Food on the table at COP28 in the UAE-Dubai

Food on the table at COP28 in the UAE-Dubai 

An OP-ED by Celiwe Shivambu, Campaign Officer, FOUR PAWS in South Africa attending the COP28 as an Observer for FOUR PAWS International


Cape Town, 10 December 2023 - It is 27 COPS later and Food is finally on the table at this year’s 28th Conference of Parties hosted in the UAE-Dubai, who have staked food and agriculture as key priorities for their Presidency. This COP is equally an important one as it aims to measure our global action since the Paris agreement, by taking stock of how countries have so far acted to meet the maximum target of 1.5°C. Speaking at the opening of the ceremony, COP28 President Dr. Sultan Al Jaber stressed. "We have to come through. We must unite. We must act. And we must deliver in Dubai".

In South Africa like the rest of the world, our food system is starting to do even more damage to the natural environment than ensuring our food security. The way in which we currently produce food threatens both the environment and human health. We need to ensure a resilient and sustainable food system, a healthy environment and access for all to nutritious food1.

The Global Stocktake (GST) shows that most countries are failing to make progress towards the Paris Agreement's goals. With food systems accounting for over a third of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS2 advocates that science-based reduction targets on production and consumption levels are key to mitigating emissions. Such targets can also mean a move to better farming systems such as agroforestry or Silvo-pastoralism, which will help farms adapt and be more resilient to climate change.

At this year’s COP, the dual role of global food systems as both a culprit of climate change and its victim has been recognised.  This is why on the second day of COP28, a Leaders’ event brought together the global food community to make new commitments, anchored by the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action.

More than 130 countries signed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action3. This aims to maximize the climate and environmental benefits associated with agriculture and food systems. What this means is that signatories committed to strengthening efforts to integrate agriculture and food systems into national climate plans, and revisiting or orienting policies and public support related to agriculture and food systems.

In the negotiating room on the other hand, food seems to be more of a side dish. On Tuesday 5 December, negotiations on the four years Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on Implementation on Agriculture and Food Security (SSJW) concluded with no agreements of substance. Negotiations on how to implement commitments made in Egypt at COP27 will only resume in June 2024, 18 months after SSJW was established.

Despite its promise of being a “course correction,[1] a new draft of the Global Stocktake as of December 8th, failed to even mention food systems transformation, despite being in both the mitigation and adaptation sections of earlier drafts. Over 100 organizations (including FOUR PAWS in South Africa) have expressed significant concern through an Open letter to the parties to the UNFCCC and urged for the inclusion of food systems in the final decision text. If current trends continue, emissions from the food system are projected to rise significantly in coming decades, both contributing further to these effects and jeopardizing the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. The IPCC has acknowledged that “even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, food system emissions alone would jeopardise the achievement of the 1.5ºC target and threaten the 2ºC target4.”

Addressing the food-climate nexus is existential and essential for meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement and achieving food security, climate adaptation and climate mitigation. It should explicitly recognize that because food systems are cross-cutting, their transformation, if done properly, can bring significant co-benefits for human rights, gender equality, health, livelihoods, poverty eradication, food and nutrition security, ecosystems, biodiversity, animal welfare, and nature.

The GST outcome should be the critical catalyst for global climate action and respond to loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change. For many countries this means addressing all aspects of the food system, from production through consumption as well as the Global North’s proliferation of factory farming.

To achieve all the Sustainable Development Goals, Agrifood systems must be transformed to be more inclusive, more resilient, and more sustainable to effectively contribute to food availability, accessibility, and affordability. The COP28 Presidency has called on governments to ensure food systems and agriculture are central to climate action. It is now up to them to serve up real change.

"Let's please get this job done," pled Dr. Jaber opening a plenary session as the summit entered its toughest phase of negotiations. It is an important reminder of the promises made in the last 27 COPs and the urgency to conclude as much as possible at this year’s COP. This cannot be another COP wasted.

1. wwf_food_report_facts_and_futures_2019.pdf. [accessed 2023 Dec 8].

2. COP28 Marks Key Point for Climate Actions. FOUR PAWS International - Animal Welfare Organisation. [accessed 2023 Dec 8].

3. COP28 UAE | COP28 Presidency puts food systems transformation on global climate agenda as more than 130 world leaders endorse Food and Agriculture Declaration. [accessed 2023 Dec 8].

4. Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5° and 2°C climate change targets | Science. [accessed 2023 Dec 8].

5. New Analysis of National Climate Plans: Insufficient Progress Made, COP28 Must Set Stage for Immediate Action | UNFCCC. [accessed 2023 Dec 8].


FOUR PAWS South Africa Staff Photoshoot

Celiwe Shivambu

Campaign Officer on Climate Change and Pandemics

Celiwe Shivambu is a Climate Justice Activists based in South Africa, she is actively involved in policy making, advocacy and diplomacy. She is currently the Campaigns Officer for Climate and Pandemics in Animal Welfare at FOUR PAWS in South Africa.

FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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