion, focussing on food security, access, support for vulnerable groups, better public procurement and social safety nets.
Ensuring decent work in food and farming, including for women and young people
Reducing the harmful environmental impacts of the food system, including shifting from higher greenhouse gas-emitting practices to more sustainable production and consumption, good water management, and the conservation of ecosystems and soil
However, the declaration has faced scrutiny from food experts, including the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (Ipes-Food), for the absence of measurable targets or clear steps to address sustainable diets.
Ruth Westcott, climate and nature emergency coordinator at Sustain, said:
“It’s great to see world leaders acknowledging that we have no hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change unless we transform the food we eat and how we farm, but the declaration doesn’t contain any legally-binding targets, or any commitments around phasing out intensive livestock production and consumption. For wealthier countries such as the UK, significant reductions in the production and consumption of meat and dairy and tackling food waste need to be part of our national climate commitments. Richer nations also need to commit to reducing the negative impact of our diets on poorer nations, which are driving deforestation, pollution, and land grabbing.”
There have been signs that COP28 could represent a turning point for commitments to tackle food emissions, which account for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions and is the main reason for biodiversity decline globally, but haven't received due attention in previous conferences. The conference includes a dedicated food and agriculture day on December 10th and at least 22 major events on food, agriculture, and water. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is also due to set out essential changes needed in food systems to meet the 1.5°C temperature rise limit, a first in COP history.
However, concerns have been raised about the influence of the meat industry, whose lobbying reportedly includes efforts to create “positive livestock content” at COP28. The Guardian recently revealed that pressure from the meat industry led to the FAO diluting reports and burying evidence of the impact of livestock on the climate emergency. There is no specific mention of meat or livestock in the declaration.
The credibility of the UK government in delivering on the declaration is also a cause for concern, given the high-profile rollback of net zero measures in September and promises to ‘max out’ north Sea Oil. According to the UK Climate Change Committee, the UK does not have a credible plan to reduce food-related emissions as needed to achieve our net-zero commitments, and are facing legal action over this failure.
Through this declaration, the UK Government has promised to ‘urgently adapt and transform’ the food system. Their commitment will soon be put to the test, with a number of key food and farming policies either in train or due imminently. These include:
Ruth Westcott said
“I hope this declaration represents a turning point for the UK government. We have a collective responsibility to future generations and those in poorer nations that are suffering as a result of our food system. Policies to reduce our reliance on intensively-produced meat, create a more localised food system, and make healthy, sustainable food accessible to everyone would be win for our climate and wildlife, jobs, farmers, and public health.”
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