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Dispatch From The UN Climate Change Conference: Dec. 9

Columns 2023-12-10, 2:05am


Danielle Nierenberg

Danielle Nierenberg

Yesterday, the food movement grappled with some potentially significant setbacks from this week at COP28.

Despite world leaders announcing food as a priority, in the latest draft of the Global Stocktake, food and agriculture topics have been removed. It’s not entirely clear why. Also, negotiators could not agree on substantive points related to the Joint Work on Agriculture and Food Security, a multi-year project on food systems and climate, so talks have concluded for now. Negotiations are set to resume next June.

From here, the Global Stocktake draft is in the hands of the COP28 Presidency to hammer out details. Luckily, the Presidency has expressed that food is an urgent priority, so I’m watching closely to see if they’re able to encourage a consensus to form. There’s still plenty of time left in COP28!

And while it’s particularly disappointing that Joint Work discussions have stopped, it’s not over. When negotiators resume next June, they’ll be looking back on COP28—which means a strong showing for food systems in civil society is still hugely important.

At on-the-ground events here in Dubai, what’s happening at COP28 is positive and hopeful.

I’m inspired by so many advocates here, especially youth activists I’ve met. Food and agriculture are still on the table in a big way.

"This is the food moment. This is the COP where this is getting the priority, getting the visibility," said Amanda McKee, Director of Knowledge and Learning, NDC Partnership, during a panel discussion on food loss and waste at the Food Systems Pavilion (if you missed it, watch here).

Using COP28 to elevate food issues on a global scale is central to securing financial investment that’ll drive change, she said.

Across COP28, we had amazing discussions yesterday on the meat industry, food loss and waste, social equity in climate transformation, and more.

"The journey the global community takes on addressing climate change is very much about addressing social equity challenges," Purnima Menon, the Senior Director of Food and Nutrition Policy, CGIAR and IFPRI, said at the Food and Agriculture Pavilion. (Catch a replay of this conversation here!)

"We need to bring together (the solutions) with a sense of place, and with a sense of equity and social justice," she continued.

This discussion also echoed wonderful conversations at the Food4Climate Pavilion, whose entire day was devoted to the topic of "giving voice the the unheard—cultivating a green generation." Discussions ranged from the power of storytelling to how cultural and even spiritual perspectives can mobilize food systems change.

Part of what inspires me at big events like COP, that convene so many sectors, is that we can discuss both qualitative solutions like these and data-driven paths forward—and that we can better understand how they work together.

During a fireside conversation with Eric Mittenthal, the Chief Strategy Officer for the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), he shared that the organization has more than 90 sustainability metrics and has been working to change the culture of the meat industry through data-sharing.

"Consumers have different expectations of our industry than they did previously," he said at the Sustainable Agriculture of the Americas Pavilion, in a discussion you can watch here. "Our job is to be proactive and think about how we can work in a positive direction."

The power of data is particularly evident in food loss and waste, which I’m so pleased to see the Food Systems Pavilion prioritizing.

Over the past decade, there’s been "a significant uptick in government action on food loss and waste" in countries around the world, Global FoodBanking Network CEO Lisa Moon said.

Now, we need public, private, and philanthropic funds to flow toward reducing food loss and waste. Plenty of innovative opportunities exist.

What if we can use subsidy structures to promote healthy, sustainable consumption including food banks and donation, asked Shenggen Fan of China Agricultural University. What if grantmaking organizations lead the way in showing how food loss-reduction can be funded at scale, asked Christy Loper of the Robertson Foundation, during the Food Systems Pavilion discussion.

Using a massive platform like COP28 to elevate food waste issues is transformative. We can show how food waste "isn’t just bad for your pocket or bad for the economy. It’s bad for the planet, it’s bad for the climate, it’s bad for achieving sustainable food systems," said Fabrice Salamanca, the Vice President of Global Public Affairs at Danone.

New Zealand climate journalist Rod Oram made a great point during our discussion at the Future Economy Forum Pavilion: Even if we’re working with nature and not against it, are we working as fast as we need to?

We’re running out of time, he pointed out.

Frankly, we can’t afford setbacks like the ones we’ve seen this week in the Global Stocktake draft and the Joint Work negotiations. When it comes to food systems and climate, countries need to prioritize the greater good of the planet.

"I need you to come out of your comfort zones," COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber told national delegates.

The positive outcomes that can result from COP28 are undeniable. Belize climate ambassador Janine Felson appeared on NPR yesterday to discuss how the negotiations taking place here in Dubai will have meaningful effects on developing countries’ ability to combat climate change. The interview is worth a listen.

And AIM for Climate’s Innovation Sprints have been hugely successful at building funding partnerships and action—and 27 more sprints were just announced at COP28. Over the past two years, since Aim for Climate began at COP26, the sprints have resulted in more than US$5 billion in investments into climate-smart food and ag systems, bringing together more than 600 governmental and non-government partners.

To highlight just a few examples: Thanks to AIM for Climate Innovation Sprints, the Global FoodBanking Network is enacting interventions against food waste. The Run Tian project is transitioning hundreds of thousands of hectares to advance soil health in north China. A collaborative initiative in Africa will increase numbers and experiences of African women leading equitable climate solutions.

In the food movement, we’re keeping up the fight.

Yes, we may face setbacks. But that just means we need to keep the pressure on world leaders to recognize the impact of food system transformation. Our priorities are urgent—and our impact could save livelihoods, lives, and the planet.

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