2 Dec 2023

New Zealand signs up to COP28 declaration on food production, sustainable agriculture adaptations

2:16 pm on 2 December 2023
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The COP28 UAE declaration on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems and climate action has been signed by 134 of the 197 countries in attendance at the climate summit. Photo: 123rf.com

New Zealand has signed an international agreement saying agriculture and food production must urgently adapt to respond to climate change.

The declaration comes out of COP28, the United Nations' climate summit currently taking place in Dubai, signed by 134 of the 197 countries in attendance.

Titled "COP28 UAE declaration on sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems and climate action", it acknowledges both the threat the world's food systems are under, and the role food production methods must play in reducing emissions.

It makes five broad commitments, among them an intent to scale up adaptation and resilience work to protect vulnerable food producers - from farmers to "fisherfolk" - facing risks caused by climate change.

The signatories also agreed to increase efforts to support vulnerable people, through social protection systems and safety nets like school meals and targeted research and innovation, and to work towards better water management within agriculture and other food systems.

They committed to conserve, protect and restore land and natural ecosystems, enhance soil health and biodiversity, as well as "shifting from higher greenhouse gas-emitting practices to more sustainable production and consumption approaches, including by reducing food loss and waste and promoting sustainable aquatic blue foods".

In order to achieve these goals, the signatories agreed to integrate agriculture and food systems into national adaptation plans and biodiversity strategies before the convening of COP30, which is set to take place in Brazil in 2025.

They would also "revisit or orient policies and public support related to agriculture and food systems", scale-up or improve access to funding from all corners to adapt and transform agriculture and food systems, and accelerate scientific innovation in this area.

The declaration reads: "With seven years remaining to achieve our shared goals, we intend to strengthen collaboration among our respective ministries - including agriculture, climate, energy, environment, finance, and health - and with diverse stakeholders to achieve the objectives and efforts articulated in this declaration, and as appropriate within our national contexts."

In a statement, UAE climate change and environment minister, and COP28 food systems lead, Mariam Almheiri said there was no path to achieving the Paris Agreement goals without addressing food systems and agriculture.

"Countries must put food systems and agriculture at the heart of their climate ambitions, addressing both global emissions and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers living on the front line of climate change."

The 134 signatory countries to the declaration are home to more than 5.7 billion people and almost 500 million farmers, produce 70 percent of the food we eat, and are responsible for 76 percent of all emissions from global food systems (and 25 percent of total emissions globally).

'This government will have to do a u-turn'

Greenpeace NZ said New Zealand needed to do more than sign a symbolic document if it wanted to create a sustainable food system.

Greenpeace New Zealand programme director Niamh O'Flynn said the declaration was only a start.

"Symbolic declarations at COP are a good start, but what we know after these many years of COP is that what really needs to happen is actual climate action, and that means policies on the ground that do limit our climate pollution.

She said the new government would have to review its environmental policies if it wanted real results for a more sustainable food system.

"What we know about this government is that they are dead set on rolling back environmental regulations, especially on agriculture.

"So, if we are to live up to what we say we are going to do globally on climate change, this government will have to do a u-turn."

O'Flynn said New Zealand needed to urgently transition to a more organic farming system.

"The country needs a swift transition to regenerative, organic and more plant-based farming, and to do that we need to commit to saving up synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, and halving the number of dairy cows that we have in this country.

"But [it] does mean that our government is going to have to introduce policies that bring us in line with global commitments."

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