What You Eat Can Help Save Earth: COP28 In UAE Puts Plant-Based, Farm-To-Fork Meals On The Table


(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Tue 12 Dec 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 12 Dec 2023, 8:37 AM

The spotlight on food and agriculture at COP28, held in the UAE, has been unprecedented. Coming on the back of the UAE leaders urging participating nations to draw emphasis on the 'Food Systems and Agriculture Agenda' for the nearly two-week-long event, governments have been urged to participate in a historic agreement targeting emissions from their food and agriculture sectors.

At the beginning of the conference, which is concluding today, more than 134 countries officially endorsed the Emirates Declaration on Agriculture, Food Systems, and Climate Action at COP28 - a groundbreaking commitment and the first-of-its-kind, to adapt and 'transform' food systems as a crucial component of addressing the climate crisis. On December 10, Mariam Almheiri, the COP28 Food Systems Lead, stated that signatories had gone up to 152 nations, officially pledging their commitment to the declaration.

The food we consume and the methods employed in its production impact not only our health but also the environment. From cultivation and processing to transportation, distribution, preparation, consumption, and, at times, disposal, each stage in the food chain generates greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.

The global food system, spanning from production to consumption, contributes to approximately one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it's active mention at the annual climate conference“has largely been factored out of discussions at the highest level of climate negotiations,” says Juliette Tronchon, spearheading the Food4Climate Pavilion at COP28, adding that this is“despite the fact that the global food system contributes 33 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, whilst animal agriculture accounts for up to 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Source: un

Though the primary source of these emissions is attributed to agriculture and land use, one can always argue that the producers will produce what the consumers want to consume, leading to food, as a subject, becoming somewhat of a chicken-and-egg issue to tackle, with neither ends of the food supply chain (farm to fork) gaining legitimate clarity on their roles and responsibilities for urgent climate action.

“The key here is public education and awareness. We need to raise awareness among the public about how their food is produced, who produces it and what is the footprint of their food. Only then can they make informed and ethical food choices,” says Angel Flores, international external affairs manager at World Animal Protection.

After years of being overlooked, the pivotal role of food and agriculture in the climate crisis has finally taken somewhat of a centre-stage at COP28. According to Flores,“There's still a long way to go, but the doors are now open.” Characterised as a 'historic moment' for food systems and agriculture at the ongoing climate change summit in Dubai, here are some initiatives and milestones that stood out to raise public awareness, actively driving the conversation around food and climate action forward.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - AND CLIMATE ACTION

The conference hosted over 50 different events covering various aspects of food, food systems, agriculture, and related issues, including a first-of-its-kind spotlight on plant-based lifestyles as a possible and viable solution to battle the impact of food consumption and production on climate change. The three pavilions for food, situated in the thematic arenas in the Blue Zone, included Food4Climate Pavilion, Food Systems Pavilion and the AgriFood Pavilion, each catering to the distinctive roles that sustainable eating and food systems play in climate change and the areas within which they coincide.

Led by global entities such as ProVeg International, World Animal Protection, Upfield and other leading global actors, Climate4Food Pavilion, running for the second year in a row, represents a unique coming together of a diverse range of private and third-sector organisations united in their advocacy for the transformation of food systems, aiming to benefit people, animals, and the planet.

“The lack of importance the government has placed on the role the food systems plays in solving the net zero puzzle sends the wrong signal to consumers, businesses and industry,” says Tronchon, youth engagement advocate, ProVeg International. While the government entities must play a pivotal role in behaviour change through policy implementation, Food4Climate Pavilion also seeks to raise awareness around the importance of shifting towards a more sustainable diet and individual behaviour change in food systems transition.“Collective action is essential,” she adds.

The launch of this pavilion last year, alongside other food systems pavilions, has been groundbreaking in driving the conversation around the impact of food on climate change ahead.“This year, the conversation has become bigger and better than ever, with Food Day and Food Systems Transformation being on the agenda,” says Sally Smith, Chief Sustainability Officer, Upfield.“We finally have a recurring space where people can come together and talk about the challenges we're faced with at different ends of the food spectrum and the solutions going forward.”

FIRST-EVER FOOD DAY AT COP

On December 10, an entire day at the climate summit was dedicated to food, featuring the launch of a roadmap by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) outlining agrifood solutions for countries to meet their climate targets.

A first-ever day solely devoted to food systems, the discussions catered to everything from cultivation, processing, distribution, consumption, to disposal.“Till a couple of years ago, we used to be on the fringes of the conversations on climate action, with side-events, press conferences here and there. Now, we have a whole day at COP dedicated to food and three pavilions to stand for it,” says Tronchon.“We've definitely made progress but these are still baby steps, there's a long way to go.”

On Sunday, the United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) also released the first-ever global food systems' roadmap to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The guidance not only recommends that nations with excessive meat consumption reduce their intake, but also urges developing countries, where insufficient meat consumption contributes to nutritional challenges, to enhance their livestock farming practices.

Although not mandatory, FAO's road map is anticipated to influence policy and investment decisions through a three-part structure, fostering a shift towards climate-friendly practices within the food industry, which has been slower in making commitments compared to other sectors.

PLANT-BASED LIFESTYLE MADE ACCESSIBLE

The environmental impact of food can be gauged through greenhouse gas emissions intensity, denoted in kilograms of 'carbon dioxide equivalents'. This metric encompasses all greenhouse gases and is measured per kilogram of food, per gram of protein, or per calorie.

Typically, animal-based foods, particularly red meat, dairy, and farmed shrimp, tend to be linked with the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions whereas plant-based options, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lentils, typically require less energy, land, and water, and exhibit lower greenhouse gas intensities.“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also noted that shifting diets from meat and other animal products to plant-based diets has a high potential for reducing carbon footprints and mitigating climate change,” says Flores.

Responding directly to the compelling campaign spearheaded by YOUNGO and Food@COP, with support from ProVeg International, advocating for climate-friendly food choices at COP28, the event's leadership made a significant commitment this year, ensuring that two-thirds of the food served at COP would be plant-based.

The commitment showcased the power of collective efforts in fostering a sustainable future for food, says Loui Blake, founder of PXB Lifestyle, pioneering the plant-based eateries around Expo City for COP28. With plenty of plant-based food trucks around the premise, showcasing the carbon footprints of each dish on the menu, COP28 has been filled with sustainable food choices for attendees to practise what they preach right at the summit.

“When we make plant-based eating accessible, affordable, delicious and clearly communicate the benefits, we see a high uptake, as in the case of COP28,” says Blake.“Typically plant-based options tend to be an afterthought, where the animal products are simply plucked out from the main dish, but we've seen at COP that when a lot of thought and care goes into creating innovative food items, people are very happy to choose plant-based.”

FARM TO FORK

A crucial aspect of combating the climate crisis also includes minimising food wastage. According to FAO, nearly one billion tons of food, equivalent to 17 percent of the global food available to consumers, is discarded annually. The production, transportation, and decomposition of this wasted food contributes to over eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 'If food waste were a nation, it would rank as the third-largest emitter globally', reads the Food Wastage Footprint & Climate Change report by FAO.

At the forefront of COP28's food-based initiatives this year was the Expo City Farm, located right at the hub of the Green Zone, in partnership with Emirates BioFarm and Below Farms, to create an on-site farm experience for the visitors to get a first-hand experience of sustainable food production.

Through immersive cooking classes guided by renowned plant-based chefs, visitors enjoyed the opportunity to learn about sustainable cooking, using produce grown just metres away from the kitchen where they'd cook the food.“We're looking to build connections to how the food grows and how to prepare healthy meals using local produce,” says Blake.

“With our fast-paced lives, it's easy to downplay the mammoth effort it takes to put food on our plate. Hence, it becomes incredibly easy for us to have less empathy towards it and let it go to waste. Farm to fork initiatives educate the end consumer about where their food is coming from, the effort it takes, the consequences it has on the environment,” he adds.“By the time you sit down for that meal, you're filled with way too much gratitude to let it go to waste.”

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