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Dispatch From The UN Climate Change Conference: Dec. 8

Columns 2023-12-09, 1:59am


Danielle Nierenberg

Danielle Nierenberg

Good morning from COP28 in Dubai!

Yesterday was a rest day here at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, but things are back in full swing today.

Food Tank’s official programming kicks off today, too! We have five events today alone (including breakfast, lunch and dinner) at COP28, featuring more than 50+ important speakers. Most of these events will also be live-streamed (scroll down for more details!). Take a look at our agenda HERE. And if you’re here in Dubai, come say hello!

The first half of COP28 was marked by overarching promises and big action items. As we talked about yesterday, world leaders have given plenty of statements in support of food’s role in the Global Stocktake and other agreements.

But now, in the second half of COP28, it’s about the nuts and bolts. The follow-through from those leaders on food action has stalled, which is unacceptable.

"It’s time for adults to behave like adults and get the job done," U.S. Special Envoy John Kerry told the Washington Post.

From my perspective, this means two things:

1. Wealthy countries and big corporations need to pay up for the impacts they’ve had on the climate—which, as we know, fall disproportionately on developing nations; and 2. We need to continue to break down the harmful barriers and silos between sectors so money flows where it can have the most impact.

Let’s start with some good news: COP28 is a top-tier opportunity to forge and strengthen those cross-silo partnerships and bring people to the table.

In the months leading up to COP28, a petition by the Global People’s Caravan for Food, Land and Climate Justice has circulated among small farming communities, agricultural workers, Indigenous groups, and other rural advocates. The result is a call, from 100+ organizations across 26 countries, for a radical transformation to the food system that prioritizes genuine economic participation over false climate solutions that give profits back to corporations.

"Rural peoples have lost the most, and stand to lose the most, from the climate crisis. Small farmers, not big corporations, must be at the center of climate action," said Wali Hader, from the Pakistan organization Roots for Equity, a signatory to the petition.

I applaud a variety of new collaborative initiatives that are bringing people together to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. The First Movers Coalition for Food, via the World Economic Forum, plans to create a low-carbon procurement commitment with a US$10–20 billion value. The Green Growth Institute established a US$10 billion public-private partnership in Africa and the Middle East. The Soil Carbon Industry Alliance brings together 28 businesses and organizations toward measuring and financing soil carbon sequestration.

The path we’re headed down is one where a worsening climate and increasing geopolitical conflict are locked in a cycle—a downward spiral that makes the whole world more fragile and less resilient. Across the world, we’re seeing rising tensions that result in tragic losses of life.

At COP28, more than 100 countries and humanitarian organizations have agreed to pledges that prioritize the adoption of climate programs that do not spark these tensions. Among other interventions, these commitments direct funding to localized efforts to bring stakeholders to the table for de-escalation via climate.

It’s time for corporations, big governments, and the philanthropic sector to step up in even bigger ways.

On day one of COP28, countries agreed to a "loss and damage fund," through which some of these higher-polluting countries would give financial support for irreversible climate damage faced by developing nations. But so far, only a shocking 0.2 percent of the total need has been met. Some of the world’s highest emitters, including the U.S., have pledged much less than their fair share.

Let’s look at the numbers. Transitioning the global food system toward more regenerative and agroecological approaches would cost somewhere around US$250–430 billion per year—a high number, yes, but it’s less than 5 percent of the hidden costs of global food and ag systems. This is why True-Cost Accounting practices are so important to the context of food system change!

In a recent call to action, 25 leading philanthropic organizations noted that the current total of public, private, and philanthropic investments in regenerative agroecology are about US$44 billion a year. To bridge that gap, these organizations called for a tenfold increase in funding toward some of these urgent challenges. The effort is backed by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, and I hope we see the money.

Our friends at ReFED have also outlined a new roadmap for philanthropic, governmental, and private-sector action on reducing food loss and waste, which has a significant ripple effect across the entire food system.

"Food waste remains an under-funded opportunity, making this roadmap a significant milestone in what we consider possible in transforming our food systems to solve food loss and waste," says Ida Posner of the Posner Foundation.

For more on building bridges, if you’re in Dubai, join our friends at the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) for "Enhancing Food and Nature Linkages for Climate Action" tomorrow (Saturday, Dec. 9) in the accessible green zone!

And we cannot afford to forget that young people are set to inherit a food system that’s deeply broken and a climate that’s becoming irreparably damaged.

That’s why today’s official theme, "Youth, Children, Education, and Skills," is so important.

"Every year of my life there has been a COP," says Vanessa Nakate, a 12-year-old Ugandan climate justice advocate and Unicef goodwill ambassador. "And every year world leaders have failed to acknowledge the special needs and vulnerabilities of children in the climate crisis."

"We’re here to call on world leaders to make decisions at COP that have a real impact on children’s lives," says Lova Renee, a 13-year-old youth activist from Madagascar.

It’s on all of us adults, as John Kerry reminded us, to invest in those who have to deal with the consequences of our actions.

To governments, to corporations, to philanthropists: Don’t let young people down.

(Danielle Nierenberg is the President of Food Tank and can be reached at