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Putting food on the table at COP27

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As we approach COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, there is an important opportunity to advocate for greater action at the nexus of food and climate.  Edward Davey, Policy and International Engagement Director at the Food and Land Use Coalition, explains how.

  • Food systems feed the world but also contribute up to 35% of global GHG emissions: we cannot address climate change without addressing global food systems.
  • 75% of the world’s poor rely on agriculture, directly or indirectly, for their survival, and so food systems must work for everyone.
  • Food security is as critical as energy security today and we must find collaborative and constructive ways to address these challenges together – an opportunity that COP provides.

Advocating for action

World leaders attending COP27 will be invited to an opening leaders’ summit focused on the global food security crisis, and the immediate actions that countries can and must take to alleviate it. But there is also an opportunity throughout COP27 for nations to raise their ambition in terms of longer-term commitments to reforming food systems for the benefit of people, nature and climate alike.

Addressing food insecurity

The precarious state of our global food supply chains has never been more acute or more troubling than at present. The humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa, where millions face starvation, hangs over COP27 and weighs heavily on the moral conscience of the world.

Some 828 million people globally face hunger and malnutrition right now, and three billion people cannot afford access to a healthy and sustainable diet. In the COP27 host country, Egypt, the price of food has sky-rocketed, and there is deep concern about the availability and price of essential food crops, such as wheat.

There is a lot that the world needs to do now to address food insecurity, from keeping markets open and avoiding the imposition of export tariffs, to supporting countries to ensure that they provide adequate social safety nets for their people. The shortfall in humanitarian funding also needs to be met, even at a time when countries are facing fiscal constraints.

Resilience in global supply chains

The focus on the current crisis, as acute as it is, can mask the fact that there are major underlying fragilities in the global food system which also need to be urgently addressed — and which, left unresolved, could lead to the perpetuation of today’s problems well into the future.

These include the impact of climate change on food production, which is significant in many areas of the world and likely to worsen. The concentration of the global food system in the hands of a small number of major multinational traders is also problematic, not only from the point of view of equity, but also in terms of the resilience of the system as a whole.

The world’s continuing reliance on a small number of processed commodities for the bulk of its nutrients is yet another issue, both in terms of the risks of supply shortages (as the world is currently witnessing) and the poor nutritional value of some of these crops, versus a more diverse range.

The same argument applies for excessive global over-reliance on fertilisers and pesticides, an argument in favour of the greater adoption of methods of farming which reduce dependence on mineral nitrogen fertiliser use, increase efficiency of fertilizer application, and which increase the use of biologically-based fertilisers and pesticides.

What can be done?

In recognition of this interlocking and complex set of global challenges, it has been heartening to note that recently the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has begun to convene a high-level working group looking at the nexus of issues concerning climate, food, and resilience.

This may well lead to food systems being given higher salience in the world’s climate negotiations, and encourage nations in their nationally determined contributions to the UNFCCC to address food and land use issues much more directly than is largely so far the case.

The Food and Land Use Coalition will also be playing its part to help push food systems further up the COP agenda, as one of the co-hosts of the inaugural Food Systems Pavilion at COP27. Led by a coalition of international food organisations, the Pavilion is a truly collaborative effort spanning the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, and all parties have committed to work together to overcome barriers and tackle trade-offs.

We have a Financial Stability Board, why not a Food Stability Board?

Beyond the confines of the UNFCCC, other means of raising these issues systematically to the level of heads of state should also be explored. At a recent side meeting at the Committee on World Food Security, the case was made again that the international community should consider establishing a Food Systems Stability Board, with the express intention of doing for the stability of the global food system what the Financial Stability Board (FSB) does for global financial stability.

It is worth noting that the Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) came out of the work of the FSB and is the framework currently in use to drive climate risk disclosure. The TCFD is helping to drive transparency in markets about the long-term climate consequences of economic actions. It plays a part in driving change within the financial system and in the realignment of capital and investment towards a more sustainable future.

Since 2008 and the creation of the FSB, the world has not come close again to the circumstances which led to the global financial crash in 2007/2008. The existence of a rigorous and independent FSB has surely played some role in that. Perhaps the time has come for an equivalent entity solely focused on food systems stability to be established.

While this would require the political will and commitment of a few leading nations, it is otherwise hard to see how the global food system will find itself subject to the level of political scrutiny required.

To find out more, visit foodsystemspavilion.com or follow #ActionOnFood on social media.

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