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Five Takeaways to Move Food Systems Farther, Faster in 2023

In the words of Lizzo: it’s about damn time.

For the first time in 2022, food systems figured prominently at COP27, the world’s global convening on climate change, held last year in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Food systems also moved up the nature agenda in the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) forged at COP15 Montreal, Canada, and signed by nearly 190 nations.

But time is not on our side. The world is skirting disaster, in no small part due to food systems that emit roughly 30 percent of global greenhouse gasses and are responsible for 90% of deforestation; and that produce diets responsible for one-in-five global deaths. Our global food system is also the primary driver of biodiversity loss, with agriculture directly threatening 86% of species at risk of extinction.

Neither does the current food system succeed in its most basic purpose: providing enough healthy food for all. Today, a global food crisis affects up to 828 million people who go to sleep hungry every day. More than 345 million people are suffering from or at risk of acute food insecurity, more than double the number from 2019.

But 2022’s global convenings bore fruit. This year’s COP28 is set to be “The Food COP” with agriculture and food an anchor for action. And the GBF’s ground-breaking commitment to conserve one-third of world’s oceans and terrestrial territories includes strong language about the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, sustainable and customary use of natural resources, their traditional knowledge, and free, prior and informed consent. Another breakthrough came in 2022 when the global community, aided by efforts supported by The Rockefeller Foundation Food Initiative, agreed on a landmark framework on Digital Sequencing Material (DSI) to ensure equitable and open access to food data.

But, make no mistake, most of our work lies ahead–and it is therefore all the more crucial to enter 2023 with a clear vision of what’s next for the creation of healthy, regenerative food systems that help solve the interlinked food, climate, and biodiversity crises.

Moving into 2023, our focus is on five key actions:

  1. Keep strengthening Koronivia. COP27 adopted the “Koronivia” package, which requires the UNFCC (the UN’s climate action body) to formally consider the relationship between agriculture, food security, and climate change. That’s the good news. However, Koronivia’s limited scope is a problem. Its strict supply-side focus on food security stops short of applying a food systems approach, despite the calls of a coalition of 90 organizations. This leaves issues such as healthy diets, equity, and sustainable supply off the table. There is much work ahead to help policymakers stay attuned to the multiple, interconnected dimensions of food and climate.
  2. Sharpen the food systems agenda. Food systems are complex, but the way we talk about them doesn’t have to be. A Food Systems Manifesto could activate commitments and inspire bold action. What goals might it set? Perhaps a preamble with this call: “By 2035, shift the global food system to be both nature- and climate-positive and socially inclusive.”  With attention now turned to COP28 in the UAE this December, a manifesto could be just the thing to set the stage for “The Food COP.”
  3. Co-create a roadmap for food systems investment. We need an investment platform that works for farmers, Indigenous Peoples, landscape stewards and businesses to drive investment in regenerative systems that sequester carbon, build back biodiversity and water quality, and enable farmers and communities to thrive. FAO aims to launch a plan next year that shows how the food industry and farming can align with capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Such a plan could attract investments. Additionally, the vision of the Good Food Finance Network and the 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People’s investment are paving the road for large-scale investment for food systems transitions.
  4. At COP28, create the guidance that farmers need. The Paris Agreement wasn’t written with food and agriculture as a focus. There’s no clear way for Indigenous Peoples, farmers and landscape stewards to reap the rewards from making the right choices for climate, people and planet. By COP28, let’s see progress toward creating the policies and programs needed so that they get credit for their efforts to produce food in ways that sequester carbon, build back biodiversity, maintain water quality, and feed a healthy planet.
  5. Nature isn’t siloed. We shouldn’t be either. Climate change, nutrition and health, food security, and biodiversity are all deeply interconnected. We cannot have food security without minimizing the impacts of climate change, and we cannot minimize those impacts without transforming food systems and protecting biodiversity. Only by recognizing the connections can we begin to undo the harms, accumulated over centuries, to our human and natural systems.

Today, the food community is activated. Momentum toward inclusion of food systems in climate and biodiversity challenges will not be rolled back. We can take it farther, faster, deeper.

We’re ready to deepen the evidence for regenerative agriculture production and build consensus on the outcomes regenerative systems can deliver through programs like Regen10.

We’re ready to amplify the connection between food systems and climate change through initiatives like I-CAN, keeping this food-climate nexus strong.

We’re ready to fight for deeper inclusion and radical collaboration as we set the agenda around climate and food. Centering youth, Indigenous voices, smallholder farmers, women and small island nations in every conversation is key.

We all have the opportunity to become protagonists in our food and climate futures if we choose to take action. I am, will you join me in 2023? Our common future will be better for it.

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