COP27: FAO highlighted importance of transforming agrifood systems as part of solution to climate crisis

Rome–The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) took place at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, at the end of a year where extreme climate events demonstrated once again the urgency to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

A UN climate change report shows that while the emissions are reducing, they are not going down fast enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement goal. And if the world is unable to achieve this, the worst impacts of climate change like severe drought, heatwaves and floodings will only get worse and more frequent. This in a context where extreme weather events, along with geopolitical tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic have led to greater food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty.

The global demand for food, feed, fuel and fibre is increasing, with estimates that the world will need 50 percent more food by 2050 to feed the increasing global population. Currently some 828 million people face hunger and a third of the world’s population – 2.3 billion people – do not have access to adequate food.

While agrifood systems contribute to and are affected by the impacts of the climate crisis, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss, they are also part of the solutions. At COP27, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was looking to use its expertise and experience to lead discussions on how agrifood systems could be transformed through innovative solutions and thus play a crucial role in climate change mitigation.

After COP27 concluded, we spoke to Zitouni Ould-Dada, the deputy director of FAO’s Climate and Environment division, to understand the agency’s role at the climate summit and what he thinks was achieved.

What are some of the key initiatives that FAO has been a part of at COP27?

FAO has been actively engaged and highly visible at COP27. The agency was a part of four initiatives launched by the Egyptian Presidency at COP27. The first – Food and Agriculture Sustainable Transformation (FAST) aimed at supporting climate action in agrifood systems through:

  • access to finance and investment;
  • knowledge and capacity development; and
  • policy support and dialogue.

The second, developed in partnership with the World Health Organization and other UN agencies and partners such as GAIN, is called Initiative on Climate Action and Nutrition (I-CAN). This programme looks to support member states as they implement policy which aims to improve access to nutritious and health diets from sustainable food systems.

The third initiative titled AWARE addresses better management of water for climate adaptation and resilience. AWARE’s mission is to decrease water losses, improve water supply, and support policy and adaptation action to make this happen as efficient water management is a key aspect of climate action to achieve Agenda 2030, in particular SDG 6. The fourth initiative is on waste management in Africa to treat and recycle at least 50% of the solid waste produced in Africa by 2050.

Just how closely are agrifood systems and climate change linked?

They are very interconnected and affect each other. According to the latest IPCC report, more than 3.3 billion people, half the world’s population, particularly people living in Africa, Asia and Small Island Developing States, are considered “highly vulnerable” to the impacts of the climate crisis.. The report warns that even a temporary breach of 1.5 Celsius would be fatal for millions. Five hundred million small farms that depend on functioning ecosystems for their livelihoods produce over 80 percent of the food consumed in a large part of the developing world.

The worsening climate crisis accompanied by the challenge to feed and nourish a growing global population in times of conflicts and uncertainty is expected to lead to reduced food production and nutrition and limited accessibility to food, especially for the most vulnerable and poor. To address these challenges, FAO works to collect data, information, and develop tools on the impacts of climate change on agrifood systems and to inform countries, farmers and others about the latest best practices and innovative solutions.

What is the most pressing need in terms of agriculture and climate change?

To meet the goal of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs, the level of ambition should be ramped up for all sectors, particularly for agrifood systems. We need to transform agrifood systems to make them more efficient, more inclusive, more sustainable and more resilient. We need to harness the power of innovation and digitalization to help achieve this and to benefit countries, rural communities and farmers. We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast and at the same time build adaptation capacity and resilience. We need to invest more in adaptation and nature including in ecosystem conservation and restoration. FAO’s new Strategies on Climate Change contains an ambitious vision to help transform agrifood systems through an Action Plan to facilitate climate action around three main pillars:

  • advocacy at global and regional levels;
  • support to countries at national level; and
  • scaling-up of climate action on the ground with local communities and farmers.

What do you believe FAO has achieved at COP27?

FAO has achieved a lot at this COP in terms of putting a spotlight on innovative solutions to transform agrifood systems to make them more efficient, more inclusive, more sustainable and more resilient to help achieve the Paris Agreement and the SDGs. Food and agriculture issues were very high on the international agenda. FAO has been well engaged in supporting the Egyptian COP27 presidency, providing technical support for the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture,

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