Climate Change: The Unrivaled Threat to Global Food Systems

Climate change stands as a threat to the foundations of our global food systems, unrivalled in its scope and impact. Today, soaring temperatures, shifting weather patterns, and extreme weather are adversely affecting our ability to feed ourselves, demanding urgent solutions.

For many, the urgency is heightened as agriculture is the backbone of their economies. The escalating impacts of climate change are making it increasingly challenging for citizens to produce or afford healthy meals. With each passing year, farmers are finding it difficult to predict growing seasons, with erratic rainfall threatening crop yields and livestock productivity. The effects of climate change further extend to the oceans, where acidification and marine heatwaves are negatively affecting fish stocks.

Such trends are worrisome for the world economies, and notably for Africa, which already needs to accelerate its food production to meet the needs of its growing population projected to double to two billion by 2050 and may reach four billion in 2100. The pressure on the continent’s food systems necessitates producers to adapt their practices and technologies, addressing these challenges head-on, and increasing their output through more efficient and sustainable approaches.

However, it is this pressure that puts Africa at the centre of global climate action, with the continent’s leaders now seeing the economic opportunities that can emerge from climate action. Investments in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and clean technologies have the potential to drive economic growth, job creation, and innovation, and Africa stands poised to make early gains due to its strategic location and vast natural resources.

The African Common Position from the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, adopted within the Nairobi Declaration at the recent Africa Climate Summit, recognizes such opportunities even as it compels the continent’s political leadership to take action on food systems, placing climate at the centre of its sustainable production practices. This commitment was further exemplified at the 2023 Africa Food Systems Forum in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, where African leaders reiterated their commitment to regenerate, re-purpose, and protect their regions against the devastating effects of climate change. In both forums, there was a commitment to addressing the soil acidity challenge through significant investments in cutting-edge technologies. This forward-thinking approach aimed to not only combat the immediate issue of soil acidity but also to proactively invest ahead of the curve in the emerging carbon opportunity. Moreover, leaders actively sought to expedite access to practical knowledge for farmers, recognizing the vital role of timely information in sustainable agriculture.

This agenda has been elevated by the UAE to define conversations and decision-making at the 28th Climate Change Convention (COP28) later this month. The COP28 Presidential Action Agenda seeks to build on the progress and momentum of recent years with the UN Food Systems Summit, COP26 in the UK, and COP27 in Egypt, and emphasizes the need for all countries to better integrate their food systems and climate action to deliver for people and the planet. At the core of this agenda, the COP Presidency has put forward the leader-level Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, where all global leaders would voluntarily commit to incorporating food systems and agriculture into their climate planning and action by 2025. Expedited initiatives in these areas, encompassing production, consumption, processing, transport, storage, and tackling food loss and waste are all critical for accelerating global climate goals and ensuring the food security, resilience, and livelihoods of billions of people. Inclusivity also stands out as a key COP28 agenda item, with the participation of women, youth and indigenous communities required at all levels of decision-making.

In the run-up to COP28, African countries are encouraged to lead the transformation from their unique contexts and draw inspiration from countries that have already made major strides, including Norway and the UAE. Norway’s high electric vehicle adoption rates serve as a testament to the effectiveness of supportive leadership and political will in transformation. The UAE demonstrates dedication to combating climate change by aligning its national goals with the Paris Agreement, increasing its carbon reduction target to 40% by 2030, up from 31%, marking a substantial move towards sustainability.

Innovative financing solutions are being explored to facilitate investments in priority climate actions, especially through the Green Climate Fund, aimed at securing essential resources for critical climate initiatives. While there have been shortfalls in replenishing the Fund, there is still time to recover by honouring loss and damage pledges, adaptation finance pledges, and incentivizing private investments.

Finally, it is important to restate that the success of the global climate agenda depends on leadership. The COP28 Presidency during the Pre-COP meetings in Abu Dhabi laid out its commitment to addressing the decarbonization challenge, openly addressing what many referred to as the ‘elephant in the room’. We must be willing to have difficult conversations to move forward on important issues and work together to rise above climate change and secure a sustainable future for all.

Harnessing the momentum from COP28 and past commitments, we must now overcome the dilemma of choosing between climate action and development, enabling the simultaneous pursuit of both. We must also break the cycle of delays and dangerous procrastination. Urgency is critical as risks continue to escalate, leaving us with no time for disunity, and requiring us to prioritize collaboration over self-interest and defensiveness. The time for action is now; let us leverage the convening power of COP28 to turbocharge action and make a difference for future generations. Let’s move forward together on the “Clean Industrial Revolution” to secure the future of humanity and our planet.

Source: Dr. Kalibata is President of AGRA.

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