Razan Al Mubarak: By transforming our food systems we can feed the world, help deliver on our climate goals, and restore nature

At Climate Week NYC, Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28, calls on all actors to step up to transform food systems ahead of COP28. By H.E Razan Al Mubarak, UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for COP28 | September 20, 2023

Food, essential to life on earth, nurtures our body and links us to our loved ones, communities, traditions, and the natural world. It also serves as the source of livelihood for nearly a quarter of humanity and is an economic backbone for countless communities and countries.

However, the counter side is that our food system not only sustains life but also depletes crucial resources and often falls short in nourishing those most in need. Food systems account for a third of global emissions and are the biggest driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss. And despite producing an excess of calories, over 700 million people last year faced hunger and more than 3 billion people still cannot afford a healthy diet. Many of those who cannot afford healthy, sustainable food, actually work in food production.

How we produce food deeply relies on nature. Our future food security depends on healthy and functioning natural ecosystems and resources. Changing, not just how we grow food but also the kinds of foods we produce, is paramount to both protecting nature and combating climate change – goals we know cannot be achieved without one another, as outlined in the Global Biodiversity Framework adopted at COP15 in Montreal last year.

The good news? We know what needs to be done to transform food systems to deliver for people, climate, and the planet. This includes taking action to transition production practices to more nature-friendly, agro-ecological approaches, shift consumption to healthy, sustainable diets, reduce food loss and waste, and protect and restore nature, ensuring no further land conversion for agriculture. All while ensuring transition pathways are just and inclusive, appropriate to local contexts and dedicated to ensuring food and nutrition security for all.

The rise and rebirth of nature-friendly, agro-ecological, regenerative farming approaches is happening. Based on local, traditional, and Indigenous knowledge, there is a groundswell of practices that work with nature, not against it, protecting soil health, reducing greenhouse gases, and increasing biodiversity on farms. In order to deliver the required transition, we need to support our farmers, local communities, and Indigenous peoples and include them as key partners in planning and managing the process. We also need to protect and support their rights and lands, leveraging their knowledge and empowering them with new skills and access to agricultural and food technologies available. The transition will also require reshaping financial incentives and introducing supportive policies and regulations that create market and trade conditions to favour sustainable and healthy foods.

This Climate Week NYC, I am delighted to see increasing action and momentum on food systems as a key climate and nature solution.

COP28 provides an opportunity to further accelerate this action. At the UN Food Systems Summit +2 Stocktaking Moment in Rome in July, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment, H.E. Mariam Almheiri, unveiled the COP28 Presidency’s Food Systems & Agriculture Agenda. This includes a Declaration on Climate, Food Systems and Agriculture where Heads of States are asked to commit to include action on food systems into their climate change plans.

Together with my colleague, Dr Mahmoud Mohieldin, and the Climate Champions Team, we are collaborating with the COP28 Presidency on the Non-State Actor Pillar of the Presidency’s Food Systems & Agriculture Agenda, working with a diverse range of stakeholders across the food system, from farmers and fishers, to cities, businesses and civil society – to scale action on food systems. Non-State Actors play a critical role in supporting governments to deliver the action we need and can catalyse further ambition from states.

Ambition is opportunity: it’s undeniable that our current food production models are on borrowed time. Those who take proactive action now to transform food production to sustainable, nature-friendly approaches will reap the benefits.

And as we look ahead to COP30, hosted by Brazil in the heart of the Amazon, the call is clear for every stakeholder – governments, companies, financial institutions, philanthropies, producers, cities – to intensify their actions on food systems. Never before has the link between the food we eat, the nature that food production relies on, and climate change been so stark. The path is laid out; the urgency is palpable. The time for action is now.


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